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Cohen: U.S. Out of Bosnia in 18 Months

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 1997 – U.S. forces will leave Bosnia at the end of the 18-month stabilization force mission, William S. Cohen told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his Jan. 22 confirmation hearing.

Setting a deadline is not advisable in most cases, the new defense secretary said, but in this case, it tells European friends the United States is not going to make an unlimited commitment. This is not an exit strategy, but a strong message America is not going to have forces deployed in that region indefinitely, he said.

"We are not there on a permanent or semipermanent basis," he said. "We expect them to make the changes necessary to put the resources into the region to help reconstruct it, because we are not going to make a commitment beyond that time."

The situation in Bosnia was principally a European problem, but it took American leadership to resolve, Cohen said. "We have led, and it's time for them to assume responsibility."

About 8,500 U.S. forces remain in Bosnia with another 5,000 support forces stationed nearby. SFOR's mission is to stabilize the environment so civil agencies can rebuild the country and allow peace to be self-sustaining. The forces of peace have shallow roots at present, Cohen said, but SFOR's 31,000 multinational troops will "allow those roots to sink deeper so there might be a reconciliation at some point in that region."

Military officials need to maintain a clearly defined mission and avoid any expansion of duties, Cohen said. It is not SFOR's job to apprehend war criminals, for example, he noted.

"If we have the United States start to take a major role in that effort, then we run the risk of having a repetition of Somalia, with all that entailed. ... If we start to expand the mission, we have a mismatch between the mission and the ability to perform that mission," he said.

Cohen said he supports the U.S. recommendation to have an international police force with the power and authority to arrest indicted war criminals.

NATO officials will review SFOR's mission every six months to determine the level of forces required, Cohen said. "I would expect those forces to come down significantly in the next six months to a year and that we would be out by the end of the 18 months."

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