Dual Mission in Store for Bosnia Stabilization Force
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 29, 1996 When IFOR's year-long Bosnia mission ends, SFOR's mission begins. The turnover Dec. 20 will mark the change from a peace implementation force of about 60,000 to a smaller stabilization force of about 31,000.
NATO's new stabilization force, including 8,500 Americans, will have a dual mission, according to William J. Perry. The U.S. defense secretary said the force will deter war and maintain a secure environment so civil functions can be carried out safely.
Perry talked with reporters about NATO's decision to keep a multinational force in Bosnia for another 18 months during the first leg of an eight-day trip a around the world. Perry's schedule included visiting troops and defense officials in Italy, Bosnia, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Japan.
While IFOR has successfully completed the military tasks outlined in the Dayton peace agreement, progress on civilian activities has been slow. Resettling refugees, reconstructing the economy and reconciling political differences are necessary for peace to take hold in Bosnia, Perry said.
"As a consequence, we believe that if the military force would leave now, those civil functions would not be completed and there's danger of the war starting up again," Perry said. "Therefore, NATO has concluded to maintain the forces [in the area] for another year and a half, and the United States has agreed to participate."
The stabilization force will have half the number of troops. Initially, IFOR fielded 60,000 NATO service members to enforce the Dayton agreement. "When we went in with IFOR, we went in as the biggest, meanest toughest dog in town because we were concerned we might face a military conflict," he said.
The goal was to intimidate any forces that might oppose NATO. None did.
The ethnic armies NATO defense ministers were concerned about a year ago have been largely demobilized, Perry said. "The situation is very different today, and that's why I'm comfortable with the judgment of our military leaders that 31,000 [NATO] service members is adequate."
NATO will also maintain an operation reserve of 5,000 troops outside Bosnia.
About half of the 20,000 U.S. service members who were in IFOR have left Bosnia with the rest out of the country by Christmas, Perry said. U.S. officials deployed 8,500 soldiers to Bosnia as a covering force in October. The soldiers, from the 1st Infantry Division, will protect the IFOR redeployment and cover the arrival of the stabilization force; some of the soldiers will become part of the force itself. No soldier will serve in Bosnia for more than a year, Perry said.
The stabilization force will perform many of the same duties as IFOR, Perry said. It will patrol the countryside, for example. "That physical presence is probably the single most important function they can perform both in terms of war deterrence and in terms of maintaining [peace]," he said.
IFOR gave Bosnia a year of peace, Perry said. The stabilizing force will sustain those gains and provide security for another 18 months. During that time, it is up to the Bosnians to build their political, economic and social structures.
If Bosnia can restore an economic structure, providing jobs and causing goods to flow across ethnic boundaries, Perry said, he believes there will then be a political will to have a unified, integrated Bosnia.