Progress Evident in Bosnia Mission
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2001 Five years ago, the route from the Sarajevo airport into the city presented a shattering image of destruction. Today, although evidence of war remains, much of the structural damage has been repaired.
Empty, burned out buildings were the norm in Sarajevo when this picture was taken in 1996. Bosnian workers are rebuilding sections of the city. (Photo by Spc. Moses Mlasko, USA)
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Residents have patched bullet-riddled homes, theyve replaced bombed-out roofs, and in some areas, they are building new homes to replace those damaged beyond repair. Much of the rubble is gone.
Heading into the city, however, many high-rise dwellings and office buildings are still pockmarked with shell holes. Windows are dark and empty. Some buildings are clearly abandoned. One high rise -- once the home of Sarajevos newspaper -- is pancaked nearly to the ground. It remains untouched.
Restoring peace and stability in Bosnia is a continuing effort. Much has been done, yet more remains to be done said U.S. officials in Sarajevo.
The military tasks outlined in the Dayton Peace Accord are nearly complete and emphasis is on civil implementation, according to U.S. military officials.
Security has been restored, and the time is ripe for local authorities to move ahead with civil reconstruction, according to Army Maj. Gen. Walter Sharp, who commands Multinational Division North's 6,700 American, Nordic, Russian and Turkish troops. "It's really time for the country to step up to the plate and take responsibility here," the commander told Deputy Defense Secretary Rudy de Leon in early January. "They need to move into the future or they're going to be left behind because of the needs of the international community to go into other places.
"The environment is stable," he said. "If they enact the proper laws, if they truly demonstrate that multi-ethnic is the way to go in the future, I think business can come in here and start making a dent in the economic problem that we have here."
Sharp noted that the recent elections went very well. He said the command is working with Bosnias Entity Armed Forces to return refugees and do other projects that benefit the nation. The EAF is complying with the Dayton Accord and Sharp sees the force moving toward being a force for good.
"What we're really trying to push for now is getting the Entity Armed Forces to be seen and to truly be a force for good for the people," he said. "They've already started doing it in a sense by doing some road projects and some building projects in the community.
"Now that [the Bosnians are] starting to develop a national security strategy, we can then see how big their armies need to be in the future. The corps commander clearly understands that their future will depend upon what the people of this country think of them because that's where the funding will come from. So they're moving in the right direction."
Initially, 20,000 American troops took part in the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. Today, the U.S. contingent, numbers 2,900, mainly soldiers from the Army's Third Infantry Division, known as the "Rock of the Marne, from Fort Stewart, Ga.
Along with their NATO-led counterparts, they conduct daily patrols and assist returning refugees. In one area, Nordic troops are monitoring the departure of foreign Islamic extremists, ordered to leave by local authorities.
Their departure, Sharp said, "will really show the Serbs that it's safe to come back into the federation."
The multinational troops also inspect 103 weapons storage sites. While the sites are more organized than they were several years ago, Sharp said, there is a long way to go in this area. Patrols continue to find weapons caches. A recent discovery unveiled 1.4 million rounds of ammo in a bunker complex left over from the war.
"They have literally ten times the number of rifles than the number of soldiers they have in the army right now," he said. "Way too many weapons. On New Years Eve here in Tuzla, I was in the operations center and we walked out at midnight we could hear AK-47 fire all around."
Twice a year, the Multinational Division North along with local authorities and the Entity Armed Forces conduct information campaigns aimed at harvesting ammo and weapons.
"This stuff comes in every day," Sharp said. "It gets turned in to local police and the Entity Armed Forces. There's still a lot out there. We've touched the tip of the iceberg, but there's a lot still under the water."
NATO-led troops monitor Entity Armed Forces demining operations, which are slow and inefficient, Sharp noted. At the current rate, he said, it will take 66 years before the country is demined. U.S. officials are trying to help by buying more equipment and letting the Bosnian military use it. About 80 percent of the demining is done by contractors, Sharp added.
Multinational Division North is also preparing for possible contention over local women's plans to build a memorial and cemetery commemorating the Srebernica massacre. Burial of the victims is tentatively scheduled for July 11, the anniversary of the tragedy. No start date for the construction has yet been determined, but division officials anticipate local contention throughout construction.
Day-to-day, Sharp said, the multinational division troops pull together, share information and act as one team. And they're natural ambassadors for peace.
"When you get a young sergeant down there talking to the people on the street -- that's the neat thing about peacekeeping missions -- you help the individual people and you see that they appreciate you being here."
One drawback of peacekeeping operations, however, is that some combat skills depreciate, he noted.
"It's hard to maintain warfighting skills, Sharp said. "We can get at it at very small unit or individual level with certain tasks, but there's no doubt that the warfighting skills of the soldiers over here in the 3rd Infantry are reduced. To compensate, he said, the units use simulation equipment for tank and Bradley gunnery training.
"Some skills like preparing for patrols, pre-combat checks, talking on the radio, skills like that we really come out of here better. Some battle staff training, as far as being able to track patrols, and plan things, even at the battalion and company level, comes out very good.
The unit also conducts some officer and NCO professional development classes in Bosnia, he said.
The majority of the 3rd Infantry Division soldiers now in Bosnia are due to rotate back to the United States this spring. About 500, primarily from the headquarters and a military intelligence battalion, will remain in place for another rotation. About 1,500 others from the Fort Stewart division will join them in Bosnia and stay until the fall, when the National Guard's 29th Infantry Division, headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Va., takes over.
3rd Infantry Division leaders are now planning training that will commence after the soldiers return to Fort Stewart. That training will culminate when the troops go to the Army's National Training Center next year, Sharp noted.
Stateside, after accounting for their equipment, he said, the 3rd Infantry Division troops will get two week's leave.
"We'll make sure they are able to do block leave," Sharp said. "There'll be some three- or four-day weekends in between there, but we're really saving the big one until the kids get out of school."