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Safety, Not Speed, More Important to U.S. Effort

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22, 1995 – Safety, not speed, is the most important factor for getting American combat troops into their sector in Bosnia, said defense officials.

Defense Secretary William Perry and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. John M. Shalikashvili said they are pleased with the pace of the deployment so far and are satisfied the warring factions have taken the steps they agreed to.

They have agreed on a cessation of hostilities, and that continues, Perry said. They agreed to turn off their radars, they have done that. They have agreed to start marking and dismantling mines, and that has started.

Perry said the Bosnian, Serb and Croat forces have also begun withdrawing foreign forces and moving behind lines of separation. They have also begun work on setting up a joint military commission. So to date, the compliance [by the parties] has been very encouraging, but there are still challenges ahead of us, Perry said.

The first test comes Dec. 27 when the BosnianSerb army must withdraw from the suburbs of Sarajevo. But the big test will come Jan. 19, which is 30 days from yesterday's transfer of authority [from the United Nations to NATO], Perry said. On that day, the factions must complete the withdrawal of their forces behind the zones of separation.

Bad weather has slowed the pace of NATO s buildup in Bosnia, but, said Shalikashvili, U.S. movement plans into the area are essentially on track. Once Army engineers emplace a tactical ribbon bridge over the Sava River in Bosnia, the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, will begin arriving in the Tuzla area. The chairman said construction of the bridge will start early next week and be finished between Dec. 28 and 30. Shalikashvili said this date is not a fixed target. It is really a very flexible target date right now, because we are very mindful that the weather could cause us delays, Shalikashvili said. On the other hand, if the weather stays good, we might be able to speed that up some.

Perry and Shalikashvili said the United States is not letting down its guard in other areas of the world, specifically North Korea. We are occupied with Bosnia, Perry said. We cannot become preoccupied with Bosnia. There are many other trouble spots in the world.

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