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NATO Activates Stabilization Force

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Dec. 19, 1996 – Nearly a year after NATO operations began in Bosnia, alliance officials here signed activation orders Dec. 17 for the second phase of the multinational peace mission.

Operation Joint Guard, with a stabilization force of about 31,000 troops including about 8,500 U.S. troops, officially began Dec. 20. The date marks the change from IFOR, NATO's 60,000-strong peace implementation force, to the smaller stabilization force.

SFOR's missions are to deter war and maintain a secure environment so civil reconstruction efforts can be carried out safely, U.S. officials said. Twenty-five nations, including Russia, are contributing forces to the 18-month operation. North Atlantic Council officials signed SFOR'S operation plan and rules of engagement here Dec. 16.

The force will continue to be heavily armed, said U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Walt Slocombe. "It will continue to have a full range of authority and capability both to protect itself and, if, and as it becomes necessary, to act decisively against violations of the military provisions of the agreement," Slocombe said.

NATO based the size of the force on a threat level assessment. The size or composition of the force may change, based on continuing assessments, said U.S. Army Gen. George S. Joulwan, Supreme Allied Commander Europe. At present, he said, the former warring factions are separated. Their heavy weapons are in cantonment areas, and to a great extent, the troops have been demobilized.

"Does this mean Bosnia-Herzegovina is no longer a dangerous place? " Joulwan asked. "No. It is. If conditions change, I will not hesitate to come back with a request for more troops. Right now, 31,000 is sufficient to do the job."

During a press conference here, Joulwan said he will reassess every six-months and report his findings to the North Atlantic Council.

SFOR will build on IFOR's accomplishments. Along with its military tasks, Joulwan said, IFOR restored more than 60 bridges to allow freedom of movement. The roads are now open, and a railroad system has been restored.

"This is what IFOR accomplished," Joulwan said. "This is significant for the country. Elections have been held using these routes that have been opened. Bosnia is now linked to Europe and to the rest of the world. It's that we're going to build on."

SFOR will concentrate on its principal military tasks, Joulwan said. "We will be very limited in what we can provide civilian agencies," he said. "We will try to provide a secure environment, but it will be very difficult to provide the kind of support we were able to do with 60,000."

Operation Joint Guard will have four phases. SFOR will transition into Bosnia Dec. 20 through early February 1997. "At D+45, we hope to have set the SFOR," Joulwan said. "Stabilization is the next phase, and the No. 1 aim here is preventing a spring offensive."

During the year-long stabilization phase, SFOR troops will also provide security for municipal elections, support civilian reconstruction activities and maintain a presence in critical areas, he said. Phase 3 is deterrence, and Phase 4 is mission completion.

"What we hope to see in about a year is a drawdown to a smaller deterrent force, handing over much of the task to what we hope will be growing civilian control and agencies executing their civilian missions," Joulwan said. "At 18 months, the mission will be completed, and in June 1998 we will withdraw all of the stabilization force."

He expressed his gratitude to all nations, NATO and non-NATO, that have joined this force, which will try to bring lasting peace to Bosnia. But, he said, the multinational force can only do so much.

"We have given the parties a year now to be able to set the conditions for peace for their country and their children," Joulwan said. "It's up to them. We would put the onus on them, to ensure that this peaceful trend continues and to work with the civilian agencies to rebuild their institutions.

"The military can provide the secure environment. It cannot provide the peace. That peace must be provided by the people themselves."

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