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Perry Says Bosnia Mission at Halfway Point

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 10, 1996 – NATO forces in Bosnia can be proud of six months of success, but the second half of the year-long peace mission may become somewhat more turbulent, according to U.S. Defense Secretary William J. Perry.

During a visit to allied bases in Hungary and Bosnia July 2 and 4, Perry commended the international peace force for completing the military tasks outlined in the Dayton peace agreement. He said the mission has been "a spectacular success story" due to the troops' professionalism, training and leadership.

At Camp Demi, Bosnia, Perry told American troops they'd done a "hell of a job" separating the former warring factions and overseeing the exchange of territory and the return of heavy weapons to barracks and cantonment areas.

"Everybody had forecast that you wouldn't be able to do this, that when you came into Bosnia, you'd meet armed resistance," he said. "Well, we came in heavy. We came in well-trained, well-disciplined. We came in with robust rules of engagement, and there wasn't anybody wanting to mess with the 1st Armored Division.

"All of you can be very proud of what you have done here," he said. "You are making history -- a history you can be proud of, a history you'll be telling your children and grandchildren about."

But, Perry warned, the year-long mission is just past the halfway point, and there's still hard work to be done in the months ahead.

"Between now and the [Bosnians' September] elections, life will be tougher than the last couple of months," Perry said. "The factors causing turbulence in the country -- the resettling of refugees, the runup to the election, the activities of the war crime tribunal -- all of those things are going to cause turmoil, and it is going to make maintaining security tougher."

While plans call for starting to draw down the force after the September elections, Perry said, a force capable of protecting itself will be maintained until Dec. 20, the date the mission officially ends. He also urged the troops to stay alert in the months ahead and to care for each other as the service members in Saudi Arabia did following the terrorist attack at Khobar Towers.

In Taszar, Hungary, Perry told U.S. troops the IFOR success to date has allowed changes in force structure. Although the total number of people remains the same, two armored units are being replaced by military police units.

"It's easy to forget now that when our forces came in here, many people were predicting that we would have to fight a war," Perry said. "We brought in a force that was sufficiently strong enough to meet that contingency." He said the IFOR mission no longer requires the armored support.

U.S. Army Gen. George A. Joulwan, supreme allied commander, Europe, accompanying the secretary, added that a needs analysis of the next six months led to the force change. He said adjustments will occur throughout the NATO force, not just to American units.

Whether NATO will have a continued presence in Bosnia is yet to be determined, Perry said. NATO ministers meeting in late September will look at the situation and decide, he said.

Perry ensured his enthusiasm for IFOR's successes wasn't lost on those deployed to Hungary in support of the operations.

"Nothing happens in Bosnia without your efforts," he said. "This base has given indispensable support to the IFOR operation. This is the vital link in the chain. You have given the Bosnians a chance for a peaceful life and a chance to rebuild their country. It's still a hard road ahead for the Bosnians, but you have made a difference and your country thanks you for that."

Perry also thanked the Hungarians. "Our successes in this region symbolize the kind of support we have in Hungary -- not just the facilities and the business cooperation, but the warm hospitality the Hungarian people give us," he said. "Our soldiers will never forget the warm hospitality you've rendered."[Air Force Staff Sgt. Steven J. Merrill of the 4400th Operations Squadron (Provisional) contributed to this article.]

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