U.S. Role in Bosnia to Decline
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
BRUSSELS, March 12, 1998 How long will U.S. troops be in Bosnia? Why are they still there? Will they serve as police in the follow-on force? Will NATO's peacekeeping mission ever end?
President Clinton and NATO's supreme allied commander addressed these questions in early March. Clinton sent a letter dated March 3 to Congress, and Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark appeared before the House and Senate armed services committees March 3 and 6.
They explained why the 8,000 or so American troops now serving as part of the NATO stabilization force have to remain in Bosnia beyond the end date set for June. Both specifically said U.S. forces will not be used as civil police in NATO's follow-on force.
Clinton said continued presence of U.S. forces in Bosnia is in America's national security interest. "America's security and Europe's stability are intimately linked," he said. The Bosnian conflict "could easily have spread through the region, endangering old allies and new democracies alike."
NATO itself was on the line, Clinton added. "A larger conflict would have cast doubt on the viability of the NATO alliance itself and crippled prospects for our larger goal of a democratic, undivided, and peaceful Europe."
NATO has been the key to peace in Europe for nearly 50 years, explained Clark, who also serves as commander of U.S. European Command. "The United States derives important diplomatic and economic leverage through NATO from our forward station forces.
"These forces, in turn, help us to maintain our forward presence and, if necessary, project military power to protect our vital interests," the general said. "Across the spectrum of military activities, from peacetime engagement to fighting and winning in major theaters of war, our NATO alliance remains essential."
Last fall, with the end of the stabilization force mission drawing near, NATO authorities reviewed what they had achieved toward implementing the Dayton accord and what still remained to be done. As a result they suspended a planned drawdown, and in February announced it was prudent to continue the stabilization mission indefintely. The follow-on force will stay at the same strength level -- about 34,000 -- and retain the name "SFOR." Rather than set another arbitrary end date, NATO officials elected to measure progress based on a number of benchmarks.
"Although I do not propose a fixed end date for this presence in Bosnia," Clinton said, "it is by no means open-ended." The U.S. contribution will decline by about 20 percent, as allies and partners "continue to shoulder an increasing share of the burden," he said.
Force drawdown is to be based on meeting certain "concrete and achievable" NATO benchmarks, Clinton said. These include: reforming the police and media; eliminating illegal pre-Dayton institutions; conducting democratic elections; eliminating cross-entity barriers to commerce; and setting up a framework for refugee returns.
"I am convinced the NATO-led force -- and U.S. participation in it -- can be progressively reduced as conditions continue to improve, until the implementation process is capable of sustaining itself without a major international military presence," Clinton said.
Before civilian government and institutions can take over and continue without NATO military presence, the "instruments of totalitarian control" -- the army, police and media -- must be under the control of legitimate democratic leadership, Clark said.
NATO authorities are now developing detailed plans for the Bosnia follow-on force. Much discussion has centered on whether SFOR troops will serve as civil police. In his letter to Congress, Clinton stated "U.S. forces will not serve as, or be used as, civil police in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Clark told Congress NATO has approved plans for two battalion-sized, specialized units which will go into difficult situations. They will not perform police functions, he said.
These units will be under the same SFOR mandate and have the same rules of engagement, Clark said. They will be under the operational control of the stabilization force commander and will be placed under the tactical control of local SFOR units to deal with specific situations, Clark said.
"They would be available for the SFOR commander on the ground to assign to particular areas which might prove more troublesome, where there's a greater requirement for the SFOR element to interface with the local populace or interface with the local police," Clark said.
One SFOR responsibility is to contribute to a secure environment, Clark said. "These specialized units will assist SFOR in making an effective and an efficient contribution to a secure environment and help to prevent violence and civil disorder."
The stabilization force mandate for dealing with indicted criminals will remain the same for the follow-on force, Clark noted. "The NATO mandate has not changed. We have said that when we encounter these persons, when and if the tactical situation permits, they will be detained," Clark said.
While the overall goal is for the U.S. presence to decline, Clinton said, U.S. diplomatic and military efforts have played a major role in stopping the fighting and opening the way for peace.
The American-brokered Dayton accord was "the key to changing the conditions that made Bosnia a fuse in a regional powder keg," he said. "U.S. leadership is as essential to sustaining progress as it has been to ending the war and laying the foundation for peace."