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New Phase for NATO Peacekeepers

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, July 31, 1998 – This summer, the NATO-led stabilization mission in Bosnia known as SFOR enters a new, open-ended phase.

In May, NATO authorities extended the SFOR mission indefinitely. The original 18-month SFOR mission named Operation Joint Guard ended June 20, and a new operation dubbed Joint Forge began. The stabilization force itself will still be called SFOR, according to NATO officials.

Operation Joint Endeavor, NATO's initial, year-long mission, involved a peace implementation force, IFOR, of about 60,000 multinational troops, including 20,000 Americans. When IFOR changed to SFOR, the force dropped to about 33,000 multinational troops, including about 8,500 Americans.

At a July seminar in Sarajevo, Bosnia, NATO officials highlighted what aspects of the stabilization force will remain the same and what will change in the new phase.

The overall number of multinational troops will remain at about 33,000 troops (including 3,000 in Croatia), but the number of Americans is slated to drop to about 6,900. As part of an effort to spread the Bosnia mission load beyond U.S. units in Europe, 1st Cavalry Division units from Fort Hood, Texas, will replace Germany-based 1st Armored Division units this fall.

NATO's 16 nations will continue contributing to the operation along with 17 Partnership for Peace nations and five non-NATO nations -- Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia, Morocco and Ireland. U.S. Army Gen. Eric K. Shinseki remains in command, and his mission mandate stays the same: SFOR will continue to provide a secure environment so civil peace implementation efforts can proceed.

While the military tasks outlined in the Dayton accord have been accomplished, much work remains in the civilian arena, said Gregory L. Schulte, director of NATO's Bosnia Task Force. "SFOR's priorities will include support for refugee returns and for this September's elections," he said.

SFOR's ranks will now include two new multinational specialized police battalions, Schulte noted. These troops, specially trained and equipped to deal with violent demonstrations, will be based in Sarajevo and be able to deploy rapidly throughout Bosnia, he said.

"By introducing such a capability into SFOR, we hope to prevent civil disturbances," Schulte said. "We also hope to counter those who use thugs and criminals to undercut the peace, to intimidate those trying to return to their homes and to block the installation of democratically elected officials."

NATO officials aim to promote public security, Schulte said, but not by supplanting local police authorities. "SFOR, with this new specialized unit, will continue to work closely with the U.N. International Police Task Force to reform and restructure the local police and help them assume their proper role in protecting civil society," he said.

Although there is no set end date for Operation Joint Forge, Schulte said, plans call for a progressive reduction in the size, role and profile of the force. Reductions will be consistent with developments in the political and security situation and progress in civil implementation, he said.

Following the September elections, NATO officials will review force levels and tasks at regular intervals, Schulte said. "The end state we seek is a peace that can last and provide the basis for [Bosnia's] continued reconstruction without the continued presence of a NATO-led force," he said.

NATO has no desire to establish a permanent military presence in Bosnia, he stressed. "In the end, it is the people of Bosnia and their elected leaders who must make the peace work."

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