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Operation Joint Forge

On 20 June 1998 the NATO-led Stabilization Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina transitioned to a slightly smaller follow-on force. Simultaneously, Operation Joint Guard ended and Operation Joint Forge began. The United States agreed to provide a force of approximately 6,900 US Service members to help maintain the military force in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This force, a component of the NATO Stabilization Force (SFOR), remained designated Task Force Eagle. The first US SFOR contingent in support of Operation Joint Forge was led by the 1st Cavalry Division, America's First Team, from Fort Hood, Texas. The reduced size Task Force Eagle had a mission to maintain a capable military force in Bosnia-Herzegovina. No timetable or timeline for the duration of Operation Joint Forge was initially determined. The mission would be assessed periodically and the force size would be adjusted, as circumstances required. The decision was finally made in 2004 to end Operation Joint Forge and inactivate SFOR, with continuing support in Bosnia and Herzegovina to be carried out by a force led by the European Union. The US Task Force Eagle was officially inactivated on 24 November 2004 and on 2 December 2004, the SFOR mission ended and the EUFOR mission was inaugurated.

On 1 June 1997, the Headquarters, 16th Air Expeditionary Wing was designated and activated at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The 16th Air Expeditionary Wing provided direction, control, support, administrative control, and uniform code of military justice authority for more than 1,300 United States Air Force personnel stationed throughout Europe in support of Operation Joint Guard and then Operation Joint Forge. These units, located in Istres, France; Rimini and San Vito, Italy; Tuzla and Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Zagreb, Croatia; Taszar, Hungary, and Rhein Main, Germany comprised the lion's share of the USAF contingent of NATO's Stabilization Force (SFOR). Since its inception, 16th Air Expeditionary Wing worked a number of high-profile initiatives in support of the SFOR mission. These included the relocation of KC-135 operations from Pisa, Italy to Istres, France; the installation of air navigation aid equipment at Tuzla, Air Base, Bosnia-Herzegovina to support Russian and SFOR partner air operations; quality-of life-improvements for U-2 crews and support personnel at Istres France, and the holiday visit of President Bill Clinton to the Operation Joint Forge area of responsibility.

Under a plan approved in 2001 by General Eric K. Shinseki, Chief of Staff of the Army, the US Army programmed selected active and reserve forces for service in Bosnia and Kosovo through May 2005. This was a prudent measure taken to provide predictability for soldiers and units to ensure they were given adequate time to train for the Balkans mission. The rotation plan would also provide better linkages between the active and reserve forces, mitigate the effects of high operational tempo, and better sustain the Army's overall levels of readiness for contingency operations. Under the plan, units from the active Army and reserve component would support the SFOR mission in Bosnia or the Kosovo Force (KFOR) for 6-month periods. All units for the planned SFOR rotations 9 through 16 would be drawn from active Army divisions, Army National Guard divisions, the Army Reserve, and a mix of active/reserve units. The Army set a historical precedent when it designated the 49th Armored Division, Texas Army National Guard, as the headquarters for active and reserve forces conducting the SFOR mission between March and October 2000.

On 2 December 2003, SFOR confirmed that due to the improved security situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina that it would reduce to a deterrent force of approximately 7,000 multinational soldiers by June 2004. SFOR considered how to adjust the operation further, including its possible termination by the end of 2004 and a transition possibly to a new NATO military liaison and advisory mission (with NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo) and to a new European Union mission. In response, Multinational Brigade (North) also transformed its future force structure to meet the requirements of the new deterrent force. Planning for that force structure was conducted by the existing MNB(N) headquarters to help them prepare to execute the deterrent force mission when the 34th Infantry Division transferred authority to the 38th Infantry Division in April 2004.

At the Istanbul Summit in June 2004, NATO Heads of State and Government agreed that in light of the improved security situation in the country SFOR could be concluded at the end of that year. A ceremony in Sarajevo on 2 December 2004 marked the conclusion of the NATO-led SFOR mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the beginning of the European Union's follow-on mission EUFOR. The NATO-led SFOR was brought to a successful conclusion almost exactly 9 years since NATO deployed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina in what was the Alliance's first peacekeeping operation. The end to Operation Joint Forge in 2004 also meant that the US Army's planned SFOR-16 rotation would not occur, making the SFOR-15 rotation, led by the 38th Infantry Division (Mechanized) (Indiana Army National Guard), the last deployment in support of SFOR.

The European Union subsequently deployed its own mission, EUFOR, to take on key security tasks in the country. EUFOR derived its mandate from a new UN Security Council resolution and had an initial strength of 7,000 that was equal in size to SFOR. The EUFOR mission was supported by NATO under the so-called 'Berlin Plus' arrangements that provide the framework for NATO-EU cooperation.

The successful termination of SFOR did not spell the end of NATO's engagement in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Alliance retained a military headquarters in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the nature of NATO's engagement was very different. The NATO Headquarters, which was headed by a one-star US general with a staff of around 150, was to focus on defense reform in the country, as well as counter-terrorism, apprehending war-crimes suspects, and intelligence-gathering.




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