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American Forces Press Service

Ending War, Enforcing Peace in Bosnia

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2004 - The stabilization mission in Bosnia is complete and American servicemembers who served in the region can look with pride on their accomplishments, said DoD officials today.

European Union soldiers officially take over the Bosnia mission today. U.S. soldiers and their NATO allies have finished an almost nine-year mission in the Balkan country.

Nathan Bein, DoD's country director for Bosnia-Herzegovina, said the NATO force had accomplished all of its missions. The force, which started with 60,000 soldiers, was to separate the warring factions, disarm them, place heavy weapons in cantonment facilities and to set up demilitarized zones between the parties.

In December 1995, the force went in to end the civil war between the Bosnian Serbs and Croat/Muslim federation. The Dayton Agreement created a joint multiethnic and democratic government. But there were two entities roughly equal in size: the Bosniak/Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Bosnian Serb-led Republika Srpska.

The first NATO force into the country confronted a destroyed infrastructure and a refugee crisis. Areas of the country had been pounded by war and many areas contained ghost towns.

NATO forces arrived ready to enforce a peace if need be or to simply separate the forces. The opposing sides were tired of war, and except for some local problems, both sides cooperated with the NATO force. An American general commanded the NATO force, with the allies having different sections. The U.S. section was centered in Tuzla.

The area around Tuzla is primarily agricultural and contains both Federation and Republika Srpska territory. American soldiers immediately set about making life better for the residents.

Today, the area around Tuzla is peaceful. While there remain some local problems, "they are past the stage of wanting to kill each other," Bein said.

What is key to the process is that there are jobs for people and there is stability. "They can hope for a better life for themselves and their children," Bein said.

And it is like that throughout the country. The Republika Srpska is a bit behind the Federation as far as recovery goes, but the improvement even there is startling. "In Sarajevo, it is starting to look much like the rest of Western Europe now," he said.

The street lights work, there are hotels and grocery stores and gas stations, just like anywhere else. "It's not Nirvana, but the contrast of what's there now and what was there in [1995 and 1996] is like night and day," Bein said.

It was in Bosnia also that the U.S. reserve components showed their worth. Military civil affairs professionals - mostly reservists - handled delicate negotiations among warring parties. Combat service and combat-service support units deployed to the country and worked in the mud to ensure operations ran smoothly.

As the mission went on, National Guard units - notably the 49th Armored Division of the Texas Guard and the 29th Infantry Division of the Virginia/Maryland Guard - took over major portions of the mission in the country. The 49th had the first Guard brigade to serve in country, while the 29th was the first Guard unit to command the entire American sector. The 28th and 35th Infantry divisions and the 38th Infantry Brigade were among other Guard units that served as part of Task Force Eagle.

The end of the NATO mission does not mean the end of U.S. interest and concern in Bosnia, Bein said. NATO will maintain a small headquarters unit in Sarajevo. Its three missions are to assist the unified Bosnian government in defense reform as it prepares to enter NATO's Partnership for Peace program. The headquarters will also continue to pursue and apprehend remaining war criminals and, finally, the headquarters will work on counterterrorism programs to ensure terrorists do not find a foothold in the country.

Bosnia has also asked the United States to maintain a presence at the Tuzla base. The base will be maintained and ready to expand if needed. All told, there will be about 150 U.S. servicemembers in Bosnia.

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