SARAJEVO, BOSNIA, Jan. 3, 1996 — At the end of World War I, when the ethnically diverse Bosnian region came under the control of one government, later called Yugoslavia, the stage was being set for a deadly civil war.
Initially, the Yugoslavian government was a Serbian monarchy, but it soon became a dictatorship that lasted until World War II, when the Axis forces invaded the country.
Guerilla forces led by a locksmith, Josep Broz Tito, resisted. After the Soviet army liberated Yugoslavia, the six-republic nation came under the rule of the communist Tito, who ruled the country with a strong hand thereby keeping ethnic and religious tensions in check and creating a prosperous economy.
After Tito's 1980 death, Yugoslavia began slipping toward civil war. By the mid-80s, economic conditions deteriorated and a need for political reform increased tensions among the ethnic groups who sought independence along muddled ethnic boundaries.
In 1986, Slobodan Milosevic began to centralize the Serbian population under a nationalistic framework, increasing ethnic rivalries in the region. And in June 1991 Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence and Yugoslavia ceased to exist.
Slovenia's separation succeeded with minimal fighting because of a strong defense force and a lack of ethnic diversity. Croatia was not so lucky. With a large Serbian population, Croatia faced resistance from guerilla groups as well as the remnants of the Yugoslav national army under the leadership of Milosevic.
On Jan. 2, 1992, a ceasefire was signed and fighting in Croatia ended. On Feb. 21, the U.N. established the U.N. Protection Force to maintain the peace. However, in early March the Bosniaks voted for independence before the UNPROFOR deployed.
Bosnia was the former Yugoslavia's most diverse republic, with large populations of Bosniaks, Serbians and Croatians. The Serbian population rebelled and proclaimed its own Republic and asked the Serbian-led Yugoslav national army to join the Bosnian-Serb army.
The Serbians, who are Orthodox Christians, used terror tactics as tools for "ethnic cleansing" of Bosnian Muslims. Bosnian-Croats, who are predominantly Roman Catholic, began "ethnic cleansing" of their own of both Serbs and Bosnians.
In the fall of 1992, U.S. Army Europe sent the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital and personnel from the 7th Medical Command to Bosnia to provide medical relief for the UNPROFOR.
Throughout 1993, USAREUR's 5th Quartermaster Company, in conjunction with U.S. Air Force Europe, delivered Humanitarian aid to the region. The aid continued throughout 1994, and sporadically in 1995.
In March of 1994, the United States led negotiations between the Bosnians and the Croats, which resulted in a cease-fire and a shift of focus against the Bosnian Serbs. Later a peace deal was brokered, to which Serbia also agreed, but the Bosnian Serbs rejected the deal. As a result, Serbia stopped backing the Bosnian Serbs.
OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters from 3rd Battalion, 4th Cavalry Regiment, arrived at Rhein Main Air Base, Germany, enroute to forward locations throughout Europe. The OH-58D's are being used to provide support during Operation Joint Endeavor. U.S. Army photo
On May 25, 1995, NATO conducted air strikes against Bosnian Serb military targets, which resulted in an attack on the UNPROFOR. The Bosnian Serbs took some 400 U.N. personnel hostage and used them as human shields against further air strikes.
In July 1995, Bosnian Serbs massacred large numbers of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica and Zepa. Again in August, the Bosnian Serbs attacked a marketplace in Sarajevo. As a result, NATO and the U.N. issued an ultimatum to the Bosnian Serbs, who formally rejected the order. On August 30, NATO began Operation Deliberate Force, by beginning heavy and continuous bombing of the Bosnian-Serb military.
"My assessment at the time was that the U.N. was following a bankrupt strategy," said Gen. (ret.) George Joulwan, then Supreme Allied Commander Europe. "They were peacekeepers and there was no peace to keep. To me, it was only a matter of time until NATO would have to get involved.
"In Europe it brought back all kinds of concern and fear. So, it was an issue of credibility for the Alliance and since (the United States is a) lead member of that alliance, it was very important for the United States to lead, not just militarily, but politically as well."
In the spring of that same year, USAREUR's Southern European Task Force began training to become an extraction force called Task Force Lion, which was designed to extract UNPROFOR personnel if that course of action was deemed necessary.
Additionally, in August 1995, USAREUR's 1st Armored Division ceased routine operations and began training for possible deployment to Bosnia.
The training was conducted at the Combat Maneuver Training Center in Hohenfels, Germany. The training was a step in a different direction for the U.S. Army.
"It was very clear that the force, in being over here, had to focus on a different mission set," said Gen. B.B. Bell, commander, USAREUR, "and that mission set had to do with the preservation of the NATO Alliance as we knew it and certainly bringing stability to that area of Europe." Bell served as the chief of staff for USAREUR Forward when TF Eagle took over the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, December 20, 1995.