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Sep. 14, 2015  War on Terror   Transformation   News Products   Press Resources   Images   Websites   Contact Us 
Bosnia Peaceful After Years of Tension
By Jason L. Austin / U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs

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.

Photo, caption below.

A U.S. Army M-113 Armored Personnel Carrier prepares to pull an armored Humvee out of the mud in Bosnia and Herzgovina on May 10, 1996, during Operation Joint Endeavor. The spring-time mud presented a challenge to the soldiers and their equipment deployed as part of the NATO Implementation Force. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Jon Long, U.S. Army.

"It was a major shift in the way we do business and it took a total redirection of the way we trained at 7th Army Training Command," Bell said. "Not only do we have to make sure that the force could be the biggest dog in town by the application of lethal force, but that it also understood, through training, peace enforcement and peacekeeping. This was about stopping a war. It was a major turning point toward what we would call today full spectrum operations."

With the NATO bombing of the Bosnian Serb military and the alliance of the Croats and the Bosnian Muslims, all parties agreed to meet with then U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke for the Dayton Proximity Talks at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, Nov. 1, 1995. The participants initialed a peace agreement on Nov. 27.

USAREUR's 1st Armored Division began deployment Dec. 2, with the first C-130 landing in Tuzla, Bosnia, and the first trains departing Germany Dec. 8.

On Dec. 14 all parties agreed to and signed the Dayton Peace Accords in Paris. On Dec. 15, the U.N. authorized NATO to implement the peace agreement through an implementation force that was to begin the year-long mission of Operation Joint Endeavor.

The IFOR replaced the UNPROFOR during a transfer of authority ceremony Dec. 20. "The United States' long-term involvement with NATO came to fruition when 60,000 soldiers, less than 20,000 of which were Americans, went to the Balkans in December of 1995," said Maj. Gen. (ret.) William Nash, the commander of 1st Armored Division at the onset of TF Eagle, and the Task Force's first commander. "And it took that great military force, NATO, and deployed it into a situation that was able, in a very short period of time, to establish stability, in a country that had in fact been ravished by war."

One major barrier to the deployment of the 1st Armored Division was the bridge over the Sava River, which was destroyed during the four-year civil war. Construction of a pontoon bridge across the river began on Dec. 22. Despite melting snow that flooded the river and freezing temperatures, the bridge was completed on Dec. 31 and the first M1A1 Abrams tank crossed the bridge at 10 a.m.

"The United States entered Bosnia from the North, complimenting forces it had already put in by air to Tuzla, and the flood of the 1st Armored Division overcame the flood of the Sava River and peace was brought to that area of the world," said Gen. B.B. Bell, commander, USAREUR.

"Bosnia looked like the end of a major war," said Lt. Gen. (ret.) John Abrams, commander of USAREUR's V Corps during the onset of TF Eagle. "It had earmarks of territories where large armies had engaged in combat. Buildings were destroyed; every bridge in Bosnia … had been damaged or completely destroyed."

"Task Force Eagle’s responsibilities included keeping the peace; enforcing the zone of separation; providing a safe environment for the U.N. and other international organizations engaged in humanitarian work; helping in the clearance of minefields and obstacles; and providing the leadership for then IFOR's Multinational Division North," Bell said. "Eagle's operation was envisioned to last but one year, but those people who were here knew it would take longer."

At the end of that first year, the U.N. mandate for IFOR came to an end and the Stabilization Force took control of the mission.

With the beginning of SFOR, the force was reduced to 32,000 soldiers to maintain security and stability in the region. In June 1998, the force was reduced under Operation Joint Forge, which drew down the Task Force Eagle to about 6,900 service members. Troop strength continued to decrease slowly during the following years with U.S. involvement being close to 1,400 soldiers by the end of 2002. The final rotation of TF Eagle boasted approximately 950 soldiers.

On Nov. 24, 2004, Task Force Eagle cased its colors, officially disestablishing the entity and bringing to a close major U.S. involvement in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The disestablishment of TF Eagle does not, however, mark the end of NATO or U.S. involvement. "NATO will maintain a small, but meaningful headquarters in Sarajevo," Bell said. "Also the United States will contribute small but important numbers of forces that will be stationed both in Sarajevo and at Eagle Base in Tuzla.

"So now, here we are nine years later, November 2004, the nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina stands as an emerging member of the community of peaceful nations in Europe," said Gen. B.B. Bell, commander, USAREUR . "It has free elections. It has a free media. It is able to secure its own borders and provide police to enforce the laws."

"(Task Force Eagle) has been the U.S. Army portion of America's and NATO's Multinational Division and now Multinational Task Force North, both of which have provided a safe and secure environment in a large part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, for the past nine years," Bell said. "This ceremony officially marks mission complete and mission accomplished for this great Task Force Eagle that has honorably served as part of a NATO coalition of more than 40 nations dedicated to ensuring the people of this nation can move ahead from a war-torn past to a peaceful, promising future."

" As Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to move forward toward a lasting peace and integration with the rest of Europe, EUFOR will act as a partner in this success – still present to provide assistance, yet allowing the responsibility for civil progress to shift to local authorities, where it belongs," said Brig. Gen. T.J. Wright, the last commander of Task Force Eagle. "This is a complex, time consuming task for all involved, but it will be accomplished."

Last Updated:
12/01/2005, Eastern Daylight Time
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