As the mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina shifts from NATO hands and into the European
Union’s, U.S. military and political leaders are looking at the lessons
learned and the future course of the intervention.
Officials are examining the peacekeeping effort for clues that can be applied
in Afghanistan and Iraq, including methods on neutralizing militants, balancing
ethnic tensions and establishing security in an occupied zone.
“While the situation in Bosnia is different, there are some common threads
running through each of these which are applicable,” said Maj. Gen. James
Darden, deputy director for plans and policy at the U.S. European Command, in
testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.
Maintaining order in a post-conflict environment requires a careful balancing
of domestic influence between competing power blocs, Darden said. To do this,
he added, it is vital to avoid forming parallel institutions along ethnic lines,
while at the same time building a powerful executive branch.
In Iraq, the Sunni, Kurdish and Shiite communities are being directed to share
centralized power in a similar fashion as the ethnic groups of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In Afghanistan, autonomous tribes and warlords are being asked to respond to
the directions of the central government in Kabul. Neither place has a history
of respect for a central government based on the rule of law.
Keeping the same people engaged in the process over long periods is essential
in nation-building operations, Darden said. This can be achieved by utilizing
professionals such as bankers, prosecutors and military experts on long-term
contracts, he added.
“Specifically in defense reform, military contractors working with the
minister of defense and his staff provide the long-term continuity needed,”
Darden said. “This is where the U.S. has and will provide the greatest
benefit, and could have the same influence in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Maintaining situational awareness while downsizing is a challenge that can
be met with specialized units, according to Maj. Gen. Virgil Packett, commander
of the stabilization force.
“The introduction of liaison observation teams—troops living in
houses in the community, eating at local restaurants, building relationships
with the local population—is a shift in the doctrine of peacekeeping tactics,”
he said. “It is one way to maintain that awareness with fewer boots on
Determining the appropriate amount of aid to give to a rebuilt nation is also
a priority. Packett and Darden recommended avoiding a reliance on foreign aid
and, instead, fostering independence and autonomy as soon as possible. The point
was reinforced by Igor Davidovic, ambassador of Bosnia-Herzegovina to the United
States, who told committee members, “We need less aid and more trade.”
Another negative consequence of massive foreign aid is the cover it provides
for international terrorism fundraising and recruitment, Darden said. In Muslim
enclaves, where hostility to the West and the fear of a relapse into violence
drive recruitment, international aid groups have proven to be bad actors.
U.S., NATO and local forces have identified and shut down eight non-governmental
organizations with direct links to al-Qaeda, Darden said.
“Bosnia still lingers as a potential safe haven for transit, training,
arms sales and financial support of terrorist activities,” he said, pointing
to the region’s porous borders, underdeveloped police and rampant organized
Some members of Congress wondered if the formula for the size of the force
used for the Bosnia operations should have been emulated for Iraq.
“We would have been wise to apply the Bosnia model for force-sizing in
Iraq,” said Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., noting that there would be 258,000
troops in Iraq currently if the Pentagon had done so. The force level would
have not dipped to the current number, 140,000, until 2008, she added.
Darden was asked if “the lessons learned” in Bosnia had been applied
to Iraq planning. His answer was evasive, but instructive. “We just call
them ‘lessons’,” he replied. “We revisit them from time
The Pentagon also is pondering the scope of the remaining U.S. forces in the
In July, the European Union made its formal decision to move a force of 7,000
into Bosnia by the end of the year. The EU force will replace NATO in maintaining
a safe environment, training Bosnia’s armed forces and supporting the
rule of law. Remaining NATO forces will be authorized to pursue suspected terrorists
and war criminals.
The EU center of operations will be at NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied
Powers Europe. German Navy Adm. Rainer Feist, deputy supreme allied commander
for Europe, will be made the EU operation commander.
Bosnian representatives flatly state that a continued American presence is
welcome. “We in Bosnia hope that more Europe does not mean less United
States,” said Mirza Kusljugic, Bosnia’s ambassador to the United
At issue is the future of Eagle Base, a former Yugoslavian air base in Tuzla
that was established as the headquarters of the Army’s 1st Armored Division
in 1996. Over the course of eight years, Eagle Base grew in capacity, capabilities
and infrastructure. As the United States withdraws the bulk of its remaining
troops from Bosnia, the question of what to do with Eagle Base is essential
to the mission’s next phase.
“We are investigating the usefulness of maintaining a small U.S. presence
at Eagle,” Darden said. “It could be used as a staging area for
multi- or bi-lateral exercises with Bosnia and other nations … A surge
force of one battalion could easily be brought in for any future contingency.”
To keep the base warm, 150 U.S. troops would be stationed there, Darden speculated.
He also said current plans suggest that approximately six helicopters would
operate from the base. The rest of the space at Eagle would be offered to a
partner in the EU, which would defray some of the costs to both parties.