Today, when veterans of Bosnia talk of their experience, many invariably feel compelled to state the obvious: Bosnia is not Iraq or Afghanistan.
“You could tell that a war had gone through the place, but it was fairly quiet,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jacob Endres, of the 123rd Main Support Battalion in Dexheim, Germany. Endres was a specialist when he crossed the Sava River on Jan. 3, 1996. “Bosnia is a lot different from Iraq.”
But there are some similarities.
When Army Maj. Gen. William L. Nash, commander of the 1st Armored Division, led his forces into Bosnia, there were three entities to deal with: the Croats, Muslims and Serbs. In Iraq, U.S. forces are trying to strike a balance between the needs and wishes of the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
Secondly, troops serving in Iraq or Afghanistan worry about improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, the weapon of choice among insurgents. More servicemembers have died in Iraq from IEDs than from any other weapon.
A decade ago, Nash and his staff were concerned about the hundreds of thousands of land mines strewn across the Bosnian countryside. The first U.S. casualty of Operation Joint Endeavor, Spc. Martin J. Begosh of the 709th Military Police Battalion, nearly lost a foot when he drove his Humvee over an anti-tank mine on Dec. 30, 1995.
“Mines are a major consideration in our operations, and have been from day one,” Nash said at a Feb. 1, 1996, news conference.
Two days later, a land mine caused the first U.S. fatality of the campaign.
Sgt. 1st Class Donald A. Dugan of Troop A, 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry, 1st AD, died near the city of Gradacac in northern Bosnia when an exposed land mine detonated while he was apparently trying to disarm it.
His death came a week after three British troops were killed by an anti-tank mine in northwestern Bosnia.
“I told the American people when we started that the place was filled with land mines,” President Clinton said after Dugan’s death. “It’s our biggest danger, and we’re going to have to redouble our efforts to ensure safety.”
And like President Bush, Clinton made some assertions that later proved to be a bit too rosy.
In his Nov. 27, 1995, address to the nation, Clinton said the mission in Bosnia “should — and will — take about one year.”