Germany ending landmark mission in Bosnia
BELGRADE — The last two German soldiers serving with the EU peacekeeping mission in Bosnia will fold their country's flag in Sarajevo on Thursday and wrap up their participation in 17-year-old efforts to pacify the country.
With three large ethnic groups - Muslims, Serbs and Croats - Bosnia suffered the worst of the fighting during the conflict that followed the violent disintegration of the Yugoslav federation.
Dozens of attempts to mediate a peace in the former Yugoslavia failed, as UN protection force UNPROFOR, deployed to the region since 1992, proved tragically inept at protecting civilians. The most notable atrocity took place in Srebrenica in July 1995, when Serb forces killed around 8,000 Muslim boys and men.
The Srebrenica massacre, now formally branded a genocide, spurred the United States and Western allies into stronger action, eventually producing the Dayton peace agreement.
The subsequent peacekeeping mission, sent to uphold the treaty, was a success as it cemented the peace in Bosnia.
But its broader efforts to seal the huge cracks in Bosnia's hull and help it sail as a functional country failed.
For Germany, however, the mission was its first high-profile military assignment since World War II and a major landmark in its ongoing efforts to boost its military role, in line with its economic and diplomatic clout.
Some 2,600 German soldiers were sent to Bosnia in December 1995 as part of the Implementation Force (Ifor), which totalled 60,000 NATO troops and thousands more from other countries.
The mission was tasked with stripping the warring sides - Serbs, Muslims and Croats - of excessive weaponry and establishing a joint Bosnian army.
Two years later, the mission was re-named Stabilization Force, or Sfor, with Germany contributing 1,500 soldiers.
The European Union took charge in 2004 and the mission became known as EUFOR Althea. From then onwards, the number of troops declined with the threat of renewed fighting receding.
The military success highlighted the failure of diplomats to turn Bosnia into a country capable of applying for EU membership, with the three large ethnic groups feuding and using the Dayton agreement framework to block each other.
After deploying its soldiers in Bosnia in 1992, Germany also took part in NATO's first offensive operation against a sovereign country, Yugoslavia.
NATO went ahead with the operation to end a brutal crackdown of Serbian armed forces on the rebelling Albanian population.
Though US planes bore the brunt of the effort, German Tornadoes flew missions in the 78-day bombing, which forced Belgrade to order its troops out of Kosovo in June 1999.
On the heels of the Serbian military pulling out of what was then a Serbian province was KFOR, a NATO-led peacekeeping force with more than 50,000 troops, including Germans. KFOR, with Germany now playing the leading role in it, has been downsized but remains active in Kosovo.
With Bosnia and Kosovo, Germany has returned to the map as a major European military player. Already in 2003, the then German government of Gerhard Schroeder outlined a new military doctrine, focusing on peacekeeping abroad instead of national defence.
Since deploying to Bosnia, armed German soldiers have participated in dozens of other operations, the largest of them in Afghanistan, with 4,900 troops.