Bosnia: troops will enter slowly and deliberately

Members of Bravo Company 1-36 Infantry perform a dismounted patrol through the town of Broad, Bosnia on Nov. 5, 1997. They are deployed from Friedberg, Germany.


By VLNCE CRAWLEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 13, 1995

BOSNIA — As terrain shapes the outcome of war, so the shape of the land dictates how U.S. troops will try to preserve the fragile peace that has fallen this autumn over Bosnia and Herzegovina.

And the U.S. deployment plan is a classic replay of the Persian Gulf War's end run behind Iraqi lines — which incidently was performed by Germany-based soldiers. This time, troops from the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division task force will bypass the tough mountain turf of central Bosnia and stream in from staging areas in Hungary and Croatia.

This means heavy combat vehicles will cross wide plains and rolling hills instead ff the perilous, frozen mountain passes that have killed scores of peacekeepers and humanitarian workers. The only natural obstacle is the Sava River which divides Croatia to the north from Bosnia to the south.

The region's civil wars are said to have destroyed alt the heavy bridges across this part of the Sava. So, the 502nd Engineer Company, out of Hanau, Germany; gets the job of building a combat-style bridge to carry the U.S. Army into Bosnia. The bridging site is near a town called Zupanja, Croatia, which is across the river from a pocket of Bosnia held by Muslim and Croats in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The long-awaited peace mission to former Yugoslavia begins not with a parade or an invasion, but with a trickle.

In teams of five or 12, troops have spent the last two Weeks prepositioning themselves as an "enabling force," waiting for the go-ahead to begin deploying NATO's 60,000 troops.

The so-called " G-Day" hinges on Thursday's Paris talks, when it is hoped the Balkan leaders will sign the final document of peace. Within the 96 hours following a peace signing, troops will stop numbering in the dozens and begin moving by the hundreds and then thousands. Officials stress the operation will be carried out slowly and deliberately.

"Everybody would love to get right up on the line and, the minute the decision is made, jump over the line and we're all in Bosnia," the senior Pentagon official said, "But, we can't do that and be true to what... the president has made very clear. And that is, he will make the decision to deploy the main body force. And that's exactly the way we're playing it."

Under the terms of the draft peace plan, the warring factions agree to separate within 30 days. That means each side is supposed to pull back 2 kilometers (about 1.5 miles) from the front line. U.S. and other peace force troops would then patrol this neutral zone.

"The purpose of the implementation force is not to go in and forcibly separate the forces," the Pentagon official said. "They have agreed to move within two kilometers away from the agreed cease- fire line, which is a very clear." U.S. troops "will not be a police force," President Clinton said Sunday.

Instead, he told the CBS news program, 60 minutes, that the goat of his proposed year-long deployment is "to let these people see the benefit of peace." If, within a year, the fragile peace erodes and disintegrate Clinton said he will withdraw his troops and allow Bosnia to return to the nightmare world of the- past 3 ½ years.

"If the worst happens," the president said, "what we did was, we gave them a chance ... I can't promise peace anywhere in the world forever and ever."

This article appears as it did in the print edition of Stars and Stripes.


American M1A1 Abrams tanks of the 1st Armored Division guard Checkpoint Sandra on IFOR route Mississippi, near Kladanj, Bosnia-Herzegovina, on the zone of separation between the Bosnian-Croat and the Serb entities, Feb. 19, 1996.

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