Fate of Eagle Base debated as Bosnia handover nears
July 14, 2004
WASHINGTON — The U.S. military is considering Eagle Base in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina, for a “lily-pad” facility from which the military could launch forces for worldwide contingencies, a military leader said.
Army Maj. Gen. James Darden, deputy director for plans and policy at U.S. European Command, told members of Congress on Monday that planners are deliberating whether to keep the key air base after NATO turns over peacekeeping missions to the European Union at year’s end, possibly staging 150 troops and a half-dozen helicopters.
“Our strategy presently calls for a contingency of U.S. military personnel to help man the future NATO headquarters at Camp Butmir in Sarajevo. And although a final decision has not been made, we are also investigating the usefulness of maintaining a small U.S. presence at Eagle Base,” Darden said.
The United States now has about 1,400 troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina, with about 850 at Eagle Base.
U.S. military leaders in Europe are seeking out forward expeditionary bases, sometimes called “lily-pads,” in Eastern Europe and Africa for training purposes and to be well-placed for contingency operations.
“Europe is the center of gravity, but the center of action is to the east and south,” Darden said, adding the command wants locations in Africa and closer to the Middle East that give U.S. forces “unfettered access when crisis” arises.
At the NATO summit in Istanbul during the last week of June, leaders ended NATO’s nine-year peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and transferred the mission to the EU.
If the U.S. military keeps Eagle Base, a former Yugoslavian air base, the facility could be shared with EU forces, and “if necessary, a surge force of one battalion could easily be brought into Eagle Base for any future contingency,” Darden said.
Yet, as military and diplomatic officials updated members of the House Armed Services Committee on the U.S. mission in Bosnia, they included information of increasing terrorist activity there, including information that Bosnian authorities recently closed down and froze assets of eight Islamic nongovernmental agencies because of ties to al-Qaida. That information prompted lawmakers to question whether it is wise for a U.S.-force reduction in the midst of the war on terrorism.
But after nine years of U.S. presence in the country, “I think that the conditions are right, now, to downsize,” said Army Maj. Gen. Virgil Packett II, commander of the Stabilization Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
EUCOM, the U.S. Embassy and other offices will continue to work with Bosnian military and law enforcement agencies to counter the terrorist activity, Darden said.
The 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, named because it was started at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, ended the war and split the country in two, the Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation.
Key to a successful mission is capturing those indicted for war crimes, primarily Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and Ante Gotvina, who “remain a significant obstacle to creating the conditions in which the country can develop and prosper,” Packett said.
Lessons from the nine-year mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which lasted longer than military planners originally predicted, can be used as the U.S. negotiates a postconflict environment in Iraq and Afghanistan, notably forming a central government from multiple ethnicities, Darden said.