Finnish troops ready to take over Multinational Task Force-North
November 27, 2004
TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina — It’s still a few days before he officially takes command of Multinational Task Force-North. But Finnish Brig. Gen. Juha Kilpiä told the people of Bosnia they wouldn’t notice a difference when he assumes control of an area that Americans have been in charge of since late 1995.
The transition, would be “seamless and have a minimal impact on the Bosnian people. We will maintain the same safe and secure environment that SFOR presented to us,” he said during a news conference Friday.
It might not be much of a surprise if changes are minimal, because Finnish troops have been a part of the Stabilization Force mission for as long as Americans have. In fact, Kilpiä commanded the Finnish battalion of troops that initially entered the country with its counterparts from the United States.
They’ll now lead one of the three sectors in Bosnia as the European Union takes over the mission from NATO on Thursday. The British lead the sector to the west and the French command in the south. All told, Kilpiä said there would be about 7,000 troops from 33 countries participating in Operation Althea — commonly being called EUFOR.
About 80 percent of the force already has been serving in SFOR. Members will essentially just change patches on their uniforms. In addition to the American pullout, Canadian forces departed as well.
Kilpiä, whose rank is prikaatikenraali in Finnish, will lead a multinational force at Eagle Base that will still use English to communicate with each other. Other countries with troops in the sector include: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden and Turkey.
He said there would be roughly the same number of troops in the sector — about 1,800 — as there are now.
There will still be about 150 American troops at Eagle Base and 100 more near Sarajevo. All will be taking part in a continuing NATO mission under the command of U.S. Brig. Gen. Steven Schook.
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Timothy Wright, the outgoing commander of Task Force Eagle, said he is confident of the EU force’s ability to effectively control security in the sector.
“I am proud, very proud of them and their commitment to excellence,” Wright said at the news conference. He also pointed out that American forces aren’t totally abandoning missions in the country. The force under Schook will help train Bosnian forces, work with them in Partnership for Peace initiatives and continue to hunt for war criminals indicted by The Hague, in the Netherlands.
Gen. B.B. Bell, U.S. Army Europe commander, said earlier in the week that those thinking the pullout of most Americans presented an opportunity to cause trouble would be making a mistake. He said thousands of American soldiers in Italy and Germany could re-enter the country quickly if they were needed to support their European allies.
Meanwhile, German parliament on Friday cleared the way for its troops to take part in the new European Union-led peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where they have been serving in a NATO force since 1995.
The lower house voted overwhelmingly, 583-7, for the deployment.
The EU force named Althea — the largest EU-led military operation so far — is taking over on Dec. 2.
It will total about 7,000 troops, similar to NATO’s Stabilization Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina that has been there since the end of the 1992-1995 war.
Germany’s contingent will remain at 1,100, Defense Minister Peter Struck told parliament Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.