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TUZLA, Bosnia and Herzegovina — Within six months, U.S. troop numbers in Bosnia will drop to 1,000 soldiers as part of a NATO goal to disassemble the current international peacekeeping mission by the end of 2004.

By June, NATO will cut its current Stabilization Force of 12,000 troops to a 7,000-strong force, according to officials this week.

“We went from an implementation force to stabilization, and now we’re looking toward something closer to deterrence,” said NATO spokesman Mark Laity.

Following NATO review, SFOR may change into a European Union-led mission by 2005, Laity said. NATO would remain in an advisory role, with a military headquarters in Sarajevo, he said.

In September, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Europe, told Stars and Stripes that U.S. troops would withdraw in 2004.

American soldiers first deployed to Bosnia with NATO in December 1995. Over the past eight years, troop strength has gradually decreased. During that time, U.S. leaders maintained that the U.S. contingent would not leave Bosnia until the international community ended the mission.

During the next year, American troops will continue to provide 15 percent of the force, according to a news release from U.S.-led Multinational Brigade North, headquartered at Eagle Base.

In April, the Minnesota National Guard’s 34th Infantry Division will hand off the U.S. mission to the Indiana National Guard’s 38th Infantry Division. The U.S. headquarters does not know whether U.S. troops will be involved in Bosnia beyond 2004, said brigade spokesman Maj. Jarrod Krull.

The three multinational brigades, which are currently responsible for three separate sectors within the country, will be cut to about 1,800 troops each and be renamed as “multinational task forces,” said Capt. Dave Sullivan, SFOR spokesman.

While SFOR cites an improved climate in Bosnia for its planned reductions, military leaders can also rely on a quick-reaction unit to bolster international troops should it be needed, Sullivan said.

The planned NATO advisory mission will be modeled on recent operations in Macedonia, Laity said.

“[In Macedonia] instead of NATO upping and leaving, we created [a] military mission there that puts in advisers,” he said.

Working in small teams, senior NATO officers will offer guidance to Bosnian military leaders on furthering defense reform, a condition for the Partnership for Peace program.

Nations within the NATO alliance have yet to offer troops to the new force, Sullivan said.

“They will release their numbers once decisions are made by each of their respective governments,” Sullivan said. “Most decisions are expected in January 2004.”

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