U.S. peacekeeping force in Bosnia to be reduced, two camps 'cold based'
TUZLA, Bosnia and Herzegovina — The U.S. peacekeeping force in Bosnia will be reduced in the coming months to around 800 troops operating out of three primary base camps under a plan announced Tuesday.
The changes, which will begin with the current group of 1,300 Stabilization Force troops, will not change the amount of territory the American-run Multinational Brigade North is responsible for. The area will be covered by troops from the remaining bases.
Most troops will be stationed at the brigade headquarters, Eagle Base, near Tuzla. Forward Operating Base Morgan and the recently built Forward Operating Base Clark will serve as temporary homes for a company-size element of about 100 troops during deployments to each.
Two camps, Forward Operating Base Connor in the southeastern part of the American sector and Camp McGovern in the northern part, will be “cold based,” Maj. Jarrod Krull, the Multinational Brigade North spokesman said at a Tuzla news conference.
“Cold basing means that while the base is not occupied by a large number of soldiers and supporting staff, it is maintained by the presence of personnel, both soldiers and civilian employees, who can quickly re-establish operations there if necessary, and prepare the base and provide support to SFOR soldiers,” he said.
Both camps played key roles in establishing peace in the region and creating the environment that encouraged the return of refugees in the eight years since the Bosnian war ended.
McGovern is next to Brcko, once a wartorn town that each of the country’s ethnic groups wanted under its control. It is now a prospering port town.
Only after Connor opened near Bratunac in the eastern part of the U.S. sector about three years ago did refugees return and rebuilding in the area began. Troops stationed at Eagle Base will continue patrolling the area.
SFOR 14 rotation under the Minnesota National Guard 34th Infantry Division command will start implementing the changes before the end of its deployment in late March, sending some troops home early.
“Obviously we have fewer soldiers and we had to look at the entire area of responsibility that we have,” said Krull, explaining how it was determined which base camps will remain active.
“The best way we thought we could operate keeping our presence in the north and in the south is maintaining FOB Morgan in the far north, Eagle Base in the center and then Clark in the far south of our area of responsibility.”
While the blueprint of the new structure is set, there are still details on civilian support staff for the bases that need to be determined.
“The intent is to have at least four to six weeks of operations conducted under the new force structure and brigade organization, so that we may develop methods that will set up SFOR 15 for success during their rotation,” Krull said.
SFOR 14 troops will have about two weeks of so-called left seat/right seat transition with their successors — the main element coming from the Indiana National Guard 38th Infantry Division.
That rotation has already been extended through the end of this year, increasing the regular six-month rotation to nine months.
The U.S. military will continue providing 15 percent of the overall peacekeeping force after restructuring, Krull said. Other nations have already reduced or will reduce the number of their troops.
Turkish Battalion headquartered in Zenica and Multinational Battle Group in Doboj, covering the western part of the American-controlled sector will remain unchanged, he said.
NATO announced earlier the reduction of the peacekeeping force from 12,000 to about 7,000 troops by June and the possibility of turning over the mission to the European Union at the end of the year.
Some 60,000 international troops, almost 20,000 of them American, deployed to Bosnia in late 1995 to implement the peace agreement that ended the 1992-95 Bosnian war. As the situation in the country progressed, the international force gradually reduced to the current levels.