Wolfowitz meets, praises peacekeepers
EAGLE BASE, Bosnia and Herzegovina — During an unusual town hall meeting Friday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz praised peacekeeping troops for their service and role in providing stability in the world.
Wolfowitz met with more than 100 troops of all ranks, answering their questions at Peacekeeper’s Hall here.
“The mission that you’re doing here in Bosnia is extremely important for our country, for Bosnia and for the stability in the world,” Wolfowitz said. “This mission has gone on longer than it was expected, although that should’ve been expected. It remains and is [as] important to us as it was on the first day.”
As the situation in the country progressed, the number of troops has steadily been reduced. From the initial 20,000 Americans contributing to 60,000-strong stabilization force when the mission started in late 1995, about 1,500 American soldiers remain. The total force has come down to 12,000.
Wolfowitz said he did not expect any changes in the number of American peacekeepers in the Balkans in the near future.
“I think the key to success is going to be more and more to get the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina themselves to step up to the task, the responsibilities and their own decisions.”
In 2000, 49th Infantry Division was the first National Guard division to take over the active-duty troops.
“[National Guard troops] are every bit as valuable as active-duty troops,” Wolfowitz said. “We could not be doing the things we’re doing without the guard.”
He mentioned how hard it was for Maj. Gen. Robert Halverson of 49th Infantry Division, the first National Guard unit to run the peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, to convince the leadership that guardsmen are prepared for the task.
Most SFOR rotations since then, including the current 35th Infantry Division, have been composed of citizen-soldiers, and the rotation going in to Kosovo will be composed of national guardsmen as well.
Wolfowitz reiterated that sending troops to peacekeeping operations is not a bad use of the force, but rather a good way of preventing conflicts.
Besides serving humanitarian purposes, it also serves the U.S. national security by creating a more stabile world.
As part of his four-day overseas trip, Wolfowitz will also visit Kosovo, Macedonia, France and Romania.
Before leaving Bosnia, he laid a wreath at the memorial site in Potocari where the first 600 of more than 7,000 killed in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre are buried.
“We are not in any way going to leave the mission where this place goes back to kind of tragedies in the past,” he said.