Balkan Strategic Studies
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January 15, 2004
Anticipated SFOR Troop Reductions Being Prepared for Bosnia as SFOR “Intelligence” Attempts to Justify Threat Reduction When Evidence Points Otherwise
The US need to sustain military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has driven the decision to reduce the Stabilization Force (SFOR) peacekeeping contingent in Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH) so that manpower would be available for missions deemed by the Defense Department and White House to be more critical. However, in order to achieve the SFOR reduction, it has been necessary to state that the security situation in BiH had improved, despite the knowledge of NATO intelligence operations in the area that there has been a major, concerted upswing in radical Islamist terrorist and guerilla preparations for new conflict.
The US requirements were the principal driver for an earlier decision by NATO defense ministers to reduce the Alliance’s presence in BiH, and with the reduction in force by the US, the Canadian SFOR contingent must also depart because it is dependent on the US for airlift and logistical support. SFOR on January 13, 2004, publicly confirmed that “due to the improved security situation in the country”, it would reduce its military presence to about 7,000 soldiers by June 2004. However, the US and Canadian forces would remain in some strength in Bosnia at least until late 2004; the US has already budgeted for the SFOR operation through October 2004.
Significantly, this partial withdrawal is immediately before the Summer 2004 Athens Olympics, which are known to be a key catalyst for terrorist and guerilla operations in the region, and which involve al-Qaida-related and Iranian terrorist bases and logistics in Bosnia.
See, specifically, Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily report of January 12, 2004: Terrorism Threats to Olympics and Balkans Now in Public Arena; Probable Underlying Cause of Greek Prime Minister’s Resignation.
Each of the three SFOR brigades would be renamed as a Multi-National Task Force (MNTF) and consist of approximately 1,800 troops. Many of SFOR’s armor and heavy weapons would be withdrawn from BiH. The changes would allow SFOR to shift from being a peace stabilization mission to a conflict deterrence force. It would maintain situation awareness and use rifle companies for focused tasks.
SFOR spokesman Canadian Army Capt. David Sullivan noted: “The force will be lighter but still visible, robust and effective enough. ... At this time, troop-contributing nations have yet to determine their future contributions to the new force. They will release their numbers once decisions are made by each of their respective national governments. Most decisions are expected to be announced in January 2004.”
The restructuring was expected to take advantage of the planned troop rotations, and the first reductions were likely to be in Multi-National Brigade North-West and would be announced by that brigade shortly. US-led Multi-National Brigade North (MNB-N) had said that it was now conducting its future force structure planning and would begin to implement it in April 2004. At that time, the US 34th Infantry Division would transfer its authority to the 38th Infantry Division. The US contingent was expected to account for as much as 15 percent of SFOR. The other large contingents include the Italian Army’s 1,400 troops, and those of Germany and Canada, with approximately 1,300 soldiers each.
SFOR strength was now appr. 12,000 troops from almost 30 countries. In Multi-National Brigade South East, headquartered at Mostar, there were approximately 4,100 soldiers; in Multi-National Brigade North West, with its headquarters at Banja Luka, there were 3,500. In MNB-N, headquartered at Tuzla, there were approximately 3,000 multi-national soldiers. SFOR is led by a US General officer, now at two-star level (US Army Maj.Gen. Virgil L. Packett). SFOR began with a strength of some 60,000 troops under a four-star officer at the end of 1995 and was now down to 13,000. As part of the earlier reduction, three multi-national divisions reduced their size to the brigade level. Multi-national contingents had been restructured in 10 Battle Groups, with 750 troops each.
However, SFOR indicated that the force reductions were feasible not only because the overall situation allows them, but also because, in case of sudden contingencies, the COMSFOR could rely on the Operational Reserve Force (ORF). This is a multi-national professional force which had already been deployed in the Balkan theatre of operations. It was designed to be a mobile and versatile “Over The Horizon Force”, capable of reinforcing those forces already present in BiH, Kosovo and/or Macedonia. The ORF is coordinated by the Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Southern Europe (CINCSOUTH), who is the Joint Force Commander within the NATO Headquarters responsible for Balkan Operations. The US Navy Admiral Gregory G. Johnson is the current CINCSOUTH. Should armed conflict break out in the region, Johnson and the NATO commanders in BiH, Kosovo or Macedonia could count on Strategic Reserve Forces (SRF) in several NATO and partner countries, ready to deploy by sea, air and land. Since 1998, the SRF has conducted an annual training exercise, Dynamic Response, which traditionally takes place each September.
The end of the current US funding for SFOR was expected to enable transition into a new NATO mission [with NATO Command at Sarajevo], which would provide assistance and mediator rôle, and also a new EU mission, essentially replacing SFOR with an EU police force.
In his farewell visit to Sarajevo in December 2003, outgoing NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson said that the feasibility of possible EU military mission in BiH would be carefully analyzed, and final decisions would not be made without official discussions with local authorities in BiH.