NEWSMAKER INTERVIEW WITH GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI
JANUARY 5, 1996
The top U.S. military brass returns from Europe, and reflects on deploying peacekeeping troops to Bosnia.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: General Shalikashvili is just back from a trip with Defense Secretary William Perry to bases in Italy, to the troop's staging area in Southern Hungary, and to Sarajevo, and the Tuzla headquarters of U.S. forces in Bosnia. General, welcome. Thank you for coming so soon after your return yesterday.
GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: Thank you very much.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What did you find there? Are the troops deploying as rapidly as you had planned for this point?
GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: Well, I think it was first of all very important for Sec. Perry and I to go to get a firsthand view. The first thing that strikes you is how very confident and determined the troops are and what high morale you find everywhere you go. I think the deployment is going very well. I would say that we are at a point right now where we want to be, despite the fact that we've had some very tough weather conditions, despite the fact that we probably took longer erecting that bridge over the Sava River than we had intended. The overall deployment is, is on time, and I think as we look forward to the next major milestone, which is the 19th of January, when the zone of separation between the parties has to be established, we will have the requisite troops on the ground to accomplish that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How many do you think you'll have by then, about half the twenty-two thousand?
GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: Oh, I think more than that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: More than that.
GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: I think more than that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How many are there now, do you know?
GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: In the region right now there are roughly 16,000 or so, so and that is between the troops that are now in Hungary, that are in Bosnia and Croatia, so we're about halfway through the process, and we certainly by the 19th will be much further along.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Where are the troops going that are entering right now? Where are the first places that you're putting a lot of attention?
GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: Well, I think it's establishing the support base in Hungary to ensure that that is set properly so as we then flow troops into Bosnia, we're assured that there will be the support base that will be able to sustain their operations in Bosnia. So really the troops are flowing. The last troops to flow in will be those that go into Bosnia, although we have now between five and six thousand troops in Bosnia and so on.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But in Bosnia, are they headed, for example, for the Posavina Corridor, this area that would link Serbia with the Serb-held areas of Bosnia, is that an area that you're sending people, that the NATO is sending people to first?
GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: I think that as you look at the Tuzla sector, where Americans will be and that will be headed by Gen. Nash, we are building up our operation in Tuzla, itself, consisting not only of the headquarters for this operation but also an aviation brigade that's for all practical purposes in place right now. But then the two American brigades that will be coming in, one will be going in a Northern part by the Posavina Corridor, the other one will be going in a Southern part. You also have to remember that a Russian brigade will be coming in, that will be coming in and starting around the 13th of this month.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: That'll be historic, won't it?
GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: It'll be--I think it's not only important to this operation to participate with, with Russian troops, but it's important beyond that. I think it has historic significance in the relationship between the United States and Russia, in the relationship between Russia and NATO. I think it is--this is really a big deal, and so it's important that we pull that off well. Of course, there will be other troops in that sector as well. There is already a Nordic unit there, and they will increase their strength. There's a Turkish unit there; they will also nearly double in strength. So it'll be quite a multi-national operation in the Tuzla sector.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What did you see about--how did you view the condition of the troops? Yesterday there was a press conference at the Pentagon and the army's medical chief, a lieutenant general, said the troops who had been working on the bridge had faced what he called "atrocious"--"an atrocious sanitation situation." What did you see about the conditions that troops are working under?
GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: I didn't particularly on the bridge side, the conditions are not the way we would like them to be, partly brought upon by the fact that their base camp that was being established was inundated by water as the Sava River was rising very rapidly. The Sava River rose by some eight feet and in the process doubled in width, and so the campsite that they were counting upon was flooded. So there was this period of time when they were put up under conditions that can't be sustained at all, and so that is being fixed, but it is true that as you, as you bring troops in and as you fight the weather, that there will be pockets where you find your troops in conditions that, that, as I say, need to be corrected very rapidly. And some of those principally exist around that, that bridge compound.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about the security situation? Specialist John Begash, an American, was wounded by a mine when his--he took a wrong turn in his Humvee and I guess there have been four British soldiers wounded by mines, and then today the Italian soldier was actually wounded--or yesterday--wounded in hostile gunfire. What do you think about the security situation, is this to be expected, is this worse, is this better than you had anticipated?
GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: Uh, obviously, any casualty that you take, any time you have a soldier wounded, it's, it's a very tragic event, but our expectations were that this, these conditions would be worse than we actually encountered. We have encountered a reception by the local populations, whether Serb or, or Bosnian, that was much warmer than we thought it would be. We also found that the compliance over the last two weeks has been more extensive than we thought it would be and that we have really no problems in that respect at least up till now. I don't know how far you can extrapolate that into the future but up to now our--the security situation, the situation as far as the welcome by the population is concerned, as far as compliance is concerned, is much better than we had expected.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, given that, what do you make of the fact that the Bosnian Serbs in Sarajevo and one of the suburbs of Sarajevo took sixteen Bosnians prisoner and they have since been released? Have they all been released? That wasn't clear in the reports today.
GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: I don't know. I believe the reports were that all sixteen had been released. There have also been some reports that perhaps some others have since then been taken. I don't have firsthand knowledge, other than those sixteen have, in fact, been released. The agreement speaks to freedom of movement. I think we need to continue to insist that that be adhered to by all sides, and I am very gratified that the Serbs released those Bosnians. They shouldn't have taken them in the first place.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you know what led them to finally be released, because there were apparently very tough negotiations between the mayor of one of the suburbs and some of the NATO, a couple of NATO officers, as reported in the press? Do you know what finally happened, what got them released?
GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: I think it's that, plus the international indignation that all led to it. But, again, I think this is the sort of a testing that we should be prepared for, and how vigorously we all react to those cases will really set the tone for this operation, so I'm very glad that, that the support was galvanized to, to get the Serbs to release those people.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Were you glad that the NATO officers got involved? At first, they had said they didn't want to get involved, that this was an operation that really the NATO troops should not be involved in, and then they did get involved. Do you think it was right that they did?
GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: Well, there's really a very significant distinction. It's one thing to say that the NATO forces should do something about it militarily. That is not the mission of IFOR, and if we were to, were to assume that it's the mission of IFOR, we would be on our first step of the slippery slope towards mission creep. It's a police function, and as soon as the police, civilian police, is established, they need to ensure that these things do not occur. On the other hand, it is correct for IFOR to make the good officers available, in this particular case the joint military commissions, where they can get together with all the warring factions and make it quite clear that such conduct cannot be tolerated.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about Srebrenica, which is in the U.S. sector, this is the area of course where 6,000 people allegedly were, were killed and buried in mass graves, and as I understand it--and please correct me if I'm wrong--there's still not freedom of travel into Srebrenica. The Bosnian Serbs are still keeping people out of there, is that true, and will, will the U.S. forces have to open that up?
GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: Oh, I think they--the burden is upon the parties. They are required to authorize freedom of movement. What I would tell you is we need to have just a touch of patience here, not only that IFOR is still moving in, secondly, there are an awful lot of civilian institutions that have to be established to ensure that all the provisions of the peace agreement are, are lived up to. IFOR, after all, has only the responsibility to ensure provisions of the military tasks. And so I think all of this will come in due time. And what I told you, that compliance up to now is better than we had expected, hopefully will carry forward to, to the freedom of movement into Srebrenica and other places, and so far, I have no indication that this won't be so, so I remain optimistic that if thinks continue as they have been up to now that we will ensure that all provisions of the peace agreement are adhered to.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Since you've been head of the Joint Chiefs, the U.S. has been involved in a humanitarian operation in Rwanda, in the Haiti operation, and--or the Haiti mission--and now in the peace implementation force. Are we seeing the evolution of the post-Cold War mission of the U.S. military?
GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: I'm not sure that I would characterize it as such. I would say that we are seeing the effects of the end of the Cold War and beginning of the, of the sort of turbulence and uncertainty that is the fallout from the end of the Cold War. And so these kinds of crises, whether they're humanitarian crises in a place like Rwanda or Somalia, or whether they are, in fact, security crises like we are experiencing in Bosnia, whether, whether the United States military has a role in, in dealing with those is the issue. It seems to me that the U.S. military must be one of the tools that should be available to the President to deal with such, such threats to our own interests and our own security. But, clearly, we all understand that we must be very, very selective, and we must employ American forces only where no one else can make a difference, and we, in fact, can.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, General, thank you very much for being with us.
GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: Thank you, Elizabeth.