A HARSH LANDING
DECEMBER 21, 1995
As 60,000 soldiers, including 20,000 Americans, begin to land in Bosnia, Margaret Warner describes the harsh conditions the troops face.
MARGARET WARNER: This was the scene at the airport in Tuzla, when some of the first American troops flew into Bosnia last week. The day's weather was typical of the long, harsh Bosnian winter. Landing planes is sometimes impossible, and transporting military equipment on the ground is slow and difficult in this rugged mountainous country. To combat the elements, the air force and army are enlisting all kinds of advanced technology tailored for the Bosnia mission. Jaystar surveillance planes will track large troop movements and transmit radar images to allied commanders. Army Apache helicopters will be equipped with heat-detecting sensors and video cameras that can transmit aerial pictures to a command post within 90 seconds, and a new system called "Power Scene," will give pilots an enhanced picture of what the landscape ahead looks like. But most experts agree that the greater threat to American troops will come not from above the ground but below it. Bosnia is riddled with an estimated 6 million mines.
WILLIAM PERRY, Secretary of Defense: (December 4) We have given, every soldier that's going in there has had a refresher training in mine awareness, mine identification, mine clearing, the proper procedures for dealing with mines. This is certainly not the first time our army has ever been confronted with mines.
MARGARET WARNER: The army is bringing in special plows, rakes, and rollers that can be hitched to tanks to clear a mine field. Soldiers will also be equipped with special body armor, visors, shrapnel-resistant pants, and anti-mine overboots. The mine threat is considered so serious that every American soldier headed for Bosnia will undergo mine awareness training in Germany first. The danger from mines is exacerbated by the snow that is covering most of the ground in Bosnia. It will make some kinds of mines virtually impossible to detect, increasing the risk of casualties. President Clinton alluded to these risks in his address to the nation last month.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: (November 27) No deployment of American troops is risk-free, and this one may well involve casualties. There may be accidents in the field or incidents with people who have not given up their hatred. I will take every measure possible to minimize these risks, but we must be prepared for that possibility.
MARGARET WARNER: Another threat to American lives will come from those groups in Bosnia who reject the peace agreement. Many Serbs throughout Bosnia, like these Serbs at a rally in the suburb of Sarajevo, are unhappy with the peace accord. American forces could become the target of rogue elements on all sides.
WILLIAM PERRY, Secretary of Defense: (December 4) And we do not expect these kinds of incidents to occur, but it is only prudent to prepare for them because we know that there are some individuals and some gangs over there that do not agree with the peace agreement which their leaders have signed, and we want, first of all, to be strong enough and capable enough that, that we can handle ourselves in any situation. And we want to be intimidating.
MARGARET WARNER: Experts from Fort Benning, Georgia, are now in Germany, training soldiers on how to combat snipers and other guerrilla-like attacks. American troops are coming into a country whose people have spent four years savaging one another with killings, rapes, torture, and the destruction of entire villages. The ultimate risk for American soldiers may be trying to enforce a peace between rival factions who harbor bitter memories of what has gone before.