INTERVIEW WITH MAJOR GENERAL WILLIAM NASH
DECEMBER 29, 1995
Major General William Nash, U.S. NATO commander in Bosnia talks about the early stages of the mission, what U.S. and NATO troops have achieved, and how the Bosnian people have reacted to the troops.. General Nash spoke to Jim Lehrer from U.S. headquarters in Tuzla.
JIM LEHRER: General Nash, welcome.
MAJOR GENERAL WILLIAM NASH, U.S. Army: (Tuzla, Bosnia) Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: First, just in general terms, how is it going for you and your troops?
GEN. NASH: Well, I would say it's going pretty well. We have had a number of challenges with the weather, both in terms of the fog here in Tuzla and the rising river up North at the Sava. The great airmen and soldiers of Task Force Eagle have overcome those obstacles, so I'd say, overall, we're pretty much on track.
JIM LEHRER: Now, on the bridge specifically, you're putting a bridge across that river, and bring us up to date on where matters stand as we're speaking now.
GEN. NASH: Well, I'm very happy to tell you that we're going to cross the river in the morning. People have been asking me how far behind we are, and I keep trying to tell 'em that, in fact, we're about two days ahead. We're going to cross tomorrow morning, had a very successful day today. The river really gave us a right cross yesterday as it flooded out the base camp and part of our approach area, so we had to come up with a couple of other tricks to get the bridges in the water, which we were able to do today. And they'll finish up the preparations tonight. And tomorrow morning, very early, we'll go ahead and connect all the pieces of the bridge together and go across.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. How long is this bridge? How big a bridge is it?
GEN. NASH: Well, it was originally supposed to be 330 meters, approximately, going across, 310 to 330. But then with the flooding we had in the last two days, we formed an island in the middle, so we're going to have a three hundred and thirty meter span go over about fifty to a hundred meters of dry land, and then another couple of hundred meters of bridge. So it's going to be over 500 meters long of bridge.
JIM LEHRER: Now, why is it so important? Why is this bridge so important to what you're up to?
GEN. NASH: Well, it's going to move all the forces from, from Croatia down into our area of responsibility. You know, we've got the Northeastern section of the country. The two alternatives we had were to move from Germany by ship and come into Split-Ploce area and then drive the length of the country on very treacherous roads, and, in fact, would have had to construct a number of bridges and widen roads to allow us to get to Tuzla, or the Tuzla area. We took a little bit smarter option using the rail system to move our forces both directly to Croatia and also through Hungary in some cases, moved 'em down. All the bridges on the river, on the Sava River, between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina had been destroyed during the war. And so we had to build our own.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Assume everything goes according to schedule in the morning and your troops and forces start, and equipment and everything starts coming across that bridge. How long is it going to be before your full force is where it ought to be?
GEN. NASH: Well, our full deployment will be complete in late January. When I say "our" full deployment, that includes all the allied forces that are joining us in the multinational division North, including the Nordic contingent, as well as the Russians.
JIM LEHRER: But the 20,000 American troops, how long will it be before they are across that bridge and in the Tuzla area, where they're supposed to be?
GEN. NASH: I'd have to go back and check my, check my numbers on that, but I think we'll pretty much all be there between the 20th and 25th of January.
JIM LEHRER: Was the weather a surprise to you and your troops, General?
GEN. NASH: No, it was not a surprise. We had pretty well assured ourselves that the winters in the Balkans were hard, cold, and tough, and, therefore, we developed a plan that allowed us to adapt to the conditions and kind of roll with the punches, if you will, as we went through this process.
JIM LEHRER: So, there's been a lot of reporting, as I'm sure you've been told, about building the bridge and the flood and the Sava River and all of that. This is all just part of the job, in your perspective. This is nothing for anybody back here to worry about?
GEN. NASH: I don't think so. Lord knows, I've been asked a lot of questions by your friends that are over here with us. But we--we've had a plan. We wanted to do a lot of work to prepare to do the crossing correctly. Just about had that in place when we got the rising waters that flooded us out in that one portion, so we had to come up with another trick today, and we brought in the heavy helicopters to solve the problem.
JIM LEHRER: How would you characterize the reception you and your troops have received from the people of Bosnia?
GEN. NASH: Most pleasantly surprised, almost surprised. This may be not the quite, the right word, but we are really, really pleased with our reception. All three factions have been--shown a great deal of goodwill, a great deal of intent to comply with the peace accord. The common man and woman we talked to was happy that--are happy that the war is over. So we're--we're being received very well.
JIM LEHRER: What do you consider to be the biggest threat, potential threat, to your troops?
GEN. NASH: Well, I'd normally answer that question with three items. The first is certainly the winter weather that we're facing, both in terms of conducting the operations, taking care of the soldiers, and ensuing accidents that happen when you have this type of icy cold weather. The second one has to do with the large number of land mines that are in the area that we're concerned with, and then we're concerned that there may be one or two folks around that may not think peace in Bosnia is a good idea, and may try to disrupt the process.
JIM LEHRER: Have any of those--we know about the weather--what about the other two elements? Have you seen any signs of that yet?
GEN. NASH: Well, on the other two, the news is mostly good as well, as being able to overcome the weather so far. We've gotten very good cooperation from all the parties to the peace accord in providing mine data. We don't have it 100 percent yet, but we have a great deal of it. The biggest request I've received from some folks is assistance in providing them material by which they can mark their mine fields as they go about the process of clearing them. With respect to any type of rogue elements that would be against peace in Bosnia, a shattering thought to me, but that so far has not surfaced, and we're, we're comfortable with where we are, but we're paying attention as well.
JIM LEHRER: Hm-mm. Now, you've had, by my count two, there may have been more, meetings with the commanders of the three forces, Bosnian forces, the Croats, the Serbs, and the Muslims. How have those gone?
GEN. NASH: They've gone very well. I've been pleased with their knowledge of the peace treaty, their commitment in both word and deed to abide by that treaty. I'm starting to meet with those folks a second and third time now. We've also had our first joint military commission the other day where we brought together the federation forces, both Bosnian and Croat, as well as the Serb forces, and we had a very professional, polite meeting, and got right down to business.
JIM LEHRER: General, is it a difficult situation for you to deal with them, in one way say hey, look, we're here to help you guys, but at the same time, if you, if you get out of line, we're going to hurt you, I mean, is that a hard message to get over in a pleasant conversation?
GEN. NASH: Well, we're not trying to be abusive about that, but they--
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
GEN. NASH: --very, they very well understand our capabilities, and it's clear to them that we mean business. What we have told our soldiers is that we're going to treat everybody with dignity and respect but with a firmness of purpose. We will not be provocative, but we will be ready. And that's exactly what I tell all the folks I meet with.
JIM LEHRER: And is it your impression that they understand that, that--that--they have--if they are tempted to fool around, that you will respond?
GEN. NASH: Oh, I think they're very confident in that. We may be tested some time, but I don't think it'll be a, for the most part, deliberate scheme. There may be a couple of fellows that get out of hand, but we're dealing with that, or we will deal with that.
JIM LEHRER: Sure. Are you comfortable with the mission, yourself, General, your mission?
GEN. NASH: I am. Yes, I am. I spent a lot of time studying the peace accord. I had a chance to talk to some of the folks that participated in the negotiations. We spent a lot of time analyzing our mission in terms of the specific tasks we had to accomplish, and I think we've got things to where we know what's expected of us. Better yet, the parties concerned with the treaty understand what's expected of them. And I think we can go down the road together.
JIM LEHRER: There's been a lot of talk back here about whether or not people understand why those U.S. troops are there. Do the U.S. troops under your command understand why they are there?
GEN. NASH: I think the soldiers are very comfortable with their mission. The commander-in- chief came to one of our posts and looked us in the eye and told us what he expected of us, told us our rules, and I think the soldiers understand the direct message from the commander-in- chief, and of course, we have spent a lot of time ensuring that the soldiers also understand our role here.
JIM LEHRER: And when you look at the mission and you look at what you have at your--under your command, in other words in terms of troops and in terms of equipment, in terms of back-up and support, do you feel you've got enough to do it?
GEN. NASH: Oh, yes. I'm very comfortable with the forces that have been allocated to me. We're still working on the margin of a couple of capabilities that I want to have, but that's just normal business, and we'll, we'll have exactly what we need as we go along with the job.
JIM LEHRER: And the separation of the forces, which is your No. 1 mission, how is that going in your area thus far? What, what stage is it even?
GEN. NASH: It started immediately as we started doing our job with respect to the mission. When we, when we first arrived, we immediately took command of a number of UNPROFOR forces that had transferred from UN to NATO control, and they went right to work on opening up some of the roads through the cease-fire line and the zone of separation. And as we occupied those areas, the forces were quite willing to pull back. We've made good progress on that so far, well ahead of that schedule.
JIM LEHRER: General, just in, in personal terms, what's the life like for, what's the living like for your troops right now? It's very cold, of course, but explain that coldness and what it means for everyday life for your folks.
GEN. NASH: Well, it means that their sergeant checks on 'em a lot, Jim. We, we pay a lot of attention to taking care of the soldiers, making sure he's got the proper clothing that, if it gets wet like it did the other day up at the river, that we get 'em into a place to get 'em dried off. We got a lot of new sleeping bags moved down from our staging area in Hungary to take care of the ones that got soaked yesterday morning. We're living in tents. We're living in small, almost box-like containers that the UN had here, and a few folks are in some pretty old barracks, with heat provided by mobile heaters that we brought in.
JIM LEHRER: What kind of tents--
GEN. NASH: We've got--sorry?
JIM LEHRER: I'm sorry. What kind of tents are they--two-men tents, or larger than that?
GEN. NASH: No, no. They hold about 20 folks in them, a couple of stoves in them, and they've got wooden floors, strong frames. In fact, we just--we've got an Air Force construction unit here known as "Red Horse" that's working on the camp here in Tuzla, and if you look up at the river, you'll find some Navy Seabees working on our camps there, so we've got a real joint operation going.
JIM LEHRER: I see. And the food's okay?
GEN. NASH: Sorry?
JIM LEHRER: The food is all right, the supplies and all of that are coming in?
GEN. NASH: The food is fine. We've been swapping rations with a number of countries, and we had fresh turkey for Christmas dinner, and we've set up our, set up our field messes now, and things are getting better.
JIM LEHRER: So if any families of any of your soldiers are watching this tonight, what would you say to them about how they're doing?
GEN. NASH: Well, the first thing I would say to the parents, and the children, relatives, and friends of the soldiers here, is that you should be very proud of the sons and daughters of America as they serve, doing their duty here in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Hungary. The soldiers are absolutely magnificent. They're performing to the highest standards, and they bring tears to your eyes when you think about how well they're doing.
JIM LEHRER: Well, General, thank you very much, and good luck to you and to those soldiers you were just talking about.
GEN. NASH: Okay. Thank you, sir. Happy New Year!
JIM LEHRER: Thank you. Same to you, General.