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Zone of Separation

November 22, 1995 at 12:00 AM EDT

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: At a Pentagon briefing this afternoon, Lt. Gen. Wesley Clark and James Pardew, both participants in the peace talks, filled in some of the details about the forthcoming dispatch of NATO and American troops to Bosnia.

LT. GEN. WESLEY CLARK, U.S. Army: The essence of this agreement, if you read through it, is to obligate the parties, a very high level of obligation to the parties to perform certain specific tasks, establishing a zone of separation, taking your forces out of territories that are being transferred, and then maintaining the cessation of hostilities. It was established on the 10th of October. The obligations are on the parties, but the authority rests with this multinational implementation force, IFOR, under NATO control, and it has a very, very broad range of authorities which should enable it to do all that’s necessary to enforce its specific military tasks there in connection with the peace agreement and to assist in the creation of the kinds of conditions in Bosnia-Herzegovina which will enable the political aspects of the peace implementation to be effectively put on the ground and implemented during the period of the IFOR deployment.

REPORTER: Is NATO going to wait and see if there’s compliance on the part of the parties on the ground, the military especially, or is IFOR going to be obligated to go and to assist or to force a compliance?

LT. GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, let me answer that question this way. First of all, the original intent behind our plan was that once the agreement is signed and the conditions are right for the deployment of the implementation force, the force would go in very quickly. At the same time, it will take a period of days to build up the force that’s required for this agreement. We know this. And so what we’ve done is we have had the parties take the obligations, not IFOR, and the parties had the obligations to establish that separation of forces along the existing cease-fire line within 30 days, to be pulled back an average distance of about two kilometers on either side of the cease-fire line. That’s the intent. By the end of those 30 days, NATO should be on the ground in sufficient force, with sufficient capability to assist in providing the kinds of confidence that’s required for the forces to disengage.

REPORTER: You don’t anticipate countrywide resistance, but you did mention rogue elements. What sort of risk might be posed for you as troops by the rogue elements?

LT. GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I think you’re going to find a number of risks, and Jim, I’d ask you to come in on this too. But I think, I think that we’ve got to recognize that a deployment of 60,000 some-odd troops, including 20,000 Americans and conditions in Bosnia in the wintertime, is inherently a dangerous business. It’s a risky business. Those of us who’ve been in the United States Army in Europe know what it’s like driving around our training centers over there on icy tank trails and so forth. And I want to tell you that we’re going to be working very hard to maintain our safety if there were no resistance whatsoever over there, because the conditions are going to be difficult for us. But beyond that, of course, this is a country that’s been torn apart by terrible tragedy and fighting. It’s a country that’s, that’s seen more than its share of banditry, people out of control, armed groups, paramilitary groups of various types, and while our assessment would be that the parties have considerably tightened their control in their regions over the last four years of fighting, on the other hand, we couldn’t discount the possibility that some elements will provide some resistance.

JAMES PARDEW, Defense Department Official: But we don’t want to overdramatize this risk. Every military operation carries with it risk, safety risk. In any case, you may have rogue elements. I want to emphasize that this agreement requires the cooperation of the parties. They have initialed this as agreeing to the conditions set forth here. They will sign this agreement before the implementation forces deploy, so this, our participation in this, requires–I won’t say requires but is–as a prerequisite to our deployment, the full cooperation and agreement of the parties, and the implementation process.

REPORTER: How will we know when this mission has succeeded specifically?

JAMES PARDEW: Well, we believe that this–that the task, the implementation of this agreement–what are we doing here–we’re implementing a peace agreement. We think that that agreement can be implemented reasonably in about a year. What does that mean? It means creating that stable environment to return Bosnia back to a normal situation for people to live normal lives, that they would have a reasonable degree of protection, self-defense capability, and that, and that the fighting would stop. I don’t have a list, a checklist of things. I think we’ll know it when we see it.

REPORTER: If at the end of 12 months you look around and it’s not a stable environment, you still leave?

JAMES PARDEW: We believe that we can create a stable environment in 12 months. It’s not– the point here is that this is not an open-ended commitment. We’ve set things to do. We’re going to move forward and do them, and we think they can be accomplished in the time period that we’ve established.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now for more on the role of U.S. troops, we turn to Mark Thompson, “Time Magazine’s” national security correspondent. Thanks for being with us, Mark.

MARK THOMPSON: Thanks, Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: There are already some U.S. troops in Bosnia, right?

MR. THOMPSON: We’ve got several dozen there who–the key thing for the Americans and the NATO forces is they don’t want to be surprised when the bigger forces come in, so we’ve got folks there checking out bridges, checking out tunnels, checking out communications, checking out roads. So they’re doing that right now.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And isn’t there a plan to send a few hundred more very soon, before the peace agreement’s signed, before any vote in Congress?

MR. THOMPSON: Yeah. We may see somewhere between fifteen hundred and two thousand troops, a large chunk of them American, head to Hungary and from there many going into Bosnia to do more logistics, to set up communications networks and things like that well before the signing in Paris.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Compare the mission that U.S. troops would have when they go to other missions that U.S. troops have undertaken in Somalia, for example, or other places. This seems quite different.

MR. THOMPSON: Yes. I think the key thing here, we’ve got three warning signs, is, as an army general told me, we have to be brutally fair, we can’t be perceived in any way as favoring one side over the other. And that’s going to be a challenge, given our bombing of the Serbs, given our vocal support for the Muslims. But if we get in there with our forces–

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And even perhaps helping rearm the Muslims?

MR. THOMPSON: Right. And that, of course, could be more fuel on the fire.


MR. THOMPSON: That’s right. But the fact of the matter is that if, if anyone messes with us and we respond firmly and decisively, the Pentagon is counting on that to leave the impression that we are brutally fair.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let’s assume the peace accord is signed in Paris in mid-December, and Congress gives its permission. What U.S. forces from where will go into Bosnia?

MR. THOMPSON: The biggest chunk is going to be the First Armored Division from Germany. That’s going to account for perhaps 13,000 members of our force. I don’t know that the 20,000 number is exactly right. I’ve heard numbers up to twenty-three or twenty-five thousand. But in any event, the remainder that aren’t associated with the First Armored Division will be some light infantry units, most likely from the United States, as well as various reservists, who will also come from the United States.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The, the–let’s say the armored division that comes from Germany, what will they be doing, mostly, they’re policing a buffer zone, right, and it’s a 700-mile-long buffer zone?

MR. THOMPSON: Yeah. I mean, there are different pieces. It’s a pretty complicated geometry, but there will be these zones of separation. They will begin roughly two and a half miles wide, and after thirty days will become five miles wide trying to broaden the buffer zone among the warring parties. That will be their, their primary mission. They will not be engaged in nation- building. They hope they won’t have to become like the local county sheriff until the Serbs, you’ve got to move out of this house because the refugee Muslims used to live here, are now going to get their house back, that’s sort of the gray area that they’re confronting right now.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Although, as I understand it, in the peace agreement, there is this secondary mission that does include ensuring safe passage for refugees?

MR. THOMPSON: That’s right. And safe passage is the easy part. The tough part is when you knock on the front door.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yeah. And the secondary mission also includes removing land mines, providing security for relief agencies, so even though it’s not called nation-building, it is–it is that sort of thing.

MR. THOMPSON: It’s a nation putting back together, and it’s certainly neighborhood-building. I mean, I think that’s true. You know, we’re going to have a lot of heavy equipment there, a lot of mines, six million mines in Bosnia right now. Those will be useful for our troops to travel with the heavy armor. There was concern that maybe there’s too much heavy armor. The fact of the matter is that this is a real hostile environment we’re going into.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think the major risks will be?

MR. THOMPSON: The major risks, Gen. Rymer, the army chief of staff, told some reporters this morning that he sees them as mines. He sees them as these rogue elements, sort of the little elements inside the official militaries over there, as well as the Mujahadeen. There are several hundred, perhaps as many as a thousand, Islamic soldiers there from various countries from that part of the world helping the Muslim brethren, and if they think that the Muslims are getting a raw deal, they may take action on their own.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: U.S. forces will be based in one place, in Tuzla, French forces in another, and British forces in another?


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And that–it’s–that’s set. That’s not changing.

MR. THOMPSON: That’s basically correct. We’ll be out of Tuzla. The French will be down more at Sarajevo, and the British will be in the Northwest.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Who will be in charge?

MR. THOMPSON: Gen. George Jalwan, who is an American. He’s a four-star general supreme allied commander, will be in charge overall in Sarajevo. Adm. Layton Smith will actually run the show. He’ll be the Norm Schwarkopf of this operation.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And have you seen the rules of engagement spelled out, the guidelines under which forces will be authorized to fire?

MR. THOMPSON: Well, they’re going to–this time–and this goes back to being brutally frank– they’re not going to tolerate any sort of shenanigans. One guy told me if they look at us the wrong way, we’ll shoot. They’re going to have to go in very heavy and very emphatically, and they’re going to want to detour everything by going in in that manner. And the way to do that is just like, you know, a principal with a ruler. The first kid that gets out of line, you whack ’em, and I think that’s what we’re going to see here.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thanks for being with us, Mark.

MR. THOMPSON: Thank you, Elizabeth.