After nearly a decade, the United States is ending its peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the European Union will take over the role from NATO next month. A much smaller contingent of American troops will remain on patrol in the Balkans to continue the hunt for two fugitive war crimes suspects wanted for trial.
About 60,000 NATO peacekeepers were deployed to Bosnia in December, 1995 to end three years of war between the country's ethnic Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, a conflict that killed an estimated quarter of a million people. After the signing of the peace agreement known as the Dayton Accords, then President Bill Clinton said American troops would only be in the Balkans for a year. But the mission has lasted nearly a decade, and with the security situation much improved, NATO is now handing the assignment over to the European Union.
A ceremony to mark the end of the American presence was held at a military base near Tuzla Wednesday. General B.B. Bell, is the commander of U.S. army forces in Europe. "This ceremony officially marks 'mission complete' and 'mission accomplished' for this great task force Eagle which has honorably served as part of a NATO coalition of over 40 nations dedicated to ensuring that the people of this country can move ahead from a war torn past to a peaceful and promising future," said General Bell.
Most of the 700 American troops serving with the NATO mission in Bosnia will be withdrawn. But Brigadier General Timothy Wright, the commander of U.S. ground forces in Bosnia, says NATO will not give up the hunt for Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic. Both are wanted for war crimes at The Hague in connection with the massacre of Muslims and Croats. "That is one of the primary reasons that I am leaving 150 soldiers here, those are the two guys that we want to go get, Mladic and Karadzic," he said. "They are the primary focus of these 150 guys."
NATO will formally hand over peacekeeping duties to the European Union on December 2, making the Bosnia mission the largest EU military operation.