December 30, 1995 in Nation/World

Nato Soldiers Bridging The Gap Engineers Positioning Pontoon Sections To Cross Flooded River

Terrence Petty Associated Press
 

The bridge over the river Sava began to take shape Friday as U.S. Army helicopters and engineers battled swirling snow to position pontoons that will convey most of the 20,000 GIs into Bosnia.

After days of flooding and other delays, Maj. Gen. William Nash, the troops’ commander, promised that soldiers and hardware would be rolling over the floating bridge within 24 hours.

“We gotta make it happen,” barked Nash. Dressed in battle fatigues, chomping on a cigar, he stood on the wreckage of a war-ruined bridge that the floating span will replace.

Once placed in the swollen Sava River, the 20-foot-long aluminum pontoons were anchored to the banks for the night. Troops planned to push them across the river Saturday and link them together.

Nash, commander of Task Force Eagle, the U.S. Army mission to Bosnia, was eager not to let weather or floodwaters hold up the deployment any longer.

Most of the GIs deploying to Bosnia - the backbone of a 60,000-strong NATO force policing the peace accord reached in Dayton, Ohio - will rely on the floating bridge to get there from staging areas outside this Croatian town.

Adm. Leighton Smith, the commander of NATO troops in Bosnia, made his first foray Friday into Banja Luka, the biggest Bosnian Serb stronghold, and appeared to back off his earlier hint that Serbs could stay longer in their part of Sarajevo.

After talks with Bosnian Serb leaders Tuesday in Pale, their stronghold near Sarajevo, Smith suggested he could change the March 19 deadline.

On Friday, he said he has no authority to shift deadlines by more than a few hours for purely military or logistical reasons. A delay of weeks or months could be arranged only by European Union mediator Carl Bildt, he added.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: OTHER DEVELOPMENTS U.N. officials said the aid airlift into Sarajevo will end next week because roads to the Bosnian capital are opening. The airlift lasted 41 months, making it the longest such operation in history. Retired U.S. Army Gen. Jacques Paul Klein, who is expected to be the U.N. administrator overseeing the peaceful handover of the last bit of Serb-held land in Croatia, began a fact-finding mission to the area. Eastern Slavonia is to be restored to Croatian control over the next two years. Hans Koschnik, the European Union administrator trying to bring divided Mostar’s Croats and Muslims together, said talks between the sides have broken down over where to draw the city’s district borders. Koschnik said the issue may have to be resolved by the parties to the Dayton accord. U.S. Gen. George Joulwan, the supreme allied commander in Europe, said authorities are investigating a report that an Army colonel called Croatians racist. According to The Wall Street Journal, Col. Gregory Fontenot told two black soldiers: “They kill people for the color of their skins.”

This sidebar appeared with the story: OTHER DEVELOPMENTS U.N. officials said the aid airlift into Sarajevo will end next week because roads to the Bosnian capital are opening. The airlift lasted 41 months, making it the longest such operation in history. Retired U.S. Army Gen. Jacques Paul Klein, who is expected to be the U.N. administrator overseeing the peaceful handover of the last bit of Serb-held land in Croatia, began a fact-finding mission to the area. Eastern Slavonia is to be restored to Croatian control over the next two years. Hans Koschnik, the European Union administrator trying to bring divided Mostar’s Croats and Muslims together, said talks between the sides have broken down over where to draw the city’s district borders. Koschnik said the issue may have to be resolved by the parties to the Dayton accord. U.S. Gen. George Joulwan, the supreme allied commander in Europe, said authorities are investigating a report that an Army colonel called Croatians racist. According to The Wall Street Journal, Col. Gregory Fontenot told two black soldiers: “They kill people for the color of their skins.”


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email