A substantial number of American troops will remain in Bosnia for at least a month after the NATO-led peace mission ends, a Pentagon official said Thursday.
In a departure from the original plan, NATO commanders have decided to keep a “significant force” in Bosnia up to the final day of the mission, which tentatively is set for Dec. 20, or one year after the peace enforcement began, spokesman Kenneth Bacon said.
Earlier, officials had said the pullout would begin at least a few months before the Dec. 20 closing date in order to have nearly everyone out by then. By instead keeping most of the force there until the end, a substantial number of troops will still be in Bosnia for “a month, maybe longer” after Dec. 20, Bacon said.
Bacon said it remained to be determined exactly how many of the current 18,000-plus U.S. troops of the Implementation Force, as the mission is formally known, will remain beyond Dec. 20. Other officials said it would be at least several thousand.
Gen. George Joulwan, the top commander of the NATO-led mission in Bosnia, has decided that some troops will be withdrawn before Dec. 20, but that most will remain, Bacon said.
Bacon said the change in plans stemmed from a request by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is assisting in the preparations for Bosnia’s elections, that NATO keep its full force there until after the elections.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported Thursday that the Muslim-led Bosnian government has dispatched Iranian-trained commando units to kill or capture enemies it has branded war criminals.
State Department spokesman Glyn Davies could not confirm the existence of such groups but said if the report is true, they would be incompatible with the Dayton peace agreement.
“If there is, in fact, an Iranian connection to these groups, that underscores once again the need for foreign forces to leave Bosnia,” he said.
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