Defense Secretary William Perry got muddy with the troops in Bosnia Wednesday, hailing their early progress but predicting a year in which problems rise as surely as the flooding Sava River.
“That’s going to be the history of our time in Bosnia now. It’s going to be dealing with one problem after another as these problems come up,” Perry told reporters at the U.S. headquarters complex in northeastern Bosnia.
A problem high on Perry’s agenda Wednesday was the detention of 16 Bosnian Muslims who ventured into Serb-held parts of the republic. In a Sarajevo meeting, Perry told Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic that IFOR, the NATO peace implementation force, would provide temporary military police help until a separate international police force can be established.
Perry flew into Sarajevo in a military transport plane. But despite the entire NATO force at his disposal, he entered Bosnia a second time the Army way - on foot. Perry walked from Croatia into Bosnia over the 2,000-foot-long Army pontoon bridge spanning the flooded Sava River, Bosnia’s northern border.
“Nothing better exemplifies the spirit of the United States Army,” Perry said, pausing to shake hands and pose for pictures with soldiers on his way across the floating structure as long as the Brooklyn Bridge. He even stopped to re-enlist 1st Sgt. Charles Kidwell, 33, of Springfield, Ky., for four more years in the Army.
After a week’s delay, completion of the bridge has boosted U.S. force strength 14 days into the deployment to an estimated 4,000 soldiers, an officer said.
Idling just behind Perry and a battery of senior officers, Bradley fighting vehicles from the 1st Armored Division waited their turn to cross into Bosnia for a year’s deployment.
Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed pride in the “super team” who labored to build a route into Bosnia for what will eventually be a force of 20,000 American soldiers working alongside 40,000 from allied nations.
In Tuzla, Perry toured an Army camp, complete with generator-heated tents. He met Turkish soldiers and members of a brigade from Nordic countries. He watched a Croatian mine-removal unit move out for another day’s work.
While Perry set an upbeat tone, sobering reminders of the death and destruction that led to the peace-keeping mission greeted him.
His first glimpse of Bosnia was of its devastated capital city. No building in Sarajevo appeared to have escaped significant damage during more than three years of civil war. And when Perry’s C-17 transport taxied to a stop at Sarajevo International Airport, the secretary’s party could see in the distance the Mount Igman Road on which three U.S. diplomats, including Joseph Kruzel, his close associate, were killed last year in an accident.
“It is unspeakably saddening to see it first hand,” Perry said. “It does give me a very good, warm feeling though that the world is taking action now … and there’s a bright prospect of peace in the future.”
There also were reminders that to some, the international response to the war was too long in coming.
As Perry’s entourage walked down the ramp toward a motorcade of armored cars, Gen. George Joulwan, NATO commander and chief military architect of the peacekeeping plan, said through clenched teeth: “Wait until you see this city - that we’ve allowed something like this to happen in Europe in the 1990s. …”
The cordon of security around Perry was no mere exercise. NATO officials recently have been counting roughly 400 “firing incidents” per day in Sarajevo, an “incident” defined as five or more shots.