SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina - Army News Service,
by Air Force Maj. Richard Sater
May 16, 2001
Special Forces Observers complete Bosnia Mission
Joint Commission Observers, who served for 4.5 years as liaisons between Bosnian civilians and NATO commanders, ended their mission with a ceremony May 2.
"The mission of gathering information in this country no longer requires the expertise of the Army's Special Forces personnel," said
Maj. Richard Rhyne, the Special Operations Command and Control Element commander. "Their talents and resources are more urgently needed elsewhere in a busy world."
Rhyne and his four 10-man teams from 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, Fort Bragg, N.C., made up the last of the Joint Commission Observers.
JCOs were required under the Dayton Peace Accords of 1995 to be impartial observers, in the aftermath of the war. Their duties were to establish credibility in the communities by objectively looking and listening.
They traveled in pairs with one translator criss-crossing through the villages and towns in their assigned district, meeting six or eight times a day with local citizens - politicians, police officers, farmers, business owners, parents - getting to know the territory and the inhabitants.
Capt. Eric Coombs, a team leader, said he enjoyed the mission.
"It's different from anything I've done," Coombs said. "It's unconventional operations, working with people within the culture."
Even the duty uniform announced the difference between a JCO and a conventional soldier. The JCOs wore the Battle Dress Uniform with only U.S. Army and nametapes. They wore no other insignia, no hat -- not even the distinctive green beret -- and no exposed weapon.
Regular Stabilization Force troops walked the streets in Kevlar helmets, body armor, and M-16s slung over their shoulder.
"We're perceived as less of a threat," according to Staff Sgt. Brian Morris, also on the JCO team with Coombs.
The team provided a sympathetic ear for the local citizens. "We're not here to fix what's wrong. Our mission is just to find out what's going on out there and tell it like it is," Coombs said. "It's not a traditional Special Forces job, but ground truth is always needed."
The JCOs lived on the economy in the Bosnian Federation in rented houses away from the conventional SFOR bases and camps. As a result, team members moved freely through the communities gathering information and facilitating communication between Serb, Croat, Bosnian leaders and SFOR.
Originally, Bosnia and Herzegovina were divided into sectors for U.S. Army JCO teams. By August 1998, the responsibilities for observation in Multi-National Division-Southeast and-Southwest had been passed along to other NATO nations. Only MND-North remained under the watchful eye of American soldiers culled from detachments of Special Forces.
Now, a plateau of stability has been reached, and the current situation in Bosnia is much less volatile than it was several years ago, according to Brig. Gen. Les Fuller, commander of Special Operations Command, Europe.
"We feel that the environment here has transcended the special operations skills," Fuller said.
The decision is not irreversible, Fuller said, should the situation change once again.
"If there is a requirement to bring them back, we can do that," Fuller said. "I think the waters are calm. Other organizations now report information to the SFOR commander."
(Editor's note: Maj. Richard Sater is a member of the Coalition Press Information Center in Multinational Division-North.)
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