Peace support operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina

  • Last updated: 05 Jun. 2012 15:28

NATO conducted its first major crisis response operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR) was deployed in December 1995 to implement the military aspects of the Dayton Peace Agreement and was replaced a year later by the NATO-led Stabilisation Force (SFOR). SFOR helped to maintain a secure environment and facilitate the country’s reconstruction in the wake of the 1992-1995 war.

In the light of the improved security situation in both Bosnia and Herzegovina and the wider region, the Alliance brought SFOR to a conclusion in December 2004 and the European Union (EU) took on NATO’s stabilisation role.

NATO provides planning, logistic and command support for the EU-led Operation Althea, in accordance with the Berlin Plus arrangements agreed between the two organisations.

NATO is also maintaining a military headquarters in Sarajevo. It carries out a number of specific tasks related, in particular, to assisting the government in reforming its defence structures, working on counter-terrorism and apprehending war-crime suspects. Bosnia and Herzegovina became a NATO Partner country in December 2006 and is focusing on introducing democratic, institutional and defence reforms, as well as developing practical cooperation in other areas.

  • Aim and implementation of IFOR and SFOR


    The Implementation Force (IFOR) was deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina in December 1995 with a one-year mandate.

    IFOR operated under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, deriving its authority from UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1031 of 15 December 1995. This gave it a mandate not just to maintain peace, but also, where necessary, to enforce it. As such and strictly speaking, IFOR was a peace enforcement operation, which was more generally referred to as a peace support operation. This was also the case for SFOR.

    • IFOR’s aim
      IFOR aimed to oversee implementation of the military aspects of the Dayton Peace Agreement, the accord ending the Bosnian War. Its main task was to guarantee the end of hostilities and separate the armed forces of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the one hand, and Republika Srpska, on the other.
    • IFOR in the field
      IFOR oversaw the transfer of territory between the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska, the demarcation of the inter-entity boundary and the removal of heavy weapons into approved cantonment sites.
      As the situation on the ground improved, IFOR began providing support to organisations involved in overseeing the implementation of the civilian aspects of the Dayton Peace Agreement, including the Office of the High Representative, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the United Nations.
      IFOR's goals were essentially completed by the September 1996 elections. As the situation was still potentially unstable and much remained to be accomplished on the civilian side, NATO agreed to deploy a new Stabilisation Force (SFOR) from December 1996.


    The Stabilisation Force (SFOR) operated under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, deriving its authority from UN Security Council Resolution 1088 of 12 December 1996. As was the case for IFOR, it was a peace enforcement operation that was more generally referred to as a peace support operation.

    • SFOR’s aim
      SFOR’s primary task was to contribute to a safe and secure environment conducive to civil and political reconstruction.
      Specifically, SFOR was tasked to deter or prevent a resumption of hostilities; to promote a climate in which the peace process could continue to move forward; and, to provide selective support within its means and capabilities to civilian organisations involved in this process.
    • SFOR in the field
      FOR’s activities ranged from patrolling and providing area security through supporting defence reform and supervising de-mining operations, to arresting individuals indicted for war crimes and assisting the return of refugees and displaced people to their homes.

    Keeping the peace

    SFOR troops carried out regular patrols throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina to maintain a secure environment. Multinational specialised units were deployed to deal with instances of unrest.

    SFOR also collected and destroyed unregistered weapons and ordnance in private hands, in order to contribute to the overall safety of the population and to build confidence in the peace process. In 2003 alone, SFOR disposed of more than 11,000 weapons and 45,000 grenades.

    SFOR was also one of several organisations involved in de-mining in Bosnia and Herzegovina. NATO forces carried out some de-mining themselves and helped to set up de-mining schools in Banja Luka, Mostar and Travnik. They also helped to establish a sniffer dog training school in Bihac.

    Furthermore, SFOR had Multinational Specialised Units (MSU) that assisted the EU Police Mission (EUPM). The EUPM is responsible for helping the Bosnian authorities develop local police forces that meet the highest European and international standards, through monitoring, mentoring and inspecting police managerial and operational capacities.

    Reforming defence establishments

    A key aspect of SFOR's work in Bosnia and Herzegovina concerned reform of the country's defence structures, which had been divided into three rival ethnic groups at the end of hostilities.

    Within the framework of a Defence Reform Commission, both SFOR and NATO worked to help Bosnia and Herzegovina build a unified command and control structure and to develop joint doctrine and standards for training and equipment that are compatible with NATO and Partnership for Peace (PfP) norms. In March 2004, a state-level Defence Minister brought the country’s two separate armies under a single command structure.

    NATO's military headquarters in Sarajevo has a leadership role in the Defence Reform Commission and is continuing to work on defence reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    Arresting war-crimes suspects

    Although the apprehension of indicted war criminals was officially the responsibility of the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, NATO forces were instrumental in most arrests that have taken place. In total, SFOR brought 39 war-crimes suspects to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague (ICTY).

    SFOR also provided security and logistical support to ICTY investigative teams as well as surveillance of and ground patrolling around alleged mass graves. Through its military headquarters in Sarajevo, NATO remains committed to bring to justice all war-crimes suspects still at large.

    Contributing to reconstruction

    In addition to helping other organisations working on Bosnia and Herzegovina's reconstruction, SFOR launched its own Civil-Military Co-operation (CIMIC) projects in areas such as structural engineering and transportation.

    SFOR participated in the maintenance and repair of roads and railways in collaboration with the local authorities and other international agencies. This work was critical to providing freedom of movement throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina.

  • Command of the missions

    As for all NATO operations, political control and co-ordination are provided by the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s senior political decision-making body. Strategic command and control is exercised by NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium.

    Command of IFOR

    Admiral Leighton Smith commanded IFOR (COMIFOR) from the start of the operation on 20 December 1995 until 31 July 1996. Admiral T. Joseph Lopez then took command until 7 November 1996, followed by General William Crouch from 7 November 1996 to 20 December 1996. 

    The COMIFOR was based at operational headquarters in Zagreb, Croatia.  Lieutenant General Michael Walker, Commander Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps (COMARRC) acted as Commander for IFOR's land component throughout the operation.

    Command of SFOR

    Following the hand-over to SFOR in December 1996, the command structure, as directed by the North Atlantic Council (NAC), was broadened to include a deputy SFOR commander, a deputy operational commander and divisional commanders at the head of each MNTF (1,800 - 2,000 troops).

    This structure comprised 300 staff at HQSFOR at Camp Butmir in Sarajevo, led by the Commander of SFOR (COMSFOR) and three Multi-National Task Forces (MNTFs) working in different areas:

    • MNTF-North (MNTF-N) based in Tuzla;
    • MNTF-Southeast (MNTF-SE) based in Mostar; and
    • MNTF-Northwest (MTNF-NW) based in Banja Luka.
    Restructuring of SFOR

    The NAC reviewed SFOR periodically at six monthly junctures to assess the force's effectiveness.

    On 25 October 1999 the NAC, based upon the improved security situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, reduced and restructured SFOR. Headquarters remained at Camp Butmir in Sarajevo but MNTFs were reduced in size from divisions to brigades. Each MNTF still retained individual brigade commanders. In addition a Tactical Reserve Force of 1,000 battle-ready troops was created.

    As was the case with IFOR, every NATO member with armed forces committed troops to SFOR. Iceland, the only NATO country without armed forces, provided medical personnel. Outside of NATO countries, contributors were: Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia (which all became NATO members at a later stage), Austria, Argentina, Finland, Ireland, Morocco, Russia, and Sweden; and by special arrangement with the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. All forces incorporated into SFOR came under the command of COMSFOR and the NAC.

    Commanders of SFOR – COMSFOR
      Gen. William Crouch, US A 20 Dec 1996 - 30 Jul 1997
      Gen. Eric Shinseki, US A 30 Jul 1997 - 23 Oct 1998
      Gen. Montgomery Meigs, US A 23 Oct 1998 - 18 Oct 1999
      Lt. Gen. Ronald Adams, US A 18 Oct 1999 - 08 Sep 2000
      Lt. Gen. Michael Dodson, US A 08 Sep 2000 - 07 Sep 2001
      Lt. Gen. John B. Sylvester, US A 07 Sep 2001 - 07 Oct 2002
      Lt. Gen. William E. Ward, US A 08 Oct 2002 - 01 Oct 2003
      Maj. Gen. Virgil L. Packett II, US A 02 Oct 2003 - 04 Oct 2004
      Brig. Gen. Steven P. Schook, US A 05 Oct 2004 - 02 Dec 2004

  • The evolution of NATO’s assistance

    A four-year war started in Bosnia and Herzegovina when Yugoslavia (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia¹, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia) broke up at the end of the Cold War.

    NATO's involvement in Bosnia and Herzegovina began in 1992. In June of that year, NATO foreign ministers stated that, on a case-by-case basis, the Alliance would support peacekeeping activities under the responsibility of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (subsequently renamed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe). A month later, in July 1992, NATO began monitoring operations in the Adriatic in support of the UNSCR 713 and 757 imposing an arms embargo and sanctions in the former Yugoslavia.

    By October 1992, NATO AWACS aircraft were monitoring operations in support of UNSCR 781, imposing a no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina. And in November, NATO and the Western European Union began to enforce the sanctions and embargo imposed by UNSCR 787. By the end of the year, NATO declared that it stood ready to support peacekeeping operations under the authority of the United Nations.

    NATO's first ever military engagement

    After the United Nations authorised the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina, NATO began Operation Deny Flight in April 1993. On 28 February 1994, four warplanes violating the no-fly zone were shot down by NATO aircraft in the Alliance's first military engagement.

    At the request of the United Nations, NATO provided close air support to the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) on the ground and carried out air strikes to protect UN-designated safe havens. Air strikes were conducted against targets such as tanks, ammunition depots and air defence radars.

    NATO’s air operations against Bosnian Serb positions in August and September 1995 helped pave the way for a comprehensive peace agreement. The operation, Deliberate Force, lasted for 12 days and helped shift the balance of power between parties on the ground. It also helped persuade the Bosnian Serb leadership that the benefits of negotiating a peace agreement outweighed those of continuing to wage war.

    On 14 December 1995, after negotiations in Dayton, Ohio, the General Framework Agreement for Peace was signed in Paris, France. The Dayton Peace Agreement establishes Bosnia and Herzegovina as a single, democratic and multiethnic state with two entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska.

    And the first major crisis response operation

    IFOR was the Alliance's first major crisis response operation. It was set up to implement the military aspects of the Dayton Peace Agreement, when NATO took over responsibility for military operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina from UNPROFOR. IFOR’s goals were essentially completed by the September 1996 elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, as the situation was still potentially unstable and much remained to be accomplished on the civilian side, NATO agreed to deploy a new Stabilisation Force (SFOR) from December 1996.

    Mission hand-over to the European Union

    At their Istanbul Summit in June 2004, NATO leaders decided to bring SFOR to a conclusion by the end of the year as a result of the improved security situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the wider region.

    The SFOR mission was officially ended on 2 December 2004. In its place, a European Union-led force is deployed, known as Operation Althea. The Alliance is providing planning, logistic and command support for the EU mission, in the framework of a package of agreements known as "Berlin Plus". These agreements provide the overall framework for NATO-EU cooperation.

    NATO HQ Sarajevo

    The primary role of this NATO Military Liaison and Advisory Mission (NATO HQ Sarajevo) is to assist Bosnia and Herzegovina with defence reform. It also aims to help the country meet requirements for its participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme.

    NATO HQ Sarajevo undertakes certain operational tasks such as counter-terrorism while ensuring force protection, support to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, with the detention of persons indicted for war crimes, and intelligence-sharing with the European Union. In sum, the NATO HQ Sarajevo complements the work of the EU mission with specific competencies.

  • Facts and figures

    Contributing countries

    Over the course of these missions, a total of 36 Allied and Partner countries contributed troops. In addition, soldiers from five countries that were neither NATO members nor Partner countries participated at different times, namely Argentina, Australia, Chile, Malaysia and New Zealand.

    Troop numbers

    • IFOR
      IFOR was a 60,000-strong force that was deployed for one year.
    • SFOR
      SFOR originally comprised 31,000 troops. By early 2001 they had been reduced to 19,000 and, in spring 2002, the decision was taken to reduce troops to 12,000 by end 2002. By 2004, they totaled 7,000.
1. Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.