Historyof the NATO-led Stabilisation Force (SFOR)
in Bosnia and Herzegovina


On 14 December 1995 the General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP) was signed in Paris, after it had been negotiated in Dayton, Ohio. On 16 December the Alliance's North Atlantic Council launched the largest military operation ever undertaken by the Alliance, Operation Joint Endeavour.

Based on UN Security Council Resolution 1031, NATO was given the mandate to implement the military aspects of the Peace Agreement. A NATO-led multinational force, called the Implementation Force (IFOR), started its mission on 20 December 1995. IFOR was given a one-year mandate.
Its primary mission was to implement Annex 1A (Military Aspects) of the Peace Agreement. It accomplished its principal military tasks by causing and maintaining the cessation of hostilities; separating the armed forces of the Bosniac - Bosnian Croat Entity (the Federation) and the Bosnian - Serb Entity (the Republika Srpska) by mid-January 1996; transferring areas between the two Entities by mid March; and, finally, moving the Parties' forces and heavy weapons into approved sites, which was realised by the end of June. For the remainder of the year IFOR continued to patrol along the 1,400 km long de-militarised Inter-Entity Boundary Line (IEBL) and regularly inspected over 800 sites containing heavy weapons and other equipment. In carrying out these tasks it opened 2,500 km of roads, repaired or replaced over 60 bridges, and freed up Sarajevo airport and key railway lines.
Due to IFOR's early success, a secure environment was established. This enabled the High Representative (nominated at the London Peace Implementation Conference of 8-9 December 1995) and other organisations to start their work with regard to the implementation of the civil aspects of the peace agreement, and to create conditions in which the return to normal life could begin in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Within the limits of its mandate and available resources, IFOR provided substantial support to the High Representative and to the other organisations. One important element was the priority support given to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in preparing and conducting the September 1996 elections.


After the peaceful conduct of the September 1996 elections, IFOR successfully completed its mission of implementing the military annexes of the General Framework Agreement for Peace. However, it was clear that much remained to be accomplished on the civil side and that the political environment would continue to be potentially unstable and insecure.
On 25-26 September, one week after the Bosnian elections, at an informal meeting in Bergen, Norway, NATO Defence Ministers concluded that the Alliance needed to re-assess how it might continue to provide support for the establishment of a secure environment after the end of IFOR's mandate in December. One month later, the North Atlantic Council approved detailed political guidance for a study to be undertaken by the NATO Military Authorities of post-IFOR security options.
In November and December 1996, a two-year consolidation plan was established in Paris and elaborated in London under the auspices of the Peace Implementation Conference. On the basis of this plan and the Alliance's own study of security options, NATO Foreign and Defence Ministers concluded that a reduced military presence was needed to provide the stability necessary for consolidating the peace. They agreed that NATO should organise a Stabilisation Force (SFOR), which was subsequently activated on 20 December 1996, the date the IFOR mandate expired.

The role of IFOR (Operation Joint Endeavour) was to implement the peace. The role of SFOR (Operation Joint Guard / Operation Joint Forge) is to stabilise the peace. The difference between the tasks of IFOR and SFOR is reflected in their names.

SFOR's Role and Mandate

Under UN Security Council Resolution 1088 of 12 December 1996, SFOR was authorised to implement the military aspects of the Peace Agreement as the legal successor to IFOR. Like IFOR, SFOR operates under Chapter VII of the UN Charter (peace enforcement). SFOR has the same robust rules of engagement for the use of force, should it be necessary to accomplish its mission and to protect itself.
The primary mission of SFOR is to contribute to the safe and secure environment necessary for the consolidation of peace. Its specific tasks are:
To deter or prevent a resumption of hostilities or new threats to peace.
To promote a climate in which the peace process can continue to move forward.
To provide selective support to civilian organisations within its capabilities.

Initially, SFOR's size was around 32,000 troops in Bosnia and Herzegovina - approximately half that of IFOR. Building on the general compliance with the terms of the Peace Agreement, the smaller-sized SFOR was able to concentrate on the implementation of all the provisions of Annex 1A of the Peace Agreement, i.e.:
Stabilisation of the current secure environment in which local and national authorities and other international organisations can work.
Providing support to other agencies (on a selective and targeted basis, in view of the reduced size of the forces available).

SFOR Command Structure

The Stabilisation Force has a unified command and is NATO-led under the political direction and control of the Alliance's North Atlantic Council, as stipulated by the Peace Agreement (Annex 1A). Overall military authority is in the hands of NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). As from 19 February 2001, Allied Forces Southern Europe (AF South) has become Joint Force Commander (JFC) for SFOR, as it has been for KFOR since 18 January 2001.

Lt. Gen. William E. Ward is the current Commander of SFOR (COMSFOR).

Participation of non-NATO Nations

As was the case with IFOR, every NATO nation with armed forces has committed troops to SFOR. Iceland, the only NATO country without armed forces, provides medical personnel. However, SFOR is more than a NATO operation. The following is a summary of contributing/participating nations:
As of March 2003
NATO nations: Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, UK and USA.
Non-NATO: Albania, Austria, Argentina, Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Morocco, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden.
By special agreement with UK: Australia and New Zealand
Total troops number: Initial SFOR - 32,000 approx. Following several restructuring - 12,000 approx.
Non-NATO forces have been incorporated into the operation on the same basis as NATO forces, taking orders from the SFOR Commander via their respective multinational Brigade Headquarters.
Contributing non-NATO countries are represented by liaison officers at SHAPE. They have been involved in planning operations and the process of generating the necessary forces through the SFOR Co-ordination Centre. At NATO headquarters, contributing non-NATO countries are consulted at key junctures and are given the opportunity to express their views on NAC decisions.
This is achieved with the so-called NAC+N - North Atlantic Council meeting with non-NATO contributors. Participation by non-NATO countries not only contributes to the accomplishment of the SFOR mission but also has a wider significance. It provides all the participating forces from Partnership Countries with practical experience of operating with NATO forces. It shows that NATO and non-NATO countries can work closely in NATO-led operations in the cause of peace. This has a broader impact on the region and contributes to enhanced security in the whole of Europe and beyond.


The NAC, in consultation with non-NATO contributing countries, SFOR and SHAPE, reviews SFOR force levels and tasks every six months. This periodic review is the basis upon which NATO assesses future force requirements and mission accomplishment.
On October 25, 1999, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) decided, having taken into account the improved security situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to implement, between November 1999 and April 2000, a revised structure for the Stabilisation Force (SFOR).
This process has continued with a re-structuring to about 12,000 troops by the very beginning of 2003. In the new structure SFOR continues to have its HQ in the Sarajevo area (transferred in 2000 from the Sarajevan suburb of Ilidza to the purpose-built Camp Butmir). Below this are three multinational Brigades each of which is commanded by a Brigadier and contains distinct Battle Groups (BGs). These BGs can be multinational and are essentially reinforced battalion task forces with their own organic capabilities.
In addition there are now dedicated Tactical Reserve Forces able to intervene anywhere within the Theatre of Operations. These can in turn be augmented by the Operational Reserve Force, which is principally composed of Over-The Horizon Forces, mainly deployed in Kosovo, and U.S. helicopter assets.

Russian Participation

The participation of Russia in IFOR and SFOR is an example of how NATO and Russia can work together successfully. It is a major step in the evolving NATO-Russia co-operative relationship. Russian forces joined IFOR in January 1996 and continue to contribute to SFOR. Participation is subject to special arrangements between NATO and Russia. In Theatre, the Russian Military Contingent (RMC) is under tactical control of the US-led Multinational Brigade (North).

Civilian Aspects

For lasting peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, full implementation of the civilian aspects of the Peace Agreement is crucial. By continuing the implementation of the military aspects of the GFAP, NATO is helping to ensure a secure environment conducive to civil and political reconstruction.
The civilian aspects of the Agreement are being carried out by appropriate international organisations, under the co-ordination of the High Representative. In view of the importance of the civilian aspects of the Peace Agreement, SFOR continues to provide support for civilian tasks. However, with fewer forces at its disposal, SFOR has had to prioritise its efforts and select carefully where they will be applied. To be effective, SFOR and the other organisations will continue to plan together and identify objectives to ensure that SFOR support is applied where and when it is needed.
Among the institutions and organisations implementing the civilian aspects of the Peace Agreement are the Office of the High Representative (OHR), the - now disbanded - UN International Police Task Force (UNIPTF), the European Union Police Mission (EUPM), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Many other inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations are also playing an important role.
Directed by the North Atlantic Council, SFOR provided a secure environment for the national elections in October 1998, municipal elections in 1997 and April 2000, special elections in Republika Srpska in 1997 and general elections in November 2000. It has also provided support to the OSCE in the preparation and conduct of these elections. SFOR will continue to support the OSCE in its role of assisting the Parties in the implementation of the Confidence-and Security-Building Agreement and the Sub-Regional Arms Control Agreement. The latter Agreement limits the holdings of heavy weapons by the Parties in order to eliminate the danger of a sub-regional arms race and to bring about an overall reduction of heavy weaponry in the area.
SFOR is also continuing to support UNHCR in its supervising tasks for the return of refugees and displaced persons. Returns to the Zone of Separation were negotiated among the various organisations concerned and the Parties to the Peace Agreement. SFOR is helping to implement procedures designed to facilitate these returns, for example by ensuring that no weapons other than those of SFOR itself are brought back into the Zone of Separation. Any exceptions need specific COMSFOR approval. SFOR aims to prevent any conflict with regard to the return of refugees and displaced persons. However, it is the responsibility of the Parties to restore order and normal conditions if an incident takes place.
SFOR continues to work closely with the UN International Police Task Force (IPTF), like its predecessor IFOR. It is available to support the IPTF in its role of promoting local law and order, which is essential for establishing a lasting peace.
SFOR worked with the authorities of BiH to ensure a secure environment for the important Balkan Stability Pact Summit held in Zetra Ice Stadium, Sarajevo, 29 to 30 July 1999. This Summit brought together many key world leaders and all those involved or interested in helping the Balkans find the level of stability needed to rebuild and become a full partner in Europe and the world.
The implementation of the Brcko Arbitration Agreement of 5 March 1999 was fully supported by SFOR, by providing a secure environment in and around Brcko and by supporting the Brcko Supervisor, the IPTF, UNHCR and other agencies involved in the implementation.
SFOR oversaw the complete de-militarisation of the Brcko District. These combined efforts led to the official launching of the Brcko District on 8 March 2000.
SFOR fully supports the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in carrying out its mandate. SFOR has detained 27 persons indicted for war crimes (PIFWCs) since June 1997. Another three have been killed in attempts to bring them to justice. This includes the provision of security and logistic support to ICTY investigative teams, and surveillance and ground patrolling of alleged mass gravesites. Multinational SFOR soldiers moved to detain Radovan Karadzic on Feb. 28 and March 1, 2002. While Karadzic was not detained, these raids clearly demonstrate SFOR's determination to bring PIFWCs to justice. As Lord Robertson, Secretary General of NATO, said to PIFWCs: "Your time is running out. One day, whether it is tomorrow, next week, next month or next year, SFOR will come to you."

This page is updated by Chief Command Information

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