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Gen. Meigs interview, Oct. 11, 1999

By David Taylor
First published in
SFOR Informer #72, 13 Oct, 1999

SFOR Informer: Sir, it is almost one year to the day that you assumed command of the Stabilisation Force. What is your overall view of the progress made in Bosnia and Hercegovina in that period and what specific contribution has SFOR made to that process?

The progress has been steady, but too slow. Faster in the military sphere than in the civilian sphere. We have contributed to a safe and secure environment which has increased freedom of movement, and has allowed a much greater number of minority returns. We helped keep the Factions military compliant during the air campaign, and helped to ensure that civil disobedience and civil violence did not occur. We have started foreseeing the continued development of a number of programs in the area of professionalisation. The Inspector General's office is working very well. We helped foster a lot of training programs. The security environment is such that we really can afford to draw down SFOR and continue to accomplish our mission. And we have worked a wide variety of programmes in support of the High Representative's general mandate. And, I think over time, more of SFOR's work will be less in a strictly military sense, but more the adaptation of the military means under Annex 1A in support of the OHR.

During your command, have there been any specific moments in the stabilisation process, which stand out as particularly significant?

Well, there has been a bunch, but I think the most intense period was during the air campaign, in making sure we did just enough, but not overreacting in a way that would disadvantage our position vis-a-vis the host nation. The big surprise was the way that the returns went, because we got two to three times the number of minority returns this year than we had last year, but the initial three months of the season were taken up by the air campaign so there were very few returns then. So we really only have had half a season, but we are way ahead of where we were last year. So that was very positive.

As COMSFOR you have worked very closely with leading civilian authorities both within the international community and within the leadership of Bosnia and Hercegovina. How have you found this role from the perspective of a military leader?

Well, it is a little different than what I'm used to, because you get inside the political spectrum. Of all the agencies working in BiH, SFOR has the most concrete means of sanctions. I have had lot of experience in Germany with host nation officials, and in my own country, so it wasn't difficult, it was just a new set of tasks.

Although it will be your successor who will lead the NATO-led Stabilisation Force into the next Millennium, politicians and the press often ask the question: "How long before SFOR withdraws entirely from BiH?" Have you any views on this subject?

Well, I don't think anyone can say when the flag will be finally taken down, and all the SFOR troops will be gone. I think that we should be preparing now for the elections next year, and doing everything we can to help pragmatic politicians to gain more influence to the point where another review of the security situation will result in an even further reduction of SFOR.

SFOR is currently composed of 35 Contributing Nations. What has this meant for you as Commander and have you personally had to make any concessions to work in this environment?

Well, it's different. Things don't go as quickly obviously as they would in a purely national formation, just by virtue of frictions of different languages and different military cultures. But on the other hand you get a lot of hybrid vigour in the types of decisions that you get, and in solutions to problems. So, I wouldn't call them concessions... one works differently in a multinational formation than one does in one's own army or military. It's not good or bad, it's just different.

On the subject of restructuring and re-sizing of the SFOR, what can we expect to see and why?

Well, you know we generally size forces to the tasks we are being asked to do, and the 'why' goes to a certain amount to the desire of the nations to lessen - to the extent they can - the burden that SFOR creates on their military or national budgets. But it is also a function of what we have to do to be a success in our mission and the forces we need for an acceptable risk. So I'd say you'll see about a 30 percent cut. But I believe, of course, that we will - if supported by nations, vigorously, with the right kinds of people and units - be able to accomplish the mission.

Sir, have you a specific message to send out to the force, both military and civilian, that has served you during the last year?

I thank them for the hard work and for the risks they have taken, and for the time they have spent away from their families. Every once in a while you need to look outside the turret to make sure you understand what is going on around you, and the soldiers and civilians that serve in BiH are pioneering a new solution to a new problem the world faces, which is this crazy, dissolution of countries under the pressures of evolving from Communist states. And the work those soldiers and civilians are doing is historical, and they need to very proud of what they have accomplished.

Gen Montgomery C. Meigs biography