Interview by Gen. Montgomery C Meigs, COMSFOR, to BiH TV from Zetra Stadium, July 29, 1999.
Q: During all the preparation period of the summit, all media had a lot of information about the sub committee's preparing for the summit, but there was no information about how the SFOR prepared for the summit. So can you give us the big secrets?
GM: Actually, the big secrets are probably not going to be that surprising to your audience. The first big secret is co-operating with the host nation agencies. They know more about the area than we do even after having been here three and a half years. The amount of work that has been done to make this conference build on such short notice is nothing short of phenomenal Clearly, we have brought in many capabilities from US Army Europe, and from the others countries involved in NATO. We have brought in some security systems to put together a command and control centre both here in the Zetra building itself but also in the soccer stadium. The idea was to create one location where all the information can be pulled, all of the issues be raised, so that they can get an immediate decision and immediate corrective action. That seems to be paying off. So I think we are on the way to a good result here.
Q: We heard that you sent over four thousand soldiers to be in the background. So I think that everybody is interested in why such a big number?
GM: Well, Sarajevo is a large complicated area. There are a number of theories about how you secure a conference like this, but you basically set up a series of rings. And while we don't have any concrete indications that somebody is trying to disrupt the conference, there is a wide range of caution that you have to take. So we have SFOR soldiers and host nation police both from the Republika Srpska and Federation patrolling on the areas outside of the city. In the Serb area of the city, in the so-called Serb Sarajevo, there is a large presence of forces of the Republika Srpska police. Obviously, the citizens of the remaining parts of the city can see a very extensive presence both from SFOR and from the host nation police force of the Federation. The important thing is that all of these people are binding together both on the ground and here in the stadium from the command and control perspective
In addition, we are using helicopters to give us another layer of security and we are trying to do everything we can to make sure that if there is some disturbance out there trying to create problems, then we can react, and we will be able to stop them before they cause trouble. And basically, the number of soldiers is driven by the size and extent of the area being secured, and the number of people coming here. There is a very, very large number of heads of state and senior delegates (here for the Summit).
Q: We have heard that the SFOR will take over the Zetra building Is it true?
GM: No. We have shared responsibilities. You will see SFOR working in various parts of the rings outside and around the (building ) We have shared responsibility on security at every level and I can ensure you that the Federation police here are basically running the show and we are supporting them. Now, maybe the presence of certain SFOR units is giving you this impression, but it is really the host nation that is in charge.
Q: What will be the SFOR role in the future course of the Balkan pact?
GM: Well, Bosnia is only a piece of the region, though an extremely important piece and, of course SFOR responsibility pertains only to Bosnia. Both KFOR and SFOR report to NATO, so NATO has a pretty strong role here. As does the European union, as does OSCE. I think you will see NATO working together with the other countries of the region to make sure the pact works. I see a role here not just for SFOR, but in the actual organs of the other agencies and countries that have already expressed an interest and are willing to make an investment of time and aid for the region.
Q: What about the SFOR future here in BiH? Everybody in Sarajevo knows that you have very big buildings. As a matter of fact, you are building now the SFOR HQ in BiH near Butmir airport. That's very big.
GM: It is not that big. We have to move out of Ilidza because we have to return those facilities to the corporation that really has a claim to them. We have to have a place to go and the city is building up so there is not a lot of extra real estate around. So that is why we are building a complex in Butmir.
Q: It is not a complex. Everybody is saying: Oh my god, they are going to stay here for 50 years
GM: I don't think so. The easiest yardstick I can give the audience is that this year the US presence in SFOR alone will cost a billion dollars. That's a billion dollars of taxpayers money of the United States. That's money that could be used for a wide range of other purposes. So there is a very strong desire to leave Bosnia Hercegovina - pull the military forces out as soon as the situation will allow. When the situation allows it, we (will) do it tomorrow, but clearly, there are security interests here that still have to be met, and so as long as that is the case, until the international agencies and the host nation agencies can guarantee security, guarantee the rule of law, I think you will see some degree of SFOR presence. I don't think it will be going on for 50 years though.(Thank you General Meigs for being with us on BiH TV's Summit coverage.)
(Thank you. And my regards to your viewers.)