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Bosnia Stabilization Force (SFOR) and U.S. Policy

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Publication Date: January 1998

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: 97-475

Topic: International relations (International peace and security)


In December 1995, a NATO-led implementation force (IFOR) was deployed to Bosnia to enforce the military aspects of the Bosnian peace agreement. President Clinton said the deployment would last “about one year.” The United States contributed about 19,000 troops to the approximately 54,000-man force. IFOR successfully completed its main military tasks, but implementation of the civilian aspects of the accord, for which IFOR did not have direct responsibility, was at best a mixed success. Faced with the possible collapse of the peace agreement if IFOR pulled out, on November 15, 1996, President Clinton pledged to keep U.S. troops in Bosnia as part of a NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) until June 1998. SFOR
numbers about 25,000, of which currently about 7,500 are U.S. troops. There are also about 3,300 U.S. support personnel in Croatia (927) and Hungary (2,400). Roughly 900 U.S. Air Force and Navy aviation personnel are performing air support missions for SFOR from bases in Italy or aircraft carriers.

The change in SFOR’s composition reflected not only a change in the mission, but also a new estimate of the potential for conflict. IFOR separated warring factions and enforced arms cantonment with heavy forces to deter any thought of opposition. As the mission progressed, the prospect of significant military opposition receded, and NATO commanders reduced and reshaped the force even before IFOR’s mandate ended in December 1996. Some observers questioned the focus and clarity of SFOR’s mission. SFOR’s mission is primarily on focussed ongoing military tasks and is not explicitly tied to any political, civilian implementation, or reconstruction milestone. In late 1997, the United States and other countries participating in SFOR found themselves in much the same dilemma that they faced in late 1996 — either pull out and face the possibility of a resumption of fighting, or remain in Bosnia and continue a seemingly open-ended commitment. On December 18, 1997, President Clinton announced that he had agreed in principle that U.S. forces should participate in a Bosnia peacekeeping force after the mandate of the current SFOR expires in June 1998. He did not set a new departure deadline, but said the force would leave only when key peace implementation milestones have been achieved.

After fierce debate, the House and Senate passed separate resolutions in December 1995 expressing support for the U.S. troops in Bosnia, although not necessarily for the mission itself. Legislative efforts to bar funds for the deployment of U.S. troops to Bosnia were narrowly rejected. In the 105th Congress, similar efforts to bar a U.S. deployment after June 1998 were also rejected, although the FY 1998 defense authorization and appropriations laws contain reporting requirements that must be fulfilled before an extended deployment may take place. The defense appropriation measure requires the President to seek a supplemental appropriation for any deployment after June 1998.