U.S. troops make do, keep peace in Bosnia 100 days into mission, Army tallies successes

April 02, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MEMICI, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- The cozy, container-like soldiers' quarters shipped recently to U.S. troops in Bosnia have not yet made it to this shot-up corner of the former Yugoslav federation.

The men here still live eight to a tent, with chilly mud sometimes seeping up through the plywood floor and kerosene heaters roaring night and day.

There is no telephone line here yet, and shower privileges still come but once a fortnight. Lunch still comes each day in a plain brown plastic pouch, but at least breakfast is improving: It arrives fresh each morning now aboard an M-106 mortar carrier that rumbles in from a camp where there is a proper mess.

Peace enforcement is still a hard life, and a lonely one, but a sense of momentum has taken hold at remote U.S. Army camps such as this one.

The men and women of Task Force Eagle are confident now that in their own small ways they are helping to fulfill the military goals spelled out in the peace accord brokered last year in Dayton, Ohio.

From the point of view of the Army, Operation Joint Endeavor is succeeding beyond the optimistic hopes of its planners.

In the first 100 days of the deployment, there have been two American deaths, but neither was caused by open hostility. (One man died when his fuel truck fell off a weakened bridge, the other when he tried to defuse a mine.)

The soldiers have spent their days building infrastructure. Since arriving in December, they have erected 11 bridges, large and small, reopened the air hub at Tuzla, put a destroyed stretch of rail line back into working order and mapped more than 4,000 minefields.

Thirty-one camps have been created, most in Bosnia-Herzegovina but some in neighboring Hungary and Croatia. And that does not count the innumerable small observation posts and checkpoints, such as the one in Memici, trying to enforce freedom of movement along Bosnia's winding, 600-mile former front line.

"There have been about 100 families that have moved back into Memici since we've been here," said Lt. Randy Ellsworth, a 24-year-old from El Paso, Texas, who oversees the 13 enlisted troops and 10 noncommissioned officers at the camp.

On a bigger scale, the heavy weapons of each formerly warring faction have been moved into secured sites. And the former warring armies have told where they laid minefields.

"It's satisfying," said Cpl. Jorge Chacon, a 24-year-old tank gunner from Los Angeles who has helped clear three minefields since he came to Memici. "When we first got here, it was completely bare. Now there's people coming back. They're fixing their houses. They invite us in for coffee."

The gritty but productive life in small military camps such as Memici stands in glaring contrast with the unsatisfying creep of the broader effort to fully implement the Dayton peace accord.

In town after town, the big guns may be silent, but rebuilding is still being blocked by insufficient funds, a lack of political will or other difficulties.

Examples are everywhere. Last week, U.S. Army officers proudly dedicated the first permanent bridge to span the Sava River since the end of the war.

The bridge spans the Sava at Brcko, a strategically important town whose fate was left out of the Dayton accord. Until that is decided, only military vehicles can use the bridge.

Pub Date: 4/02/96

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