NATO changes its 'rules of engagement' in Bosnia
August 29, 1997
Web posted at: 10:23 p.m. EDT (0223 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Residents of Brcko, Bosnia, spent Friday reopening shops and cleaning up their streets after supporters of war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic stoned a NATO stabilization force team Thursday, injuring two U.S. soldiers.
The incident, and the threat it posed to the soldiers, has prompted NATO to announce a change in SFOR's rules of engagement in Bosnia to permit shutting down broadcasters who foment violence toward peacekeepers.
"SFOR's mandate is to ensure a secure environment, and SFOR will take action when necessary to carry out its mandate. There will be a zero tolerance for violence," said State Department spokesman James Rubin.
"It would be a grave mistake for people to test their willingness to defend themselves."
James Rubin, U.S. State Department spokesman 48K/5 sec. AIFF or WAV sound
Rules of engagement, specific rules dictating how to respond to threats, are standard procedure in any sensitive international situation.
Thursday at Brcko, the response to a mob throwing rocks and swinging wooden two-by-fours was to fire weapons in the air and at the ground, and use tear gas to break the crowd up. It worked, but not before two U.S. soldiers were hurt.
Next time, troops might be allowed to take their self-defense maneuvers one step farther.
Karadzic's supporters used Brcko radio stations on Thursday to urge mob action against NATO forces. Military officials say that makes a radio station a command and control operation, and therefore a fair target for either warnings or a shutdown.
The peacekeeping force in Bosnia "will not hesitate to take the necessary measures, including the use of force, against media networks or programs inciting attacks," NATO Secretary General Javier Solana warned on Friday.
The Pentagon doesn't talk about it, but the rules of engagement also permit the use of deadly force if the troops believe their lives are in danger. In a statement Friday, Rubin said it would be "a grave mistake" for Bosnians to put SFOR resolve to the test.
The highest risk for an assault on SFOR troops now appears to be in the sector of Bosnia protected by U.S. forces. U.S. troops make up roughly 9,500 of the 31,000 NATO troops in Bosnia.
U.S. forces headed for Bosnia are given specific training at a mock village in Hohenfields, Germany, on how to deal with different threats. They are expected to take a lot of abuse. But one military analyst warns the scenario could change quickly if the Serbs start shooting.
"The troops on the ground are disciplined enough, the local commanders, the lieutenants, the sergeants are good enough to know to try to handle that one individual firing a weapon," said William Taylor, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"But sometimes these things can escalate, get out of control, and you could have a firefight."
Correspondent Carl Rochelle contributed to this report.