CNN Mission: Peace

What every U.S. commander in Bosnia
is thinking: Weather, 'enemy' and terrain.

From Military Analyst Lt. Gen. Marvin Covault (U.S. Army ret.)

(CNN) -- Weather, "enemy" and terrain, it may sound like a simple formula, but the myriad of variables associated with each element makes it a formidable task, most especially in Bosnia. Let's examine each:


Beyond the obvious -- cold living conditions and snow- covered roads -- what impact does the Bosnian winter have on this operation?

It is at least 100 percent harder to accomplish the required tasks this time of year than it would be during the summer months. Consider that NATO troops are not going to Bosnia to sit around in static positions along a picket line. Thousands of square miles of mostly rugged terrain along the confrontation lines must be patrolled; to do so, cross country mobility is essential. But in Bosnia, winter mobility ranges from difficult to impossible in some areas.

Secondly, weather has an adverse impact on force protection because rapid reaction of ground reinforcements is inhibited. Additionally, impossible flying conditions many days, December through February, reduces or eliminates integrated air/ground operations in the event ground troops need air support. Bottom line, the weather may render some tasks impossible to accomplish under the peace plan's time table and it significantly increases the risks to all NATO air and ground elements.


First, one must put the term "enemy" in the context of a peace enforcement mission. Obviously, there is no confrontation line between NATO forces and the warring factions. NATO is not going to Bosnia to pick a fight. However, there is a high probability of hostility at the local level over the location of the entity boundaries, property ownership, acts of atrocity, etc. The frustrations and anger may well be vented on the NATO forces. Revenge is a strong motivation in the Balkans and use of force is the norm.

For any commander, the worst enemy is one who is an unknown quantity with unknown intentions while operating in his own back yard with local support. This "enemy" will have unlimited opportunities to strike first, strike without warning and strike at a time and place of his choosing. The "enemy" in Bosnia does, then, present a formidable challenge.


Terrain presents the military commanders at every level with formidable obstacles made worse by adverse weather. Bosnia is mostly heavily wooded and mountainous with steep slopes coming down to roadways. Main roads often follow river beds bordered by rock cliffs and interrupted every few miles by bridges and tunnels. Secondary roads are frequently no more than narrow forest trails without all-weather surfacing and, at high altitudes, impossible during the winter.

Further, the ridge/valley/ridge compartmentation leads to heavy fog lying for days on end in the valleys, making air-to-ground operations impossible for both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

Weather/Enemy/Terrain sounds simple enough, but it confronts every commander every day with challenges in accomplishing his mission while protecting his troops.