James Darden, deputy director for plans and policy at U.S. European Command, told members of Congress on Monday that planners are deliberating whether to keep the key air base after NATO turns over peacekeeping missions to the European Union at year's end, possibly staging 150 troops and a half-dozen helicopters.
"Our strategy presently calls for a contingency of U.S. military personnel to help man the future NATO headquarters at Camp Butmir in Sarajevo.And although a final decision has not been made, we are also investigating the usefulness of maintaining a small U.S. presence at Eagle Base," Darden
The United States now has about 1,400 troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina, with about 850 at Eagle Base.
U.S. military leaders in Europe are seeking out forward expeditionary bases, sometimes called "lily-pads," in Eastern Europe and Africa for training purposes and to be well-placed for contingency operations.
"Europe is the center of gravity, but the center of action is to the east and south," Darden
said, adding the command wants locations in Africa and closer to the Middle East that give U.S. forces "unfettered access when crisis" arises.
At the NATO summit in Istanbul during the last week of June, leaders ended NATO's nine-year peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and transferred the mission to the EU.
If the U.S. military keeps Eagle Base, a former Yugoslavian air base, the facility could be shared with EU forces, and "if necessary, a surge force of one battalion could easily be brought into Eagle Base for any future contingency," Darden
EUCOM, the U.S. Embassy
and other offices will continue to work with Bosnian military and law enforcement agencies to counter the terrorist activity, Darden
Lessons from the nine-year mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which lasted longer than military planners originally predicted, can be used as the U.S. negotiates a postconflict environment in Iraq and Afghanistan, notably forming a central government from multiple ethnicities, Darden