Spain begins its final withdrawal from Bosnia after an 18-year mission

News - 18.10.2010

At the base in 'Camp Butmir', Carme Chacón presided over the ceremony for the transfer of authority that was also attended by the Chief of Staff - General José Julio Rodríguez, the Defence Minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina - Selmo Cikotic, the Spanish Ambassador to Bosnia - Alejandro Alvargonzález and the EUFOR-Althea Commander - Major General Bernhard Bair, among other dignitaries.

In her speech, the Minister for Defence reminded her audience that, when the first Spanish units arrived in Bosnia under United Nations control in 1992, it was a region devastated by war. In 1996, control of the Spanish troops passed to NATO in order to achieve peace and begin rebuilding the country.

Finally, the European Union took over from NATO and launched the current EUFOR-Althea mission. "In these last six years", said Carme Chacón, "the steady reduction in the number of our troops stationed here has reflected the growing stability in the country".

Extraordinary award for the 46,000 Spanish soldiers

Carme Chacón conveyed a personal message from His Majesty the King of Spain to the military personnel comprising the last Spanish contingent, "a message of pride and congratulations for your work throughout this time, for the highest degree of professional quality and the highest degree of personal quality in your work". Furthermore, the Minister for Defence also announced that the Spanish mission in Bosnia, in other words, each one of the 46,000 soldiers deployed in this part of the Balkans, are to receive the Extraordinary Defence Award this year from the Minister for Defence.
In her speech, the Minister underlined that Bosnia-Herzegovina is now a stable country standing at the doors to NATO and the EU. "And all this is owed to the bravery, commitment and effort from the more than 46,000 Spanish soldiers who have undertaken their mission over these 18 years in an exemplary fashion", she added.
Furthermore, Carme Chacón said that this has been a very special mission for testing the capabilities of the Spanish Armed Forces. "On this mission, Spain has strengthened its reputation as a country that is committed to peace and the development of nations", she said, "and, on this mission, our military personnel have consolidated the recognition and admiration they now deserve within and beyond our own borders".
In this regard, she stressed that the Spanish troops travelled to Bosnia 18 years ago alongside those from over thirty other countries to keep the peace within a context of conflict, violence and desolation, "and peace was eventually achieved where it seemed impossible for peace to exist".
Carme Chacón emphasised that international operations are necessary, underlining that "we can say today that the objectives of our mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina have been met, just as we will one day say that the objectives of our missions in Afghanistan, Lebanon or Somalia have been met".
Finally, she said that Spain remains fully committed to strengthening the institutions of the Balkan country and, to that end, will remain in Bosnia to participate in the non-executive mission of the European Union to advise the authorities in the country.

Visit to Mostar

Following the ceremony to transfer authority in Sarajevo, the Minister for Defence travelled to the town of Mostar where, alongside the local mayor, she laid a floral tribute at the Monument to the Fallen in the Plaza de España in memory of the 23 Spaniards (22 military personnel and 1 interpreter) who lost their lives during the mission.
Subsequently, Carme Chacón visited the Mostar Bridge (which was reconstructed after the war by Spanish troops) and the local Town Hall, where the Minister recalled how Mostar had been the focal point for the deployment of Spanish troops in Bosnia and highlighted that the Plaza de España will become a place where future generations of Bosnians will be able to live together in harmony.
"Spain is not abandoning Mostar; our shared history has united us forever. Mostar will remain in the hearts of Spain, just as Spain will remain in the hearts of Mostar", concluded the Minister for Defence.

An 18-year mission

The Spanish presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina was approved by the Council of Ministers Agreements dated 17 July 1992, 28 August 1992, 8 January 1993 and 23 April 1993 authorising participation by the Spanish Armed Forces in the humanitarian aid actions to be undertaken for the population of Bosnia-Herzegovina under the auspices of the United Nations and the European Union, as well as the task of supervision within the framework of the Western European Union and NATO. To this end, Spanish troops began to take part in the resolution of conflicts at the end of 1992 within the framework of UNPROFOR.
By virtue of the Council of Ministers Agreement dated 20 October 1995, authorisation was given to provide NATO with Spanish military troops for the planning and, if appropriate, eventual implementation of the Peace Plan in the former Yugoslavia. After the entry into force of the Dayton Agreements, participation by Spanish military personnel took place under a NATO flag.
Control was transferred from NATO to the EU on 2 December 2004, thus concluding the SFOR mission and launching the European Union Force (EUFOR) operating in Bosnia, which became known as Althea.
From among the three areas of responsibility into which the Bosnian territory was divided for operational purposes, Spain immediately formed part of the Multi-National Division South-East where it shared leadership with Germany, France and Italy on a six-month rotational basis.

Relocation of the Division from Mostar to Sarajevo

The European Union approved the start of the first stage of the transition process for Operation Althea on 27 February 2007. As a result, forces were redistributed and the system based on Multi-National Tactical Forces disappeared into the deployment of a single Multi-National Battalion. This new stage of the operation brought with it a reduction in troop numbers (from more than 500 to approximately 350) and relocated most of the force from Mostar to Sarajevo.
Since then, Spanish participation in the operation has been significant. Spain has been the leading contributor with more than 10% of the military personnel, has occupied important posts at the EUFOR General Headquarters and has lead the Multi-National Battalion by providing the Commander, the High Command, one of the Companies and the Reconnaissance Section. On a temporary basis, helicopters were also deployed for medical evacuations and command support.
One of the key features of the Spanish contribution to Operation Althea was the command during 2008, as Commander of European Union Forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina (COMEUFOR), by General Ignacio Martín Villalaín.
Participation in the operation was maintained under the same terms from March 2007 until June 2010, when the contingent experienced an initial reduction following the decisions adopted by the Council of the European Union in January 2010. It was decided that EUFOR should from then on provide support to training and capacity-building exercises by the Armed Forces of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a preliminary step to the non-executive mission that EUFOR will become.
On 9 August 2010, the last relief changes were made to the Marine Infantry Expeditionary Forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina (FIMEX-BH). At the moment, the FIMEX-BH-XI is currently deployed in the country under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Ángel Herrezuelo Pérez. In addition, a training team was deployed to Travnik in September 2010 to advise the Bosnian Armed Forces.