These days we hear a lot of talk about the need to cut the budget of the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces. Some politicians have even spoken of eliminating the BiH military all together. What we do not hear about, in my view, is the achievements of the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces -- specifically, the important contributions BiH servicemen and women have been quietly making for all the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
BiH soldiers have fought fires, assisted victims of the snow storm, cleared mines, rebuilt roads, and constructed water supply systems for isolated communities. This summer, BiH military personnel worked hand in hand with the civilian authorities in both the RS and the Federation to battle wildfires, saving several communities from devastating damage. The same happened during last winter’s snow storms, when the Armed Forces’ helicopters delivered food, water, and medicine to cut off villages and evacuated people who needed urgent medical attention. Last year, the Armed Forces demining unit cleared over 2 million square meters from mines, and we are working closely with the Ministry of Defense to destroy old ammunitions and weapons, eliminating real and present dangers to the citizens of BiH. The Armed Forces (in partnership with the Embassy and the U.S. military) renovated schools in Capljina and Mostar, and military engineers rebuilt the water system around Bosanska Krupa, bringing water to over 3,000 people who live in the area. In this, and many other instances, the BiH men and women in uniform showed great professionalism and a dedication to serving all BiH citizens and society as a whole.
In addition, BiH soldiers are serving in peacekeeping missions around the world. There are 45 BiH soldiers serving alongside NATO troops in the International Security Mission in Afghanistan (ISAF). Bosnian troops have also served in Iraq and have participated in UN peace-keeping missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia/Eritrea. These deployments are a model for what the BiH military could look like in the future – professional, modern, ethnically integrated and focused on contributing to international peacekeeping missions.
I am reminded how far the Bosnian Armed Forces have come in a relatively short time. The achievements are substantial -- from two armies, with two separate command structures, today Bosnia has a unified military that reports directly to the Presidency. This was a huge undertaking supported by all political leaders, and, of course, the reform process is far from over. Building a multiethnic, unified, and professional military has taken and will continue to take considerable resources and commitment.
I met with BiH military personnel at their bases in Capljina, Sarajevo, Tuzla, Banja Luka and elsewhere. They are dedicated, professional and proud of their service to their fellow citizens. They have earned the support and respect of all citizens. There is no doubt that much work remains, but the BiH Armed Forces is one of the most tangible examples of what BiH can be when citizens and political leaders cooperate to build a brighter future for Bosnia and Herzegovina.