• U.S.

THE UNSEEN KILLERS

3 minute read
Kevin Fedarko

WATCHFUL COMMANDERS IN BOSNIA never tire of warning soldiers in their charge that there are any number of ways to meet death in the Balkans–and almost all come suddenly. It can sneak up from behind, directed by the cross hairs of a sniper’s scope. It can clasp travelers in the muddy embrace of a collapsing mountain road. Or it can detonate from below–which is what happened at 3:45 p.m. last Saturday when Sergeant Donald Dugan, 38, of Belle Center, Ohio, reportedly manning a checkpoint near Tuzla, stepped to the side of the road and was killed by a land mine.

Earlier last week, three British soldiers met their deaths when they drove over an antitank mine. But this was the first American killed while serving in Bosnia. While that may not carry with it any special index of tragedy, it does score a notch on the emotional yardstick by which Americans gauge whether their government’s latest foreign policy venture is worth its perils.

Even as Dugan was rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, word reached President Clinton, campaigning in New Hampshire. The incident was not unexpected; when the President embarked on his robust Bosnia policy, he knew that casualties were inevitable. Fatalities, however, sometimes provoke spasms of American self-doubt; which is perhaps why, in nearly the same breath as offering his “deepest sympathies,” Clinton restated his resolve to stay on course. Asked if he had second thoughts about the mission, the President said, “No, not at all. I told the American people before it started that the place was filled with mines.”

Up to 3 million, according to estimates, some mines powerful enough to blow the tracks off a battle tank. When that figure is combined with the number of fractured bridges, collapsed buildings, unexploded ordnance and edgy snipers, it is amazing that there have not been more casualties. Since December, eight NATO soldiers have been killed and more than 40 wounded. The human cost, however, bears measuring against what the peacekeepers have so far achieved. By last Saturday all three rival ethnic factions had vacated virtually every piece of land they had pledged to relinquish. By the Balkans’ bloody standards, that is extraordinary.

So extraordinary, in fact, that in briefing Clinton in Washington last week, Admiral Leighton Smith, NATO’s Bosnia commander, hinted at “moving people out of there” before the mission’s scheduled wrap-up in December. But while Smith can claim success for the military side, the civilian operation is another story. The civilian accords are plagued by a lack of cash and endless Balkan bickering. This is disturbing because the accords cover elections, refugee resettlement and reconstruction–all of which are crucial to giving Bosnia a stable peace. “The civilian part of Dayton is the test of our success or failure, not the military part,” said Richard Holbrooke, chief architect of last November’s agreement. “For Dayton to be termed a success, rather than a high-water mark of good intentions, the civilian implementation must succeed.” Without that, U.S. soldiers–the one who died last week, and those who may die in the weeks to come–will have given their lives in vain.

–By Kevin Fedarko. Reported by Massimo Calabresi/Sarajevo and Mark Thompson/Washington

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