The one-year term of Brigadier General Eric Folkestad, Commander of the NATO Headquarters, and NATO’s highest military representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has expired.
He will be succeeded by Brigadier General Pamela McGaha, and the handover of duty is planned for December 7th at the House of the Armed Forces of BiH (AFBiH) in Sarajevo.
In a farewell interview, the NATO Commander spoke openly about the events in BiH, NATO’s cooperation with the AFBiH, as well as EUFOR, but also referred to the request of BiH Presidency member, Milorad Dodik to annul defense reform and form two armies in BiH.
People tell me that they are worried
Past months have not been the most rewarding for the political situation in BiH. Citizens fear potential conflicts. Does NATO guarantee the security of BiH?
”Every time I travel, and I travel all over BiH, I hear from people of different profiles how worried they are. People want their political leaders to work together for the common good and to solve the problems that citizens face every day. Inflammatory rhetoric and activities are at odds with such actions and are extremely disturbing. That is why NATO and the entire Euro-Atlantic community have called on all parties to moderate communication and work together. At the same time, we have made it clear that we are committed to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of BiH, and that we want stability, security, and prosperity for all BiH citizens. This message was also sent from the recent meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Riga. NATO strongly supports the integrity of BiH and will continue to support it because we need multiethnic institutions, state institutions, including the AFBiH. This is the key to the stability of BiH and regional stability.”
What is the cooperation between NATO in BiH and the EUFOR Mission in BiH?
”We have extremely good relations with the EUFOR mission Althea. Our missions in BiH are different, but complementary, within the Berlin Plus arrangement. We are two teams, but we have one approach to the mission in support of BiH. EUFOR Commander Major General Alexander Platzer and I have been to many events this year together and emphasized our support for demining activities, the destruction of surplus weapons and ammunition. Also, we have encouraged this partnership at every level of our missions. Even our commands are located in the same building near Sarajevo, and we share some support staff, which ensures synergy and effective cohesion for both organizations.”
Improve the AFBiH, but also help civilians
There was talk of expanding capacity depending on possible excesses and security breaches in BiH. What are the chances of that happening?
”The current situation is politically motivated and requires a political solution. What I am focusing on, together with the ambassadors of NATO countries in BiH and other representatives of the international community, is to ensure the citizens of BiH that we are here for them, and to encourage political leaders in BiH to work together and focus on reforms that will improve the lives of all in BiH.”
What exactly do you think about Milorad Dodik’s request to annul the defense reform and to create two armies in BiH?
”I believe that everyone who cares about BiH, its people, and its future, as well as the majority of BiH citizens, would be seriously concerned about the inflammatory rhetoric and provocative activities we have witnessed lately. Unified AFBiH, with unity command and purpose are one of the best examples of ethnic integration in BiH. I have seen how it can work. In daily contacts with the Ministry of Defense and the Joint Staff, I see politicians and military leaders who do their best in difficult conditions, but who are ready to work together regardless of nationality, for the common good and for the benefit of all citizens of BiH. And I see the same thing during my visits around this country.”
I completely fell in love with BiH
Now, when you are about to leave, what BiH represents for you, what have you learned about this, many would say wonderful country, and what are you leaving behind?
”I completely fell in love with BiH. Is there anyone who has spent some time here who can tell me not to feel that way… The nature in BiH is spectacular, and the people are amazing, so friendly and kind hosts. I was lucky enough to travel throughout BiH this year, and wherever I went I felt just like home. The memories and friendships I gained here will remain with me long after I left. This was a personal mission for me to learn as much as possible about the history of this country and this region. This is a region with great potential. I was lucky to meet people who are truly inspiring and who have dedicated their lives to realizing the potential of BiH. I am happy to have had the opportunity to play a small role in this process. I know that this is something that everyone in the NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo is truly committed to and that they will continue this important mission.”