U.S. National Support Element Operations

by Major Timothy J. Marshall

An undetermined threat situation, the inadequate Bosnian infrastructure, and a lack of host nation support prevented U.S. forces from deploying directly into Bosnia. The national support element in Kaposvar-Taszar provided a secure environment from which to stage.

When the Army began planning for a potential deployment to Bosnia just before Christmas in 1995, senior leaders and planners soon realized they would need a secure environment from which to stage. The site chosen to support this intermediate staging base (ISB) operation was in the neighboring Hungarian towns of Kaposvar and Taszar.

The Taszar-Kaposvar site was selected for a number of reasons. The area is a multinodal transportation hub where road, rail, and air transport converge. There is also a robust road network in all directions, and the area offers multiple railheads. Perhaps most significantly, Taszar has the closest airfields to Bosnia and Croatia capable of landing strategic aircraft such as C-5's and Boeing 747's.

Another advantage of the Taszar-Kaposvar area was the significant Hungarian military infrastructure that existed in the region. This infrastructure consisted of the Kaposvar Military Barracks, Taszar Military Barracks, Taszar Airfield, Kaposujlak Airfield, and a large ammunition holding area. Additional factors, such as adequate electrical and communications grids and Hungarian host nation support, made Taszar-Kaposvar the perfect location.

In addition to the clear advantages provided by a support base in Hungary, there were some obvious reasons why deployment directly into Bosnia was not possible. First and foremost was the unclear threat situation. The second determining factor was the inadequacy of the Bosnian infrastructure to support a U.S. deployment. As a result of years of war, the railroad lines were destroyed, bridges were collapsed, and runways were cratered. These factors, when combined with the complete lack of host nation support, ended any thoughts of deploying directly into Bosnia.

In the Beginning

When the first Army elements arrived in Taszar in November 1995, no U.S. facilities existed there. Instead, units were spread over 20 locations in leased factories and warehouses. The arriving organization originally was named the U.S. Army, Europe (Forward), and the first commander was Lieutenant General John N. Abrams, who held the command until October 1996. (The present commander is Colonel George Murati.)

During the first 2 months of the Implementation Force (IFOR) deployment—November and December 1995—approximately 25,000 soldiers passed through Taszar. One year later, in February 1997, the name of the organization was changed to the U.S. National Support Element (NSE).

The concept of a forward staging base to support deploying forces certainly was not new. During World War II, Allied forces used support bases in England before the Normandy invasion. As the threat situation stabilized and the theater matured, the support bases were "right-sized." The support base in Taszar provided a secure location near the theater of operations from which to conduct reception, staging, and onward movement (RSO). The location also provided an ideal forward base to support intelligence activities.

Right-Sizing

The peacekeeping forces in Bosnia have transitioned from the IFOR to the Stabilization Force (SFOR) and, along with the NSE in Taszar, have been restructured continually. Between February 1996 and October 1998, U.S. Armed Forces in Bosnia "right-sized" on four different occasions. Functions at Taszar such as intelligence collection and forward basing of Task Force Eagle contingency stocks constantly require reassessment based on threat evaluations.

The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, commonly referred to as the Dayton Peace Accords, consists of two major elements. The first element is the military portion of the agreement, which was the main responsibility of the IFOR. When the military portion of the agreement was largely completed, the focus of international effort shifted to the second major portion, civilian implementation. This portion of the agreement required less involvement by the military, which enabled U.S. forces to draw down and facilitated the transition from the IFOR to the SFOR. During this period, the operation in Bosnia transitioned from Operation Joint Endeavor to Operation Joint Guard (now called Operation Joint Forge).

Since December 1995, the number of U.S. Army soldiers serving in Bosnia has dropped from 18,500 to 6,900. During this same period, manning at the NSE has dropped from 3,500 soldiers to less than 650. In addition to manpower reductions, other efficiencies have been achieved. Over the past 2 years, the theater's lines of communication have matured significantly. As a result, deploying forces are less dependent on temporary engineer bridges at river crossings, and equipment can be transported by rail all the way into Bosnia.

Continuous Improvements

One of the most significant infrastructure improvements was the opening of the Tuzla Airfield in Bosnia to strategic air traffic in October 1998. A major cost-saving action was the decision to maximize the use of pre-positioned equipment. Deploying forces now make full use of a Bosnia equipment set, which reduces the number of heavy vehicles deployed into and out of theater. In addition, the number of U.S. helicopters in Bosnia has been reduced by 50 percent, and all U.S. artillery has been withdrawn.

Kaposujlak Airfield and Kaposvar Military Barracks have been returned to the Hungarian military. RSO has been streamlined and is now only a 4-day process for units that are not part of the SFOR's Multinational Division North. These right-sizing moves have decreased the NSE's footprint drastically.

Current Mission

The NSE today is far more than a deployment center. According to its current mission statement, it serves as the executive agent for force protection in its area of responsibility; provides base operations support for Department of Defense forces and civilians deployed in Hungary, Croatia, and Bosnia (less the Multinational Division North); and coordinates with Hungary for all host nation support of Operation Joint Forge. In addition, it provides for RSO of back-up units and individuals deploying or redeploying in support of Operation Joint Forge (less the Multinational Division North) and serves as a transportation node on the theater line of communication by providing a 1,000-bed facility for overnight stays.

Until 1 December 1997, the NSE's area of responsibility consisted of only Hungary and the eastern portion of Croatia. Then the area of responsibility was expanded to include all of Hungary and Croatia and all of Bosnia except that portion occupied by the Multinational Division North. Today, all U.S. actions in Hungary are coordinated closely with the host nation government through constant contact with the U.S. SFOR liaison officer permanently stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest.

During the division transfer of authority in Bosnia, the NSE was a transportation focal point for both the 1st Cavalry Division and the 1st Armored Division as they moved into and out of Bosnia from August through October 1998. Soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division remained overnight at the NSE after arriving by strategic air, and soldiers of the 1st Armored Division stopped at the NSE to eat and change buses. Additionally, the NSE was a key player in supporting operations at the Port of Rijeka, Croatia, where over 800 pieces of 1st Cavalry Division equipment were offloaded from the USNS Soderman and railed and trucked to Task Force Eagle in Bosnia.

Base operations support responsibilities continue to keep the NSE busy, with over 1,000 customers spread out in three countries at more than 10 locations. To assist in this mission, the NSE established national support teams (NST's) in the cities of Zagreb, Croatia, and Sarajevo, Bosnia. These NST's provide support to their satellite customers. In turn, the NSE supports the NST's.

Since the arrival of the first C_130 at Taszar Airfield on the cold, clear morning of 8 December 1995, over 160,000 soldiers have passed through the Taszar support base, which has a robust organizational infrastructure to support the forces. Today, nearly 4 years later, with additional missions, the NSE in Taszar has streamlined its structure to provide first-class support in all areas of responsibility at a minimum cost in soldier manpower and tax dollars. The NSE's future is uncertain. However, it will continue to provide unequalled support as long as soldiers are deployed to Operation Joint Forge. ALOG

Major Timothy J. Marshall is the Operation Joint Forge Desk Officer and Crisis Action Team Executive Officer at Headquarters, U.S. Army, Europe, in Heidelberg, Germany. He was commissioned as an Armor officer upon graduation from the U.S. Military Academy in 1987. He is a graduate of the Armor Officer Basic Course, the Defense Language Institute in Norwegian, and the Norwegian Command and General Staff College. He holds a master's degree in European security studies from the Naval Postgraduate School. When this article was written, Major Marshall was the Deputy G3 of the U.S. NSE in Taszar, Hungary.