TUZLA, Bosnia, Nov. 24 -- U.S. troops marked the end of their nine-year peacekeeping role in Bosnia on Wednesday as NATO prepared to hand over the task to the European Union in December.
A small number of U.S. troops will stay in Bosnia to hunt war crime suspects and help the country reform its military.
"This ceremony officially marks mission complete and mission accomplished," Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of U.S. Army, Europe, said in a ceremony at Eagle Base in Tuzla, where most of the U.S. troops in Bosnia have been based.
More than 60,000 NATO-led troops from more than 40 countries were deployed to Bosnia starting in late 1995 to enforce the Dayton peace agreement, which ended the 3 1/2-year war among the country's Serbs, Muslims and Croats. More than 200,000 people were killed during the war, and 1.8 million became refugees.
The security situation has improved over the years, allowing NATO to decrease the number of troops to 7,000.
NATO will be handing over the peacekeeping mission to the European Union on Dec. 2, which means a withdrawal of most of the 700 U.S. troops currently in Bosnia. They will be replaced by E.U. personnel, with the biggest contingent coming from Finland.
About 150 U.S. troops will stay at Eagle Base to help local authorities adopt defense reforms and hunt war crime suspects.
Bosnia's two most wanted fugitives are wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his top general, Ratko Mladic, both charged with genocide and crimes against humanity nine years ago.
The European Union Force will keep 7,000 troops in Bosnia.