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Peacekeeping in Bosnia Could Require 75,000 U.S. Troops

By Richard H.P. Sia
The Baltimore Sun


A U.S. military role enforcing a peace settlement in Bosnia-Herzegovina -- as suggested by the Clinton administration -- would commit up to 75,000 U.S. soldiers for as long as 10 years, according to U.S. and NATO military planners.

President Clinton has declared his willingness to commit military forces to a multinational peacekeeping effort once the warring parties in the former Yugoslavian republic reach a peace accord, although he has stopped short of making an explicit offer of ground forces.

Other administration officials said that the White House is prepared to dispatch troops if necessary. Plans requiring the stationing of thousands of U.S. soldiers for a prolonged period have been drawn for such a contingency.

Mobilizing a force of 75,000 troops for up to a decade could require Clinton to shelve plans to reduce the U.S. military presence in Europe by 1997 and frustrate his efforts to cut deeper into military operations and maintenance budgets, Army officials said last week.

Moreover, the Army would have to dispatch troops from bases in the United States to reinforce or replace the first waves of U.S. troops that would be sent from Germany to Bosnia, officials said. Some U.S.-based special forces, such as psychological operations and civil affairs units, would probably be included in the initial deployment, they added.

These projections, as outlined by senior officials at the Pentagon, happen to enhance the military's argument against deeper cuts in U.S. forces in Europe and its reluctance to introduce troops into the Bosnian civil war. But officials denied they had tailored the plan to frustrate Clinton's aims.

The current planning calls for 20,000 U.S. troops -- a division of about 17,000 plus necessary support personnel -- to be sent to Bosnia as part of a multinational peacekeeping force. Because tours of duty would be limited to the customary six months, the equivalent of two more divisions or an Army corps would be needed as a base for rotations.

That means a total of 60,000 to 75,000 U.S. troops would be tapped for the operation, according to current planning figures.

A senior Army war planner warned Friday that these numbers "will be substantially larger" if the actual mission assigned to U.S. peacekeepers "is more rigorous" than expected. If the "operational environment" is as risky as it has been for British troops in Northern Ireland or Israeli forces battling the Palestinian intifada, then "you'll use larger numbers," he said.

At NATO's southern command headquarters in Naples, Italy, planners assume the Western alliance will act as a "subcontractor" to the United Nations, which is sponsoring peace talks involving three groups involved in the Bosnian fighting -- Serbs, Muslims and Croats.