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U.S. Plans to Back Bosnia Peace Pact with 20,000 Troops

U.S. Plans to Back Bosnia Peace Pact With 20,000 Troops

Los Angeles Times


The Clinton administration is making preliminary plans for deploying up to 20,000 U.S. ground troops to help with U.N. peacekeeping efforts in the Bosnia if talks in Geneva produce a peace accord to end the bitter conflict, U.S. officials said Monday.

But President Clinton said no final decision will be made on the precise number of troops and how they will be deployed until he is certain that any peace agreement is "fair, fully embraced by the Bosnian government, and is enforceable."

"The United States is prepared to participate in a multinational effort to keep the peace in Bosnia, but I want to see what the details are," Clinton said at a news conference. "I also want to know whose responsibility it is to stay for how long."

At the same time, both U.S. officials and private military experts cautioned that the decision will be a difficult one, complicated by the shrinking U.S. military budget, limited sea lift and airlift capability and a much smaller total force structure.

The president promised in February to provide U.S. troops to help enforce what then was expected to be the Vance-Owen peace accord in Bosnia, but that pact fell through and never was completed. Officials said the promise would hold for a new peace accord.

With the three warring factions in Bosnia -- the Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims -- edging closer to a peace agreement, U.N. mediator Thorvald Stoltenberg has asked for assurances that U.S. troops will help enforce it. The administration's statements Monday were aimed at reiterating its intention to carry out its pledge.

With Washington's approval, military planners at NATO also have begun drafting plans for some 40,000 NATO troops to take on the enforcement operations. U.S. authorities estimate that if that number holds firm, the United States will provide about 20,000 of these troops.

NATO officials say the preliminary planning now under way amounts mainly to updating and refocusing plans that the 16-country organization made in anticipation of the Vance-Owen accord last February, which have been kept on the shelf since the pact folded.

They said the organization has been reluctant to engage in full-scale, public planning operations because the details of the new pact are not settled and because NATO still is maintaining its threat to launch air strikes against the Serbs if Sarajevo is attacked.

Even if a new accord is signed in Geneva, the job of enforcing the pact could be a dangerous and lengthy one, military analysts say -- particularly if one or more of the three warring factions is unwilling to cooperate with the peacekeepers.

U.S. officials are pushing to move artillery and heavy equipment into the region as soon as they can after the pace is agreed to -- mostly from U.S. arsenals in Germany and other depots in Europe. They then would seek to impound the heavy weapons now being used by all three sides.