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Advance Party for Ground Troops Deployed to Balkans

By Art Pine and Tyler Marshall
Los Angeles Times

The Clinton administration on Monday began deploying an advance party for the 20,000-member U.S. ground force headed for Bosnia-Herzegovina and started calling up as many as 3,800 reservists for duty in Bosnia and at support bases in Hungary and Germany.

U.S. Defense Secretary William J. Perry announced the initial troop movement at a news conference. As he did so, some of the advance force of 1,465 U.S. military personnel began arriving in Bosnia and Croatia to help prepare for the main body of troops, which is expected to enter Bosnia on Dec. 15 or 16.

The 20,000 U.S. soldiers will serve with some 40,000 troops from elsewhere - mostly Britain, France, other North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries and former Warsaw Pact nations - in a potentially dangerous mission to enforce the peace accord worked out in Dayton, Ohio, last month by the three warring Balkan factions.

Psychological operations specialists will be assigned to help persuade civilians to cooperate with the peacekeeping forces, performing such tasks as distributing leaflets. They are expected to be on duty for about 270 days, the maximum allowed without Congress' approval.

Perry said that the U.S. soldiers would be going there "to enforce a peace, not to fight a war." He conceded that the deployment would be risky, but he warned that "the risks to the United States of the war restarting are even greater."

Pentagon officials said that not all the reserve units put on notice Monday may be called up. Monday's action was simply to notify the reservists that they might be called to active duty so they can begin intensive training in cold-weather and land-mine operations.

The Defense Department also made public a list of 23 active-duty military units that may be sent to Bosnia, mostly for engineering, psychological operations and mine-disposal work.

The NATO peacekeeping force will have a mission that is simple in concept: protecting allied forces in Bosnia, separating the warring armies, establishing demilitarized zones between them and maintaining security.

Perry and other administration officials have expressed hope that dangers to the peacekeeping forces will be minimal because representatives of the three warring factions have endorsed the Dayton peace accord and have pledged to cooperate with NATO troops.

However, officials conceded that the operation will not be risk-free. U.S. and other NATO troops may have to confront terrorists and rogue paramilitary groups, as well as an estimated 6 million land mines - many of which are uncharted - and winter weather.

The 1,465 U.S. troops that arrived in Bosnia on Monday were part of a 2,600-man NATO team sent to set up headquarters facilities and communications and build up transportation hubs.

About half the 2,600 troops, including 735 of the Americans sent there Monday, will go to Bosnia, while the remainder will travel to neighboring Croatia, which will serve as a supply line for the peacekeepers. About 3,000 U.S. troops will serve in staging areas in Hungary.

The 60,000-man NATO-led peacekeeping force will be deployed over three separate districts:

U.S. forces will run the peacekeeping operation in northeast Bosnia, in the area around the city of Tuzla. The British will have charge of northwest Bosnia, near Banja Luka. And the French will command the forces in southern Bosnia, including the capital city of Sarajevo.

In addition, the Navy is expected to dispatch an aircraft carrier to the scene to help out in air-cover operations and to bolster the small armada of U.S. and NATO warships that have been patrolling the Adriatic Sea off Bosnia for the last two years.

The peace accord provides a timetable for separating the warring factions and policy-makers here are hoping that the three sides will keep their pledges to follow it.

On the day after the pact is signed, the three factions are expected to begin withdrawing forces from the 2{-mile-wide zones of separation that will partition Bosnia between the Bosnian government and the Serbs and to start removing land mines and marking boundaries.

Two days later, military units of the various factions are to shut down their air-defense systems, including radar equipment and missile batteries, so that NATO warplanes can fly over Bosnia without fear of being targeted.