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Military Presence in Bosni to Drop Over Next Two Months

By Bradley Graham
The Washington Post

The size of the U.S. military contingent in Bosnia will shrink from 6,900 to 6,200 troops over the next two months as part of a NATO decision to trim its 32,000-strong peacekeeping force by 10 percent, U.S. officials announced Tuesday.

Sandy Berger, national security adviser to President Clinton, told reporters that the move reflected a sense "that we are steadily making progress in Bosnia, that the military needs diminish."

The NATO-led Bosnia force was sent to the former Yugoslav republic following the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that ended three-and-a-half years of war. The Clinton administration has continued to extend the U.S. military presence well beyond what initially had been intended as a one-year deployment. It has gradually reduced the size of the force from its original strength of about 20,000 troops.

With the growing prospect that U.S. forces might be called on within the year to join another possible NATO peacekeeping operation in the Balkans, this time in Kosovo, Pentagon officials are eager to reduce the contingent in Bosnia.

But continuing tensions between Bosnia's Serb, Moslem and Croatian populations have made NATO authorities cautious about shrinking the peacekeeping force too quickly. Berger noted that while the military threat has diminished to allow for some withdrawal, "serious challenges." still face international civilian organizations working to establish a stable political system and rebuild war-torn Bosnia.

Pentagon officials said the drop in U.S. troops would be achieved mainly by consolidating the base camps from five to four, combining one base with headquarters in the city of Tuzla. A Pentagon statement said the troop reductions did not signal a change in the mission or its ability to support the implementation of the Dayton accords.

The officials said NATO would again review troop requirements for Bosnia in the spring.