Bush backs no-fly zone over Bosnia U.S. forces risk getting involved

October 03, 1992|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- President Bush, turning aside Pentagon objections, endorsed a ban on Serbian military flights over Bosnia-Herzegovina yesterday and said the United States is prepared to back it up with military force.

The United States is drafting a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing a "no-fly zone" over Bosnia, with enforcement provisions. It would force Serbia to live up to its pledge not to shadow relief flights or to bomb Bosnian and Croat positions.

Creation of the no-fly zone could move Western powers, including the United States, a step closer toward military involvement in the conflict.

Until now, the United States and its allies have confined their planes and ships to shipments of food and medicine, while watching in the Adriatic Sea for violations of U.N. sanctions.

In previous statements, President Bush has offered naval and air power to ensure delivery of humanitarian relief only, and ruled out ground forces.

How the zone would be enforced is unclear. But a senior Pentagon official said that if the Security Council agrees on an enforcement provision in the resolution and it is then requested, the United States would most likely participate.

In an unusual public lobbying effort last weekend, Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, voiced strong objections to a deeper American military involvement in the former Yugoslavia, criticizing proponents of limited military action to protect Bosnians.

Pentagon officials and military planners want to avoid the prospect of getting sucked into a mission without a clearly defined purpose and the force necessary to achieve it.

In an interview in the New York Times, General Powell also questioned the immediate need to threaten force in imposing a no-fly zone.

But a senior administration official said last night that the final decision by President Bush did not distress the Pentagon. "It has a logic to it. It makes sense," the official said.

U.S. officials wanted to avoid endorsing a French-British plan for a non-enforceable, no-fly zone that would merely require monitoring of Serbian violations, he said.

"What the president has done is said, 'Look, if you're going to do a resolution, do one with teeth. If you want to have a no-fly zone, do one with enforcement."

Continued monitoring may turn out to be all that is required. But past Serbian pledges have proved worthless, and officials don't rule out the possibility of action provoked by renegade forces on the ground.

The no-fly zone is part of a desperate effort to prevent what the Central Intelligence Agency estimates could be 100,000 deaths from hunger and cold this winter. Others have feared a toll up to four times as high.

President Bush's critics, including Democratic challenger Bill Clinton, have accused him of being slow to respond militarily to the Yugoslav nightmare.

Supporters will doubtless point to the announcement yesterday as showing Mr. Bush's decisiveness in quelling an internal debate.

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