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U.S. troops in Bosnia envisioned Planners say up to 75,000 would be needed for peace

March 01, 1993|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Washington Bureau

At the Pentagon, U.S. military planners also expect a long commitment and have been studying other long-standing U.N.-sponsored peacekeeping missions in Cyprus, which continues after 29 years; in Lebanon, which began in 1978; and the Multinational Observer Force, in the Egyptian Sinai peninsula since 1979.

'Looking at a quagmire'

U.S. military officials have been leery about sending ground forces into Bosnia, and several insisted in interviews they were doing nothing at the moment to prepare for the first insertion of troops there. A senior official said the "peacekeeping" mission could easily become a violent campaign of "peacemaking."

"You're looking at a quagmire," he said. "It's not going to be in and out; you're going to be there a long, long time."

It has not escaped some military officials that their plan for the use of ground forces is clearly the most unattractive option among the contingency plans available to the Clinton administration.

Indeed, Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is keeping Mr. Clinton informed about "what the real costs of the operation will be," a senior Army officer said. A Bosnian peacekeeping mission "would be very expensive," one Army official said.

Officials also observed that Army forces in Europe cannot provide all the needed capabilities and a sufficient number of replacement troops for a long-term peacekeeping mission in Bosnia.

Forces in Europe cut back

Because of troop withdrawals completed during the Bush administration, U.S. ground forces in Europe consist only of a single Army corps with two divisions that have more tanks and armored vehicle battalions than infantry units.

This appears to be the wrong mix for the Bosnian terrain and anticipated peacekeeping duties, so commanders are likely to reach for extra infantry battalions based in the United States, an Army officer familiar with force planning said.

There are about 205,000 U.S. military personnel in Europe, 115,000 of them in the Army, but the Pentagon is so rapidly reaching the Bush administration's planned reduction to 150,000 that the Army is already dependent on some U.S.-based reinforcements for any major crisis.

Mr. Clinton intends a deeper cut to 100,000, which would compel the Army to rely even more heavily on reinforcements from the United States to respond even to a moderate threat.

Discussions about the deployment of allied forces into the Balkans have been under way since last summer, with all sides viewing the prospect as unpleasant.

NATO planners initially proposed a multinational force of 100,000 to secure territory so that land convoys could effectively deliver humanitarian aid to Bosnia, but NATO headquarters in Brussels sent them back to the drawing board, the NATO official said. "It was too big to swallow, so everyone said go down to 6,000 to 10,000."

'Military challenge'

About the same time, Lt. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, assistant to General Powell, told Congress that 60,000 to 120,000 troops would be needed simply to secure Sarajevo and the 201-mile VTC road into it from the Croatian port of Split. As many as 400,000 troops would be needed to subdue the fighting in Bosnia, but it was unlikely the war could be stopped quickly, he said.

"You are dealing with 23,000 square miles of a country slightly larger than South Vietnam," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "It is four times bigger than Northern Ireland, with 200,000 armed people in it, and so if you ask me how long it would take them to subdue those combatants or disarm them or deter them, it would be a tremendous military challenge on broken-up ground and forested terrain.

"However, it is not undoable," he said.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., recently asserted that the administration envisioned contributing 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. troops to a NATO peacekeeping force of 40,000.

Psychological edge

The NATO official said planners now "want to start out with more at the beginning."

An Army official agreed. Planning for a larger force would give commanders a psychological edge as well as greater flexibility, he said. "You're saying, 'We're coming in, we're serious, we're going to overwhelm you,' " he said.

"You can always send people home and turn off the [supply] pipeline," he said. "It's better than scrambling to catch up. You've hurt your credibility."

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