Joint Chiefs nominee urges Bosnia operation

September 23, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Gen. John Shalikashvili, President Clinton's choice to be the top officer of the armed forces, gave strong

support yesterday for sending 25,000 American troops to Bosnia to help enforce any peace settlement reached there, but said the overall operation would cost $4 billion in the first year alone.

General Shalikashvili, a Polish-born artillery officer named to succeed Gen. Colin L. Powell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee that a force of 50,000 heavily armed NATO troops would have a good chance of success in such a mission, if the proper command structure was established and the warring factions committed themselves to observe an agreement.

The general also said he had been shocked to learn that his father fought in World War II in a Nazi-organized unit commanded by the Waffen SS. The general said he learned about his father's ties with the SS unit only last month from news reports.

"I'm deeply saddened that my father had this tragic association," General Shalikashvili said in his opening statement. "To me, he was a kind and gentle man, and I loved him very much."

The general, who read his statement in matter-of-fact tones, said that he learned about the ties only last month from news reports. His statement lasted only about five minutes, and the references to his father came at the very end, just before he began taking questions from the senators.

In his confirmation hearing before the Senate panel yesterday, General Shalikashvili (pronounced shah-lee-kahsh-VEE-lee) countered the skepticism that many senators voiced about American involvement in the Balkans with a strongly argued rationale.

"The alternative of not doing so is also very expensive," said General Shalikashvili, who is the current NATO military commander. "There is a likelihood that fighting will break out again, that it will reach sort of a final crescendo."

In Brussels, the Balkan negotiators told NATO officials that any force sent to Bosnia should be well-armed and deployed quickly. Thorvald Stoltenberg, the United Nations envoy, said that the NATO force would probably face opposition from local "warlords" who answer to no one.

Lord Owen, the European Community negotiator, said there was a need to "go in fast and firmly with a seriously credible force" and that it must be more powerful than the peacekeepers that the United Nations has deployed until now.

General Shalikashvili, 57, who directed the relief operation to help the Kurds in northern Iraq after the Persian Gulf war, warned that winter in Sarajevo is less than 60 days away and that residents face harsher prospects than they did last winter. "Women and children and old people will pay an awful price if there is not a peace settlement," he said in his slightly accented English.

General Shalikashvili's comments stand in contrast to the cautious views of General Powell, who has warned against military intervention in the fighting in Bosnia.

Sen. Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat who heads the panel, said that General Shalikashvili's nomination was virtually assured but that a vote by the full Senate might be delayed until the administration names the general's successor at NATO.

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