U.S. works on terms for peacekeepers 25,000 troops planned for Bosnia

September 24, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- On the threshold of what could be the world's biggest peacekeeping operation, the Clinton administration assured Americans yesterday that U.S. troops would have competent commanders and the means "to get the job done."

The administration is preparing plans to send up to 25,000 Americans as part of a NATO force to police an agreement in Bosnia-Herzegovina if the Bosnian Parliament approves a partition plan already endorsed by Croats and Serbs.

"Bosnia may be witness to a negotiated peace that will present the international community with its most daunting peacekeeping task ever," said Madeleine K. Albright, U.S. envoy to the United Nations.

The mission faces an uphill battle in Congress, where many members are disillusioned with the U.S. role in Somalia. In addition, it will be opposed by some members who think the United States should have fought to preserve a unified Bosnian state and by others opposed to sending troops at all.

In congressional briefings yesterday, all of President Clinton's top national security advisers were told that he would have to lead forcefully and conduct a "significant sales job," but that it would not be impossible to win Capitol Hill approval, an administration official said.

A congressional vote endorsing the move, while not legally necessary, would give Mr. Clinton political cover for the troop deployment and also make it harder for members to turn around and cut off funding later.

In a speech to the National War College in Washington, Ms. Albright said, "This administration believes that whether an operation is multilateral or unilateral, whether the troops are U.S. or foreign, young men and women should not be sent in harm's way without a clear mission, competent commanders, sensible rules of engagement and the means required to get the job done."

Her speech was the third in a series by top administration officials leading up to Mr. Clinton's first address to the U.N. General Assembly on Monday.

Its overall intent was to persuade Americans that the administration was not surrendering U.S. power to the United Nations but would use the world body where appropriate.

Without specifics, Ms. Albright outlined the principles for when the United States would use force on its own and when it would act with others.

"In the future, if America's vital economic interests are at risk, as they were in the [Persian] Gulf; or the lives of American citizens are in danger, as they were in Panama; or if terrorists need to be tracked down, as when President Reagan ordered the use of force to apprehend the hijackers of the Achille Lauro, President Clinton will not hesitate to act as a commander in chief must act to protect America and Americans," she said.

But the United States would turn to the United Nations when its interests are less directly threatened.

"Particularly when circumstances arise where there is a threat to international peace that affects us, but does not immediately threaten our citizens or territory, it will be in our interests to proceed in partnership with the U.N. or other appropriate groupings."

Ms. Albright didn't say when the United States would contribute its forces to peacekeeping operations under U.N. command.

A draft U.S. policy document is being rewritten to get rid of the impression that this would happen routinely.

A senior official said U.S. contributions would be weighed case by case under these guidelines:

* Are the money and personnel available?

* Is there a clear end point to the mission?

* Is the command and control arrangement acceptable to the United States?

* Does the mission have domestic and congressional support?

Ms. Albright suggested that the United States most often would supply logistics, training, intelligence, communications and other non-combat aid.

Partly because of severe problems encountered in Somalia by U.S. and U.N. forces, Mr. Clinton has insisted that the Bosnian peacekeeping operation be under NATO command.

The U.N. Security Council would provide overall authority and NATO forces would stay in close touch with U.N. humanitarian operations.

A senior U.S. official said the forces would have "robust rules of engagement" allowing them to fight if, for example, Bosnia's Serbs resume their aggression against Muslim territory or refuse to surrender their weapons.

A Security Council resolution authorizing the operation could be finished within 10 days after an accord is signed. Troops could then be sent as early as a week after that, although "there have to be good indications on the ground that [the warring factions] are abiding by the agreement and taking it seriously," the official said.

Key issues remain unsettled: what countries will provide the other 25,000 troops, whether Congress will approve the operation and how the mission will be paid for.

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