Casualties in Somalia force second look at U.S. global peacekeeping missions

October 10, 1993|By Richard H. P. Sia and Mark Matthews | Richard H. P. Sia and Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The slaying of 15 U.S. soldiers in Somalia last week has forced the Clinton administration to rethink -- but not abandon -- its support for peacekeeping missions to other global hot spots.

A mission already under way to violence-ridden Haiti will be beefed up. Another to Liberia may be scrapped all together. The biggest mission on the drawing board -- sending 25,000 troops to Bosnia -- could be jeopardized unless President Clinton can sell it to a wary American public.

But the administration is far from ready to give up on peacekeeping as a key element of its post-Cold War foreign policy, and officials hope to use the costly lessons of Somalia to put peacekeeping on a sounder footing.

In fact, some military officers already are seizing on the casualties in Somalia to argue for sending many more than 25,000 U.S. troops to Bosnia if Mr. Clinton decides that Americans must help enforce a peace agreement there.

In the past, military planners complain, political considerations rather military needs determined the number of troops and tanks sent on peacekeeping missions. But Somalia may change all that.

After last week, a senior military planner said, "I think there's going to be a lot of criticism about the administration's tendency to set [troop] numbers arbitrarily rather than based on the capabilities that are really needed to do the mission."

The ill-fated search and seizure mission by Army Rangers in Mogadishu last weekend -- and the inability of other United Nations troops to stage a speedy rescue -- persuaded Mr. Clinton to double the U.S. military presence in Somalia and put more tanks, an aircraft carrier and potent AC-130 gunships at the disposal of the U.S. field commander. Only a few weeks earlier, Defense Secretary Les Aspin had shelved a request by the commander for armored reinforcements.

"The next time the military asks for something, the request will be considered with more detailed thought and attention," the planner said. "Our preference is for them to tell us what the mission is; we'll tell them how many troops and what equipment they'll need.

There were also developments in the following areas:

* Bosnia. Although the Bosnia mission appears to be in deep trouble on Capitol Hill, the senior military planner suggested that the administration's plan to send 25,000 U.S. troops to Bosnia as part of a planned, 50,000-member NATO peacekeeping force may be inadequate.

The planner said the decision to send heavy firepower and reinforcements to Somalia should prompt the administration to ask this question: "If and when we ever make a decision on Bosnia, will the military have enough to do that mission?"

But administration officials suggested that the military, looking for ways to avoid going to Bosnia, is raising the need for more troops as a way to make a peacekeeping mission politically unfeasible.

* Haiti. A senior administration official disclosed Friday that a "quick reaction force" would be stationed off shore to protect U.S. military personnel sent to the Caribbean island. Plans also call for a quick evacuation if U.S. troops come under fire.

An advance team of 26 U.S. troops arrived Wednesday to prepare for the arrival this week of nearly 600 military engineers, trainers and support troops. They have been assigned to support a 1,270-member U.N. team on a six-month mission to restore Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.

Citing violence and recent threats to foreigners, military officials favored sending combat troops or military police to deal with any attacks on U.S. military personnel, who would be armed only with handguns. But the administration balked, saying that the United Nations had insisted on a mission of strict "technical assistance," not peacekeeping.

In the wake of U.S. losses in Somalia, the military won its argument that the forces being sent to Haiti were ill-equipped to complete the mission.

* Liberia. The administration was considering sending U.S. troops to the West African nation as part of a U.N.-sponsored mission expected to begin this month. But U.S. officials, some of whom were enthusiastic about giving direct support to a settlement of the bloody civil war, jettisoned the idea last week.

"Certainly the affairs in Somalia are causing us to take a second look," explained one official. Besides, he said, "we don't see any unique requirement for U.S. military personnel to be involved."

Administration officials now say the United States will kick in $19.8 million to help the U.N. defray the cost of the Liberian mission -- but will not send troops.

* The Golan Heights. The U.S. Army began preliminary planning when Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher made a public offer of U.S. troops last month to guarantee any settlement between Israel and Syria over the Golan Heights.

An Army official said the U.S. share of an expanded peacekeeping force could range from 1,000 troops to a brigade of 5,000 to 6,000 soldiers "if you need a deterrent force in place."

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