Pentagon outlines congressionally-mandated plan to arm, train Bosnians

November 18, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration has complied with Congress' order to draft options for arming and training Bosnian government forces, but it warns that carrying out the proposal would be risky, costly and almost certain to jeopardize ties with major U.S. allies.

The scenarios, outlined in classified briefings with leading lawmakers this week, call for the United States to lift the current arms embargo unilaterally, to arm and train Bosnian government soldiers and to help evacuate allied troops now on peacekeeping duty in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

But officials have warned that the operation would require a substantial U.S. air campaign to protect Bosnian forces during training and the deployment of thousands of American ground troops, with a risk of widening the ground war to many more civilians. The cost could run as high as $4 billion, administration officials said. They also have warned that any unilateral lifting of the arms embargo would so anger major U.S. allies -- such as the British, French and Dutch, who together have 19,000 ground troops in Bosnia -- that U.S. planes might not be allowed to use North Atlantic Treaty Organization bases.

The administration consistently has opposed any unilateral lifting of the arms embargo or outside training of Bosnian troops. But that position has been unpopular among lawmakers, many of whom are frustrated with the war and want to strengthen Bosnia's government forces, which are largely Muslim.

However, officials concede that President Clinton may be hard-pressed to avert such a move after Republicans take control of Congress in January. GOP lawmakers have been among the most vigorous proponents of lifting the embargo unilaterally.

Under legislation passed earlier this year, Congress gave Mr. Clintonuntil Nov. 15 to persuade the U.N. Security Council to lift the embargo multilaterally. If the United Nations refused, the legislation required Mr. Clinton to cease using U.S. military personnel to help enforce the restrictions.

The law also requires him to submit detailed plans for lifting the embargo unilaterally and for training Bosnian government troops outside of Bosnia-Herzegovina, where they are subject to the U.N. embargo.

Unable to get the 15-nation Security Council to lift the embargo, Mr. Clinton issued orders last week prohibiting U.S. military forces from helping to enforce the embargo.

The plan outlined to lawmakers this week involved essentially two alternative approaches: the supplying of tanks and other heavy weapons, or exploiting the Muslims' current advantage in manpower by equipping them with more anti-tank weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms to create a more effective infantry force.

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