U.S. admiral to have broad powers to implement pact NATO troops permitted to use 'necessary force'

November 23, 1995|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The American admiral who will command the 60,000-strong NATO peace-implementation force in Bosnia will wield some of the most sweeping powers ever given to a military commander outside of war.

He will have authority to use force to carry out every major element of the peace agreement, from the transfer of territory to the withdrawal of troops, from military-base inspections to the control of air space.

But despite such wide-ranging power, the NATO force, which will include up to 20,000 U.S. troops, faces potential dangers and casualties.

"It's not a risk-free operations," said Richard Holbrooke, the administration's point man in Bosnia during the first stages of U.S.-led peace negotiations.

The military annex to the peace agreement signed in Dayton, Ohio, gives the admiral, Leighton W. Smith, the right to "the use of necessary force to ensure compliance."

Determined to avoid the kind of confusion that contributed to the deaths of 241 U.S. troops in a terrorist attack on their barracks in Lebanon in 1983 and the deaths of 18 Army Rangers in a firefight in Somalia in 1993, the U.S. negotiators in Dayton forced the warring Bosnians to accept the near-total authority of Admiral Smith of IFOR, the official name of the NATO force.

The annex states: "The parties understand and agree that the IFOR commander shall have the authority, without interference or permission of any party, to do all that the commander judges necessary and proper, including the use of military force, to protect the IFOR and to carry out [his responsibilities], and they shall comply in all respects with the IFOR requirement."

Admiral Smith's troops will have the authority to create 2.5-mile-wide disarmament zones between the rival factions.

They will be free to range wherever they deem necessary by land, sea or air, to establish their own contacts with local civilian and military authorities, to control all military traffic, and to

ensure that all air early-warning, air-defense and missile-radar systems are shut down within 72 hours after the agreement takes effect. The agreement is expected to take effect early next month, after it is formally signed in Paris.

The agreement states: "The IFOR commander is the final authority in theatre regarding interpretation of this agreement on the military aspect of the peace settlement."

Lt. Gen. Wes Clark, the representative of the U,S. Joints Chiefs of Staff at the Dayton talks, said: "It is a very broad range of authorities that should enable [the force] to do what is necessary. We will make sure the parties understand what is required of them."

Administration officials stressed yesterday that the entire peace plan was based on voluntary compliance of the Serbs, the Croats and the Muslims. But they left little doubt that the implementation force would not hesitate to strike against any violators once the agreement was in force.

"It's not Somalia, it's not Vietnam," Mr. Holbrooke said. "We forged a very tight military annex to this agreement which was signed by everyone, which gives them complete authority to do what's necessary once they're in Bosnia."

If the agreement was violated before it was implemented -- the Bosnian Serbs have criticized the agreement, which was signed on their behalf by President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia -- the NATO force would not be deployed, Mr. Holbrooke said.

"If it's violated during deployment, the first violator, whichever it is, will pay a very severe penalty, and I don't think there will be a second incident," he said.

Pentagon officials also stressed the power of the implementation force. "We are certainly going over there with a force that is capable of doing the job as we see it right now," Gen. Dennis Reimer, the Army chief of staff, said.

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