U.S. civilians to train Bosnian troops, officials say Islamic nations expected to pay

American military would not be involved


WASHINGTON -- U.S. civilian contractors will begin training Bosnian Muslim soldiers in the next 60 days, Clinton administration officials say, as the first step toward ensuring they can defend themselves after NATO peacekeepers leave.

Last week, Bosnian officials in Sarajevo agreed to an administration plan that calls for their government, the Muslim-Croatian federation that controls about half of Bosnia, to hire retired U.S. military officers to teach basic skills and more advanced tactics. U.S. forces would not be involved in the training.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted last month to endorse the Bosnia peacekeeping mission on the condition that the administration lead an international effort to equip and train the Bosnian government's army to the same level as its Bosnian Serb counterpart, which controls the other half of Bosnia and outguns the numerically superior Muslim forces.

But the Balkan peace accord reached in Dayton, Ohio, in November and signed last month imposes a 90-day embargo, ending in mid-March, on the supply of any military equipment to the participants in the Bosnian conflict and a 180-day embargo on the delivery of heavy weapons.

"In terms of providing heavy weapons, we're more than five months from being able to do that," Defense Secretary William J. Perry said in an interview. "But I would expect the training to

start during this three-month period. We have no reason to wait."

Under the plan, Bosnian Muslim troops would be trained in Bosnia and perhaps a NATO country such as Turkey, Pentagon officials said. The Turkish Foreign Ministry announced last month that it would sign a defense treaty with Bosnia soon.

Islamic countries would be expected to pay for most of the training and equipment, said Mr. Perry, who discussed the proposal with officials in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, this month.

One senior Pentagon official said the training would cost no more than $100 million and the equipment about $400 million, depending on whether the Bosnian army received U.S.-made weapons or Eastern European equipment similar to that used by the former Yugoslavian army.

But Western European officials fear that arming the Bosnian Muslims will undermine the impartiality of the NATO peacekeeping troops in Bosnia and their efforts to promote arms control in the Balkans. The Dayton agreement calls for the former combatants to reduce their weapons.

European officials also worry that this approach could encourage the Muslims to fight to regain control over all of Bosnia. This in turn could prompt a strategic alliance between Croatia and Serbia, the region's military powers.

Mr. Perry, in an interview Thursday, expressed confidence that the administration's approach would allay European worries.

"I think they understand at this stage we don't want an arms race, and we will work this in the context of an arms control agreement," he said.

One of the companies the Pentagon has recommended that the Muslim-Croatian federation hire for the training is Military Professional Resources Inc. of Alexandria, Va., which employs many retired U.S. military officers. The company has been training officers of the Croatian army.

"We're ready to see what's up, but we don't know what the requirement is yet," said Harry E. Soyster, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency who is vice president of international operations for Military Professional Resources.

In theory, striking a military balance between the Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Serb forces would protect the Muslims from further Serbian aggression after NATO troops pull out as scheduled later this year.

At last week's meeting in Sarajevo, U.S. officials were encouraged when the Bosnian Muslims and Croats agreed to end their parallel military commands and form a single, integrated chain of command and one ministry of defense.

"Our focus is on the Bosnian Muslims, but we're trying to encourage better integration between the two," said a senior Pentagon official.

The administration's plan, which identified the Bosnian military's strengths and weaknesses and the priorities for training and equipment, was presented to Bosnian officials last week in Sarajevo by a team of Pentagon and State Department officials.

The plan relies on a classified 200-page study the Pentagon commissioned from the Institute for Defense Analyses, a government-financed research center.

The study concluded that the Bosnian government's top military leaders are sound, but that its forces sorely need training at the small-unit level in operational tactics, command and control, and logistics.

The immediate task, Pentagon officials say, is to begin training Bosnian officers and build a new corps of sergeants, the glue of any army. These troops would in turn instruct their units.

Equipping the Bosnian forces would happen after the embargo expires.

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