U.N. forces landing in Albania It's OK: Troops' mission may be fuzzy, but none of them is ours.

April 17, 1997

AMERICANS in and out of Washington can watch the United Nations' three-month mission of 6,000 troops from eight countries in Albania with hope for success, worries at the perils and rapt fascination with what we might learn. The demand for such missions in a chaotic world is likely to increase. It does not matter if Washington policy-makers, pundits and analysts tut-tut that the mission is fuzzy, the rules of engagement uninstructive and the exit plan non-existent. Those are other people's problems. None of the troops is American.

The Italians, with their shaky government, can be pleased that the first landings at the port of Durres and Tirana airport on Tuesday went well. They showed that Italians can plan a smooth multi-national operation that ticks like clock-work without needing Pentagon assistance. The landing at Vlore may be more challenging, as it is in the hands of insurgents and, possibly, criminals.

The Italian and French troops, to be joined by Spanish, Greek, Romanian, Danish, Austrian and Turkish forces, will guard the food and medical supplies and protect the World Food Program of the United Nations distributing them. The European troops will defend themselves and others from violence, if necessary, but will not attempt to disarm the civilian population, much of which helped itself to the weapons of the Albanian army.

If the food gets through to people made desperate by chaos and anarchy, the operation was worth doing. It is fraught with obvious perils, not of nearby Bosnia so much as those of distant Somalia. European states, for reasons of national interest or desire to do good, have taken those risks. The role of the U.S., which has stayed out, is to observe and learn. If those Europeans do not ask Washington for advice, the wise course is not to offer any.

Pub Date: 4/17/97

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