NATO gave the go-ahead Friday for sending advance units of a 60,000-strong international army to Bosnia and, after weeks of deadlock, picked a new civilian head for the alliance.
After more than a month of wrangling over NATO’s top civilian job, the 16-nation alliance chose Spanish Foreign Minister Javier Solana to guide NATO as it sends an army into harm’s way for the first time in its 46-year history.
Troops from NATO’s rapid reaction force should fly to Bosnia from their base in Rheindahlen, Germany, today, under the directive given Friday.
They will form the advance guard of a 2,600-troop initial force that will set up communications, transport routes and storage sites before the main body of troops starts pouring into Bosnia after a peace accord is signed Dec. 14 in Paris.
The initial force, including 700 American and 500 British soldiers, should be in place early next week.
The NATO ambassadors gave provisional approval to the overall peace enforcement plan, code-named Joint Endeavor. Full approval will come only after the Paris signing and a resolution from the U.N. Security Council, but officials said the final plan will be little changed from the one set Friday.
It creates a multinational force, comprising 20,000 U.S. troops, 14,000 from Britain, 10,000 from France and smaller contingents from other allies. Russia and other non-NATO nations will also contribute.
The force will be heavily armed with tanks, artillery and warplanes; have full authority to use that formidable firepower; and have a one-year deadline for completing its task.
As civilian overseer of the deployment, Solana succeeds Willy Claes, who resigned Oct. 20.