Mission creep: the dilemma in which a military force is assigned a task, and then finds itself called on to expand its duties well beyond its orders and capabilities.
As much as the weather, the terrain, the mines and the militias, it is the threat of mission creep that most worries some Pentagon officials involved in the NATO troop deployment to Bosnia.
The afflicted country’s hunger, destitution, homelessness and bitterness make up a deadly quicksand, Clinton administration critics say, into which 20,000 Americans and 40,000 other NATO troops are about to wade.
It was mission creep that infected U.S. forces in Vietnam, and Somalia and Beirut, leaving behind a path smeared with blood. Already, it is argued, the NATO mission spelled out in last week’s Dayton, Ohio, peace accords seems much broader than the limited one administration officials were predicting in the weeks before the agreement.
But if mission creep is among the most worrisome challenges U.S. and NATO forces will face, there are a host of others that could produce big trouble.
Perhaps most important, there is the potential problem of continued violence from independent bands of local fighters attempting to challenge the peace.
Even though leaders of all the factions in the Bosnian war have agreed to the terms of the peace accord, the conflict itself has always been local in nature. “Nobody controls the little bands in the mountains,” Ilana Kass, a defense analyst and professor of military strategy at the National War College, said Monday.
And no one knows how well the peace agreement will play at the local level, where people have been fighting for their towns and farms.
In Sarajevo, for example, there were protests and reportedly some violence over the weekend when Serbs there learned that the city was to be turned over to the mostly Muslim Bosnian government.
Such sentiment, as well as a mix of mercenaries and bandits, the Pentagon fears, could add up to significant American casualties. Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic said he feared it could create from Sarajevo a long-simmering European Beirut.
Indeed, an American U.N. worker from Camden, N.J., was found murdered last week outside Tuzla, the town in northeastern Bosnia where U.S. forces will have their headquarters. And White House spokesman Michael McCurry said Monday that many of the security steps required in Dayton agreement have not “happened yet.”
“The real argument,” House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said Monday, is “why is this worth the risk?”
NATO, it has been argued, will falter without the participation in the deployment of its leading member, the United States. But some have questioned this reasoning: “NATO’s credibility does not hinge on Bosnia unless we make it so,” said one Pentagon observer. “And we made it so.”
Other factors make the job harder. Deploying units like the Germanybased U.S. First Armored Division, which is expected to be the main U.S. contribution, is much more difficult in winter. And the tattered Bosnian infrastructure of roads, bridges and facilities will add immeasurably to the problems.
GIs have been issued cold-weather gear and advice, and the Army may also try to deploy newfangled, specially heated tent villages to protect soldiers from harsh winter conditions.
But American ingenuity will not be able to protect the soldiers from everything. There are almost certain to be casualties, whether from hostile fire, or the elements, or the natural friction of crashes and mishaps that accompany any large military operation.
Gingrich’s press secretary, Tony Blankley, recalled Monday that Frederick the Great, the Prussian military genius, once said the Balkans were not worth the bones of a single German soldier.
Critics of the Bosnia deployment the same is true for U.S. soldiers today.
Earlier this month, Rep. Gerald Solomon, R-N.Y., called Bosnia “a hornet’s a nest … (that) does not justify the loss of one single American life.”
In summary, Kass said: “It’s a bad time of the year. It’s bad terrain. It’s bad people. And it’s a lot of mines. How is that low risk? Be honest. This is not a low-risk mission.”
MEMO: For opposing view, see headline: U.S. military involvement worth the risk