NATO today will authorize advance units of its 60,000-member peace force to begin moving into Bosnia, top alliance officials said Wednesday.
The “enabling force” of 2,600, including 700 Americans, will begin setting up headquarters, communications and supply bases, and check airports and other transportation facilities.
The main force will not arrive until after the peace agreement initialed in Dayton, Ohio, is signed in Paris Dec. 14, but the advance units could begin heading into Bosnia in the next few days.
Gen. George Joulwan, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, wants the bulk of the 60,000 troops in place within 30 days of the signing. Of those, about 20,000 will be American, 13,000 British, and 10,000 French.
The force also will include about 1,500 Russians, under an agreement reached Tuesday by U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry and Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev.
The NATO force in Bosnia, unlike the existing U.N. force, will be heavily armed to deal with any threat to its safety. They will have the right to shoot first when necessary, officials say.
One NATO official said on condition of anonymity that the first instance in which force is used will be a key moment, and that a show of weakness could mean trouble for the mission.
The North Atlantic Council, NATO’s top policymaking body, will give the troop movement go-ahead at a special meeting today. The council then will begin scrutinizing Joulwan’s operations plan. Approval of the plan is expected on Friday, Perry said.
President Clinton will be briefed on that plan over the weekend in Germany.
Perry stressed the importance of disarmament if real peace is to be achieved in Bosnia. A conference on how to put disarmament into effect will be held in Bonn, Germany, shortly after the Paris conference.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: NEW NATO LEADER TO BE NAMED SOON NATO foreign ministers are expected to end a long deadlock by appointing a new leader for the alliance next week, Defense Secretary William J. Perry said Wednesday. But it remained unclear just who will lead the Western alliance as it sends 60,000 troops into Bosnia in the biggest military operation in the alliance’s 46-year history. “My expectation is that there will be a new secretary-general selected at the foreign ministers’ meeting next week,” Perry told reporters. “I will not speculate on who that will be.” The alliance’s top civilian post has been vacant since Oct. 20, when Willy Claes was forced to resign over allegations of corruption in his native Belgium. The search for a successor has strained relations between NATO members. Washington vetoed the preferred choice of Britain, France and Germany - former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers - for being too vague on the Bosnia peace plan, among other things. Scandinavian diplomats attending NATO defense ministers’ talks said Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland may emerge as a compromise candidate to fill the post. She would be the first woman to hold the post. - Associated Press