The U.S. troop deployment in Bosnia, originally set to end in December, is expected now to stretch well into 1998 and involve up to 10,000 Army soldiers, NATO’s top official said Thursday.
The entire mission would involve 30,000 troops from 30 countries, including the United States, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana told reporters.
“I had conversations with the (NATO) foreign ministers,” Solana said. “I would say that all of them … are moving toward Option C,” the option among four being considered that would keep troops in the former Yugoslav republic. In Washington, Solana met privately with Vice President Al Gore.
Apparently caught off guard, White House press secretary Mike McCurry and State Department spokesman Glyn Davies told reporters that Gore made clear to Solana that President Clinton had not signed off on the troop commitment.
Speaking anonymously, administration officials confirmed Solana’s description of the primary plan under consideration.
These officials said Clinton was to approve the extended troop commitment as early as Thursday night when he was meeting with his top foreign policy advisers at the White House. Clinton was expected to announce any decision today before departing on a brief vacation then an Asian trip.
The issue is quite sensitive. A year ago the Clinton administration was assuring lawmakers that 19,000 American soldiers in Bosnia with a 60,000-member NATO peacekeeping mission would be home by December. The U.S. force, now about 14,000, is scheduled to leave by mid-March.
Renewed fighting in Bosnia this week has heightened worries over the possible departure of NATO peacekeepers. Top advisers to the president - particularly diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who negotiated the Bosnia peace agreement in 1995 - vigorously urged Clinton to continue a U.S. presence to avoid resuming the vicious 3-1/2-year ethnic war that Holbrooke’s agreement halted.