About 8,500 American troops are expected to face the dangers of peacekeeping in Bosnia for at least another year and a half.
President Clinton announced the Bosnian commitment Friday saying, “The United States cannot and should not try to solve every problem in the world,” said Clinton, “but when our interests are clear, our values are at stake - where we can make a difference - we must act and we must lead. Clearly Bosnia is such an example.”
The decision to stay in Bosnia underscores a large danger of American military involvements around the world. Once committed, U.S. troops are frequently difficult to withdraw.
Clinton promised just a year ago that 15,000 American peacekeepers would be out of Bosnia by this December. But in recent months, it has become increasingly apparent that such a withdrawal was likely to lead to a renewal of the bloody civil war there.
A Republican in Congress hit Clinton on that point Friday.
“The problem is, it’s easy to get in but tough to get out,” said Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana, a persistent administration critic.
“I’ve not questioned the fact that the Balkans is a major concern,” Coats said. “I’ve questioned whether the president has been forthright with the American people about the costs and the risks of it and limiting our commitment to one year.”
The president argued that American involvement was almost certainly needed to hold gains of peace and democracy in Bosnia. The president emphasized that U.S. troops would be under American command.
He said the 50,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force that was sent to Bosnia last December “has succeeded” in preserving a fragile peace, but that a smaller force now must stay on to secure that peace while the Bosnian people rebuild their society.
“Quite frankly, rebuilding the fabric of Bosnia’s economy and political life is taking longer than anticipated,” Clinton said. While Bosnians rebuild their courts, police and democratic institutions, “for a time they will need the stability, the confidence that only an outside security force can provide.”
Clinton said the roughly 8,500 U.S. troops would join a new NATO force of some 30,000 to police the peace. They will be empowered to defend themselves under “tough rules of engagement,” he said, adding that he hoped to bring half of them home by the end of 1997 and to close out the mission by June 1998.
At the Pentagon, Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary William Perry said the United States hadn’t determined which troops would be used in Bosnia.
Shalikashvili said details still were being worked out by NATO commanders in Europe. U.S. Army Gen. William Crouch, who took over as NATO’s top Bosnia commander last week, will direct the new force.
Shalikashvili indicated that the stabilization force would actually be deployed slightly beyond June 1998.
“We need to make assessments along the way, but it is now the intent for the mission to end in June of 1998, and shortly thereafter for the troops to withdraw from there,” he said.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHY SEND TROOPS TO BOSNIA? President Clinton announced Friday that the United States intends to send new forces to help keep the peace in Bosnia through the middle of 1998. Here is a look at why troops are needed in Bosnia and what the United States may do: The background: Under an agreement that ended a long civil war between Bosnian Muslims and Serbs, the United States sent 15,000 troops to Bosnia last December as part of a 50,000-member NATO-led international peace implementation force (IFOR). Those U.S. forces are withdrawing as planned under protective cover provided by 7,500 American troops from Germany. All of those American troops were expected to be out by March 1997. However, Clinton agrees with our NATO allies that the Bosnian situation remains dangerously volatile. There were clashes between Serbs and Muslims this week. What is expected: To guard against renewed fighting, Clinton intends to send 8,500 troops to join a 25,000-member “follow on” IFOR force that is expected to remain in Bosnia through the middle of 1998. That force is expected to be formally approved by NATO political leaders in Brussels, Belgium, next Monday. The 7,500-member withdrawal covering force now is expected to be the vanguard of the new U.S. contingent. Potential dangers: Both Muslims and Serbs remain wellarmed, and ethnic hostilities continue to sharply divide the country. The reduced NATO forces will face significant danger from attack by forces on either side. American conditions: There are no vital U.S. interests at stake in the Bosnian conflict, and Clinton is limiting the goals of the extended mission in ways that minimize the risk of American bloodshed. He said U.S. forces wouldn’t be sent until NATO developed an operational plan that was “clear, limited and achievable.” - Knight-Ridder