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U.S. To Urge NATO Allies to Drop Use-of-Force Restrictions

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

ISTANBUL, Turkey, June 27, 2004 – Nations' restrictions on what their forces can and can't do while conducting coalition or alliance missions reduces the commander's military effectiveness and may put some troops at unnecessary risk, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters here today.

The official, here for the NATO Istanbul Summit that begins June 28, said use of force by NATO troops is among the issues defense leaders are expected to discuss. While not expecting NATO to reach a concrete agreement, she said, the United States hopes the leaders will come to a general consensus that national restrictions on use of forces are counterproductive to NATO operations.

Once that consensus is reached, she said, the alliance will "ask these countries to go back and work with their parliaments and governments" to drop these restrictions "to make sure that if they are committing forces, they can use them."

The issue most recently came to light last March in Kosovo, where NATO forces were unable to quell violence and destruction at the church they were guarding. Due to their country's limitations on their use of force, the troops were practically helpless against a Kosovo Albanian mob that looted and burned the shrine. Seven people died, and dozens more were injured.

The defense official said national restrictions on their troops' activities does more than hamper NATO's effectiveness. "It also puts other troops in harm's way who have to be moved to fill in for countries that have so restricted their troops that they can't be responsive," she said. "So not only are you not being able to fulfill your mission, you could be endangering more of your fellow coalition partners."

These restrictions not only make forces weaker and more vulnerable, she said, but they also send out a message: "If you are a terrorist or you are looking to incite violence, don't go to the places where countries have robust command rules of engagement, but go to the ones where they can't do this and can't do this, and they might stay in their barracks."

The defense official told reporters national caveats about the use of force is a significant issue for NATO, but will become increasingly important as the alliance stands up its NATO Response Force.

"If you have a situation where the commander goes out and says, 'OK, we've got to go out, we've got this mission, but gee, this 'X' country can't do these three things, and 'Y' country can't do these five things,' it makes it impossible to be effective militarily," she said.

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North Atlantic Treaty Organization
NATO Istanbul Summit

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