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Follow-on Force Necessary; U.S. Bosnia Role Uncertain

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Dec. 4, 1997 – NATO officials agree a follow-on military force in Bosnia will be necessary, but the role of U.S. troops remains undecided.

"President Clinton has made no decision on U.S. participation after June 1998," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told reporters here Dec 2.

U.S. participation should not be considered a foregone conclusion, Walt Slocombe, undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters. "Nothing has been ruled in; nothing has been ruled out," he said.

NATO's stabilization force mission is set to end in June 1998. Until then, alliance officials say, the 32,500 stabilization force troops in Bosnia will remain. This includes about 8,000 Americans. Another 3,000 U.S. troops support Operation Joint Guard from Croatia, Italy and Hungary.

There will be a need for an international force, Cohen said. "It remains to be seen exactly what size, what shape, what commitment many other countries are prepared to make," he said.

NATO military authorities say they will study several options, ranging from no troops in Bosnia to deploying a force equivalent to what's now in place. Cohen said the president will examine NATO's report to help determine if the United States can commit to a post-SFOR mission.

"Over the next month or so, President Clinton will be consulting closely with Congress and our allies as he reaches his decision," he said.

Congress has set severe conditions for U.S. involvement beyond June 1998, Cohen said. The defense authorization act requires the president to answer the following questions before deploying U.S. troops in Bosnia:

  • What will be the mission?
  • What size force is needed to meet that defined mission?
  • Can Europe play a larger role?
  • What impact would a continuing U.S. presence have on other U.S. commitments around the globe?
  • What would be the cost?
  • What would be the impact on U.S. readiness and morale?
  • How can the United States avoid permanent military involvement in Bosnia, and what steps can we take to make sure the mission will end?

"We're not only committed to maintaining peace and stability in Bosnia, we have almost 20,000 forces in the gulf," Cohen said. "We have 100,000 spread throughout the Asia-Pacific region."

Congress and the president are equal partners in decisions regarding any future deployment, said Sen. John Warner of Virginia, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and NATO Oversight Group. Warner stopped at NATO after visiting Bosnia. He joined Cohen at the podium during the Dec. 2 press conference.

"The decision that is going to be made will affect ... NATO for many years to come," the senator said. "It will affect the destiny of Europe for many years to come. It's got to be the right decision."

Cohen said NATO officials broadly agree NATO-directed forces have done an outstanding job, but also that much more needs to be done.

"The killing has been stopped for two years; the children are back in school; farmers are harvesting their crops; and workers are returning to their factories," Cohen said.

He called on the international community to intensify efforts to make the Dayton peace accords work between now and June 1998. A strong International Police Force is a critical priority, he said.

"If we don't have that, it will call into question whether or not the military should be called upon to carry out police functions," he said. "I can assure that is something the military does not support, nor do members of Congress."

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