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"Hundreds" of Service Members Destined for East Timor

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 1999 – "Hundreds" of U.S. service members will participate in any peacekeeping operation on East Timor, President Clinton said Sept. 14 during a news conference in New Zealand.

The U.N. Security Council approved the U.N. International Force for East Timor in a unanimous vote Sept. 14. Clinton said he expects the first peacekeepers to be on the island "within days." He said U.S. involvement would be limited to airlift, communications and control, intelligence and engineering.

"These are things that, because of the size of our military, we are uniquely positioned to do," he said.

The Australians will lead the military mission and provide more than half the peacekeepers to what Clinton called an " overwhelmingly an Asian force." Canada, France, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand have expressed interest in helping with the peacekeeping force for the embattled island.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said 15 Pacific Command planners are in Darwin, Australia, helping to set up the operation and U.S. participation in it. DoD is airlifting 300,000 humanitarian daily rations to Darwin for U.N. distribution on East Timor, Quigley said. The food comes from Tracy Defense Depot, near San Francisco.

Quigley said U.S. forces would be on the ground in East Timor, but not performing "traditional" peacekeeping duties, reiterating Clinton's statement.

"They'll be undoubtedly assisting at whichever airports we end up with, coordinating the resupply, the maintenance and what have you of any aircraft that would be used," Quigley added. "But again, large numbers of rifle companies, infantry companies, that you think of when you think of large numbers of peacekeeping forces -- that is not under consideration."

He said U.S. officials are addressing force protection concerns. "We are going to provide very clear, unambiguous force protection for U.S. troops and U.S. facilities that are on the ground in East Timor," he said. While the specific plans aren't yet firm, "there will be no question that those forces will have a rock solid force protection in place," he noted.

The Australians are planning a force of 4,500 to East Timor, Australian embassy officials here said.

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