WASHINGTON -- A U.S. military role enforcing a peace settlement in Bosnia-Herzegovina -- as suggested by the Clinton administration -- would commit up to 75,000 U.S. soldiers for as long as 10 years, according to U.S. and NATO military planners.
President Clinton has declared his willingness to commit military forces to a multinational peacekeeping effort once the warring parties in the former Yugoslavian republic reach a peace accord, although he has stopped short of making an explicit offer of ground forces.
Other administration officials said the White House is prepared to dispatch troops if necessary. Plans requiring the stationing of thousands of U.S. soldiers for a prolonged period have been drawn up for such a contingency.
Mobilizing a force of 75,000 troops for up to a decade could require Mr. Clinton to shelve plans to reduce the U.S. military presence in Europe by 1997 and frustrate his efforts to cut deeper into military operations and maintenance budgets, Army officials said last week.
Moreover, the Army would have to dispatch troops from bases in the United States to reinforce or replace the first waves of U.S. troops that would be sent from Germany to Bosnia, officials said. Some U.S.-based special forces, such as psychological operations and civil affairs units, would probably be included in the initial deployment, they added.
These projections, as outlined by senior officials at the Pentagon, happen to justify the military's argument against deeper cuts in U.S. forces in Europe and its reluctance to introduce troops into the Bosnian civil war. But officials denied they had tailored the plan to frustrate Mr. Clinton's aims.
The current planning calls for 20,000 U.S. troops -- a division of about 17,000 plus necessary support personnel -- to be sent to Bosnia as part of a multinational peacekeeping force. Because tours of duty would be limited to the customary six months, the equivalent of two more divisions or an Army corps would be needed as a base for rotations.
That means a total of 60,000 to 75,000 U.S. troops would be tapped for the operation, according to current planning figures.
A senior Army war planner warned Friday that these numbers "will be substantially larger" if the actual mission assigned to U.S. peacekeepers "is more rigorous" than expected. If the "operational environment" is as risky as it has been for British troops in Northern Ireland or Israeli forces battling the Palestinian intifada, then "you'll use larger numbers," he said.
Scores of thousands of people have been killed or are missing since Bosnia's Muslims and Croats voted to leave Yugoslavia last year, over the objection of ethnic Serbs. The Serbs, backed by Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia, revolted and have overrun about 70 percent of Bosnian territory.
At NATO's southern command headquarters in Naples, Italy, planners assume the Western alliance will act as a
"subcontractor" to the United Nations, which is sponsoring peace talks among three groups involved in the Bosnian fighting Serbs, Muslims and Croats.
NATO planners are considering a U.S.-led, multinational unit of 60,000 troops, backed with heavy weaponry and air support, to enforce a peace agreement inside the country -- with roughly one-quarter to one-third of the forces provided by the United States. Troops would be dispersed throughout Bosnian territory, which would be divided into 10 ethnic "cantonments" in a peace plan devised by former Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, the U.N. mediator, and Lord Owen, the European Community representative.
"What you'd really like to have is a division [13,000 to 17,000 troops] per cantonment, but the size of the multinational force really depends on what you want to do -- monitor humanitarian relief routes, do check points, spot and close down artillery -- and what capabilities the participating forces have," a NATO official in Naples said in a telephone interview.
Planners are busy
Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher met with NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on Friday to invite allied participation in an airdrop of relief supplies to Bosnia. NATO officials were said to have briefed him about "concepts" in the peacekeeping plan, even though many details were undecided, including precisely which countries should participate.
The NATO official, who agreed to discuss current planning if his identity was not disclosed, said military planners were busy trying to wrap up their work.
"We really wouldn't have enough time to think about this once a settlement is reached. You can't say to the parties, just wait 30 or 60 days so we can finish our planning. . . . When it's signed, we'd better be there."
Asked how long a peacekeeping operation might last, he replied, "Try 10 years."
"Ten years isn't definite, but it's common sense if you think of this as creating a U.N. protectorate," he explained. "You want to compensate for those who would say you can get in and out in a year or so."
At the Pentagon, U.S. military planners also expect a long commitment and have been studying other long-standing U.N.-sponsored peacekeeping missions in Cyprus, which continues after 29 years; in Lebanon, which began in 1978; and the Multinational Observer Force, in the Egyptian Sinai peninsula since 1979.
'Looking at a quagmire'
U.S. military officials have been leery about sending ground forces into Bosnia, and several insisted in interviews they were doing nothing at the moment to prepare for the first insertion of troops there. A senior official said the "peacekeeping" mission could easily become a violent campaign of "peacemaking."
"You're looking at a quagmire," he said. "It's not going to be in and out; you're going to be there a long, long time."
It has not escaped some military officials that their plan for the use of ground forces is clearly the most unattractive option among the contingency plans available to the Clinton administration.
Indeed, Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is keeping Mr. Clinton informed about "what the real costs of the operation will be," a senior Army officer said. A Bosnian peacekeeping mission "would be very expensive," one Army official said.
Officials also observed that Army forces in Europe cannot provide all the needed capabilities and a sufficient number of replacement troops for a long-term peacekeeping mission in Bosnia.
Forces in Europe cut back
Because of troop withdrawals completed during the Bush administration, U.S. ground forces in Europe consist only of a single Army corps with two divisions that have more tanks and armored vehicle battalions than infantry units.
This appears to be the wrong mix for the Bosnian terrain and anticipated peacekeeping duties, so commanders are likely to reach for extra infantry battalions based in the United States, an Army officer familiar with force planning said.
There are about 205,000 U.S. military personnel in Europe, 115,000 of them in the Army, but the Pentagon is so rapidly reaching the Bush administration's planned reduction to 150,000 that the Army is already dependent on some U.S.-based reinforcements for any major crisis.
Mr. Clinton intends a deeper cut to 100,000, which would compel the Army to rely even more heavily on reinforcements from the United States to respond even to a moderate threat.
Discussions about the deployment of allied forces into the Balkans have been under way since last summer, with all sides viewing the prospect as unpleasant.
NATO planners initially proposed a multinational force of 100,000 to secure territory so that land convoys could effectively deliver humanitarian aid to Bosnia, but NATO headquarters in Brussels sent them back to the drawing board, the NATO official said. "It was too big to swallow, so everyone said go down to 6,000 to 10,000."
About the same time, Lt. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, assistant to General Powell, told Congress that 60,000 to 120,000 troops would be needed simply to secure Sarajevo and the 201-mile VTC road into it from the Croatian port of Split. As many as 400,000 troops would be needed to subdue the fighting in Bosnia, but it was unlikely the war could be stopped quickly, he said.
"You are dealing with 23,000 square miles of a country slightly larger than South Vietnam," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "It is four times bigger than Northern Ireland, with 200,000 armed people in it, and so if you ask me how long it would take them to subdue those combatants or disarm them or deter them, it would be a tremendous military challenge on broken-up ground and forested terrain.
"However, it is not undoable," he said.
Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., recently asserted that the administration envisioned contributing 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. troops to a NATO peacekeeping force of 40,000.
The NATO official said planners now "want to start out with more at the beginning."
An Army official agreed. Planning for a larger force would give commanders a psychological edge as well as greater flexibility, he said. "You're saying, 'We're coming in, we're serious, we're going to overwhelm you,' " he said.
"You can always send people home and turn off the [supply] pipeline," he said. "It's better than scrambling to catch up. You've hurt your credibility."