WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration is having a hard time winning support for sending United States troops to Bosnia on a mission still being planned, to police a peace agreement yet to be negotiated.
Uncertainties surrounding the deployment are inevitable, given the complexities of ending the four-year civil war. But they make the administration's efforts to justify risking American lives in Central Europe even more daunting.
"I believe we have a compelling case," Defense Secretary William J. Perry said after being questioned this week by four congressional committees, "but I also believe we have a long way to go to make that case, not only to the Congress but to the people."
NATO commanders are drawing up detailed plans for an eventual dispatch of troops. Commanders hope to have supplies, communications and command facilities in place in various parts of Bosnia so the peacekeepers can move in within days, if not hours, of a peace agreement being signed. But there still are many uncertainties, as Gilbert A. Lewthwaite of The Sun's national staff explains:
How many U.S. troops will be deployed?
The current estimate is 20,000. They are to come mainly from the 1st Armored Division in Germany, but other units in Italy and the United States could be involved. They will have Air Force and Navy backup. Gen. John Shalikashvili, the Joint Chiefs chairman, said this week that 2,000 to 3,000 reservists could be called up. They would be mostly transport, supply and medical specialists.
The Americans would join 40,000 other international troops, mainly from Britain and France. Their job will be to keep the warring factions behind agreed lines of separation and from each other's throats.
Are they to be passive onlookers? A combat force?
Mr. Perry says there is at least this certainty: The U.S. troops will be heavily enough armed to defend themselves from attack. In his words, the NATO force of which the Americans would be a part will be "the biggest, toughest, meanest dog in town."
Beyond their right to self-defense there is less clarity about their rules of engagement. Members of Congress want to know, for example, whether they would be ordered to fight to enforce terms of any eventual peace accord.
Nor is it known exactly where the Americans would be sent in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This is important because some areas are more potentially explosive than others.
And what is the mission's goal?
To establish peace by creating a military balance between the Bosnian Serb and Muslim-led Bosnian government forces. Mr. Clinton hopes to achieve this by persuading the Serbs to reduce their advantage in heavy arms.
If if cannot be done through disarmament, the administration is willing to equip and train the government Muslim forces until they are a match for the Serbs. But the United States would have to do this alone, because its main allies either oppose such an initiative (France) or want no part of it (Britain).
What will the operation cost? And who's paying?
The price is put at $1.5 billion. The administration proposes to ask Congress for a special appropriation. If Congress refuses to provide the money, Mr. Perry says he would look for funds from within the new defense budget.
One problem: There is no new defense budget, because the House rejected a Senate-House conference report on how much the Pentagon should get. When passed, the defense budget likely will include funds for weapons the Pentagon says it neither wants nor needs. Mr. Perry says that if necessary he would tap those funds to pay for the mission.
Who will command the U.S. force?
The troops will be under NATO command -- which in effect means the Americans will be under U.S. control. The supreme allied commander in Europe is U.S. Army Gen. George Joulwan; the NATO commander in southern Europe, which covers Bosnia, is U.S. Navy Adm. W. Leighton Smith.
But does the United Nations somehow have a say?
No. There would be no U.N. involvement. This eliminates the "dual key" arrangement, in which previous allied operations in Bosnia have been under the joint command of the U.N. and NATO. This led to dithering and delay in responding to Serb aggression.
How long will the U.S. troops stay in Bosnia?
The Pentagon says it foresees the mission lasting as long as a year. This is how long the top brass believes it will take to stabilize conditions in Bosnia. Critics say establishing a time limit could tempt adversaries to wait out the deadline, then renew the battle once the peacekeepers depart.
Now, if the United States says that under certain conditions it will help arm Bosnian government troops, how could it claim to be neutral?
The administration says the U.S. peacekeepers will have no direct part in equipping or training the government troops. It is not clear who would do the job, but Mr. Perry says it would likely be contracted out to organizations and companies -- so far unidentified -- with the necessary expertise. Whether the Bosnian Serbs would recognize the distinction between direct and indirect U.S. arming of the Muslims is an open question.
Will the Russians have any role?
Traditional allies of the Serbs, the Russians want to participate in the peacekeeping operation. They already have 1,200 troops assigned to the existing U.N. operation, which is to end once the peace agreement is signed. They will likely leave their troops in position, and have offered to beef up their presence to as many as 20,000 soldiers.
But Russia rejects being under NATO command -- and this would be a NATO operation. The Clinton administration does not want the Russian force putting on an independent show. So talks are under way on how to involve them.
One proposal is to have them handle nonmilitary tasks, such as )) road widening or bridge building. So far the Russians have shown little interest in this, and are insisting on a military role outside NATO. In one effort to ease the tension, the allies have invited a three-member Russian military liaison team, led by a general, to sit in on NATO planning sessions.
And who will pay for the Russians?
The cash-strapped Russians have asked that same question. The U.S. response: Each nation should pay for its own peacekeepers. This is another unsettled issue.
What will happen to Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadic and Gen. Radko Mladich, who have been indicted by an international war crimes tribunal?
U.S soldiers would not search for them, but if they are encountered they would be arrested and handed over for trial.