Defence chiefs' advice on troops for Bosnia ignored: Cabinet rejected service heads' plea to send more soldiers. Christopher Bellamy reports

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT disregarded the advice of the military Chiefs of Staff after the British officer commanding United Nations forces in Bosnia, Lt-Gen Sir Michael Rose, asked for 3,000 more UN troops to reinforce its 14,000 peacekeepers.

The Government is still considering a later UN request last Thursday for a further 10,650 troops 'as soon as possible', but has said it will not send anyone unless other nations - specifically the US and France - do so.

The Navy's First Sea Lord and the Chiefs of the General and Air Staffs advised Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, to contribute to Lt-Gen Rose's requests for major reinforcements for Bosnia. Defence ministry sources say there was no division between Mr Rifkind and the defence chiefs, implying a division in the Cabinet. The Government decided to meet the short-term demand for reinforcements in Sarajevo by moving troops already in Bosnia, and to send just 60 more artillerymen to operate mortar-locating radars.

A campaign to persuade the Government to change its mind was launched in the Daily Telegraph last Thursday, but military sources believe it has been counterproductive. MoD sources said last night there was 'anger and irritation' at the newspaper's stance.

It is understood the Telegraph was not approached by chiefs of staff. The Chief of the Army's General Staff, who has the greatest interest, General Sir Peter Inge, is in Germany visiting an exercise, while the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, faced embarrassment last year after retracting allegations that the Treasury was trying to undermine the independent status of his service. The Chief of Naval Staff and First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Benjamin Bathurst, would have little interest, as the main need is for infantry and engineers on the ground.

But defence sources are unanimous that any competent serviceman would feel instinctively for a colleague faced with a rapidly developing situation who was refused reinforcements. All three chiefs apparently rallied to Lt-Gen Rose's support.

There is widespread suspicion that Max Hastings, the Telegraph's editor, had been approached by sources sympathetic to Lt-Gen Rose, with whom he became acquainted in the Falklands in 1982, when Mr Hastings was a war correspondent and Lt-Col Rose, as he was then, commanded 22 Special Air Service Regiment. Lt-Gen Rose has repeatedly demanded reinforcements, but not specifically from Britain.

The Government was let off the hook later the same day after when the overall commander in the former Yugoslavia, General Jean Cot of France, requested 4,600 more troops for Sarajevo and 6,050 for central Bosnia. That request is still being considered.

Lt-Gen Rose had earlier asked for 3,000 more troops after negotiating a ceasefire between Muslims and Serbs in Sarajevo, since followed by another ceasefire between Muslims and Croats in central Bosnia.