US will commit forces to Bosnia

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US FORCES are expected to be deployed as part of the UN force protecting humanitarian aid for Bosnia. Until now, the US has insisted that it does not wish to commit troops to the former Yogoslavia.

It is understood the US may send an entire field hospital. With such a large unit on the ground, the Americans would be represented at the UN headquarters, providing intelligence, air cover and logistic support for the UN operation.

The HQ's staff will be based on the multi-national mobile element of Nato's Northern Army Group (Northag). The need to demonstrate international resolve focuses attention on Northag, which, until Nato's Rapid Reaction Corps, launched last week, is up and running, is the only suitable multinational HQ.

The decision to offer a field hospital came despite intense opposition in the Pentagon to US military participation. The offer comes after taunts against President George Bush by the presidential frontrunner, Bill Clinton. For months the US media have been attacking the Bush administration for its failure to play a leading role in Bosnia. The effort to answer these critics has produced a flurry of action in the UN Security Council. A war crimes commission for the former Yugoslavia was set up on Tuesday, and a 'no-fly zone' is expected to be approved by the weekend.

More than 20 combat aircraft of the former Yugoslav air force are understood to be operational, reinforcing demands for the no-fly zone, which the US would help to enforce with fighters and Awacs airborne control aircraft. Although the Bosnian Serb aircraft are not formidable against competent air opposition, they are dangerous to ground forces when there is none.

Meanwhile, the British force going to Bosnia next month is expected to exceed 2,000. Extra engineers will set up operating bases able to withstand winter weather and ensure basic sanitation. The British reconnaissance party that returned last Thursday encountered difficulties and at one point was reported to have been only 25 yards from an air strike.

It is estimated that several hundred thousand people could die in the former Yugoslavia this winter from cold and disease. The water supply system has completely broken down. On past form, an agreement reached last night between the UN commander and the warring factions in Sarajevo to restore and protect water and power supplies is no cause for high optimism.

An announcement is expected shortly on the composition of the British force. After that it will take about 12 days to charter the necessary sea transport and two days to load ships. They will be at sea for 14 days and take two days to unload. Even if the Cabinet makes a decision this week, the force is unlikely to be operational before late next month.

Sources in the US have indicated they would be prepared to help with the strategic airlift of forces to the area. The most efficient way of transporting the main body of British troops is assessed as being by air, with heavy equipment going by sea. But the huge US C5 transport aircraft could carry entire units of the advance parties, complete with vehicles. US sources say they have received a British 'shopping list'.