Clinton agrees to Bosnia follow-up

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The Independent Online
President Bill Clinton gave his formal blessing for a follow-up Nato peace-keeping mission in Bosnia, announcing yesterday that 8,500 US troops will take part in a new operation which will last at least until mid-1998 - and possibly longer.

There are 14,000 American personnel in Bosnia, part of the I-for force, whose one-year assignment ends next month. However, Mr Clinton has now signed on to plans for a smaller Nato follow-up force of between 25,000 and 30,000, to allow more time for political wounds to heal, and economic reconstruction to proceed.

Warning that Bosnia's "harvest of hatred has not yet disappeared", the President said the US replacement force would comprise 8,500 troops at first, but that number would be reviewed monthly. The aim was to bring half the force home by the end of 1997, and complete the mission entirely by June 1998. His language, however, did not totally close the door on a further extension.

Republicans accused the President of breaking his pledge of December 1995 that all US troops would be withdrawn within 12 months, and deliberately concealing his intentions during the election campaign - even though it had long been obvious that a follow-up Nato force would have to stay in the country. The credibility of the administration's entire Bosnia policy had now been "dramatically weakened", said the Republican Congressman Floyd Spence, chairman of the House National Security Committee.

In fact, from a purely military point of view, I-for has been a remarkable success, with not a single American among the 19,000 who served in Bosnia killed by hostile action.

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