Key role for British troops in peace force

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The Independent Online

Defence Correspondent

The signatures on the Bosnia peace deal are expected at a ceremony in Paris in early December. It was hoped the signing, which will start the clock ticking for the deployment of the Nato peace implementation force, could take place as early as 6 or 7 December but the French have not yet fixed a date and it could be up to a week later.

At about the same time the UN Security Council is expected to authorise the Nato force, known as IFOR, to replace the UN force in Bosnia.

With supporting troops in neighbouring Croatia and Hungary, plus the Nato naval and air forces, the total Nato strength in the region may be nearer 100,000, alliance sources said yesterday.

So far, the operation - the first big land operation in Nato's 45-year history - does not have an official code-name although some documents refer to operation "Endeavour".

Yesterday, the US Defense Secretary, William Perry , said Nato would not take responsibility for aid or resettlement, but would concentrate on keeping the warring sides apart.

The land force will include 20,000 Americans, 13,000 British, 10,000 French, 4,000 Italians, 4,000 Spanish and 4,000 Canadians, plus smaller contingents from other Nato countries and up to ten outside Nato, including Sweden, Finland, the Baltic states, Pakistan, Malaysia and the Czech Republic.

Defence Ministry sources said the commitment of 13,000 British troops - who will be replaced by another 13,000 after six months - will stretch the British Army. For once, it does have enough infantry, but is short of signals troops, who will be responsible for communications throughout the entire theatre of operations.

During the two weeks after the signing in Paris an "enabling force" of about 2,000 will flow into Sarajevo - where the Nato headquarters controlling the operation will be based - and into the cities of Tuzla and Mostar and the small town of Gornji Vakuf. They will prepare the way for the US, French and British divisions which will be based on those three centres and are expected to start moving into Bosnia in January. The US heavy equipment - including M1 Abrams tanks - will come by rail through Hungary, the British and French by sea to Split and Ploce, and possibly also to Rijeka and Podgorica in Macedonia.

The 20,000 US troops of the 1st Armoured Division, based on Tuzla in the north, are cardinal to the political and military effectiveness of the force. They will be responsible for the Posavina corridor, the last and most contentious point of argument at the peace conference.

The US division, commanded by Major-General William Nash, is also expected to have control over a 3,000-strong Russian brigade , which will be based in its area, possibly including the area of eastern Slavonia, which is due to return to Croatia after between one and two years. These areas , unlike the more mountainous terrain to the south, are good tank country, suitable for the forces the US will deploy.

Britain is sending 13,000 troops. The 400-strong Nato Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) headquarters, which will control the operation, commanded by Lieutenant-General Mike Walker, is 60 per cent British, and is supported by a British battalion to protect it and 1 Signal Brigade, based in Germany, which will provide communications for the entire force. Of the 2,500 headquarters force, 2,000 are British.

Britain will also send the headquarters and associated troops of its 3rd Division, commanded by Major-General Mike Jackson - another 3,000 troops - and a full fighting brigade with all its support, totalling 8,000 troops.

The British division will control the largest sector, including the area of the last fierce fighting. In addition to Warrior infantry fighting vehicles, it will have at least one regiment of Challenger tanks. The British division will also include a Canadian brigade, between 2,000 and 4,000 strong, and possibly 1,000 Malaysians.

The French 6th Light Armoured Division, to be based in Mostar, is commanded by General Robert Rideau. The French will probably command the Italian and Spanish brigades, each about 4,000 strong. The French will be responsible for Gorazde and Sarajevo.

Belgium and the Netherlands are expected to provide a joint brigade about 3,000 strong.

Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will provide a "Nordic battalion", about 1,000 strong. There will be similar-sized groups from Turkey and Norway. Portugal, Denmark and the Czech Republic will provide about 600 each.