Nato's new Bosnia force depends on US election

The US is likely to participate in a continuing Nato deployment in Bosnia next year, despite US assertions that it would not be drawn into a long- term presence. But the final composition of the force, which might number 25,000 instead of I-For's present 60,000, will depend on the result of the US election, sources said.

More details of the armed force expected to remain in, or close to, Bosnia after the withdrawal of the present peace implementation force, I-For, which begins in December, began to emerge yesterday. However, Nato foreign ministers, meeting in Berlin next week, will try to avoid public discussion of the issue.

Nato sources ruled out any public discussion of a post-I-For force until after the Bosnia review conference in Florence later this month, because I-For still has six months to go and because the Bosnian elections in September and the US Presidential elections will be crucial.

However, senior defence and diplomatic sources accept that an armed force, including US troops, will remain in or near Bosnia to provide military back-up to the civil reconstruction effort. Diplomatic sources said the force would not be run by the Western European Union, the European countries of Nato, and that discussion about its size and shape was taking place in the capitals of the key players, Britain, France and the US, rather than in Nato. "It's difficult to imagine there isn't going to be a post-I-For arrangement", a Nato source said yesterday.

Britain has always insisted on a "one-out, all-out" policy, committing Britain, France and the US to maintaining ground forces in the area, or to pulling out. Speaking in Ottawa last week, the Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, said one of the great achievements of I-For was to cement the Nato alliance because of the participation in I-for of not only Canadian and European forces but also of American forces. That was a very substantial improvement over Unprofor, he said

He said a new mandate for the successor group would have to be negotiated with a clear termination date and it would probably be under the aegis of Nato. Britain's condition for participation would be that the approach that has worked for I-For be continued; that is, the US is definitely in with troops on the ground and all partners agree to stay in together, or get out together. But the US has so far resisted the idea of any long-term deployment in Bosnia beyond the end of I-For's mandate.

One alternative might be for US forces to remain nearby in Hungary, with British and French troops still in Bosnia itself. That way, US concerns about a prolonged presence in Bosnia may be overcome.