U.S. TROOPS TO REMAIN IN BOSNIA : COMMITMENT SET UNTIL JUNE 1998.
About 8,500 American troops are expected to face the dangers of peacekeeping in Bosnia for at least another year and a half.
President Clinton announced the Bosnian commitment Friday and also confirmed that as many as 5,000 American troops may be headed for eastern Zaire to help rescue more than a million refugees from a civil war there.
``The United States cannot and should not try to solve every problem in the world,'' said Clinton. ``But when our interests are clear, our values are at stake - where we can make a difference - we must act and we must lead. Clearly Bosnia is such an example.''
On Africa, Clinton insisted that ``the world's most powerful nation must not turn its back on so many desperate people and so many innocent children.''
The decision to stay in Bosnia underscores a large danger of American military involvements around the world. Once committed, U.S. troops are frequently difficult to withdraw.
Clinton promised just a year ago that 15,000 American peacekeepers would be out of Bosnia by this December. But in recent months, it has become increasingly apparent that such a withdrawal was likely to lead to a renewal of the bloody civil war there.
A Republican in Congress hit Clinton on that point Friday.
``The problem is, it's easy to get in but tough to get out,'' said Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana, a persistent administration critic.
``I've not questioned the fact that the Balkans is a major concern,'' Coats said. ``I've questioned whether the president has been forthright with the American people about the costs and the risks of it and limiting our commitment to one year.''
Coats also said he was not yet convinced that a multinational relief force was needed to intervene in the refugee crisis in Zaire.
``That's another case where the president is too quick to commit our troops without having all the facts,'' Coats said. ``It's just another example of his seat-of-the-pants, reactive foreign policy.''
In a late-morning appearance in the White House briefing room, Clinton acknowledged the new American commitments were not without danger.
But the president argued that American involvement was almost certainly needed to save lives in Zaire and to hold gains of peace and democracy in Bosnia. The president emphasized that in both cases, U.S. troops would be under American command.
Clinton called reports Friday of a massive and apparently spontaneous exodus by refugees from their cholera-ridden camp in Zaire back to their homeland in neighboring Rwanda ``good preliminary news'' and ``a hopeful sign.'' However, he cautioned that ``I don't think we know enough yet to say the mission won't be needed.''
He said the 50,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force that was sent to Bosnia in December ``has succeeded'' in preserving a fragile peace, but that a smaller force now must stay on to secure that peace while the Bosnian people rebuild their society.
``Quite frankly, rebuilding the fabric of Bosnia's economy and political life is taking longer than anticipated,'' Clinton said. While Bosnians rebuild their courts, police and democratic institutions, ``for a time they will need the stability, the confidence that only an outside security force can provide.''
Clinton said the roughly 8,500 U.S. troops would join a new NATO force of some 30,000 to police the peace. They will be empowered to defend themselves under ``tough rules of engagement,'' he said, adding that he hoped to bring half of them home by the end of 1997 and to close out the mission by June 1998.
At the Pentagon, Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary William Perry said the United States hadn't determined which troops would be used in Bosnia.
Shalikashvili said details still were being worked out by NATO commanders in Europe. U.S. Army Gen. William Crouch, who took over as NATO's top Bosnia commander last week, will direct the new force.
Shalikashvili indicated that the stabilization force would actually be deployed slightly beyond June 1998.
``We need to make assessments along the way, but it is now the intent for the mission to end in June of 1998, and shortly thereafter for the troops to withdraw from there,'' he said.
``We will ensure that approximately every six months we conduct assessments of what is ongoing in Bosnia and, based upon those assessments, make the judgments whether we continue on a proper glide path,'' Shalikashvili said.
Perry acknowledged that his estimates last year that the job would be done in 12 months were wrong. ``It was my error in judgment,'' he said.