OCTOBER 3, 1996
The Senate Armed Services Committee held hearings today on the U.S. troop withdrawal from Bosnia. Critics fought to uphold the one-year deadline, while military heads explained the need for "covering forces" to ease the troops' exit and ensure stability. Elizabeth Farnsworth reports.
SEN. STROM THURMOND: The committee will come to order.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: For the Senate Armed Services Committee, the question was whether U.S. forces may be in Bosnia past the December 20th deadline promised by the Clinton administration when troops were deployed last year. Today's opening statements featured a blast at the administration from the Republican side. Sen. John McCain of Arizona said recent Pentagon statements about new troop deployments were at odds with earlier promises. He quoted statements made by Secretary of Defense Perry and Joint Chiefs Chairman Shalikashvili last year.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN, (R) Arizona: Gen. Shalikashvili says there's no doubt by the time we leave in 12 months our mission will be completed. Twelve months is the right time to set to bring the force home, and I think you knew better at the time. Sec. Perry, I was the one that recommended to the President that this be a 12-month mission. I believe firmly that approximately 12 months this force can withdraw. The last three months of the twelve-month appointment is the phasing out of the force and they will come down gradually over those last three months.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Committee Democrats urged their Republican colleagues to hold their fire, given the success of the Bosnian mission.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, (D) Connecticut: We can be extremely proud today of the dedication and performance of our soldiers. There, under the leadership of the two gentlemen before us today, Sec. Perry and Gen. Shalikashvili, we can be proud also of the work of our diplomats and volunteers that have brought about this result which was by no means guaranteed when this all began.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The committee members were trying to get specifics on NATO or Pentagon plans to deploy U.S. forces beyond December. At present, some 15,000 Americans serve in the 52,000 member international protection force called IFOR. The Pentagon announced this week that 5,000 more U.S. soldiers will leave for Bosnia soon and stay until mid March. The primary job of this covering force, as it's called, is to help the U.S. peacekeepers now in Bosnia safely withdraw. Today Sec. Perry and Joint Chiefs Chairman Shalikashvili described this force in more detail.
GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: Starting in a few days, after Sec. Perry signed the deployment order, we will deploy approximately 5,000 troops to Bosnia whose function it will be to assist our forces in the orderly withdrawal and to be part of the mission ready force during the municipal elections and throughout the redeployment period. By the time the IFOR mission ends on the 20th of December. We expect to be down to a force of approximately 10,000 Americans, with 7,500 dedicated to the covering force operation, and 2,500 involved in a process of withdrawal. By 1 February ‘97, it is our hope that approximately 7,500 will only be left with that covering force, and our current plan is for the remainder of this covering force to be out of Bosnia by mid March.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: More controversial still are reports of plans for a so-called follow on force of Europeans and Americans who might remain past March to help keep the peace between ethnic groups. Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond raised questions about both the covering and the follow-on forces.
SEN. STROM THURMOND, Chairman, Armed Services Committee: Mr. Secretary, there's a problem of an additional 5,000 U.S. troops for up to six months is a surprise and a concern to this committee. It appears that the deployment of the 5,000-man covering force may be a pretense to a further extension of the U.S. military presence in Bosnia which this administration is unwilling to admit because of the U.S. elections in November. Can you assure us that this is not so, and that there are no plans or commitments for U.S. forces in Bosnia beyond the March 1, 1997, withdrawal date for the covering force.
WILLIAM PERRY, Secretary of Defense: Mr. Chairman, the covering force is for the purpose that was described by Gen. Shali. It is the exact symmetrical position to the force we put in to cover up forces when they entered Bosnia. It is for that purpose and no other purpose. On the question of whether there will be a follow-on force, I would be--like to discuss that with you in some detail what is actually being considered, but I can assure you, the short answer to your question is, I can assure you I have made no recommendation to the President on the follow-on force. He has made no decision ongoing to support a follow-on force at this time.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Sec. Perry said NATO would make a decision about the need for a follow-on force while Congress is adjourned for the elections. He suggested that some members be available for consultation during that time.