July 10, 1996
U.S. Now Ready to Supply and Train Muslim-Croat Federation Forces
By ALISON MITCHELL
ASHINGTON -- President Clinton announced on Tuesday that the American-led effort to train and equip the army of the Muslim-Croat Federation in Bosnia would begin immediately, now that the federation has adopted a law to merge the Muslim and Bosnian Croat armies.
Adopting the law was a condition that Washington set for delivering arms and developing a training program intended to bring the federation's forces up to the level of the better armed Bosnian Serbs.
The decision to provide weapons and training had been one of the most important incentives to secure the federation's agreement to the peace plan reached last November in Dayton, Ohio.
In a written statement, Clinton said on Tuesday that within days the Muslim-Croat Federation would sign a contract with Military Professional Resources Inc., a private company in Alexandria, Va., to manage the program. Military training sessions are expected to begin within a month.
The effort had been stalled for months by the refusal of the Bosnian government to expel Iranians and other foreign fighters, as the peace accords demanded, and by resistance from both the Croats and the Muslims to the merger of their armies. American officials said combining the armies was crucial to the survival of the federation.
The administration declared last month that all organized groups of Islamic militant fighters had left Bosnia or had been removed from the army.
Despite reports that several hundred Islamic militants from Iran and other foreign nations are still be in Bosnia, American officials said on Tuesday that they no longer considered the soldiers an "organized threat," and that they were satisfied that the Bosnian government had cut its intelligence and military links with Iran.
American officials said the adoption of the defense law established an integrated "Western oriented" military in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But Muslim and Croat officials have still not resolved the question of who will be supreme commander, though they have agreed to settle the matter within three months. During that time, President Alija Izetbegovic and Kresimir Zubak, the senior Bosnia Croat in the federation, will share command.
Clinton said of the defense law: "When implemented, it will strengthen security for all Bosnians and contribute significantly to a lasting peace in the region."
The promise to provide weapons and training also helped Clinton win the support of Sen. Bob Dole and other Republicans when he sent 20,000 U.S. troops to Bosnia.
The president said the United States would now move quickly to transfer $100 million of military equipment to Bosnia, including small arms and ammunition, tanks, armored personnel carriers, light anti-tank weapons, and helicopters.
The melding of the Bosnian Croat and Muslim armies had been resisted by both sides. The distrust stemmed most recently from a vicious war between the two groups in 1992 and 1993. They later joined forces to oppose the Bosnian Serbs, though the establishment of a federation was largely a creation of the United States.
Nicholas Burns, the State Department spokesman, said the training effort is crucial to create equilibrium between the Muslims and the Bosnian Croats on the one hand, and the separatist Bosnian Serbs on the other, an equilibrium that could prevent renewed warfare when NATO peacekeeping forces leave Bosnia, as they are scheduled to do later this year.
After the Dayton accords were signed, the Muslims, Croats, and Serbs also negotiated a reduction in Serbian arms.
European nations have long opposed the idea of arming the Bosnian forces, but another $140 million to arm and train the Muslim-Croat army has been pledged by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, and Brunei.
Burns called it "a great failing" that most European nations have refused to participate in the program.
"The peace will not be kept magically," he said. "It can only be kept if you create a situation on the ground of general equilibrium among the various military forces, and that is the strategic rationale for undertaking the program."