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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Fears Mission Creep In Bosnia

President Bill Clinton's latest trip to Europe included four countries and lasted just over 31 hours, counting the travel time from the United States across the Atlantic and back again.

That allowed for a brief three-hour visit to the U.S. troops in Bosnia, in which Clinton stressed that their mission was limited in scope and in duration. But in fact, U.S. peace-keeping forces are being drawn steadily and perhaps ominously deeper into the legal and military affairs and the politics of Bosnia.

In two major decisions over the past week, U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry authorized U.S. troops to provide security escorts and facilities for human rights and war crimes investigators. He also gave the green light for the controversial U.S.-sponsored training missions of the Bosnian army to begin within the next 60 days.

"We have no reason to wait," Secretary Perry said of the training mission, which would involve a "private civilian contractor" that employs retired American military officers, and which Pentagon sources say will cost from $100 million to $400 million, depending on the arms in the package. Financed mainly by the Saudi Arabian and Turkish governments, the use of retired U.S. officers working for a private civilian company is a device to minimize any official U.S. government role.

The most discreet area of U.S. involvement is a new clandestine mission run by the CIA, in collaboration with military intelligence. Its task is to monitor the activities throughout the Balkans of political and military opponents of the Dayton peace agreement. Military intelligence will focus on immediate threats to the physical safety of the NATO troops.

The CIA will concentrate on long-term and political problems, building intelligence on Serb private militia groups led by ultranationalists and organized crime as well as Serb political dissidents. They will also target Croatian war criminals and extreme nationalists based in the Bosnian city of Mostar, and foreign and local Moslem extremists who fought on behalf of the Moslem-led Bosnian government.

The European NATO allies in Bosnia are worried at what they see as "mission creep," a steady escalation of the U.S. role. They are worried at the implication of a U.S.-led war crimes crusade in their own politically delicate sectors. Pal? and Sarajevo, with the tricky diplomacy concerning the Bosnian Serbs, are in the French sector. The tense and divided city of Mostar, where Croats and Moslems have been trading sniper fire since Christmas, is in the British sector. So are the Ljubija mines, site of mass graves which the British troops insist are none of their business.

But the American sector contains its own diplomatic problem -- the battalion of Russian paratroops under Colonel Alexander Lentsov which began to land at Tuzla this week. As the NATO allies grow nervous about the widening extent of the U.S. mission, they are watching closely for the reaction of Russia and the new foreign minister, Yevgeny Primakov.

Already greeted by a New York Times column calling him "a snake ... a Soviet spy" and warning that his appointment would send "a chill throughout the West," Primakov's appointment is being widely interpreted in the U.S. as the end of an era of cooperation. If so, the first sign is likely to come in Bosnia.