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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Force Approved For Bosnia by NATO

BRUSSELS -- NATO ordered a new alliance-led peace force into Bosnia for 18 months Tuesday to police a peace agreement that ended the 43-month-long war last November, diplomats said.

They said the alliance's 16 defense ministers approved the final "activation order" to the military to deploy the 25,000 to 30,000-strong Stabilization Force at a meeting in Brussels.

"There was total agreement on the issue," said one diplomat.

The new force takes over from the current Implementation Force, or IFOR, policing the Dayton peace accords Dec. 20 -- the day its mandate expires. An official transfer of authority ceremony will be held in Sarajevo on that day.

The 16 alliance ministers had already agreed the new force's rules of engagement, also endorsed by foreign ministers and the UN last week.

The new force has no new orders to track down and detain war criminals despite pressure from the Netherlands and Canada for more action on the issue which the main troop contributors fear could provoke a public backlash against the force.

"The force will continue to be heavily armed and it will have a full range of armory and the capability both to protect itself and, if, and, as it becomes, necessary to act decisively against violations [of the peace accords]," Walter Slocombe, U.S. defense undersecretary for policy, earlier told reporters.

President Bill Clinton has tentatively offered some 8,000 U.S. troops to the new force which will number between 25,000 and 30,000 soldiers and sees the deployment of German combat troops for the first time since World War II.

SFOR, in which 17 non-NATO countries contributing to IFOR have also agreed to take part, was authorized by a UN Security Council resolution last week.

Russia agreed to take part after it was closely involved in planning the mission.

Five years after it refused to send troops to join the American-led coalition in the Gulf War, the German parliament approved the deployment of up to about 2,000 peacekeeping soldiers for Bosnia last Friday.

German troops took part in IFOR, but only in logistical, engineering and medical roles and they were based in Croatia. German pilots also helped enforce the "no-fly" zone over Bosnia.

Germany's allies in Europe have been keen for Bonn to match its economic weight with a more high profile military role, but the country's Nazi past has limited its ability to take part in "out of theater" NATO operations.

But in a sign of how Germany sees a future military role, the German troops will operate jointly with French forces in southeastern Bosnia in an existing Franco-German brigade.

The ministers, who will be joined Wednesday by Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, also reviewed ways of making the alliance's command structures more flexible and enable it to carry out more Bosnia-style peace missions.

But British Defense Secretary Michael Portillo warned his NATO allies a freefall in defense spending risked undermining the western defense alliance's capability to act in a host of areas.