Thursday, April 29, 2004

The Pentagon and State Department are planning to set up a 75,000-member international peacekeeping force for Africa, senior Bush administration officials told Congress yesterday.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage disclosed the plan during a hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations.

Mr. Armitage said, “What we envision is about a 75,000-person force, starting in Africa, [for] the training of peacekeepers, people to be available for peacekeeping.”

The force will cost about $660 million over five years, with 20 percent of the money coming from State Department funds and the rest from the Defense Department. The program is called the Global Peace Operations Initiative.

“This is an initiative designed to train other countries’ forces so that when peacekeeping requirements come up, as they did recently in Liberia, or as we’re facing one in Haiti today, there are more capable foreign forces to draw on, so that we’re not constantly turning to our military for tasks that could be performed by others,” Mr. Wolfowitz said.

The peacekeeping plan first was disclosed by The Washington Post on April 19.

The Bush administration has sought to reduce U.S. military involvement in peacekeeping operations, a marked shift from the Clinton administration, which sent thousands of troops abroad to conduct nonmilitary humanitarian and peace operations.

Mr. Wolfowitz said during the hearing that the heart of the initiative is to find other nations to undertake noncombat missions because peacekeeping operations “don’t involve the kind of combat that our forces can do and do very well.”

“Many, many countries can provide that capability; many countries do,” he said.

Mr. Wolfowitz noted that in Liberia, U.S. forces were used initially because “we were the only people who could get there quickly.”

“But we were able to put together an international force, mostly of West African countries, that is doing that job now,” he said.

In most cases, the U.S.-funded peacekeeping force would operate under a U.N. mandate, Mr. Wolfowitz said. He added that an international force that could be used for peacekeeping operations would reduce “the stresses” on U.S. forces.

Mr. Wolfowitz noted that the situation in Iraq is one of the cases that “go beyond peacekeeping” and become combat. Such cases are “a job that only the U.S. and a much smaller number of other counties can take on.”

Senior Defense Department officials said they have resisted pressure from the Bush administration’s National Security Council to create an Africa Command, similar to other joint U.S. military commands in Europe and the Pacific.

On another issue, Mr. Wolfowitz said although there is no proof Saddam Hussein was involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks, Iraq and al Qaeda “were cooperating with one another.”

“If you look at the sealed indictment of Osama bin Laden that was handed down in February of 1998 by the Southern District in New York, I believe, it says that in 1992 to ‘93 bin Laden and Saddam made an agreement not to attack one another, and that they would cooperate,” Mr. Wolfowitz said. “Cooperation doesn’t mean they jointly planned September 11.”

However, Mr. Wolfowitz noted that one of the eight persons linked to the 1993 World Trade Center attack “escaped to Iraq with the assistance of Iraqi intelligence in Jordan.” He was referring to Saddam’s regime harboring Abdul Rahman Yasin, who was indicted in the 1993 World Trade Center attack and remains at large.

“This was a regime that supported terrorism,” Mr. Wolfowitz said.

Mr. Wolfowitz also defended a Pentagon program to fund the Iraqi National Congress headed by Ahmed Chalabi. The deputy defense secretary said the intelligence from the opposition group “is saving American lives.”

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