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Pep Talk From Clinton for U.S. Troops Headed for Bosnia

December 2, 1995

BAUMHOLDER, Germany (AP) _ President Clinton is promising U.S. troops readying for a mission of peace and peril in Bosnia that they will have a free hand to respond to any threat ``with overwhelming force.″

But even with aggressive rules of engagement, Clinton warned that casualties will occur once 20,000 U.S. ground troops are sent to the war-ravaged country to help implement a fragile peace treaty.

Clinton, who was adressing Bosnia-bound U.S. troops in Germany, flew into NATO’s Ramstein Airbase today to be greeted by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and U.S. Army Gen. George Joulwan, commander of allied troops in Europe.

A handful of protesters also greeted the president. Among them was a woman holding a baby in one hand a sign in the other reading: ``Draft Dodger Go Home.″

From there, Clinton traveled by motorcade to the U.S. base at Baumholder, home to 4,000 troops who will take part in the Bosnia mission. He was unable to fly there by helicopter because of thick fog.

Clinton arrived in Germany from a triumphant three-day visit to London, Northern Ireland and Ireland, having roused adoring crowds with emotional pitches for peace between Protestants and Catholics.

He faced a much more subdued audience today _ troops of the Army’s 1st Armored Division. They will soon head for the American headquarters in Tuzla in northeast Bosnia to help keep the peace after Europe’s worst war in a half-century. By February, Americans would make up one-third of a 60,000-troop international force.

On Friday, Clinton said he would tell the troops that mission they are headed for ``is not a risk-free.″

``We have guaranteed for them very robust rules of engagement so that if anyone attempts to interfere with their mission, or to take action against them, they can respond with decisive, indeed with overwhelming force,″ Clinton said.

``Their peace and their security _ their safety _ is uppermost in my mind,″ he added.

A skeptical Congress seemed certain to go along with Clinton’s plans, which would take effect after the warring parties in the former Yugoslav republic sign a treaty on Dec. 14 in Paris.

In particular, the endorsements of Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., ``will help immeasurably ... to build the kind of bipartisan support that we need to make this an American effort,″ the president said.

But Dole said in Washington on Friday that his reluctant support for the Bosnia mission hinged on ensuring that the Bosnians can defend themselves from their Serb and Croat neighbors when the Americans leave.

He called on the administration o give Congress ``without delay a concrete, detailed and effective plan″ for arming and training the Bosnian military.

With the president’s foreign policy team testifying this week on Capitol Hill, worried and bitter Republicans expressed deep concerns with the mission.

``I do not and I will not support sending American soldiers to fight and to die for the sake of an agreement that may offer no more than the promise of a brief pause while all sides prepare for the next round of Balkan wars,″ said Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Clinton said much more is at stake.

``The fire there threatens the emerging democracies of the region and our allies nearby,″ the president told Ireland’s parliament in Dublin. ``And it also breaks our heart and violates our conscience.″