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THE NATION

Rumsfeld to Outline Plan for NATO Force

Military: Troops could mobilize quickly to reach hot spots and handle major operations, even full-fledged war.

September 21, 2002|JOHN HENDREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will spell out plans Tuesday for a long-discussed NATO "rapid reaction" military force capable of reaching global hot spots in as little as a week, a senior defense official said Friday.

The force's missions would range from rescuing civilians and pursuing the anti-terrorism campaign to full-scale war. Rumsfeld plans to deliver the proposal at a meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization defense ministers in Warsaw.

Because the force, if approved, could take up to two years to create, it is not expected to be involved in any attack on Iraq, the senior defense official said on condition of anonymity. But it could take on battlegrounds of similar size, the official said.

And the force would give NATO the capability to transform the organization from a bit player to a major power in the Bush administration's ongoing war on terrorism.

"It's going to take years, at least, to try to develop these capabilities," the official said. But he said the force would have "the ability to contribute to high-intensity conflicts," including ones similar to the 1999 war over Yugoslavia's Kosovo province.

The plan follows a NATO decision in May, triggered by the Sept. 11 attacks, to pursue the creation of a force that could take on rapidly emerging threats by terrorists and so-called rogue nations, and be ready to act in seven to 30 days. For example, the force could quickly join U.S. troops in an Afghanistan-style conflict.

If the NATO ministers agree, the proposal could be on the agenda at a November summit of alliance leaders in Prague, the Czech capital.

Under the plan, a detachment of about 5,000 troops would be able to deploy immediately, with other troops at a lower state of readiness bringing the corps to an estimated 20,000 members. One brigade, which would rotate periodically, would be on call at all times.

"I think there is no question that 9/11 and the need for NATO to think about problems out of its traditional area of operations is one of the things that sparked this," the Pentagon official said.

Rumsfeld is likely to take the opportunity to press the administration's campaign for a "regime change" in Iraq, as defense ministers consider their nations' roles, if any, in such a conflict.

"There's probably going to be general discussion about Iraq as well as the intelligence situation" in the region, the senior defense official said.

The makeup of the fast-reaction force would be determined later but would be expected to include North American as well as European forces, perhaps with some countries specializing in specific military capabilities.

The force would be expected to also deploy outside NATO's usual areas of operations on the two continents.

Creating such a force would require NATO nations to move funding from other projects to supply secure communications for wartime, gear to protect troops from chemical and biological agents, and planes and tankers to ferry troops and equipment.

Defense officials said the proposed NATO force would be separate and complementary to a more heavily equipped group being developed by the European Union, comprising as many as 60,000 troops, designed to deploy in 90 days.

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