YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Need Cited for Permanent U.S. Peacekeeper Force

May 11, 2003|Sonni Efron | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — As the United States struggles to establish law and order in postwar Iraq and recruit other countries to share the burden, some experts say a permanent squad of American peacekeepers and police should be established to keep order in places such as Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Although U.S. forces are involved in such missions around the globe, the Pentagon has long resisted the notion of a permanent force, saying it would detract from its main mission: fighting wars. And many conservatives argue that it is a bad idea to create a new bureaucracy that could draw the U.S. into more peacekeeping operations.

But others say the debacle of looting and lawlessness in Iraq, the slow U.S. response, and the difficulties the Bush administration faces in persuading other countries to offer peacekeepers show the need for a professional police force to keep order after wars or chaos.

"The military's attitude has been that given limited budgets, they would rather have war-fighters than people who are good at dealing with post-conflict situations," said Robert Perito, a former diplomat and veteran of peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia, East Timor, Kosovo, Albania, Haiti and elsewhere.

"But the result of that is you have a brilliant military campaign, but as soon as [the war is] over, mobs come out and do more damage to your interests than the combatants did, and you proceed to lose the peace.

"I think that's what's happened in Iraq now. We've won the war and we're busy losing the peace," Perito said.

Administration officials take umbrage at such notions. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday that it had been only 51 days since the start of the war in Iraq, but that conditions in most of the country already are better than before the war.

The United States still hopes the North Atlantic Treaty Organization -- or some of its members -- will send peacekeepers to Iraq. "It's still in formal discussions among ambassadors," a senior U.S. official said last week. A decision is expected within a few weeks.

Meanwhile, the State Department has been trying to recruit other nations to send peacekeepers or police forces to Iraq. A senior official said 45 of the 60 countries that the department had contacted indicated that they might take some military or policing role.

But the same political considerations that kept many nations from joining the Iraq invasion force, as well as concerns about becoming bogged down in hostile territory, have made some nations reluctant to send peacekeepers, according to media reports.

A Pentagon spokeswoman, Lt. Dianne Perry, said negotiations were continuing and added, "We prefer to let the countries speak for themselves on their peacekeeping efforts."

According to an Associated Press survey last week, at least 40,000 troops will be needed to keep the peace in Iraq, but only a few countries have said they are willing to send forces: Bulgaria (450 soldiers), Azerbaijan (50), Italy (up to 3,000), Denmark (380), Estonia (55) and Latvia (12). Poland has said it would send up to 2,200 peacekeepers if the United States foots the bill.

Portugal is prepared to send 120 paramilitary officers to an international stabilization force, Reuters reported. About 100 Albanian troops already are in the city of Mosul, a State Department official said.

Many more nations are expected to help if a United Nations resolution sponsored by the U.S., Britain and Spain passes this week, giving international legitimacy to the coalition occupation of Iraq. The question is whether such piecemeal contributions will be much more than symbolic, given the difficulty of managing small bands of disparate forces from many nations.

"What we're likely to get now, and what we've often gotten in the past, is a grab bag of forces that are inefficient, ineffective, and often have to be rescued themselves," said Perito, now at the U.S. Institute of Peace and author of a forthcoming book, "Where Is the Lone Ranger When We Need Him: America's Search for a Post-Conflict Stability Force."

Meanwhile, the U.S. has retained a private contractor -- DynCorp, a subsidiary of El Segundo-based Computer Sciences Corp. -- to hire about 1,000 police trainers for Iraq, State Department officials said. A small team of U.S. officials will go to Iraq soon to assess the state of Iraq's police force, an official said.

In Kosovo and East Timor, U.S. civilian police under U.N. auspices have helped to keep order after civil wars. But for Iraq, the idea is to send police trainers to rebuild an all-Iraqi police force, the official said.

The contract awarded last month to DynCorp in a competitive bidding process is worth $50 million in the first year, the official added.

Long before the massive looting in Iraq and the deadly clashes between U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians, some experts argued that elite military units have become bogged down in peacekeeping missions for which they are ill-suited.

Los Angeles Times Articles