Washington Facing a chronic shortage of foreign troops for peacekeeping missions, President Bush has decided to launch an international drive to boost the supply of available forces -- a move that if successful could relieve some of the pressure on U.S. soldiers to join such operations, defense officials said.
A plan approved by Bush earlier this month calls for the United States to commit about $660 million over the next five years to train, equip and provide logistical support to forces in nations willing to participate in peace operations.
The campaign, known as the Global Peace Operations Initiative, will be aimed largely at Africa by expanding the peacekeeping skills of African forces and encouraging international military exercises in the region, where U.S. officials said much of the need existed.
But African forces developed under the program could be used in peace operations anywhere in the world, officials said. And the program sets aside some assistance for armies in Asia, Latin America and Europe to enlarge their peacekeeping roles.
Pentagon officials who briefed The Washington Post stressed that the plan, which Bush has yet to formally announce, is not meant as a unilateral U.S. effort. They said Bush intended it to be a broad, multinational push, with other countries contributing trainers and additional resources, although consultations with potential partner nations remain at an early stage.
The initiative grows out of the frequent struggle by administration officials to recruit enough foreign forces for peacekeeping missions. In Haiti, the latest case, the administration hopes a force of 6,000 to 7,000 international troops can be cobbled together under a U.N. mandate to replace an interim contingent of about 3,800 led by the United States and including French, Canadian and Chilean soldiers.
Many of the world's peacekeeping missions operate under the auspices of the United Nations, which currently oversees more than 50,000 troops in 14 places. That troop number is due to grow by about 20,000 as four other planned operations take shape in Haiti, Burundi, Sudan and Cyprus.
But efforts to meet this surge have been handicapped by the demands of U.S. and NATO-led coalitions trying to stabilize Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans. These operations have sapped troops and resources from the United States, Canada and some European countries -- traditional sources of support for U.N. peacekeeping missions.
"There is not enough capacity in the world to deal with the requirements," said Douglas Feith, the Pentagon's undersecretary for policy.
The goal of Bush's initiative is to train about 75,000 additional foreign troops who could be deployed on short notice and perform a wide range of peacekeeping activities, including the most dangerous and demanding ones.
"This is meant to expand worldwide capacity that could be used by the United Nations or by others," Feith said.