By Thomas E. Ricks and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 22, 2006; A12
In a departure from past peacekeeping missions to Lebanon, the force currently being discussed would not include U.S. troops, U.S. officials said yesterday.
Planning for the force is in early stages, but officials said they anticipate it including 10,000 to 20,000 troops led by a contingent from France or Turkey.
U.S. forces are already stretched by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there are no troops to spare for Lebanon, Pentagon officials said.
"As far as boots on the ground, that doesn't seem to be in the cards," said John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a sentiment also expressed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday.
"I do not think that it is anticipated that U.S. ground forces . . . are expected for that force," she said.
In the past, Israel has wanted strong U.S. participation in such peacekeeping forces. But Daniel Ayalon, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, said yesterday that his country simply wants to ensure that the force is capable of decisive action.
"It has to be robust and have a lot of intelligence capability," he said, emphasizing that he simply was discussing tentative notions. "That could neutralize a lot of terror attacks."
He cited the "heavily armed" NATO-led force that went into Kosovo in 1999 as the kind of military presence Israel would like to see.
Rice echoed the Israeli's comments when she told reporters, "I think everybody understands that it has to be a force robust enough to do the job, to make sure that the conditions . . . in southern Lebanon are such that the reason for the violence has been dealt with, and that is that southern Lebanon is used as a platform by Hezbollah to attack Israel. That's going to take a robust force."
Key aspects of the peacekeeping force, such as which country would lead it, its size, and its mission are still being discussed, both inside governments and in international meetings.
"The questions about what kind of force it is -- what its command structure is, is it a U.N. force, is it an international assistance force -- those are the discussions that are going on and, I think, are going to go on over the next few days," Rice said. She is expected to leave tomorrow to discuss those matters on a trip to Israel, Italy and the West Bank.
One potentially nettlesome point would be whether the international force would be told to disarm Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon. Asked about that, Rice said, "It's got to be capable of helping the Lebanese forces make certain that southern Lebanon is not a haven for these kinds of attacks."
Another matter still under discussion is whether to post troops along Lebanon's border with Syria, to cut off supplies of men and weaponry to Hezbollah. Such a move likely would be controversial because of the potential for confrontation with Syrian forces.
In addition to Turkey and France, nations that might send military units to participate include Italy, Brazil, Pakistan, India, and Germany, officials in Washington and at the United Nations said.
Italy's U.N. ambassador, Marcello Spatafora, said in an interview that his government "would play its part" in a stabilization force but declined to discuss details.
France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sablière, seemed somewhat more skeptical. He said a stabilization force alone would not solve the problem in Lebanon. He expressed preference for a U.N. peacekeeping mission but said French leaders had not ruled out a United Nations-authorized multinational force. "We do not know exactly at this stage what this force is," he said.
The single biggest issue is whether the force would be tasked with the ambitious mission of trying to disarm Hezbollah, or the lower-profile role of supporting the 70,000-member Lebanese army as it deploys in the south.
Israel's U.N. ambassador, Dan Gillerman, said that the U.S. government is discussing a force that would deploy only after Israel has disarmed and disabled Hezbollah as a fighting force.
But others said they doubt that it would be possible to achieve that. "I don't believe it is possible to have a force disarm Hezbollah," the French ambassador said. But he also said he does not believe Israel can achieve that goal.
The United States could provide a variety of other forms of support. Areas of particular U.S. military capability are logistics, especially large military cargo aircraft, and intelligence, especially in technical forms such as detailed satellite imagery and signals interception. U.S. warplanes and helicopters also could provide air support over Lebanon from aircraft carriers offshore in the Mediterranean.
There has been discussion at the Pentagon of also contributing to the mission with contractors, though it could not be determined yesterday whether that would be in the form of advisers to help train and equip the Lebanese military, or supply experts to feed and house the troops and maintain their heavy equipment.
A major consideration will be security for the new international force itself. The last multinational force, deployed in 1982 and led by the United States, was repeatedly targeted by Muslim militants and forced to end its mission abruptly in 1984. U.S. forces were taken hostage. Marine Col. Rich Higgins was kidnapped shortly after he took over command of the U.N. Observer Group Lebanon in 1988. He died in captivity.
Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.