President Clinton gave the order today for about 200 U.S. military personnel to take part in a 7,500-member-strong international peacekeeping force in East Timor.
"I have decided to contribute to the force in a limited but essential way, including communications and logistical aid, intelligence, airlifts of personnel and material and coordination of the humanitarian response to the tragedy," Clinton said.
Speaking briefly to reporters in the Roosevelt Room, Clinton said half the U.S. personnel would be on the ground in East Timor.
Clinton also said he was ordering elements of the Pacific Fleet to support the 7,500-member force, which will be led by the Australians.
A resolution supporting the multinational force and praising Australia for leading it was approved by the House International Relations Committee on Wednesday
Meanwhile, hundreds of anti-independence militiamen pulled out of East Timor Wednesday in the wake of the United Nations' decision to send an international peacekeeping force to the violence-torn territory.
In another development, Indonesia's military commander in East Timor said today his troops would begin pulling out once the peacekeepers arrive.
"Once they get in, I will pull out," Maj. Gen. Kiki Syahnakri said.
He said he expected an advance party from the U.N.-authorized force to arrive Saturday, followed by 2,500 troops Monday.
He denied reports that his troops have helped the pro-Indonesia militias in their attacks on Timorese residents who voted last month to break away from Indonesia.
Indonesia still has more than 25,000 troops and police officers on duty in the territory.
Meanwhile, Australian officials announced that they were delaying vital airdrops of food today to tens of thousands of East Timorese who have fled their homes.
Defense Minister John Moore explained that Indonesia had not yet given diplomatic clearance for the aid and that international peacekeepers would first need to be on the ground.
The delay posed an immediate threat to at least 200,000 East Timorese who the United Nations says are at risk of starvation in the hills and forests of their ravaged homeland.
The airdrops were scheduled to begin today but are unlikely to be carried out before Monday, when the peacekeepers arrive.
The peacekeeping force, approved Wednesday by the U.N. Security Council, will be led by Australia and include troops from France, Thailand and other countries.
The United States is offering planes and pilots to get peacekeepers into the province and also will help with logistics, communications and intelligence.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the initial deployment of the international force could take place as early as this weekend, with troops from other nations joining the Australians.
"We are under no illusions -- this is a dangerous mission," Downer said.
However, because of the exodus of Indonesian soldiers, it seemed increasingly likely that Australian-led peacekeepers could find Dili free of pro-Indonesian militias when they land and secure the city this weekend.
Meanwhile, the United Nations plans to take control of the civilian administration in East Timor once the multinational force establishes security there, U.N. officials said Wednesday.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Portugal and Australia Wednesday that the world body would accelerate its plan to take charge of virtually all government functions in East Timor.
Previously, the United Nations had planned to assume authority over the civil administration only after the Indonesian parliament votes in October to accept the Aug. 30 referendum in which East Timor's population overwhelmingly chose full independence rather than autonomy inside Indonesia.