WASHINGTON, D.C.: President Clinton announced today that some 8,500 U.S. troops must stay in Bosnia for at least 18 months, through June 1998, to prevent widespread bloodshed. "Today, the Bosnia people are far better off than they were a year ago," Clinton said, insisting that the U.S. must "act and lead" to help maintain the peace in Bosnia. The decision reverses Clinton's long-stated determination to bring Americans home by the end of this year even if the fighting started again. Throughout the presidential election campaign, as it became increasingly clear that the peace was tenuous at best, Administration officials refused to comment on whether the long-term mission would be extended. For his part, Clinton says that he had no political motivations in waiting until after the election to make the announcement, arguing that the decision had been openly debated for weeks. The President also threw a compliment Bob Dole's way, calling the GOP candidate's decision to back the U.S. presence in Bosnia a "statesmanlike" move. Republican leaders, who had been skeptical all along that the President would bring the troops home as promised, have accused him of breaking his word even as evidence mounts that Bosnia remains unstable, putting Americans in jeopardy. After the recent Muslim and Serb clashes, U.S. troops were forced to disband a Muslim army unit and confiscate thousands of illegally hoarded weapons, while Muslims protesting the seizure threw rocks, spat at the soldiers, and lay in front of the trucks taking away their arms.