Clinton Tells Pentagon to Call Up Reservists
By Bradley Graham
President Clinton granted the Pentagon authority yesterday to summon as many as 33,102 reservists to active duty for NATO's assault on Yugoslavia, bringing the conflict home to many Americans not normally in uniform and their families.
The order, which U.S. officials said was necessary to support an expansion of NATO's air operation, marked the first nonvoluntary involvement of reservists since the battle over the Serbian province of Kosovo began five weeks ago. The Pentagon announced 2,116 members of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve in eight states will mobilize at first, with more to follow in a phased buildup as the United States meets a NATO request for about 300 additional U.S. aircraft on top of the more than 600 already in the operation.
Clinton's decision represented the largest activation of part-time U.S. military forces since 239,000 reservists were called to duty for the 1991 Persian Gulf War against Iraq. In recent weeks, about 1,500 reservists, mostly from the Air National Guard, have volunteered for the NATO campaign.
By drawing in many more, the call-up is expected to have a ripple effect throughout the United States, straining businesses and disrupting family life. Because most of those ordered to duty will be pilots, mechanics and other air crew members, defense officials said the greatest impact will fall on the aviation industry.
The need to commit additional aircraft and call up military reservists had been forecast by U.S. officials days ago and came as no surprise. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted Sunday and Monday nights found 62 percent of those surveyed supporting the action.
The State Department announced plans to broaden economic sanctions against Yugoslavia, by imposing an embargo on all exports to Serbia except humanitarian supplies. The move came in the wake of decisions by NATO and the European Union to block oil shipments to Yugoslavia, the federation that includes Serbia and the tiny Republic of Montenegro. Earlier U.S. sanctions have restricted visas, private investment and government export credits.
Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott met Russia's special Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin in Moscow, meanwhile, as efforts intensified to find a peaceful solution to a conflict that has driven U.S.-Russian relations to a post-Cold War low. But there was no hint of any imminent settlement and Talbott flew on to Berlin for further consultations.
House Republicans presented a $12.9 billion emergency funding package for the Balkans operation yesterday, more than doubling the White House's request by adding billions of dollars in military construction, pay increases, maintenance and spare parts.
Three captive U.S. Army soldiers, not seen in public since being seized March 31 along the Yugoslav-Macedonian border, were examined by a doctor and a team from the International Committee of the Red Cross in Yugoslavia. Red Cross spokesman Chris Bowers, reporting the visit, declined to release details about the health and condition of the men but said the Red Cross was promised regular access to them.
Providing the most detailed account so far of the numbers and types of targets hit over five weeks of bombing, Gen. Sir Charles Guthrie, Britain's chief of defense staff, told reporters in London that 227 separate sites have been hit with the following results:
Gen. Wesley K. Clark, the top NATO commander, told reporters in Brussels the damage would have been substantially greater had it not been for the poor weather that has hampered bombing runs. On about two-thirds of the days since March 24, he said, more than half the strike sorties had to be canceled as a result of cloud cover.
Elaborating on the reserve call-up, defense officials said the first group summoned will include crews and support personnel for refueling planes bound for Europe. The additional forces will come from four Air National Guard units in Arizona, California, Michigan and Pennsylvania, as well as from Air Force Reserve units in Alabama, Wisconsin, Indiana and Kansas.
The brunt of the call-up – about 75 percent of the total – will fall on the Air Force. But officials said Army reservists, especially civil affairs specialists, are likely to be summoned to support a growing U.S. military presence in Albania and Macedonia. Some Navy and Marine Corps reservists also are expected to get the call to help with port management.
The White House gave a relatively low-key treatment to the announcement. Clinton did not appear personally, explaining his decision in a written statement in which he cautioned that the 2,116 Air Force reservists probably will be only a beginning.
"These reserves are essential to America's military strength; they are part of the total force we bring to bear whenever our men and women in uniform are called to action," the president said.
Further bolstering U.S. troop strength, Clinton also authorized the Air Force to freeze retirements and other voluntarily departures from active duty in certain jobs considered critical for the Kosovo operation. Air Force officials said the number of departures to be stopped has not been determined yet but said this is the first time the freeze has been used since the Gulf War.
Under U.S. law, the president can order reservists to active duty for up to 270 days. "If they call up as many as they're talking about, and keep them over there that long, it could have a serious effect on the airlines," said Maj. Gen. E. Gordon Stump, president of the National Guard Association.
White House officials acknowledged a potential political dimension to the decision, saying calling up reservists could bring the Kosovo action home to Americans in a much more tangible way. "The president fully recognizes this disrupts lives," White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said. "But this is what reservists train for. This is what their mission is. From time to time, they are called."
With many lawmakers already worried about a deepening U.S. involvement in the Balkans, the call-up was received warily on Capitol Hill.
"It's just another indication of mission creep," said Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), who heads the personnel panel on the Armed Services Committee. John W. Warner (R-Va.), the committee chairman, also expressed concern that the NATO operation was straining U.S. military operations and calling into question whether the Pentagon has the ability to conduct two major regional wars nearly at the same time, as national strategy requires.
Clark requested the 300 extra aircraft more than two weeks ago. But many have been delayed as U.S. and alliance officials seek basing agreements with various European countries. Hungary, the only NATO member sharing a border with Yugoslavia, said yesterday 20 airborne tankers will base on its soil for raids and that as many as 50 more planes, including some fighter jets, could come next.
Staff writers John Harris and Steve Mufson contributed to this report.
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