NATO Adding Troops in Balkans
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 26, 1999; Page A25
BRUSSELS, May 25 – The NATO allies approved plans today to send more than 20,000 additional troops to Macedonia and Albania as part of a peacekeeping force that will await orders to move into Kosovo and help ethnic Albanian refugees return to their homeland.
The additional troops will bring the number of allied soldiers in the area to nearly 50,000 within weeks and would make it easier to launch an invasion of Kosovo if Russia's mediation efforts collapse and NATO's bombing campaign – now entering its third month – fails to dislodge the more than 40,000 Serb-led Yugoslav troops and police hunkered down in Kosovo.
While the allies say their soldiers will enter the rebellious Serbian province only to enforce a peacekeeping mandate, NATO's top political and military leaders have sought recently to foster ambiguity about the force's eventual mission in an effort to increase military and psychological pressure on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. "All options remain open," said NATO Secretary General Javier Solana. "We are taking nothing off the table."
NATO would have to send still more troops, though, to mount a ground invasion. Estimates have ranged from a total of 75,000 to seize Kosovo alone, to 200,000 to occupy all of Serbia, the dominant republic in the Yugoslav federation.
NATO's decision came as aid agencies in Macedonia tried to cope with a new surge of refugees. In the largest such influx since early this month, about 25,000 refugees have streamed into Macedonia in the last four days, raising fears that Yugoslav forces may have embarked on a new effort to force ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.
The New York-based International Rescue Committee will soon begin airdrops of food to displaced ethnic Albanians stranded inside the province, diplomatic sources in Washington said.
Alliance warplanes kept up their attacks on Yugoslavia today, hitting Milosevic's villa just west of Belgrade for the third time, as well as military barracks, fuel depots and television and radio relay stations. State-run media reported that a 5-year-old boy was wounded when NATO aircraft attacked Vucitrn, about 12 miles northwest of Pristina, Kosovo's provincial capital.
NATO officials said there are now about 14,000 troops deployed in Macedonia and 8,000 in Albania, where they have been helping care for nearly 800,000 refugees who have streamed out of Kosovo seeking refuge in two of Europe's poorest countries.
The increase in the number of allied ground troops along Kosovo's borders was requested two weeks ago by NATO's supreme commander, Gen. Wesley K. Clark, for the ostensible purpose of coping with the enormous logistical and resettlement tasks that will confront them if and when they enter territory that has been devastated by Belgrade government security forces and NATO bombing raids.
But by boosting the size of their ground force to 45,000 to 50,000, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said, the allies want to ensure their contingent would have "big, sharp teeth" that could deal with any military challenge posed by the Yugoslav troops and special police units in Kosovo. Britain has been the leading advocate for enlarging the alliance's ground presence, arguing that this would put NATO troops in a position to enter Kosovo even without the consent of the Belgrade government, once Yugoslav forces have been sufficiently battered by NATO bombing.
NATO members Germany, Greece and Italy have objected to any consideration within the alliance of sending a military force into Yugoslav territory without permission from the Belgrade government or the U.N. Security Council.
In Washington today, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright explained the troop increase as "planning for success" – a phrase also used by Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon and, on Friday, by British Defense Secretary George Robertson. After meeting with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Albright said such planning refers to the "preparations we are making to enable an effective international force to enter Kosovo when the conditions are right."
But many on Capitol Hill do not share the administration's confidence that NATO bombing will force Milosevic to knuckle under. Today, 26 members of Congress filed a motion in U.S. District Court to halt the U.S. role in the bombing campaign. They alleged that the 60-day period given the president under the War Powers Act of 1973 to engage U.S. troops in hostilities without congressional approval had expired.
"Our troops are in a state of war in Kosovo. To say anything else is sophistry," said Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Calif).
An administration official said the White House does not accept the constitutionality of the War Powers Act. President Clinton has largely avoided using the word "war" to describe the air campaign, which has involved raids by hundreds of U.S. warplanes over the past 63 days.
NATO military sources said Clark has insisted the alliance must be prepared for all possible military options if it hopes to ensure that the refugees start returning home before the first snow signals the arrival of winter in October. In that case, a decision to send in ground troops would be necessary no later than July.
Even if NATO governments remain split over the wisdom of a ground invasion in the future, the expansion of NATO's troop presence will serve a useful purpose if it intimidates Milosevic into bending toward accepting NATO's basic conditions for a settlement – the withdrawal of government troops from Kosovo, the safe return of all refugees and the acceptance of an international security force there with NATO troops at its core.
NATO military sources said Clark has urged the alliance's 19 members to consider providing minesweeping teams to clear Kosovo entry points booby-trapped by Yugoslav forces, construction engineers to help rebuild roads and infrastructure specialists to restore utility service in the province so refugees can be resettled in their homes as quickly as possible.
NATO ambassadors, who approved the request presented by the alliance's military committee, are scheduled to hold further discussions next week on the assignment of additional tasks and troops. The United States, which has about 4,500 troops in Albania, is expected to raise that number to 7,000.
With Britain, France and other allies already stretched by troop commitments in the Balkans and elsewhere, alliance military sources predicted there could be serious disputes over who should bear what share of the burden in bolstering the capabilities of the proposed Kosovo peacekeeping force.
Meanwhile, the new surge of refugees into Macedonia has strained already crowded camps and raised fears about the country's political stability. Many of the new refugees told of food shortages in Kosovo and of soldiers who robbed them and set villages on fire. The 4,000 who crossed the border tonight were among 10,000 who arrived Monday by trains and buses but were not immediatley allowed to cross. One refugee said that a woman and two children died during the night and that other people were severely ill.
What none of the refugees could say was how many more were behind them in line to enter Macedonia or whether any additional trains or buses arrived on the Kosovo side of the border today. However, relief workers at the border said they were told by Macedonian officials that as many as 10,000 people could be waiting to cross.
Refugees arriving from Pristina told of police and soldiers moving through parts of the city block by block, and those arriving on trains told of station platforms crowded with thousands of people.
To cope with the influx, aid workers in Macedonia were scrambling to expand refugee camps and negotiating with the government for permission to open two more camps that could accommodate another 15,000 people. "The squeeze is really on," said Ron Redmond, spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency.
Staff writers Steven Mufson in Washington and David Finkel in Skopje, Macedonia, contributed to this report.
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