Three U.S. soldiers feared captured

Troops attacked while on patrol in Macedonia Search teams on ground, air Intensified bombing by NATO includes strikes near Belgrade

War In Yugoslavia

April 01, 1999|By TOM BOWMAN AND MARK MATTHEWS | TOM BOWMAN AND MARK MATTHEWS,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- As NATO widen air attacks on Yugoslav forces yesterday, including its closest strike to Belgrade, the Pentagon reported that three U.S. soldiers were missing in Macedonia after coming under fire while on patrol.

The soldiers apparently were captured near the Yugoslav border, where the Yugoslav army has been stepping up its presence.

"We believe they have possibly been abducted," said a Pentagon spokesman. "Right now, there's a search-and-rescue mission on." Early today CNN reported that Serbian televison showed film of the three captured soldiers

The new categories of targets, approved early yesterday, could include key installations of the Yugoslav government in downtown Belgrade.

Yesterday, allied bombers made their closest strike to the downtown area, hitting the headquarters of the Special Unit Corps, similar to the U.S. Special Forces, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth H. Bacon said.

Facilities on the outskirts of Pec, in southwestern Kosovo, appeared to be a focus of NATO attacks yesterday, according to reports from Belgrade.

The three U.S. soldiers who disappeared yesterday while doing reconnaissance were traveling in a military vehicle on a civilian road near Kumanovo, in northern Macedonia, when they radioed headquarters to report that they had come under small-arms fire. The incident occurred between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. (7 a.m. to 8 a.m. EST) a little more than a mile from the Yugoslav border, according a Pentagon spokesman.

"We are surrounded," the soldiers said, according to a NATO spokesman. No more was heard from the patrol.

Search teams on the ground and in three helicopters immediately began to scout the area for the missing soldiers. Eighty to 90 soldiers participated, joined by Macedonian police who sent patrols into the area.

The three missing soldiers were members of a 350-man U.S. observer unit that is part of a 10,000-member NATO force based in Macedonia, a former Yugoslav republic. They were armed with M-16 weapons.

The soldiers belong to the 4th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kan. They had been stationed at Schweinfurt, Germany.

They disappeared four days after Saturday's rescue of the pilot of an F-117 stealth fighter-bomber, which went down over Yugoslavia in the first allied loss of the conflict.

Yesterday, while Serbian army units mounted a new offensive against Kosovar rebels and refugees in the embattled province, NATO prepared to send its air armada against a wider range of Yugoslav targets.

Some sites rejected

Meeting into the early morning yesterday in Brussels, Belgium, NATO political leaders gave Gen. Wesley K. Clark, their supreme commander, approval to strike bridges, tunnels and fuel refineries throughout the country, officials said. Out of fear of causing too many civilian casualties, they rejected other sites that Clark wanted to target.

Officials noted that the new categories of targets were broad enough to include the Belgrade presidential offices of Slobodan Milosevic and the Defense and Interior (police) ministries.

"The definition is that no facility or unit used to plan, conceive or direct operations against the Kosovar Albanians is out of bounds," a NATO diplomat said, referring to the approval of the targets by the North Atlantic Council, NATO's political arm. "Downtown Belgrade is not ruled out simply because it's downtown Belgrade."

"They approved a majority of the targets," said a NATO military officer, who wouldn't offer specifics. "If the [possibility of civilian casualties] was too high, they said, 'Do we really have to hit this one?'"

State Department and White House officials sought to minimize any divisions within the alliance. It was evident that the decision required a compromise between U.S. military commanders seeking approval for wide-ranging airstrikes in the planned Phase 3 of the air campaign and European ambassadors who wanted to limit widening of the war.

Unity emphasized

White House aides said unity and consensus in NATO are more important than ensuring that every possible target be struck.

But some critics said the White House can settle for nothing less than use of the full weight of the allied military might.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, writing in today's USA Today, implored NATO to adapt to the more perilous situation on the ground without becoming too concerned about civilian deaths.

"This means an immediate manifold increase in the violence brought to bear against Serbia proper, and Serb forces in Kosovo," the Republican presidential candidate wrote. "The former will entail significant civilian casualties in Belgrade. The latter will almost certainly mean that we will suffer casualties as well, perhaps many casualties."

"All forces necessary may be a great deal of force indeed," McCain concluded. "But we cannot shrink from this, no matter how awful the images of war appear on our televisions. We must see the thing through to the end."

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