U.S vows fight `until we prevail'

President says defeat of KLA will not deter allies in Yugoslavia

Public support increases

NATO plans attacks directed at troops involved in atrocities

April 06, 1999|By Tom Bowman and Jonathan Weisman | Tom Bowman and Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- With Yugoslav forces close to defeating rebel forces in Kosovo and President Slobodan Milosevic expected to declare peace, President Clinton and NATO leaders vowed yesterday to press ahead with its ever-expanding bombing campaign "until we prevail."

After several days of mixed messages, the United States and Britain adopted a coordinated tougher line yesterday, heartened by a weekend of successful airstrikes, improved weather and polls showing public support for the campaign.

"Our position is to persist until we prevail," declared President Clinton, promising an "undiminished, unceasing and unrelenting" air campaign.

The president seemed more confident than he appeared to be Friday, when he said he "still" believed "we have a good possibility of achieving our mission."

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told reporters, "There has been speculation that when President Milosevic believes he has done enough damage to Kosovo, he will announce peace in Kosovo, and ask NATO to halt its military campaign.

"I tell him now, don't bother offering peace unless you are prepared to reverse the ethnic cleansing of the war. Peace is Kosovo without the population of Kosovo would be a hollow mockery."

White House aides said the new tone was in part a reflection of the changing military outlook.

Last week, administration officials were growing exasperated by persistent questions from thepress and commentators, whom aides saw as overly eager for a quick, decisive victory.

Supporters of airstrikes feared that such questions, coupled with the television images of a sea of miserable refugees and the battered faces of captured American servicemen, would quickly sour the public on any engagement in the Balkans.

A Newsweek poll conducted late last week found that 51 percent of Americans believe the capture of the three soldiers should toughen the U.S. military response; 16 percent disagreed.

A CBS poll taken Thursday found that only 9 percent favored easing military pressure. Nearly 80 percent said the military should keep up the airstrikes or escalate its attacks.

Far from turning public opinion against the war, the images of suffering and captured soldiers may have boosted public support for the air campaign, said a senior Senate foreign policy aide close to the White House.

Meanwhile, NATO plans more intensified attacks against the Yugoslav army troops and police units directly involved in committing atrocities in Kosovo, with additional warplanes from the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt expected to take part in strikes beginning today.

Until now, attacks have mostly been against supply lines, staging areas and headquarters for those forces.

"We're going to bring a lot of heat down," said one NATO military officer.

Fuel depots are targets

Early this morning in Yugoslavia, NATO planes and missiles targeted fuel depots, bridges and army barracks throughout the country on the 13th night of airstrikes.

Two strong explosions were heard late last night in the northern city of Novi Sad, the official Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said.

Serbian television showed pictures of a massive fireball.

Pentagon intelligence reports say Milosevic has all but defeated the Kosovo Liberation Army and the Yugoslav operation in Kosovo could end in about five days.

By forcing hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians into neighboring countries and destroying their homes, the reports say, Milosevic also is destroying any support base for the KLA in the province.

Some KLA forces appear to be regrouping in Albania.

Despite Milosevic's success in the field, the allies reiterated their demands for an autonomous Kosovo to which refugees could return.

Cease-fire is expected

Officials predicted that Milosevic will shortly announce a cease--fire and try to negotiate a deal with moderate Kosovo leader Ibrahim Rugova, since Milosevic is rapidly approaching his own goal of driving out Kosovo's ethnic Albanians and suppressing the rebels in the KLA.

But the United States and Britain rejected the idea of a cease-fire called by Milosevic. State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said that would only produce a "phony peace deal."

People's resolve is being stiffened by the horrifying news, said Rubin: "It's making clear that the refugee crisis is not a result of the bombing but the reason for the bombing."

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon was asked whether NATO would continue to bomb should Milosevic complete his mission of defeating the KLA and clearing out all ethnic Albanians.

"Milosevic may think he's finished," said Bacon. "We will not be finished."

The Pentagon conceded that the unrelenting Yugoslav attacks supported by tanks and artillery are having an impact on the KLA, which is lightly armed.

But there are still "pockets of resistance," it said, particularly in the western portion of the province.

"Despite the magnitude of the brutality, it is taking [Milosevic] longer than he anticipated," Bacon said.

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