Clinton advised to plan for Kosovo ground war

Group of lawmakers says public should prepare for casualties

President still resists idea

In Belgrade, Milosevic rejects bid by Cypriot to free U.S. soldiers

War In Yugoslavia

April 10, 1999|By Mark Matthews and Jonathan Weisman | Mark Matthews and Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan group of lawmakers urged President Clinton yesterday to plan for a possible ground war in Yugoslavia and warned that he needs to prepare the public for casualties and a conflict lasting "many more weeks or months."

As the Pentagon braced for a tougher conflict amid the first specific reports of mass rapes by the Serbs, the nine House and Senate members who accompanied Defense Secretary William S. Cohen on a visit to U.S. forces in the region this week warned that bombs and missiles may not achieve the objectives of the NATO alliance.

Even if airstrikes damage the Yugoslav military, "there is less certainty that NATO's broader objectives in Kosovo ... will be achieved," the lawmakers told Clinton in a letter.

They cited removal of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's troops from Kosovo and return of the refugees with international protection.

"We believe it prudent for the U.S. to urge NATO to plan for additional military missions, including the use of ground forces, in the event that proves necessary to carry out such missions to achieve NATO's broader objective -- reversing Milosevic's genocidal actions in Kosovo."

President Clinton has repeatedly insisted he has no plan or intent to introduce U.S. ground forces into NATO's drive to reverse Yugoslav repression against Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population.

But the letter from the lawmakers showed that Clinton could get important political support should he change his mind.

The White House praised the lawmakers' commitment to NATO military action, but a senior official insisted that Clinton had not changed his opposition to commiting ground troops.

"Is there discussion about validity of the need for ground troops? Of course, there needs to be," the White House official said.

"The key is, there's still no intention."

The letter was signed by Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and John McCain of Arizona; Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan, Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and Jack Reed of Rhode Island; Republican Rep. Steve Buyer of Indiana; and Democratic Reps. Ike Skelton of Missouri, Ellen Tauscher of California and Jim Turner of Texas.

Two others lawmakers who accompanied Cohen did not sign the letter.

Other important developments yesterday in the 17-day-old war:

Yugoslav authorities refused to release three U.S. soldiers captured near the Macedonian-Yugoslav border March 31, rebuffing an initiative by a Greek Cypriot politician.

Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin stepped up his criticism of NATO's war against Yugoslavia, warning that if Russia got dragged into the conflict it could spark a European or even world war.

Yeltsin's comments didn't alarm the Clinton administration. But Washington worries about the mounting hostility in Moscow to the NATO operation and doesn't want to lose Russia as a diplomatic partner in trying to persuade Milosevic to capitulate.

It also wants Russia to stay out of the conflict, as it has pledged.

As a result, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright plans to meet next week in Norway with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov after she meets with other NATO foreign ministers.

"We've received continued assurances, including today, from high-level people in the Russian government that Russia does not intend to get involved in the conflict," said National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer.

The United States made its first specific charge of systematic rape by Serbian forces. Pentagon spokesman Kenneth H. Bacon said the United States had received "some very disturbing reports out of Kosovo recently of young Kosovo women who are being herded into a Serbian army training camp at Dakovica in southwest Kosovo, where they are being raped by troops."

"We have reports that as many as 20 may have been killed in the course of this," he said, but he noted that the information had come from one "reliable source."

Bracing for a tougher conflict, the Pentagon said Gen. Wesley P. Clark, NATO's supreme commander, would get dozens of additional aircraft. Six more F-15C fighter-bombers are already being sent.

NATO forces looked ahead to a weekend of possibly continued bad weather, hampering bombing runs.

U.S. and British officials have insisted that the raids have damaged Milosevic's war machine, heightening the pressure on him to withdraw his forces from Kosovo.

But the renewed buildup underscored that the mission is a long way from achieving its objective, a key point in the lawmakers' letter.

"It is important for the administration to reinforce the point to the American public that NATO's efforts could require many more weeks or months to succeed," their letter said.

During Cohen's and the legislators' meetings in Brussels, Belgium, this week, the NATO commander expressed frustration over expansion of the military mission, according to a source who was present.

Clark spoke about the "progressive redefinition" of the policy goals for the Kosovo crisis, said a source.

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