Gilchrest calls on NATO to deploy troops in Kosovo

Other Md. legislators are divided over U.S.-led air campaign in Balkans

War In Yugoslavia

April 14, 1999|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, an Eastern Shore Republican, has become the first Marylander in Congress to call on NATO to commit ground troops to Yugoslavia, arguing that the continued airstrikes alone will not roust the Serbian forces from Kosovo.

Most of the state's other lawmakers are divided over the wisdom of the Clinton administration's use of airstrikes, with Republicans offering varying criticism of the president and Democrats expressing solid support.

Reflecting the wariness of many lawmakers toward a deeper involvement in Kosovo, most of the Marylanders said it was premature to consider the introduction of U.S. soldiers on the ground. But Gilchrest said in an interview that it was time to wage total war on Yugoslavia -- which, he said, should include the deployment of ground troops.

"We need to be in this thing in a big way to stop the slaughter, to stop the mayhem," said Gilchrest, a former Marine who was wounded in combat in Vietnam.

"You could accomplish that with two to three weeks of airstrikes, [if] you would commit NATO ground troops," said the 1st District representative.

"In the process, you would hope [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic could be hung or assassinated or kicked out of the country or [would] flee for his life."

No faith in airstrikes

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a 5th District Democrat, said he had no faith that the airstrikes would succeed in turning back the Serbian army's repression of Kosovar Albanians but added, "I don't think it's impossible."

After the Southern Marylander and more than 50 other members of Congress met yesterday with President Clinton, Hoyer said allied military leaders should at least reserve the option of committing ground troops -- a step that NATO officials had ruled out but now hint is possible.

"Clearly, ground troops are an option, stated or unstated," said Hoyer.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican, questioned the morality of bombing sites in Kosovo, a formerly autonomous province of Serbia.

"Right now, what we're doing is destroying the infrastructure of Kosovo," said the 6th District congressman, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. "Unless we're willing to do for Kosovo what we did for Germany and Japan -- rebuilding their economy -- I think it's immoral."

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican, sharply criticized Clinton's leadership in planning the military mission.

"Our strategic mission was never articulated, never clearly defined," said Ehrlich of the 2nd District.. "As every day goes by, we inch closer to an incremental engagement with ground troops. It makes people increasingly nervous."

Rep. Constance A. Morella, an 8th District Republican, sounded a more hawkish note: "We need to intervene, we need to prevail, we need to win."

But Morella, who represents Montgomery County, lamented what she said was the tardy inclusion of congressional leaders in planning. And she was edgy about backing the use of ground troops, saying it should be considered only as a very last option.

Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of the 7th District in Baltimore said he supported the airstrikes. "I don't think we could stand by and allow genocide to occur," Cummings said. But he said he would support ground troops only if NATO commanders called for it.

Others were even more doubtful about the need for U.S. troops.

"We are doing very well in terms of the goal of the air campaign," said Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Prince George's County Democrat. "There are two conditions before you talk about ground troops. You need a clear statement of your objectives. That ought to be clear up front."

"Second, it ought to be very clear what our allies' role would be," said Wynn of the 4th District. "Are they asking us to carry the load?"

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore-area Democrat, said: "I do not support ground troops. The only way I would support that would be to enforce a peace agreement."

The 3rd District congressman added: "I think that the mission is going -- as far as the effectiveness of the bombing -- a little bit better than I had anticipated."

Asking for time

Like Cardin, another Democrat, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, said the airstrikes should be given time to work. During the Persian Gulf war, Mikulski said, allied bombers blanketed Iraq for more than a month before ground troops were sent.

"We need to stay the course with the air bombing," she said. "We're in our 21st day. We need to trust the generals who believe that by destroying and degrading Milosevic's military infrastructure we will have an effect."

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, also a Democrat, said in a statement: "I support the efforts of the NATO alliance to intensify the air campaign and our efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the refugees."

Pub Date: 4/14/99

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