Generals surveying situation

Officers gathering facts on the ground in Albania

April 18, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

TIRANA, Albania -- Top U.S. military officers flew here yesterday in an apparent effort to lay the basis for deploying more U.S. forces -- possibly including ground troops -- in NATO's effort to stop Serbs from driving ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.

Gen. Wesley K. Clark, the NATO commander, arrived at midafternoon and immediately drove from the once decrepit airport, now swarming with helicopters and relief supplies, to meetings with Albanian government officials.

His trip was arranged so suddenly that U.S. Air Force press officers at the airport had no inkling of it until queried by journalists in the late morning.

Clark's second in command, Lt. Gen. Dan Coffee, the deputy commander in Europe, was here Friday on a mission to assess the resources available in this desperately impoverished country, which has taken in more than 300,000 Kosovo refugees.

While military officials were tight-lipped as usual about their plans, it is possible that the visit could foreshadow a change in NATO tactics of relying on bombing alone, which while inflicting considerable damage on the Yugoslav infrastructure, does not appear to have broken the Serbs' spirits or interfered with their brutal effort to clear Kosovo of its ethnic Albanian majority.

A wave of about 13,000 new refugees crossed the Albanian border at Kukes during the night. Relief workers here and in Macedonia were bracing for a further influx of traumatized people.

In advance of a vote in Congress on a special appropriation measure to finance the military campaign and the relief effort, a congressional delegation flew in to visit the swarming refugee camps.

Standing slightly apart from the senators and representatives dispensing interviews, Maj. Gen. Randy West of the Marines quietly eyed the scene.

"I'm here to gather my own intel," West said, referring to intelligence information he might need in the event that Marines are sent here in large numbers. West is the commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

One Marine expeditionary unit from the 6th Fleet is already in the area, and another is on the way, West said. But, he added, he wanted to be ready for the possibility that larger numbers of Marines might be called on.

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