Cost of war rising again, to $6 billion

Pentagon doubles estimate for U.S. role in conflict through Sept.

Allies pummel Novi Sad

Exodus of refugees continues on roads to Albania, Macedonia

April 18, 1999|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Sharply raising the price tag for the Kosovo war, the Pentagon announced yesterday that it will ask Congress for $6 billion to pay for America's part of NATO's air operation through September.

The request nearly doubles the $3 billion to $4 billion estimate that administration officials offered a few days ago. Besides including money for humanitarian operations, it could also prevent overall military readiness from suffering because of the air campaign, a major concern of Congress.

It would fund operations until the end of the fiscal year, but that doesn't mean that NATO necessarily expects the campaign to last that long. However, officials in recent days have sought to prepare the public for a drawn-out air war lasting into the summer.

Costs would have to be recalculated if President Clinton and other NATO leaders changed their minds and decided to launch a ground war, officials said.

The announcement came hours before Serbian television reported a new wave of NATO bombing last night, including the most intensive attacks on Yugoslavia's second-largest city, Novi Sad. The TV report said one missile hit the city's oil refinery in the half-hour attack. Loud explosions could also be heard in Belgrade.

"I know they're on their way. We do not have ideal weather, but we are flying," said a NATO spokesman, Lt. Col. Michael Kaemmerer, in Brussels, Belgium. The attacks covered most of Yugoslavia, he said. But the spokesman said it was too early to make comparisons with previous nights' raids.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of refugees continued to pour out of Kosovo, putting a devastating strain on neighboring Albania and Macedonia.

The desperate flow marked yet another shift in tactics by the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, which began forcing Kosovar Albanians out of the province when the NATO bombing began March 24 and then pushed refugees back into the province. U.S. officials say the refugees are being forced to abandon their vehicles at the border and stripped of identity papers.

A Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles F. Wald, said Milosevic was feeling pressure to complete the "ethnic cleansing" of the province, although a NATO diplomat said some refugees were being driven by hunger.

Officials said the crush of refugees on the roads out of Kosovo was complicating the air war. NATO has said one of its aircraft may have bombed a civilian vehicle on Wednesday. The Yugoslav government said more than 70 died in the attack.

As the conflict continued into its 25th day, there were these other developments:

NATO offered fresh proof of atrocities it said were committed by Serb forces in Kosovo, displaying aerial photos of what it claimed may be up to 150 fresh graves near Izbica.

"It's clear that there is mounting evidence of detentions, summary executions and mass graves," NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said in Brussels, estimating that 3,200 ethnic Albanians had been killed in the past several weeks. Some Albanians are being forced to dig their own graves, according to interviews with refugees.

The Pentagon drew a sharp contrast between the American treatment of a young Serb prisoner of war and the way Yugoslavia has treated three captured U.S. soldiers.

The Serb soldier was captured last week by the Kosovo Liberation Army and turned over first to Albania and then to the United States. Held at a U.S. military site, he was visited yesterday by Red Cross officials and allowed to send a letter to his family, a spokesman said. He was also examined by a doctor and found to be fit.

The Red Cross has not been allowed to visit Yugoslavia's American prisoners, who have not been allowed to communicate with their families. The spokesman, Navy Capt. Mike Doubleday, said he was not optimistic about a prisoner exchange.

Bad weather hampered bombing missions Friday night, but U.S. aircraft, including two B-2 bombers, struck a number of targets, including a tunnel where dozens of aircraft are believed to be stored, a bridge and a radar site, Wald said.

The 24 long-awaited Apache helicopters may arrive in Albania as early as today, although officials didn't want to tip off the Serbs by publicly disclosing when operations would begin. The low-flying aircraft open a risky new dimension in the air war, giving NATO greater opportunity to hit Yugoslav forces on the ground, but placing aircraft closer to danger.

Seeking to clear up confusion about the bombing of a civilian vehicle this week, the Pentagon said that the pilot whose audiotape was aired soon after the incident was not the one who apparently made the mistake. His aircraft was involved in a separate attack on purely military targets, officials said.

Wald, at a Pentagon briefing yesterday, refused to be discouraged by on-the-scene accounts by reporters who had visited Kosovo that NATO airstrikes appear to have done little to shake the Serbs' firm control of the province.

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