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U.S. planes ordered to Europe for possible strikes against YugoslaviaFebruary 17, 1999
Web posted at: 9:00 p.m. EST (0200 GMT)
From CNN Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon announced Wednesday night that Defense Secretary William Cohen has ordered 51 planes to move to bases in Europe to prepare for possible airstrikes against Yugoslavia, if there is no peace agreement by Saturday's deadline.
The F-117s are based at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. The Pentagon says the deployment is "a precautionary measure to assure that NATO has the capability to conduct operations should that prove necessary."
The additional planes are part of the 260 aircraft the United States committed to support possible NATO airstrikes against targets in Yugoslavia. NATO sources say the United States is pushing for almost immediate airstrikes if Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic blocks a peace agreement with Albanian separatists by the Saturday deadline.
At the State Department, spokesman James Foley said, "The deadline on Saturday is a real deadline, and time is of the essence, and President Milosevic has just a few days to see the light."
NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana could order strikes without further consultations with the 16 NATO nations, if he is convinced the Yugoslav leader is the roadblock to peace. Pentagon sources said the United States is prepared to launch 80 cruise missiles from four U.S. warships in the Adriatic, including two submarines.
Sources say the initial targets would number a dozen or more, including air defenses and military barracks. NATO planners say such an attack would have to be carefully calibrated so that it doesn't drive Yugoslavia away from the peace process or prompt the Kosovar Albanians to make a quick grab for independence.
NATO sources said the United States is arguing that a limited cruise missile strike would not only show Milosevic that NATO's threats are credible but could also make it easier for him to explain to his people why he had to make concessions to reach an agreement with the Kosovar Albanians.
Marines to lead peacekeeping mission
Meanwhile, planning continues to send U.S. Marines into Kosovo. Some 2,200 Marines aboard a three-ship task force headed by the USS Nassau are steaming around Greece so they will be ready to go into Kosovo within days of any peace agreement.
Current plans call for 1,350 to go ashore at the Greek port of Thessaloniki, travel overland to a staging base in Macedonia, and then on to Kosovo, where they would join other NATO troops that will eventually make up a force of 28,000 that will stay for at least three years.
Within a month or two the U.S. Marines would be replaced by 3,940 soldiers from the U.S. Army's First Infantry Division out of Germany, who will fly in, while their equipment is brought in through Greece and Macedonia.
NATO sources say the American troops will be assigned to patrol the eastern corner of Kosovo. Great Britain, with the largest number of troops -- 8,000 -- and the on-scene commander of the force, Lt. Gen. Mike Jackson, will take the central sector, with France controlling the west, Italy the north, and Germany the south.
The rules of engagement will be the same as Bosnia, officials say. Commanders will have full authority to take any action necessary to protect their troops.
Serbs, ethnic Albanian rebels refuse concessions over Kosovo
NATO Official Homepage
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