White House: U.S. open to review of use of ground troops
April 21, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With NATO's airstrikes against Yugoslavia moving toward a second month, the Clinton administration on Wednesday left the door open for reconsidering the use of ground troops in Kosovo.
"If the military command ... and the (NATO) secretary-general believe that it's prudent to update the assessment based on the changing circumstances on the ground, we would support that," White House spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters in comments that were echoed on Capitol Hill by U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen.
Cohen, testifying before Congress on the costs and progress of the Kosovo campaign, repeated that if Gen. Wesley Clark, the supreme NATO commander, and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana call for a reassessment of ground troops, that "can happen very quickly."
However, administration officials said, this in no way was a sign of a coming shift in strategy.
"That's updating an assessment -- it's not changing policy, it's not committing ground troops should they go forward with this," Lockhart said.
"It's looking at whether the problems that were evident when they looked at this in October ... have changed, how we would address them, whether the situation would be more difficult, less difficult," he added.
The administration and its NATO allies have steadfastly said that the issue of using ground troops in Kosovo was put to rest in October, when the alliance did an assessment that showed that as many as 200,000 troops would be needed for a successful invasion of Yugoslavia.
NATO spokesmen have said the alliance had not even drawn up contingency plans for the use of ground troops, even after criticism emerged that NATO had given the Yugoslav military a tactical advantage by precluding the option.
On Tuesday, however, top U.S. officials said that the controversial issue would be reviewed by the alliance's political leaders this weekend at NATO's 50th anniversary summit.
"I am sure the full range of issues involving Kosovo will be discussed, but I believe that the consensus in NATO very clearly is to stay the course," National Security Adviser Samuel Berger said at a White House briefing with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Cohen.
White House sources said Wednesday that NATO military leaders are also conducting a review of alliance strategy. That review, they said, likely will include looking anew at the analysis done last October on what it would take for a major ground combat offensive in Kosovo.
"It is prudent to periodically update all NATO assessments," a senior administration official said. "We are nearly 30 days into this and the facts on the ground have changed. ... But our policy on ground troops has not changed, and there are no signs it is going to change."
Congressional sources tell CNN that lawmakers who visited with NATO commanding general Clark came away convinced he was dedicated to an air campaign.
These sources, however, said Clark voiced frustration that the requirement for a political consensus within the alliance had left him "hamstrung" in choosing targets.
Clark, for example, was said to be in favor of a tight embargo on oil shipments to Yugoslavia and is an advocate of striking key electricity plants.
But the congressional sources said Clark had not been able to win approval for more aggressive targeting because of objections from France and other NATO allies.
Several U.S. officials told CNN that a prime topic of a Wednesday dinner between President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be using this weekend's NATO summit to win approval for "ratcheting up" the intensity of the campaign against Yugoslavia.
One of these officials put the odds at 50-50 that Clinton and Blair would be able to win approval of the oil embargo and other more aggressive steps.
White House Correspondent John King contributed to this article.
CNN INDEPTH SPECIAL SECTION:
UNHCR says relief agencies have 'breathing space'
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