Size may double for Kosovo peacekeeping force
May 5, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- If NATO sends a peacekeeping force into Kosovo it would have to be twice as large as originally estimated, the alliance's commanding general reportedly has told President Clinton.
Several sources said Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO's supreme commander, has recommended sending about 60,000 troops. The initial plan for a peacekeeping force called for about 28,000.
The additional forces include combat troops, but also larger-than-envisioned contingents from engineering units to focus on repairs to the infrastructure, including roads and bridges. The increased troop estimate is attributed to the widespread damage that must be repaired and to the extensive number of refugees that must be helped.
Clark has not decided the specific number of troops he'll need, the sources said.
One source said Clark told the president it would be best to have most of this force in place by mid- to late summer. But the general also told Clinton that NATO military planners were drawing up new target lists in case the air campaign continued several more months.
NATO's bombing campaign in Yugoslavia is meant to force that country to accept a NATO-led peacekeeping force for Kosovo, a province of the Yugoslav republic of Serbia.
U.S. administration officials said they've only discussed a security force in a "permissive environment," meaning an agreement with the Yugoslav government, with Clark. A separate NATO contingency review of what it would take to mount a ground invasion has not been completed.
Cohen recommends release of Yugoslav prisoners
Clinton visited NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium before speaking to U.S. military personnel at bases in Germany on Wednesday. He also met with the three U.S. soldiers who were released from Yugoslav custody on Sunday, while his defense secretary said he may recommend the release of two captured Yugoslav soldiers.
A senior U.S. official says the United States would hand over two captured Yugoslav soldiers to a third party -- perhaps the International Committee of the Red Cross or Sweden, which represents U.S. interests in Belgrade -- if Defense Secretary William Cohen recommends releasing them.
Cohen says he's inclined to recommend the two soldiers be freed. Clinton is the only one who can authorize such a release.
Clinton asked Cohen to review their status following the release of the U.S. captives. The Red Cross has been asked to prepare for the Yugoslavs' release with exit exams and interviews with the men.
Another senior official, who wishes to remain anonymous, confirmed one POW already "has indicated he might not want to go back," so the United States has asked the Red Cross to explore how to resolve that issue.
Cohen said the release of the two Serb soldiers should not be seen as any goodwill gesture toward the Yugoslav government. He said the release would not be a reciprocal gesture in response to the U.S. prisoners' release, which Cohen said was an act of self-interest on the part of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
Clinton declined to speculate on Milosevic's motives after a meeting with the three former POW's -- Spc. Steven Gonzales of Huntsville; Texas, Staff Sgt. Andrew Ramirez of Los Angeles and Staff Sgt. Christopher Stone of Smiths Creek, Michigan."The important thing is that he did let them go," Clinton said.
Clinton rallies troops, mourns Apache crew
Earlier Wednesday, Clinton told U.S. military personnel that they were fighting for a just cause in the Balkans.
In a speech at the U.S. air base at Spangdahlem, Germany, Clinton thanked them "for your service and your sacrifice." He spoke as U.S. troops suffered their first losses in the campaign: A crash during a training mission in Albania killed the two-man crew of an AH-64 Apache helicopter gunship.
"Today we grieve for their families, and we pray for them," he said.
But he told them that the battle was being waged to extend the peace that has prevailed in Europe for most of the last half-century.
"Kosovo is an affront to everything we stand for," Clinton said.
Clinton said a reported Yugoslav campaign against ethnic Albanian civilians in the Serbian province of Kosovo has displaced about 1.5 million people, a number roughly equal to the entire population of Nebraska.
"If we want Europe to be undivided and democratic and at peace for the first time in history -- and if we don't want your successors to have to come to this continent and fight another bitter war -- then we must stand in Kosovo for the elemental principle of the common humanity of every breathing, living person on this continent," he said.
White House Correspondents Wolf Blitzer and John King contributed to this report.
Albania might move refugees farther from Kosovo
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