Kosovo peacekeeping mission may expand before it begins
Web posted at: 6:18 p.m. EDT (2218 GMT)
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 with Clark a security force in a "permissive environment," meaning an agreement with the Yugoslav government. A separate NATO contingency review of what it would take to mount a ground invasion has not been completed.
Clinton on Wednesday thanked his top military and diplomatic advisers and U.S. troops at two air bases in Germany for "standing up for the freedom of the people in the Balkans."
"The United States military, because of people like you, can do things for a troubled world that no one else can do. And I am profoundly grateful," Clinton told soldiers stationed at Ramstein Air Base.
The president also acknowledged the need for better benefits to maintain the ranks.
"I think there is strong, overwhelming, bipartisan support in the Congress this year to make some changes in pay, in retirement, in enlistment, in re-enlistment bonuses," he said.
The president applauded the military's efforts in getting relief supplies to Kosovo Albanian refugees in Albania and Macedonia and condemned the situation that mandated that effort.
"It is truly ironic that after all the wars of the 20th century that, here in Europe, we would still be fighting over religious and ethnic bigotry being used to dehumanize people to the point of justifying killing them, burning them, looting their homes, running them out, burning their villages, eradicating every last vestige of historical, cultural records, burning their houses of worship," the president said.
"And that's not the world I want your children to live in," Clinton noted. "And if your children are wearing the uniform of our armed services, I don't want them to have to fight a war because we didn't nip in the bid a cancer that can never sweep across Europe again."
At Spangdahlem Air Base, Clinton celebrated the diversity in the U.S. military, then said Serbia's ethnic hatred "makes life unbearable, and it makes civilization impossible."
Clinton spoke as U.S. troops mourned 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.
"We lost two brave Americans," Clinton said. "And today we grieve with their families and pray for them."
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.
Shortly after arriving at Ramstein, Clinton met with the three U.S. soldiers released last weekend after 32 days in Yugoslav custody.
"They're doing fine. I'm proud of them," he said
Staff Sgt. Andrew Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles; Staff Sgt. Christopher Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Michigan; and Spc. Steven Gonzales, 22, of Huntsville, Texas, were taken into custody March 31 along the Yugoslav-Macedonian border.
Clinton visited NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, before speaking to U.S. military troops.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, 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 U.S. POWs.
"The important thing is that he did let them go," Clinton said.
White House Correspondents Wolf Blitzer and John King contributed to this report.
Albania might move refugees farther from Kosovo
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