Sources: Top NATO commanders clashed over Russians' actions in Kosovo
August 2, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, who is stepping down early as NATO supreme commander, clashed with British commander Gen. Mike Jackson over how to react to the movement of Russian forces in Kosovo after the alliance's victory there, sources say.
Pentagon and NATO sources told CNN that Clark ordered Jackson, the commander of NATO ground forces in Kosovo, to dispatch helicopters to take control of Pristina's airport before the Russians arrived June 12.
Jackson reportedly favored a less confrontational approach and was slow to relay Clark's orders. As a result, Apache helicopters were unable to reach the airport because of bad weather.
After the Russians took control of one end of the airport, Pentagon sources say Clark ordered Jackson to move British tanks onto the runway to prevent Russia from flying in reinforcements.
This time, Jackson delayed while he sought political guidance from London. Clark also appealed to political leaders in Washington for support, the U.S. magazine Newsweek reported Sunday.
Clark's orders were never carried out. "I'm not going to start World War III for you," Jackson is quoted in Newsweek as telling Clark after the incident.
Pentagon officials told CNN that while NATO members are under the command of the supreme allied commander, they also have the right to refuse orders not in their national interest.
NATO's 19 members operate by consensus and any one country can veto a decision.
Pentagon officials said that the British government wanted to avoid a military confrontation over what was essentially a diplomatic dispute with the Russians.
The airport standoff was ultimately resolved when NATO and Moscow, a traditional ally of the Serbs, agreed that the Russians would not have their own peacekeeping sector in Kosovo.
Instead, Russian peacekeepers were dispatched to the American, French and British sectors of the province.
During his weekly visit to Kosovo on Monday, Clark denied news reports of conflict between himself and Jackson over the Russian incident, or any other.
"I haven't seen (that) any of the reports are particularly accurate thus far," Clark said. "I have total confidence in Mike Jackson. We have a really good working relationship, and I think he's doing a brilliant job down there in Kosovo."
Clark will step down as NATO supreme commander three months early on orders from Washington. He will retire in April, rather than July of next year, to make room for Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, now the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Clark, considered brilliant but arrogant and brusque, described the move as routine, as did the White House and the Pentagon.
"All of us at NATO believe Gen. Clark has been outstanding ... winning very decisively the air operation in Kosovo," Pentagon spokesman Jamie Shea said last week.
Russian premier arrives in Washington to thaw Kosovo chill
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