Features

'Tremendously dangerous'

International | Latest move against Kosovo is questioned

Issue: "Surviving the Y2K panic," April 3, 1999

While Kosovo's neighbors-including NATO members Greece and Turkey-were edgy about NATO intervention in the Yugoslav province, key American policymakers were more openly doubtful of the wisdom of U.S.-led action in what remains an internal conflict.

Dissatisfied by a briefing with Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Senate Republicans demanded a meeting with President Bill Clinton just prior to planned airstrikes against Serb targets in Yugoslavia.

A statement by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said Republican opinion had changed from "qualified support" for administration policy "to real serious debate over whether we should be heading into a long, drawn-out campaign."

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But instead of slicing funding for the mission, as Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) proposed, Senators in the end voted, 58-41, to support the air program.

U.S. military leaders were more surprisingly outspoken about the risks with the Kosovo mission. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak said, "It is going to be tremendously dangerous." Serbian air defense systems, he said, "are, in many instances, mobile. The terrain is very tough. And the weather cannot be underestimated. That can be a show-stopper in many ways."

Air Force chief of staff Gen. Michael Ryan told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Belgrade's air defense capabilities would be two or three times greater than U.S. warplanes encountered in Bosnia.

"These guys are very good. So taking on these defenses with air power will not be easy," he said. "There is a distinct possibility we will lose aircraft in trying to penetrate those defenses."

Adm. Jay Johnson, chief of naval operations, told the Senate panel, "We should be under no illusions that this would be easy. The risk is high, in my view.''

Cmd. Krulak said "bottom-line questions" still need to be answered: "What is the endgame? How long will the strike go on? Will our allies stay with us?"

President Clinton says he is prepared to send up to 4,000 American soldiers as part of a 28,000-member NATO ground force as a followup to U.S. airstrikes after Mr. Milosevic's refusal to sign a U.S.-brokered peace accord on March 18.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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