-Caveat Lector-

>From Int'l Hrald Tribune

Paris, Friday, April 2, 1999

Fear of Wider Instability in Balkans on the Rise

Bombing Second-Guessed

By Craig R. Whitney and Eric Schmitt New York Times Service
BRUSSELS - The top civilian and military leaders of NATO settled on a
strategy of bombing alone against President Slobodan Milosevic of
Yugoslavia despite several military assessments and intelligence warnings,
and even a clue from a Yugoslav general, that bombs without ground forces
could not stop Serbian forces from launching a purge in Kosovo.

Finger-pointing over missed signals and suggestions of mismanagement began
to surface in Brussels and in Washington as the second week of the bombing
campaign began with no sign that Mr. Milosevic was buckling and no idea how
it would end.

Pentagon planners, for example, said they had warned the administration
publicly and privately that Mr. Milosevic was likely to strike out
viciously against the Kosovo ethnic Albanians as soon as a possibility of
military actions was raised and that he would use the period of
negotiations in France in February and March to prepare.

''In the Pentagon, in this building, we were not surprised by what
Milosevic has done,'' the Defense Department spokesman, Kenneth Bacon, said
Wednesday. ''I think there is historical amnesia here if anyone says they
are surprised by this campaign.''

But throughout the months of planning for a crisis over Kosovo, a ranking
officer in Brussels said Wednesday, the allies chose bombing because none

them was willing to take the risk of sending in the 100,000 to 200,000
troops they thought it would take to keep the Serbs from having their way
with the 1.8 million ethnic Albanians in the province.

President Bill Clinton reiterated his aversion to using ground troops
Wednesday in an interview on CBS's ''60 Minutes II'' program. ''The thing
that bothers me about introducing ground troops into a hostile situation,
into Kosovo and into the Balkans, is the prospect of never being able to
get them out,'' Mr. Clinton said.

That determination left the North Atlantic Treaty Organization with only
the option of air forces. ''We said from the outset that we couldn't
prevent atrocities and crimes against humanity with just an air campaign,''
the officer in Brussels said. ''But knowing that we had to keep an alliance
of 19 nations together, we knew that if we asked for ground troops we would
be asking the impossible.''

The rejection of ground forces persisted despite growing signs of Mr.
Milosevic's real intentions, including a remarkable signal from a Yugoslav
general in October that senior military officials in Brussels now admit
they missed. Had such signs been heeded, some officials now argue,
politicians might have overcome their aversion to the use of troops.

The clue the allies missed, a high NATO officer said, came in a tense
predawn conversation in Belgrade early Oct. 25 between General Momcilo
Perisic, then chief of the Yugoslav armed forces, and two NATO generals.
The generals had come to demand fulfillment of promises to withdraw army
and police units from Kosovo that Mr. Milosevic had made to a U.S. envoy,
Richard Holbrooke, two weeks earlier.

The NATO officers - General Klaus Naumann of Germany, the alliance's senior
military officer, and General Wesley Clark of the United States, the
supreme allied commander - were sitting with General Perisic in the
Presidential Palace, an officer said, when the Yugoslav suddenly sent a
police escort out of the room and turned up the television.

''He said that he thought the army was the only democratic institution left
in Yugoslavia and that he knew that conflict with NATO would inflict
terrible damage to it,'' the officer said.

General Perisic seemed to be trying, this officer said, to make it clear
that preserving the army from destruction, the threat the two Western
generals had made if Mr. Milosevic did not relent, was more important to
him than anything else.

General Clark and General Naumann left Belgrade with the commitments they
had come for, but a month later, General Perisic was removed from office.
Soon after that, Mr. Milosevic began totally disregarding his pledges.

''We think now that Perisic was removed because he didn't agree to the
plan,'' the officer said. That meant, he said, that the Yugoslav
authorities were developing the drastic Kosovo solution at the same time as
they were making false promises to Mr. Holbrooke.

General Perisic was dismissed after the head of the Yugoslav Air Force,
General Ljubisa Velickovic, was replaced on Oct. 30, and the head of the
internal security service, Javica Stanisic, was dismissed on Oct. 27. Some
NATO officers now believe that this was part of a broad change in Serbia's
strategic leadership in preparation for the offensive under way in Kosovo.

And political authorities in Washington and in Europe also disregarded or
played down other warnings of what the Serbs were up to.

Senior administration and congressional officials in Washington, for
example, cited an American military intelligence assessment completed
shortly before the allied air campaign began last week that concluded that
Mr. Milosevic intended to ''ethnically cleanse'' 1.8 million Albanians
within a week.

Officials in Washington dismissed the plan as Serbian bravado and
confidently boasted that Kosovo Liberation Army fighters, plus a few days
of allied bombing, would be enough to show Mr. Milosevic that he was

Instead of planning to send in ground forces, President Clinton and other
leaders spent months threatening Serbia with bombing while sending
diplomats to try to negotiate a peace settlement they were almost sure Mr.
Milosevic would accept.

At the time, Mr. Clinton was devoting much of his energy to fighting
impeachment charges in Congress. Mr. Milosevic, for his part, used the
months to prepare the vast expulsion in Kosovo.

The Yugoslav president soon demonstrated that he had no intention of
carrying out his commitments, but the allies did not begin to reactivate
the bombing threats they had used to extract those promises from him until
the beginning of the year. By then, violence by both Kosovo Liberation Army
irregulars and Serbian forces had made a mockery of the cease-fire.

The massacre of scores of unarmed Albanian civilians in the village of
Racak early in January increased pressure in allied capitals for diplomatic
action, backed by the threat of force, to stop such outrages by Serbian
military and police units in Kosovo.

As the allies had done throughout the mounting crisis, they followed the
lead of the six-nation Contact Group of countries - the United States,
Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia - that were trying to find a
political settlement in Kosovo.

That, some officers now believe, was a mistake, since Russia was
consistently opposed to bombing or any other allied action against Mr.

Reservations by the Europeans about letting the alliance act without an
explicit mandate from the UN Security Council, a mandate Russia seemed
certain to veto there, built in further delay.

But on Jan. 29, backed by NATO, the Contact Group demanded that the Serbs
and the Albanians go to Rambouillet Castle in France on Feb. 6 to negotiate
a peace settlement.

On Jan. 30, the allies gave NATO's secretary-general, Javier Solana
Madariaga, the authority to tell General Clark to bomb targets on Yugoslav
territory if it took bombing to get the Serbs to negotiate.

It took the allies - 16 of them then, before Poland, Hungary and the Czech
Republic came in earlier last month - most of the day to get to that point.
Still, they hemmed in Mr. Solana's freedom to decide to launch the bombers,
conditioning the move on a concurring assessment by the Contact Group.

''In my view, the biggest mistake we made was agreeing to be taken hostage
by the Contact Group,'' an allied officer said. ''It hurt solidarity within
the alliance, and some of the non-Contact Group countries reacted to it
like a Spanish bull to a red flag.''

As the peace talks started in Rambouillet, NATO officials said, allied
intelligence began picking up disturbing signs that Serbian Army was moving
into position in and just north of Kosovo.

Some of these troop movements, they said, were called ''winter exercises.''

''We always thought they were preparing for some kind of a military
solution in the spring,'' he said. ''We anticipated that he would try to
wipe out the Kosovo Liberation Army and not be very nice to the civilian
population. But the presumption was that the Serbs would concentrate on the
guerrillas and not go after civilians en masse.

Barring a peace agreement, to be enforced by a 28,000-member NATO force,
including 4,000 U.S. troops, administration officials in Washington said
there were varying assumptions about what action Yugoslavia would take.

''If fighting escalates in the spring, as we expect, it will be bloodier
than last year's,'' the director of central intelligence, George Tenet,
told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 2.

''Belgrade will seek to crush the KLA once and for all, while the
insurgents will have the capability to inflict heavier casualties on Serb
forces,'' he said. ''Both sides likely will step up attacks on civilians.

''Heavier fighting also will result in another humanitarian crisis,
possibly greater in scale than last year's, which created 250,000 refugees
and internally displaced persons along with hundreds of destroyed buildings
and homes,'' Mr. Tenet said.

William Cohen, the U.S. defense secretary, and General Henry Shelton, the
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were adamantly opposed to sending
ground troops into Kosovo without a clearly defined mission.

Moreover, State Department and White House officials said, Congress, which
only reluctantly backed air strikes, would oppose ground troops.

Even if the administration had mustered the political will to mount a
200,000-member force, it would have taken months to move that many troops
into place. Pentagon officials also warned that such a deployment would
probably only provoke Mr. Milosevic to attack before it was completed.

So the administration and NATO decided to use air power alone, for all its


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