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NATO Plans Two Kosovo Options

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18, 1999 – Peace force or air strikes? U.S. and NATO authorities are planning for both.

If Kosovo's warring parties reach a settlement, NATO plans to send 27,000 troops to implement the peace. President Clinton has committed up to 4,000 American service members to the peace effort.

NATO is expected to present its operational plan for the peacekeeping force in the next few days, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said Feb. 16. It's now dealing with such questions as "how to trade off between speed and force size in getting the first people on the ground," he said.

"Obviously, we could get a light force in much more quickly than we could get a heavy force in," Bacon said. " Clearly the Marines are a leading option to go in quickly. They would go in from the Greek port of Thessaloniki, but that decision has not yet been made."

And if U.S. and NATO forces do go in, how long will they stay? Defense Secretary William S. Cohen has said U.S. forces could be there as long as the length of the diplomatic agreement being considered -- three years. However, Bacon said, as NATO allies discovered in Bosnia, setting a mission end date is inadvisable. Instead, NATO again plans to set benchmarks indicating the transition from military to civilian control.

The peace agreement is designed to lead to an autonomous state for Kosovo, Bacon explained. This involves having local elections, setting up a judicial system and other self-governing structures, and establishing a local police force.

"Most of this work is supposed to be done within the first year," Bacon said. "So, to the extent that these steps are completed on time, it would raise the possibility that the military forces could be reduced over time and maybe come out entirely before three years is up."

Considering current U.S. concerns about military readiness and forces being stretched thin, Bacon said, "we would like to complete this as quickly as possible. I know all the other allies would as well."

The Serbs and Kosovars have until Feb. 20 to reach an accord at their peace talks in France. If they fail, NATO is ready to take military action.

An activation order for air strikes that NATO approved last fall remains in effect, Bacon said. Air operations would involve about 430 combat and support aircraft, more than half provided by the United States, he said. Most of the U.S. planes that would take part are based in Europe and could execute a mission within 48 hours of notification, he said.

Depending on how the peace talks progress this week, Bacon said, NATO authorities will decide whether to move more aircraft into the area. If deployed, some U.S. aircraft such as B-52s and B-2s would fly directly from the United States. Others such as F-117s would have to be pre-positioned in Europe to take part in an air operation.

If it appears the talks are stalled and the Serbs are responsible, and the Serbs continue to reject the presence of NATO peacekeeping forces, NATO will have to make a number of decisions, Bacon said. Along with deciding whether to deploy more planes, NATO and the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe will have to decide whether to pull out the 1,000 U.N. verifiers and nongovernment organization officials in Kosovo.

"These are all decisions that have not yet been made," Bacon stressed. "They will have to be looked at later in the week as we get closer to the deadline, depending on the progress of the talks."

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