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Crash Claims First U.S. Deaths; Clinton Meets Troops

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 5, 1999 – Two soldiers killed May 4 in the crash of their Apache helicopter in Albania are the first U.S. troops to die in the NATO air offensive against Yugoslavia.

President Clinton, in Spangdahlem, Germany, May 5 to visit airmen and soldiers involved in Operation Allied Force, said the jobs service members do are inherently dangerous. "Just yesterday we lost two brave Americans in a helicopter training accident in Albania, and today we grieve with their families and pray for them," he said.

Officials will not comment further on the crash until the Army completes its investigation of the accident.

To date, the United States has lost an F-117 and an F-16 over Yugoslavia. Combat search and rescue specialists rescued both pilots. Last week, a Marine AV-8B Harrier crashed during carrier qualifications and another Apache crashed during a training exercise in Albania; no one was injured in these incidents.

Clinton told the airmen, soldiers and their families that Yugoslav action in Kosovo is an affront to everything the United States and the other 18 countries of NATO stand for. "Two months ago there were 1.8 million ethnic Albanians living [in Kosovo]," he said. "Now more than 1.5 million have been forced from their homes. Their villages burned, their men often separated from their families and killed -- some of them bundled and set on fire."

This violence, he said, is the result of a deliberate, calculated 10-year campaign by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to exploit the religious and ethnic differences in the former Yugoslavia to preserve and enhance his dictatorial powers. Clinton pointed to earlier conflicts in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia as proof of Milosevic's intent.

He said Milosevic's so-called ethnic cleansing has included concentration camps, murder and rape. It has also entailed the destruction of priceless religious, cultural and historical sites and of the books and records of other ethnic groups. "It is evil," Clinton said.

Clinton said the ultimate goal of the air campaign against Yugoslavia is to create "the kind of world where an innocent people are not singled out for repression, for expulsion, for destruction just because of their religious and ethnic heritage."

NATO stands for the freedom and unity of Europe, he said, yet the Yugoslav persecution of the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo is "occurring in the heart of Europe, on NATO's doorstep. We must repudiate it. We must reverse it, and we intend to do that."

Clinton stressed NATO has no quarrel with the Serb people. " Our quarrel is with ethnic cleansing and systematic killing and uprooting and bigotry," he said.

He reiterated NATO's goals: Milosevic must agree to withdraw all army, police and paramilitary units in Kosovo. NATO must be the core of any security force in the province, and the ethnic Albanians who lived there must be allowed to return.

"We will continue to pursue this campaign in which we are now engaged," he said. "We will intensify it in an unrelenting way until these objectives are met."

He said he understands the stresses on U.S. pilots flying missions in support of Allied Force. He also sympathized with families. "I know this is hard," he said. "I know too many of these pilots are flying long hours with too little rest. I know the stress and anxiety must be unbearable."

But, Clinton said, service members who wonder if it is worth it should look around when they meet other service members. The U.S. military is the best in the world and it includes all ethnic, religious and racial segments of the United States, he said.

"Together we make a stronger military," he said. "Thank God you live in a society that honors the differences [among people]. Think how terrible it would be to live in a society that didn't.

"A few years ago you helped end the cruel war in Bosnia, and I'm sorry you have to do it all over again, but I'm proud of the job you're doing today in Kosovo."

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