Clinton Pledges 7,000 Troops, Cites Duty to Stop Killings
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 3, 1999 President Clinton announced 7,000 U.S. service members will deploy as part of a NATO-led international security force in Kosovo once a peace accord is reached.
Addressing the Air Force Academy graduating class June 2 in Colorado Springs, Colo., Clinton said NATO must stay the course in Yugoslavia. "We cannot grow weary of this campaign because [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic didn't capitulate when the first bombs fell," he said. "We cannot abandon a just cause because an adversary holds out for more than a few news cycles."
The U.S. contribution to the international security force, dubbed "KFOR" for Kosovo Force, is 15 percent of the total. European allies will contribute the bulk of the 50,000-person force. Clinton also reaffirmed the weekend DoD announcement that 48 fighter aircraft and 20 aerial tankers are deploying for Operation Allied Force, bringing the U.S. air contingent to about 770 planes.
The president said the United States has a moral responsibility to oppose crimes against humanity and ethnic and religious killing. A U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, indicted Milosevic and three other Serb officials May 27 for war crimes - - the United States cannot stand by and allow ethnic cleansing to continue, he said.
United States and NATO also have a strategic interest because, Clinton said, Milosevic's 10-year-old ethnic cleansing campaign in Yugoslavia poses the last major barrier to a Europe whole, free and at peace.
"[It's] the last gasp of an aggressive nationalism that has shattered the lives of so many Europeans in this century and drawn so many American to fight there in wars," Clinton said. "It threatens all the progress made in Europe since the end of the Cold War."
He again detailed NATO goals in the region: First, the fighting must stop. Milosevic must withdraw all his forces. The refugees must be allowed in accompanied by an international security force with NATO at its core. Finally, the Kosovars must have some autonomy. NATO will continue its air campaign until Milosevic assents to the terms.
"We now have planes flying at all hours, from every direction, from bases in Italy, Germany, Hungary, Turkey, the United States and from carriers at sea," Clinton said. "If we have the patience and determination to match the courage and skill of our men and women in uniform, we will achieve our goals."
Clinton said the NATO air campaign is a communications-age conflict; that is, pictures of the bombing are reaching television viewers of the world before the planes have landed. He said during World War II Americans only realized the true horror they were fighting against when victorious GIs liberated the Nazi death camps.
"Today our pilots over Kosovo see the smoke of burning villages beneath them, the tanks and artillery that set them ablaze," he said. "When they return to base they watch the news, they see the faces of the fleeing refugees marching so many miles over mountains with only the belongings they can carry on their backs, pushing their elderly along in wheelbarrows."
U.S. service members see what Milosevic represents and why the United States and NATO must oppose him, the president said. He scoffed at the idea that the bombing campaign is responsible for the Serb atrocities against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
"We know that by the time our air strikes began, the Serb campaign of executions and expulsions had already started," he said. Milosevic was indicted in part because of a massacre of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo that occurred in January -- two months before NATO bombing started March 24. Using similar tactics in Croatia and Bosnia earlier this decade, Milosevic loyalists drove 2.5 million people from their homes and are believed to have killed about 250,000 of them, Clinton noted.
He said NATO could not prevent Milosevic from driving the ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo because he had 40,000 soldiers and 300 tanks in and around the province. "But he can be prevented from keeping them out of their land. His 10-year campaign will end once and for all," Clinton concluded.