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Cohen Opposes Arbitrary Kosovo Withdrawal Deadline

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2000 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen opposes congressional efforts to set an arbitrary deadline for pulling U.S. troops out of Kosovo.

A military construction bill before the Senate includes a provision that would cut off funds to keep U.S. troops in Kosovo beyond July 1, 2001. A House proposal calls for the United States to begin withdrawing troops by April 1 unless European allies meet obligations for humanitarian, reconstruction and peacekeeping assistance.

In a letter to the Senate, Cohen said pulling U.S. forces out of Kosovo would be counterproductive to peace and would seriously jeopardize U.S. relations with NATO allies. At a May 16 press conference, Cohen countered critics who charge the NATO-led mission is bogged down.

He told reporters the Kosovo situation has changed dramatically over the last year. Generally speaking, he said, peace has prevailed except for "flash points" in Mitrovica and the Presevo Valley.

"You recall that the air campaign was still under way a year ago and there were nearly a million refugees created in that country," the secretary said. "And since that time, we have succeeded in driving (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic's thugs out of Kosovo, the refugees have returned, children have gone back to school, farmers are in the fields planting crops ."

Maintaining peace in Kosovo is going to take the presence of NATO-led forces for some time, just as it has in Bosnia, Cohen noted. "We've made significant progress in Bosnia over the last five years, coming down from 20,000 troops to roughly 4,300 today. We anticipate that we can achieve similar types of reductions in Kosovo in the future, but it's going to take a concerted effort."

The NATO allies are in the process of measuring up to their commitments, Cohen said. Legislating an artificial deadline that mandates a U.S. troop withdrawal would severely strain the alliance, he added.

"I suspect that other members of NATO would do the same and that you would see a return to the kind of conflict we witnessed last year," he said, adding NATO's viability would then be called into question.

"For those reasons," Cohen concluded, "I would recommend a veto should the provisions stay as they currently are."

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