U.S. Defense Chiefs Plan Small U.S. Force for Kosovo
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 1999 The United States may send 2,000 to 4,000 troops to Kosovo if a peace settlement is reached between Serb authorities and ethnic Albanians, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told members of Congress here Feb. 3.
"The size of the force will depend on what type of settlement or cease-fire comes out of the agreement between the two factions," Army Gen. Hugh Shelton told the Senate Armed Services Committee in an appearance with Defense Secretary William S. Cohen. Along with outlining the Pentagon's proposed budget, the two responded to queries about a U.S. role in NATO plans to end the violence in Kosovo and restore autonomy to the southern Serb province.
En route to Europe Feb. 4, Cohen stressed that President Clinton has not yet decided to commit American forces to implementing a peace agreement in Kosovo. He emphasized there must be a "real agreement" before peacekeepers are sent in.
"It can't be illusory," Cohen said. "It can't be some sort of agreement that is tactical or temporizing. While it may be important for the Europeans to move forces in quickly, it should be done only very carefully, to make sure the agreement is something that is going to hold and they're not going to end up being caught in a crossfire."
U.S. defense leaders are awaiting the outcome of peace talks between Serb authorities and ethnic Albanians slated to begin Feb. 6 in Rambouilliet, France, and NATO's plan, detailing the mission and forces needed.
In the meantime, Cohen said, administration officials are consulting with members of Congress. The secretary said he spent several hours Feb. 2 and 3 talking with Democratic and Republican members of the House and Senate.
"Members always want to feel they've been consulted, not after a decision has been made, but prior to a decision, so they can put their own recommendations forward to the president," said Cohen, a former senator from Maine.
NATO is considering deploying about 28,000 troops for three to five years to enforce a cease-fire once the two sides reach a settlement. Cohen said he expects plans for a peace implementation mission to be completed this weekend by Supreme Allied Headquarters Europe in Belgium.
The size and makeup of any U.S. contingent would depend on "what we're asked to do and what the environment is going to be like," Shelton told the Senate committee. "We want to keep the risks to our men and women in uniform as low as we possibly can."
U.S. troops comprised 37 percent of the initial NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia in 1995. Shelton said U.S. defense leaders don't intend to contribute anything like that percentage for Kosovo.
"If you get a smaller force, if [NATO] came out to be 20,000, our numbers could be very low, down possibly as low as 2,000 to 4,000," he said. "I would see that being the maximum number that we would be asked to contribute, even if [NATO] decided to go in with 30,000."
Both Shelton and Cohen told the committee that the goal is to contribute "the very minimum" and have European nations contribute the main body of troops. Great Britain and France have already announced they will send ground forces to Kosovo.
European NATO members should bear a large portion of responsibility, Cohen said. "We are part of NATO, and therefore we will make a contribution for this length of time. But it would be my goal, my position, that we ought to put as much responsibility on them as possible."
If peace talks fail and NATO military action is deemed necessary, Cohen said, U.S. air forces will play a major role. NATO credibility hinges on unity, he said, and the other member countries have indicated they'll take part in military operations only if the United States does." Should air strikes be ordered, he said, "We would be the ones carrying the load on that, therefore, I think more responsibility should be shifted to the Europeans to bear."
The overall political situation in Kosovo is complex, the secretary stressed to the committee, and U.S. forces should be sent in only if both sides are firmly committed to peace.
"It can't be simply a situation in which we push the Serbs back and ask them to pull the police and the VJ [Yugoslav army] forces out, and then have the Kosovo Liberation Army come in and expect us to be their air force or their ground force," he said. "That is not acceptable."