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Crisis in Yugoslavia

U.S. May Call Up Reservists in Escalation of Allied Air War

Balkans: Clinton declares NATO is 'grinding down' Yugoslav military. Pentagon says a request for hundreds more planes will be approved. Cross-border attack in Albania spurs fear of wider conflict.

April 14, 1999|BOB DROGIN and JOEL HAVEMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — The Clinton administration and its NATO allies prepared Tuesday for a major escalation of the 3-week-old air war in Yugoslavia, including a possible call-up of U.S. air reserve units in California and elsewhere, as an American effort to enlist Russian support to resolve the Kosovo crisis failed to achieve a breakthrough.

Fears grew that the war in the Balkans was spreading on the ground as Yugoslav infantry troops crossed into northeastern Albania and briefly seized control of a border village after firing at Albanian border police. The clash ended when the Yugoslav forces withdrew after several hours.

President Clinton, meanwhile, buoyed after a White House meeting with 58 members of Congress, said he was satisfied with progress in the war. He said the airstrikes are "diminishing and grinding down" Yugoslav military capabilities, adding, "Now we are taking our allied air campaign to the next level."

Pentagon officials said the Joint Chiefs of Staff will approve most or all of a request from Gen. Wesley K. Clark, NATO's supreme commander, to add 300 more U.S. warplanes to the 500 that the United States already has deployed. Clark also asked for more strike aircraft from other nations in the 19-member alliance.

Clark's request marks the fourth time that he has sought additional military resources since North Atlantic Treaty Organization warplanes first began bombing March 24 in a sustained campaign to drive Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's military and security forces out of Kosovo and guarantee safety for the province's ethnic Albanian majority. Half a million people have been driven from their homes since the campaign began.

The administration previously had agreed to add an aircraft carrier battle group, 24 Apache helicopter gunships and 2,700 support troops, and 82 warplanes to the NATO war effort. If Clark's latest request is approved, NATO will have about 1,000 aircraft at its disposal--nearly half the coalition force used in the Persian Gulf War of 1991.

U.S. and European officials said Tuesday that the United States will be sending up to 50 Apaches to Albania, double the number previously reported, the Washington Post said.

Riverside Reserve Wing May Be Mobilized

Although final plans have not been made, Pentagon officials said they may mobilize the 163rd Air Refueling Wing, which is based at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, as well as the 144th Fighter Wing, which operates 18 F-16 fighters from Fresno. Other reserve units likely to get called up are Air Guard units in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Idaho and Maryland.

"I do anticipate that there's likely to be a reserve call-up," Pentagon spokesman Kenneth H. Bacon said. He did not say how many personnel would be needed, but other officials said they think that several hundred to several thousand pilots, air crews, support staff and civil affairs officers might be tapped for service. The White House so far has ruled out deploying ground troops.

Britain and France on Tuesday also vowed to boost their forces around Kosovo to assist in NATO's first humanitarian aid effort and protect the refugees who have fled "ethnic cleansing" by Yugoslav forces in Kosovo. The extra troops also presumably would take part if NATO reverses course and orders combat troops into Yugoslavia. Kosovo is a province of Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic.

At a briefing, Clark denied that his request for hundreds more aircraft meant that NATO's air campaign has failed and that the use of ground troops is inevitable. "Right now, what we intend to do is strengthen and intensify the air campaign," he said.

Despite a three-hour meeting in Oslo, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov failed to resolve a bitter dispute over Kosovo that has brought a numbing chill to relations between Washington and Moscow.

The difference is crucial: Russia, a longtime ally of the Serbs, continues to call for an immediate end to the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, and it continues to oppose NATO's plan for deployment of an international peacekeeping force for Kosovo unless Milosevic reverses course and agrees to accept the troops.

"Any form of international presence requires the agreement of the leadership of Yugoslavia," Ivanov said in a joint news conference with Albright.

But Ivanov said he is prepared to launch a new diplomatic effort to end the conflict. "Russia will continue to work to find a way out of this cul-de-sac," he said. Referring to the Yugoslav and Serbian capital, he added: "If we have to go to Belgrade, we will go to Belgrade. If we have to go to Washington, we will go to Washington."

A senior State Department official later told reporters that Ivanov brought a Russian proposal for a postwar Kosovo settlement to the meeting. The official said the two envoys went over the text line by line but that Albright rejected several aspects of the plan. He declined to elaborate.

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