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CRISIS IN YUGOSLAVIA

Clinton Asks for $6 Billion for War on Yugoslavia

Balkans: Request to Congress would fund air campaign until Sept. 30, officials say. Support is expected, but GOP contends earlier budgets left U.S. unprepared for conflict.

April 20, 1999|NORMAN KEMPSTER and JOEL HAVEMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — President Clinton formally asked Congress on Monday for more than $6 billion to pay for munitions, equipment, humanitarian aid and other costs of the air assault on Yugoslavia--now nearly a month old, with no end in sight.

Administration officials said the request is enough to finance the air war for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, although they said they hope that the NATO campaign ends before then. The air war against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has already cost the U.S. about $1 billion, much of it for high-priced precision weapons such as cruise missiles.

Republicans in Congress are expected to support the budget request, but they complain that Clinton's earlier Pentagon budgets left the U.S. unready for a war such as the one in Kosovo.

The special budget request is the latest measure of the growing scale of the military confrontation over Kosovo, a separatist province of Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic. The request is at least $100 million larger than administration estimates of only a week ago.

"The need for this funding is urgent, immediate, clearly in the national interest," the president said. "There are literally lives hanging in the balance. And so I hope . . . the Congress will move the package right away."

Pentagon officials said Monday that Yugoslavia has committed as many as 43,000 army troops and special police forces in and around Kosovo, up from about 40,000 at the start of the campaign.

NATO officials have said that the bombing has cut all railroad approaches and most roads into the province and that some Serbian units have been hampered by shortages of fuel. But the report by Pentagon spokesman Kenneth H. Bacon of increased troop strength suggested that at least some of Milosevic's forces retain considerable mobility.

In other developments:

* At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the Security Council that he will appoint at least one envoy to try to bring peace to Kosovo. The envoy, who will be named later this week, will probably be a European from a non-NATO country, diplomats said. Annan also announced that he will visit Moscow later this month to discuss the conflict with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and other Russian leaders. Russia has vehemently opposed the airstrikes against Yugoslavia, a longtime ally.

* Rebel fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Army captured three soldiers from the Yugoslav army and planned to turn them over to NATO officials, KLA spokesman Luzim Bakalli said in Tirana, the Albanian capital. The soldiers were captured last week during fighting near Junik in Kosovo, he said. One Yugoslav officer seized by the KLA has already been turned over to U.S. military authorities.

* The State Department said that at least 100,000 and possibly as many as 500,000 Kosovo Albanian men are unaccounted for, raising fears that they may have been killed by Serbian forces.

* NATO air raids targeted an airport near the southern Kosovo town of Urosevac on Monday, witnesses said. NATO planes also bombed Kosovo's capital, Pristina, and Serbia's second-largest city, Novi Sad, in NATO's 26th night of attacks on Yugoslavia.

* The Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said today that overnight NATO attacks on Serbia's third-largest city, Nis, killed or injured 12 people and destroyed or damaged houses as well as factories.

* Several hundred paratroops from the 82nd Airborne Division based at Ft. Bragg, N.C., were dispatched to Albania to protect Apache attack helicopters, which are expected to arrive soon. That is the largest deployment of U.S. ground troops since the start of the NATO air war. Pentagon officials said the contingent does not violate a ban on ground troops because the paratroops will be stationed outside Kosovo.

The budget request made by Clinton on Monday contains funds to activate about 25,000 reservists, fewer than the maximum of 33,000 that the Pentagon said last week that it wanted to call up.

Also Monday, officials said the Pentagon is considering a plan to extend the service of as many as several thousand active-duty personnel who are about to retire or leave the armed forces for other reasons. If Clinton approves, the Pentagon will extend some terms indefinitely, mostly those of Air Force pilots and ground crews. That authority was also used during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The budget request by the White House did not seek money for ground troops, either as peacekeepers or as an invasion force. If the U.S. and its allies decide--either at this week's NATO summit in Washington or later--that the war cannot be won without infantry, the costs will go up.

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