Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Allied Ground Force in Balkans Quietly Expands

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Allied Ground Force in Balkans Quietly Expands

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- As hundreds more aircraft join NATO's air campaign, a less-noticed array of allied ground forces is assembling on the southern rim of Yugoslavia.

Some were brought to the region for humanitarian work and others for potential deployment as peacekeepers. But they could serve as the nucleus of an invasion force if the leaders of NATO reverse themselves and decide that only an invasion will achieve their aims against Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic.

The possible deployment of combat troops was discussed on both sides of the Atlantic yesterday. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said anew that the Clinton administration is confident air power will achieve NATO's purposes and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said the allies have no plans to authorize an invasion.

But, in a significant addition to the ongoing ground troop talk, he added, "if the moment comes when it is necessary" to invade Yugoslavia, "I'm sure the countries that belong to NATO will be ready to do it."

Britain's foreign secretary, Robin Cook, stressed it would take two to three months to prepare an invasion. Military experts agree.

Allied ground forces arriving in the Balkans include some of the keys to ground combat, including U.S. Army Bradley infantry carriers and Apache attack helicopters and British battle tanks.

About 12,000 NATO troops are in Macedonia, including 600 Americans. In neighboring Albania about 2,000 of a planned force of 8,000 allied troops are preparing for a humanitarian relief effort. There also are several thousand U.S. troops in Bosnia as part of a NATO-led peacekeeping force.

The Albania group includes the vanguard of a U.S. Army contingent, eventually to total 3,000 or more soldiers, that will operate two battalions of Apache attack helicopters and land-based missiles.

The Apache force is expected to begin operating soon against Serb armored forces in Kosovo.

"To a degree, it's academic," whether President Clinton will change his mind about ground troops, said retired Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Bernard Trainor. "If you're going to put a force in there, it's going to take some time to get yourself organized. …

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