All the papers lead with the latest on the Yugoslav war. The main developments are: 1) In response to the increasingly chaotic situation in Macedonia and Albania, NATO’s announcement of plans to evacuate approximately 100,000 Kosovar refugees temporarily to various NATO countries. According to the coverage, the U.S. is planning to house its share of the refugees in either Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or in Guam. 2) The continuation of the air campaign. The Washington Post says the latest targets include bridges, petroleum facilities, and a power plant. The paper adds that NATO troops in Bosnia blew up a rail line that runs into Serbia. The New York Times adds to the list the Yugoslav Air Force HQ near Belgrade. The Los Angeles Times mentions the 1st Army HQ and an ammunition plant. USA Today says that today’s better weather may bring airstrikes against the Serbian troops trying to complete a rout of the Kosovo Liberation Army. 3) The official confirmation of a change in the NATO force first written about over the weekend: The deployment of 24 Apache attack helicopters and Army tactical missiles to Albania along with 2,000 Army troops to protect them there. The Pentagon adamantly describes this not as a move toward a ground war, but as a straightforward extension of the air war.
Despite all the havoc wrought in and around Belgrade by NATO since Friday, the WP sees signs that the bombing may be having the unintended effect of rallying the Yugoslavs against NATO. The paper describes a large group of young people, many of them sporting targets on their chests, linking arms on one of the few bridges left intact near Belgrade, in an attempt to shield it from an air attack.
The LAT’s lead includes this gee-whiz description of the Apache helicopters: “[They] can within 30 seconds detect 128 potential targets, select the most dangerous and initiate an attack coordinated with other aircraft,” never letting on that these aircraft were implicated in attacks on friendly forces during the Gulf War. Also, although all the papers discuss what extra possibilities these aircraft introduce–being able to operate against Serbian armor below the cloud cover that has stymied NATO anti-tank airplanes–there is no discussion of whether or not the Serbs are packing the biggest threat to low helos, man-portable surface-to-air missiles, which undid the Soviet helicopters in Afghanistan.
A front-page LAT story states that the U.S. military operation, conceived as air-power-only, was “virtually fated to fail at the one thing the United States most wanted to accomplish: preventing a Serbian military offensive that would terrorize, slaughter, and eventually eradicate ethnic Albanians in the once-obscure province of Kosovo.” A WP front-pager says that according to “sources familiar with their thinking,” in the weeks before the balloon went up, the U.S. military chiefs expressed deep reservations about the Clinton administration’s approach to Kosovo and warned that bombing alone would probably not achieve its political aims. The paper adds that, today, 12 days into the campaign, the chiefs still remain doubtful. The Wall Street Journal reports that the weekend troop and hardware moves into Albania have been opposed by some senior Pentagon officials, who fear that they could be a major step towards involving the U.S. on the ground in Kosovo and could widen the war if the Serbs retaliate. That you’re reading about this now is the beginning of the service chiefs’ own exit strategy: “Hey, it wasn’t our idea.”
A WP story reports that support is growing inside the Clinton administration and its NATO allies for making the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic one of the Yugoslav war objectives. The story reports that the topic was on the agenda for a discussion involving President Clinton last Friday and has also been the subject of a conference call conducted by Madeleine Albright and her counterparts in the governments of Britain, France, Germany, and Italy. Methods of removal being floated apparently include getting Yugoslavian army dissidents to instigate a coup or a popular uprising, or convincing Milosevic to go into exile in exchange for a lighter sentence before a U.N. war crimes tribunal. Big question: Why is this story on page 12?