- President Clinton is now ready to consider
a full-scale land war against Serb forces in Kosovo, sending up to 90,000
combat troops from America, if no peace settlement emerges within the next
- Although Nato is only officially planning
for a peace implementation force of 50,000-60,000 troops, there is a growing
feeling in Washington and London that the alliance must prepare itself
for a much bigger operation, involving 150,000-160,000 troops.
- Mr Clinton's dramatic conversion, after
weeks of apparent reluctance to send in ground troops, has emerged in the
light of detailed briefings from General Wesley Clark, the Supreme Allied
Commander, last week.
- A new sense of urgency has been injected
into Nato's contingency planning because of a warning from the military
that a decision will have to be made "by mid-June" if the alliance
is to contemplate a ground offensive.
- The tight timetable is being dictated
by the alliance's determination to start returning ethnic Albanian refugees
to their homes in Kosovo before the winter.
- The huge number of troops required for
such an operation will be a daunting challenge for Nato. However, alliance
sources said that with Mr Clinton committed to defeating Mr Milosevic one
way or another, the US would be expected to contribute more than half of
- They estimated the US contribution could
be about 90,000 troops who would be deployed from America, not from Germany.
They might include the 12,500-man US 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort
Bragg in North Carolina, which was deployed in the Gulf War in 1991.
- Britain and France would also be expected
to play a major part. Yesterday, George Robertson, the Defence Secretary,
took the first step by announcing an extra 12,000 troops and support personnel
for the peace implementation force, called Kfor. This will bring the total
British military strength committed to the Kosovo crisis in Albania, Macedonia,
Italy and the Adriatic to more than 19,000.
- Although Mr Robertson insisted that it
was not an invasion force, Tony Blair indicated in the Commons that the
troops could be used for a combat role.
- The alliance sources said that the size
of an invasion force would depend on the amount of damage achieved by the
airstrikes against the Serb troops in Kosovo over the next few weeks. Last
week, it was estimated that the Serb strength in the province remained
at about 40,000 in spite of two months of bombing.
- However, Nato still hopes that the intensified
bombing campaign combined with Russian diplomatic efforts will persuade
President Milosevic to agree to the alliance's five conditions for stopping
- It is also recognised that if Nato were
seen to be preparing for a land offensive, while backing Moscow's peace
diplomacy, it could seriously undermine the already strained relations
between Russia and the alliance.
- Another key factor is that the alliance
itself has to be held together, and any formal request made to the 19 member
states for authority to plan for a ground war could damage the unity that
has been maintained so far. Germany indicated yesterday that it would not
veto a move towards a ground war, although its troops would not take part.
- One resolve shared by the whole of Nato
is that Mr Milosevic must not win, and the alliance sources said that if
the air campaign and diplomatic efforts failed to get the Yugoslav leader
to back down within the next three weeks, there would be no alternative
but to prepare a ground offensive.
- The alliance sources admitted that the
operation would be difficult, "but not impossible", and that
a number of ways into the province were being studied.