With the refugee deluge from Kosovo threatening to engulf the Nato military strategy, allied leaders announced yesterday they will airlift 100,000 Kosovo Albanians to temporary shelters abroad as President Bill Clinton sternly warned that the alliance will ?persist until we prevail ? against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
Clinton, faced with heavy criticism for pursuing a failing military strategy, demanded a complete surrender by Milosevic before any halt in the bombing campaign can take place. In official statements from the State Department and the Pentagon, the Clinton Administration tried to scotch reports that Belgrade was getting ready to offer a conditional cease-fire now that most of the Albanians had been driven out of Kosovo.
The intelligence reports emerged after a reported meeting between the Russian ambassador to Yugoslavia and the Albanian leader, Ibrahim Rugova in the regional capital of Pristina. Rugova is apparently discussing the contours of a peace agreement with the Yugoslavs but Nato has discredited the reports saying he is probably under duress.
Washington is trying to maintain control of a fast-escalating situation as it struggles to respond to the hungry, freezing refugees amassing on the borders of Kosovo. The airlift is expected to begin late on Monday but delays are already being reported in flights to evacuate the sick.
The United States will accept 20,000 ethnic Albanians with Germany taking 40,000, Turkey 20,000, Norway 6,000 and Canada and Norway taking 5,000 each to ease the burden on Albania and Macedonia. US officials will house the refugees in the territory of Guam and in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The announcement was accompanied by threats to intensify the air campaign against Yugoslavia as bombs fell on Belgrade?s suburbs on the 12th day.
According to the latest reports, an army headquarters, oil refineries and other targets were hit by NATO bombers in and around Belgrade.Yugoslav units, which are systematically forcing the Kosovars out of their homes, were moving toward the western mountains where Albanian guerrillas were said to be regrouping for the ?last stand,? a Nato spokesman said.
A huge anti-Nato demonstration of nearly 10,000 people was held in Podgrocia, capital of Montenegro, as the local government expressed fears that Milosevic may try to engineer a coup against the independent-minded government of the republic. Montenegro is the smaller of the two republics in the ever-contracting Yugoslav federation.
Despite the best intentions of Nato leaders and their belief in a ?clean? war, there is little hope that instability can be contained with the precision of high-tech bombs. The hatred aroused among the Serbs alone against Nato will ensure continued eruptions even after peace is enforced by the allies.
Caught unprepared by the enormous flood of ethnic Albanians fleeing Kosovo, Nato leaders are struggling to take control of the war they initiated against Yugoslavia. Dissent among policy makers is becoming front-page news with sections of the establishment trying to distance themselves from the decision to launch an air war without support from the ground.
The Washington Post reported today that US military chiefs had expressed deep reservations about the Clinton Administration?s approach in the weeks leading up to the war. The four-star generals, including Gen Henry Shelton, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, had argued for economic sanctions against Milosevic to compel him to come to the table.
The military brass also said there were no long-term US interests at stake to warrant intervention. They opposed the ?domino theory? proposed by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who argued that ?losing? Kosovo would lead to wider destabilisation in the Balkans and jeopardise US interests in Europe, the Post reported.
But ultimately the Pentagon fell in line although doubts lingered. The military chiefs remain unconvinced that an air war alone can achieve the goal of stopping Milosevic?s army in Kosovo. They see the gradual escalation of the war as yet another ?Vietnam type? involvement with an open-ended commitment.
Even now the sentiment in the Pentagon favours amassing enough troops to take over Kosovo if the job is to be done properly. But the political implications of such a decision weigh heavy on President Bill Clinton who was roundly thrashed in the Sunday papers in almost all the columns for leading the US into a war without clear goals and for getting involved mainly to relieve the collective western conscience.
Maureen Dowd, a stringent anti-Clinton columnist in the New York Times, was scathing in her portrayal of the present. ?Yuppies are going to war. The most self-indulgent generation in history is being asked to sacrifice by the most self-indulgent commander in chief in history. The free-lunch president is trying his best to give free-lunch Americans a free-lunch war,? she wrote.
Some military analysts accused Clinton of criminal negligence for launching the air strikes without preparing for the refugee flood even though intelligence reports had clearly indicated that Milosevic would drive the Albanians out.
The condition of the refugees in Albania and Macedonia, meanwhile, has become alarming with the old and the young both succumbing to cold weather and disease. Babies are being born in the open as hepatitis and pneumonia rage through the make-shift camps. There are no toilets, few blankets and little food.