By JANE PERLEZPeacekeepers are overwhelmed in Kosovo, Pentagon envoy says
March 15, 2000
WASHINGTON, March 14 -- In a sobering assessment of the deteriorating situation in Kosovo, a senior Pentagon official said today that the NATO-led peacekeeping operation, which includes American troops, had reached a "decisive moment."
The official, who just returned from a visit to the American sector in Kosovo, did not say that more American troops would be sent to Kosovo. But the situation is so precarious that "we're at ground zero," even though NATO-led troops have been in Kosovo since June, the official said.
By this, the official meant that the United Nations effort to restart civilian life was so weak in Kosovo that the American troops were still involved in chores that should be done by the police and the courts.
At the same time, an insurgency outside Kosovo's border in southern Serbia had sprung up, causing new problems. The official warned that the situation was so dangerous that American troops in Kosovo could end up in armed conflict with the ethnic Albanian guerrillas, this spring.
"This has got to cease and desist, and if not, ultimately it is going to lead to confrontation between the Albanians and KFOR," he said, referring to the NATO force. The official said troops could not keep peace between Serbs and Albanians within Kosovo and seal Kosovo's borders.
In order to seal just the 125-mile rugged border of Kosovo that the American troops are in charge of, "two to three times" more troops would be required, the official said. About 6,000 American troops are now stationed in Kosovo.
To get a better handle on what was happening in the Presevo Valley, just over Kosovo's border in southern Serbia, the official said the Pentagon was planning to send unmanned aerial vehicles, known as drones, for surveillance.
The official, who briefed reporters today, said he believed that about 500 Albanian insurgents organized into "8 to 10 elements" were in the "no-man's land" between eastern Kosovo and Serbia and in the Presevo Valley.
NATO military officials are concerned that the Albanians are making targets of Serbian policemen there, which could provoke a crackdown against the Albanians from the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic. This, they fear, could cause a possible repeat of circumstances that caused NATO's war last year over Kosovo: Serbian repression of ethnic Albanian civilians.