Why troop use would take time

US military isn't nimble enough to mount quick response in places likeKosovo.

By , Staff writers of The ChristianScience Monitor

The US military is a formidable fighting machine. The weight of its punch can make it something else, too: ponderous.

A decade after the end of the cold war US forces are still largely structured to wage massive battles against a heavily armed foe. The Army, Navy, and Air Force all have blueprints to become lighter and faster, but few of those plans have come to fruition.

That means the Pentagon isn't yet shaped to handle the brush-fire contingencies that are likely to make up the bulk of its 21st-century workload. It also could be a big reason the White House insists on sticking with the NATO air war in Kosovo.

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Critics clamoring to send ground forces into Kosovo may not realize how arduous that task may be. "Depending on the size of force you want to put together and the resources you would want to have, you are really talking about 60 to 90 days," said Army Secretary Louis Caldera during a tour here of Fort Carson, Furthermore, says Mr. Goati, Milosevic "knows [the American people] are much more interested in the lives of their soldiers than this complicated war going on however many miles away. It's a good propaganda move, but also in my opinion a good and honest move."

Along similar lines, an opposition politician in Serbia believes that Milosevic orchestrated the release of the soldiers to gain sympathy from the West, to show that Serbs "are not animals."

Nevertheless, says Nenad Canak, the release and a request by Milosevic to meet face to face with President Clinton are signs of progress. "They are coming closer and closer to negotiations," he says. "People are becoming exhausted of the airstrikes and saying, 'Come on guys, let's stop this.' "

In an interview with the Monitor just hours after he secured the release of the US soldiers, the Rev. Mr. Jackson made a case to resume diplomacy. "It may be that what we have to do is a combination of bombing and talking, but it can't just be bombing," he said. "They're not likely to surrender because a bridge was blown out last night."

When Jackson arrived with a delegation of US religious leaders and a busload of journalists, all he had was a written guarantee that he would be allowed to visit the prisoners. The meeting, he says, took place under severe security restrictions. Jackson was not allowed to ask the soldiers, who filed into the meeting room separately, how they were captured, where they were being held, and what their daily activities consisted of. Each question had to be approved by a military supervisor, and it was only upon Jackson's insistent request that the three were finally brought together in one room for a final prayer session.

That night, US Rep. Rod Blagojevich (D) of Illinois, a Serbian-American who came as part of the delegation, said that barring "a serious breakthrough," the soldiers were unlikely to be released.

What changed things, Jackson said, was the time he spent with Milosevic.

According to one member of the delegation, the meeting started with Milosevic giving a 45-minute lesson on the history of Serbia but eventually evolved into what Jackson called a "frank exchange of views."

"He is prepared to listen," Jackson says of Milosevic, adding that a face-to-face between President Clinton and the Yugoslav leader at this stage would be better than continuing with a bombing campaign that, he says, "is only strengthening the resolve of the Serbian people."

Jackson says he asked both National Security Adviser Samuel Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to stop the bombing for one night as a gesture of appreciation and goodwill. President Clinton said yesterday that NATO would continue to bomb Yugoslavia despite the release of US soldiers.

Air-raid sirens went off punctually after dark on Saturday evening, a fact which some feared would compromise the agreement reached over the prisoners' release. But others saw it differently. "We will free them even if they burn down Belgrade," said Zeljko "Arkan" Raznjatovic, an indicted war-crimes suspect and the president of an opposition political party in Serbia. According to an observer who asked not to be named, that was "because Milosevic knows that this will pay off in the long run, as more and more civilians get killed and public opinion starts to change."

NATO'S resolve to continue the bombing may have quickened an interest by Milosevic to cast himself in a more positive light. The prospect of thousands of NATO troops converging on Kosovo may have been a factor as well.

But an invasion by ground troops, says Jackson, would be disastrous for all the parties involved. "It would be huge mistake," he says. "If we can't win this war without ground troops, the question is, can we win it with ground troops?

"There would be no end in sight. I hope we do not see Yugoslavia as Panama, a place we can just march on."

The cost of a ground-troop deployment, Jackson adds, would be exceedingly high. "Are we going to allow our budget surplus to be eaten up in Yugoslavia?" he asks. "It's going to take [billions] to rebuild what we have destroyed here, when there are schools in our country which need financial assistance."

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