Tilting toward all-or-nothing war

Both NATO and Serbs intensify resolve. US to supply 300 more planes.

Slobodan Milosevic is as defiant as ever, his Serbian forces reinforcing their positions in Kosovo and carrying the conflict into Albania. NATO isn't budging either, and in fact for the fourth time is massing additional military resources. As the confrontation enters a fourth week, a resolution - whatever that may be - seems more distant than ever.

Both sides remain unflinching in their unwillingness to compromise, which they see as defeat.

"I don't think Mr. Milosevic should be underestimated," says a Western diplomat in the Albanian capital, Tirana.

"In some ways, he is playing a game of chicken with us. I think that intensifying the air campaign is the only thing NATO can do."

NATO officials assert that intensifying the onslaught on the Yugoslav military and the civilian infrastructure supporting it in Kosovo will compel Milosevic to relent.

"Now, instead of diplomacy backed by the threat of force, we must use diplomacy in support of force," Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday at their first meeting since the bombing began.

A search for a diplomatic opening, however, is continuing. The United States is encouraging Russia, Milosevic's main sympathizer, to act as a conduit. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who backs NATO's demands, says he is willing to pursue his own initiative. Mr. Annan met with European leaders yesterday in Brussels.

But as officials acknowledge that the crisis has overtaken a peace plan authored by the US earlier this year, the 19 NATO allies are unsure of what a settlement might look like.

The allies differ over what Kosovo's eventual status should be, whether to negotiate with Milosevic amid alleged massive Serbian atrocities, and whether the UN would have to authorize the deployment of an "international security force" to protect the 2 million majority ethnic Albanians.

War round the clock

For the moment, though, NATO officially remains united on pursuing the air war around the clock. President Clinton and his counterparts insist it will not stop until Milosevic halts his alleged pogroms against tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians believed trapped in Kosovo, pulls his forces out, allows an estimated 600,000 refugees to return, and gives the province autonomy from Serbia.

Gen. Wesley Clark, the supreme commander of NATO, is asking the Pentagon for 300 more aircraft, which would dramatically increase the US commitment to the war by boosting its contribution to some 800 planes, raising the overall total to almost 1,000.

Britain is also dispatching the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible to the Adriatic Sea, and France is sending more planes.

"We don't have all the time in the world," acknowledges a European diplomat. "We have to reduce [Yugoslavia's] fuel supplies and infrastructure and immobilize the Army, and we can do that more quickly with more aircraft. People are more determined than ever."

In addition to zeroing in on Serbian forces in Kosovo, the additional aircraft may also be needed to help the tattered Albanian Army repulse incursions by Serbian troops pursuing the KLA rebels based just inside Albania's rugged border.

In the most dramatic escalation in several days of cross-border fighting, Serbian troops forayed some 500 yards into Albania on Tuesday and shelled two villages in apparent response to KLA raids inside Kosovo.

The Albanian government, which rushed soldiers to the area, pledged to "respond to any fire with fire."

NATO "will have to defend Albania now," says Andrew Brookes, a defense analyst at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. "That takes airplanes."

Western officials say the Serbian foray could signal a bid by Milosevic to take his war with the KLA into Albania to deepen apprehensions among some NATO members, such as Italy, Greece, and Hungary, over continuing the air campaign. It could also be a response to Albania's decision to allow NATO to station near the border with Kosovo 26 American attack helicopters, 18 multiple rocket batteries, and some 4,500 troops.

Those forces are expected to begin arriving within the next week. More NATO aircraft will also be required if the alliance approves a plan to begin air-dropping food to ethnic Albanian civilians still inside Kosovo.

Even as Yugoslavia's oil refineries, bridges, and military facilities crumble under NATO's fiercest bombardment yet, alliance officials acknowledge that Serbian troops are "hunkering down," digging bunkers and trenches along Kosovo's key highways, laying minefields on the Macedonian and Albanian borders, and parking armored vehicles in civilian areas.

Defense against troops?

Experts say the Serbs are girding for a long conflict. By strengthening their positions, they appear to be prepared to repulse a NATO ground invasion, even though Clinton continues to rule one out on almost all grounds, despite growing support in the GOP-controlled Congress.

Milosevic may also be drawing strength from unintended civilian casualties caused by NATO bombs, including the deaths of 10 people Monday aboard a train hit as it crossed a bridge. Such errors fuel domestic support for Milosevic and international opposition to the airstrikes, while rattling the alliance, some experts say.

"A couple of more mistakes like hitting trains will do a whole lot of damage to the unity of NATO," warns one US official.

"[NATO's bombing] has been a painfully slow escalation, whereas in the case of Milosevic, he went in [Kosovo] full steam to kill as many Albanians as he could right from the beginning," says the official. "We are fighting a campaign, and he is fighting a war. It's do or die for Milosevic."

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