Clinton increases U.S. troops for Kosovo force
June 2, 1999
Web posted at: 5:20 p.m. EDT (2120 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, June 2) -- President Bill Clinton announced Wednesday that the United States is deploying more forces in the Kosovo conflict, including about 7,000 ground troops for any future NATO peacekeeping force that would enter the province once the fighting ended.
The president made the announcement during his commencement address at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in which he told the next generation of Air Force officers that the United States had a moral and strategic responsibility to fight against ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
President Clinton spoke Wednesday to the graduating class at the Air Force Academy
Clinton said Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has a clear choice in the conflict. "He can cut his losses now and accept the basic requirements of a just peace or he can continue to force military failure and economic ruin on his people. In the end, the outcome will be the same," Clinton said.
In addition to the ground troops for a NATO peacekeeping force, Clinton also said the United States plans to deploy more U.S. aircraft for the air war against Yugoslavia that began March 24. The planes are part of a 176-aircraft increase approved by U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen on May 6.
The planned deployment includes 68 more Air Force F-16 and F-15 attack planes. The new deployment will bring the number of U.S. aircraft in the Kosovo theater to 769.
Some 15,000 NATO troops have been stationed in Macedonia for months as potential peacekeepers in Kosovo to protect returning refugees. Currently, the troops are helping care for more than 250,000 ethnic Albanians on Macedonian soil.
NATO's planned peacekeeping force in Kosovo calls for 50,000 armed troops with European nations providing the bulk of the NATO peacekeeping force and U.S. troops making up 15 percent of the force, Clinton said.
In February, Clinton said the U.S. would contribute up to 4,000 U.S. ground troops to any international force deployed in Kosovo after a peace agreement.
But the enormous numbers of Kosovar refugees forced from their homes compelled NATO planners to adjust the anticipated peacekeeping needs from 28,000 to 50,000 international troops, leading Clinton to up the U.S contribution.
Clinton told the Air Force Academy graduates that the conflict in Kosovo was different from other European wars in which Americans have fought. In Kosovo, footage of bombing attacks is broadcast on television before pilots have returned to base and the testimony of victims of war crimes is heard within days, not months, Clinton said.
"Kosovo is a communications age conflict," he said.
The president said members of the Air Force, "the graduating class, especially, are entitled to know" why the U. S. was involved in Kosovo at all, explaining that the U. S. is fighting because it had a moral responsibility to fight crimes against humanity.
"America and NATO's military power cannot be deployed just because people don't like each other or even because they fight each other," he said. "What is going on in Kosovo is something much worse and thankfully more rare; an effort by a political leader to systematically destroy or displace an entire people because of their ethnicity and their religious faith -- an effort to erase the culture and history and presence of a people from their land."
But America also has a strategic imperative to make sure a wider war did not break out in Europe, Clinton said, adding the 20th century's two world wars have shown that peace and stability in Europe is vital to the United States' peace and security.
Clinton said NATO's diplomatic effort supported those goals.
"We cannot grow weary of this campaign because Mr. Milosevic didn't capitulate when the first bombs fell," he said. "We cannot abandon a just cause because an adversary holds out for more than a few news cycles," he said.
As he began his remarks, Clinton congratulated the cadets for their achievements. "From here on out, the sky is the limit for you," he said.
He also performed the commander in chief's traditional granting of amnesty to cadets who were being punished for minor misconduct.
"One of the cadets suggested that I also raise everyone's grades. But I'm told even the commander in chief can't do that." he said.
Clinton congratulated each of the 944 graduates as they received their diplomas in Falcon Stadium. The ceremony ended with a flyover by the Air Force Thunderbirds and the traditionally exuberant hat toss by the cadets in their parade uniforms.