Ground Assault

Pieces fall into place for assault by land

By David Abel  |  The Boston Globe  |  5/27/1999

WASHINGTON - With the pounding being taken by Yugoslav soldiers in Kosovo, NATO may need little more than the extra troops and arms the alliance approved this week to launch a ground war, military analysts say.

Allied forces have agreed to increase the number of peacekeeping troops from 27,000 to about 50,000. Meanwhile, military planners have urged NATO to prepare for a ground invasion before the allies are forced to fight through the winter.

The troops and armament, which would be added to a force of about 25,000 NATO soldiers in Macedonia, Albania, and aboard amphibious ships in the Adriatic Sea, might itself constitute a viable invasion force, rounding out a formidable core of heavy tanks and attack helicopters in the region.

"This isn't just the first step or the camel's nose, it's the front half of the beast," said Dan Goure, a former Pentagon strategist and now a military analyst at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies. If Yugoslav leader Slobodan "Milosevic doesn't cave in by early June, NATO will have to prepare to force him out."

Although alliance officials emphasize that the buildup is meant to strengthen NATO's ultimate peacekeeping mission, Goure said the alliance's decision to bolster its forces was the beginning of an "immaculate deployment," which would bypass debate over a ground buildup among NATO's 19 members and keep the pressure on Milosevic.

He and other military analysts said such a strong base of troops could be easily enhanced shortly before the alliance made a decision to invade.

In an April study on NATO's ground war options, James Anderson, a defense policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, estimated that the allies would need only 50,000 to 70,000 troops to drive Yugoslav forces from Kosovo.

"I think these numbers depend on how well the air war goes," Anderson said. "After two months more of air war, we may need even less troops."

In his study, Anderson analyzed land war scenarios ranging from merely arming the Kosovo Liberation Army to launching a massive ground assault to occupy all of Yugoslavia, including Serbia's democratic sister republic, Montenegro. The former option would require about 10,000 troops for training and would cost the United States about $1 billion, he said; the latter could require up to 500,000 troops and leave US taxpayers with a bill of more than $50 billion.

Pushing the Yugoslav forces from Kosovo, he said, would take about a month, cost between $5 billion and $10 billion, and allied casualties could surpass 2,000.

In another study on ground war options, Anthony Cordesman, a senior fellow for strategic assessment at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said NATO has many options for building a heavily armored ground force in less than two months. In addition to the 25,000 already there, NATO could draw upon the 8,200 US Army forces from the First Cavalry Division it has stationed in Bosnia, 41,500 soldiers from France's Rapid Reaction Force, and a force of 165,000 troops from the Italian Army.

More likely, however, the force would be contain at least two main US divisions, probably the Army's 101st Airborne Division based at Fort Campbell, Ky., and the 10th Mountain Division based at Fort Drum, N.Y., Cordesman said.

Assuming the additional forces arrive in the region, the allies would have to reach a consensus to invade. Given recent statements against such action in Germany, Italy, and Greece, among other member nations, such a consensus could be difficult.

NATO officials said military planners will present a "force generation" plan to the North Atlantic Council, the alliance's top policy-making body, before the end of the month.

A newspaper report indicated today that a much larger allied force may be in the offing.

The Times of London reported today that President Clinton is ready to consider sending up to 90,000 US combat troops if no peace deal emerges within three weeks.

The newspaper quoted unidentified NATO sources for its information, Reuters reported.

There was a growing feeling in Washington and London that NATO must prepare for an operation involving 150,000-160,000 troops, the Times said.