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U.S. Troops Are Likely to Take Part in NATO Kosovo Mission

By Dana Priest
The Washington Post

U.S. and European officials have begun detailed discussions on the tasks, size and shape of a NATO peacekeeping mission to Kosovo, signaling an increasing likelihood that American troops are bound for the embattled Balkan region.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was on Capitol Hill Monday to assess Congressional support for sending troops to Kosovo. U.S. officials reiterated that President Clinton has made no decision on the issue. But in the meantime, officials involved in the discussions said U.S., British and other NATO planners are trading plans for enforcing a peace settlement, including participation by U.S. troops, if it is accepted by Serbia and Kosovo's Albanian rebels.

Pentagon officers have sought to keep the U.S. role small a few thousand troops while the main European plan calls for an American presence of at least 5,000 troops and possibly thousands more, according to officials knowledgeable about the discussion.

Under "Option A-minus," a plan devised by NATO in October and now revived, the on-the-ground commander of a 28,000-strong force in Kosovo would be from NATO's Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps. That group is commanded by a three-star British General, Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Jackson, according to a senior western military official.

U.S. Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, NATO Supreme Allied Commander based in Brussels, would remain in ultimate control of the operation. But under current planning the deployment nonetheless would mark the first time U.S. troops would work for a ground commander who is not American in such a potentially hostile environment.

Pentagon officials have said they would be willing to trade the command position to get their numbers low because they believe their troops have too many commitments overseas and Congress may balk at a larger force. "My personal view is that our European allies must bear a substantial burden in terms of dealing with Kosovo participation by the United States should be as small as it could be," Defense Secretary William Cohen said Monday.

The Rapid Reaction Corps, with about 1,300 personnel, is a unit that would be responsible for commanding and coordinating ground troops stationed in Kosovo, the Connecticut-sized southern province of Serbia with a 90 percent ethnic Albanian population.