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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clinton, Brass to Address Option of Ground War

WASHINGTON -- With Kosovo's next winter around the corner in military planning time, the Clinton administration is now openly addressing the possibility of a NATO ground invasion of Yugoslavia if peace efforts fail.

That option will be discussed by President Bill Clinton and the Pentagon Joint Chiefs of Staff on Thursday despite U.S. insistence that NATO is against invasion and that allied bombs alone will force Belgrade to reverse ethnic cleansing of Kosovo.

The White House and Defense Secretary William Cohen said Wednesday that Joint Chief Chairman General Henry Shelton and heads of the U.S. military services would discuss the Kosovo crisis, including prospects for a "nonpermissive" ground strike.

But what they described as routine, periodic talks between Clinton and the military chiefs came in the third month of an air war that has rained 30,000 bombs on Serbia, and as NATO prepared for a Kosovo peacekeeping force of 50,000, including 7,000 U.S. troops, if current diplomatic efforts are successful.

If they are not, however, administration and military officials said NATO and Washington must begin at least making tentative plans to increase the force sharply for a possible ground war with only a few months left before frigid weather comes again to southern Serbia's mountains.

"The cat is out of the bag and running around," one U.S. Army said privately. "Nobody wants a ground war - not NATO, not us, not the American people. And certainly not the Russians. But it does no good to absolutely rule out something that might be down the road."

Such a step could require a force of at least 100,000 to 150,000 NATO troops and would entail a major battle with Serbian forces even though they have been battered by weeks of allied airstrikes.

Recent polls have shown Americans generally would not support a shooting war in which possibly hundreds of U.S. troops could be killed,

"This meeting tomorrow is part of the periodic meetings the president has with members of the Joint Chiefs, so you should not read anything more into the fact," said Cohen, insisting U.S. plans to force peace with air power had not changed.

"I am sure that there will be a full range of discussions and questions about whether or not there would be any kind of a ground option for a nonpermissive environment," the secretary told reporters.

"But as we have indicated on many occasions before, there is a consensus for a strong air operation in the NATO countries - there is not a consensus for a ground operation in a nonpermissive environment. So we intend to focus on the positive."

However, another U.S. official said the United States had urged its NATO allies not to take steps that would block or rule out the deployment of ground troops.