• U.S.

Operation Quagmire?

3 minute read
Douglas Waller

The Pentagon has already given it a name–Operation Joint Guardian. It would probably begin by sending in the Marines. More than 2,000 leathernecks now on ships floating in the Mediterranean would be the first wave to chopper into Kosovo. They’d be part of a 4,000-strong U.S. presence in a NATO peacekeeping force of 28,000. Red lines are even being drawn on maps. American G.I.s would control a sector of Kosovo. British, French, German and Italian forces would carve up other sectors. But no NATO soldiers will set foot in the province if the Serbs and ethnic Albanians there don’t agree to end a yearlong war that has left more than 1,500 dead and 250,000 homeless. And so far, that’s a big if.

Negotiators for the two sides have been locked up in a 14th century castle in Rambouillet, southwest of Paris, under orders from European foreign ministers to come up with an autonomy agreement in two weeks for the province’s 2 million people, 90% of whom are ethnic Albanians. But after a week of bluster and posturing, almost nothing has been decided. The Serbs refused even to talk about the text of a possible agreement, engaging instead in a series of diplomatic maneuvers that did nothing but kill time. About the only thing the two delegations could agree on was that they were tired of the castle and wanted to sneak out to Paris for some shopping.

U.S. and European diplomats brokering the talks believe they can negotiate a temporary autonomy that gives ethnic Albanians control over most governmental functions in the province. The biggest hurdle is persuading Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw all his special police from the province and let NATO soldiers keep order there for three years while Kosovo’s final status is negotiated.

Although the Pentagon generals have a name for the troops’ deployment, they don’t have a lot of enthusiasm for the mission, which could be a quagmire. The 6,700 U.S. soldiers still on peacekeeping duty in Bosnia have so far been almost casualty free because their job has been to separate two identifiable armies. But in Kosovo “there will be a lot more free-lancers,” as a defense official puts it. Rogue guerrillas from the Kosovo Liberation Army and undercover Serb security agents may try to sabotage the accord by targeting U.S. troops. Kosovo may yet see peace, but the Marines may pay a price for keeping it.

–By Douglas Waller. With reporting by Bruce Crumley/Paris and Mark Thompson/Washington

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