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Clark, Pentagon Clashed on Kosovo

May 6, 2000

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ Gen. Wesley K. Clark, the former NATO top commander in Europe, says he clashed with the Pentagon over the possibility of sending ground forces into Kosovo last year.

In a Dutch newspaper interview published today, Clark said he realized shortly after the start of the air campaign against Yugoslavia that ``a serious ground troop option ... had to be prepared″ in case the air campaign was unsuccessful. Top U.S. defense officials made no move to exercise that option, though, and Clark said the two sides maintained different positions.

Clark led the 78-day air war that forced Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to pull his troops out of Kosovo in June and make way for a NATO-led peacekeeping mission. His interview with the respected NRC-Handelsblad daily appeared three days after he was replaced as supreme allied commander by U.S. Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston.

Clark said he was given authorization to draw up contingency plans if the air war failed. He presented the plans to the Pentagon in mid-May.

``No one disputed them,″ he said. ``But I never got approval from the Pentagon and other NATO countries to begin with real planning for ground forces. The decision was never taken because Milosevic gave in.″

Asked about reports of differences between him and the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff over his willingness to send in ground troops, he said: ``I don’t deny it. It is the job of the commander to propose, and it is the job of the Pentagon and the political leaders to dispose. There will always be friction in these sorts of emergency situations.″

However, he added, ``I think the Pentagon shared my views about the limitations of the air campaign.″

Clark, 55, was replaced two months ahead of schedule and is expected to retire from the U.S. Army in June.

Some have interpreted the early departure as a rebuke for the general’s clashes with the Pentagon during and after the air campaign. Washington has insisted the timing simply made room for Ralston, 56, who had to find a new four-star general posting or be forced to retire under military rules.

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