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Attack Helicopters Reach Albania

April 21, 1999

TIRANA, Albania (AP) _ The first U.S. Apache helicopter gunships flew into Albania today, signaling an escalation in NATO’s air campaign against Yugoslavia.

The low-flying, anti-tank helicopters can be used against the Yugoslav army and special police units accused of driving ethnic Albanians from Yugoslavia’s Kosovo province.

Deployment of the Apaches _ about 24 were en route from Italy to Albania today _ heightens the risk of American casualties.

``There’s of course risk to us,″ said U.S. Army Capt. Mark Arden, who was in Albania preparing for the unit’s arrival.

``We’re taking all precautions possible to minimize those risks,″ he said. ``But the risks to the Serbs, I would say, are great.″

Arden said many of the Apache pilots are Gulf War veterans, and described their unit as ``the tip of the spear of the entire U.S. military.″

NATO decided to send in the helicopters early in its four-week air campaign against Yugoslavia. But logistical problems, and more recently bad weather in Albania, delayed their deployment.

NATO says the Apaches would see action in Kosovo by next week.

Apaches are regarded as one of the most effective antitank weapons. Flown with a crew of two, they are armed with as many as 16 Hellfire missiles designed to knock out tanks and other armor, plus 70 mm rockets and a 30 mm cannon that can be fired at a rate of 625 rounds per minute.

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