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Apache Helicopters Ready To Attack

April 26, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. Army Apache helicopters and their supporting troops and equipment are ready for action against Yugoslav forces, NATO said today.

``The full package of the Apache (force) is now in Albania,″ said Col. Konrad Freytag, NATO’s military spokesman. The helicopters and supporting ground-based rocket launchers have been deployed north of Tirana, near the border of the embattled Kosovo province in Yugoslavia.

Freytag said the helicopters can be called into action when Gen. Wesley Clark, the NATO commander, decides they are needed.

NATO spokesman Jamie Shea told reporters this morning that completion of the Apache deployment brings total U.S. combat strength in Albania to 5,300.

Poor weather continued to hamper NATO warplanes beginning their second month of strikes throughout Yugoslavia, Freytag said. The German colonel called poor weather the single biggest disappointment and obstacle in the NATO campaign, saying it has slowed the NATO effort to take down Yugoslavia’s integrated air defenses.

``The weather has really extensively hindered our precision air operation,″ Freytag said.

Nevertheless, NATO planes continued to pound away at fuel production and storage facilities, Yugoslav ground forces operating in Kosovo and key bridges, including the last surviving bridge in the city of Novi Sad in northern Yugoslavia. Shea said destruction of the bridge makes it far more difficult for Yugoslavia to supply fuel to its troops in the south.

Shea had no further detail on the visit by the head of the International Red Cross with the three American soldiers captured by Yugoslavia. He said the Red Cross official provided the soldiers with mail from home and took delivery of some of their letters home, but said he wanted a longer visit to assess their mental and physical health.

In Washington today, Congress, despite some criticism of NATO strategy, was preparing legislation that would exceed President Clinton’s request for $6 billion of emergency money for the air war against Yugoslavia. House Republicans were drafting a bill with a price tag of at least $11 billion, said House GOP aides who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Although Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota told reporters today that the $6 billion seemed adequate for meeting direct Kosovo-related expenses, Republicans were leading the way for more money to take care of longer-range Pentagon needs as well.

Daschle also said that the Senate, which has voted to support the airstrikes, might take up a another measure soon to exhibit Senate support for ``expanding the effort if required.″ But Daschle said he doubted the Senate would support a stronger resolution by a bipartisan group led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to authorize the president to use ``all necessary force″ to prevail.

Daschle said that he didn’t think it was a good idea to approve an ``open-ended, unlimited military excursion.″

``Congress has to act on the president’s request,″ said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. ``We need to support the men and women, the troops who are doing the job.″

While Democrats want to see the details, momentum is building in favor of the emergency spending package.

``We’re going to support whatever’s necessary to prevail in Kosovo,″ said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Frustration over continued Serb military sweeps in the Kosovo province has led some senators to back a resolution authorizing introduction of NATO ground troops. But Lott said he would oppose such a resolution. The White House, while willing to look at the option, insisted that airstrikes will work eventually.

``We don’t need a divisive debate that could give aid and comfort to Mr. Milosevic,″ Lott said on ABC’s ``This Week.″

Shea, the NATO spokesman, said it will be harder for Yugoslavia to shoot down NATO planes now that Romania and Slovenia have granted NATO access to their airspace. The permission will give NATO planes more entry points into Yugoslavia, making it difficult for Serb forces to predict flight paths and position their defensive batteries.

Allied cargo planes, meanwhile, have ferried more than 5,000 tons of food, medical supplies and tents to the refugee areas in Albania and Macedonia throughout the course of the campaign.

A mixture of support and criticism characterized the mood in Washington as NATO’s 50th anniversary summit concluded. Republican lawmakers criticized Clinton’s handling of the Kosovo crisis while still pledging more money than Clinton has requested.

Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., said on ``Fox News Sunday″ that the Clinton administration and NATO made ``a serious mistake″ in adopting a new strategic concept embracing military missions outside the territory of the 19 NATO countries. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said ``this has really been horribly mismanaged.″ McConnell said ground troops should have been prepositioned months ago in the Balkans.

Appearing with Levin on CNN’s ``Late Edition,″ Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, predicted overwhelming support for the bill in both the House and Senate.

``We want to make certain that no leader or group in another area of the world perceives that the United States has drawn down its military assets for this operation and now’s the time to start a problem,″ Warner said.

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