Canada Goes to War

April 5, 1999

Maclean’s April 5, 1999

Author BARRY CAME in AVIANO with WILLIAM LOWTHER in Washington, BRUCE WALLACE, TOM FENNELL with GUY DINMORE in Belgrade, PAUL WOOD in Skopje and SUSAN McCLELLAND in Toronto

They call them “Bugs.” It is an affectionate nickname for the prime weapon in Canada’s airborne arsenal, bestowed by the men who fly them and the men – and women – who keep them in the air. But it belies their menace. For the Canadian air force’s CF-18 Hornets are elaborate killing machines, capable of delivering destruction at close to twice the speed of sound. And they have never appeared more threatening than last Wednesday evening, when four of them rolled slowly onto the runway at the Aviano airbase beneath the Alps in northern Italy. They were fully armed, rotary cannon loaded with 20-mm shells, wing tips bristling with heat-seeking missiles, bellies heavy with pods of laser-guided bombs. Just as the sun dropped behind the mountains, at precisely 6:55, the Canadian Bugs took off, tearing up into the twilight, twin engines trailing flickering tongues of blue flame. “There go your boys,” U.S. air force Maj. Scott Vadnais shouted over the roar. “Let’s hope they make it safely back.”All four did, hours later, after unloading their lethal cargo upon targets in President Slobodan Milosevic’s Yugoslavia. In the process, they led Canada into a war that set many precedents, not least among them the first aerial battle in European skies since 1945 as well as the first offensive assault by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization upon a sovereign state. It was a massive effort, involving more than 300 warplanes from 13 of NATO’s 19 member states. They took off from airfields as far removed as Gloucestershire in England and Missouri in the United States. But most rose from five bases scattered along Italy’s Adriatic coast, hurtling skyward moments after sunset at almost the same moment, shattering the evening calm with an ear-splitting crescendo of screaming jets. Wave followed wave, British Harriers, French Mirages, German Tornadoes, Spanish F-18 Hornets, Dutch and Portuguese F-16 Fighting Falcons and virtually every make of warplane in the vast U.S. armoury, up to and including the first ever test in combat of the $3.2-billion B-2 bomber. All headed east to the remnant of the once proud Balkan nation now ruled with an iron hand by Milosevic. “We aim to put his defence and security forces at risk,” declared Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO’s American military commander. “We are going to attack, disrupt, degrade, devastate and, unless Milosevic chooses to co-operate, ultimately destroy his forces.”

In the ensuing days, that is precisely what NATO’s air armada set about doing – but not without cost. On Saturday, Yugoslav television announced that Serb forces had shot down an American F-117A Nighthawk – the famous radar-evading stealth fighter-bomber – about 40 km west of Belgrade. Footage showed clear pictures of the burning wreckage of a dark-winged plane with American markings. Within hours, a Pentagon spokesman reported that the pilot had been rescued.

The apparent first downing by Serb forces dramatized the risks facing NATO pilots as they took part in a fierce onslaught against Yugoslavia. They were aided by a storm of cruise missiles launched from two U.S. warships and two nuclear submarines – one American, one British – patrolling the Adriatic Sea. By week’s end, a clear pattern had been established, marked by nighttime air and missile raids followed by daytime pauses to assess the damage inflicted. On the first night alone, 40 targets were hit all over the three regions that constitute what is left of Yugoslavia: Serbia, Montenegro and war-ravaged Kosovo. According to Clark, the hail of missiles and bombs struck command-and-control centres, air defences and facilities “associated with the Yugoslav military and ministerial police forces.”

Over the course of the week, NATO planes bombed the Batajnica military airport, the main Serbian airbase 13 km west of Belgrade. Missiles hit the aircraft plant at Pancevo, 10 km north of the Yugoslav capital. The power grid was taken out in the Kosovar capital, Pristina, as well as the underground bunker that serves as the local military headquarters. In neighbouring Montenegro, the military barracks in Danilovgrad burst into flames. With Western journalists barred from much of the country, including Kosovo, there were few independent eyewitnesses to the level of the destruction, but Serb state television showed pictures of widespread damage, and officials claimed “hundreds” of civilians had been killed.

Despite the pain that NATO was clearly inflicting, however, doubts remained about the overall effectiveness of the air campaign, particularly if it continues for some time without pushing Milosevic into a compromise over Kosovo. As the week wore on, there were few indications of any lessening in Serbian assaults on Kosovo’s Albanian population, the ostensible reason for launching NATO’s initiative. In fact, there were growing reports of massacres and a fierce reign of terror by Serbs in Kosovo, although the accounts could not be independently confirmed. Reacting to the rising international concern, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana on Saturday ordered alliance forces to broaden their attacks to Phase 2 – targeting Serb military and armoured units directly involved in the war in Kosovo.

Already there were strains within NATO, as both Greece and Italy called for renewed diplomacy. Beyond the alliance, the concerns were even more ominous. Bombing the Serbs has caused a potentially dangerous split with Russia. What is more, even Washington’s military strategists in the Pentagon admit that Kosovo is explosive, jammed as it is between Albania and Macedonia and close to those two ancient enemies Greece and Turkey. A dragged-out war over Kosovo could destabilize the entire Balkans. If the Serbs continue to persecute the Albanian Kosovars, thousands are likely to flee over the border into Macedonia, raising the prospect of unrest in that notoriously fragile country. “It’s a nightmare,” a source close to the U.S. National Security Council told Maclean’s. “This whole area could blow up. A civil war in Macedonia would quickly spread to Albania and then the Bulgarians and the Greeks would get involved. At that point, the Turks would intervene and that could bring the Russians in. Believe me, it’s something you’d rather not think about.”

If any of those concerns were weighing on the minds of Canada’s contingent in the air war, there were few signs of it last week at their base near Aviano, 75 km north of Venice. “The guys are pumped,” said Col. Dwight Davies, commander of the unit. “They’re really excited by the missions they’re flying. You see it most when they return to base, after five or six hours in the air. As soon as the canopy pops open, there’s a ‘Yahoo! We made it!’ Then it’s back to reality, long hours of debriefing and finding a way to wind down.”

Their base outside the village of Aviano is a complex of hangars and a single airstrip, hugging the sheer southern flank of the Julian Alps. The scenery alone makes it an impressive place, particularly in the early spring with snow dusting the mountains’ peaks. But each evening as the sun starts to fall, it is the setting for a truly awesome display of armed airborne might. It begins, as it did on the Wednesday night the war was launched, when a British AWACS jet lumbers aloft, heading eastward on the 20-minute flight to Yugoslav skies to serve as the eyes and ears of the warplanes soon to follow. Shortly after, the real show commences: two steady hours of constant takeoffs by jets screaming upward every few minutes, 65 of them on the first night, a similar number each night thereafter.

First into the air are usually the F-117A stealth fighter-bombers, like the one that went down on Saturday. They are bat-like craft, vaguely sinister, painted black. Then come the U.S. Marine Corps’ EA-6B Prowlers, four-seat monsters bristling with electronic warfare gear to suppress and jam enemy radar. The air superiority fighters follow in rapid succession – U.S. and Portuguese single-engine F-16s and U.S. twin-engine F-15 Eagles – and finally the multi-role fighter-bombers, planes like the F-18 Hornets flown by both the Spanish and Canadian air forces based at Aviano.

There are six Canadian Hornets currently stationed at the airfield, all drawn from the air force’s 3 Wing, a formation of the 1 Canadian Air Division operating out of Bagotville, Que. Two more were due to arrive at the weekend from Cold Lake, Alta., on routine rotation. Ten pilots fly the Bugs, supported by another 150 ground crew and technical support staff. While Davies, himself a fighter pilot, is overall commander, he is not based in Aviano. His headquarters are two hours away by road in Vicenza, where he provides the Canadian input into planning and implementing NATO’s air campaign. The senior officer in charge on the base itself is one of the pilots, Lt.-Col. Sylvain Faucher. Like 90 per cent of the Canadian contingent, Faucher is a francophone Quebecer. And, last week at least, neither Faucher nor any of the other pilots were available for interviews. “Operational security” is the reason cited by army Capt. David Muralt, the Canadian public affairs officer at Aviano. “All I can really say at this point is the safety and well-being of our pilots is our paramount concern.”

Neither Muralt nor Davies offered any further explanations. But it is clear that Canadian military authorities are worried about the possibility of reprisals back home, sparked by the same emotions that prompted Canadians of Serbian descent to mount angry demonstrations in Toronto last week. Davies was a little more forthcoming on Canada’s specific mission in the war. “We’ve been part of the bombing campaign,” he said, “attacking military targets with precision munitions.” While declining to speculate on future assignments, Davies did point out that the CF-18s have the capacity to handle any number of tasks.

The Canadian Hornets are equipped with a rotary cannon, capable of firing 20-mm shells at the rate of 6,000 rounds a minute. They carry two versions of Sidewinder air-to-air missiles – one heat-seeking, the other radar guided – as well as Mavericks, a television-guided air-to-ground missile. But the most advanced gadgetry on board is the Nite Hawk FLIR, or forward-looking infrared camera, that is mounted on the fuselage in a pod. “This is really the big change that happened with these planes since the Gulf War,” said Davies. “In the Gulf War, we could only drop iron bombs. Now we have the capacity to fire precision munitions like laser-guided bombs in all kinds of weather.”

The FLIR pods have made flying in hostile environments a lot safer for the pilots. “They don’t have to dive as low to release their ordnance,” said Davies. The device also tends to cut down on what the military euphemistically refers to as “collateral damage,” the accidental destruction of anything or anybody close by a target. A case in point occurred the night the NATO raids commenced, when only three of the four CF-18s fired their bomb load. “The fourth pilot never fired because he could not adequately identify his target,” said Muralt.

Exactly what those targets were remained confidential, almost as much of a military secret as the attitude of the Canadian pilots involved. By all accounts, however, morale is high. “They’re a very professional group of people who are going about their business in a very professional way,” said Capt. Scott Mcleod of Regina, one of five flight surgeons on duty at Aviano and the only Canadian among them. “Things get a little tense in the time that passes between takeoff and the return to base,” he continued. “But luckily, I’ve had no reason to use my own particular skills, other than tending to a few routine aches and pains. I hope it stays that way.”

Pentagon computer simulations predict that if the campaign continues for a month, NATO will lose at least 10 planes. In early dogfights, NATO jets downed five of Yugoslavia’s advanced MiG-29s, one-third of the country’s force of front-line fighters. Three MiG-29s were felled on the first day, two by U.S. F-15s and the third by a Dutch F-16. Two more were shot down on Friday by American F-15s when the MiGs ventured over the border into northeastern Bosnia.

For the moment, NATO’s air war was being waged almost entirely at night. Few of the 400 warplanes – half of them American – based in and around Italy take to the skies until the sun sets. The same applies to the B-52s, laden with cruise missiles, based at Fairford in rural England and the stealth technology B-2s, each with its load of 16 separately targeted 900-kg bombs, stationed at Whiteman, Mo. NATO planners refused to speculate publicly on how long the campaign will last. Pentagon sources in Washington, however, expected the war in the air to continue for at least another month. Other U.S. military planners are quick to point out that bombing campaigns without the support of ground troops rarely succeed in breaking the will of targeted people. The London blitz did not weaken Winston Churchill’s government, the United States failed to break the spirit of the North Vietnamese, and the ongoing bombing campaign in Iraq appears to have had little impact.

In the end, it may all boil down to the fate of a single individual: Slobodan Milosevic. “He is the prime culprit,” argued law professor Paul Williams of American University in Washington, who is also a legal adviser to the Kosovo government. “Hopefully, what we are now seeing is the beginning of stitching the Balkans back together again. But I’m concerned that the Americans and the Europeans might rush into a deal that will leave Milosevic in power.”

It has certainly happened before, most notably in Bosnia. There are still 1,300 Canadian troops policing the fragile peace in that former Yugoslav territory. Their presence, in fact, is the main reason why those Canadian Bugs were stationed under the Alps in Aviano in the first place. By the time the current crisis winds to a conclusion, there may well be many more Canadians involved.

Turning Hawkish in Ottawa
On the day the war over Kosovo began, Lloyd Axworthy got his first reports about the NATO strikes the same way just about everyone else did: he watched television. The foreign minister had spent the first minutes of the bombing in the House of Commons, explaining to a surprisingly sparse gathering of MPs why Ottawa was going to war in Europe. He then had to attend a prearranged meeting with visiting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The air strikes were fully three hours old before Axworthy was finally able to retreat, slightly out of breath, to the quiet of his narrow fourth-floor office on Parliament Hill. A TV set flashing with pictures of explosions in the Balkan night stopped him as he entered, and a report that a NATO jet had been shot down – only later proven false – elicited a low groan. “Well,” he mumbled as he turned away from the screen, “we’re going to have lots of moments like this over the next few weeks.”

His mood was grim, but Axworthy was hardly shrinking from the course he had urged upon Canada and NATO for the past several weeks. Axworthy has become a forceful advocate for international intervention wherever civilians are threatened, a policy he describes in his wonkish way as a “human security agenda.” His many critics scoffingly call it a woolly headed excuse for the United Nations to poke its nose into the internal affairs of sovereign states. But Kosovo, where the Serbian army is killing or driving out thousands of Albanian civilians, is exactly the sort of place where Axworthy says the world must act. Canada’s war aims, as he outlined last week, were “to avert a humanitarian crisis,” a theme echoed by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. “As Canadians, as world citizens, we could not sit and watch as people are displaced, their homes looted and burned, and lives taken away,” the Prime Minister said in a foreign policy speech in Winnipeg.

Despite Axworthy’s polite references to the good efforts of diplomacy last week, the foreign minister with a peacenik’s reputation is clearly a hawk on the issue of air strikes against the Serbs. He argues that the West’s repeated ultimatums in recent months to Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic – until now, always followed by another ultimatum – were doomed to fail. “Milosevic has really put together an overwhelming force,” says Axworthy in frustration. “Which, last October, we all thought he would do,” he adds sharply. “And which he has done.”

If Axworthy tempers his bitterness at the West’s procrastination in public, officials say he privately shows visceral fury at the performance of the Contact Group, the gathering of powers (Britain, the United States, France, Germany, Italy and Russia) that has steered Balkan policy since 1995. Officials in Ottawa and Europe describe deep divisions within the group, brought on by the Europeans’ desire to wrest leadership from the Americans over their own continental security. Meanwhile, say Western diplomats, the mischief-making Russians were happily leaking details of the Contact Group’s paralysis to their Serbian allies. NATO planners in Brussels were especially upset at the repeated recourse to “last-ditch” diplomacy, delays that made their military task tougher every time. The longer the West talked, the bigger and more entrenched the Serbian force became in Kosovo.

The influence of the Contact Group also sidelined an increasingly ineffectual UN Security Council. Axworthy preferred to see the Council handle the Kosovo crisis, and last fall Ottawa was insisting upon a legal UN mandate for military intervention. But Washington had no interest in becoming locked into almost certain diplomatic deadlock at the United Nations (Russia and China both made clear they would use their Security Council vetoes). Canadian officials finally told Axworthy he would wait forever for the legal endorsement he wanted, and the foreign minister reluctantly embraced the idea of air strikes without one. Last week, Axworthy referred to two existing Security Council resolutions as the basis for NATO strikes, but Canadian officials acknowledge privately they do not go far enough. “The language that we’re missing for a full legal endorsement is, ‘authorizing all necessary use of force,’ ” said one.

The coming days may raise more questions for the government, especially if bombing alone fails to achieve their aims. Axworthy repeatedly pointed to the effectiveness of Western air strikes over Bosnia in 1995 to end that war, conveniently omitting the fact that Croatian and Bosnian armies used the air cover for a decisive ground offensive against the Serbs. Ottawa is relying on Washington’s confidence that Serbian military leaders will overthrow Milosevic rather than face massive destruction of their capabilities. But what if they don’t? No one in Ottawa was even willing to contemplate using ground troops to accomplish NATO’s goals. And Axworthy agrees NATO’s credibility is at stake over Kosovo. “We just don’t have a road map for this sort of stuff,” he said. No map. And no turning back.

With the ground shaking and brilliant flashes of light turning the night sky orange, Radan, a Belgrade taxi driver, had seen enough of NATO’s punishing air war for one day. As another explosion on the edge of the city suddenly illuminated the interior of his cab, he quickly turned his car around in traffic and raced back to his home in the Yugoslav capital. NATO warplanes were relentlessly pounding military targets in the country in an attempt to end President Slobodan Milosevic’s brutal armed assaults on the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo. If NATO generals were expecting the Serbs to break and lose their will to fight, they were wrong – the fire raining down from the sky only hardened Serbian resolve. “I hate President Clinton for what he has done and I don’t like Milosevic very much either,” Radan told Maclean’s, “but when it comes to Kosovo, we are united.”

Far to the south, ethnic Albanian refugees streaming out of Kosovo into neighbouring Macedonia were also united – mostly in misery. As they looked back across the border, homes were on fire and soldiers were digging in, potentially in preparation for a confrontation with 10,000 NATO troops stationed in the nearby Macedonian capital of Skopje. As they crossed the border, the refugees told tragic tales of kidnappings and murder. “Terrible things are happening,” said NATO spokesman Jamie Shea. “They are simply attacking Albanians for the sake of killing Albanians.” One woman arriving at the Macedonian frontier told Maclean’s, when the first strike hit, “it made the Albanians very happy, but now we are afraid of being killed.” A shaken elderly man beside her spoke of widespread shooting and fighting. “The security forces were burning houses,” he said.

NATO had vowed to bomb Yugoslavia if Milosevic’s regime did not make peace with the ethnic Albanians, and last week the alliance made good on its threat. But the campaign immediately committed NATO to a high-risk strategy that could trap the alliance in the Balkan country for years to come. If the bombs fail to bring Milosevic to heel, he could emerge even stronger for having held on to Kosovo, the historic cradle of Serbian culture, in the face of overwhelming odds. And some NATO members fear that if the air war continues, it will spread the conflict to neighbouring countries as refugees flood across their borders. Those concerns seemed to harden last week when pro-Serbian mobs marched on the U.S. Embassy in Skopje. They also attacked Western journalists, many of whom had just arrived in the city after being ordered out of Yugoslavia at gunpoint.

NATO’s maelstrom of fire and thunder only triggered a spirited defiance in Belgrade. When seven cruise missiles streaked across the night sky, hurtling with pinpoint accuracy into the city’s military airport, residents in the village of Batajnica on the edge of the base rushed out to watch. “We took photographs,” said a woman who wanted to be called Milena. “There were enormous explosions and smaller ones,” she added while proudly displaying the windows of her cottage that were shattered by the blasts.

Milena and her husband, Dejan (also a pseudonym), then retreated to a bomb shelter as air-raid sirens wailed. They had long counted themselves as part of the opposition to Milosevic, but the whole family is solidly behind him on Kosovo. Their 19-year-old son had been reluctant to do his military service last year; now he wants to volunteer. “The greatest thing for Serbs is to have a son, but I will be happy if he goes to fight in Kosovo,” said Dejan. His wife was no less determined. “We won’t give up a foot of Kosovo,” she declared, “even if we become a second Vietnam.”

The couple firmly refused to blame the bombing on Milosevic, a shrewd politician who not only understands how to exploit the differences in the Yugoslav opposition but the divisions between European governments as well. His popularity, and that of the ruling Socialist party, have been declining since he came to power in 1989, and many analysts believe he is using the conflict in Kosovo to stoke the fires of Serbian nationalism to rally support behind him.

Milosevic, however, may have made a rare tactical error when he misunderstood the strength of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which was founded in the early 1990s to fight for independence. Last summer, the increasingly desperate Yugoslav army adopted a scorched-earth policy that reduced scores of villages in the province to ruins and forced more than 300,000 people to flee their homes. Western mediators arranged a ceasefire in October, but it soon came unravelled. In February, the six-member Contact Group of major powers brought representatives of the ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 per cent of Kosovo’s population, and Yugoslavia together in France in an attempt to force a deal. The Western-drafted interim peace agreement called for withdrawal from Kosovo of all Yugoslav forces save a token border contingent, enforcement by NATO peacekeepers, and self-rule for three years, after which Kosovo’s final status would be decided at another international meeting. When the first round of talks broke down, the KLA stepped up its hit-and-run attacks and the government’s village-burning offensive resumed in earnest. In early March, the KLA finally signed the peace plan, but Milosevic refused.

With missiles pounding Yugoslavia nightly, analysts in Belgrade say the situation is now so volatile that it is extremely difficult to predict Milosevic’s next move. But in recent months, he has purged all generals from the military who did not want to confront NATO. With a new hardline leadership surrounding him, it is unlikely he will step aside anytime soon.

In fact, the state of war proclaimed by Belgrade has entrenched his regime even further by giving it sweeping powers. Many foreign journalists have been forced out of the country, dissidents have been rounded up, and local media outlets have been given specific instructions to broadcast and print only material that will boost morale. Yugoslavia also cut diplomatic ties with the United States, Britain, France and Germany, the countries that Belgrade regards as the most hardline.

The demonization of Milosevic by the Western powers has found little resonance among Serbs, whose sense of patriotism and loyalty to the armed forces – mainly a conscript army – is heightened by the emotional issue of Kosovo, birthplace of their Christian Orthodox heritage. Serbian outrage over the air strikes boiled up into violence in several cities around the world, including Athens, where police clashed with 15,000 protesters, and Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, as well as Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. The rioting in Canada was most ferocious in Toronto, where Molotov cocktails were tossed at the U.S. consulate from a crowd of more than 1,000 angry Serbs. “The bombing is very inhumane and unjust,” said Sofia Skoric, who teaches Slavic studies at the University of Toronto and took part in the protest. “Just hearing the thundering bombs dropping will traumatize you for the rest of your life.”

Serbs were also outraged by Clinton’s March 24 speech justifying the air strikes, in which he compared the so-called ethnic cleansing committed by the Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia with the Nazi Holocaust. Serbs are quick to point out that the world stood by at the end of the Bosnian war in 1995, when 250,000 Serbs were driven out of the Krajina region of Croatia, where they had lived for centuries, by the country’s U.S.-trained army. Vladimir Ilic, a senior official in Belgrade’s information ministry, said the West also betrayed Yugoslavia when it refused to lift economic sanctions after Belgrade signed the Bosnian peace accord. “They offer us nothing,” said Ilic. “We refuse and they bomb us – NATO’s first attack on a sovereign country in 50 years.”

Even with the night sky aglow with flames, the Serbs’ morale has also been boosted by a belief that Russia will come to their aid. Hundreds of Russian nationalists who want Moscow to intervene hurled paint and bottles at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, and chanted “NATO must die.” Prime Minister Yevgeni Primakov aborted a trip to Washington in mid-flight when he learned that the NATO strikes were about to begin, and Moscow later expelled the alliance’s representatives in protest. But it is unlikely that the Serbs’ old Slav ally will offer much more than harsh rhetoric. Moscow desperately needs a multibillion-dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund to prop up its all-but-bankrupt economy. Instead of supporting the Serbs, many politicians in the country want President Boris Yeltsin to concentrate on the economy

The bigger morale problem was in Kosovo. Although NATO broadened its attacks at the weekend to target Serbian military units operating in the province, the initial air strikes did little to further the near-term goal of stopping the Yugoslav army in its tracks. An Albanian-language newspaper reporter, who asked for anonymity, said from Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, that the ethnic Albanians were “desperately trying to keep their spirits up.” But the Serbian police and paramilitaries, he reported, were rounding up leading Albanian intellectuals and their families. Albanian-run stores and bars had been attacked, buildings had been torched and police in armored vehicles were patrolling the streets. There were also reports that members of a notorious paramilitary group headed by Zeljko Raznjatovic, known as Arkan, had entered the city. Arkan’s men were implicated in some of the worst atrocities of the Bosnia war.

Not surprisingly, many ethnic Albanians seemed almost distraught when police ordered the foreign media to leave. Armed men, some carrying pistols equipped with silencers, entered the lobby of the Grand Hotel in Pristina, where most of the journalists were staying, and started smashing television gear and confiscating cell phones. The foreigners were then taken by police escort to the Macedonian border, some 100 km away. On their way, they passed through empty Albanian towns, some on fire.

There were growing, though unconfirmed, reports of massacres. The KLA claimed that paramilitary gangs had slaughtered several hundred ethnic Albanians in the Kosovo town of Djakovica after NATO bombed a Yugoslav military barracks. According to UN refugee officials, women and children fleeing to Albania from the village of Goden said Serbian forces had separated men from their families and executed 20 of them.

The expelled reporters found the situation nearly as intense in Skopje, where thousands of demonstrators stoned the U.S. Embassy. Analysts blamed the tension on rising anger among Macedonians over the arrival of nearly 20,000 Albanian refugees and the presence of the 10,000 NATO troops. Many Orthodox Christian Macedonians fear the country’s ethnic balance could be tilted in favour of the ethnic Albanians, who make up as much as 22 per cent of its population. Unlike their cousins in Kosovo, they have not openly called for autonomy, but many nationalists have espoused the hope of one day uniting the Albanians spread across Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. Tozun Bahcheli, a Balkans expert at King’s College in London, Ont., said if NATO eventually pummels the Yugoslav army into submission, Albanians across the region could yet unite in a pan-Albanian state. “Macedonia and Albania could easily be drawn into the fight,” said Bahcheli, “and a greater Albania will probably emerge.”

For the moment, however, Western planners were focusing on the crisis in Kosovo. “Since 1992, NATO has been warning Milosevic that if he attacked Kosovo, they would respond with force,” said Erika Simpson, a NATO expert and political scientist at the University of Western Ontario. “There would have been a serious loss of credibility for the alliance if they had not done something.” Yet NATO’s commitment to Kosovo also has the potential to keep it ensnared in the region for years. Retired Canadian major-general Lewis MacKenzie, who headed the United Nations’ peacekeeping operation during the 1992 Bosnian war, believes that ultimately the air strikes may not be able to dislodge Yugoslav ground forces. If troops have to fight their way in, he says, they “would be in a fight for their lives,” and would be forced to remain for a long period. NATO officials have long insisted that they will not send in troops without a peace agreement, but wars have a way of changing the best-laid plans.

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