War in the Balkans: Strategy - America sends call to 33,000 reservists

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THE US yesterday called up some 33,000 military reservists for duty in Kosovo, the latest stage in its creeping escalation of the conflict

By taking many part-timers and civilians away from their families, the call-up will bring home to America that it is being drawn into a regional conflict. The call-up had been expected for some weeks, and involves mainly back-up forces - tanker pilots and crew. Others will support the detachment of Apache helicopters in Albania and some will work on port duties.

The US has 1 million reservists, who have regular civilian jobs but stay trained for military service. The active US military force is 1.4 million.

The US has also confirmed an earlier decision to send an extra 30 KC- 135 tankers to Kosovo in addition to the 120 already deployed. It is due to send in another 200 combat, reconnaissance and support aircraft to boost the number of aircraft in the area to over 1,000, of which more than 800 are American, according to the Federation of American Scientists, a Washington-based think tank.

Hungary said yesterday it had agreed that 20 Nato tankers could be based on its soil and that between 50 and 70 combat aircraft may also be based there in the future. Until now Hungary - one of Nato's newest member states and the only one with a border with Serbia - has been cautious about being drawn into the conflict.

The slow but steady growth in US forces in the region has made Congress uneasy, with some fearing a Vietnam-style descent into a quagmire, and others wanting a more decisive engagement. A bipartisan Senate measure would authorise the President to use "all necessary force and other means", an authority the White House has not sought but which some Congressmen believe is necessary. Bill Clinton has proposed spending an extra $6bn on the operation, but Republicans in Congress have asked to double this, in an implicit criticism of the President's policies.

In London, chief of the defence staff ,Sir Charles Guthrie, said Nato has launched almost 500 attacks in its air war against Yugoslavia over 227 individual sites. He estimated the air strikes had destroyed 70 of Serbia's 450 combat aircraft, including 23 out of a total of 83 MiG 29s and MiG 21s. He said Nato planes had destroyed nine strategic surface- to-air missile radar systems, nine of Serbia's 17 military airfields and 40 of its aircraft hangars.

Both Serbian oil refineries had been put out of action and 16 storage depots attacked, he said.

Sir Charles said military communications in Serbia are severely disrupted. Twenty road and rail bridges have been destroyed. All rail lines servicing Kosovo have been cut, along with three of the eight roads.

Serbia reported yesterday that Nato missiles had killed five and wounded many more in the southern Serbian town of Surdulica. Serb media said Nato air power struck Mount Goles in Lipljan, just south of Kosovo's capital, Pristina.