Tuesday, March 30, 1999 Published at 00:43 GMT 01:43 UK
Ground troops: Why Nato says no
Nato forces are already in Macedonia
By Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus
Ever since the start of the Nato air campaign against the Yugoslav military there have been calls for Nato troops to move in on the ground.
Significant Nato forces have already been sent to Macedonia in preparation for this mission. They include some 12,000 British, French and German troops, a full-scale corps headquarters, tanks, armoured vehicles and heavy artillery.
Click here to watch an assessment of Nato's options by the BBC's David Shukman.
Desperate calls for ground troops
With the collapse of the peace process this force is simply biding its time. Given the potential threat from Yugoslav artillery or air attacks it has nonetheless taken up defensive positions.
Nato has made it clear that any move against its forces will be met with a swift and decisive response.
But many military experts believe that air power alone cannot achieve Nato's objectives.
Representatives of the Kosovo Liberation Army have desperately called for Nato troops to move into Kosovo to stop the ethnic cleansing.
But at the moment there is no suggestion that Nato will send in ground troops.
But the principal problems are practical.
Very large forces would be needed, especially if Nato casualties were to be reduced to a minimum.
They would require a spring-board from which to launch their operations and time to build up the necessary forces.
It is highly unlikely that a country like Macedonia would allow itself to be the base for an invasion of Kosovo.
The infrastructure in the region is basic or non-existent. A comparison with the war to liberate Kuwait shows the magnitude of the problem.
Macedonia and Albania are not like Saudi Arabia with huge airfields and modern ports just waiting for the arrival of Nato forces.
But time would be the greatest practical problem.
The Belgrade government has been preparing for this sweep through Kosovo for some weeks.
All its forces were ready to go - some operations were already beginning when the separate negotiating teams sat down at Rambouillet.
By the time Nato would be ready to act on the ground, the fate of the civilian population of Kosovo would have been sealed.
Air power 'only option'
Nato insists that air power is the only option and that its current strategy is having an impact upon the Yugoslav forces' ability to carry out their operations in Kosovo.
The problem is that the effect of air power is cumulative. It will take time for the Yugoslav military machine to be seriously damaged.
And time, it seems, for the Kosovo Albanians is running out.
At present the only circumstances in which Nato troops might go into Kosovo would be unopposed. That is if the Yugoslav Army and police units pulled out altogether as a result of the Nato attacks.
That may be a long way off. But Nato is ready to reinforce its troops in Macedonia at short notice.
The Supreme Allied Commander Europe's strategic reserve - currently made up of Dutch and Polish troops - is on 96 hours notice to move.