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Thursday, July 29, 1999 Published at 17:51 GMT 18:51 UK

World: Americas

Nato commander denies snub

Still in a job for now: Gen Clark inspects troops on his Baltic tour

US General Wesley Clark has again denied that the decision to replace him three months early as Nato's supreme commander is a punishment for his actions in the Kosovo conflict.

Kosovo: Special Report
"This is just a routine personnel action," he told a news conference while on a visit to Latvia.

He also welcomed the decision to replace him with Air Force General Joseph Ralston.

[ image: General Joseph Ralston -
General Joseph Ralston - "a very fine man" says General Clark
However, despite his claims of a smooth succession, a Washington Post editorial said his early removal "can only undermine the (US's) ostensible commitment to bring peace to the Balkans".

It said Gen Clark had been criticised for being "too political" simply because he wanted to "use his authority to actually accomplish something".

The paper said that he had led the alliance to a victory in Kosovo that essentially saved its credibility and its future.

It said he managed to forge a successful strategy while taking orders from 19 separate allied governments, which did indeed require him to have political skills.


Gen Clark has repeatedly denied speculation that the decision for him to leave his post next April instead of next July was due to his handling of the alliance's 11-week air war against Yugoslavia.

However an editorial in The Los Angeles Times said that "differences with the White House and the Pentagon clearly are factors in Clark's departure".

Correspondents say he consistently urged more aggressive tactics, including the possibility of a ground invasion of Kosovo if the air strikes failed.

His request to use Apache attack helicopters in the air war was turned down by the Pentagon.

In an interview published in The New Yorker magazine, Gen Clark acknowledged his frustration with what he called "the only air campaign in history in which lovers strolled down riverbanks in the gathering twilight ... to watch the fireworks".

The US Defence Department said Gen Clark's early departure was not a result of dissatisfaction with his performance, but part of a general rotation of American senior ranks.

Nato Secretary-General Javier Solana paid a warm tribute to Gen Clark who, he said, "has made and will continue to make a major contribution to peace in Europe and to the shaping of a new alliance ready for the 21st Century".

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US Department of Defence

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