House Votes Support For Troops

The House of Representatives voted near unanimous support for American troops in the Balkans on Wednesday, even as members expressed varied views on NATO's strikes in Yugoslavia.

"This is the time to put aside our differences and any doubts we may entertain about our policy and unite behind the brave men and women who are now involved in a very serious and risky military mission," said House International Relations Committee Chairman Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y.

But disagreements simmered beneath the surface unity.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Floyd Spence, R-S.C., expressed "deep reservations about the direction of our policy in Kosovo," but "no reservations whatsoever" about supporting the troops.

Backing the troops is important, said Rep. Doug Bereuter, R-Neb., "because they're going to be there a long time. There is no exit strategy from this unhappy quagmire."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., told colleagues: "We're there. We can debate the reasons why we're there... but we are there."

Hastert said U.S. pilots are "in the skies over Kosovo and Serbia as we speak. We know how dangerous their mission is. We wish them Godspeed and certainly a safe return."

The House vote was 424-1. The sole dissenter was Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. She was not among those who spoke on the measure, but has opposed measures involving U.S. military operations in the past, including voting against a resolution last December supporting U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf.

Noting that up to 22,000 U.S. forces are in the Balkans, the House resolution expressed "the greatest pride in the members of the armed forces" and saluted "their professionalism, dedication, patriotism and courage."

But it was silent on the underlying policy. By contrast, the Senate voted 58 to 41 Tuesday night to support the bombing campaign.

However, once the operation was under way, the Senate by voice vote and without debate passed a resolution Wednesday night supporting U.S. forces and recognizing "their professionalism, dedication, patriotism and courage."