May 14, 1999
Serbian media reports that at least 100 ethnic Albanians were killed in a NATO air strike. After a background, Phil Ponce talks with two retired generals about civilian casualties and how they can be avoided.
PHIL PONCE: Today's attack again raises the specter of NATO bombs hitting the wrong target and killing civilians. A week ago, precision-guided missiles ripped into the Chinese embassy, killing three Chinese journalists. Earlier that day, cluster bombs were dropped on the city of Nis, hitting a hospital and a marketplace, killing 15. NATO acknowledged that a stray missile struck a bus near Pristina on May 1st, killing 47, many of them children. Two weeks ago, a missile struck this housing area in Surdulica, killing 20. In mid-April, NATO admitted mistaking a convoy of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo for a convoy of military forces; 75 people died. And a strike on a railroad bridge inadvertently hit a passenger train twice, resulting in 17 deaths.
|Bombing in civilian areas.|
PONCE: We get two views. Lt. General Thomas McInerney had a 35-year career
in the Air Force. His last assignment was Assistant Vice Chief of Staff
of the Air Force. He's now president of Business Executives for National
Security, an organization that advocates Defense Department reforms. Lt.
General Robert Gard had a 31-year career in the Army. His last assignment
was as president of National Defense University. He's now president emeritus
of Monterey Institute for International Studies. Gentlemen, welcome.
General McInerney, your reaction to the report by the Serbs that it was NATO cluster bombs that caused these latest deaths.
LT. GENERAL THOMAS McINERNEY: Well, we don't know yet. If the Serbs say it was NATO cluster bombs, that's very important because they're there and if we get some people to go in and see that it was cluster bombs, they'll be able to identify if they're ours, or if they, in fact, were Serbian or someone else. But the one thing I am sure is, we are extremely vigilant and keep as tight a control at all possible in a combat situation. So I think we have to wait until the investigation comes out and we take a look at see what happens.
PHIL PONCE: General McInerney, if I can stay with you for a second, just point of definition, what is a cluster bomb, anyway?
LT. GENERAL THOMAS McINERNEY: A cluster bomb is a bomb that's about the size of a baseball, and then there may be 500 to a thousand in one large bomb, and then they spread out; they're dropped about whatever altitude -- they open up at about a thousand feet -- so they'll cover an area one to two thousand feet and it's like a thousand hand grenades being dropped.
PHIL PONCE: So, General McInerney, is it safe to describe then -- is it accurate to describe them as not being all that precise?
LT. GENERAL THOMAS McINERNEY: Well, that's correct. They are an area target, a thousand feet, they'll cover that whole area, a thousand-foot radius.
PHIL PONCE: General Gard, if it were shown that NATO was involved in this, what would your reaction be to that?
LT. GENERAL ROBERT GARD: Perhaps what one would expect in conducting operations of the kind that we are conducting now and have conducted in the past.
PHIL PONCE: And what would your -- what is your feeling as to how the operation should be conduct?
LT. GENERAL ROBERT GARD: Well, my feeling is that if your mission is humanitarian, there ought to be a reasonable prospect that the means that you employ to solve that problem have some chance of success. In this particular case we had no chance to succeed in preventing the humanitarian disaster that we stated was our object in the first place.
PHIL PONCE: General Gard, sticking -- focusing in on this particular incident, is it your position that, what, the NATO planes should be flying lower to achieve greater precision?
LT. GENERAL ROBERT GARD: Well, first of all, I think it would have been preferable not to attempt to solve the humanitarian problem by these means because it's very clear that you could not accomplish the objectives that we set for ourselves by bombing from the air. Now, once you are bombing, then, it seems to me, that under these circumstances, you should take every reasonable step to try to preclude civilian casualties -- dropping cluster bombs on a village if we know it to be inhabited, clearly, in my view, is improper.
PHIL PONCE: But let me press you on that point, are you saying that part of the strategy should include flying at lower altitudes?
LT. GENERAL ROBERT GARD: Depending on the target.
|Can NATO succeed with airstrikes?|
PONCE: General McInerney, do you see -- do you have any criticism of the
way NATO's conducting this? I mean, this specific incident, should planes
be flying lower to achieve greater accuracy?
LT. GENERAL THOMAS McINERNEY: Well, this was a nighttime strike so I'm sure they were flying lower, and so once we find out that, at nighttime you have entirely different equation going on versus the daytime because aircraft are not nearly as vulnerable to the handheld SAM's, the AAA's, and so --
PHIL PONCE: What are the AAA?
LT. GENERAL THOMAS McINERNEY: antiaircraft artillery, the guns that are firing at them.
PHIL PONCE: And the Sam's being surface-to-air-missiles.
LT. GENERAL THOMAS McINERNEY: surface-to-air-missiles. Excuse me. And so there would be a combination of surface-to-air missiles and antiaircraft artillery being fired at them. It's important if the Serbs say that this was a cluster bomb unit, and I think if that's what they said, then we'll be able to tell if, in fact, it was a cluster bomb unit that was utilized. But you only use cluster bomb units normally in an area target, and I wouldn't think that we would use a cluster bomb unit on a village unless we were responding to say antiaircraft artillery being fired at us that was coming from the village. So that's why I'm very skeptical on what the Serb claim is. Of this I'm sure - they need the international communities and world opinion supporting them, or trying, to after this very heinous crime that they have committed on ethnic cleansing. And so I don't think we should put it past them that they, in fact, would fire from a village with surface-to-air missiles or in the case of antiaircraft artillery. So that's why I think it's very important. We probably had four air controllers - those are aircraft that are spotting aircraft - in the area, and I'm sure once hear the NATO position, if they made a mistake, they'll, in fact, tell us. But altitude at nighttime is not clearly as crucial as it is in the daytime.
PHIL PONCE: General Gard, speaking of public opinion, are you concerned that these incidents have the potential to erode public opinion here in the United States and in other NATO countries?
LT. GENERAL ROBERT GARD: I certainly believe that to be the case, especially when our goal is humanitarian and we're exacerbating the situation. Not intentionally, I'm not being critical of the airmen that are flying these missions at all. They are doing their jobs as best they can. I just think the strategy's wrong.
PHIL PONCE: General Gard, what should NATO's strategy be, in your opinion?
LT. GENERAL ROBERT GARD: I would have not tried to back Milosevic into a corner. Issue him an ultimatum that says you sign on to this as it is or we're going to bomb you. And when the KLA signed that particular agreement, the Rambouillet agreement, six days later we started bombing. I think you do negotiate. The secretary of state has said we can't negotiate with Milosevic. We negotiated with the Nazis and with the Japanese at the end of the World War II for the truce. What's the State Department for if it isn't to negotiate? All we're doing now is compounding an already very serious problem.
PHIL PONCE: General Gard, pressing you on the issue of what the military -- what NATO's military strategy should be now, more specifically on that, what should NATO's military strategy be?
LT. GENERAL ROBERT GARD: Well, I certainly would have positioned ground troops in the area with reasonable accessibility into Serbia before I started the air war. I would have used the model of the Gulf War. It's pretty clear, though, that our assumption was that Milosevic would fold either by the threat of bombing or after the first few bombs. One need only look at what the secretary of state said on this program on the 24th of March, what the secretary-general of NATO said when he said it would be days not weeks, that we anticipated that he would fold, based, I think, on an erroneous reading that it was our air attacks that drove Milosevic to the table at Dayton, rather than the fact that he was being defeated on the ground.
PHIL PONCE: General McInerney, Looking at things as they stand now, is there anything you would change in the way NATO is conducting its military strategy?
LT. GENERAL THOMAS McINERNEY: Well, I think what we have to do is take where we are right now and I think General Gard's position about the ground forces not being introduced. I still believe we ought to go in with ground forces; I think we ought to focus them on Belgrade. We should not focus them on Kosovo; that's the worst place in the world we could fight. Then he has to amass his ground forces, which makes them very vulnerable against air power. We are now getting up to 1,000 sorties a day, which I talked about in the first three days of the campaign, that we needed to get. At that time we were barely 200 or 300 sorties a day. That weight is now going to have a far greater impact, and I still think we ought to put the threat of ground forces and in fact position the ground forces to get him to negotiate. We clearly must be working with diplomacy with the Russians to see what we can do about this, but Milosevic is not going to cave unless he feels threatened. And we need to threaten those things that he values most. We haven't gotten all those targets yet.
|Will an expanded target list risk more civilian lives?|
|PHIL PONCE: General McInerney if I may stay with you, speaking
of targets, what do you say to those who make take the position that it's
NATO's need for an increased number of targets that is -- that runs the
risk of mistakes happening?
LT. GENERAL THOMAS McINERNEY: Well, there's a certain amount of truth to that. But it's also those targets that make him and the people around him saying maybe we ought to start negotiating, maybe we ought to start thinking about this - and particularly when it gets to their own personal wealth, the leadership wealth and what they're doing. They don't really care about their country.
PHIL PONCE: General Gard, your thoughts on that?
LT. GENERAL ROBERT GARD: On what aspect would you -
PHIL PONCE: On the criticism that it's the need for the expansion of targets that raises a specter of mistakes, is that maybe a driving force?
LT. GENERAL ROBERT GARD: Well, particularly if we're going to attack targets in populated areas. I think we have an obligation. For example, in the case of the Chinese embassy -- to blame that on a seven-year-old map is ludicrous. With all of the surveillance capability we have, we should be cross-checking each and every target we hit in a populated area, to minimize the chances for these kinds of accidents. What's occurring in warfare is a secular trend toward an increasing proportion of civilian casualties. The turn of the century was about 10 percent. Now it's running 80 to 90 percent. And I think the means that we're employing to try to achieve a humanitarian objective are contributing to what is an increased proportion of civilian casualties and warfare. And I think we need to take a hard look at employing our forces in that manner.
PHIL PONCE: Gentlemen, that's all the time we have. General Gard, General McInerney, I thank you both.
|Support the kind of journalism done by the NewsHour...Become a member of your local PBS station.|