|GENERAL WESLEY CLARK|
March 29, 1999
Jim Lehrer conducts a newsmaker interview with NATO's top commander, General Wesley Clark. He says the campaign is a long way from being over.
JIM LEHRER: Now, our newsmaker interview with NATO's top commander, General Wesley Clark. I talked to him at his headquarters in Belgium shortly before noon eastern time.
General Clark, welcome.
JIM LEHRER: First, sir, what can you tell us about the latest air strikes, the ones up today, the ones that are still underway?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, we are in phase two of the air campaign right now. We're hitting principally two sets of targets. We're continuing to work against some of the targets in phase one. And we are going against the targets on the ground inside Kosovo that are contributing to the MUP and VJ forces and the paramilitary forces that are conducting that repression. And, insofar as possible, we're trying to hit those forces.
JIM LEHRER: And these are - you're talking about - you're trying - you're going after ground forces of the Serb Army, is that correct?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: That's exactly right, and the Serb ministerial specialist police that are part of Milosevic's security apparatus.
JIM LEHRER: And up till now you had not been going after them, right, that's why this is called a second phase, up till now you had been going after air defense targets and that sort of thing?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: We did some limited early strikes against a few of the command and control nodes that were dual purpose, so to speak, that did both air defense and ground. But now, with the advent of phase two, we shifted much more intensively into going after these forces on the ground inside Kosovo, and their support, which is better around Kosovo.
JIM LEHRER: And this has been brought about specifically by the actions they've taken against ethnic Albanian civilians?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, that's exactly right and by the fact that they haven't stopped these actions. And, as we said, this was a systemic - it was a systematic - excuse me -- systematic and progressive campaign that was going to attack and degrade and disrupt them. And it'll go on as long as we need it to go on. We're taking their armed forces structure apart, and that's what we're about right now.
JIM LEHRER: Is it correct to say, General, that their attacks on the ethnic Albanian civilians actually intensified once the air strikes began?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I think it's more correct to say that their attacks on ethnic Albanian civilians were part of a long-developed plan to accomplish a number of possible purposes. And they began before the air strikes actually commenced, and they've continued to put reinforcements in, in an effort to try to accelerate the ethnic cleansing and the atrocities that are going on in there, so they can try to get away with it before the full weight of the NATO air strikes impact their ability to conduct their ethnic cleansing.
|Retribution for the NATO air strikes?|
JIM LEHRER: Give us some examples, sir, of some of the atrocities that have been committed in the last three or four days.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, we're seeing the evidence of this now through open sources, and we're getting a few sensitive sources. We're talking about key Albanian leaders hunted out and executed murder style outside their homes, sometimes in the presence of their families. We're talking about civilians who are living in villages being surrounded by the VJ and MUP armed forces, being told they have to stay in their homes. Snipers are placed upon the rooftops to shoot people who try to get out. And then the hit squads come through, pick out the people they want to kill, everybody else is beaten up, robbed, kicked out of their homes, and the homes are burned. We've seen evidence, and we've got some imagery on numerous villages, in fact, that have been put to the torch by this ethnic cleansing process in Central and Western and Southwestern Kosovo. And then, of course, we're all seeing the plight that's in the television of these poor people that have been ejected across the border from their own home and thrown out. I think that exemplifies what's going on in there, but there's a -- we believe -- a wave of additional people trying to get out of that country in response to the terrorism that's being inflicted on them.
JIM LEHRER: Just for the record, when you say VJ and MUP forces, what are you speaking about?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: I'm speaking about the military of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia -that's the regular armed forces - and then the MUP forces are the special police forces, the heavily-armed security groups.
JIM LEHRER: And these - the stories that you just told and others -- those are now confirmed. These are no longer scuttlebutt or rumor or whatever. You have concrete evidence that this sort of thing is happening, is that correct?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: I have many different sources of many different stories of this type. Whether any of these meet any judicial standard of evidence or not is for people other than ourselves to decide. But based on the previous pattern of Serb behavior in Bosnia and Croatia, and what we've seen previously here in Kosovo, there are too many of these stories, they're too widespread to be easily discredited. They have to be accepted. In fact, we know from people who have gotten out that it's chaos in many parts of Kosovo today.
JIM LEHRER: You do not believe that this is in retribution for the NATO air strikes?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Absolutely not. This is a part of his plan that he's trying to execute to get ahead of the impact of the NATO air strikes before we can degrade his ability to do it.
|Disappointment with the results.|
JIM LEHRER: Do you have any feeling of disappointment that you were unable to stop this before it got to this point? In other words, a lot of people have died since the air strikes began five days ago, and that was the number one goal, was it not, to stop the very thing that is now occurring?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, any human being would be disappointed and feel terrible that this is going on, and all of us certainly do, but I have to tell you that the objectives of the air campaign were to deter the onset of this humanitarian tragedy or, if it occurred, to degrade the forces and retard his ability to do it. Jim, we never thought that through air power we could stop these killings on the ground; it's not possible. You can't stop paramilitaries going house to house with supersonic aircraft flying overhead and dropping bombs; we all knew this. The person who has to stop this is President Milosevic. These people are under his command; they're operating on his instructions; and he has to be persuaded to turn it off.
JIM LEHRER: Did you tell President Clinton and the other political leaders of NATO, look, if you - what you just said - there is no way we can stop that kind of thing with a bombing campaign alone?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: That's been said many times, and everybody understands that.
JIM LEHRER: As you know, General, there are major new discussions here in the United States about, wait a minute, maybe if we really want to stop it, we're going to have to introduce ground forces as a matter not of policy but as a matter of fact -- if you do want to stop it, is that going to have to be necessary?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I think it's a matter of some discussion because if you look at the way ground forces operate, it takes a certain time to get them there. And what he's doing is he's working very, very fast. He's trying to present the world with the fait accompli - he being President Milosevic - is trying to present the world with a fait accompli. His goal is to change the demographics of Kosovo - one way or the other - and he's doing it, and he's doing it pretty quickly, so I don't think that at the time this began or today that we have right now an easily available option; it's not either we'll use air or ground. I think we have to look at the reality. And the reality of it is this thing is moving very, very fast.
JIM LEHRER: Faster than you anticipated?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: No. I expected it to move very fast. We knew as we watched the Serbs move through the Rambouillet process - we saw the build-up of Serb forces down there; we saw the increase of the specialist police, the MUP, down there; we saw them putting the plans in place; we saw them starting their operations, even while the discussions were underway at Rambouillet. We saw them taking advantage of the week's pause in there to intensify their operations. It wasn't accidental. It wasn't in response to provocations from the UCHIKA, the UCK. It was part of a long-term plan. They've always believed that the real solution to this was a military solution, and so we watched it as it gathered momentum; it wasn't surprising.
|Getting into the head of Milosevic.|
JIM LEHRER: Yes. And you back in '94 and '95, when you were part of the negotiating team, you spent a lot of time with Milosevic personally. What did you personally believe it would take to get him to give in, in other words, to do what NATO wanted? Did you think that this - that bombing can and would accomplish that?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I think there are a lot of different estimates that have been made, and, of course, you never know what it's going to take to make a person like Milosevic decide to change his mind. He's always been a very tough bargainer. He always says he'll never agree to something. And, yet, we found him in certain cases in Bosnia able to agree to things. He allowed the unification of the Sarajevo as part of the Federation, rather than trying to keep a Serb part of it. He agreed to the arbitration of Brcko. So he made a lot of accommodations when his personal interests and his survival weren't at stake. In this case we knew that he would be much more tenacious, but we still don't know what the answer is to what's going to change his mind. He's trying to present us with a fait accompli. We have really two course of action that we're operating on right now militarily. One the one hand, we're trying to do everything we can to degrade the speed at which that anti-humanitarian juggernaut is moving across Kosovo and generating refugees and human tragedies. And on the other hand, we're taking out things that I think he does value, which is his armed forces and his ministerial police and the installations that provide the protection and prestige to Yugoslavia.
JIM LEHRER: This new phase that really started, I guess, today, it is aimed, is it more intense than you had originally planned on this particular second phase, in other words, of going after all the Serb forces in Kosovo? I mean, have you stepped it up because of what has happened in the last few days?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: We're very responsive; we're very adaptable; and we're doing our very best to cope with this situation, but I just -- I want to repeat two things, Jim, that have been said a lot here: Number one, these operations entail a certain degree of risk. We've seen that already. And so there's no risk-free military operations for our forces or for the people on the ground. And secondly, we never thought that air power could actually halt and prevent these activities on the ground. We knew that we could have an impact on it, we might deter it, we might degrade it, we might slow it down, disrupt it, and we'll make him pay a price for doing it, but ultimately, he's the man who has to order it to halt.
JIM LEHRER: So any American who's watching this who thinks that air strikes alone are going to stop this carnage, they're just wrong, they've just gotten the wrong idea.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: That's right. I think we've been very clear in saying that all along.
|Inflicting harm on Serbia's infrastructure.|
|JIM LEHRER: Yes. Now, General, there's a report today from
a Russian official that says 1,000 - at least 1,000 Serb civilians have
been killed in the air strikes. Can you add or subtract anything from
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: No, I can't. But I think you have to evaluate it based on the source. And knowing what the targets are that we've struck, the care with which we planned those targets, being able to account for almost every bomb that's dropped, I think that's a figure that's greatly exaggerated.
JIM LEHRER: And do you have any feel for how much damage the air strikes have inflicted on the total, the total picture of Milosevic and his forces at this point?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, we've done a considerable amount of harm to his infrastructure, we have been able to operate through his air defense envelope and do what we wanted to do. But this is a campaign that's a long way from being over militarily. We knew this wasn't going to be a three- or four-day, one or two bomb affair. This is a very, very serious, tough military operation, and to be effective, it's going to have to be a sustained military operation.
JIM LEHRER: So you didn't expect, you personally did not expect Milosevic to cave in after four or five days, and anybody who did, they weren't on the same wave length with you, is that correct?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, one can - one never knows for sure exactly what someone like President Milosevic is going to do. And so, of course, we would have liked to have him change his mind before the air raids ever struck. Maybe he didn't believe we were serious or maybe he just believed he would ride it out, and we'd like to say that one more day and he may change his mind; that may happen. I don't know. But I'm not in the business now in this position of trying to predict his response to any specific act. We're in the business of trying to run a very serious and professional air campaign that's directed at some very concrete objectives, and we're trying to change reality on the ground.
JIM LEHRER: You spoke of risk, General Clark. Now, you go into the second phase. Now that does involve NATO planes flying lower than they have been flying up till now, correct?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I'm not going to make any commitments on anything like that, or discuss any operational principles. I've seen a lot of speculation in the press about this, Jim. But, you know, we're going to take the risks that are appropriate and prudent to accomplish the mission; we're going to weigh these factors off on a day by day and hour by hour basis, and we're going to do what's right, and that's about all I can say about things like how well we're going to fly.
JIM LEHRER: Sure. General, before we go, General, are you satisfied with this campaign up till now? Has it gone just about the way you had planned it, or thought it would go, or is it a little worse, a little better? Can you give us some feel, as somebody who knows a lot more about this than a lot of the other people involved?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, first of all, let me tell you that it's gone right on schedule. This is exactly what all of us anticipated. And let me just tell you how proud I am of the men and women who are serving under me in NATO and in the US forces over here. They're doing an absolutely fantastic job. There's a lot of very brave, very hard working, very competent, and dedicated men and women out there. And my heart goes out to those airmen who are out there every night in harm's way. They're doing a fantastic job and all of America and NATO should be proud of the airmen of this alliance for what they're doing; they're doing great.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. General Clark, thank you very much.