|SEC. OF DEFENSE COHEN|
March 25, 1999
Jim Lehrer talks with the Secretary of Defense William Cohen on the second day of NATO attacks on Kosovo.
JIM LEHRER: Now, to a newsmaker interview with Secretary of Defense William Cohen. He joins us from the Pentagon. Mr. Secretary, welcome.
WILLIAM COHEN: Good evening.
JIM LEHRER: Now the second wave is under way as we speak, is that correct sir?
WILLIAM COHEN: That's correct.
JIM LEHRER: It's not finished, not completed?
WILLIAM COHEN: It is under way. It will be completed in due course.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Is this the pattern that will be followed, the rage will begin after dark in Kosovo and Yugoslavia and then go through the night and then there will be a pause and then the next night they will begin again? Is this the pattern we're going to see from here on out?
WILLIAM COHEN: First of all there should be no mistake about any pattern being established. We will carry out an air operation according to what we believe to be in the best interest of our pilots and maximum advantage that we can take over the forces that are confronting them. So there is no established pattern.
JIM LEHRER: But it's basically at night though, right?
WILLIAM COHEN: We've conducted the first two phases as such, first two operations at night in order to take advantage of the aircraft that we have. But there is no established pattern. The Serb forces should not take any comfort that they could be free from any sort of assault or attack by our forces at any time during the course of the day or night.
JIM LEHRER: So the third or fourth or fifth wave could be done in the daytime is what you're saying?
WILLIAM COHEN: It could be done at any time, yes.
JIM LEHRER: How would you characterize the success of this operation thus far?
WILLIAM COHEN: I think we have to resist the temptation to try to characterize it either as successful at this point. We're satisfied that we are achieving our objective, but I think there is a temptation to mark each day off, success or failure. We have to look at the entire campaign. And, it will be successful if at the end of that effort we can say that we've either deterred them from going forward and assaulting the Kosovar Albanians or we have diminished his capacity to wage that kind of effort. So we should measure success at the end and not day-by-day.
JIM LEHRER: But how do you measure your satisfaction. You say you're satisfied thus far. Why are you satisfied?
WILLIAM COHEN: I've looked at the target selection, gone over it with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs, General Olson, the President, the Vice President and the national security team. As we've looked at the mission carried out, we are satisfied with the objectives in the target selection has been appropriate. Those targets that have been hit are appropriate.
The targets have been successfully attacked.
JIM LEHRER: And the targets are being hit?
WILLIAM COHEN: We are satisfied that they are being hit, yes.
JIM LEHRER: And what, 40 or 50 now or is it even higher than that?
WILLIAM COHEN: Well, I don't want to talk in terms of numbers. But we're satisfied that the targets that we've selected on this aspect of the campaign have been successfully attacked. Not all have been completely demolished as such, but are subject to restrikes at any time. We are satisfied that the job that we're doing, pilots are carrying out their job with great courage and great professionalism.
JIM LEHRER: I know you are not releasing any information about, but just as a matter of fact, are you able to see the results of these attack in an accurate way?
WILLIAM COHEN: We are. We're able to make those determinations. It takes some time, some of it due to weather, some just waiting for the clarification of the imagery itself, but we are able to make a determination of the targets and what kind of damage is being done.
JIM LEHRER: Now the Yugoslav government has said today that at least ten civilians have been killed, 38 others, maybe as many as 50 others have been injured. Do you have any information that flies in the face or confirms that?
WILLIAM COHEN: We don't. Because as you know, the Serb government has cut off all access, the part of western observers and journalists to having independent access to this information. It is possible that some civilians have been killed or injured. We regret that very much. We've tried to take that into account. We don't wish to inflict damage or casualties upon anyone that is not part of this particular operation of Milosevic's. But I must point out that while Milosevic talks about the those that have been injured, he doesn't talk about the innocent civilians he has slaughtered. He has slaughtered hundreds if not thousands of civilians and sent tens of thousands into the hills from fleeing from his aggression over the years. On the one hand we take into account innocent civilians and weep want to express our regret that any innocent people have to be hurt. But he has done more than hurt people. He has killed innocent people by the hundreds, if not the thousands.
JIM LEHRER: Is there any question, Mr. Secretary, that some military personnel of the Serbian government have been injured or killed at this point?
WILLIAM COHEN: There have been some assessments, but I think we have to wait for further information before we can confirm any casualties on the Serb side.
JIM LEHRER: But when the Serbian government says, as they did today, there have been no serious... there has been no serious damage to military targets or their military capabilities, what should we make of that?
WILLIAM COHEN: I think that's Serb propaganda. I think the Serb propaganda machine will say that any casualties suffered will all be civilian and none military. I think we take that with a large grain of salt. I think as a result of shutting down the media, the control of the independent press, you're going to see more of the propaganda machine coming out of a dictatorship. We ought to expect that.
JIM LEHRER: Why would the United States in light of that, not give out what information you do have about what has been damaged, about what the casualties have been on the other side?
WILLIAM COHEN: Well, because the general in charge General Wes Clark has to make a determination in terms of releasing information, because it is an ongoing campaign, that he does not want to compromise in any way the safety or security of the pilots. We left it up to him to tell us. We are achieving our objective and I believe the American people in due course will be able to see some of that damage assessment.
|The level of resistance.|
JIM LEHRER: Now General Clark said this morning he confirmed the fact that three Yugoslav planes have been shot down. That was this morning U.S. time. Have there been any further updates that you know of about Yugoslav aircraft?
WILLIAM COHEN: No, I'm not in a position to update that. The three aircraft that he has confirmed were shot down, there may have been several other aircraft that were damaged or destroyed on the ground itself. We're in the process of reviewing that information now.
JIM LEHRER: What has been the level of resistance thus far to the NATO air strikes and the NATO aircraft?
WILLIAM COHEN: On the first day or evening, there were a number of aircraft sent up to try to interdict and confront allied forces. They were unsuccessful. There were no allied casualties whatsoever. And so that has been the nature of the resistance as far as the first night. We're ongoing operation right now, I can't really give you a complete assessment of what they're doing, as to whether any surface-to-air missiles have been fired or antiaircraft have been fired at our aircraft. I think we have to have more information before we can confirm that.
JIM LEHRER: There was much said going in, Mr. Secretary, that the Yugoslavs had very sophisticated air defense system. Was that bad information?
WILLIAM COHEN: No, it's good information. They still have a very sophisticated surface-to-air missile capability. What we have done is tried to go after their, what we call the air integrated defenses and to target those integrated defenses in a way that diminishes the possibility of putting our pilots at risk. So those have been the targets: communication centers, radars, antennas, those types of targets that would pose a problem for us as far as letting up, allowing their radars to light up our aircraft and then zero in with their surface-to-air missiles. So we've certainly have a campaign to deny them that opportunity to the extent that we can and so far it has been successful. But he still has a very robust, redundant air defense capability. That's why we're going after these integrated air defenses in the fashion that we have.
JIM LEHRER: And, that remains the number one priority on the second wave?
WILLIAM COHEN: It does. It remains a priority because until such time as you take those down, then you're not able to go after the other types of targets with the degree of certainty we like to have as far as putting our pilots in there.
JIM LEHRER: Just for the record, you said last night that all of the NATO planes returned to base safely. Is there any news yet on the second wave as to whether or not there have been any damage inflicted on any of our... any of the NATO planes?
WILLIAM COHEN: I did speak with General Clark a short time ago and he indicated to me that all aircraft had been accounted for. There have been no losses on the part of allied forces.
JIM LEHRER: Now has there been any word from President Milosevic since the bombing began?
WILLIAM COHEN: Well, I'm not aware of any word coming from Mr. Milosevic. There have been a number of statements made by some of his subordinates, none of which appear to meet the standard that we could insist upon that he stop the fighting, move his forces back and embrace the framework of Rambouillet. Until that happens, we certainly have to continue the air campaign.
|He can have peace tomorrow.|
JIM LEHRER: And General Clark said that, I mean the bombing is going to continue and continue and continue until Milosevic says, essentially, surrenders. Is that what it boils down to?
WILLIAM COHEN: What he has to do is take the keys to peace, which he has in his pocket, take them out and put them on the table and say he is prepared to pursue a peaceful resolution of the conflict. It takes agreement on the part of all parties, the Kosovar Albanians have agreed to it. He has refused. We are saying he must be discouraged and deterred from waging this assault upon the Kosovar Albanians. And failing that, we'll continue our effort to diminish his capacity to wage that kind of assault in the future. It's up to him. He can have peace tomorrow. He can come back and do the things that have been asked of him in the past. To the extent that he refuses to do so, he is going to continue to face this kind of an air campaign.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, do you mean that literally? That he could do something that would stop... there would be no third wave? There is some way he could communicate with the U.S. government or with NATO and this thing could end?
WILLIAM COHEN: He could end it immediately. He could say I'm calling off the fighting. I'm pulling my forces back. I'm removing the police and the armed forces, the VJ. We're going to agree to embrace the Rambouillet framework for a peaceful settlement of this. That could happen on a moment's notice. But so far he has refused to do that. And the indications are that he is unwilling at this time at least, to consider that. In that case, we are going to continue to diminish his capacity to wage this kind of war against the Kosovar Albanians.
WILLIAM COHEN: And there is no stop time or stop order in place down the road for NATO forces, right? In other words that Milosevic stops it, the bombing, or nobody does?
JIM LEHRER: Milosevic holds the keys to peace in this regard. The NATO forces will continue. All of the NATO countries understood that once this began, that we would carry it through to its successful conclusion. The missions that we've assigned to our military are very clear as far as we're concerned. And they will be carried out unless Mr. Milosevic really pulls his forces back, and again embraces the framework of Rambouillet.
WILLIAM COHEN: Now are his forces still attacking Kosovar forces in Kosovo?
JIM LEHRER: My understanding is that that is the case, that the fighting continues and that he is not in any way diminished his assault upon them. So it has not spread through a much wider region at this time but he has continued the fighting as it existed during the course of this week.
JIM LEHRER: So that would mean then that thus far, the NATO planes, the NATO bombing has not targeted those 40,000 troops who are involved in that fighting, is that correct? Is that a safe assumption?
WILLIAM COHEN: Well, I'm not going to talk about the targeting. What I will say is that the he runs a very real risk that he will see his capacity to continue fighting diminished if he continues waging this kind of assault.
JIM LEHRER: You said it has not spread any. There was a report earlier today that there had been some Serbian raids over the border into Albania. Can you shed any light on that?
WILLIAM COHEN: I don't have any information that would indicate that there have been those types of raids over the Albanian border.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, based on what you know and what you know is planned, et cetera, do you think a week from now we could be having the same kind of interview about well, let's go about the eighth wave or whatever? Do you think it will be over before then?
WILLIAM COHEN: That's up to Mr. Milosevic. It could be over tomorrow. It could continue until such time he meets the standards that the NATO countries have decided upon. And it's open to him. If he wants to stop it tomorrow, he can stop it tomorrow. If he wants it to continue, it will continue.
JIM LEHRER: After two days, from your perspective, the NATO attacks are on schedule?
WILLIAM COHEN: They're on schedule and we believe that they have been successfully carried out. And we are always praying for the safety and security of our pilots, the men and women flying the aircraft, all of the NATO countries. And so far we have been able to carry that out successfully without any casualties. But we have to remind everybody who is watching this program and aware of the situation, it's a very dangerous mission. That the Serb forces certainly have that robust air defense capability, and we have to be aware of that, that there is always a possibility of casualties on our part. We hope that's not the case but we'll continue to carry out our mission.
JIM LEHRER: Alright. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.