|CAMPAIGN FOR KOSOVO|
April 15, 1999
MARGARET WARNER: NATO and US military leaders accepted responsibility today for the bombing yesterday that killed 64 Kosovar civilians. How that attack happened was the focus of briefings in Brussels and Washington. Spencer Michels has our summary of the events of day 23.
SPENCER MICHELS: Western reporters were escorted by Yugloslav monitors today to the road near Djakovica, where the attack on the convoy took place. The pictures of the devastation were taken under the strict control of the Serb Media Center in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. NATO, which had originally questioned reports of an allied attack on civilians, today officially confirmed "that it appears that one of its aircraft mistakenly dropped a bomb on a civilian vehicle in a convoy." Bodies, clothing, wagons and tractors were scattered over the site, where a refugee convoy was apparently moving toward the Albanian border. A doctor at a nearby hospital said 43 people had been admitted with wounds he said were consistent with an explosion. Some of the patients described what they saw.
REFUGEE: (speaking through interpreter) We saw the planes in the sky. We were in a column on a trailer. My two daughters, one five, the other six, were killed and the rest of them, my husband's brother and his wife were also killed.
SPENCER MICHELS: Other refugees made it across the border into Albania, where they were interviewed about the attack.
REFUGEE: (speaking through interpreter) Leave me alone, I'm too confused. I can't think anymore. Planes were flying and then there was an explosion and I'm sure it was NATO who attacked us.
SPENCER MICHELS: This morning NATO officials erased all doubt that a NATO plane attacked the convoy. Spokesman Jamie Shea began with an apology.
JAMIE SHEA, NATO Spokesman: NATO deeply regrets the loss of life to civilians from the attack yesterday on a convoy traveling between Prizren and Djakovica. Yesterday a NATO pilot was operating over western Kosovo. He saw many villages being burned. This is an area where the Yugoslav special police forces, the MUP, have been conducting ethnic cleansing operations in recent days. The pilot attacked what he believed to be military vehicles in a convoy. He was convinced he had the right target. He dropped his bomb in good faith, as you would expect a trained pilot from a democratic NATO country to do.
SPENCER MICHELS: NATO General Giuseppe Marani played an audio tape of the unidentified pilot of the attack plane, who was flying at 15,000 feet. He told of seeing villages that had been set ablaze and what looked like a convoy.
AMERICAN PILOT: We see three uniformly shaped dark green vehicles, look like deuce and a half troop-carrying vehicles. They come to a stop at the next house down the road, and I'm convinced now that that's the VJ and MUP forces working their way down toward Djakovica and the refugees, and they're preparing to set this next house on fire. I take my system, my targeting pod, and I make several passes over these vehicles to ensure they are, in fact, military vehicles. I roll in on two passes to get a close look, both with my eyeballs and with my targeting pod. And I make a decision at that point that these are the people responsible for burning down the villages that I've seen so far. I go in, put my system on the lead vehicle and execute a laser-guided bomb attack on that vehicle, destroying the lead vehicle.
SPENCER MICHELS: Reporters at the NATO briefing said they still didn't understand exactly what had happened.
REPORTER: I'm sorry, I'm just very, very confused by your responses. You say that when the pilot was attacking these vehicles, they appeared to be military vehicles. Were they military vehicles with civilians inside them, or were they, in fact, tractors? What do you know about these vehicles after they were attacked?
BRIG. GENERAL GIUSEPPE MARANI, NATO Military Spokesman: Okay. Basically --
REPORTER: Did they change?
BRIG. GENERAL GIUSEPPE MARANI: No, no, of course they didn't change. But after they were attacked, probably the best information that we have are the ones we see on television. But when the pilot attacked, the vehicles appeared to him and to his sensors to be military vehicles. This is why he attacked them.
SPENCER MICHELS: In London, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook ridiculed Yugoslavia's concern over the attack.
ROBIN COOK, Foreign Secretary, Britain: How dare they now produce crocodile tears for people killed in the conflict for which they themselves are responsible.
SPENCER MICHELS: President Clinton, in a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in San Francisco, called the attack on the convoy regrettable, but inevitable.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We are bending over backwards to hit military targets, to hit security targets, even to hit a lot of targets late at night where the losses in human life will be minimized. These efforts have been made, and they have been remarkably successful, so certain regrettable things will happen. We will do our best. The military will evaluate this incident, as it does every other one.
SPENCER MICHELS: Mr. Clinton said that NATO was prepared to continue its effort as long as necessary.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We are in Kosovo because we care about saving lives and we care about the character of the multiethnic post Cold War world. We don't want young democracies that have made the right choices to be overwhelmed by the flight of refugees and the victories of ethnic hatreds. We don't want to see Europe re-fight with tanks and artillery the same battles they fought centuries ago with axes and arrows. We cannot allow the Milosevic vision, rooted as it is in hatred and violence and cynicism, to prevail. We must remember the principle we and our allies have been fighting for in the Balkans is the principle of multiethnic, tolerant, inclusive democracy. We have been fighting against the idea that statehood must be based entirely on ethnicity.
SPENCER MICHELS: The plight of refugees, both in Kosovo and beyond its borders, shows no signs of abating. Thousands more ethnic Albanians poured into Blace, Macedonia, today, as Serbs reportedly are clearing out the southern Urosevac region and bussing refugees to near the border. The United Nations fears that 20,000 people or more will cross the border from Kosovo soon. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says it may be forced to move some of them to other countries.
MARGARET WARNER: Reinforcements for the air campaign reached bases in Europe today. There were nearly 80 American planes, including fighters, radar jammers, and refueling tankers. Apache helicopter gun ships were deployed to Albania. NATO and President Clinton must give final approval for their use. In Washington, two congressional committees got progress reports from the top men at the Pentagon. Kwame Holman reports.
KWAME HOLMAN: Sitting before former Senate colleagues on the Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Cohen expressed deep regret about the civilian loss of life from yesterday's NATO bombing raids.
WILLIAM COHEN, Secretary of Defense: Any time there's a loss of innocent life, of civilians being killed during the course of combat, it is regrettable.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Cohen asked members of the committee to consider the operational conditions under which the tragedy occurred.
WILLIAM COHEN: I think we have to take into account the very fact that you've got pilots who are traveling at 400 or 500, or perhaps even in excess of the speed of sound, having to make split-second determinations under very extraordinary circumstances, where they are being fired at by AAA fire and surface-to-air missiles has to be taken into account when they're trying to carry out this mission.
KWAME HOLMAN: Cohen's apologetic tone turned to anger, however, when he talked about Yugoslav President Milosevic's characterization of the civilian deaths.
WILLIAM COHEN: I think it is grotesque that Milosevic can take to the airwaves and somehow label this most recent incident and tragedy an atrocity. For him to talk in terms of atrocities, when, in fact, he has caused the displacement and the refugee status of in excess of a million people, where he has sent in 40,000 of his military, paramilitary, police, hooded thugs to savagely kill and slaughter at random and on a wholesale basis these innocent people -- for him to talk about atrocities when an error occurred on the part of someone trying to carry out a mission to save their lives, I think is one of the most grotesque statements that I could conceive of.
KWAME HOLMAN: The NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia is entering its fourth week, and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Henry Shelton used charts to illustrate the US military commitment to the NATO mission so far.
GEN. HENRY SHELTON, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: Mr. Chairman, first of all, to look at the forces that we have there now, the aircraft today total 463. It's a combination of 277 fighters and bombers, those being the B-1, the B-2's, the F-117s, the A-10, the F-15, F-16 types. We also have 219 support aircraft, aircraft that we couldn't carry out the mission without: The refuelers, the electronic warfare aircraft, the psychological operations aircraft and a whole host of others, to include helicopters, and then 17 aircraft that we use for intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance -- the Israelis -- the eyes and ears of the operation. We also have Naval forces in the area, from aircraft carriers, you can see cruisers, destroyers, a couple of submarines and mine sweepers.
KWAME HOLMAN: Secretary Cohen took it upon himself to explain why the 24 Apache helicopters NATO requested two weeks ago hadn't yet been put to use.
WILLIAM COHEN: Getting the Apaches into place is not a difficult problem. You could fly the Apaches in in a matter of couple of days, but the Apaches do not go in on their own. There must be substantial force protection for them. They must have an area cleared for safe operations. They must compete for air space and landing space with the great humanitarian effort that is underway. So it takes a bit longer than the few days that we would have been anticipated, and that is now being carried out and they are moving into Albania and they'll be ready for operation very soon.
KWAME HOLMAN: But many members of Congress clearly are frustrated by what they perceive has been an ineffectual air campaign and by NATO's reluctance to plan the use of ground troops. Arizona Republican John McCain has been perhaps the most outspoken.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN, (R) Arizona: Should we believe that no planning is taking place, or should we assume the denials of such planning are for public consumption and don't reflect the true state of affairs? The ambiguity benefits only our adversary in this conflict. By refusing to hold open a credible threat to do what is necessary to defeat Serb forces, we can only embolden them to continue a pattern of aggression and atrocities that after Bosnia we swore would not be repeated. There's a considerable difference between fighting a war to win and fighting not to lose. The painful analogy that continues to scar our national consciousness cannot help but come to mind. The visions of political leaders in Washington, studying operational plans and eliminating targets for political reasons, or out of the misguided notion that the military action can be so finely tailored to conform to the intricacies of negotiating tactics is a recipe for disaster.
GEN. HENRY SHELTON: Senator McCain, there's no argument, I don't think, that in terms of military planning, that you always should worst-case it in deciding how military force can contribute to the achievement of your political objectives. And I think probably the only option worse than no option would be having an option that would be used or threatened for which there was not political consensus to carry it out, so it was a NATO decision to only have an air option. And I might add that I think as we look at the ground option, and in a political context of NATO, there are several things that I think we need to keep focused on or keep our eye on the ball, so to speak. And that is the fact that it would be if we had an option, a planned option for ground forces, it would be a long and drawn-out proposition from the deployment to using it. There, needless to say, will be casualties on both sides, but on the NATO side as well as US. There is a risk of a breach of the relationship with Russia, as referred to by Senator Warner. There is a political alliance or an allied consensus that is there now, that if, in fact, we pursued this might not be there. And, of course, we'd need the support not only of this Congress but of the American people. If all that's in place, then we would proceed forward, I think. But without it, we probably would fracture the alliance.
KWAME HOLMAN: Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed was less critical but also expressed concern.
SEN. JACK REED, (D) Rhode Island: This air campaign-- and would I agree with you, it is premature to judge it or a success or failure -- but rapidly will come that to that point of judgment, and we will not have the option that we should have because we've not engaged in planning and more particularly, the movement of forces into the theater. All of these things could lead us ultimately to a position where by default our strategy is contain, degrade, and feed: Contain Milosevic, degrade his forces, and then indefinitely feed and house hundreds of thousands of refugees, which I don't think is the objective that we embarked upon, but we could, in fact, find ourselves in that position.
WILLIAM COHEN: It's not a situation where, if we were acting alone, we would do things differently. I think we would. We had to make a choice as to whether or not it was in the overall interest to maintain this as an alliance endeavor, as opposed to taking action unilaterally. I can't imagine what would have been the reaction of this committee, given the circumstances in which we found ourselves or the Kosovars found themselves, if I was called to appear before the committee and I said, there's no consensus in NATO to take any action, but we think, in the interest of preserving the humanitarian interests of this country and our humane soul, that we undertake this operation alone. I don't think I would have been met or greeted with a very positive response.
KWAME HOLMAN: Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee wrapped up their questioning of Cohen and Shelton by early afternoon. The two then made their way across the capitol grounds to provide answers to many of the same questions before the House Armed Services Committee. Mississippi Democrat Gene Taylor compared Kosovo to the Gulf War in which, he said, the US military positioned itself to win right from the start.
REP. GENE TAYLOR, (D) Mississippi: I've got to believe Milosevic is sitting back saying, "They're not serious. I've seen what they do when they're serious. They're not doing that now." And I think it's very fair, now that we're in it, Mr. Secretary, why aren't we doing those things?
WILLIAM COHEN: We have a different situation. We have the military commander, we have S AC U R, we also have chairman of the military committee in United States NATO, both of whom have stated that they believe this campaign can be carried out effectively with the air campaign and had not made a request for any consideration of even planning for a ground campaign in a hostile environment. So under these circumstances, we have the consensus, which is important to hold, and we think we can carry this through effectively.
KWAME HOLMAN: At the end of the day, Virginia Republican Herb Bateman wanted to leave the Defense Secretary and Joint Chiefs Chairman with one thought. In doing so, he expressed the view of a large segment of Congress.
REP. HERBERT BATEMAN, (R) Virginia: I would most strongly urge you to urge our President to ask the Congress to endorse his stated political and military objectives and for our authority to utilize such means as he thought necessary and defined, as commander-in-chief, in order that those people wearing our uniform, who will do his bidding, will have the assurance that the Congress of the United States, speaking for the people of the United States, the only way they can be heard, have indeed endorsed these policy objectives.
KWAME HOLMAN: The two may have taken that directly to the White house, where both military leaders were headed after seven hours on Capitol Hill.