March 31, 1999
Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, provides an update on the NATO strikes in Yugoslavia.
JIM LEHRER: The Senate Armed Services Committee has been receiving regular briefings on the war. We get ours now from the Committee's Chairman, Senator John Warner, Republican of Virginia. Senator, can you add -- those are terribly moving stories.
|The Campaign of ethnic cleansing.|
JOHN WARNER (R-VA), Senate Armed Services Committee: Indeed they are,
Jim, and about six months ago, I was in Kosovo and saw the suffering from
the Milosevic butchery campaign last summer. And we had hoped, after the
Holbrooke mission, that we'd reached some accord, and then of course Rambouillet,
and it fell apart. And whatever we discuss tonight and our panel to follow,
I'm sure there's grounds for "what if" and criticism, but I
would urge all at this time to focus on the risks being taken tonight
by American fliers, and those of eight other allied NATO nations, as they
continue to carry out this military campaign.
JIM LEHRER: Have you heard anything in any of your briefings, Senator, that would lead you not to believe the stories of these refugees as to what is going on and why they are leaving Kosovo?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: No, I think there's a mounting body of evidence to corroborate these tragic stories by individuals.
JIM LEHRER: In a general way, how do you feel about this mission, eight days after it began?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, we had, I think, a basis to believe that Milosevic would not have subjected his own people in Belgrade and elsewhere to the type of very serious damage being inflicted by the air campaign. But he has not, for reasons, perhaps some day we will learn more fully. I think all the diplomatic efforts, including perhaps the futile one by Primakov have been made, and he only historically responds to military pressure. And we've got to stay the course. There are no other alternatives. I know that valued colleagues of mine have thought about let's arm the Kosovars. In my judgment, and this is just one person's judgment, I think within two weeks he will pretty well have fulfilled his objectives in Kosovo of ridding the Kosovar army of any ability to combat his takeover of that region.
JIM LEHRER: And so there's literally nothing NATO could do about it now even if they wanted to?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, NATO has been doing everything they can. Weather has been a serious obstacle; terrain is like an enemy.
JIM LEHRER: Why is that?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, because -- I've walked those hills and seen them, it's very mountainous and pockets of fog hang in; bad weather can come up in a matter of minutes and obscure a target. But NATO has done everything it can within the frame work of the use of air power and is continuing. We're moving into -- I don't know, whether it's phase one, two or three, that's irrelevant. What we're doing now is concentrating on those assets that Milosevic personally needs to continue to conduct his campaign in Kosovo, and perhaps pose a greater threat across the borders.
JIM LEHRER: Now, that includes some military targets right in downtown Belgrade, does it not?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, I should not -- nor should any of us -- discuss specific targets, but the NATO people -- mind you, this campaign is not just an American campaign, it was planned by 19 nations and presumably the best military staff that can be brought together and reach a consensus. That's why we should stick with it. But we shouldn't discuss targets. But we know we're going to bring it to his command and control and his ability to communicate with his field commanders, and at the same time, to the extent weather and other factors, like shoulder-held weapons, which they have in abundance down there with the tanks in Kosovo, to the extent we can, we're going to bring pressure on those military units, trying to clean out the pockets of the Kosovar resistance.
JIM LEHRER: Now you mention -
SEN. JOHN WARNER: The KLA.
|The Kosovo Liberation Army.|
|JIM LEHRER: Yes, the KLA. Now, is the K LA effective, is
the KLA resisting this?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: This is a legitimate question. And I think we should at some point in time examine the intelligence we once had, which indicated it was substantial and formidable. But I have not as yet seen they have put up the type of fight that I thought they would in trying to resist this ethnic cleansing of tragic proportions.
JIM LEHRER: Well, should we arm them more?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: I think not because, remember, the US -- and that thought only originated in the United States -- the US has been one of a team player of 19 nations. And to inject that here in the closing days of what I believe is Milosevic's ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosovo, he's created the problem he set out to do, in other words, in the adjoining areas with the refugees; he's pretty well subdued whatever KLA opposition once existed, and now he feels he's going to consolidate those gains and then face the world. But in the meantime, we're going to continue to bring very severe and hopefully unacceptable damage on his command and control and possibly targets in the central region that you mentioned.
JIM LEHRER: But Senator, if I'm understanding what you're saying, Milosevic has already accomplished what he set out to do. We're talking about reversing something, is that right?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: He hasn't fully accomplished that, because, in doing so, he's degraded his military, and within the next 10 days, there will be, I think, much more than we've been able to deal thus far in the way of damage. But the ethnic cleansing part probably, and this is just my judgment, will be completed in a matter of weeks. That's why when people say let's bring to bear ground forces, that requires a very considerable amount of time to transport and put in place elements, tanks, heavy equipment, artillery, helicopters that would be used to support those ground units. That option, practically speaking, is not there.
JIM LEHRER: And a lot of people misunderstand that, don't they, Senator? They think, oh, well, let's put in ground troops, somebody snaps their finger, and suddenly there are 200,000 ground troops. Forget it, right?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: The ones in Macedonia were designed and equipped primarily for quick extraction of the UN forces and the other humanitarian people who were in there.
JIM LEHRER: That's 28,000 altogether?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: General number.
JIM LEHRER: Six thousand of them are American.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: They could probably deal with isolated units of the Serb army, but if you had to go through and attack the central forces of the Serb army, you need heavy armor of greater proportion that they have because, remember, any offensive operation, has to be better equipped than a defense. And they would essentially be put on defense if we were to attack.
|No contigency plans?|
JIM LEHRER: Everyone who appears to be in a position of authority within NATO and within the U.S. government, within the Pentagon, keeps saying that there are not even contingency plans for putting troops in there, with the exception of peacekeeping troops. Does that jibe with you?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: That's correct, and that has been the plan all along. Now, there were studies made, and I reviewed them last September and October, and they were significant numbers of people and heavy equipment, which had to be transported from the Adriatic Sea up through Albania -- is one of the main routes - and that was a logistic operation that would require a number of weeks.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with -- in our film clip we had Former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci saying it would take at least 200,000 troops; is that a figure that makes sense to you?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, some of the planning in NATO had very high estimates, but, again, as we talk to those issues, and I respect Secretary Carlucci, former secretary of defense, but someone better look at where our assets, how quickly they could be brought to bare and the likelihood that Milosevic will not have completed what he set out to do by way of ethnic cleansing in the period of time within which you could bring those in.
JIM LEHRER: So then how do we win this thing? If in fact everybody is now saying no matter where they came down at the very beginning on this operation, Senator, most people are now saying that NATO must now win this; can NATO in fact win this without ground troops?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, you have to go back and examine very carefully the President's statement, which did he obliquely hint at, all right, Mr. Milosevic , if you do not stop what you're doing, then there may be within the NATO structure some thought independence for this country, and there, Mr. Milosevic , you will have lost your battle, because that's holy ground, the old 1389 battlefield. I actually went and saw it one time. That's holy ground.
JIM LEHRER: That's really holy ground for Serbs.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: That's right, absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: We did a long piece on it the other night on this program.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: The victory in terms of clear winning to me is quite elusive in this situation. But I do not at this point in time think we should be criticizing what has taken place because all these military people have done what they were ordered to do as best they could, considering the weather and the terrain and other factors.
JIM LEHRER: And one of those factors being told at the beginning, you can't use ground troops?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Clearly the political structure, and it's not just within -- although our President made it clear -- it was within the NATO framework of planning by this planning staff that that would not be an option. Otherwise, they could have pre-positioned the heavy tanks and military vehicles and artillery and the like and then had as an option -
JIM LEHRER: Which is what happened in Desert Storm.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: It's clearly what happened. And, now, of course, hindsight may be that you should not have abandoned any option in the beginning, put all options in place, and then determine whether or not to use it. But again, I think at this point in time, we've got to think about the safety of those people flying those missions and not go back and perform a lot of "what if" and "what should have been done." Let's see it through, stick to it.
JIM LEHRER: But see it through with air power only.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: That's correct.
JIM LEHRER: And you believe -- and you know a lot more about this than anybody else -- you believe it can still happen with air power alone?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: To the extent we can be effective in containing Milosevic from going across his borders, destabilizing the other nations, and perhaps further suffering in the Kosovo region, air is the one option and we've got to pursue it. Now, again, I think probably in a matter of weeks he will have completed what he set out to do, because we do not have any indications that the KLA is going to give him that type of resistance that would delay his progress.
JIM LEHRER: So how do you feel about it yourself, Senator? You -
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, it's a human tragedy of great proportions. But you have to ask your question what if we had done nothing as a collection of 19 nations? Here in this most holy of weeks of Easter, and done nothing, and watched these same pictures -- how would you have reacted to that? So it seems to me that we had little choice but the 19 nations of mounting the actions they have taken today and to see them through to the finish.
JIM LEHRER: Senator, thank you very much.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: You bet, thank you.