excerpts from FRONTLINE's interviews with
ralph peters | lawrence korb | general eric k. shinseki | andrew f. krepinevich | major general james dubik
Task Force Hawk has certainly been bisected and dissected endlessly. But the
basic lesson is the army could not get even helicopters to the conflict zone in
time. There were some factors that usually aren't discussed. The Italians
didn't want us coming through Italian territory and basing out of there. There
were problems on the ground with the French in Pristina, in Albania. But all
that said, we found that the army's attack helicopters, the premiere weapons
system, couldn't get there, couldn't be sustained, and couldn't protect itself
and, oh, by the way, the aviators weren't properly trained for that kind of
fight. It was a sad day for the army.
What were some of the lessons of Task Force Hawk?
During the war in Kosovo in the spring of 1999, the army made a futile attempt
to get its Apache helicopters into Albania, so they could be used in Kosovo.
That's a metaphor for what happened to the military, in general in the army,
particularly in the 1990s. The Apache is a very sophisticated aircraft. But
you have built up such logistics for it, that by the time you got it there, it
was no longer capable of doing or no longer needed to do what it, should have
done. And you ended up with not having the appropriate weapons to stop the
real problem of people being run out and killed in Kosovo, because it took so
long to get it there.
That's a metaphor for how heavy the army is; if you can't get it to where you
want to, it's no good. And I'm sure if this was a war with the Koreans or we
had to fight with the Soviet Union on the plains of Europe, this would have
been a heck of a situation, and you'd want to be that heavy. But you didn't
really need to be that heavy in Kosovo.
Just as I've cautioned us not to study the wrong lessons out of Desert Storm,
we need to be sure that we take the right lessons out of Task Force Hawk. And
there are some very good lessons in terms of how we prepare aviation units and
how we have looked after their equipment. There are those who have described
this as not a good moment for the army, but I think most of that has played out
in the media, and not in the professional discussions.
What you had was a commander in chief in Europe who decided that he needed this
capability in-country. The flow of equipment and personnel to meet the mission
Task Force Hawk was more than just a number of helicopters. It ended up being
a very significant heavy force of about 5,000 people to include tanks,
artillery pieces, and engineering equipment. The flow into the airfield there
in Tirana, in Albania, was complicated because it was also the center of a
large humanitarian effort to care for refugees that were crossing the Albanian
border. They had to balance both missions. You had a real world life-saving
mission, and a real world military requirement. And of the capability in that
airfield, eighty percent was given to taking care of the Albanian refugees,
and twenty percent was given to the arrival of Task Force Hawk.
With the arrival of heavy equipment to that part of Albania, there were no
roads that we could drive on, and the early-arriving units literally had to
build an installation in which to then deploy those helicopters. Everything
was under mud. It wasn't unusual to see soldiers up to their thighs and hips
wading around setting up that station. So the early-arriving engineers brought
in rock to lay a foundation to bring in the heavier equipment, tanks, artillery
pieces, and infantry vehicles, in order to give that mission some capability.
That was very much tied to on a time line that the regional commander in chief
wanted. His time line was satisfied. And the fact that twenty percent of the
flow into that airfield was allocated to Task Force Hawk suggested that he was
comfortable that that was an appropriate time line.
He will also tell you it was not until Task Force Hawk arrived that the
Albanian government felt comfortable about moving to the border themselves.
And when that happened, you had a collision between ground forces in Albania
and the lineup of Serbia forces at Kosovo. When that happened, we began to
have tactical targets that the air force and our other weapons systems could
now identify and begin targeting. Up until this point, most of our targeting
was against bridges and buildings. They were important targets, strategic
targets, but they're not tactical. In the business of war fighting, it's
destroying those targets that bring about the effect that we're looking for.
The army learned several lessons from Task Force Hawk. Perhaps the first one
was the political lesson. More and more people in Congress, even people in the
Pentagon, began to ask if the army strategically relevant--can the army get to
one of these unpredictable trouble spots in a hurry? To a certain extent,
there's a political as well as a strategic need for the army to address the
Task Force Hawk problem. But again, that is only a small part of the overall
ability of the army to project power. In the future, what the army is going to
confront is not just the need to move quickly to a distant trouble spot, but
the ability to do it in the absence of access to large forward fixed bases.
And the reason for this is that, increasingly, adversaries are going to take
advantage of this military revolution to acquire technology that enables them
to stare at these large fixed forward bases, say, from space. And with the
combination of the proliferation of ballistic and Cruise missiles, they're
going to target these bases.
One recalls the old western movies where the wagon train is trapped by the
Indians. The cavalry is riding to the rescue. The quickest route is through
the canyon, and of course the Indian scout says, "Don't go through the canyon.
They know that's the quickest route. That's where you'll be ambushed." And of
course the young lieutenant always takes his troop in, and gets ambushed. And
sooner or later, John Wayne has to rescue them all.
In a sense, these fixed forward bases are the canyons of the twenty-first
century. As long as we continue to project power that way, the enemy knows we
has to pass through that choke point. The army must transform itself to be
able to operate independent of these forward bases, to project power into a
threatened region without having to funnel forces through them. Or else these
kinds of bases could become the Omaha Beaches and the Anzios of the
twenty-first century for the U.S. Army.
How much did the [army] transformation draw from the lessons learned with
Task Force Hawk in Kosovo?
Task Force Hawk was one of the influences. If you look at the variety of
operations that we conducted since the end of the Cold War--Panama, Somalia,
Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo--each one has some very similar characteristics. One,
they're underdeveloped infrastructures. Two, there was a variety of threats.
Three, those threats are both conventional combat and asymmetrical. And four,
they're very hard to get to due to the long logistics line.
So what we want to do, as an army, is look at those as examples of future
conflicts. We don't want to prepare better for the last war. We want to be
ready for the next kind of war. And what the next war needs is a force that
can go into anywhere very quickly, doesn't need a big logistics tail, doesn't
need a main airport. They can plunk themselves down and be combat ready upon
arrival. That's what this brigade does, and that's what the future objective
force will do as well.
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