FRONTLINE 1813 "War in
Europe," Part 2
Air date: February 29, 2000
War in Europe
Part Two: The Real War
Produced by Michael Kirk, Eamonn Matthews, Rick
Written by Peter J. Boyer
Michael Kirk and Rick Young
Peter J. Boyer, Correspondent
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE:
Gen. WESLEY CLARK, Supreme Allied Cmdr. NATO: This was
a mission that was do or die for NATO.
ANNOUNCER: Part 2 of the inside story of the war on
TONY BLAIR, British Prime Minister: Milosevic had to
know that we were prepared to do whatever it took to win.
ANNOUNCER: Behind the scenes, there was another war
between the imperatives of military violence-
Gen. MICHAEL C. SHORT, Allied Air Force Cmdr.: You go
after the head of the snake. You put a dagger in the heart of the
ANNOUNCER: -and the imperatives of NATO
Gen. MICHAEL C. SHORT: No single target was more
important than maintaining the consensus of NATO.
ANNOUNCER: It was an air war hamstrung by politics and
its own deadly mistakes.
Gen. MICHAEL C. SHORT: General Clark called me direct
and said, "Mike, you've hit the Chinese embassy."
ANNOUNCER: The failures of the air war would force
President Clinton to face the one decision he had desperately tried to avoid, to
send American troops into a bloody ground war.
IVO DAALDER, NSC Dir. European Affairs ('95-'97): You
lose this war, NATO is ended. The credibility of American foreign policy is at
ANNOUNCER: Tonight the dramatic conclusion of War
NARRATOR: It could be said that the war in Europe
began in Washington, here in the office of the secretary of state. Madeleine
Albright believed that America had the opportunity and the obligation to
exercise power with moral purpose. Her doctrine of "virtuous power" was being
tested in the most vexing corner of Europe, the Balkans.
In early 1998, fighting had erupted in Kosovo, a province of
the disintegrating Yugoslavia. In that place of ancient trouble, ethnic
Albanians and their Serbian rulers both claimed title to a land that each held
sacred. The Kosovar Albanians, resisting Serb oppression, turned to a band of
insurgents call the Kosovo Liberation Army, the KLA. Their armed insurrection
brought violent retribution from the most ruthless man in Europe, Serbian leader
For Madeleine Albright, there was only one way to deal with a
bully like Milosevic.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, Secretary of State: I believe that
Milosevic is the source of the problem. We all knew that he best understood the
use of force, that unless you're prepared to use force or have the threat of the
use of force, it's difficult to deal with someone who only understands
NARRATOR: Western diplomats would repeatedly threaten
to bomb Milosevic, but he never seemed to believe them.
Amb. RICHARD HOLBROOKE, Special Envoy - Balkans:
Milosevic said to me at one point, "Are you crazy enough to bomb us over these
issues we're talking about in that lousy little Kosovo?" And I said, "You bet.
We're just crazy enough to do it."
NARRATOR: Finally, on March 24th, 1999, NATO launched
Pres. BILL CLINTON: [television address] My
fellow Americans, today our armed forces joined our NATO allies in air strikes
against Serbian forces responsible for the brutality in Kosovo.
NARRATOR: The president reassured America that this
would be no Vietnam, promising not to send ground troops.
Pres. BILL CLINTON: [television address] But I
do not intend to put our troops in Kosovo to fight a war.
NARRATOR: A brief bombing campaign, the politicians
believed, would back Milosevic down.
Gen. MICHAEL C. SHORT, Allied Air Force Cmdr.: I can't
tell you how many times the instruction I got was, "Mike, you're only going to
be allowed to bomb two, maybe three nights."
NARRATOR: But Washington and its allies were badly
Gen. MICHAEL C. SHORT: As the conflict progressed, it
was very clear this wasn't going to be a three-night war, that Milosevic was
digging in. He didn't believe NATO had resolve for the long term.
NARRATOR: NATO's gamble failed. When the bombing
began, the Serbs accelerated a violent campaign of ethnic cleansing. Kosovo was
being emptied of ethnic Albanians. The very people NATO had gone to war to
protect were streaming out of the province.
And then other alarming images, pictures of a downed Stealth
fighter and three American POWs, images that brought home the unwelcome reality.
America and its NATO allies had stumbled into a real war, a war they could not
IVO DAALDER, NSC Dir. European Affairs ('95-'97):
Politically, we can't lose the war. Militarily, we can't lose this war.
Strategically, we can't lose this war. If we lose this war, NATO is ended, the
credibility of American foreign policy is at an end.
NARRATOR: It seems inconceivable that the outcome
could have ever been in doubt. The war in Europe was a contest between the
world's mightiest military alliance and the tiny, over-matched army of a Balkan
But this was a war that would be fought by committee.
Political considerations in Washington and among its European allies would set
the terms. Ground troops were off the table. This war would have to be fought
from the air alone. And even, then there was a battle between the generals and
the politicians over how hard to hit Milosevic. The allied air commander wanted
to take the war straight to Milosevic in Belgrade, hitting with savage
Gen. MICHAEL C. SHORT, Allied Air Force Cmdr.: You
want to crush the enemy. To use a phrase I've used before, you go after the
head of the snake. You put a dagger in the heart of the adversary, and you
bring- you bring to bear all the force that you have at your command.
NARRATOR: But there was a political problem with that.
Scenes of a European capital in flames were more than some of the European
allies could stomach.
Dr. JAVIER SOLANA, NATO Secretary General ('95-'99):
Belgrade is a city of Europe, and you cannot launch a- you know, a military
campaign without the support and the understanding of the people that support
the governments who take that decision.
Gen. WESLEY CLARK, Supreme Allied Cmdr. NATO: In
Europe, there's a terrible aftermath of World War II, and nations and
individuals have memories of the terror of bombing and what it does to civilian
populations. And I think European leaders were acutely aware of the sensitivity
of their publics, their electorate, their leaderships, to the dangers of
unrestricted aerial warfare.
NARRATOR: Nevertheless, with the war going badly,
Clark desperately wanted to step up the pressure on Milosevic. He asked his
boss, German General Klaus Naumann, for permission.
Gen. KLAUS NAUMANN, Former Chairman, NATO Military
Committee: General Clark asked us to authorize a strike against the police
headquarters and the Ministry of the Interior in downtown Belgrade. When we saw
that some 500 or 600 meters away from the Serb Ministry of the Interior there's
a hospital in Belgrade. And when we saw this, I said, "If we hit by sheer
accident this hospital, then the war is over."
NARRATOR: On April 3, NATO bombers loaded up for a run
on Belgrade after winning the reluctant approval of NATO's politicians. NATO's
high-tech precision bombs struck with devastating accuracy. But at NATO, the
vivid results of the military success only served to intensify the political
worries within the coalition. So the politicians now insisted on approval and
veto power over what targets the allied bombers could hit.
Gen. MICHAEL C. SHORT: There were numerous occasions
where airplanes were airborne, and the senior national rep would run in to me
and say, "Our parliament won't allow us to strike that target," or "Our
authorities will not allow your airplanes, which took off from our soil, to
strike that target."
NARRATOR: This was consensus warfare. Alliance unity
was paramount to NATO's supreme commander, Wes Clark.
Gen. WESLEY CLARK: From the outset, we were trying to
structure a military campaign that met the political requirements. No single
target, no set of targets, no bombing series was more important than maintaining
the consensus of NATO.
NARRATOR: So now bombing downtown Belgrade was out.
What the politicians were focused on was Kosovo and the possibility that NATO's
war had exacerbated the horrific refugee crisis that was unfolding
WILLIAM FILLMAN, NATO Intelligence Chief: The Serb
forces had really begun their operation against the Kosovar Albanians across
Kosovo. We saw these large-scale operations now going on against the civil
populace, with the police, but also now with army forces very
NARRATOR: One Serb soldier described the methodical
precision of ethnic cleansing.
SERB SOLDIER: [through interpreter] There was
a system that was applied throughout all the Yugoslavian wars. You would
surround the village on three sides, and the fourth would be left for the
civilians to run out of, so they had the opportunity of leaving the village.
When a young Albanian was caught, it was assumed he was KLA. He'd be taken away
and questioned, and afterwards he'd be shot. The questioning was a
NARRATOR: Wes Clark was pressed into service for a
Gen. WESLEY CLARK: [press briefing] You can
see the houses without any roofs all over town. This is a symptom of the ethnic
cleansing- going in, throwing a grenade, starting a fire, turning on the gas
before the grenade's thrown, and it blows the roof off.
Gen. KLAUS NAUMANN, Former Chairman, NATO Military
Committee: I think the ethnic cleansing and the expulsion was not triggered
by NATO. It may have been accelerated by NATO. And definitely, some of the
atrocities which happened I think were caused by NATO bombs. And this was
simply this vendetta feeling which is pervading in the Balkans anyway. And they
saw that their compatriots were bombed. They saw that Belgrade was bombed. So
they took revenge with these people who could not defend themselves.
NARRATOR: NATO's political leaders wanted their
generals to stop the ethnic cleansing.
JAVIER SOLANA: I did feel to a certain extent
responsible also because I was a member of the European Community, and that was
taking place in front of our eyes, in Europe, things that my generation thought
never again would see that.
Gen. WESLEY CLARK: It was very important politically.
It was very important militarily. These forces, after all, were the- they were
the cause of the problem. They were the agent of the ethnic cleansing. They
were the support for the ethnic cleansing.
NARRATOR: So the military had its orders. It was to
fight in Kosovo without ground troops and from the relative safety of three
Gen. MICHAEL C. SHORT: Fifteen thousand feet was going
to be the floor because that kept us up out of the small arms environment. It
kept us out of the shoulder-held Stinger SA7 kind of environment.
NARRATOR: Even for the greatest military force ever,
it was a mission that would prove almost impossible. This is what the allied
fliers were asked to do. Without troops on the ground to find the Serbs,
forward air spotters had to direct bombers to their targets.
Maj. THOMAS FELDHAUSEN, Forward Air Controller, USAF:
I said, "Okay, let's imagine you're in a car." And I'm telling this on the
radio. "I want you to drive the car up until you get to the warehouse that's
green on the left, and I want you to turn left there. I want you to go down
that road until you see the fork." And he's telling me all the time on the
radio, "Yeah, I see that. Yeah, I see that."
Squadron Leader CHRIS HUCKSTEP, Royal Air Force: Found
the target, happy with that. I can see the little tiny vehicles that we're
talking about. And then just I round out around to set up for the attack, the
American calls. You know, "Hold it!" or words to that effect. "There's a
civilian bus has pulled up next to them."
Maj. THOMAS FELDHAUSEN: Air power can do an awful lot,
but it's never going to stop the ability of a guy on the ground of taking a can
of gasoline and a match and lighting a house on fire or lining a group of
civilians up against a wall and shooting them.
Gen. KLAUS NAUMANN: I said it's- I think on two or
three occasions in the Council that they are asking for the impossible. They
want us to stop the- let's say the individual murderer going with his knife from
village to village and carving up some Kosovars. That you cannot do from the
air. You cannot hit this guy. You have to be in to stop it.
NARRATOR: The generals believed that deciding to fight
this kind of war, chasing tanks in Kosovo, took the pressure off of
Gen. MICHAEL C. SHORT: I believe there was a great
sigh of relief in Belgrade. I just didn't think it was the way to use my
assets, and I didn't think it was going to get us to where we wanted to get to,
which is to have Milosevic modify his activity and stop ethnic
NARRATOR: And NATO had unintentionally given Milosevic
a tactical battlefield advantage.
Group Capt. ANDRE DEZONIE, Royal Air Force: The Serbs
had put their forces in villages, under bridges, in towns, anywhere near human
refugee-type habitation, so it would make it difficult for us to go and attack
them. Anywhere the refugees could be, they put forces and hide them away. So
the first- the problem was finding them, first of all, and then the second thing
is making sure there are no refugees around. And if there's any doubt, there
was no doubt. Don't drop. [www.pbs.org: Read NATO pilots' war
NARRATOR: General Short thought this approach was
wasteful and potentially dangerous.
Gen. MICHAEL C. SHORT: We felt that we were going to
spend a lot of assets to get minimum return. It was going to take a lot of
sorties to kill a tank, and there was enormous risk of hitting the wrong target
because we knew refugees would be moving around in this ethnic cleansing
NARRATOR: On April 14th, in Kosovo, NATO fliers spied
what they thought was a prime target, a Serb military convoy they were cleared
to attack. It was not a Serb military convoy, but rather Albanian Kosovars
fleeing in wagons pulled by tractors.
1st REFUGEE: [through interpreter] When we
were approximately 200 meters from the Bistrazin bridge - more or less that
distance - our tractor was attacked. We were all watching as the bombs went
off- so many people, all packed together. Then the noise hit me. It threw me
15 meters into the air.
NARRATOR: More than 60 Kosovars reportedly
2nd REFUGEE: [through interpreter] When I
went, what could I see? The women who'd fallen from the tractors were crushed
underneath on the asphalt. Flames everywhere. My granddaughter was lying on
the ground, hardly alive. She was taken to hospital, but she died the same
night. My youngest daughter had had her neck completely blown away. Only her
body, you know? I didn't know if it was my daughter. I could only tell by her
clothes. Then I turned around and searched to see my brother-in-law's family.
Some had no legs. My brother-in-law, the same. My husband, only
NARRATOR: Reports of the tragedy reached NATO
headquarters. But for days they denied it.
NATO SPOKESMAN: [press conference] We are
satisfied that we struck military targets. If we have further information,
we'll share it with you, but we cannot give you information that we do not
Gen. WESLEY CLARK: What we ended up doing is, over a
period of four days, we ended up going back to the airmen who flew and taking
all the T.V. footage and all the gunsight imagery, or all of the- through
gunsight video that we had, putting it all together and laying out exactly what
Gen. MICHAEL C. SHORT: They saw these vehicles moving
from house to house, setting houses on fire, and they struck what they thought
were trucks. And to be very honest with you, the first time and the second time
I looked at the film, boy, it looked like a truck because here was what looked
like the cab and the body of a truck. Then when you looked at it a third and
fourth time, yeah, it was a tractor pulling a wagon.
NATO SPOKESMAN: [press conference] It appears
possible the vehicles are tractors. As I reviewed the tapes with the pilots,
they agreed. However, they were emphatic that from the attack altitude, to the
naked eye they appeared to be military vehicles.
NARRATOR: So General Short asked his pilots to go back
to the drawing board.
Gen. MICHAEL C. SHORT: They came back to me and said,
"We need to let the forward air controllers go down to 5,000 feet." Okay. "We
need to let the strikers go down as low as 8,000 feet in a diving delivery to
ensure that they verify their target, and then right back up again to 15,000
feet. We think that'll get it done." We acknowledged that that increases the
risks significantly, but none of us want to hit a tractor, a tractor full of
refugees again. We can't stand that.
NARRATOR: The bombing of the convoy made clear the
inescapable truth. This NATO mission was not succeeding. Milosevic was not in
retreat. Ethnic cleansing was unabated. And NATO's air strategy was resulting
in dead Kosovars.
As NATO leaders came to Washington for its 50th anniversary,
an unimaginable possibility hung in the air. Could NATO actually lose this war?
It was a question that had been worrying British Prime Minister Tony Blair for
TONY BLAIR, Prime Minister, U.K.: Milosevic had to
know that we were prepared to do whatever it took to win. I mean, as I used to
say throughout to people, what's the bottom line here? And the bottom line for
me was we can't lose this.
NARRATOR: So the evening before the summit, Blair had
a private dinner at the White House. He was determined to revive the ground
troop option, but he knew that his closest ally, President Clinton, would have
to be convinced.
IVO DAALDER, NSC Dir. European Affairs ('95-'97):
Blair comes to Washington a day early for the NATO summit and talks to the
president in a very small group, and with one mission. The mission for him is
to get the president to consider the use of ground troops, if necessary, and
therefore to start planning, to start the process, to put into place a whole
process that would be necessary to prepare for a possible ground
TONY BLAIR: I had a view, which was that we started
it, and we had to see it through and finish it, and win it.
IVO DAALDER: Blair's role, in fact, becomes to buck up
Clinton, not only personally, in terms of taking the steps that are necessary,
but buck him up against his advisers, who are constantly telling him, "Mr.
President, this is really- we can't really do this. This is too much. The
Congress won't do it," et cetera. And Blair says, "Mr. President, this is the
right thing to do."
SAMUEL "SANDY" BERGER, National Security Adviser: I
think that these two leaders of the- of Great Britain and the United States
looked at each other after a long conversation and said, "We will not lose. We
will not lose. Whatever it takes, we will not lose." And that was taken into
the meetings at NATO and in the NATO meetings in the next two days.
NARRATOR: As the NATO celebration began, despite a
public show of solidarity, the president's men were still telling him that
Blair's idea of planning an invasion force was risky politics.
WILLIAM COHEN, Secretary of Defense: It became clear
to me that it was going to be a very hard sell, if not impossible, to persuade
the American people that we were going to put up to 15,000 or 200,000 American
troops to go in on the ground.
NARRATOR: And even if he could get the United States
behind the idea, Blair had other problems with NATO.
MICHAEL STEINER, German Policy Adviser: Germany would
not have taken part in a ground war. This was no option. We would have had no
support whatsoever in the German parliament. And when I talk about German
parliament, I mean from the extreme left in the parliament to the parties on the
middle and on the right.
NARRATOR: Nonetheless, Blair and Clinton arrived at an
IVO DAALDER: The deal that Clinton and Blair strike is
that Blair will not bring up the issue of ground troops during the next couple
of days, when NATO unity is the key, when finding an agreement to intensify the
air campaign is what Clinton wants, and in return for which the president agrees
to start very quietly planning with- between the United States and the U.K. on
preparing for a ground invasion.
NARRATOR: A fractured alliance reached agreement.
There would be no public talk about a possible ground invasion, but NATO's
generals could quietly review plans for one.
Gen. KLAUS NAUMANN, Former Chairman, NATO Military
Committee: We told them how much time it would take us to deploy the
forces, how many forces we may need, how many countries we need to involve, in
terms of supporting us by giving us access, basing rights and all this
NARRATOR: And at this moment, another key decision.
The generals were finally free to intensify the bombing campaign. They
immediately struck at targets closer to Milosevic himself, the apparatus of his
power. Belgrade knew within seconds what had been hit- the Serbian television
building. The network suddenly went dark.
Gen. WESLEY CLARK: We knew that Milosevic used the
T.V. as an instrument of command and control, and he used it to control the
population, to keep inflamed the passions of ethnic cleansing, and so
NARRATOR: At least 10 civilians were killed-
journalists, technicians and a make-up artist. NATO's generals were
Gen. WESLEY CLARK: If Milosevic wanted to stop, he
knew how to get in touch with us.
NARRATOR: As the NATO summit came to a close,
President Clinton did get a call. It wasn't from Milosevic. It was Russian
President Boris Yeltsin.
STROBE TALBOTT, Deputy Secretary of State: President
Clinton stepped out of the meeting to talk on the telephone to President
Yeltsin. It was an extremely intense conversation. And president Yeltsin
wanted one thing above all others, and that was to get the bombing
NARRATOR: The Russians resented having no say in the
events that were playing out in their sphere of interest. Serbia was Russia's
historic ally and ethnic kin.
VIKTOR CHERNOMYRDIN, Russian Special Envoy to the
Balkans: [through interpreter] Russia was not acted toward in a
polite way. It was the first time since the Second World War an alliance
invaded an independent country. Russia was against it. China was against it.
If you remember, the Security Council didn't approve it. Two countries out of
five were against it. It happened for the first time in post-war history. We
know it was a humiliation of my country.
NARRATOR: To stress the sense of urgency that Moscow
felt, Yeltsin dispatched Viktor Chernomyrdin to Washington.
STROBE TALBOTT: President Yeltsin had clearly given
Viktor Chernomyrdin a simple set of instructions: "Get this thing over with.
End the bombing. The bombing is doing terrible damage to Russia's relations
with the West and the United States and the world, and just make sure that
Russia uses its influence to get it stopped."
VIKTOR CHERNOMYRDIN: [through interpreter] I
had to convince the West that we were moving toward the third world war. I had
to sound the alarm and make the American leadership understand.
NARRATOR: The old cold war adversaries agreed to begin
a round of negotiations, but they wanted a third party, a neutral party that all
sides could trust.
STROBE TALBOTT: It was Secretary Albright, actually,
who proposed the name of Martti Ahtisaari, the president of Finland.
MARTTI AHTISAARI, President, Finland: Strobe Talbott
called me in the afternoon. He said that, "If you say no to what I'm going to
suggest to you, this telephone conversation never took place. And I said, "I'm
prepared to help. And nevertheless, I would not be betting my own money on the
success of this mission." And I had a feeling that Strobe Talbott shared my
view. I don't think he would have put his money on the table, either.
STROBE TALBOTT: Thus was born what we came to call the
"hammer and anvil" scenario. The notion was that Chernomyrdin would be the
hammer and would pound away on Milosevic, and President Ahtisaari would be the
anvil against whom the pounding would take place, so that Milosevic would know
what he had to do in order to get the bombing stopped.
NARRATOR: But diplomacy would take time. Meanwhile,
the pounding on Milosevic continued from NATO bombers.
Gen. MICHAEL C. SHORT: NATO understands that the clock
is ticking. And after 45 days, we were- we were going after the right target
set downtown. And we had it lined up for two or three or four nights of really
striking the heart of the target set downtown.
NARRATOR: May 7th was the big night. Allied bombers
went after 35 targets in downtown Belgrade.
Lt. Col. SCOTT BETHELL, Chief, NATO Combat Assessment:
Everyone who understands air power really was enthusiastic about the attacks of
this night because it was going to take the war to Milosevic's heart. It was a
great night. May 7th was a great night. And I expected to get a thumbs-up.
"Hey, we really did a good job." You know, "The Serbs are ready to come to the
NARRATOR: But there would be no thumbs-up. NATO
bombers had made another tragic mistake.
Gen. WESLEY CLARK: Well, it was around midnight, as I
recall, and we had the CNN on. We were doing a media watch up in my study,
where we always worked at night during the air campaign. And on CNN there was a
report that the Chinese embassy had been struck.
Lt. Col. SCOTT BETHELL: And I thought, "Oh, This can't
be, not this night," not the night that was going to be such a
Gen. MICHAEL C. SHORT: General Clark called me direct
and said, "Mike, you've hit the Chinese embassy." And I said, "What? I can't-
I can't imagine how we could have hit the Chinese embassy unless we just threw a
bomb incredibly long or short. Let me do my homework, and I'll get back to
Gen. WESLEY CLARK: We looked at the maps. We found
out where the Chinese embassy was. We had a Belgrade map. And we didn't strike
any targets anywhere near the Chinese embassy that was marked on the Belgrade
Gen. MICHAEL C. SHORT: I went back to my room at Camp
Edderly, I guess about 3:30 in the morning, pretty certain we had not hit the
Gen. WESLEY CLARK: Well, at about 5:00 o'clock, got
another call said "Whoops. Looks like the embassy's been moved. We've hit an
annex of a new embassy or a new embassy or something is down here." And we went
back to the target photograph, and you could see that we had struck what was
pictured on CNN as the Chinese embassy. [www.pbs.org: Read the full
NARRATOR: Three Chinese were dead. A CIA mapping
error becomes diplomatic disaster. Now China and Russia were even more firmly
joined in their denunciation of NATO's war against Yugoslavia. Diplomacy was
sidetracked, and so was the full-bore air war. The old political constraints
were back in place.
Gen. MICHAEL C. SHORT: We had a circle drawn around
downtown Belgrade, five miles, as I remember, within which we couldn't hit
anymore. Created a sanctuary, essentially.
NARRATOR: In his sanctuary, Milosevic was still
hanging tough. The bombing didn't seem to be working.
At 10 Downing Street in London, Tony Blair felt more than ever
that ground troops had to be openly considered. But the NATO allies had
approved only a secret review of the option. To press the issue, Blair resorted
to an old political trick, a press leak.
TONY BLAIR, Prime Minister, U.K.: I was giving
interviews, and people would say, "Well, what about ground troops?" Now, the
three things you can do. You can say, "We're definitely going to do it." You
can say, "We're definitely not going to do it." Or you can say, "It's an
option, and it's on the table."
NARRATOR: On the morning of May 18th, President
Clinton woke up to press reports that Blair was pushing the president to
consider a ground invasion.
IVO DAALDER, NSC Dir. European Affairs ('95-'97): From
Number 10 Downing Street, the house in which the prime minister conducts his
business in Britain, various voices are heard in the press about Americans being
weak and that the president is really not willing to consider ground forces in
any serious way.
NARRATOR: But that was about to change. Later that
morning at one of those familiar White House photo ops-
REPORTER: With the air war now in its second month,
are you giving more consideration to ground troops?
Pres. BILL CLINTON: I and everyone else has always
NARRATOR: With one phrase, the president changed
Pres. BILL CLINTON: -and that we have not and will not
take any option off the table. I don't think that we or our allies should take
any options off the table, and that has been my position from the
NARRATOR: Then it was time to deal with Tony Blair and
those news reports. The president knew a leak when he saw one. In one of his
characteristic bursts of pique, he telephoned Blair and rebuked him for breaking
IVO DAALDER: He calls Blair in what's known as the
woodshed's telephone call, taking the guy to the woodshed, and says, "Hey, Tony,
get your guys in gear. We're talking on the same line here. I don't want to
have this kind of nonsense."
SAMUEL "SANDY" BERGER, National Security Adviser: The
president was saying to Prime Minister Blair - and, you know, of course they're
very good friends, and they can talk in an animated way - "It doesn't do anybody
any good to have a debate among ourselves. Let's talk among ourselves
privately, and publicly let's have a unified face."
IVO DAALDER: It's a very important conversation,
however, because after the 15 or 20 minutes in which the president blows his
steam, there's a very serious conversation that takes place for many hours about
the question of how you move ahead in terms of the ground force issue.
NARRATOR: The leaders of the alliance had just made
the most important decision of the war, and everyone, especially over at the
Pentagon, knew the dire implications of a ground war in the Balkans.
GEN. CHARLES KRULAK, COMMANDANT, USMC ('95-'99):
There's a history of people who had attempted once before to go into the Balkans
and impress their will on the ground in that environment, which the Germans did.
They found it very easy to get in. Had a tough time getting out.
Gen. MICHAEL RYAN, Chief of Staff, USAF: I think if we
got into a shooting campaign on the ground, they would know we're coming. It
would be difficult to root them out. The passes in there were tough. I mean,
this would not be an easy land operation.
WILLIAM COHEN, Secretary of Defense: And I think it
would have been a very difficult campaign. There- the bridges were- they could
have been dropped with Milosevic's forces up in the hills, just zeroing down on
our forces. There could have been substantial casualties. And if we had
started to suffer substantial casualties, I am convinced it would have turned
into quite a contentious issue up on the Hill, and holding the support of
Capitol Hill at that point, as well as within the coalition, would have been, I
think, quite a challenge.
NARRATOR: The politicians were staring down the barrel
of a grim decision. It would take months to mobilize ground troops, and the
allies now confronted the prospect of fighting in a Balkan winter.
Gen. WESLEY CLARK: It was clear that the sooner a
decision was made to begin preparing forces for this, the earlier a ground
attack could be launched, assuming it needed to be, and that it would be better
to launch it in July than in August, and better in August than September, and
that by October we'd be likely to be dealing with some weather that would make
it less than desirable for us. It would not favor us as much as it might favor
the enemy. And so the sooner the better.
NARRATOR: Clark pressed Washington for a decision, but
the president's national security adviser wanted more time.
SAMUEL "SANDY" BERGER, National Security Adviser: I
said to him, "Tell me what your honest-to-goodness deadline is." That's all I
wanted to know. "Tell me when you really need an answer."
Gen. WESLEY CLARK: I told him that there's only about
another 10 or 15 days in which to make a decision to move ahead with
NARRATOR: Meanwhile, General Short continued to seethe
over NATO'S indecisive bombing campaign.
Gen. MICHAEL C. SHORT: There was a reluctance to
really grab him by the throat and shake him, and much discussion of the land
option. I've heard a phrase used again by a member of my peer group, and that
phrase is "random bombing" of military targets. And in my judgment, that's
where we were through much of the air effort. I choose not to call it an air
campaign because it is not a campaign in the sense that men in my profession
would have carried it out.
NARRATOR: Twice the allies had asked Short's pilots to
hit Belgrade's power grid with weapons that knocked the lights out temporarily
without doing permanent damage. In airmen's terms, these runs were called "soft
kills," and their only purpose was to send the Serbs a message.
Gen. MICHAEL C. SHORT: And I understand all the
political concerns, that we may turn the power out for the winter and people
will freeze, and that's a terrible thing for us to contemplate. But we have
chosen to go to war, and it's hard- it's hard to make war effectively using half
measures. And a soft kill is nothing more than a signal because you recover
from it in X number of days, and all we have done is sent a signal that, "Boy,
we're really serious here." At least that's what the politicians seemed to
believe, we were sending a signal.
I don't want to go to some young man's wife and explain that
her husband died sending a signal. If I'm going to make that trip, if I'm going
to write that letter, I want to look her in the eye and say, "Young lady, your
husband was packing a Sunday punch. He was part of the best we had. We were-
we were going for the jugular." [www.pbs.org: More from the
NARRATOR: For Short, Milosevic's jugular was
Belgrade's power grid. Facing the prospect of a prolonged and bloody ground
campaign, the politicians finally agreed. Exactly two months after the war had
begun, NATO bombers knocked out Belgrade's power.
Lt. Col. SCOTT BETHELL: When we began to hit electric
power, he really understood, I think, that this would have a long-term effect on
his economy and on- ultimately, on his ability to sell to the population that he
was in control and that he was as powerful as he could imagine.
NARRATOR: It would be considered the most effective
military strike of the war. NATO's campaign against Milosevic had clearly
reached a new phase. With ground troops openly on the table and allied bombers
pounding Yugoslavia's infrastructure, this new phase was something like real
It was at this moment that the Russians signaled that a
diplomatic deal might be possible. The talks between the Americans and the
Russians, led by Finland's Ahtisaari took on new energy. A series of talks were
held in Moscow and at Joe Stalin's country dacha, and finally in a castle
outside Bonn, Germany. All parties were eager for a way out.
STROBE TALBOTT: The key issue was the withdrawal of
the Serb armed forces, the Serb special police and the Serb paramilitaries in
Kosovo. We felt that all- every single one of the characters in those three
categories had to get out of Kosovo.
NARRATOR: For Milosevic, this was a crucial point. He
didn't want to be considered a loser by his country. This was a very difficult
and sensitive point, a cutting-edge point.
STROBE TALBOTT: I told Mr. Chernomyrdin that there
should be no misunderstanding, that we, as an alliance, were going to do what
was necessary to end this thing on our terms. Whatever.
NARRATOR: By June 1st, as the negotiators gathered in
Germany, the deadline for mobilizing ground troops was drawing near.
STROBE TALBOTT: The issue of ground troops was looming
out there. At some point, it would become inescapable. Time was running out
for this diplomacy.
MARTTI AHTISAARI, President, Finland: We had come to
the point that either you say that you don't accept, or you accept.
STROBE TALBOTT: Mr. Chernomyrdin and I agreed early on
that the biggest disagreement between us came down to a three-letter word. It
happens to be three letters both in Russian and English, and that is the word
NARRATOR: "All" meant all Serb forces out of
VIKTOR CHERNOMYRDIN, Russian Special Envoy to the
Balkans: [through interpreter] They tried to persuade me that
Milosevic had to give up everything and agree to everything. I said to them,
"Well, if that's the case, you work with Milosevic."
NARRATOR: After a long night, the negotiators went to
STROBE TALBOTT: It was not at all clear to me that we
were going to get an agreement with them. And when we turned in at 4:00 A.M., I
didn't know what was going to happen.
NARRATOR: What had happened is that Russian President
Boris Yeltsin seemed ready to cut a deal. Russia's shattered economy was
dependent on economic aid from the West. Standing against the West on behalf of
an indicted war criminal, Slobodan Milosevic, was beginning to seem like a bad
investment to Yeltsin.
SERGEI STEPASHIN, Russian Prime Minister (5/99-8/99):
[through interpreter] He took it personally. He was worried not only
about military actions and the fact that lots of people were dying, he felt
intuitively that we were on the brink of breaking our relationship with the
NARRATOR: Back in Germany, the negotiations over that
deal were still tense.
STROBE TALBOTT: I was awakened at 7:00 o'clock in the
morning by a reporter saying that he understood that the Russian delegation was
going home mad and that the talks had fallen apart.
MICHAEL STEINER, German Policy Adviser: Next morning,
I remember I was up there talking to the three. They were in a very bad spirit.
They thought it all breaks up because they couldn't not agree on a common
platform. My message from the chancellor to Martti Ahtisaari was, "You don't
leave this place before you have a common solution."
STROBE TALBOTT: The Russians brought in a laptop
computer, and we were actually drafting language there at the table. And just
before the end, on the morning that the two men went down to Belgrade, the
Russians put into their own draft text of the agreement to take to Belgrade the
word "all," all Serbian forces out of Kosovo. And that was a real
MARTTI AHTISAARI: Yes, we had it! We could go to
NARRATOR: The Russians were finally on board. That
afternoon, Chernomyrdin and Ahtisaari raced to Belgrade to present the deal to
MARTTI AHTISAARI: We had Mr. Milosevic and his
colleagues waiting for us. And I said, "Hello. Good day." And then he greeted
everybody else, and we went straight to the negotiating table. I sometimes
afterwards said that it was like selling a pair of shoes that are two numbers
too small and trying to say you can still fit your feet in those, because
clearly the peace plan limited their sovereignty over Kosovo.
VIKTOR CHERNOMYRDIN: [through interpreter] We
showed them the document. The eight points were read out by Mr.
NARRATOR: Milosevic wanted desperately to keep some of
his troops in Kosovo.
MARTTI AHTISAARI: He was asking could he make
proposals for the improvement of the document. I said, "Unfortunately not,"
that I didn't have any authority, and neither did Mr. Chernomyrdin, to negotiate
this document, that this was the best we could offer.
NARRATOR: That meant that the Russians had pulled the
plug. Milosevic was finally all alone. The next morning, Milosevic presented
the peace plan to his parliament. As the NATO allies waited, they, too, were
running out of time. Allied bombers had now gone through their entire list of
approved targets, and the critical American supply of precision-guided bombs was
running dangerously low.
By midday, Ahtisaari and Chernomyrdin were summoned to
MARTTI AHTISAARI: We came back at 1:00 o'clock. The
meeting started 10 past 1:00. He was very punctual. And he said to me that,
"President Ahtisaari, the Yugoslav parliament has debated the matter and has
accepted the peace plan you've brought to Belgrade." And I was stunned a bit
because I never believed that one trip between us two would actually do the
NARRATOR: In Washington, the mood was something more
like relief than triumph.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, Secretary of State: I went through
some tough times. People thought that we'd made a mistake. They called it
"Madeleine's war," not in a complimentary way. But I think that we would have
been judged very, very harshly had we not stepped up to this.
NARRATOR: On June 10th, after 78 days of war, NATO
brought its bombing to an end. The war was over. As agreed, all of Milosevic's
troops pulled out of Kosovo. But the settlement terms allowed the defeated
Serbs to leave Kosovo in defiance.
Milosevic was still in power. Kosovo remained his in name.
And as he and his allies read it, the agreement allowed the possibility of some
Serb forces back into Kosovo within a year.
Gen. NEBOJSA PAVKOVIC,, Cmdr., Yugoslav 3rd Army:
[through interpreter] We will return when the U.N. mandate expires,
which is in a year, or if their mission fails. Who can say that the balance of
the world order won't change, and the stance of the international community
towards Kosovo with it?
NARRATOR: For the NATO alliance, defeat had been
avoided. But this kind of war, arrived at in increments and run by committee,
had won no fans among American generals.
Gen. MICHAEL C. SHORT, Allied Air Force Cmdr.: Let me
shoot very straight with you. I believe before the first bomb was dropped that
the door should have been closed with all those who wished to go to
And the United States should have said very clearly, "It
appears NATO wants to go to war in the air, and in the air only. If that is the
case and that is the sentiment of the nations here, we will lead you to war.
We, the United States, will provide the leadership, the enabling force, the
majority of the striking power, the technology required. We will take the
alliance to war, and we will win this thing for you. But the price to be paid
is we call the tune. We are not just one of 19."
NARRATOR: The muddled conduct of the war only
heightened the military's larger concern about such interventions, that even
when the war ends, hostilities don't ever really stop. The return of the
Kosovars brought a wave of retribution against the Serbs. Today there remain
two warring sides, with the United States and NATO planted in the middle,
keeping them apart.
Gen. CHARLES KRULAK, Commandant, USMC ('95-'99): You
think it's over? Do you really think it's over, or do you think that we have
put into effect a peacekeeping apparatus that is holding age-old ethnic,
cultural, religious hatreds in check? I mean, do you think that if we left
tomorrow, it's all OK?
NARRATOR: In the end, that's the burden of trying to
exercise the doctrine of virtuous power in a place like the Balkans. There can
be no tidy outcome, no resolution that is really final. For the leaders who
brought the alliance into this war there remains one comfort, a belief that at
least they tried to do the right thing.
and Channel 4 coproduction
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Mentorn Barraclough Carey
and Kirk Documentary Group, Ltd.
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site with more of the interviews with key political leaders, military commanders
and diplomats. Examine special reports on the war. Watch video interviews with
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Online keyword PBS.
Next time on FRONTLINE: To Americans, he is the new face of
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waging war on the United States? And has America's retaliation only
strengthened his cause? Hunting bin Laden next time on
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Now your letters. Our story about 15-year-old Kip Kinkel, who
shot and killed his parents and two classmates and injured 25 others, drew
thousands of letters. Here is a sample.
Pastor RICH GORDON, Grace Covenant Church:
[Opelousas, LA] Dear FRONTLINE: This was indeed a shattering
documentary. You captured well the horrible power and loneliness and
alienation. As a pastor, I see the reality of this loneliness to varying
degrees among the teenagers in my church and in my community. We must, as
parents, educators, clergy and local government leaders, wake up to the fact
that in far too many communities we ignore our teenagers and their emotional
complexity, all the while heaping expectations upon them.
ED PEPIN: [Springfield, IL] Dear FRONTLINE: As
much as this crime appalled me, the sound of his voice in that interview tore at
my heart in a way I don't understand. The crime deserves our scorn. The
victims deserve our prayers. But the boy deserves our help. Someone once said
there is more to a man than the worst thing he has ever done. For Kip Kinkel's
sake, I pray that's true.
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