war in europe
how it was fought

how it was fought  Evaluations by William Cohen,General Wesley Clark, Ivo Daalder, General Michael Short; General Klaus Naumann; General Charles Krulak

home
interviews
how it was fought
ethnic cleansing
for moral values?
discussion

photo of william cohen
When he served as a Republican Senator from Maine, William Cohen criticized the Clinton Administration's policy in Bosnia, and the lack of an "exit strategy" for US peacekeepers there. As Secretary of Defense, Cohen cited the lack of consensus at home and within NATO for his resistance to the deployment of ground troops in Kosovo.

(read the full interview)

>William Cohen

Could you talk about how [the alliance] only planned a limited number of targets. In fact, by the third night, General Short had to call back the 117s.

This is not exactly accurate. We had a vast array of targets from the very beginning. We looked at the phased air campaign, going from within Kosovo over into the former Republic of Yugoslavia all the way to Belgrade. We had many targets laid out.There were the political constraints that precluded the air force from carrying out and attacking those targets on a certain time frame. The problem was the political restraints that were exercised by the various members of the alliance.

Let me ask you about the constraints, as it relates to the campaign itself. As you know, the US Air Force, with General Short and other theatre commanders, had actually put together a different air plan--a sort of secret U.S. plan in the sense that it was a much more extensive, a classic air campaign in the sense of what they wanted to accomplish. What did you think of that and did you talk to the President about that?

Well, first, I would say that's precisely the kind of air campaign that you'd want to carry out. That you should hit fast and hard and cripple Milosevic's forces as soon as possible. The difference here, of course, is that we're acting as an alliance. This had never been done before really, even under Desert Storm--it basically was a U.S. operation, even though you had many countries who were participating. You had to have a consensus of all 19 countries and, therefore it was not possible to carry out the kind of classic type of air campaign that the professionals would have liked to have carried out, and I would have advocated as well. If I had to act unilaterally we would have used that type of campaign.

But because you have to have the support of all of the allies, basing support, bedding down of the aircraft, supplies and logistics flowing through their countries, and given the fact that they had a different tie--either historical, cultural, economic, or religious--to the former Republic of Yugoslavia, it made it that much more difficult. ... You couldn't have forces flying out of Italy, or supplies coming through Greece. You couldn't have had the support of the Germans and others, because of the nature of their own relationship with Milosevic and his people.

Did you and the President try and push the allies and say 'this is the way we're going do it. These are our planes, our airmen, this is the way we've go to do it. Either you're on board or you're not on board.'

Well,we talked about a much more aggressive campaign, but it's one thing to say, 'this is what we want to do' and another to say you have to have a coalition to hold it together. So we tried to be as aggressive as we could in saying let's move as quickly as we can to get these various targets. But it was hard to get that consensus until after the summit. We spent almost a month going through this process whereby NATO has never done this before. And so it was a real learning experience we had to go through in terms of getting the consensus and running various targets by leadership. And, finally, when the summit came about we said we have to get much more authority to our military planners. We cannot have the kind of micro management and oversight of a military campaign if we're going to be successful. And it was after the summit that things really started to change, where we started a much more aggressive air campaign coming from 360 degrees and really starting to pound the strategic targets belonging to Milosevic.

photo of general klaus naumann
Until early May 1999, Germany's Gen. Klaus Naumann served as NATO's Military Committee chairman, and answered directly to NATO's political representatives.

(read the full interview)

General Klaus Naumann

Why weren't you asked to plan an intense war? A downtown Baghdad style air war?

Well, the aim was again and again to bring [Milosevic] back to the negotiation table and the aim was not to enforce our will on him, and I think this is the difference. Our politicians wanted to use the military instrument tomore or less to convince him that it's better to continue to negotiate and to seek a peaceful solution. They did not want to destroy Serbia and then bring it back as a defeated country to the negotiation table,

...

All in all, if you look at what we did later on, we had more or less three guiding principles. We had first of all to avoid if possible any of our own casualties and fatalities. Secondly we were told avoid collateral damage to the extent possible. And thirdly, bring it to a quick end. .And if you take these three ingredients, you will presumably agree with me, it's very very difficult to find a proper solution to make this equation fly

So I think we need to conclude from that, if we want to take care of the opponent's people then such an air war will be a long protracted campaign, you can't bring it to a short end.

Did anyone at the time say 'this is crazy?'

Well, we told them I think repeatedly, first of all--be cautious. An air war alone will presumably not do the trick. You should consider ground forces as well You should think of joint operations and an air war. And I think that I said, really verbally, an air war will have the risk in it that the people of Serbia will rally behind Milosovic, as we have seen it by the way in World War II. And secondly I told them, General Clark told our politicians that an air war is always a race between destruction and reconstruction, so an air war by definition is time consuming.

I don't understand that, reconstruction and destruction?

You destroy something in your opponent's capabilities and he tries to repair it, to reconfigure it, reconstruct it.

Tell me what you said to the NATO Council about ground troops.

I think I told the Council very clearly that I am full of doubts that one could win such a thing without ground forces and that in military history it has never happened before.

And what did they say?

Well, let's say with hindsight, I, as the top military of the Alliance presumably did not press hard enough for ground forces. I think I made the point very clearly. But we all realised, General Clark as well as I did, that the issue of ground forces was very divisive in the Alliance. Some nations, without any necessity to do so, ruled it out long before we started the bombing campaign and we knew that we would not get consensus on ground forces, so we backed off in order to maintain consensus which was the most important thing in this entire exercise. And again, looking at the entire result of the Kosovo war, I think the cohesion of the Alliance and the ability of this Alliance to stick together to maintain consensus for seventy eight days of an air campaign, that was the real key to success and this was presumably Milosovic's biggest mistake and miscalculation. He had hoped that this consensus would break and the cohesion would wither away.

But was the price too much? If you plan a war, you plan overwhelming force and surprise. All of this was lost.

Yes. We have to accept these compromises, otherwise we simply wouldn't have got it. And think for a moment what it would have meant if we had not acted. I still believe we were right in accepting this compromise, fraught as it may have been, with hindsight. But it was much better to act and to stop at the end of the day the atrocities in Kosovo than to quarrel and to debate endlessly without doing

Way back in June, when that first planning was done, the planning was done as a way of just threatening, getting Milosevic back to the table. No one really thought that this would have to happen. And then, six- seven-nine months later, suddenly you're fighting a war with those same plans. And they weren't plans you wanted.

Yes, we made plans for an operation, not for a war. And perhaps we should think through what the difference between these two is. And next time, start to make plans for a war which would allow us to tailor the application of these plans in accordance with the political situation at the time. Do you know what I mean with that?.

No, explain it more.

If I prepare a plan for a war against Yugoslavia, I have the full range of military options, fully prepared, fully fleshed out, and then I can pick out of this quiver the arrow I like. In the situation in which we were in, we had prepared for an operation to bring him back to the negotiation table, so it was something like an enforcement operation, but it was not the plan to defeat a country. And I think that is the difference. And for that reason I think we should think this through. ...

What are the lessons about the way the air war was fought, the campaign was fought?

I would say first, never start to threaten the use of military force if you are not ready to execute it the next day. And secondly, if you do crisis management, never again change horses mid-stream. So leave one in the lead, be it NATO, be it someone else, but one should have the responsibility and see it through. On the air operation, I would say we should really try to focus on joint operations in the future, whether we use current forces or not--that's a different issue, but at least we should have the capability deployed so that we have the flexibility to use them, should the need arise. Secondly, if we go for the military option, we have to be prepared to use it as efficiently as we can, right from the outset and this doesn't mean to use all the power that we/they want, that they would never get. But it means that we have to go after those targets which really hit the opponent and force him to accept our will.

This wasn't done.

No, it was initially not done. We focused initially too much on the idea to bring them back to the negotiation table and for that reason we started perhaps off too moderately, taking too much care of collateral damage, taking too much care of the opponents people.

photo of ivo daalder
From 1995 to 1996, Daalder served as director for European Affairs at the National Security Council and coordinated U.S. policy in Bosnia. Currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, he is co-author of the forthcoming book Winning Ugly: NATO's War to Save Kosovo.

(read the full interview)

Ivo Daalder

Why were they so adamant about not sending combat troops?

Underlying the assumption of policy making within the White House, within the Pentagon, and indeed within the State Department, is the assumption that if this policy ends in sending American troops to Kosovo, Congress won't support it. And therefore we have to reassure Congress and the American people that while we are willing to use force, we are drawing a clear red line. There will be no American combat troops in Kosovo under any circumstances, and the attempt here is to reassure the Congress, to reassure them that we know where our limits are.

In fact, what happens is that the Congress says 'you guys don't know what you're talking about.' You don't have a Plan B, you don't know what will happen if you use force from the air. And if Milosevic doesn't stop, he doesn't meet your demands, you don't have a Plan B. That in fact the message that Cohen and Shelton and Berger and Albright bring to the Hill backfires. Congress says you don't know what you're talking about, you haven't thought this one through. If you want to go to war, go to war, but don't come to us and say we'll do some air strikes, but have no answer to the question what if it doesn't work. That's the question that Sandy Berger had been asking right up to that point.

And Secretary Cohen is particularly adamant on this. What's driving him?

Secretary Cohen has two concerns. One is he never liked the Bosnia deployment. He never wanted to be part of it. And in fact when he becomes Secretary of Defence, having been against the deployment of American troops to Bosnia, the first thing he says even in his confirmation hearings is--those troops, they're out of there as soon as possible. And it's a policy position he has through the first couple of months of 1997, until the President reminds him that he works no longer for Bill Cohen or for the people of Maine, but he works for the President of the United States, and these troops are going to stay.

Well, okay, he's willing to let them stay in Bosnia, he has lost that fight fair and square, and in fact he becomes a good proponent of the troops in Bosnia. But it's not going to happen in Kosovo. One, he doesn't believe that his former colleagues on the Hill will support it. And two, he believes that this is a kind of commitment that is weakening American readiness and has a major impact on our ability to do what is our fundamental mission, to fight and win the nation's wars. So he is adamantly against it from a personal perspective, he's adamantly against it from an institutional perspective, and he's adamantly against it from a political perspective with regard to the Hill.

photo of General Wesley Clark
He was named NATO Supreme Allied Commander in 1997. When Milosevic did not fold quickly after NATO began bombing on March 24, 1999, Clark started to push the alliance to begin ground troop planning and to deploy Apache helicopters to increase the pressure on Belgrade. While such moves ultimately may have helped end the war, they also alienated Clark from more reticent commanders back at the Pentagon and may have contributed to the Clinton Administration's decision after the war to replace Clark several months before his NATO term ran out.

(read the full interview)

General Wesley Clark

Were you unhappy that you weren't able to use more decisive force? General Short was pressing for this more intensive air war...

Well, everything that happens in NATO at the political level funnels through this headquarters, and everything that comes from the military level funnels through this headquarters. And so we're constantly on receive and transmit in both directions.

And from the outset, we were trying to structure a military campaign that met the political requirements and we were trying to structure political requirements in the broadest possible fashions to meet the military needs of the campaigns.

Frustrating?

No, it's the job of the command and the commander.

Just before the air war starts, I was talking to a Lieutenant Colonel who worked with you on targeting, he was saying that you took the care and the trouble to sit down with him all night and go through the target. Tell me about that.

We had to go through every target. In fact, all the targets were approved by people higher than me, in governments. They had to be, because the significance of the campaign was such that the targets carried political weight as well as military value, and so it wasn't just a matter of attacking a military set of targets ...

It was a matter of transforming a military attack on targets into political leverage sufficient to persuade Milosevic to stop.

Why was there only, initially, three days of targets ...?

There were many more days of targets than that. There was an agreement initially that we would attack 51 targets over two days, maybe three days depending on the weather. And this was quite an achievement from an alliance that had earlier talked about maybe only attacking two or three targets. The way we got to 51 numbers, I went down to the targeteers in the Air Force and said, 'how many targets do you need to attack to be safe when you go after the integrated air offence system? How many do you wanna attack?' And they came back with the numbers and it turned out to be, you know--we live with 51 because basically that was about what we could handle and that's what they were happy with attacking.

photo of general michael c. short
During the 78-day war in Kosovo, Lt. Gen. Short directed NATO's air operations against Serbia as NATO's Joint Air Force Component Commander. After the war, Short emerged as a sharp critic of two key aspects of NATO's conduct of the war: the political requirements which influenced targets selection and NATO's focus on attacking Serbian forces fielded in Kosovo. Referring to the latter dismissively as "tank plinking," Short instead argued for the need to "go after the head of the snake" and to attack major strategic targets in Serbia itself.

(read the full interview)

General Michael Short

The political constraints existed throughout the conflict. There were targets that individual nations would not let us hit. There were targets that individual nations would not allow us to hit with airplanes launched from their soil. Or, there were targets that individual nations would not hit themselves, but it was okay for somebody else to hit. Apparently ... it was relayed to me that every nation had a vote. An individual nation could say: 'no one can hit that target.' Or a nation that was hosting U.S. airplanes could say: 'U.S. airplanes taking off from our soil cannot strike this target.' Or an individual nation would say: Our parliament won't let us hit that target, but of course they're not gonna say you can't hit it.

That sounds reasonable enough.

The last part I think is reasonable. Certainly within a coalition I can understand and work around an individual nation saying we won't let our forces strike that target, our population can't stand that but the rest of you can go ahead/ I think that's okay. And if a nation will give me enough notice I can understand them saying: we can't allow you, your airplanes based on our soil to hit that target. I can work around that as an air commander, because again, I can shuffle my force and have those airplanes taking off from country ... go after different targets, so I don't lose the striking capability.

What happened was in that particular instance, because the approval process was lengthy and cumbersome and the word getting back to capitals took a long time, there were numerous occasions where airplanes were airborne and the senior national rep would run into 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." So now you're faced with really telling the strike leader your plan is now in shambles, we think we need to abort the whole thing, or if you can, given the threat in where you're going, can you put it back together again. And we were faced with those instances.

What I, what I believe is unacceptable is for one nation to veto a target set that other nations believe to be important and then no-one can strike it. I believe that is unacceptable. It allows in my mind, the interests of one nation to outweigh the interests of the alliance and the interests of the other 18 nations and as it turned out, again in my evaluation, this placed the aircrews at unacceptable risk and I believe prolonged the war by keeping key target sets off the table. ...

What should have happened? What were you advising at the time?

I wanted the United States to exercise the leverage that I believed we had. We bring to the table in the air war environment things that are absolutely necessary for NATO to fight. I am not a ground soldier but my valuation is that NATO can conduct war on the ground without US participation. There are NATO nations in addition to my country with marvellous ground armies, great leaderships, Sir Mike Jackson, Sir Mike Walker before him in Bosnia, great leaderships, great staffs and ground forces as well equipped and as well trained and in clearly sufficient numbers to fight a ground war.

That is not the case in the air. The NATO air forces are extraordinarily well led, great courage, great people, small numbers and not all technologically capable of fighting the way you'd like them to fight. They can't all fight at night, they cannot all drop precision munitions, they are not all able to identify an enemy aircraft beyond visual range, they have to come in and make a visual ID which is very very dangerous.

... So I'm going to sound a bit arrogant, but it's my evaluation that NATO cannot go to war in the air against a competent enemy without the United States of America. If that's the case, and we're gonna provide 70% of the effort, we're gonna provide the leadership and the command and control and the enabling force, then we need to have more than one of 19 votes.

I believe before the first bomb was dropped that the door should have been closed with all those who wished to go to war. 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.

... And what that means ladies and gentlemen from the other 18 nations --we are goning to conduct from the very first night a classic air campaign. The lights are going out, the bridges are coming down, the military headquarters are going to be blown up. And we're gonna stay after that target set until it's destroyed. We think that'll bring Milosevic to the table, but if it doesn't, that's the best we can do. We believe that's the best we can do. That's the problem with air war and air war only--you're not gonna invade from the ground, you can't occupy the adversary country.

photo of general charles krulak
Until June 30, 1999, Gen. Krulak was the Commandant of the US Marine Corps and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

(read the full interview)

General Charles Krulak

What are you guys thinking when you realize--'wait a minute, we're out of targets?'

Great concern, great concern and then it became even greater as the call for more air came in. You know, as we moved on down, I mean you had difficulty finding the targets and yet we were asking for more airplanes.

... the discussion was--whether it was Chief of Staff of the Airforce or CNO or myself-- look, if we're having trouble finding the targets right now for the aircraft that we have already over there to service the targets, what are the additional aircraft going to bring to the ballgame? And the answer was basically twenty four hours a day seven days a week coverage for targets that might pop up as priority.

And we also had, as you are well aware, difficulties getting targets approved. You're running a war by committee basically. And so, in defence of Wes and the Airforce gent that's sitting in the operations center, they are trying to get targets on a list and one, people aren't giving them responsive answers and two, sometimes the answers are no.

So all of this is going on and again regarding the role of NATO in an offensive combat action--you have to come to grips with decision-making with a body that large. Somehow one of the lessons that has to come out of this is--look, when we go to war and we go to war as a coalition, there's got to be an ability of the commander to make the call and not have to go through a committee in order to get his decisions either blessed or not.

But regarding the central dynamics--again, I use General Short because we just spoke about his frustration. ... General Short says, 'listen we are the big dog in this fight, we have maximum leverage to decide how the war is prosecuted if we want to exert it.' The question I have is--was Wesley Clark asking for maximum leverage from his political masters in Washington?

Well, I think he was using the leverage that he thought was necessary. Let me take on Short just for a minute. That's easy for General Short to make those kind of comments that we're the big dog in a fight. I just go back to, 'what do you want NATO to look like in ten years?' Do you want them to have in their memory bank the fact that when we went to war for the first time as a NATO, one guy dictated the fight, one guy carried the stick, one guy was the big dog?

Let me tell you something. It might work this time. It might have been great for Kosovo. But NATO has a long memory and you start swinging your weight around in a little country, a little conflict called Kosovo, the first time NATO ever got involved in anything like this, and all of a sudden you've got the big dog telling everybody else what to do. You may have won the battle but you would have lost the war in the long run. There is a man with all due respect who, who needs to rethink the strategic implications of acting like the bully on the block when you have a coalition.

But the result is limited warfare...

That is absolutely not the fault of the CINC, necessarily, the fault lies in the overall strategy that said we are going to get there to begin with. You go back to the Powell Doctrine. If all of the steps have been taken and you get there then you are the big dog and you hammer them. None of that took place.

And secondly, the coalition that Powell and President Bush formed for the Gulf War was not the same kind of coalition that was formed for Kosovo because not only was the American people and the Congress not totally understanding of the strategic aims and goals, but they are nineteen countries that I bet if you went to them, there would be varying degrees of what was and what was not the national interest of that country, what was and what was not the goal, what was and what was not the amount of force to use.

So to bring to a conflict that has nineteen nations involved, that has far more strategic implications, such as the help of NATO ten years from now, and to have us swaggering in there and saying 'OK here is what we are going to do' --you need to be careful about that.

home . interviews . how it was fought . ethnic cleansing . fighting for morals . video . discussion
facts & figures . readings . chronology . links . map
synopsis . press . tapes & transcripts . FRONTLINE . pbs

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation


SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

NEXT ON FRONTLINE

Prison StateApril 29th

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS