war in europe


how it was fought
ethnic cleansing
for moral values?

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 Young

Written by Peter J. Boyer

Michael Kirk and Rick Young

Peter J. Boyer, Correspondent


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 Kosovo.

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 adversary.

ANNOUNCER: -and the imperatives of NATO politics.

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 an end.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight the dramatic conclusion of War in Europe.

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 Slobodan Milosevic.

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 force.

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 its bombers.

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 surprised.

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 lose.

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 dictator.

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 intensity.

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 there.

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 involved.

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 formality.

NARRATOR: Wes Clark was pressed into service for a media show-and-tell.

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 miles up.

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 Milosevic.

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 cleansing.

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 stories]

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 environment.

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 died.

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 clothes.

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 have.

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 happened.

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 weeks.

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 invasion.

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 understanding.

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 stuff.

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 forth.

NARRATOR: At least 10 civilians were killed- journalists, technicians and a make-up artist. NATO's generals were unrepentant.

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 stopped.

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 table."

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 success."

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 you."

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 map.

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 Chinese embassy.

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 interview]

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 said-

NARRATOR: With one phrase, the president changed course.

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 beginning.

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 ranks.

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 this.

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 generals]

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 war.

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 "all," A-L-L.

NARRATOR: "All" meant all Serb forces out of Kosovo.

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 bed.

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 West.

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 breakthrough.

MARTTI AHTISAARI: Yes, we had it! We could go to Belgrade together.

NARRATOR: The Russians were finally on board. That afternoon, Chernomyrdin and Ahtisaari raced to Belgrade to present the deal to Milosevic.

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. Ahtisaari.

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 Milosevic's palace.

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 trick.

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 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."

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

in association with
Mentorn Barraclough Carey
and Kirk Documentary Group, Ltd.

Copyright 2000

ANNOUNCER: This report continues at FRONTLINE's Web site with more of the interviews with key political leaders, military commanders and diplomats. Examine special reports on the war. Watch video interviews with American POWs and a chronology of key events and decisions at pbs.org or America Online keyword PBS.

Next time on FRONTLINE: To Americans, he is the new face of terror. To his followers, he is a hero. Who is Usama bin Laden? Why is he waging war on the United States? And has America's retaliation only strengthened his cause? Hunting bin Laden next time on FRONTLINE.

Educators and educational institutions can purchase this tape from PBS Video by calling 1-800-328-PBS1.

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.

ANNOUNCER: We'd like to know what you thought about tonight's program. Drop us an email [frontline@pbs.org], a fax [(617) 300-1001], or a letter [DEAR FRONTLINE, 125 Western Ave., Boston, MA 02134].

FRONTLINE is made possible by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

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