|Updated: 30 August 1999||NATO Review|
force is necessary:
General Wesley Clark, SACEUR, in the cockpit of a jet fighter during his visit to the Istrana air base in northern Italy on 29 May.
(AP photo - 49Kb)
After months of escalating
repression against the Kosovar Albanians and
a string of broken agreements with the international
community, NATO took a stand against the military
machine of Slobodan Milosevic on 24 March 1999.
NATO's air operation sought to force Belgrade
to stop its brutal ethnic cleansing campaign
in Kosovo, while at the same time NATO forces
have been providing humanitarian assistance
to the victims of his onslaught. The success
of the air campaign forced Milosevic to meet
NATO's demands and laid the foundation for the
implementation of peace. A NATO-led international
force began to deploy immediately on the heels
of the Serb withdrawal, its mission to implement
the peace agreement and secure the return of
hundreds of thousands of Kosovar refugees.
From the air over Kosovo,
at refugee camps in Albania and the former Yugoslav
Republic of Macedonia (1),
Allied military forces were confronted daily
with the horrific consequences of "ethnic
cleansing" - the deliberate violent expulsion
of an entire people from their native land.
Even from 15,000 feet above Kosovo, the evidence
was all too clear: empty, destroyed villages;
hundreds of thousands of people on the move;
the smoke of thousands of burning homes. On
the ground, the stories of cruelty and abuse
- summary executions, organised rape and beatings
perpetrated on young and old alike - bore even
closer witness to the campaign of terror waged
by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia against
its Albanian minority. Operations Allied Force
and Allied Harbour were intended to reverse
the effects of this crime.
A line of Serbian military vehicles leaving southern Kosovo passes a KFOR contingent of US Marines deploying to the town of Pozaranje on 14 June.
(AP photo - 78Kb)
These two NATO operations - one applying direct force and the other humanitarian assistance, along with advance elements of a peace implementation force -represented the commitment of military forces to the attainment of NATO's political objectives. They were the latest in a series of military responses directed by Alliance political leaders that began almost immediately after the Yugoslav government started violently repressing the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
NATO demonstrated its resolve to stem the
rising tide of violent repression in Yugoslavia
with an Alliance air exercise back in June 1998,
a port visit to Durres by Standing Naval Force
Mediterranean the following month, and two regional
PfP exercises in August and September 1998.
The Alliance's political leaders employed the
well-developed planning capabilities of the
Allied Command Europe command structure to signal
to the Yugoslav government our determination
to come to grips with the problem. President
Slobodan Milosevic did not heed the message,
and by October 1998, the situation had deteriorated
nearly beyond salvaging.
As Yugoslav attacks on Kosovo's civilian population
grew in ferocity in the autumn of 1998, it became
clear to the North Atlantic Council (NAC) that
stronger measures would be required. Consequently,
following Serb refusal to meet NAC demands for
compliance with United Nations Security Council
Resolution 1199, requiring the withdrawal of
excess forces from Kosovo, and in light of the
pending humanitarian catastrophe, the NAC prepared
orders to Allied forces to organise air operations
against Yugoslavia. Hundreds of Allied aircraft
assembled for the attack and diplomatic initiatives
gained momentum from the explicit NATO threat.
Milosevic agreed to a cessation of hostilities,
deployment of Organisation for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) ground verifiers,
and a NATO air verification mission. After NATO
issued an activation order (ACTORD)(2),
he was coerced into agreeing to pull back his
excess forces and take heavy weapons away from
his police, revert to normal peacetime police
activities and respond with proportionate force
to provocation. The Alliance's military forces
provided essential support to the Kosovo Verification
Mission (KVM) with its own aerial verification
mission, a verification coordination center
and an extraction force for the OSCE mission.
True to form though, Milosevic violated even
that agreement. By December, it was clear that
military reinforcements had moved in: a battalion
near Podujevo and another battalion on the line
of communication from Stimle. The Yugoslav government
billed these movements as routine training exercises
but failed to notify the OSCE as previously
agreed. These "training exercises"
developed into full-fledged offensive operations.
In successive meetings in late December in Belgrade,
we reminded the new Yugoslav Chief of Defence
General Ojdanic and Police Chief General Djurdevic
that they were not in compliance with their
commitments to NATO.
During January and February, more forces appeared
in violation of the October agreement. Even
in the midst of meetings and peace talks at
Rambouillet and subsequently in Paris, the VJ
(Yugoslav Army) and MUP (Special Police) attacked
around Vucitrn and Kosovska Mitrovica. All evidence
pointed to massive reinforcements, a steady
increase in fighting, and deliberate preparations
for future operations.
A Royal Air Force Harrier jet armed with rockets and air-to-air missiles streaks through cloud cover.
(Reuters photo - 78Kb)
After diplomatic efforts failed to gain Milosevic's
agreement to a peace plan, endorsed by NATO
and the Contact Group(3),
including Russia, NATO responded on 24 March.
Operation Allied Force launched a systematic
air campaign to attack, disrupt and degrade
Serb military potential and deter further Serb
actions. Allied forces faced a formidable enemy,
but because of their courage and professionalism,
that enemy is much less formidable today than
when this conflict began.
Operating on two lines of air operations, the
NATO campaign focused at the outset on destroying,
isolating and interdicting the VJ/MUP forces
inside and around Kosovo, and preventing a continuation
of their aggression, or its intensification.
At the same time, the Allied campaign pursued
an array of strategic target sets. These included
logistics forces outside Kosovo with the ability
to reinforce or support forces in Kosovo, the
integrated air defence system, higher-level
command and control, petroleum storage facilities
and other targets that feed Serbia's military
and security machine.
As the campaign progressed, it grew in intensity.
However, it was not a campaign against the Serbian
people. It focused specifically on the forces
of repression from top to bottom to coerce a
change in their behaviour or, failing that,
to degrade and ultimately destroy their means
of repression. Allied planners, targeters and
pilots worked diligently to prevent injuries
and loss of life among the civilian population
and to prevent collateral damage.
Aiding their endeavour was precision weaponry,
which reduced collateral damage and limited
the exposure of aircraft to Serb air defences.
The campaign employed the highest proportion
of precision weaponry ever used in an air operation.
Precision strike weapons were used against point
targets and, in some cases, strike aircraft
actually attacked individual tanks on the ground
with laser-guided weaponry.
With the weather creating unfavourable conditions,
pilots often flew through heavy overcast and
clouds, hampering their ability to see the targets.
Despite cancellation of air strikes and very
few days of favourable weather conditions, the
results tell the story of the power of the campaign.
Allied pilots flew 37,465 sorties, of which
over 14,006 were strike missions. By comparison
with previous campaigns, support sorties outnumbered
strike sorties. This campaign, facing unpredictable
reactions from Yugoslav defences, required protective
combat air patrols in multiple locations, on
some days up to seven, around the area. The
incident involving the two MiGs, shot down by
a combat air patrol over Bosnia and Herzegovina
on 26 March, illustrated the need to maintain
these patrols and their effectiveness.
Long distances between targets and air bases
required a high number of tanker support sorties.
Tankers kept our fighters and bombers in the
air for extended time periods, enhancing flexibility
and maximising their loiter time over Kosovo.
The number of sorties also reflected considerable
ancillary support: reconnaissance and airborne
early warning and control aircraft. In this
respect this was the most heavily leveraged
air campaign yet seen.
A storm over Kosovo is viewed on a radar screen in the Combat Information Center aboard the USS Gonzales in the Adriatic Sea.
(Reuters photo - 42Kb)
The Yugoslav integrated air defence system
had been seriously damaged. Without continued
suppression it would have recovered quickly;
it was a race of Allied destruction against
Serb reconstruction and repair. Day by day,
Yugoslavia lost its early warning radars, missiles,
and fighters; and slowly but steadily the Yugoslav
forces lost the ability to maintain situational
awareness of the air campaign.
Command and control, the brains behind the
brutality, was degraded but was still functional
at the campaign's conclusion. This network,
hardened for decades with redundant command
and control and facilities, experienced frequent
failures. The impact of these failures was reflected
on the ground and in disruption of the chain
of command's ability to manage the battlefield.
Television stations and transmitters were struck
because they were a part of his military machine,
prolonging and promoting this conflict.
Regarding other significant strategic targets,
the Allied operation hit the Serb electric power
system because, like the body's circulatory
system, everything in the military system depends
on it. Air strikes also destroyed oil and petrol
facilities and stocks needed to keep tanks on
the move. Serbia had been importing fuel by
ship through Bar and up the Danube to close
the gap between what it had and what it needed.
Analysts reported temporary disruptions in the
Yugoslav supply chain; units in Kosovo were
told to cease operations, to hold back, conserve
fuel, and wait. Some units had even run out
British Puma military transport helicopters bring KFOR soldiers and equipment into Kosovo on 13 June.
(Belga photo - 42Kb)
It was vital to cut off the supply routes that
allowed Milosevic to keep his forces fuelled
and able to continue their missions of ethnic
cleansing. Destroyed bridges prevented Serb
forces from moving reinforcements into Montenegro,
and slowed down reinforcements moving into Kosovo.
As the campaign progressed, Allied forces closed
in on Serb forces on the ground in Kosovo -
the campaign's top priority. In favourable weather,
these forces felt the full weight of NATO air
power. Serb forces were relegated to hiding
during the day and manoeuvring at night. When
they formed up to fight the UCK, the Kosovar
armed elements, they greatly risked NATO strikes.
They dispersed into smaller units, which made
them more vulnerable to the UCK, whom, after
a year of continuous operations, the Serbs could
not defeat. This was an army in decline; an
army that knew it was losing.
Serb forces were transformed from well-equipped,
efficient, and lethal units into isolated forces
increasingly weakened in their campaign of brutality.
Every day marked another event that highlighted
the disruption in their ranks - mass desertions,
resignations by senior army officers, and generals
under house arrest.
A Kosovar boy in the Stankovac refugee camp waves to a KFOR helicopter carrying troops and supplies into Kosovo on 13 June.
(Reuters photo - 36Kb)
In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
and Albania, forces from the ACE(4)
Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) and ACE Mobile Force
(LAND) (AMF(L)) have been addressing the direct
results of Milosevic's actions against Kosovo
Albanians - easing the suffering of hundreds
of thousands of refugees. In the process, they
have foiled Milosevic's attempts to destabilise
As the scale of the humanitarian crisis grew
exponentially in early April, the Alliance's
political leaders ordered its reaction forces
into action. The ARRC had begun deployment to
the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia during
the Rambouillet talks to prepare for immediate
introduction as the Kosovo implementation force
in the event of a peace agreement. As thousands
of refugees entered the former Yugoslav Republic
of Macedonia, the ARRC swiftly reorganised to
deliver food, water and other supplies, build
refugee camps and shelters, and transport people
away from the border areas. The AMF(L) deployed
its headquarters to Albania and, in what became
Operation Allied Harbour, took over control
of national forces that were rushing to aid
the refugees pouring into that country. In both
cases, NATO's reaction forces brought order
to chaos within a few days.
The ARRC and AMF(L) saved countless lives and
provided an essential emerging response until
other agencies, chiefly the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and non-governmental
organisations (NGOs), could arrive on the scene.
Although UNHCR has taken over as lead agency
today, the ARRC and AMF(L) continue to support
humanitarian relief operations in both countries.
So, as the Serb regime's forces were weakened,
ours strengthened. The Alliance gained air superiority.
Serb planes were destroyed whenever they challenged
NATO aircraft. Allied pilots destroyed over
90 Yugoslav aircraft, six in flight. We knocked
out large numbers of surface-to-air missile
launchers and radars. And with each passing
day, NATO dictated events on the ground. By
the suspension of the air campaign on 10 June,
Operation Allied Force had 912 aircraft and
over 35 ships - almost triple the forces that
the campaign started with.
In summary, the air campaign was a success.
We prosecuted the campaign in an effective,
methodical, and systematic manner that avoided
needless casualties, minimised collateral damage,
and achieved its objectives. It was progressive
and intensified during its course of 78 days,
aided by the arrival of spring and improved
Clearly President Milosevic was willing to
absorb a high degree of punishment. But in spite
of this, the Yugoslav forces were vulnerable
to collapse. Erosion of supporting infrastructure
and morale had cumulative effects that could
not be hidden for long behind propaganda or
his silence to the international community.
In error, he banked on the crumbling of the
Alliance. Instead, NATO's resolve and determination
strengthened. Milosevic knew he had miscalculated
and could not win. This became increasingly
clear to his armed forces and the Serb government
too, resulting in the signing of the Military
Technical Agreement by Yugoslav authorities
and NATO on 9 June.
Now NATO is fully occupied with its next task - deploying the Kosovo peace implementation force (KFOR). KFOR began deploying on 12 June on the heels of the withdrawing Serbs. This is a huge operation that is not risk free. Our forces are entering difficult territory but approach this task, too, with courage and professionalism. However, this operation will not be complete without the safe return of the refugees, our central objective. Only then will military commanders count their tasks as successfully completed. Success here means another beginning. The end to racial conflict and ethnic cleansing would mean a turning point toward a new future in the Balkans, where democracy flourishes rather than the evils of intolerance and repression.