Cohen Says NATO's Resolve Firm
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 7, 1999 Each day the allied air campaign against Yugoslavia's military continues, NATO's determination to end the conflict grows stronger, according to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.
"I believe we've seen greater resolve in the last few weeks as a result of Milosevic's activities and the absolute brutality with which he has carried out his ethnic cleansing campaign." Cohen said enroute to Europe April 6.
Before NATO launched military action March 24, Cohen said he called each alliance member to make sure they understood that "we were not going to begin this campaign unless we were all in it for the long haul. Everyone signed up to that."
Cohen talked with reporters at the start of a two-day trip to NATO headquarters in Brussels, Aviano Air Base, Italy, and Ramstein Air Base, Germany. The secretary invited twelve members of Congress to accompany him so they could get an update from U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, Operation Allied Force commander, and have a chance to thank American service members taking part in the air campaign.
During a night flight to Brussels, Cohen said NATO air strikes are "starting to take hold," he said. "We are starting to do much more damage now that the weather has cleared and we've taken out some of [Milosevic's] more substantial air defense systems.
NATO rejected a cease fire offer Milosevic made earlier in the day because it was "woefully insufficient," Cohen said. "He has created a humanitarian catastrophe at a level we haven't seen since World War II," he said. "Now that he's gone through and allowed his forces to slaughter innocent people, to say, 'I think it's time to call a cease fire,' that's simply unacceptable."
There is increasing evidence that Serb forces committed atrocities that have not yet been fully confirmed, Cohen said. "My expectation is that we'll see those confirmed sometime in the future," he said. "More and more reporting is coming through and based on some of the films that were smuggled out where you can see the charred remains of certain bodies, I think our worst suspicions will be confirmed."
Milosevic's cease fire offer "could be related to the fact that he's now seeing he's going to suffer considerable damage in the coming days and weeks," Cohen speculated. Or, "it may be that he feels he's accomplished his mission and it's simply a charade he is engaging in."
Regardless of Milosevic's motives, Cohen said, NATO is going to continue its campaign until he agrees to pull back his forces, allows Kosovar Albanian refugees to resettle with autonomy, and a NATO-led international peacekeeping force is deployed to implement peace.
NATO authorities knew from the beginning that ending the Kosovo crisis "was not going to be quick and easy," Cohen noted. They knew allied forces would face rough terrain, adverse weather and substantial air defenses.
"We anticipated there would be bad weather," Cohen said. "We knew of the time of year. We don't pick the time which Milosevic starts to kill innocent people. We were faced with a choice. We could sit and let it happen, or we could try to deter him from carrying out this ethnic cleansing, but if that was not successful, to then start taking down, damaging his military capability."
People may have "unrealistic expectations" about how long such a mission should take, Cohen said. Operation Desert Fox, for example, only lasted three to four days, he noted, "but this is an entirely different terrain and a different type of opponent." In this case, he said, NATO authorities determined the mission required a "serious, sustained air campaign."
NATO planned on a long air campaign, Cohen said. "We're going to continue that campaign until such time as we're satisfied we have achieved our goal," he said. "We will send in the ground troops when there is an agreement and a permissive environment."