Cohen, Shelton Say NATO's Patience, Precision Paid Off
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 11, 1999 NATO achieved its goals with the "most precise application of air power in history," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said here June 10.
"We flew for 78 days with no fatalities and only two planes lost," he said. "This reflects the talent [and]the training of our pilots, the power of our technology, the readiness and repair of our equipment and the skill of all those who planned and supported these sorties."
Cohen and Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed reporters at the Pentagon after NATO announced the suspension of the air war. They recapped the campaign's successes, highlighted damage assessments and outlined what remains to be done to restore stability in Kosovo.
NATO achieved its objectives through patience, persistence and great precision, Cohen said. Of the 23,000 bombs and missiles used, only 20 went astray causing collateral damage, he said. Slightly more than a third of the munitions used were precision guided and the rest were "precisely dropped" on oil refineries, ammunition storage sites, troop staging areas and other small areas, he said.
NATO conducted the complex, demanding operation in a very difficult environment with rugged terrain and challenging weather conditions, Shelton said. Alliance military leaders knew their forces could fight together in theory, but Operation Allied Force "turned theory into practice," he said.
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic "miscalculated badly" in taking on the security alliance, Shelton said. The Serb leader did not believe NATO would use air power or that the 19 members could sustain and increase that effort over 79 days. "I do not believe Milosevic ever understood the level of damage that an expertly executed air campaign could achieve it has been substantial," the general said.
The Serb withdrawal "is an important step toward stability, but it doesn't end NATO's challenge," Cohen said. NATO will now head an international peace force of 48,000 that the United Nations has authorized to enter Kosovo. The United States will contribute 7,000 to the force known as KFOR.
An enabling force of 23,000 NATO troops, including around 4,000 Americans, prepared to enter the southern Yugoslavian province even as Cohen and Shelton spoke at the Pentagon. The defense leaders said the main body of troops is slated to follow in 30 to 45 days.
NATO will ensure the Serb forces withdraw by June 20 and "vigilantly monitor" Yugoslav compliance with the peace terms, Cohen said. "This is going to be difficult," he pointed out. "I don't think anyone should minimize the hardship that will be involved."
U.S., NATO and partner forces will encounter land mines, booby traps and other threats, he said. "Force protection is going to be a very important task as NATO troops establish a safe and secure environment." Cohen expressed confidence that American service members who participate in Operation Joint Guardian will perform "just as well as our Air Force and Navy have over the last 11 weeks." Joint Guardian is the operation concerned with the implementation of the military technical agreement and peace settlement in Kosovo.
The secretary and chairman both praised America's military members for their courage, competence and commitment to American values during Operation Allied Force. "We are deeply indebted to the men and women who have carried this operation out so successfully," Cohen said.
"I just can't say enough about our pilots and our air crews, the ground support, the tanker crews that made all of this possible," Shelton said. "That includes every airman, every sailor, Marine, soldier -- active duty and reserve -- involved in this operation," he said. "America can be proud of all of them."
Earlier, President Clinton had expressed his gratitude to America's men and women in uniform. "I am very grateful that the loss of life was limited to the tragedies during the two training incidents and that we only lost two planes in the combat operation," he said.
U.S. and NATO pilots risked their lives to minimize civilian casualties, Clinton noted. As a result, he said, there were far fewer than in the Gulf War. Throughout the conflict, America's defense chiefs "persevered with great confidence and calmness amidst criticism and the early rough going to achieve the victory they have achieved," Clinton said.
"In the past four months we have seen some of the worst inhumanity in our lifetime, but we've also seen the bravery of our troops, the resolve of our democracy, the decency of our people, and the courage and determination of the people of Kosovo," Clinton said. "We now have a moment of hope, thanks to all those qualities and we have to finish the job and finish the peace."
Clinton visited Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., June 11, where he said U.S. service members have helped wipe Milosevic's ethnic cleansing policy from the pages of history. "These past months were a defining moment for the forces of freedom and our alliance," the president said. "This was the longest and most difficult military campaign NATO ever engaged in in its entire 50 years."
Clinton praised the effectiveness of the military's joint operations concept. "I know the Air Force is grateful for the radar jamming provided by Navy and Marine aircraft, the Navy [Tomahawk cruise missiles] fired from ships in the Mediterranean the Army and the Marine units taking care of the refugees. But fundamentally, I am most grateful for the power of your example.
American service members represent the nation's multi- ethnic culture and the powerful benefits of diversity, he said. "Your victory was achieved for two reasons," Clinton said. "One, the power and skill and courage of our pilots and our crews and the awesome capacity of our planes and our bombs. Two, the power of the example that you set in our military -- a stern rebuke on a daily basis to ethnic cleansing and a reaffirmation of the moral worth and the sheer joy of working together as equal human beings for a good cause."