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Cohen "Previews" Kosovo Lessons Learned

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 13, 1999 – What went right? What went wrong? How can we do even better next time?

U.S. military officials are studying NATO Operation Allied Force to determine the lessons learned from the air campaign against Yugoslavia. The conflict was a glimpse of how the United States, allies and adversaries will approach the art of war in the next century, according to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

Cohen will present Congress an after-action report on the operation this fall. Discussion about findings would be premature, he said, but the report promises to influence U.S. defense strategy, planning, budgeting and training and affect the way the United States operates with NATO.

Cohen's prepared remarks for a Sept. 9 audience at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Coronado, Calif., included numerous opinions and thoughts he hoped to drive home.

Overall, Allied Force showed the difference between U.S. capabilities and those of our NATO allies, Cohen said in his prepared remarks. For European allies to "close the distance" with American technology, Cohen said, they "must make a greater investment in national security by reallocating scarce resources, committing to regular upgrading of equipment and increasing funding of research and development. At the very least, budgets must be restructured to generate funds for new spending.

"Individually, many allies are making progress transforming their militaries to meet the missions of the future...," Cohen said in his prepared remarks. "Collectively, however, we must make NATO even more effective."

NATO's Defense Capabilities Initiative aims to attain this end by calling for more mobile, sustainable forces equipped with efficient, interoperable command and control communications, more precision-guided munitions, and strong chemical, biological and information warfare defenses, according to the secretary.

Cohen's speech was a kind of report "preview." Among his other reflections were:

  • The air campaign conducted March 24 to June 20 is an example of the "superpower paradox." The United States and NATO have to ask how they want to prepare for and respond to adversaries in the future, especially those who rely on unconventional and asymmetrical warfare. This time, Slobodan Milosevic, leader of a Maine-sized nation with an economy one-quarter that of San Diego, defiantly challenged NATO, using rape, pillage and slaughter as military tactics and humanitarian crisis as a combat strategy.
  • The massive size and tempo of NATO's concurrent humanitarian combat operations demonstrated the alliance's effectiveness and cohesion. NATO's political structure, however, is not as adaptable as its military structure -- consensus is both the heart and, at times, the hindrance of a coalition.
  • Neither the United States nor the other 18 NATO allies could have carried out Allied Force alone -- U.S. forces conducted two-thirds of the support sorties and nearly half the combat strikes.
  • The United States flew virtually all the strikes in the early phases of Allied Force because it's the only NATO member with all-weather, precision-guided munitions.
  • Because some NATO allies lacked interoperable communications equipment, target communications sometimes passed through unsecured channels. This might have compromised the effectiveness of strikes and unnecessarily endangered pilots.
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles are valuable reconnaissance tools, but they're also vulnerable in hostile environments.
  • While technology cannot prevent all human error, the United States cannot afford tragic mistakes such as the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy.
  • Kosovo underscored America's need to recruit and retain highly skilled people. The U.S. military is the world's best because its people can meet any problem, no matter how unfamiliar or unexpected, and excel at adapting and innovating to overcome it.
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