Cohen, Shelton Catalog NATO Progress, Yugoslav Hedging
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 13, 1999 NATO warplanes delivered the heaviest attacks yet in the air campaign against Yugoslavia, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said May 12 during a Pentagon news conference.
Cohen said NATO remains united against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and that the military mission of degrading the ability of the Yugoslav army and special police is proceeding well. The NATO countries will increase the pressure in the coming days, he said.
"NATO is encircling Yugoslavia and attacking from all directions," Cohen told reporters. "The deployment of additional strike aircraft flying in Hungary and Turkey will make it possible to attack more targets more often and more effectively."
Cohen said morale is high at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and wherever else U.S. pilots and crews are operating. However, he and other leaders, he said, are concerned that morale will decline if Operation Allied Force continues for a lengthy period. All service members involved in the operation, he said, are putting in long hours -- often 16 hours each day.
"When we're operating at [a high operations] tempo, it can have a down side unless some of the pilots are rotated and the crews are given rest," Cohen said. "But I can tell you right now that having come back from the region, [morale] couldn't be higher than it is right now."
He said service members believe in what they are doing and think it is the right mission. "They know they are helping innocent people," Cohen said.
The secretary said the United States and NATO are in the air campaign for the long haul. "We intend to continue this campaign as long as necessary, and we will rotate the crews as is necessary to make sure that that morale stays at a high rate," he said.
Given better weather, NATO aircraft flew more than 600 sorties and struck more than 70 targets May 12. Pilots are increasingly aiming at Yugoslav army and police units in Kosovo. Nearly half the strikes were against fielded Yugoslav forces in Kosovo.
Each day, Cohen said, Milosevic's forces are getting weaker, and NATO is getting stronger. "As his losses mount, his ability to control Kosovo is going to decline," he said. "We see no signs that Milosevic is withdrawing his forces from Kosovo. And as I indicated yesterday, partial withdrawal is simply unacceptable."
Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who also briefed reporters at the news conference, said that seven full weeks of NATO air strikes have significantly disabled the Yugoslav army and its security infrastructure.
"Yugoslavia's integrated air defense system, though it remains a threat to our pilots and to our air crews, has been hit hard," he said. "More than half of Milosevic's modern surface-to-air missile radars have been damaged or destroyed.
"He's lost nearly all of his front line MiG-29 fighters and nearly 20 percent of his ground-attack aircraft. Both of his oil refineries are shut down, and more than a third of his military reserve fuel storage is destroyed or severely damaged. Finally, and this is not an all-inclusive list, we have seriously damaged Milosevic's military industrial capacity, reducing his ability to repair and maintain his aircraft by 70 percent and his ammunition production capacity by two-thirds."
Cohen and Shelton said the strikes are causing more desertions from Yugoslav army and police units. The NATO offensive is also convincing many Yugoslav reservists to ignore callups for duty, Shelton said.
"For weeks, we have seen reports that elite leaders in Yugoslavia have been sending their families out of the country," Cohen said. "Now we're beginning to receive reports that senior military leaders are also sending their families out of Yugoslavia.
"Milosevic may not admit that he is taking his country down the road to ruin politically, economically and militarily," he said. "His top leadership is apparently more realistic, and at the very least, they are hedging their bets by hiding their assets and their families."