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DoD News Briefing, Wednesday, May 12, 1999, 4:20 p.m.

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
May 12, 1999 4:20 PM EDT

(Also participating in this briefing was General Hugh Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)

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Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon. Last night NATO forces aggressively struck targets throughout Yugoslavia. Allied planes flew more than 600 sorties and struck nearly 70 targets. It was NATO's most successful day in the seven weeks of Operation Allied Force. Nearly half the strikes were against targets of opportunity in Kosovo where NATO planes continued to inflict heavy damage on forces on the ground. These are the Serb forces that have turned Kosovo into a killing field, executing more 4,600 Kosovar Albanians in mass murders and driving nearly a million and a half people from their homes and villages. Every day, Milosevic's forces are getting weaker, and NATO is getting stronger. As his losses mount, his ability to control Kosovo is going to decline. We see no signs that Milosevic is withdrawing his forces from Kosovo. And as I indicated yesterday, partial withdrawal is simply unacceptable. Gen. Shelton is soon going to give you a detailed account of the impact that our strikes are having, and then Maj. Gen. Wald will bring all of you up to date on recent operations.

Today, I'd like to discuss where we stand as NATO begins its eighth week of attacks. First, NATO remains united and determined to reach its military goal. We are achieving the military objective of degrading and damaging Milosevic's military machine, and we are debilitating his military at an increasing rate. NATO is encircling Yugoslavia and attacking from all directions. The deployment of additional strike aircraft flying in Hungary and Turkey will make it possible to attack more targets more often and more effectively. Our strikes are having an impact that goes beyond simply decimating the forces on the ground. For weeks, we have seen reports that elite leaders in Yugoslavia have been sending their families out of the country, and 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, but his top leadership is apparently more realistic. And at the very least, they are hedging their bets by hiding their assets and their families.

Second, NATO is united and determined to achieve its diplomatic goals. The Serbs must stop killing in Kosovo; they must withdraw their forces; an international force with NATO at its core must go into Kosovo to maintain peace and stability so the refugees can return, and the Kosovar Albanians must achieve autonomous self-government.

This week, Camp Hope, which the United States built and Albania is going to open as shelter to refugees from Kosovo, is an important step to care for these refugees, but it's only a temporary measure. The only solution to the crisis is to stop the killing so that the displaced Kosovars can return home to rebuild their lives.

At every turn, Milosevic has refused to accept a peaceful solution to the crisis he has created. He refused to end his campaign against the Kosovar Albanians last fall. He refused to accept a negotiated settlement this year. And he has refused to understand that Europe and the United States simply are not going to tolerate ethnic warfare for the second time in a century. This is a fight between good and evil, and NATO is not going to allow evil to prevail.

Mr. Chairman.

Chairman Shelton: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. And good afternoon to each of you.

As Secretary Cohen just said, Operation Allied Force is proceeding well, and the Serb army and security forces are being systematically and effectively attacked by NATO air power. After seven full weeks of air strikes, we have significantly reduced the effectiveness and the capabilities of 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. And more than half of Milosevic's modern surface to air missile radars have been damaged or destroyed. As you know, he's lost nearly all of his front line MiG-29 fighters and nearly 20% 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% and his ammunition production capacity by two-thirds.

In Kosovo itself, Milosevic's army and his special police units continue to suffer damage from NATO air strikes. Nearly a quarter of his armored vehicles-- that is tanks and armored personnel carriers--have been damaged or destroyed. And roughly 40% of the Serb artillery in Kosovo has been taken out. Most of the ammunition and fuel supplies of the Serb Third Army, which as you know by now, probably, is the unit that operates in Kosovo, has been destroyed along with more than half of the infrastructure that supports this force. Distribution networks into Kosovo for critical supplies such as fuel and ammunition have been severely disrupted. Rail lines into Kosovo are severed, and about half the roadways into Kosovo have been damaged as well.

We also continue to receive significant indications of growing unrest and discontent within the ranks of the Yugoslav army. Of course, these reports can hardly come as a surprise. You would expect that any military force that is first used against helpless civilians and then is subjected to tremendous pounding by NATO aircraft would have considerable doubts about its future and about the leadership that has gotten the military into this situation. I don't mean to paint too rosy a picture here. We are conservative in our estimates, and it is possible that a force like the one Milosevic is using for ethnic cleansing and terror in Kosovo could hold out for quite some time. But it is clear that NATO's air campaign is exacting a significant toll on Serb forces in Kosovo and throughout the rest of Yugoslavia.

NATO's military objectives remain clear. Our cause is just, and our determination is unswerving. We will continue to grind away at the Serb military and security forces until they can no longer maintain their grip on Kosovo or until Milosevic decides that he has had enough and agrees to the conditions that have been set by NATO.

Thank you. And now, Secretary Cohen and I will be happy to take your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Secretary General Solana said at Tirane today, I believe, that the Apaches would be used "very soon." Could you tell us whether the President had signed off on authorization to use the Apaches, and will they, in fact, be used?

A: As Gen. Clark indicated last week when we were with him at Brussels, that they will be used at a time and place of his choosing. We will not indicate in advance when that time will come. It will come as a surprise to Milosevic, but that will be up to Gen. Clark in terms of his employment of them.

Q: Follow-up on that, can you just say whether or not you've determined what happened in these two training accidents? And whether or not you've been able to put that behind you or (inaudible) take into account that in terms of these Apaches being ready for use in combat?

A: I'm not sure that the investigation or inquiry has been completed in terms of what exactly took place with both Apaches. They had different circumstances of their failures. Pilot error perhaps involved, but I think we have to wait for the outcome of the inquiry. It's not complete yet to my knowledge.

Q: Will that--does that in any way affect their deployment schedule now, or have you been able to put that behind you?

A: No, that will not affect their employment schedule at all. It's a very tough mission that they're being asked to perform. That's the reason why Gen. Clark has taken as much time to make sure that he is satisfied that the training is complete. It's a very harsh terrain under very difficult circumstances. These Apaches and their training requires great skill and a full training measure before they're actually employed. So that will not affect their employment.

Q: Last week at the G-8, it seemed as though Russia was prepared to at least engage with us in brokering a possible peace, but with the turmoil that's going on in Russia today, how do you read the tea leaves in the samovar? Is that now impossible or any peace likely?

A: I'm not sure exactly what the status is right now with respect to the Russian involvement. I know that Secretary Talbott is in Moscow. I have not had a chance to talk to him or to talk to the Secretary of State to determine what the status of his discussions are. We would hope and expect that Russia would continue to play a constructive roll as far as bringing Milosevic around to accepting NATO's conditions, but failing that, we will continue to do what we're doing.

Q: Follow-up. Is the Russian participation key to any peace agreement or not necessarily necessary?

A: Well, I wouldn't say it's key. I think it's important that Russia, if it can play a constructive roll, be engaged in this process. Not only would the United States favor that, but NATO countries generally would favor that. But nothing -- or no country is indispensable as such. We think they could play an important role and we hope that they will continue to play an important role in bringing about Milosevic to agree to these terms. But if they are no longer engaged, then there may be others who would seek to play that role. But it really has to do with Milosevic. It does not have to do with us. We've indicated this is going to continue until such time the conditions are agreed to. So if it's Russia or someone else, he has to understand there will be no surcease, no relief for him until such time as there is compliance.

Q: Gen. Shelton, you said the Serb forces could hold out for quite some time still. Could they hold out for months? Could they hold out indefinitely, and is NATO prepared to continue indefinitely?

Gen. Shelton: I think NATO has made it very clear that our military objective can continue for an indefinite period of time. We are prepared; we have the munitions, everything that we would need to do that. As to when or how long they hold out, I think it's up to Milosevic. It's up to him to determine just how much of his force he wants to loose, how much of his capability he wants to see disappear, how much of his military industrial complex will go out--a lot of things I think that he must weigh. But one thing's for sure, NATO's resolve is strong right now, and we're moving ahead and we continue to continue with that mission.

Q: Have you said that he's capable of holding out for another 50 days?

A: I don't think we want to put time lines on it. I think that how long he wants to see his forces continue to be degraded, destroyed, his capabilities reduced is something he's got to weigh, and I would say that it's probably weighing very heavily on his mind right now.

Jamie, in terms of your question on the Apaches, we have, in fact, replaced the two that were damaged or destroyed.

Q: Gen. Shelton, you said this is one of the most successful days of this campaign so far. It was conducted without the Apaches. Do you really need these attack helicopters? And what additional will they allow you to do that you weren't able to do say, like, today, one of the most successful days of the campaign?

A: Well, again, when we decide to employ them will be at a time and place of our choosing. And we have been very successful and are continuing. As you know, the weather is not always conducive, and if in fact we were to see long periods of bad weather, then they would offer an alternative. But again, that is something that we'll let the CINC decide.

Q: Could you elaborate a little bit on the unrest you mentioned earlier in the Serb military? What kinds of things have you seen?

A: I don't go into any great detail there, because I don't want to divulge the sources that we obtain it from, but there are indications of things like desertions, failure to mobilize. There are indications that some of the leadership is getting a little bit distraught over the loss of their military industrial complex, a lot of their infrastructure. They're seeing their capabilities degraded, reduced. They know what the impact is, and I mean, for a country that's got an $11 billion GNP-- $11 to $12 billion GNP--they know that this is going to take a long time to ever get back to where they started when it's over.

Q: General, it's been reported now--reported widely--that a B-2 using JDAM bombs, three JDAM bombs, hit the Chinese embassy Friday night or Saturday morning, which ever it was. And I would ask you gentlemen, can you confirm that this is accurate? That this is true?

A: I don't think we want to get into the operational level of detail as to what types of weapons we use on what kind of targets.

Q: General, could you tell us--give us a little better idea the forces in Kosovo? I mean, we started off with 43, 46,000, about 300 tanks. About 50 days later, what is that tank body count, artillery deployment look like in Kosovo in terms of killed?

A: I think the one thing we don't want to get into is the body count syndrome that, you know too often, these types of conflicts can grow into. We continue to hammer away. We know about what he's got, what he started with. We knew about what he's got there now. It's not precise. That's why I said we're conservative in our estimates. For example, we're getting some indications that the numbers killed are considerably higher than we had estimated. But again, I'd rather let Milosevic wonder about what we know about the damage that we're doing and let him guess at it.

Q: General, you said yesterday, and Mr. Secretary, you said in an answer to a question by Senator Inouye that while U.S. forces have high morale, they're a bit stretched. Are you concerned with the current OP TEMPO, and is there going to be some sort of rotation system in for the air crews?

A: Secretary Cohen: What I indicated was that morale is very high. It's very high in Aviano, Ramstein, wherever our pilots and crews are operating. What I indicated to the Senate yesterday was that while it's high today, if it goes for lengthy periods of time, unless there is some rotation, that can have an impact upon that morale. So right now, it's high. It has been high, and while they're carrying out their missions as successfully as they are today, it is likely to remain very high. I simply wanted to indicate that when we're operating at that tempo, that it can have a down side to it unless some of the pilots are rotated and the crews are given rest. But I can tell you right now that having come back from the region, it couldn't be higher than it is right now. They are very happy and satisfied with the effort that they're making. They're working 14, 15, 16 hours a day, and they understand that they are doing the right thing, and they have the right mission, and they know that they are helping a lot of innocent people. So I would say that this campaign we intend to carry on for some time. That is the reason why I requested in the supplemental funding request, that we carry it through to the end of the fiscal year, which would be the end September. And if necessary, we could and would go back for additional supplemental funding if it becomes necessary. So 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.

Q: Mr. Secretary, there are reports that oil is still continuing to flow into Yugoslavia, not only through Montenegro, but through the borders of some neighboring countries. To what extent is that hampering our efforts to cut off Milosevic's petroleum supplies? And what do we intend to do about it?

A: I think some oil still is continuing to flow into Serbia through various routes--some perhaps by sea, others by road. But it has been reduced in substantial amounts as a result of our efforts to interdict and cut off those lines of communication. With respect to those going in by sea, the EU, we believe, will continue to support their resolution against supplying any fuel to Milosevic, and there will be consequences, I'm sure, taken against those who would seek to violate it in the way of cutting off access to trade to various countries. So there will be economic consequences, some political isolation as a result of this. At this point, there has not been a resolution of the force being used to interdict those ships that would seek to violate the EU resolution or that of NATO.

Q: What's holding that up? The lack of...

A: I think still trying to resolve the legal issues involved in it. But again, NATO is very committed on this issue. And to the extent that countries violate it, there can be political consequences and economic consequences.

Q: Mr. Secretary, why did you bomb the terminals on land and the pipelines that lead into Yugoslavia from Montenegro?

A: That's always a possibility. We have chosen not to do so at this time.

Q: Why?

A: For a variety of reasons. We believe that Montenegro--we want to support them as much as possible. They do have a fledgling democracy there, and we are seeking not to give Milosevic any excuse to try to move against Montenegro. In the event that we find that somehow the forces of democracy are being subverted by Milosevic, there are always other options available to us.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you said at the time that the three American prisoners were released that you would be looking at the situation of the two Yugoslav prisoners of war. Have you looked at it and come to any conclusions?

A: Frankly, I have not in the last few days. I've been somewhat preoccupied with other issues. But I assume that that matter will be resolved in a reasonably short period of time, but I haven't looked at it in the last couple of days.

Q: Mr. Secretary, specifically on the issue of oil getting into Serbia, the Washington Times and some others reported today that Greece was violating the embargo. Any evidence that the government of Greece was, in fact, doing that?

A: I am not aware that the government of Greece is doing that. It may be that -- my understanding is that it was under a different flag, so I don't know whether it was the government of Greece either understood this or is somehow involved in that. I don't have the information yet, but I would again point you to the EU resolution and also to NATO's resolution on this. And I believe that all members will comply with cutting off energy going into Serbia.

Q: Gen. Shelton, let's get back just for a moment if we may, not getting into a body count, but how many of those 300 or 400--the numbers are still a little unclear to us. How many of those tanks have you either taken out or neutralized? And is the tank threat still a problem in Kosovo?

A: Gen. Shelton: The tank threat has been diminished, I think, by a couple of ways. Number one is the numbers that have been damaged or destroyed. But just as importantly, I think, is the fact that they know now that we're looking for them. They're having to disperse; they're having to hide. And, of course, a tank that is being hidden in a village or kept well out of the area is out of the immediate area where they need it to operate is not of much use. And so, it's a combination of trying to destroy or damage the tank, which we've done, combined with the dispersal and hiding they've been forced into that has significantly reduced his armor threat down in that area, and, I think from all indications, has allowed the UCK to obtain some degree of success in some of the areas that they've attacked.

Q: Have you given us a number on the number you think you've destroyed?

A: I gave you a percentage a while ago, yes.

Q: Can I follow up on that? I mean, given all this degradation you've laid out, what then goes into your assessment that he could hold on? What makes you come to that judgment?

A: I think that the effective tools that Milosevic's forces have used have been rifles and pistols that they're shot people through the head with, which gets down to the individual thug that--otherwise known as a VJ or a MUP--that is, in fact, doing the ethnic cleansing, taking the revenge, if you will, against the Kosovar Albanians. And I think that those can be effective until such time as he calls them off or until such time as the UCK--as the VJ and MUP forces are reduced to the level that the Kosovar Albanians, UCK or KLA, are able to then to drive them out of Kosovo, leveling the balance of power between the two forces.

Q: Excuse me. I'm not clear. Are you saying that eventually it's going to have to be the KLA that's going to have to...

A: As we've said all along, we'll continue to reduce his capabilities until such time as the balance of power shifts so that the UCK can now attack the VJ and the MUP--again, with a less amount of armament, armored personnel carriers, vehicles, tanks, things of this type--or until such time as Milosevic decides that he's losing so much of his force that it's time to negotiate his way out of it and meet NATO's demands.

Q: Follow-up just briefly in a totally different area. There's a lot of criticism from human rights groups about the use of cluster munitions in this campaign. Given the fact that you are attacking and using these in highly populated areas, could you explain why cluster munitions are the correct weapons to still use in these areas?

A: Let me say right up front we do everything we can, as I think we've said numerous times, to avoid what we call unintended consequences or collateral damage. But it is important that we use the most effective system that we've got against a particular target. And I think when Gen. Wald comes up in a few moments and shows you an example of using in this case, the cluster munitions, you'll see how effective they can be. Again, we look at each target. We weaponeer that target for the greatest effect, and then look at what the collateral damage will be as a result of that, and, if necessary, we can change the weaponeering to still be effective and reduce the collateral damage. And that's what we try to do.

Q: Both of you addressed this sort of broad criticism that the reason this bombing campaign has yet to produce the desired affect is that it fails to apply the doctrine of decisive or overwhelming force. This has been a gradual force, and it's not for the lack of ground troops or whatever. It's not the kind of force needed to get the job done. That seems to be a perception of some. Can you just address that?

A: Secretary Cohen: We are getting the job done. We are accomplishing that which we set out to do. We are intensifying the air campaign. We indicated at the very beginning that it was going to be difficult because of weather limitations, because of the geography, because of the size of the air defense system that Milosevic has. We would not under any circumstances contemplate putting any kind of a land force in prior to completing an air operation. And so, we think that we have, in fact, are achieving our goals and we are substantially reducing his military capability. And we believe that we are seeing evidence of that right now.

Q: Decisive force, though?

A: I would say when you have roughly a thousand aircraft that are operating on a 24-hour basis coming from 360 degrees at Milosevic, that's a pretty decisive force. And we believe that you will see decisive consequences on the ground. If you look at the damage being done to the lines of communication, to his command and control communication, if you look at what has been done to his petroleum refining capacity, to his ammunition production capability, all of that I think is very significant. And each day that goes by is going to get much worse for him. Each day that goes by, there will be another 600 sorties flown, or 700, and they will go after not only those items of -- or instruments of his power, they'll be going after his forces in the field, as Gen. Wald will tell you. Almost half or slightly over half of all the targets last evening or yesterday were on the forces in the field in Kosovo. So we're going after forces in the field, and we're also going after those targets throughout Serbia, which really pertain to his maintaining his military.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you underscored earlier that there was something different and significant that now military leaders are moving their families out of Belgrade, I presume. What are the possibilities of what that means? Would that possibly mean that the military leaders themselves would defect like the Iraqis did, or is it just precaution? I mean, what is the significance of that evacuation?

A: It's subject to anyone's interpretation, but I would say that when you have the elite of Serbia moving their families out, moving their wealth out of Belgrade and other places, when you now see that senior level military leaders are doing similar things, it tells you that there is a declining degree of confidence in what Milosevic has done and is doing. I believe it represents that they are concerned that he has taken them down to the road of ruin. I think that's clear. Economically it's taking place. It's clear from a political point of view he's completely isolated. There is only one other country that has openly endorsed what Milosevic -- basically his power. That is Belarus. But there's no other country that has endorsed what he is doing. In fact, he is politically isolated in the region and throughout much of the western world, certainly, and I believe throughout the international community. And so, he has taken them down this road of ruin, and I think they are now seeing the handwriting on the wall, and it's not a forgery. Basically, they see day after day that they are getting hit and hit hard and that that's a price that they are unwilling to pay, certainly for their families, and they're protecting their families. I assume their moving their assets out as well. And so, to me, it reflects a declining degree of confidence in what he is doing.

And there are defections taking place as well at some of the forces in the south.

Q: Mr. Secretary, will strike aircraft be operating out of Turkey now? Will they be flying out of Turkey? And also, did you discuss with the Croatians possible deployment of artillery in Croatia?

A: I did not discuss that with the Croatians. We discussed a wide variety of issues in terms of their progress and the roadmap to PFP status, but it was a wide range of issues. I didn't discuss artillery with them.

Q: Have the Turks allowed strike aircraft to be used?

A: I believe that we'll have the full support of Turkey to conduct whatever operations are necessary.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what sort of opposition are you seeing from actual senior leaders in the Serb military toward Milosevic beyond the families moving out? There had been reports of generals under house arrest. And then I've got a Russia question.

A: It's hard to make that determination right now in terms of how much unrest there is in the senior ranks. As you may recall, he has purged those who had expressed discontent with what he was doing this past year. So he basically has "yes" people surrounding him. So it's hard to make that determination of how much discontent there is. I think the sign that they are now moving family out is some indication that they are lacking some confidence in his abilities right now to lead them out of this particular situation.

Q: And given the growing turmoil in Russia, do you have any growing concerns over their positive control over their strategic and tactical nuclear arsenals? Is there any increased concern here?

A: We have always tried to maintain very close contact with them on a military-to-military basis. We still maintain that contact. They are as concerned as anyone would be concerned about their own security measures. So even though there is political--you said turmoil, but I would say some political problems right now in terms of who is going to be, make up part of the cabinet, prime minister and so forth, I believe that they are concerned about maintaining security over their systems and we continue to work with them.

Thank you very much.

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