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Cohen Praises Service Members for Allied Force Performance

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 7, 1999 – U.S. service members are doing an outstanding job in both the military and humanitarian missions of Operation Allied Force, said Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

Cohen said morale is high even though military personnel are being stretched by the effort.

During an interview with Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, Cohen attributed the high morale to the fact that U.S forces are performing the missions they have trained for and because they "understand what the consequences are of not taking action, with those hundreds of thousands of refugees just pouring out of Kosovo after being assaulted, degraded, humiliated and murdered by [Serb President Slobodan] Milosevic's troops."

Cohen also said the abduction and apparent mistreatment of the three U.S. Army cavalry scouts while they were on a peacekeeping mission in Macedonia has also increased support for the Allied Force operation. It made our service members "get mad," said Cohen, and "solidified their determination to see the mission through."

Cohen said the U.S has sent a strong message to Milosevice that "if any harm comes to those three soldiers, he is going to pay a very substantial penalty."

Cohen said since the warning, the Serbs indicated they will treat the three U.S. soldiers as prisoners of war entitled to all the protections of the Geneva Convention. "They'll be returned safely to the United States following the end of this conflict," Cohen said. "We will hold them to that."

Cohen said the Allied Force mission will temporarily create some operational stress for the military. The United States has committed roughly 30,000 men and women to Allied Force in both combat and support roles. He said this commitment will place some strain on the 1.4 million-person force, but that adjustments will be made "to get back to that predictability and optempo that will provide for that solid family life as well."

Speaking about the high optempo, Cohen said, "I know this is a tough issue, but right now we have a humanitarian catastrophe to confront and a brutal dictator who is engaged in behavior to destabilize the region if he is allowed to go unchallenged."

Cohen said other missions will not be affected by the ongoing air campaign. "We're able to keep up operations in Bosnia and Iraq," he said. "I would say to Saddam Hussein that he'd be making a big mistake to try and challenge the United States at this point. We have more than enough force to deal with him."

Cohen said the U.S. investment in high-tech weaponry has paid off. U.S. smart bombs, cruise missiles, B-2 bombers, Aegis destroyers, submarines have worked "magnificently" so far.

The NATO military command has also worked well. "So far we've learned a great deal about the interoperability we have among the allied forces," he said. "We have good command, control and communications. We have a seamless planning effort underway and an execution plan that again confirms that this alliance is the strongest in the history of the world."

But it all comes down to people, he said. "They're doing an outstanding job, from everything I see," Cohen said. "All of the damage assessment reports I see assure me that we are number one [military] for all the right reasons. We have the best people in the world in our military and they are performing magnificently."

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