No Silver Bullet to Stop Serb Aggression
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 31, 1999 NATO air forces continue to pound the Yugoslav military despite bad weather, but there is "no silver bullet" to stop ethnic cleansing, according to senior U.S. defense chiefs.
Although NATO has not been able to use all its available firepower, allied aircraft have gotten through every night since Operation Allied Force began March 24, said Vice Adm. Scott A. Fry, Joint Staff operations director. Fry and Rear Adm. Thomas R. Wilson, Joint Staff intelligence director, briefed Pentagon reporters March 30 on the on-going NATO operation and bomb damage assessments.
The Serbs' two main allies are geography and weather, said Fry, displaying a chart of weather conditions in the region since the strikes began March 24. The first day of the operation has been the only one not affected by weather so far, he said.
"As the operation has continued, the weather has gotten more difficult with each succeeding night," Fry said. "We have had instances where sorties were unable to complete their missions in their target areas because they were weathered out.
Severe weather has prevented the use of laser-guided weapons in some cases. Air- and sea-launched cruise missiles aren't affected, he said, so even in the worst weather, "we have been able to get strikes in on every day."
The admiral likened the distance from Aviano Air Base, Italy, to targets in Yugoslavia to flying from South Dakota to Arkansas. NATO strike formations must use a complex in-flight refueling procedure to make sure they can complete their missions, he noted.
Fry stressed that NATO's goal has always been to systematically degrade Milosevic's military ability to repress the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. About the Serbs' ongoing terror and ethnic cleansing tactics in the province, however, "we never supposed or reported that we had a silver bullet that would bring that to a halt," he said.
U.S. and NATO authorities knew Allied Force would be a difficult campaign due to the robust air defense system, mountainous terrain and adverse weather, Fry stressed. "This is not the desert," he said. "The weather has not been in our favor, either, but even anticipating the worst of the weather, we knew this was going to be hard.
No one thought the operation would be a pushover, Fry said. "This is a campaign. If we have to grind it out -- and we are grinding each of the target sets every night -- we're prepared to continue," he said.
U.S. officials knew the Serb units built up in and around Kosovo could conduct actions ranging from counterinsurgency to ethnic cleansing, intelligence director Wilson said. They also knew Milosevic's forces would be hard to wear down quickly because of their sheer numbers and the terrain, which makes hiding and maneuvering easy for them, Wilson said.
With better weather forecast, NATO will be able to use unmanned drones and other assets to help locate Serb forces in Kosovo conducting the ethnic cleansing offense, the two directors said.
"The ones actually taking part in the cleansing may be in cities, right in the villages that may not be able to be engaged right at that very minute," Wilson said. "If we can find them, we can deal with the threat and attack them with all of the considerations that are important, including collateral damage."
Overall, Fry said, NATO strikes from the start have been aimed at Yugoslav air defenses, command and control assets, army and special police forces, and industry, he said, "with an eye towards working against [the Serbs'] ability to sustain the operations."
To date, allied forces have flown over 1,700 sorties and launched more than 100 cruise missiles. "We have flown strikes for six nights, and we are going to continue that level of effort," Fry added. "There is, to my knowledge at this point, no desire to pause or have a stand-down or wait for awhile."
NATO strikes first focused on air dominance, primarily by taking out key parts of Yugoslavia's integrated air defense system, the operations director said. Briefing partner Wilson noted allied strikes against early warning radars, surface-to-air missile radars and fighter aircraft, and the use of electronic jamming and other countermeasures to suppress and confuse Yugoslav defenses.
The strikes have severely damaged missile support facilities that sustain Yugoslav air defenses over the long haul, Wilson said. NATO pilots have destroyed half the Yugoslavs' MiG-29s, their best fighter, as well as other fighters and aircraft that could have been used for ground attack operations, he added.
The environment is still unsafe for A-10 tank busters and other low-flying aircraft due to a profusion -- thousands -- of Serb shoulder-fired air-defense missiles, Fry said. "Once you get down below 15,000 feet, you're going to place our pilots at a tremendous amount of risk," he noted. "We've got to weigh that as we proceed with this campaign."
NATO is degrading Yugoslav army and special police command and control systems, Wilson said, but they're still effective systems that "we have to deal with and continue to work on." The strikes have also damaged the Serbs' intelligence capability, which provides them information about NATO operations and early warnings to their forces, he added.
"We are increasingly going after the army and the police, especially those which are in Kosovo and the Kosovo region," Wilson said. "We started by attacking garrisons and [their] support structure , and subsequently have gone into attacks on deployed forces, or forces in their staging areas, or on the staging areas themselves."
NATO significantly degraded Yugoslav aircraft maintenance capabilities, and their ability to produce and store ammunition, Wilson reported. All the targets will be "struck and restruck" until NATO achieves a desired level of degradation, he said.
NATO forces are trying to hit armor and troops in the field and bases where Serb tanks and armored personnel carriers refuel and reload after patrols and "egregious operations" in the cities, Wilson said.
He said the Serbs have about 25,000 soldiers and up to 14,000 special police in or around Kosovo, nearly 300 tanks and about 200 artillery pieces. He said the Serbs are highly mobile and operating as company-sized armor and mechanized battle groups. The groups are supported by infantry and the special police, which function largely as motorized light infantry, he added.
Wilson displayed photos showing battle damage at several sites including the Danilovgrad SA-6 anti-aircraft missile site, attacked by cruise missiles delivered by B-52s; a communications station in Kosovo hit by missiles and NATO aircraft; and an army garrison headquarters and special police barracks in Pristina heavily damaged by Tomahawk cruise missiles.
He also showed a photo of the Leskovac army barracks and ammo depot south of Nis, Yugoslavia. "They were successfully hit, with large secondary explosions indicating that large amounts of ammunition were destroyed as a part of the strike," Wilson remarked.
The intelligence chief also displayed examples of damage Serb forces have inflicted during intensive counterinsurgency operations in Kosovo. Photos showed burning buildings, houses without roofs, a burning mosque, and lines of civilian vehicles apparently fleeing the scene.