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Cohen, Shelton Stress Need for Total Force

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 15, 1999 – Critics decried NATO's air-only strategy against Yugoslavia. You can't wage war from 15,000 feet, you have to send in ground troops, they warned.

Yet, NATO stuck to its plan. Each night, more and more precise strikes hit targets miles below. After 78 days of punishment, Serb forces agreed to leave the field.

What does this mean for future battles? Can air power win alone? Will troops and tanks go the way of chain mail and warrior steeds?

No, say the Pentagon's top leaders.

Air power was effective and successful in this particular case, but the course of future military combat will depend on the situation, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said here June 10. The United States will continue to use ground forces whenever they're required to conduct the best possible military campaign, he said.

"We are not afraid to use -- in any case -- a ground component in a military campaign," Cohen remarked.

Ground forces are currently deployed in Korea and Southwest Asia, the secretary said. "There's never any hesitancy on the part of this department or this president to use those forces when the circumstances dictate."

Ordinarily, military planners would prepare for air, sea and ground deployment, Cohen explained. Kosovo was unusual, however. NATO's requirement for consensus constrained U.S. defense officials. While the 19 allies agreed to use air power, he said, there was no consensus for inserting ground forces into a hostile environment.

Seeking consensus for a ground war would have delayed NATO's ability to take military action, Cohen said. Under the circumstances, NATO allies determined an air campaign was the best option.

"We would have seen [Yugoslav Preisdent Slobodan] Milosevic carrying out his campaign of ethnic terror and purging at the same time that NATO countries would have still been debating the issue of who would participate and who would not," Cohen said.

Will the air war victory mean a bigger share of the military money pot will go toward maintaining air superiority at the expense of the Army and other ground outfits? Again, Cohen said, not so.

"We have one military and it's fully integrated," he said. "Where ground force is required, ground force will go. Where the Air Force is required, it will go as well."

Army Gen. Hugh Shelton reinforced the secretary's position. "One of the great strengths of our armed forces is the complementary capabilities we have within the services that enable us to cover the entire spectrum of conflict," the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Global responsibilities require global power, Shelton added. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard -- active duty and reserve component -- "you've got to have the complementary capabilities of each of the services," he said. "It would be a mistake to ever take any of those off the table."

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