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Cohen, Shelton Answer Allied Force Questions

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 23, 1999 – Keeping the 19 countries of the NATO coalition together was both the hardest job and greatest achievement of Operation Allied Force.

That was the assessment by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when they testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee July 20.


The two defense leaders said that while the United States would have conducted Allied Force differently, having the NATO allies was the only way the operation could succeed.


“We indicated … that it was very difficult to take 19 countries and to get an effective campaign under way without some real bumps in the road,” Cohen said. Without NATO, Cohen said, there was no way the operation could even have taken place.


Senators were particularly concerned about NATO’s decision not to use a ground force and the late start of the air campaign. In response to a question from committee chairman Virginia Sen. John Warner, Cohen quoted a Latin proverb  that means “You can’t get what you don’t have.” He said it would have been a mistake to promise something -- a ground offensive -- that the alliance couldn’t deliver. “The fact is, there was no consensus within NATO to put a ground campaign together,” Cohen said.


Attempting to put a ground campaign together would have shifted focus away from the consensus that did exist for an air campaign, he said. “So, you would have had the ethnic-cleansing policy being carried out by [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic at a time when NATO itself would have been debating as to whether or not it was going to put ground forces in,” Cohen said.


Regarding the slow start of the air campaign against Yugoslavia, Cohen agreed it should have begun earlier. “I think it should have been ramped up much sooner than it was,” he said. “But those were restraints that finally were released and relieved … at the time of the Washington summit.”


After the summit in April, the coalition started to build up to a force of more than over 800 aircraft. “We also got air-space rights throughout the entire region, and so the flights started to come at Milosevic in 360 degrees,” said Cohen.


“All of that became important. But I think [the air campaign] could have been ramped up sooner, and I think it should have been, and it was not.”


In April, Clark requested Apache helicopters for operations out of Albania. U.S. Army, Europe shipped the choppers down  to Tirana as part of Task Force Hawk. At the time, Tirana airport was a “bare bones” facility and the Apaches had to share space with massive amounts of humanitarian aid pouring into Albania. It took almost four weeks to deploy the 24 helicopters. The Apache crews started training for deep strike missions against Serb forces in Kosovo. Two helicopters crashed killing two soldiers. Clark never used the Apaches in combat.


Cohen said Clark did not use the Apaches because the situation had changed from the time Clark requested them to when they were combat ready. By the time the helicopters were ready, “Milosevic had changed his tactics,” Cohen said. “Instead of massing his forces, they had become dispersed. And many of his tanks that would have been killed by the Apaches were then placed in individual homes and villages. So the effectiveness of the Apache at that point would have been called into question compared to the level of risk involved.”


Shelton told the senators DoD and the Joint Staff are examining the conflict for lessons learned. “Our Kosovo quick-look study is designed to rapidly capture the most critical lessons learned and to begin the detailed assessment that will lead to a longer-term doctrinal organizational training and, in some cases, maybe technological changes,” he said.


Shelton cautioned that planners should avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach to operations. What was successful over Yugoslavia, may not be successful elsewhere. He said the first report from Allied Force should be available around Labor Day.


Shelton said he was concerned about progress in establishing the United Nations Mission in Kosovo. While the organization is beginning to do good work, “it is critical that it become fully staffed and fully functional” quickly, he said.


“It is important to note that Kosovo is not Bosnia,” he said. For example, there is less risk of an outbreak of widespread internal armed conflict among the entities in Kosovo, he said. “Therefore, we believe that it may be possible to reduce [the Kosovo Forces] once [the U.N. Mission in Kosovo] is fully established,” he said.


A total of 34,000 allied troops are already in place in Kosovo. About 7,000 are American.

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