Cohen: Kosovo Mission Successful, But Still Dangerous
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
MUNICH, Germany, May. 3, 2000 The American people appreciate the sacrifice U.S. service members and their families make and recognize the danger troops face in places like Kosovo.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen carried that message May 1 to U.S. troops at Camps Bondsteel and Monteith in Kosovo. Cohen met up at Camp Bondsteel with Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to talk with U.S. military leaders and visit troops.
About 42,000 international troops are in the Kosovo area of operations, including about 6,100 Americans. The United States heads the eastern multinational brigade sector, one of five in Kosovo. France heads the north, Germany the south, Italy the west, and Great Britain the central section.
Camp Bondsteel, a complex of newly built wooden structures atop rolling farm fields, forms the heart of U.S.-led Multinational Brigade Command East. Bondsteel currently houses about 4,000 personnel, including about 3,000 Americans. Another 2,000 personnel, including about 1,000 Americans, are based at Camp Monteith, about an hour's drive away.
The U.S. contingent of the peacekeeping mission, primarily Army, includes command, engineer, reconnaissance, air assault, infantry, armor, artillery, aviation, Special Forces, civil affairs, support and a mobile hospital unit. Some Navy and Air Force personnel also support Task Force Falcon.
Shelton and Cohen praised the NATO-led Kosovo Force for helping bring peace, stability and security to the people of Kosovo. Shelton stressed the importance of the mission and expressed the nation's gratitude to U.S. troops assembled at the Bondsteel theater.
"Your success in maintaining a safe and secure environment under very difficult, ... complex circumstances has made it possible for the people of Kosovo to continue to rebuild their lives," the chairman said. "Your efforts have also provided the international community with an opportunity to find the long-term solution for Kosovo and provide it as a matter of fact."
Now, Shelton said, it's time for the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to establish an effective police force, stand up civil institutions of government and restore the economy "so that we can leave behind a long-term self-sustaining peace."
Cohen said the military men and women from 28 nations participating in Operation Joint Guardian are contributing their time to give the Kosovo people an opportunity to live in peace and harmony. But, he pointed out, "It's going to take some time.
"I frequently have to testify on Capitol Hill and they (Congress) want to know, 'How long? How long is it going to take before these wounds heal?' You know from your experiences, it's not going to be easy," he said.
"The passions that still reside here are still pretty high and they're likely to remain high for some time to come," he said. And while many people say the international community hasn't done enough, at the least NATO stopped the killing and reversed what was done just a year ago, Cohen added.
"A year ago, we were in the middle of the most successful air campaign in history of the world. We reversed something we never thought we'd see again in the 20th century -- a whole program of ethnic cleansing," he said.
Now the NATO-led peacekeepers are helping to stabilize the region so people can see the benefits of peaceful interchange rather than the exchange of hatred that leads to more graves, he said.
Cohen pointed out, however, that Pentagon leaders oppose proposals to create a peacekeeping force for these types of missions. "This is still a very dangerous place, as you know better than any of us," he told the troops. "You know how quickly it can go from a peacekeeping mission to a warfighting mission."
U.S. service members are "trained to do everything, and that's what sets us apart from virtually every other military in the world," Cohen said. In Kosovo, U.S. forces are engaged in everything from humanitarian missions to police activities -- "which you really shouldn't be doing. That's something the United Nations should be providing, which we're doing in their place in many cases," he said.
"Peacekeeping to warfighting -- you are trained to carry out all those missions," Cohen said, "and frankly, as much of a burden as that puts on you, we don't want to see that change. We like to say that you are, in fact, the best trained, the best led, the best equipped, most capable military in the world. We want to keep you exactly that way."
To do that, defense leaders are working hard to provide service members and their families with the best possible quality of life. "Last year you saw the pay raise and pay table reform," Cohen said. "Last year you also saw the change in the retirement benefits."
Now, he said, the leadership is working on housing and healthcare. "The chairman and I want to make sure that those of you who have to live off base don't have to come up with money out of your pocket. The last study we had, showed that you have to come up with 19 percent. That's not good. We're going to change that."
Cohen said he has put about $3 billion into the budget over the next four-and-one-half years to make sure service members who live off base and those living on base are treated equitably.
Healthcare is another area of concern, the secretary said. TRICARE doesn't work as well as defense officials had hoped it would, and a number of changes are in the works. He also said he and Shelton are working on a proposal they'll soon present to Congress that will cover the retired community as well. "We need to keep faith with you and those members who have come before you," Cohen said.
From Kosovo, Cohen and Shelton were slated to attend change of command ceremonies at U.S. European Command in Germany and at SHAPE in Belgium before returning to Washington. The ceremonies welcome Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston as the new commander in chief of European Command and NATO supreme allied commander Europe.