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Yugoslavia: France Faulted For Limiting Targets During Kosovo Conflict

  • Andrew Tully

A U.S. Senate panel held a hearing on Thursday about the lessons learned from NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia. There was some blunt testimony from top American military officials appearing before the committee. RFE/RL's Andrew F. Tully files this report from Washington.

Washington, 22 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- One of the American generals who led the NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia says France repeatedly vetoed bombing targets, and thus may have prolonged the campaign.

Air Force Lieutenant General Michael Short says the United States should have put political pressure on France so that allied forces could have attacked the heart of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's power.

Short made his comments Thursday to the Armed Services Committee of the U.S. Senate, the upper house of Congress. Also appearing at the hearing were General Wesley Clark, the supreme commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and another alliance military leader, Admiral James O'Ellis.

Short said he believes the best strategy would have been to target the center of power in Yugoslavia.

"I'd have gone for the head of the snake on the first night. I'd have turned the lights out the first night, I'd have dropped the bridges across the Danube; I'd hit five or six political, military headquarters in downtown Belgrade. Milosevic and his cronies would have waked up (sic) the first morning asking what the hell was going on."

Short told the committee that he had been involved in negotiations with Milosevic before the war, and found that stern, uncompromising talk often succeeded where diplomatic efforts at persuasion did not.

"If you hit this man hard, slapped him upside the head, he'd pay attention."

But Short said the political considerations of NATO's 19 members hampered the conduct of the campaign.

The general singled out France, which, as he put it, "played the red flag" against targeting several sites that the alliance's military leaders believed should have been destroyed. He also complained that France flew less than 8 percent of the military strikes against Yugoslav forces, and still had veto power over targets.

Short blamed the U.S. civilian leaders for not putting pressure on France to allow a tougher military campaign. He said using such pressure is the responsibility of the United States because it is the predominant NATO member.

"I understand how strongly the French feel their national positions, but I felt the United States of America was in a position to leverage our being the 'big dog.' "

Clark agreed that strong U.S. pressure on its allies, plus a decisive use of military force -- including the use of allied ground forces -- would have meant a shorter war that may have driven Milosevic from power.

"I think one of the lessons that comes out of this is the need that once you cross the threshold, to move as rapidly as possible to the [most] decisive use of force as possible within the military feasibility and the political constraints which drive the war; and secondly, to use all of the elements of power, not just the military means, to secure your objectives."

A member of the committee, Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan), noted that America's allies were not the only ones who opposed the use of a ground campaign against Milosevic.

"The support in this country wasn't there for ground forces, the support in the Congress wasn't there for ground forces."

But Levin said he believes the results were the best anyone could have hoped for from an alliance of 19 countries. Clark, Short, and O'Ellis agreed.

Earlier the same day, a British-based military think-tank issued a report saying many of America's NATO allies lacked the sophisticated technology necessary to fight the war effectively.

The International Institute of Strategic Studies said the most obvious shortcoming was European forces' lack of unmanned "drone" aircraft to conduct surveillance of enemy targets without jeopardizing the lives of allied personnel.

But all three U.S. military leaders testified that the different allied armed forces worked well together. Clark said there were some, but not many, compatibility problems with military hardware.

Toward the end of the hearing, Clark told the committee that 78 days of bombing could not manage to drive Milosevic from power.

"He does have his military ready to go; he has the police forces, which have been also reconstructed; he has still financial resources available to him; and he still has control of the media. So he has a real arsenal of intimidating powers available to sustain his continuance in office there."

But the general emphasized that a harsh winter, combined with growing political opposition, could unseat Yugoslavia's leader.

Said Clark: "We certainly hope so."