War In The Balkans: General admits failure of air strikes

Military Aims
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The Independent Online
NATO'S SENIOR military official yesterday conceded that the alliance had failed in its initial war aims and admitted, for the first time, that two allied planes have been shot down.

In remarkably blunt terms, General Klaus Naumann, the chairman of Nato's powerful Military Committee, said that political limitations of the 19- nation alliance had led it to sacrifice crucial advantages in the early stages of the campaign.

Because Nato had not surprised the enemy or overwhelmed the Yugoslav armed forces, the conflict had been prolonged, the German general said, adding that the the need to avoid civilian casualties was inhibiting the campaign. He refused to admit that the early use of ground troops was inevitable. At a farewell press conference in Brussels, General Naumann, who retires from his post tomorrow, referred for the first time, to two allied aircraft being "shot down". Nato sources later said that that referred to the F-117A Nighthawk "Stealth" fighter-bomber lost during the early stages of the air bombardment, and an F-16 which was brought down over the weekend.

The losses, both of which resulted in dramatic rescues of airmen from inside Yugoslav territory, had been put down to mechanical failure with Nato refusing to say whether the planes had been shot down.

General Naumann said bluntly: "Quite frankly and honestly we did not succeed in our initial attempts to coerce Milosevic through air strikes to accept our demands, nor did we succeed in preventing the FRY [Federal Republic of Yugoslavia] from pursuing a campaign of ethnic separation and expulsion." Not only was there a lengthy diplomatic build-up to the bombardment, but the first phase of the strikes was made deliberately light, in the hope that President Slobodan Milosevic would concede quickly. "This", the general added, "cost time, effort and potentially additional casualties, the net result being that the campaign is undoubtedly prolonged."

He also accepted that the alliance was powerless to prevent the expulsion of the remaining ethnic Albanians. "President Milosevic's campaign of mass deportation is still achievable. If he really wants to get them out and he uses the same brutal methods he may have a chance to do this."

The striking honesty of General Naumann's account of the 41-day campaign was put down to his impending departure, to make way for Admiral Guido Venturoni of the Italian Navy.

As chairman of the Military Committee, General Naumann is technically senior to General Wesley Clark, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, the man in charge of operation Allied Force.

Meanwhile a leading military think tank yesterday delivered its own scathing critique of Nato's performance, saying that the alliance had ignored two cardinal tenets of warfare, misread its own public opinion, and fallen victim to what it called "strategic correctness".

In its annual "Strategic Survey", the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said that by announcing its plans in advance and ruling out the ground option, the alliance had abandoned the first principle of war - surprise - and breached a second one by failing to keep an enemy in doubt about its intentions.

"These mistakes meant the air campaign was less successful than it might have been and that preparations for the ground campaign that would be necessary were delayed," John Chipman, the IISS director, said. A ground force would take some two months to prepare, the military analysts say.

They argue that unless one is ready to go in by the end of July, it would be too late to be sure of completing the operation and sending in peace- keepers before winter comes.

Nor have Belgrade's air defences been as comprehensively destroyed as might have been expected after six weeks of bombing. Simultaneously, Dr Chipman said, Nato had underestimated the extent of public support for a truly effective campaign.

Instead Nato had displayed a misguided obsession with "strategic correctness". Dr Chipman cited as examples the divorce of diplomatic rhetoric from political reality - a special fault of the US, he said - and the tendency to threaten force without any readiness to "accept the casualties that inevitably come with a serious military effort".

He predicted that the mere assembly of a credible ground force would lead President Milosevic to climb down, without the alliance actually having to make an opposed invasion.

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