NATO's seeming victory by air power alone would be an unexpected first
June 6, 1999
From Correspondent Carl Rochelle
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It took more than 31,000 sorties by NATO aircraft and hundreds of cruise missiles from U.S. and British warships, but, for the first time in the history of warfare, air power has achieved an apparent victory -- in Yugoslavia.
And that has defied the conventional wisdom.
"If we had all the sound bites from all the pundits and analysts and commentators over the use of air power -- myself included -- who predicted that air power by itself would not work, it would be a very long list," says retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Dan Benton. "But it has worked."
Since Germany's failed attempt to bomb Britain to its knees in World War II, military strategists have believed that air power without ground troops would ultimately fail.
And despite what has happened in Yugoslavia, some military officials are reluctant to give air power all the credit.
"This particular case speaks well of our professionalism, the capability and competence of our pilots, the air crews all involved in terms of that application of that air power to this objective," Defense Secretary William Cohen says. "But it was a combination of factors: a combination of diplomacy coupled with the ... political isolation of (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic."
Air strikes couldn't win the war in Vietnam, and, while they were a major component in the Persian Gulf War, success ultimately came on the ground. So what was different this time?
"Primarily, (it was) the intelligent use of targeting," Benton says. "In this exercise, it was focused on those targets that could bring the most impact on the Yugoslav leadership."
Since the start of the air campaign, NATO has destroyed most of Yugoslavia's bridges and oil refining capability. Also, the country's electrical power was shut down periodically, and the bombing caused hundreds of casualties among Serb troops.
Another difference this time was that NATO's goals were limited to ending ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. By not demanding total victory, the use of air power -- combined with allied unity, Russian cooperation and a recent increase in activity by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian rebels -- apparently convinced Milosevic to agree to NATO's terms.
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