The U.S. Military in Yugoslavia
Wednesday, June 9, 1999
A Post reporter for 13 years, Priest started out as an assistant foreign editor and then became a Metropolitan staff reporter. After joining the National staff nine years ago, Priest covered federal regulatory issues and went to Baghdad to write about American hostages being held in Iraq.
Priest has covered the Pentagon for the past four years. Her reporting has taken her to Bosnia to write about U.S. troops stationed there and on overseas trips with defense secretaries William Perry and William Cohen. She has also written extensively about the Army's efforts to integrate women into the workforce.
Read the transcript below.
washingtonpost.com: The U.N. Security Council resolution to end the conflict calls for "substantial NATO participation" in the peace keeping mission. What will this mean for NATO troops? How substantial will their role be?
Dana Priest: Despite diplomatic wording in the text meant to placate the various sensitivities--especially Russia's--my sense is the peacekeeping operation will be essentially a NATO mission. As in Bosnia, they are trying to work out an arrangement where the Russians will be able to say they do not report directly to NATO. I don't think there is any willingness on the part of NATO to relinquish their lead over the peacekeeping operation. Expect 95 percent of the troops to be NATO or NATO aspirants.
washingtonpost.com: Hi Dana, welcome back for another online discussion about the Pentagon and military matters in Kosovo. What is the status of negotiations between NATO and Yugoslav generals who are planning the end of the Kosovo war?
Dana Priest: G-8 agreement concluded last night with the text of a UN Security Council agreement. Talks between NATO and Yugoslav generals started again this morning on the technical arrangements to implement peace deal that Milosevic said he would comply with next week. But we are hearing, too, that these talks are now again in trouble--serious of not we don't know yet. In any case, NATO continues its bombing and it is highly unlikely warplane will cease activities until the deal is verbally agreed to and the first tranche of troops are withdrawn.
Bethesda, MD.: Dana, what's the latest you've heard on Yugoslav troops being killed by cluster bombs dropped by the B-52 near the Kosovo-Albanian border? The B-52 seems to be more active now than in previous weeks. Any particular reson why?
Dana Priest: At least a month ago, NATO commander began using B-52s to herd troops on the ground into more open and vulnerable areas (because there are no NATO troops on the ground to do this). In the last two weeks, B-52s and B-1Bs have been deployed against the massing of Serb forces that has occurred in response to a KLA rebel offensive along the Albanian border. NATO has used this opportunity to take out large numbers of troops that were, in essence, hiding from them before. On Monday, a pair of B52s and B-1Bs dropped 86 Mark-82s--so called dumb bombs on a concentration of several hundred Serb troops near the Mt Pastrik region. There is some confusion about whether they dropped cluster bombs. But they have used them in the past.
Dana Priest: The public's and Congress's expectation of a casualty-free war is definitely now part of Pentagon/NATO planning. It was one of the primarily perimeters for the way Operation Allied Force was designed and, in part, is one of the reasons NATO commanders did not send warplanes into Kosovo to stop the ethnic cleansing in the beginning of the campaign. Commanders said the air defense system was not sufficiently destroyed and that is their way of saying it was too risky for allied pilots. They believe, however, that had many (or perhaps even a few) pilots been killed, the public and the elected officials in various NATO countries would probably have opted out of the war early on. As for the larger lessons, I think it will depend on whom your asking. Airpower advocates are likely to see it as an affirmation of airpower. Army folks may be more inclined to see it as a lucky break--after all, most commanders, intelligence analysts and White House national security folks I've spoken to were very surprised that Milosevic folded (or has appeared to at least) when he did.
College Park, MD: Why hasn't the Post covered the domestic opposition to the war?
Dana Priest: We have, actually. On the day Clinton got the news that Milosevic was ready to accept NATO conditions, there was a photo and article about a local demo here. And our editorial pages have printed opposing views as well. We've also taken numerous polls to analyze public opinion on the war throughout the conflict.
Rosslyn, Va.: Has the Kosovo Liberation Army hindered or helped NATO's abilities to hit their targets?
Dana Priest: The KLA's movements have vastly aided NATO's air campaign over the last few weeks. I wrote an article last week referring to the coordination between the KLA and NATO, something the Pentagon and NATO denies. Nevertheless, it's true, but a sensitive subject. NATO does not really want to support the KLA but, at least as a tactical, short-term alliance, it is serving NATO's purposes quite well. KLA troops undertook Operation Arrow, a two-pronged push from Albania. They were "creamed" as one intelligence source put it, but they scared the Serbs out of hiding, providing what NATO spokesman say was a "target rich" environment. On the other hand, NATO has called off some bombing because they did not want to strike KLA troops, as they did about a month ago when they hit an observation post in Kosari that the KLA was occupying.
Washington, DC: How do you feel personally about the war and US motivations and actions, being that you are much closer to the effort that most. Is it a just cause? Are bombs a just course of action?
Dana Priest: As a reporter, I try very hard to keep any personal conclusions I might develop to myself--and out of my copy. Sorry.
Arlington, VA: When all is said and done, we're going to have US troops in the middle of Serbs and Muslims who hate each other. I served for twenty years and was never exposed to any type of training for this scenario. Is this a "Cold War Light" scenario, where we'll eventually have units stationed over there for years, with US bases -a la Korea-with no dependents and one year revolving tours?
Dana Priest: That is certainly a possibility. Notice that no one is even talking about an "exit strategy." That's because few people have any clue how quickly the development of a stable political environment is likely in Kosovo and Serbia. Most are betting it will be years. And the big question right now is, will Milosevic continue to be the central figure? This, of course, is directly linked to what the international community may or may not do to bring him to justice for the war crimes he is not official accused of commiting.
Dana Priest: I took a first crack at answering this question in a story that ran May 30.
We're about half-way through our live discussion with the Post's Dana Priest. Submit questions by clicking on the hyperlink below.
A minimal number of "smart weapons" have been used during the NATO bombing campaign. After the debacle in Iraq in 1990-91, why have more not been used as a way of minimizing civilian casualties in Serbia?
Dana Priest: Actually, the percentage has never been higher. About a month ago, Pentagon officials were saying the percentage of smart weapons being used was in the 90 percent range. NATO has been very cautious about civilian casualties and has taken some heat internally and elsewhere for being overcautious. The civilian casualties were the results of errors--not deliberate. Think about it, why would it be in NATO interest to hit civilians, knowing the kind of public outcry it brings?
Belgrade, YU: Hi, we have been speaking each other, last time online... Very soon you will be able to see the real face of your "strategic" allies, Shiptars, in the field. What kind of their behaviour do you expect?
Dana Priest: If you are referring to the KLA, I can say that many people are very worried about how they will act in the political/military vacuum that will exist from the first day the bombing stops. Some KLA commanders have said they will comply with NATO requests to demilitarize, but many will not. They could well become the next big military problem for NATO.
Arlington, VA: What really caused Yugoslavia to capitulate: the air war and the combined NATO and KLA attacks on the Serb ground troops?
Dana Priest: I don't know, really. It's a question we'll be asking too since it came as such a surprise. In addition to the things you mentioned, I would add pressure from Russia as at least as important in the end.
San Francisco, CA:
Why doesn't the news ever
Dana Priest: If you are referring to the Yugoslavs...they were major arms and landmine manufacturers so there's no shortage of weapons there. Albania (and therefore the KLA) also has an abundant supply from the fallen Albanian Army and black market. If you are referring to NATO, just look at the arms and troops contributions from each of the 19 countries and you'll see there's no shortage there either.
Dana Priest: I think you are right, with an emphasis on "uneasy." There has been considerable external support. I don't know about any from Muslim states, per say, but there is support from some fundamentalist organizations and from Albanian-expats all over the world. Also, like other beleaguered rebel movements around the world, the KLA also derives its funding from black market drug and arms sales and other criminal activities.
Norfolk, Va.: We've heard for years that cruise missiles and long-range air tactics would lessen the need for hand-to-hand combat. Do you think the apparent success of the current military operation in the Balkans will further affect the way wars are fought in the future?
Dana Priest: Yes I do. Even if the lesson is actually more of a mixed picture, I think it will be easy to seize on the effectiveness of airpower. Afterall, it also is the "safest" way to fight a way from the U.S. because you don't have to put troops on the ground. So there is a natural inclination to find less risky way to "do battle."
St Augustine, Florida:
Your reporting on women in the military has been excellent. Do you think that the services will ever totally integrate women or will it take yet another generation to eliminate the petty biases and narrow attitudes of the men?
Dana Priest: I think it will take a long time, if ever. One general told me he thought a good clue to seeing whether women would ever be accepted in combat units is whether they become more involved in rough contact sports--football, hockey, etc. The comment stuck with me because the point he was making was a broader one about society and about women's own physical evolution (which, of course, some people would see as devolution).
Atlanta, GA: The Pentagon has designated specific US Army units in Germany as part of peacekeeping operations commitment. Do you know which division and-or brigade has been selected?
Dana Priest: I don't, but you can probably find it on their website: defenselink.mil
washington, dc: In the context of this peace deal, what does demilitarizing the KLA mean? Is it something less than disarmament, and if so what measures are being taken to guarantee the security of Serbs in the area?
Dana Priest: Excellent question. I does not mean "disarmament," which was more stringent term used in the Rambouillet talks that failed and led to the bombing. The best definition I've gotten so far is a request (not demand, because no one is negotiating with the KLA) to turn in heavy weapons. This could turn out to be the big weak link in the future political direction of Kosovo but NATO was clearly focused on stopping the Serb forces at this time. I'm sure that adding the KLA to the mix would have nixed the entire deal.
Clinton, New York: Has the issue of Montenegro entered into the peace discussions, either at the level of Chrnomyrdin-Milosevic or between NATO and Serb commanders?
Dana Priest: Not that I know of, but I suspect it has. I suspect Montenegro's precarious relationship with Serbia will not remain as it is today.
New York, NY:
Dana Priest: No way of knowing how long, expect to say everyone I speak to believes it will be a long time. But despite the atrocities, many NATO officials believe a large number of refugees will begin their return the moment a deal is finished, which could be later today. NATO is quit concerned about trying to hold them back for a while so that villages can be demined and water systems decontaminated.
Fort Thomas, KY: Clinton said we would be out of Bosnia by Christmas 1996, but we're still there. What's our commitment for Kosovo?
Dana Priest: Open ended. But I'm sure members of Congress, and especially Republicans, will make a huge issue of this in the upcoming presidential elections.
Do you think Democrats are hawkish and have a tendency to send our military around the world, and then cut its size?
Democrats and Republicans, and the most extremes of both parties, have been all over the map on the air campaign. I have enjoyed watching this because I think the post Cold War era is forcing all sorts of people to confront the ideologies and pre-conceptions they developed and hardened during the Cold War. And that they make be finding uncomfortable right now.
Chatahoochie, FL: What does the average Yugoslavian citizen think of Milosovic's leadership? Has his hold on power lessened since the NATO bombings?
Dana Priest: Our reporters in Belgrade have written that the bombing, at least in the beginning, hardened people feelings about NATO and drew them to Milosevic, if only to be in opposition to NATO's actions. More recently, there's been reporting to suggest a ground swell of frustration and anger against him, that he would allow the country to be ravished for no particular end. What will be interesting to watch in the short-term is whether Milosevic, faced with the desertion of hardline supporters, will be forced into political alliance with more moderate factions or to call elections ahead of the schedule 2001 date.
Dana Priest: Thanks for all the questions. I've got to sign off now. I'll be back next month, if not sooner.
We're out of time now, so let's bring our discussion to a close. Special thanks to Dana Priest for answering our questions.
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