For the past 2 1/2 months I have been perplexed by people who assert that the air campaign in Yugoslavia has not been effective. Misinformation abounds.
Let's remember how we came to this point with this conflict. It is because Slobodan Milosevic refused to abide by his promise to halt the repressive activities of his forces in Kosovo, refused to negotiate at Rambouillet and began the "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovar Albanians. Having witnessed similar atrocities abetted by Milosevic in Bosnia, the United States and its NATO allies were morally compelled to act. The most available, effective and rapid means to strike back against Milosevic's aggression was air power.
Admittedly, the campaign did not begin the way that America normally would apply air power -- massively, striking at strategic centers of gravity that support Milosevic and his oppressive regime. But we are not in this conflict alone. We now have 18 NATO partners, some of whom were prepared to wage only a phased air operation to show NATO's resolve in the hope of achieving an early settlement. There were few who believed that tactically constrained air attacks on a dispersed infantry force, brutishly looting and burning villages, could alone halt the atrocities or reverse the refugee flow. But we can and will destroy the army that has perpetrated those acts. It may take time, but it is inevitable.
By the time of NATO's summit in Washington -- almost a month into the air campaign -- it became apparent to NATO that a constrained, phased approach was not effective. At the insistence of U.S. leaders, NATO widened the air campaign to produce the strategic effects in Serbia proper. The results are becoming obvious.
Serbia's air force is essentially useless, and its air defenses are dangerous but ineffective. Military armament production is destroyed. Military supply areas are under siege. Oil refinement has ceased, and petroleum storage is systematically being destroyed. Electricity is sporadic, at best. Major transportation routes are cut.
NATO aircraft are attacking with impunity throughout the country. With the continued buildup of our aircraft and better weather, the attacks are intensifying and the effects are mounting.
Cracks in the Yugoslav military and police forces are widening. Draftees are failing to report for duty. Unit desertions are on the rise. Protests against the regime are increasing. Serbian civilian leaders are calling for a settlement.
As President Clinton said about Milosevic, "He can cut his losses now and accept the basic requirements of a just peace, or he can continue to force military failure and economic ruin on his people. In the end, the outcome will be the same." Now Milosevic may be accepting the inevitable.
The air campaign has been executed with great precision and with great valor by NATO forces. Admittedly, we have had instances of collateral damage and unintended loss of life, but they have been few and inadvertent. We go to great lengths to avoid harming innocent people. In fact, our air crews often put themselves at greater risk just to minimize it.
Our forces have seen firsthand the destruction Milosevic has perpetrated against his own people in Kosovo solely because of their ethnicity and religion. We must stay the course. We know NATO's mission is just and NATO's actions justifiable, and we know NATO's forces will prevail.
It may take time, but it is inevitable.
Gen. Ryan is the Air Force chief of staff.