The U.S. Air Force general who commanded NATO's successful air war against Yugoslavia says America's European allies should invest in more advanced weapons or risk becoming permanent junior partners in alliance military campaigns.
In a telephone interview Thursday, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Short said the overwhelming dominance of the air war by the United States -- which some European governments have criticized -- was inevitable given U.S. superiority in precision-guided weaponry.
Short said that since allied strategy demanded highly accurate bombing at night, he could not afford to take the risk of sending the warplanes of many European nations on missions that were deemed too risky -- out of concern for the pilots and for civilian casualties that might result from errant bombing. U.S. warplanes carried out about four-fifths of the bombing and missile strikes during the 11-week air campaign against the Yugoslav government's offensive in the separatist province Kosovo.
"I hope those nations that could not participate in the way they would have liked will take the necessary action and make the necessary investments to catch up," Short said. "Otherwise, we run the risk of creating second or third teams within the alliance."
Speaking from his command headquarters in Vicenza, Italy, Short also said the Western alliance must greatly improve the way it manages combat missions so political leaders do not impose too many constraints on military operations. He said there were occasions during the campaign when the quest for consensus among NATO members was clearly "counterproductive" to military goals.
He said a major problem was the need to secure the approval of all 19 governments for many tactical decisions, including which targets to hit.
"I hope the alliance will learn that before you drop the first bomb, or fire the first shot, we need to lock the political leaders up in a room and have them decide what the rules of engagement will be so they can provide the military with the proper guidance and latitude needed to prosecute the war," Short said.
Short said he believed it was the "cumulative effect of very precise, very efficient" attacks that ultimately forced Belgrade to bow to NATO's demands.
"I have trouble putting my finger on a turning point," Short said. He ticked off several factors that he believes ultimately imposed intolerable pressure upon Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic -- round-the-clock bombardment, a spell of good weather late in the campaign, the impact of extra planes flying from bases in Turkey, and the shutting down of power and water supplies over much of Serbia, the dominant republic of Yugoslavia -- .
The decisive blow, however, was struck when Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) rebels launched a ground offensive from their strongholds along Kosovo's southwestern border with Albania that flushed out Yugoslav army forces from their hiding places and made them much easier targets for A-10 tank-killer aircraft and B-52 bombers.
"This conflict was unlike others in that we did not have a ground element to fix the enemy, to make him predictable, and to give us information as to where the enemy might be," Short said.
"Certainly we were not allied with the KLA, but the fact that they were in the field and having some success made the Yugoslav army come out and fight and try to blunt their offensive. They could not stay under cover. And once they moved, or fired their artillery, our strikers learned where they were and could go in for the kill."
Short declined to comment on whether he and his staff at NATO's Combined Air Operations Center, located at a military airport in Vicenza, maintained contacts with KLA forces in the field. But alliance intelligence sources acknowledge that KLA guerrillas used cellular phones to pass along targeting coordinates to their base commanders, who then relayed the information to NATO military authorities.
CAPTION: Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Short suggests NATO allies will have to upgrade their military equipment.