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  •   Analysis: Warnings of Air War Drawbacks

    US soldier, AP
    As a U.S. serviceman takes a defensive position, an Albanian man walks his donkey into the hills near the Tirana airbase. (AP)
    By Bradley Graham
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, April 27, 1999; Page A1

    With NATO leaders still wedded to a strategy of pounding Yugoslavia only from the air, a top alliance commander warned yesterday that the relentless bombing could end up setting the country's economy back several decades and still not produce the desired results.

    Gen. Klaus Naumann, outgoing head of NATO's military committee, told reporters that alliance leaders came out of their summit conference here this weekend determined to pursue and intensify the month-old bombing campaign. U.S. military commanders differ, however, over when to start using two dozen AH-64A Apache attack helicopters now on station in Albania, he said. Some officers fear the low-level aircraft are still too vulnerable to Yugoslav anti-aircraft missiles.

    With consideration of ground forces put off for the time being, Naumann said he and Gen. Wesley K. Clark, the alliance's top military officer, still look to the air campaign to force President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw Yugoslav forces from the embattled Serbian province of Kosovo, largely because of a sense that no responsible head of government would allow his country to be reduced to rubble.

    "Of course, we may have one flaw in our thinking," he added. "Our flaw may be that we think he may have at least a little bit of responsibility for his country and may act accordingly, since otherwise he may end up being the ruler of rubble."

    Naumann indicated he favors using the Apache gunships against Yugoslav artillery emplacements along Kosovo's border with Albania, saying the Apaches stand a better chance of finding and destroying these targets with less harm to ethnic Albanian refugees in the area than higher-flying NATO warplanes now in use. But yesterday's crash of an Apache in Albania, during what defense officials described as a training accident, only heightened concerns among some Pentagon officers about putting the Apaches into action in a risky environment.

    Naumann suggested that even if the Apaches go on the attack, they might be limited to operating outside Yugoslavia, perhaps firing on Yugoslav positions inside Kosovo from vantage points in the air on the Albanian side of the border. "The only thing which I can assure you, they have no combat mission which would allow them to cross the Albanian border," the German army general said.

    NATO leaders at the summit conference authorized a selective search of ships in the Adriatic suspected of ferrying oil to Serbia through Montenegro, Serbia's junior partner in the remnant Yugoslav federation. But Naumann appeared to take some of the punch out of this initiative as well, saying allied ships will not use force to halt ships under what NATO is calling a "visit and search" activity.

    "A 'visit and search' regime does not give us the right to force anyone to abandon his course. So we cannot stop a merchant vessel by the use of force," the German general said.

    Naumann indicated the plan is intended largely to deter, not forcibly interdict, noting that NATO's action lacks the legal authority of a United Nations-sanctioned oil blockade. Still, he insisted the inspections will discourage attempts to deliver foreign oil to Yugoslavia by making third parties – meaning essentially Russian tankers – "think twice whether they will take this route, because no one likes to be stopped at sea by a warship."

    With NATO aircraft having attacked about 230 separate sites throughout Yugoslavia since airstrikes began March 24, plans call for a further widening of the target list into ever more politically sensitive categories, officials said.

    From a focus on air defense sites and communication links at the start of the operation, NATO's air campaign has broadened into hits on military headquarters, bridges, rail lines, industrial facilities and armored forces in Kosovo. Military authorities claim some success in damaging the main resupply routes between Kosovo and northern Serbia, reducing petroleum reserves and disrupting communications between commanders and troops in the field.

    Last week, the attacks expanded again to include the Serbian state television network and Yugoslavia's electrical power grid. NATO missiles also began hitting targets even more closely associated with Milosevic, such as his official residence in Belgrade. Alliance officials said to expect other new sets of target as well. Naumann reported that at a NATO defense ministers meeting Friday, "certain additional categories were mentioned, and they were not objected to by anyone."

    Still, even as their target list has grown over the past month, many NATO warplanes have ended up returning time after time to some of the same sites – airfields, radar relay stations, petroleum storage facilities – attempting to do more damage. One result has been a steady wearing-down not just of Yugoslavia's military assets but a substantial portion of the transportation routes and industrial plants that contribute to the country's economic development.

    Naumann estimated that the bombing so far has set Yugoslavia back economically about 10 years, on top of the roughly 10 years of economic progress it lost as a result of earlier wars this decade in Bosnia and Croatia. He predicted that continued bombing could end up reversing the country's development level by the equivalent of 50 years.

    The general, who serves as the principal intermediary between the alliance's political authorities and its military commanders, expressed some misgivings about NATO's decision to rely on airstrikes alone.

    "So far in military history, we have not seen an operation which was successful by using air power exclusively," Naumann said. It is a lesson, he added, that was told and retold to NATO's political authorities before the air campaign against Yugoslavia began last month.

    Naumann, who is due to retire next month, also voiced some reservations about NATO's decision to structure the air campaign as a series of gradually escalating attacks. Among the other lessons universally taught at military academies, Naumann said, is to go to war using overwhelming force and maintaining an element of surprise. Both were not possible in shaping the attack on Yugoslavia because of the political sensitivities of some NATO members and the need to ensure consensus in the alliance.

    "Coalition warfare means [achieving] a balance between the various interests of the different nations, and you automatically end up with the lowest common denominator if you want to keep the coalition together," the general said.

    At the start of the air campaign, Naumann spoke of efforts by some unnamed countries to micromanage day-to-day targeting decisions. He said this activity was largely halted when Javier Solana, NATO's secretary general, issued written guidance granting Clark "a free hand" within a broad target range.

    But significant differences persist among alliance members over the selection of certain targets, the general said. He cited, for instance, a split over how hard to attack Yugoslav forces in Montenegro, whose president, Milo Djukanovic, has distanced himself from Milosevic and sought closer ties with the West.

    "Some nations are very concerned that we not do anything that may weaken the position of Djukanovic in Montenegro," he said. "Others are not so concerned about it."

    One general restriction imposed on the operation, Naumann said, is that NATO warplanes avoid "cultural sites," especially Yugoslavia's many monasteries.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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