FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why Milošević Yielded

by ANDREW COCKBURN

Paul Wilson, in his review of Madeleine Albright’s Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937–1948 [NYR, June 7], sensibly puts quotation marks around the word “success” in referring to the seventy-eight-day NATO bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999, hailed at the time by John Keegan as “proof positive that wars can be won by airpower alone.” As Wilson correctly observes, the war “transformed liberal attitudes to military intervention,” its legacy celebrated in subsequent campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and, perhaps in the near future, Syria and Iran.

The war was indeed a triumph for air power, though not quite in the way Keegan and others understand. The eleven-week bombing offensive against Serbian military and civilian targets ended when Slobodan Milošević agreed to evacuate Kosovo, and it was therefore a simple matter for air power partisans to claim victory—a clear case of post hoc, propter hoc. In the view of many on the ground, however, the Serbs yielded for political, not military reasons. In the words of Lieutenant General Michael Jackson, commander of the British contingent advancing into Kosovo, it was the Russian government’s abandonment of its ally Milošević that had “the greatest significance in ending the war.” Indeed, Milošević accepted the allied terms immediately the Kremlin had spoken.

General Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, nevertheless quickly announced that the happy result had been achieved by Nato bombs and missiles, overwhelmingly targeted against the Serb military, destroying “around 120 tanks…about 220 armored personnel carriers,” and “up to 450 artillery and mortar pieces.”

Subsequent investigation on the ground by a munitions effectiveness assessment team dispatched from NATO concluded that Serb losses had been perhaps a tenth of those claimed. Nato commander General Wesley Clark was reportedly outraged at this report, and sent the team back to Kosovo for further research. Once again, the team found no evidence that the air strikes had in any way discommoded the Serb occupation military. Ultimately, a US Air Force general, John Chorley, obligingly produced a report, without conducting further research in the field, with numbers—ninety-three tanks, 153 armored personnel carriers—that were close enough to the initial claims to be acceptable and have so been recorded as the final tally.

NATO staff was in no doubt as to what had happened. US Army Colonel Douglas MacGregor, who was director of joint operations at Nato military headquarters throughout the war, recently confirmed to me in an e-mail: “Pressure to fabricate came from the top…the [Air Force] senior leadership was determined that whatever the truth, the campaign had to confirm the efficacy of air power and its dominance.” MacGregor, now retired, recalls senior British and German officers on the Nato staff joined him in protesting to Clark over the adulteration of the figures, to no avail.

The story would deserve no more than a footnote if the political effects of the instant falsification of history had not had such far-reaching effects. Air power had been failing to live up to its advocates’ promises since at least World War II, with Vietnam being a signal case in point. The Kosovo campaign’s apparent confirmation that bombs and missiles could achieve a victory at no cost in friendly casualties, and in a good cause too, undoubtedly prepared the political landscape for the automated drone warfare so eagerly embraced by our current leadership. A wider awareness that the official history of that campaign is a fabrication might help people to understand why current remote-control air campaigns in Waziristan, Yemen, Somalia, and beyond yield such disappointing results.

ANDREW COCKBURN is the co-producer of the feature documentary on the financial catastrophe American Casino He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press, now also available in Kindle edition. Cockburn’s The Duel: the Strangest Story of the Afghan War is available in Kindle format. He can be reached at amcockburn@gmail.com

 

Andrew Cockburn is the Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine.  An Irishman, he has covered national security topics in this country for many years.  In addition to publishing numerous books, he co-produced the 1997 feature film The Peacemaker and the 2009 documentary on the financial crisis American Casino.  His latest book is Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins (Henry Holt).

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
The Coming War on China
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
Michael Hudson – Steve Keen
Rebel Economists on the Historical Path to a Global Recovery
Russell Mokhiber
Sanders Single Payer and Death by Democrat
Roger Harris
The Triumph of Trump and the Specter of Fascism
Steve Horn
Donald Trump’s Swamp: Meet Ten Potential Energy and Climate Cabinet Picks and the Pickers
Louis Proyect
Deepening Contradictions: Identity Politics and Steelworkers
Ralph Nader
Trump and His Betraying Makeover
Stephen Kimber
The Media’s Abysmal Coverage of Castro’s Death
Dan Bacher
WSPA: The West’s Most Powerful Corporate Lobbying Group
Nile Bowie
Will Trump backpedal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Ron Ridenour
Fidel’s Death Brings Forth Great and Sad Memories
Missy Comley Beattie
By Invitation Only
Fred Gardner
Sword of Damocles: Pot Partisans Fear Trump’s DOJ
Renee Parsons
Obama and Propornot
Dean Baker
Cash and Carrier: Trump and Pence Put on a Show
Jack Rasmus
Taming Trump: From Faux Left to Faux Right Populism
Ron Jacobs
Selling Racism—A Lesson From Pretoria
Julian Vigo
The Hijos of Buenos Aires:  When Identity is Political
Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano
By Way of Prologue: On How We Arrived at the Watchtower and What We Saw from There
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix the ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
Aidan O'Brien
Fidel and Spain: A Tale of Right and Wrong
Carol Dansereau
Stop Groveling! How to Thwart Trump and Save the World
Kim Nicolini
Moonlight, The Movie
Evan Jones
Behind GE’s Takeover of Alstom Energy
James A Haught
White Evangelicals are Fading, Powerful, Baffling
Barbara Moroncini
Protests and Their Others
Joseph Natoli
The Winds at Their Backs
Cesar Chelala
Poverty is Not Only an Ignored Word
David Swanson
75 Years of Pearl Harbor Lies
Alex Jensen
The Great Deceleration
Nyla Ali Khan
When Faith is the Legacy of One’s Upbringing
Gilbert Mercier
Trump Win: Paradigm Shift or Status Quo?
Stephen Martin
From ‘Too Big to Fail’ to ‘Too Big to Lie’: the End Game of Corporatist Globalization.
Charles R. Larson
Review: Emma Jane Kirby’s “The Optician of Lampedusa”
David Yearsley
Haydn Seek With Hsu
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail