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

March 29, 2017
Jeffrey Sommers
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon: Real Threats More Serious Than Fake News Trafficked by Media
David Kowalski
Does Washington Want to Start a New War in the Balkans?
Patrick Cockburn
Bloodbath in West Mosul: Civilians Being Shot by Both ISIS and Iraqi Troops
Ron Forthofer
War and Propaganda
Matthew Stevenson
Letter From Phnom Penh
James Bovard
Peanuts Prove Congress is Incorrigible
Thomas Knapp
Presidential Golf Breaks: Good For America
Binoy Kampmark
Disaster as Joy: Cyclone Debbie Strikes
Peter Tatchell
Human Rights are Animal Rights!
George Wuerthner
Livestock Grazing vs. the Sage Grouse
Jesse Jackson
Trump Should Form a Bipartisan Coalition to Get Real Reforms
Thomas Mountain
Rwanda Indicts French Generals for 1994 Genocide
Clancy Sigal
President of Pain
Andrew Stewart
President Gina Raimondo?
Lawrence Wittner
Can Our Social Institutions Catch Up with Advances in Science and Technology?
March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
Robert Fisk
As ISIS’s Caliphate Shrinks, Syrian Anger Grows
Michael J. Sainato
Democratic Party Continues Shunning Popular Sanders Surrogates
Paul Bentley
Nazi Heritage: the Strange Saga of Chrystia Freeland’s Ukrainian Grandfather
Christopher Ketcham
Buddhism in the Storm
Thomas Barker
Platitudes in the Wake of London’s Terror Attack
Mike Hastie
Insane Truths: a Vietnam Vet on “Apocalypse Now, Redux”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail