Where are the Dead Bodies in Kosovo? (V)

August 18, 2000

Comment: #380

Discussion Thread:  #s 252, 269, 318, 335, 334, 334A, 326, 327


[1] Jonathan Steele, "Serb Killings 'Exaggerated' by West," The Guardian, Friday August 18, 2000. Excerpts attached.

[2] Elaine Grossman, "U.S. Military Debates Link Between Kosovo Air War, Stated Objectives," Inside The Pentagon, April 20, 2000, Pg. 1.  Attached.

The justification for using American forces in Kosovo has been and continues to be a moral argument grounded on claims of mass murder and genocide. Estimates of the slaughter ranged from 100,000 alluded to by Defense Secretary Cohen during the war to 10,000, which is still claimed by the State Department.

Our leaders used these numbers to claim that a higher morality and the rule of international law justified:

  • bypassing the Constitution,

  • mutating the defensive requirements of the NATO treaty into an offensive attack on a nation that not pose a threat to any members of NATO, and

  • asserting the legality of bombing on the basis of UN resolutions that did not authorize the use of military force (UNSCRs 1199 & 1203, and, in fact, UNSCR 1199 specifically excluded the use of force because Russia made it clear when it was being negotiated in the Summer of 1998 that Russia would veto a resolution that authorized force).

To make matters worse, as Elaine Grossman reports in Reference 2, our leaders concocted ill-conceived and chaotically executed bombing campaign, based on the initial assumption that two or three days of bombing attacks would coerce one man into changing his mind. When this assumption backfired and resulted in the refugee disaster in April 1999, the war escalated wildly beyond initial expectations into chaotic bombing attacks on an tiny nation with thirds the Gross Domestic Product of Fairfax County, Virginia, with civilian targets, like shoe factories and general power supplies, being bombed in violation of the Geneva Convention. [see also Comment #s 252, 269, 318].

This was all done in the name of a higher morality—and that higher morality was grounded in a direct, as well as subliminal, demonization of Serbia - a Serbia that was pursuing an evil genocidal campaign against the helpless Kosovar Albanians.

Genocide is certainly an evil, and in come cases, it might justify a moral crusade that requires leaders to violate our nation's highest moral principle -- the rule of law, but this kind of tradeoff puts everyone on a slippery intellectual slope.

One thing is therefore clear: Special care must be taken to determine whether that threat of genocide is real before one trashes the moral principle that lies at the center one's national identity.

Beginning in September, 1999, there began a series of news reports which questioned whether or not a genocide actually took place in Kosovo. [see #s 335, 334, 334A, 326, 327]

Rather than inciting a search for truth, however, these reports triggered impassioned rebuttals by defenders of the Kosovo intervention. The most egregious of these, in my opinion, was a sinister op-ed in the New York Times written by Michael Ignatieff on 21 November. Assuming a polemical robe Senator Joe McCarthy would have felt comfortable in, Ignatieff called the people who questioned the claim of genocide "revisionists," implying they were trying to overturn accepted truth. He accused them of distorting and ignoring facts, and he insinuated they were traitors by saying they were helping Milosovic [see Comment #s 334 & 334A for his attack and #335 for a compendium of "revisionist literature" he trashed].

The article in Guardian suggests that Ignatieff may owe the "revisionists" an apology.

The Guardian tells us that the results are in after the second round of forensic exhumations in Kosovo, and three months of digging this summer yielded only 680 additional bodies at 150 sites to the 2,108 bodies found at 195 sites last year, before exhumations were called off because of winter frosts. Thus the total number of bodies found so far amounts to 2,788 - hardly a "genocide."

Bear also in mind, the picture is clouded further by the fact that an undeterminable number of these bodies could be KLA killed in combat, or Serbs, or Gypsies, or people who died natural deaths, in addition to those who had been murdered by the Serbs." The Guardian, for example, reports in Ref. 1 that officials refused to say now many of the 2788 bodies exhumed to date showed signs of being executed.

While there is no question that the Serbs committed atrocities in Kosovo, and forced expulsion is a war crime, it must also be remembered that that the Albanians have committed atrocities and expelled Serbs, particularly since the end of the war. Atrocities occur in all wars and are particularly bad in civil wars.

The Guardian reports raises the REAL MORAL QUESTION of Kosovo, and it is one that should be resolved if we want to remain a nation proudly shaped by the rule of law.

The members of Congress have an obligation to our history, particularly to the Framers of the Constitution, as well as an obligation to the people they represent, not to mention future generations, to examine the legal and moral justifications of the Serbo-NATO War.

The place to start would be to pass a law requiring the State Department to declassify and make public the transcripts and records of the still-secret Rambouillet negotiations, the breakdown of which triggered the bombing.

I urge you to read References 1 and 2 carefully and judge for yourself.

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference #1

Serb Killings 'Exaggerated' by West

Claims of up to 100,000 ethnic Albanians massacred in Kosovo revised to under 3,000 as exhumations near end

Jonathan Steele
The Guardian
Friday August 18, 2000



The final toll of civilians confirmed massacred by Yugoslav forces in Kosovo is likely to be under 3,000, far short of the numbers claimed by NATO governments during last year's controversial air strikes on Yugoslavia.


However, commentators yesterday stressed that the new details should not obscure the fact that the major war crime in the tribunal's indictment of the Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, and four other Serb officials is the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo and forced deportation of hundreds of thousands of people.


But while some 7,000 Bosnian Muslims died in the week-long Srebrenica massacre in 1995, less than 3,000 Kosovo Albanian murder victims have been discovered in the whole of Kosovo. "The final number of bodies uncovered will be less than 10,000 and probably more accurately determined as between two and three thousand," Paul Risley, the Hague tribunal's press spokesman, said yesterday.


No NATO government has sought to produce a definitive total of murdered ethnic Albanian civilians since the Serb offensives began in March 1998, a year before the bombing. "No one is interested," complained a senior international official in Kosovo involved in helping victims' families. "NATO doesn't want to admit the damage wasn't as extensive as it said. Local Albanian politicians have the same motive. If you don't have the true figure, you can exploit the issue."

Reference # 2

Inside The Pentagon
April 20, 2000
Pg. 1

U.S. Military Debates Link Between Kosovo Air War, Stated Objectives

A debate is beginning to heat up among U.S. military officials over a central question in last year's war against Yugoslavia: Did NATO's air war match up to the alliance's stated objective of ending the Serbs' expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo? And why did Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic ultimately withdraw his forces from Kosovo last June, 78 days after NATO attacks began?

When NATO launched the U.S.-led air campaign against Serbia on March 24, 1999, after the failure of talks at Rambouillet, France, President Clinton and his top national security advisers were optimistic that after a few days of air strikes, Milosevic would be forced back to the negotiating table. "I don't see this as a long-term operation," Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said during a television interview on the first day of the war.

NATO officials say Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Wesley Clark—who had met Milosevic on a number of occasions while negotiating the Bosnia accords—similarly assured the White House that the Yugoslavian leader would fold after two to three days of NATO attacks.

"At the beginning of this campaign, it was never envisioned to be more than two or three days, or a week at most," said one NATO official. "That's the bill of goods that the NAC [North Atlantic Council] was sold in order to buy into doing this."

Of course, Milosevic did not surrender to NATO as quickly as predicted. In fact, the continued pummeling NATO inflicted on Belgrade over the course of the war actually appeared to strengthen Serbian resolve and public support for the previously unpopular Yugoslavian president.

At the same time, it was becoming painfully clear that NATO forces could not meet the alliance's stated main objective for the war—stopping Serbian thugs from their aggression in Kosovo—using air power alone. In fact, German Gen. Klaus Naumann—one of NATO's top generals—had been explicitly warning the alliance's political leadership of that challenge for six months before the war was launched (Inside the Pentagon, April 22, 1999, p1).

Warnings that war against Yugoslavia could become a protracted affair also came from two of the Joint Chiefs, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Ryan. Before the first bombs were dropped, they testified before Senate Armed Services Committee about the challenges U.S. and NATO forces would face in the Balkans. They gave the same advice to the White House behind the scenes. However, citing the earlier example in Bosnia, Clinton's top national security advisers believed Milosevic could be bombed back into peace talks.

"We did not have a real strategy," Krulak, now retired from the military, told Inside the Pentagon in an April 19 interview. "We did not articulate an objective. . . . We certainly never engaged the American people on the viability of such an intervention."

"There were never any objectives established for Allied Force," a NATO official said recently. "An objective is what? It's definable, it's measurable, and it's achievable. . . . Most importantly, they were never written down." If objectives for the war had been clearly laid out, the military would have had a standard against which it could say, "When we've achieved these things, we win," the official said.

From the perspective of Air Force Gen. John Jumper, who commanded U.S. Air Forces in Europe during the Kosovo war, the Air Force did the best job it could do, given the limitations handed it by the alliance coalition. He told an audience at an Air Force-sponsored breakfast on Capitol Hill last week that the service was able to take NATO's fragile consensus and translate it into an air war. But that war was "much less efficient than we would like to, that we planned to and that our doctrine calls for," he said at the April 13 event.

But he noted that the U.S. forces' ability to avoid all combat casualties and to limit aircraft losses to two buttressed the alliance's resolve to stick with the war through to the end.

Missed opportunity

Serbian forces initially massed forces in eastern and western Kosovo in mid-March, and launched a major offensive. But NATO missed the opportunity to initiate the war then and destroy those fielded forces. After the offensive, Milosevic's forces and the Serbian paramilitary quickly dispersed, dug in, and skillfully camouflaged their locations, making it nearly impossible to degrade them directly, according to NATO officials.

"Once they had finished their massing on March 15 and had begun to conduct a significant offensive, then our opportunity to really be effective against ground forces was lost, in my opinion," one official said. Serbian forces stopped conducting major offensives in Kosovo after April 1, according to this official.

"You can't stop the thug with a knife at someone's throat with a 2,000-pound bomb," said one Air Force official involved in the Kosovo war in an April 18 interview.

Finding mobile targets was even harder; the NATO official dubbed that effort a "chicken-bone-and-crystal-ball affair." In going after hidden mobile air defense and missile systems, the Air Force "was being asked to be a 21st century tactical air force," said one service official. "And the truth is, we're not very good at it" yet, the official said.

When flying over Kosovo at 15,000 feet—the U.S.-prescribed "floor" for air operations for much of the war—"it is hard as hell to find something, even if you know it's there," the official said. The Yugoslavian forces used fairly basic methods of obscuring targets "to great effect," according to this source.

Jumper noted last week that hitting mobile targets was further complicated by bad weather and the presence of civilians, some of them the very refugees NATO set out to protect. "The problem then becomes one of identification out of an abiding concern and correct concern for collateral damage situation where you have over 850,000 displaced persons wandering the same roads," the general said.

A push to find more targets

By early April, as it became clear Milosevic was holding firm for the long haul, NATO's war planning staff fell into something of a panic, according to some of Clark's own aides. Over the previous months, NATO's air war strategists had crafted a three-phase attack plan beginning with strikes against Serbian integrated air defenses, expanding the target set to include command and control systems, then adding other targets in a third phase, if necessary, such as lines of communication, logistics and forces fielded in Kosovo.

But that plan fell apart, to be replaced by an approach that met Clark's demands for a much larger set of targets to bring before NATO's political council for approval, according to NATO officials interviewed for this article. Clark ratcheted up the number of targets he wanted his planning staff to identify in Serbia to 5,000 and told the Joint Chiefs of Staff by teleconference he needed much more manpower and equipment.

"Clark had a wish list that would choke a horse," one retired senior military official, familiar with the Pentagon's internal deliberations, told ITP last April. The NATO military chief "is panicking," this source said. "His professional reputation is on the line" (ITP, April 15, 1999, p1).

NATO military aides succeeded in convincing Clark that 5,000 legitimate aim points could not be found in Serbia, a state the size of Ohio with an economy smaller than Fairfax County, VA. The holy grail then became 2,000 targets—a figure NATO officials dubbed "T2K"—but finding even that many aim points seemed so impossible that the effort became somewhat surreal, according to sources involved in the war. By the war's end, NATO had hit 1,220 targets in Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo, sources said.

Brig. Gen. Dan Leaf, who flew 19 combat missions over Serbia during Operation Allied Force as commander of the fighter wing flying out of Aviano, Italy, thought Clark's desire for a large-as-possible target set was understandable and reasonable. "From a military perspective, you've got to look at the entire adversary picture," then narrow down the target set from there, Leaf told ITP in an April 19 interview.

While the phased air war started as a controlled operation run according to doctrine, it was unclear to many of those involved how those phases would contribute to bringing Milosevic back to the table, some NATO sources said. "The problem was that there was no clear delineation [of when] we would move from phase one to phase two," according to one NATO official. "It was unclear the objectives that we would pursue."

Targeting moved into the realm of attacking a broad range of facilities thought to be of value to Milosevic and his cronies. Yet many of the buildings bombed in Belgrade—like Serbian petroleum tanks NATO also targeted—turned out to be empty.

Several military officers in the NATO's Joint Operations Center in Belgium "made that case to SACEUR," the official said, referring to Clark as the supreme allied commander-Europe. "What are we doing? Why are going here? What do you want us to plan for?"

From Krulak's perspective, the approach made sense to those who believed the Kosovo situation could be resolved if Milosevic were bombed into submission. "The reality is that there were people on [NATO's] political as well as military side who believed in their heart of hearts that we could bring Milosevic back to the table with a very violent bombing campaign," the former commandant said. "When he didn't, I think that caught them somewhat by surprise. And that was the cause for more targets and more varied targets."

Broadening objectives

What had begun as NATO's call for an end to Serbian aggression against Kosovar Albanian civilians was beginning to expand into broader—and by some accounts, more amorphous—objectives for the war.

President Clinton began hinting that democratization of Yugoslavia had become a goal of NATO's war. His national security adviser, Samuel Berger, went a step further. It would be "hard for me to imagine a truly democratic Serbia that Mr. Milosevic, who is a card-carrying totalitarian, would be leading," Berger said April 15.

NATO officials say the removal of Milosevic was a war objective some U.S. political and military officials discussed—but only behind closed doors.

Even going back to August 1998, when war plans for Kosovo were first being drawn up, there was some confusion at Clark's Mons, Belgium, military headquarters over the objectives of such a war. One NATO official quotes Clark as saying at that time, "You must understand the objective is to take Yugoslavia away from Mr. Milosevic, so that we can democratize it and modernize it. That's our objective."

For starters, military aides found it difficult—if not impossible—to plan a war limited to air power that could achieve that objective. But, said one NATO official, the objectives of democratizing Yugoslavia or removing Milosevic were never formally communicated to the military staff.

Another officer offered this: "On the political level, if you cornered someone and said, 'What do you want to achieve in Yugoslavia?' the answer I got for a year was, 'We want to take Yugoslavia away from Mr. Milosevic. We want to rob him of control of his country so that we can liberate it and democratize it and modernize it.' Those were the broad objectives.

"When you move into the military realm, the objective is what?" the officer continued. "It is once again to destroy the regime in Belgrade. But no one would admit to that."

Yet those objectives were never supported by U.S. allies in Europe. The only objectives approved by the North Atlantic Council, NATO's political leadership, were to stop the ethnic cleansing and get Serbian forces out of Kosovo. Many European leaders argued adamantly against destroying Serbia because they wanted to reabsorb Yugoslavia back into Europe at the war's end.

"Trying to decide on strategic goals and then trying to prosecute a conflict that would achieve those goals is very difficult—if not impossible -- to do when you have so many nation states as participants in the decision process," Krulak said this week. "The bottom line that was acceptable . . . was to stop the ethnic cleansing, stop the expulsions, and have Milosevic pull out of Kosovo."

"Nobody, up until quite recently, was ever going to admit that the focus of this campaign was the [Milosevic] regime," said one NATO official. "So all of the pre-war rhetoric and all of the pre-war planning and operations were directed primarily at the VJ [Serbian military forces] and the MUP [security forces] operating in Kosovo."

NATO's military staff was thus left with virtually "secret" objectives not sanctioned by the Europeans and publicly stated objectives that could not be met by air power alone, according to officials involved in the operation.

Krulak said he would not be surprised if the removal of Milosevic were the underlying objective for some U.S. officials, but he stressed he never heard such an explanation voiced. If it was a goal, though, it was a "non-starter" because it did not have NATO's backing, he said.

From the perspective of some NATO officials, the alliance leadership never gave clear guidance to war planners as they cobbled together the campaign. "Nobody ever said, 'No fooling, what we want to accomplish in this country is X,'" one NATO officer said.

The military staff was left with unintelligible political objectives, leading to incoherence in the way in which NATO's war was waged, these sources asserted.

"It's a creepy thing that what we did is we started throwing bombs around, hoping that objectives would materialize," according to one NATO military official.

Said another such official: "If there is political incoherence on the strategic level, there is military incoherence in response."

NATO issues demands

On April 23, NATO leaders meeting at a 50th anniversary summit in Washington, DC, laid out five demands for Milosevic to meet before the military campaign against Yugoslavia would end:

  • "Ensure a verifiable stop to all military action and the immediate ending of violence and repression in Kosovo;

  • "Withdraw from Kosovo his military, police and paramilitary forces;

  • "Agree to the stationing in Kosovo of an international military presence;

  • "Agree to the unconditional and safe return of all refugees and displaced persons, and unhindered access to them by humanitarian aid organizations; and

  • "Provide credible assurance of his willingness to work for the establishment of a political framework agreement based on the Rambouillet accords."

Yet some NATO officials say the official pronouncements were not in line with the attacks on Yugoslavia that the alliance carried out. "Most of the [NATO] nations understood the underlying real focus [of the war]," according to one alliance military official. "Regardless of that … all of our public pronouncements were not in line with what we did."

Moreover, "the targets that we selected—because we had no objectives—they were based on nothing other than that they were approved. So we slung lead on targets [but] we couldn't say, 'The objectives are X, so we blew up Y."

Clark operated within a cumbersome political approval process in which all targets went not only to the White House for review, but also to the North Atlantic Council for the approval of each of NATO's 19 nations. This is, in part, what motivated the search for a great number of proposed targets: so NATO could choose among the lot and narrow down.

Krulak said "prosecuting a war by consensus" is "very dangerous," adding the NAC should have handed control over military decisions to Clark after laying out its basic objectives for the war.

About a month into the war, the target-approval process had come to include so many players that Clark did go to the NAC to request blanket approval for certain classes of targets, sources said. Those included air defenses, command and control, fielded forces and resupply targets. More contentious targets still had to be submitted to NATO's "Big Five" nations for specific approval; led by the United States, those nations included Britain, France, Italy and Germany.

Who won?

By early June, Milosevic signaled he was ready to discuss peace terms, although his reasons for doing so remain a point of contention among U.S. officials.

Many officials agree a key factor in the Yugoslavian president's decision was the Russian move to withdraw support for Milosevic in the conflict. Also, over the course of the war, NATO softened its earlier demands at Rambouillet. The alliance was no longer demanding free access for NATO forces anywhere in Serbia; it had dropped its call for a referendum on Kosovo's future; and NATO forces occupying Kosovo would serve under United Nations leadership.

Militarily, there were three meaningful events in NATO's favor during the war, according to one alliance military official. On the first day of the war, and again in early April, NATO launched heavy attacks on Serbian targets and succeeded in destroying quite a bit, the official said. On May 7, aircraft and bombers had "great success" hitting Belgrade targets, although the mistaken attack on the Chinese embassy obscured those gains. Finally, on May 20, the alliance began to develop a clear strategy for attacking electric power in Serbia—an effort this official believes was a factor in Milosevic calling an end to the war.

According to this and other defense officials, the strikes against the Serbian power grid likely convinced Milosevic he could lose electricity on a long-term basis, which would have a severe effect on the Yugoslavian public. Up until that point, NATO had achieved only "soft kills" of the Serbian power system, which allowed electricity to be brought back up in a matter of hours or days. Whether out of political self-interest or genuine concern for his populace, the leader sought to end the war before the toll became even greater, officials surmise.

The Air Force official interviewed this week said the air war essentially accomplished what NATO set out to do: after 78 days, Serbian forces left the Kosovo province.

"So we met our objective," the official said, noting that the NATO alliance held together for the duration of the war. "From an airman's perspective, we had the ability to attack targets that were dear to [Milosevic] and his regime."

What did not appear to have a major effect were attacks against Serbian heavy equipment fielded in Kosovo; by the war's end, much more equipment had left the province intact—manned by robust military forces—than NATO officials had imagined.

In fact, in Krulak's view, Milosevic got what he wanted. "I'm not so sure he lost" the war, Krulak said. He noted Milosevic accomplished the forced exodus of Kosovar Albanians virtually unhindered, and—at least for the time being—remains in power in Yugoslavia. Although Milosevic no longer controls Kosovo, the province remains occupied by thousands of foreign troops -- a situation Krulak says will not last indefinitely.

Milosevic agreed to pull out, Krulak believes, because the Russians had withdrawn their backing and because he feared longer-term damage to his infrastructure and loss of support from his soldiers.

One NATO official voiced similar views on the reasons for Milosevic pulling out of Kosovo, saying the Russian withdrawal of support was pivotal. Had the Russians continued to back the Yugoslavian leader, the war would not have ended, in this official's opinion. This NATO source cited reports that Serbian generals told Milosevic during the war, "When the snow falls, we win"—the implication being that NATO would not have toughed out the winter still at war in the Balkans.

But Krulak does not see this as a win for NATO in a region with "deep-seated problems" that are "very unlikely to go away."

"We are only into chapter one of a multiple-chapter book," he said.

The NATO official was more explicitly critical of the Clinton administration for becoming embroiled in a region in which differences between warring parties accommodate no quick fix. "Nobody but the people who live there have real interests" in Bosnia or Kosovo, this official said.

In terms of the complex infighting between rival ethnic factions, Kosovo is virtually "Somalia with trees," the official opined. With U.S. officials never having argued that Kosovo was worth shedding significant American blood or treasure over, "this was foreign policy on the sly," the official said.

Franklin Spinney, a tactical air analyst in the Pentagon's program analysis and evaluation directorate who has closely tracked the Kosovo issue, issued a critique of the Clinton administration's handling of the war in an extended e-mail he issued widely on April 11. Spinney contends a U.S.-led NATO hoped to bully Milosevic into signing Rambouillet accords that would have directly violated Yugoslavian sovereignty, which the defense analyst regards as a dangerous precedent.

"The American leadership violated one of the most important and ancient axioms of war—namely the principle of 'moral influence,' or the requirement to treat one's own people with faithfulness and justice, so that they will have the same aim as their leadership and will be willing to bear the exceptional burdens of sacrifice, hardship, and danger that accompany any decision to go to war," Spinney writes.

In the end, though, Leaf believes NATO achieved its immediate goals, at least, in launching the air war. "What allowed us to achieve our military objectives—the withdrawal of [Serbian] military forces and equipment from Kosovo?" Leaf asked. Although the general attributes the result of the war to a complex mix of factors, the impact of the 78 days of attack on Serbian targets must be given due accord, he suggested.

Flying over Serbia proper on an attack mission in early May, Leaf said he realized Milosevic and his regime could not tolerate much more. "We had established air dominance and I said to myself, 'We've won the war.'" He said he predicted to his forces that the conflict would be over within a month, and he turned out to be right.

-- Elaine M. Grossman

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