To Win on the Ground in Kosovo

By Lieutenant General John H. Cushman, USA (Ret.)

Milosevic's obduracy may well lead to NATO accepting a solution that falls short of its stated demands. But, had NATO's key leaders mustered the necessary will to commit forces on the ground to achieve their lofty aims, there was a way to win in Kosovo—with casualties, to be sure, but at a cost perhaps on a par with that of the Gulf War and bearable in terms of what the allies claimed to be fighting for. The common vision of NATO ground action has been one of allied divisions and corps attacking into Kosovo to drive out the Serbs. But, as in the Gulf War, that would be Phase Two. Phase One would make Phase Two far shorter and far less costly in casualties by inflicting severe attrition of Serb army and police forces in Kosovo through massive precision firepower.

Here was a recipe worth looking at for Phase One: The Supreme Allied Commander in Europe equips NATO—and Kosovar—special operations teams with global positioning system (GPS) gear and radios and with portable laser designators, such as the ten-pound Special Operations Forces Laser Marker (SOFLAM), which can direct laser-guided bombs onto Serb forces day and night. Those teams infiltrate into Kosovo where, supported by night-flying helicopters, they bring tactical air—and the U.S. Army's heavy firepower emplaced in Albania—onto Serb forces with great precision.

These special operations teams call in fires from the all-weather U.S. Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), which is already on the way to Albania. Each ATACMS warhead, using enhanced global positioning, can with exceptional accuracy deliver 13 “brilliant” antiarmor (BAT) submunitions anywhere in Kosovo (and well into Serbia). They find and designate targets for the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, the Longbow version of which—now being fielded—is highly survivable. Standing well away, it can send a fire-and-forget tank-killing Hellfire missile precisely to its target, day or night, under rainy, foggy, or clear conditions. They direct laser-guided bombs, dropped by aircraft at high altitude, onto targets illuminated by nearby special operations teams.

General Clark floods Kosovo with many dozens of such teams, to target Serb artillery, tanks, personnel carriers, trucks, troop units, and headquarters—and pick them off one by one. The teams could even enter Serbia itself, permitting no sanctuary for Serb forces. Then, when the time is ripe and swift victory is assured, NATO divisions, deployed into Albania and Macedonia and trained and rehearsed on the scene, are launched with full combined arms and air support to defeat the remaining Serb forces rapidly, mop up the battlefield, and secure Kosovo's borders.

The British and French have seemed ready to consider NATO ground action in a "nonpermissive" environment, and other European nations may have been willing to engage ground forces in the way described. General Clark's studies could well have concluded that—as it has long been planned in a "permissive" environment—European allies would provide many, if not most, of the ground forces in a final ground assault.

Retaking Kosovo under this concept would have entailed an Albania protected by NATO, and building there or elsewhere in the region an infrastructure adequate for marshaling, then sustaining, troops—with a port, roads, pipelines, and airfields. It would have taken months to build such a capability, but General Clark could have had special operations targeting teams deployed in Kosovo not long after the ATACMS and Apaches were ready to operate in Albania, and could have begun a truly precision takedown of Serb forces in Kosovo—thereby letting Milosevic know that his end was near.

That is not likely to happen under this President. The people of our nation and the alliance that we lead are shamefully demonstrating to history that despite a worthy cause—a Europe free of a murderous tyrant—they are ready only to have their airmen kill and destroy, not to have their soldiers die.

Lieutenant General Cushman, U.S. Army (Retired), is a frequent contributor, and was the 1994 Proceedings author of the year.


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