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Mission Impossible?

The impact of NATO's strikes on the infrastructure that supports the Yugoslav military has been significant, but its impact on Serb military and paramilitary forces committing atrocities in Kosovo has been negligible.

The Western alliance is indeed beginning to destroy the Yugoslav army's ability to operate in the field by taking out its logistical apparatus: supply dumps, communications facilities, fuel dumps, ammunitions dumps and command and control buildings. However, NATO air forces are not attacking targets that are in close proximity to the civilian population of Kosovo. Therefore, the military and police units are able to commit their atrocities with impunity.

CBS News Military Affairs Consultant
Mitch Mitchell
The risk of stepping up the campaign in order to halt the apparent genocide is that NATO will continue to solidify Serbian opinion against the U.S. and its allies. Another danger of intensifying the operation is that the NATO coalition might begin to fragment; the allies are together now, but campaigns like this can quickly become tiresome and costly.

But by intensifying the war against Serbia, NATO will begin to hurt Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his senior officials by taking down the apparatus through which they operate. The long-term benefit of such a move may well be that Serbs will grow weary of constant pressure to the point that they will seek a new leadership to extract them from their predicament.

However, that will have little effect on the plight of Kosovar Albanians.

A Questionable Plan
NATO's original strategy of air strikes, which was designed to revitalize the political process, was a plan in which the means did not adequately fit the ends. NATO had insufficient resources to accomplish the objectives set forth - no matter how creative it has been in applying air power.

Now we are beginning to see the incremental introduction of additional forces to accomplish the original mission. What is important to note is that the process by which these decisions are made is cumbersome at best. It involves policy-makers from 19 NATO countries attempting to reach a consensus.

Past campaigns have proven that no mater how great a force's air power may be, it is not always enough to achieve a desired political solution. Looking back to Vietnam, there is certainly a lesson there at what air power can and cannot do. And at last check Saddam Huissein was still alive and well.

However, air power can have effect. If used against Serbia's civilian infrastructure - as opposed to its military infrastructure - NATO can create living conditions so miserable that Milosevic will have to cave in.

Milosevic can capitulate and still sve face because he stood up against NATO and therefore didn't just give Kosovo its independence. It is a method of manipulation that he has used in the past to maintain his power base.

On the other hand, if we believe the rhetoric that the Serbs will fight to the last man, then NATO must reconsider the objectives it initially set forth. Otherwise, bringing peace and autonomy to Kosovo without Milosevic's consent will require a ground force of significant size.

A Massive Ground War?
Sources close to the Pentagon say that to stop the atrocities in Kosovo, NATO will have to send 200,000 troops to the province, but that number may be a gross underestimation. The terrain and size of the province could very easily swallow up 200,000 troops. Germany discovered this in the Second World War when hundreds of thousands of its soldiers were bogged down in the Balkans.

In order to stabilize the situation in Kosovo, NATO needs something on the order of 500,000 ground troops. But even if that force is mustered, there are no guarantees that Milosevic will agree to come to the bargaining table. If it therefore becomes necessary to move beyond Kosovo - in order to force Belgrqade's hand - it is not unreasonable to think in terms of a million to 1.5 million ground troops. All of NATO would be hard-pressed to put together a force like that.

It is important to remember that prior to the 1991 Gulf War, it took six months to assemble a combined army of 500,000 soldiers.

Furthermore, NATO powers do not want to become entangled in a ground campaign that could well be open-ended. Therefore, it appears that there is a greater inclination to instead deal primarily with the refugee problem.

Flying Through Yugoslav Crosshairs
In the meantime, NATO pilots who fly over Yugoslavia will continue to be in danger. There is still a potent air defense network that, even though it has suffered considerable damage, can target and shoot down airplanes.

With continued NATO attacks this capability will be reduced to the point that it will become ineffective. But that could take several more weeks and even then Serbian forces will be able to use shoulder-fired missiles - much like American stingers - to knock down low-flying aircraft.

Although an F-117A Stealth fighter crashed early in the campaign, U.S. stealth technology is a tremendous asset. But what stealth technology does not do is guarantee 100 percent success. It just makes it so much more difficult for an enemy to home in on a target. Still, open bomb bay doors in a stealth aircraft can be painted by radar.

So as long as it is fighting an air war, NATO must remain vigilant.

By Ret. Col. Mitch Mitchell
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