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What Are We Doing In Kosovo?

Since the outset of NATO air strikes in Yugoslavia, political and military officials have struggled to be clear on the allied mission objectives.

In attempting to articulate the objectives, however, American and NATO officials have offered subtly different explanations for the bombing in the Balkans.

A day before the strikes began, the Clinton administration's stated objective was to Â"diminish or degrade the Serb forces.Â"

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. General Buster Glosson, a CBS News consultant, criticized the White House objective, saying Â"degrade means whatever you want it to mean. [Under those terms], one could declare victory after the first bomb hits the ground.Â"

Â"The only reasonable, sensible objective would be when [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic signs the agreement or he withdraws his troops from Kosovo,Â" Glosson added. Â"And really, to ask American pilots to go in harmÂ's way with any objective less than that is criminal.Â"

On the first day of NATO air strikes, President Clinton redefined the mission objectives:

  • First, to demonstrate the seriousness of NATOÂ's opposition to aggression and its support for peace.
  • Second, to deter President Milosevic from continuing and escalating his attacks on helpless civilians by imposing a price for those attacks.
  • And third, if necessary, to damage SerbiaÂ's capacity to wage war against Kosovo in the future by seriously diminishing its military capabilities.
The word out of the Pentagon regarding objectives before the bombs fell was more succinct.

Â"The primary goal is to stop the Serbs from continuing attacks against the Albanians,Â" said Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon before the bombing began.

A day later, CBS News Correspondent David Martin reported from the Pentagon that the Kosovo objectives were designed to force the Serb army to call off the offensive in Kosovo.

Glosson took issue with the Pentagon phraseology as well, saying, Â"these vague and nebulous objectives permit you to stop at any point you want without accomplishing very much.Â"

On the third day of bombing, reports from London indicated that the attacks were intended to drive Milosevic to accept a peace agreement and to stop attacking ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, according to CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston.

The same day, NATO officials asserted that the aim of the air strikes was to degrade YugoslaviaÂ's military ability to carry on attacks on KosovoÂ's ethnic Albanian population, and acknowledged that the attacks might not bring peace to Kosovo.

The NATO supreme commander, General Wesley Clark, told reporters that he was keeping with the mission objective to Â"systematically and progressively attack, disrupt, degrade, devastate and destroyÂ" MilosevicÂ's forces. He added that the bombing would continue until the Serbs call off the Kosovo offensive.

In a press conference Frida, NATO Spokesman Jamie Shea said, Â"The price that they are paying for this repression in Kosovo is simply too high and thatÂ's why we canÂ't afford to falter — that is our objective. It doesnÂ't go beyond that.Â"

Shea added that the international community will have the responsibility of getting negotiations back on track and convincing Belgrade to accept the Paris peace plan.

Critics of the NATO attack on Yugoslavia may well point to the apparent mix of objectives asserted by American and allied leaders to bolster their argument against bombing the Balkan nation.

by CBS.com Producer Lee Kaplan