31 January, 2000
Message From Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Henry H. Shelton
For 78 days, from March to June 1999, the United States and its NATO allies engaged in a major military operation to bring an end to Serbian atrocities in Kosovo. At a turning point in NATO’s long and successful history, OperationAllied Force was an overwhelming success. We forced Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his forces from Kosovo, degraded his ability to wage military operations, and rescued over one million refugees. We accomplished these goals through a cohesive alliance of democratic nations whose military men and women conducted the most effective air operation in history. From the onset of the operation, the UnitedStates and its NATO allies had three primary interests: Ensuring the stability of Eastern Europe. Serb aggression in Kosovo directly threatened peace throughout the Balkans and thereby the stability of all of southeastern Europe. There was no natural boundary to this violence, which already had moved through Slovenia and Croatia to Bosnia. Thwarting ethnic cleansing. The Belgrade regime’s cruelrepression in Kosovo, driving thousands from their homes, created a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions. Milosevic’s campaign, which he dubbed “Operation Horseshoe”, would have led to even more homelessness, starvation, and loss of life had his ruthlessness gone unchecked. Ensuring NATO’s credibility. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Republic of Serbia signed agreements in October1998 that were to be verified by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and monitored by NATO. In the period leading up to March 1999, Serbian forces increasingly and flagrantly violated these agreements. Had NATO not responded to Milosevic’s defiance and his campaign of ethnic cleansing, its credibility would have been called into question. The attached report, which is forwardedin response to Congressional requirements, provides considerable detail on both the diplomatic background to the Kosovo conflict and to the military and humanitarian relief operations that followed. The United States military forces that took part in this challenging effort performed superbly. The men and women of our armed forces excelled in undertaking a military operation that delivered adecisive response to Serbian aggression and was characterized by extraordinary professionalism, innovation, and bravery.
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The Kosovo conflict confirmed one of NATO’s enduring strengths: the independence of each of NATO’s member nations defines the institution. The fact that these separate nations sometimes disagreed in the course of the campaign (on some of the tactics, but never on thecore aims) is proof of the fundamental democratic spirit that animates NATO, and that spirit will keep the Alliance strong in facing any future challenge to the peace, stability, and freedom of the North Atlantic region. The campaign over Kosovo was not a traditional military conflict. There was no direct clash of massed military forces in Operation Allied Force. Throughout the conflict, Milosevicwas unable to counter effectively NATO’s military operations (although the continuous threat to allied pilots posed by large numbers of surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery was formidable). Therefore, he chose to fight chiefly through indirect means: use of terror tactics against Kosovar civilians; attempts to exploit the premium the alliance placed on minimizing civilian casualtiesand collateral damage; creation of enormous refugee flows to trigger a humanitarian crisis; and the conduct of disinformation and propaganda campaigns. Militarily, Milosevic’s forces dispersed themselves among civilian populations and exploited the small signature of dispersed light infantry and police forces. They hid many of their better military weapons and kept their surface-to-air missile...