Maj. Gen. Charles D. Link, USAF (Ret.)

Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee

Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, ladies and gentlemen.

I’m retired Major General Charles D. Link. I thank you for the opportunity to come before this committee to comment on NATO military operations being carried out in Kosovo.

When President Clinton announced the NATO decision to intervene in Kosovo, he said the NATO mission would consist of air strikes which would serve to 1) "demonstrate the seriousness of NATO's opposition to aggression," 2) deter President Milosovic "from continuing and escalating his attacks" in Kosovo, and 3) to damage Serbia's capacity to wage war in the future.

Unfortunately, President Clinton also saw fit to assure the American people that he "did not intend to put our troops in Kosovo to fight a war." In addition to providing Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosovic with ill-advised insights into our military plan, and the possibly tentative nature of our commitment, the President’s remarks created the impression that what we were about to do was simply not quite "war."

Of the President's three objectives, the first two have more to do with diplomacy than with military action. Demonstrating "the seriousness of NATO's opposition" and deterring Milosovic "from continuing and escalating his attacks" in Kosovo are dependent on the perceptions and discretion of the enemy. Such objectives are difficult to measure. Like other functions of traditional diplomacy, "demonstrating seriousness" and "deterring" involve some form of communication. One side sends a message, in this case with bombs, then listens for the response from the other side.

In Kosovo, from the start, limited military action has been used to send diplomatic signals. In this case, airpower has been employed in a slowly escalating series of attacks, an approach that has failed in the past. The fundamental flaw in such an approach is the extent to which the enemy is ceded the initiative. Only the enemy can make the decision to react or not to react. A secondary, but still significant, flaw is largely a function of human nature. In limited attacks, the enemy is permitted the time to adjust to the new circumstances gradually, both psychologically and physically.

On the other hand, the third objective, damaging Serbia's capacity to wage war in the future, suggests direct military action, but it is framed in subjective language, open to further interpretation. A more precise approach here would have been to state the objective in terms of destroying Serbia’s capacity to wage war on its people and its neighbors. For example, an objective of the Gulf War was to "... eliminate Iraqi capacity to threaten its neighbors." A clear military objective would have been well suited to an effectively prosecuted air campaign because of the inherent qualities of modern aerospace capabilities.

In particular, the unique marriage of American technology and operational aerospace competence has produced truly revolutionary military capabilities. The characteristics of speed, range, lethality, and precision combine with surveillance, stealth and standoff to create extraordinary asymmetrical advantages over an enemy not so equipped.

In the case of Kosovo, such precious advantages have been squandered in the imprecise or tentative approach imposed on the military commander by NATO’s 19 political leaders. By viewing Operation Allied Force as an exercise in diplomatic signaling -- and not as a state of war -- NATO has failed to lend the necessary purpose to its military efforts. By avoiding the issue of being at "war," NATO leaders have also managed to avoid the serious thinking that would lead us to a deeper understanding of the risks versus gains of various courses of action or inaction.

The most crippling effect of the "non-war" attitude may be the resulting command structure, or lack thereof. When our forces are committed on the ground, we somehow know we are "at war." We expect to see a ground force commander who will apply his hard-earned skills and special expertise to lead his forces to accomplish the mission. His "ground force" competence is drawn upon to insure that the best tactics, doctrine, and strategy are brought to bear. We depend on his judgment to tell us when the mission is not worth the risk, when his forces face greater than reasonable dangers, or when unforeseen opportunities present themselves. We also expect him to consider and suggest the best ways to connect the military means under his command to the stated policy goals.

Now consider the present circumstances. Because NATO chose to employ only "air strikes," there is a sense that we are not really at war. Instead of turning to a competent air commander as we did in the Gulf War, targets are being selected by a committee of 19 political leaders, none of whom possess any particular competence with regard to air campaigns. The military airmen involved in Operation Allied Force have been relegated to simply "servicing targets." Now, the situation is further complicated by the addition of another 3-star officer to command the Apache helicopters which have been deployed in support of the "air campaign." A valuable and universally acclaimed lesson of the Gulf War about unity of command over air operations is being discarded.

This confusion about "air strikes" and "war" is compounded by the now characteristic confusion over the roles and responsibilities of the executive and legislative branches in the act of committing US forces to combat. Since we do not have to contemplate our actions under the serious label of war, we are free to focus excessively on the means as opposed to the ends of our actions -- on the process as opposed to the objective.

The means discussed have revolved around the decision to use airpower only and to avoid any use of ground forces. Traditionally, we have emphasized the powerful synergies of joint warfare, the simultaneous application of land, sea and air capabilities. What has changed in recent years is the relationship between airpower and land power. In the Gulf War, modern airpower created the conditions that gave coalition land forces an overwhelming advantage. An air campaign preceded a ground campaign – a significant departure from the way we had been training and planning. Since the Gulf War, we have had to consider airpower as an option.

It is important to understand military options in terms of their relative values. While the airpower option may not be the perfect solution to any particular military problem, it may often be the preferred approach of those available. Today, the airpower option permits NATO to attack and destroy Milosovic's military capability while minimizing risk to friendly forces. It is not surprising to see political leaders choose an airpower-only approach at a time when their sons and daughters might be thrust into harm’s way on someone else’s behalf.

Too often, though, when we think of our sons and daughters at war, we see them in the role of ground forces. Today our sons and daughters are at war — in the air. They are placing their lives at risk and taking the lives of those they have been ordered to attack. Despite our impatience with the current pace of operations, we should not overlook the magnificent job they have been doing and are doing in the skies over Kosovo and Serbia. We should be proud of each and every one of them and all those whose efforts provide and support the superb systems they are employing.

Having said that, it should be noted that the operation in Kosovo began much too tentatively. Given the political constraints that were imposed, this operation should not be construed as an "air campaign" in the sense of what is militarily feasible today. To take a lesson on the "limitations of airpower" from this experience to date would miss a much more important point. We, Americans and our alliance or coalition partners, are still learning how to use these new military tools; how to connect them more effectively to policy goals; how to formulate policy goals which are made possible by the tools themselves. This is where we need greater attention on the part of policy makers, military planners, and commanders.

At present, we find ourselves involved in a chess game in which our opening moves have been badly played. By initially precluding options and limiting our level of effort, we gave our plainly inferior opponent the idea that he could achieve his evil ends by forcing a stalemate. We certainly can still win -- but victory will require more time, more military effort, and more patience on our part.