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Clean Bombs and Dirty Wars: Air Power in Kosovo and Libya

Clean Bombs and Dirty Wars: Air Power in Kosovo and Libya

by Robert H. Gregory Jr.
Clean Bombs and Dirty Wars: Air Power in Kosovo and Libya

Clean Bombs and Dirty Wars: Air Power in Kosovo and Libya

by Robert H. Gregory Jr.


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After the United States, along with NATO allies, bombed the Serbian forces of Slobodan Milosevic for seventy-eight days in 1999, Milosevic withdrew his army from Kosovo. With no troops on the ground, political and military leaders congratulated themselves on the success of Operation Allied Force, considered to be the first military victory won through the use of strategic air power alone. This apparent triumph motivated military and political leaders to embrace a policy of using “clean bombs” (precision munitions and air strikes)—without a dirty ground war—as the preferred choice for answering military aggression. Ten years later it inspired a similar air campaign against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in Libya as a groundswell of protests erupted into revolution.

Clean Bombs and Dirty Wars offers a fresh perspective on the role, relevance, and effectiveness of air power in contemporary warfare, including an exploration of the political motivations for its use as well as a candid examination of air-to-ground targeting processes. Using recently declassified materials from the William J. Clinton Presidential Library along with primary evidence culled from social media posted during the Arab Spring, Robert H. Gregory Jr. shows that the argument that air power eliminates the necessity for boots on the ground is an artificial and illusory claim.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781612347868
Publisher: Potomac Books
Publication date: 10/01/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 328
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Robert H. Gregory Jr. is a career soldier and scholar. He has served in a variety of armor, cavalry, airborne, and advisory units in the United States, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. His expert opinions have been published in Parameters and Small Wars Journal. Gregory is a graduate of West Point and the Naval Postgraduate School.

Read an Excerpt

Clean Bombs and Dirty Wars

Air Power in Kosovo and Libya

By Robert H. Gregory Jr.


Copyright © 2015 Robert H. Gregory Jr.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61234-786-8


Before the Bombing

And the hearts that beat so loudly and enthusiastically to do something, to intervene in areas where there is not an immediate threat to our vital interests, when those hearts that had beaten so loudly see the coffins, then they switch, and they say: "What are we doing there?"

— William Cohen, Senate Armed Services Committee, 22 January 1997

Assumptions made by each of the military services, the American public, Congress, civilian policy makers, and NATO regarding the use of air power leading up to Operation Allied Force in the Kosovo War influenced planning for the operation. Within the U.S. military each service had different assumptions relating to the employment of air power. These assumptions are evident in both service culture and doctrine. Public opinion polls and news articles reveal the U.S. public's underlying assumptions regarding intervention in Kosovo, and the congressional assumptions are evident in their resolutions and statements. President Clinton and key members of the National Security Council (NSC), including Vice President Al Gore, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Secretary of Defense William Cohen, General Hugh Shelton, and NSC advisor Samuel Berger, publicly revealed their assumptions pertaining to air power through speeches and interviews in the years prior to the intervention. Additionally, summary notes of the NSC principals and deputies committee meetings on Kosovo in the year before the bombing were declassified in 2009. These notes reveal the NSC members' assumptions on air power in conjunction with their diplomatic strategy. In the international environment, newspapers and polls reveal public opinion within the various NATO member nations. General Wesley Clark served as Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) during the Kosovo War. In this role, General Clark's assumptions on how to best intervene in Kosovo were also a critical component in driving NATO's campaign.

Assumptions of U.S. Military Services

Service culture, doctrine, and professional publications reveal what the U.S. armed forces assumed air power could accomplish in Kosovo. The functional grouping of those who employ similar weapon systems stabilizes the cultural inclinations of the military services. Military technology and culture evolve at separate paces, with culturally grounded thinking often steering a conservative approach in regard to the employment of new weaponry. Early air power theorists such as Billy Mitchell established modes of air power thinking that persisted in Operation Allied Force, indicating a continuity of the aerial arm's preference for targeting (with greater success) fixed objects deep in the heart of an opponent's territory rather than targeting (with more difficulty) mobile ground forces that pose a direct threat to those in their immediate vicinity. Leading up to the U.S. intervention in Kosovo, the U.S. military services made assumptions regarding how they might be employed in future conflicts based upon their recent experiences in Operation Desert Storm (Persian Gulf) in 1991 and Operation Deliberate Force (Bosnia) in 1995. In the aftermath of the Cold War, these two operations largely shaped how the services developed warfighting concepts and doctrine.

Yet it was the Cold War setting that sparked the idea, first introduced by Soviet Marshal Nikolai Ogarakov, chief of the general staff in the late 1970s and early 1980s, of an emerging "military-technical revolution." Ogarakov believed that precision conventional weapons would eventually be on par with nuclear weapons in terms of destructiveness, thus rendering the employment of mass armored formations (a significant component of Soviet military power) obsolete. Andrew Marshall, director of the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment from the Nixon through Obama administrations, discovered Ogarakov's writings in Soviet military journals and used them to extol the idea of a potential American "revolution in military affairs" based on the development of precision-guided munitions, computer networks, wide-area sensors, and other technologies.

Marshall's ideas became popular in U.S. defense circles in the 1990s due to the lopsided results of the 1991 Gulf War. He unintentionally sparked enthusiasm for the notion that sufficient investment in particular types of weapons technology could make war clean, risk-free, and requiring minimal manpower. In the aftermath of Desert Storm, given looming defense cuts, one of Marshall's main acolytes, retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Andrew Krepinevich, gave the following procurement advice:

Given tight defense budgets, less emphasis should be placed on maintaining force structure over the near-term future and more emphasis accorded to research and development of new military systems, doctrines, and organizations. Assume, for example, that long-range precision strikes will be a dominant military operation in future conflicts. Substantial changes in U.S. defense planning would then be needed. It would make sense for the Army to reduce funding and emphasis on direct-fire and short-range systems (tanks, armored fighting vehicles, and short-range artillery, for example) as well as the organizations built around them (armored divisions). At the same time the Army would increase its emphasis on long-range, precision-strike systems (satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles, attack helicopters, and extended-range missiles) and attempt to identify the new doctrines and organizations (a deep-strike brigade, for instance) that would employ the new systems in an optimal matter [sic]. This approach would apply to the other services as well.

Krepinevich's approach garnered momentum across several groups — from politicians and defense contractors to a public weary of maintaining large standing armies — all willing to place the future of American military strategy on the altar of high technology. Military professionals throughout the U.S. armed forces eagerly jumped on this bandwagon, without a full understanding of where it would take them.

U.S. Army

Those who employ force on land tend to view the adversary's army as the center of gravity during conflict. Given this mindset, the U.S. Army's targeting preferences for friendly air forces are typically enemy artillery, tanks, and mechanized vehicles — the heavy weapon systems capable of inflicting the most damage to forces in their direct path. During Operation Desert Storm, Army leaders at multiple echelons were highly concerned with destroying enough Iraqi tanks and artillery from the air prior to the ground assault due to Iraqi numerical superiority. A January 1991 estimate by the Defense Intelligence Agency indicated that Iraq possessed 4,200 tanks, 2,800 armored personnel carriers, and 3,100 artillery tubes. Therefore, accurate accounting of coalition air forces' damage to Iraqi ground forces was critical in timing and developing the combined land offensive plan. From a purely ground perspective, the goal of the air campaign was to degrade the combat effectiveness of the Iraqi army by 50 percent, quantified solely in terms of destroying Iraqi armor and artillery in corresponding amounts.

In examining bomb damage assessments during the air campaign, General Schwarzkopf's Central Command (CENTCOM) staff concurred with the estimates of Lieutenant General Horner's staff despite differing estimates from the national intelligence community. On the eve of the ground assault CENTCOM's staff, conferring with those planning the air campaign, concluded that bombing destroyed 47 percent of Iraqi artillery and 39 percent of tanks. In contrast, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) estimated that air forces destroyed as few as 15 to 20 percent of Iraqi platforms before the ground assault. The discrepancy was due in part to the air component's inclusion of cockpit video to confirm strikes whereas the CIA and DIA insisted on confirming strike damage through secondary and impartial means to avoid a bias in accounting.

General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shared Schwarzkopf's optimistic assumptions about air power. Before the start of the ground campaign he stated, "Air power is the decisive arm so far, and I expect it will be the decisive arm into the end of the campaign, even if ground forces and amphibious forces are added to the equation." Indeed, in the aftermath of the campaign further bomb damage assessments such as the Gulf War Air Power Survey indicated that both theater and national-level intelligence estimates of the damage were too conservative. Authors of the Gulf War Air Power Survey concluded that CENTCOM's damage estimates were short by eight hundred tanks and six hundred artillery pieces, translating to 20 percent greater destruction before the ground offensive than previously thought. The Republican Guard's heavy divisions, however, which were estimated to have 34 percent attrition by planners during the war, actually only suffered 24 percent damage.

After the ground offensive the Iraqi army suffered 76 percent attrition in tanks and 90 percent in artillery, with the exception of those tanks and artillery in the Republican Guard divisions that were still at 50 percent strength. This additional destruction was due to the effect of ground combat. The U.S. Army's ground-based target acquisition radars, linked by an automated fire direction system, allowed U.S. artillerymen to detect and "fire back at the Iraqi guns literally before the Iraqi barrage impacted the ground." This sensor-to-shooter linkage contributed to the high level of destruction of Iraqi artillery during ground combat.

During the Gulf War overhead surveillance systems such as the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar Systems (JSTARS), U-2s, and reconnaissance satellites all used aerial sensors to find Iraqi ground forces and assess bombing damage from the air campaign. These radar and imaging systems were susceptible to being fooled by Iraq's use of decoys, camouflage, and digging in of forces. In fact, Iraq purchased thousands of dummy tanks and artillery from an Italian company before the Gulf War. After the Gulf War UN observers noted that some Iraqi decoys were impossible to distinguish from actual equipment — even when observed on the ground from twenty-five yards away.

The use of A/N TQP-36 and A/N TQP-37 counter-battery radars made up for the inadequacies of visual imaging systems when it came to targeting artillery accurately. After the Gulf War an Iraqi army artillery battalion commander revealed shortcomings in the ability of air forces to target his artillery: "After a month of bombing, I had 17 of 18 tubes left ... after one day of ground war ... I had one tube left." This statement indicated the effective use of A/N TQP-36 and A/N TQP-37 radars to locate Iraqi tubes in concert with accurate counter-battery artillery fire cued using data from these sensors. The A/N TQP-36 consists of a large rectangular radar dish mounted on a trailer that is typically towed by a Humvee. It can acquire the trajectory of artillery rounds from out to eighteen kilometers and rockets out to twenty-four kilometers, both across a ninety degree sector, depending on the orientation of the radar. The A/N TQP-37 is an improvement over the A/N TQP-36, and consists of a larger trailer-mounted radar that detects the trajectory of artillery out to thirty kilometers and rockets out to fifty kilometers. After Desert Storm NATO employed these systems in Bosnia (1995) and Kosovo (1999) to detect Serbian artillery.

Throughout the 1990s Saddam Hussein colluded with Milosevic on how best to use decoy equipment to fool American forces based on the Iraqi army's experience in eluding air power. Artillery decoys may appear real from the air, but they cannot actually fire rounds. Compared to the airborne visual sensors that searched for Iraqi artillery, counter-battery radars cannot be fooled as easily because they track gun positions based on the trajectory of rounds fired. These new counter-battery radar systems, developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, provided a significant capability for British and French artillery batteries in Bosnia in 1995, and were inadvertently brought into Albania along with Task Force Hawk in 1999. U.S. Marine aircraft eventually incorporated Task Force Hawk radar acquisitions on the fly to their target sets during the last two weeks of Operation Allied Force. This overlooked capability played "a very big part" in the final stages of the campaign in June 1999, according to Air Force General John Jumper, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe at the time. In Iraq, Bosnia, and Kosovo the counter-battery radars distinguished real artillery tubes from decoys when aerial sensors could not.

The U.S. Army's capstone doctrinal publication during the time of the Kosovo conflict was the 1993 FM 100-5, Operations. This manual series underwent significant revisions in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, including de-emphasis on the operational level of war. One difference from the 1986 manual was that the 1993 version of FM 100-5, Operations, added a chapter on "Operations Other than War." Chapter 1 of this manual, in a section entitled "The American Way of War," stated that "the American people expect decisive victory and abhor unnecessary casualties. They prefer quick resolution of conflicts and reserve the right to reconsider their support should any of these conditions not be met." These assumptions played out in 1999 with the Army's deployment of Task Force Hawk with twenty-four Apache attack helicopters, which were not employed in the conflict. General Clark requested these helicopters in the early stages of the campaign, but Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, overruled their use due to concern for potential casualties. General Shelton claimed that "the anticipated benefit of employing the Apaches against dispersed forces in a high-threat environment did not outweigh the risk to our pilots."

The Apache, though slow moving and vulnerable, exists because the U.S. Army believes that it cannot depend exclusively on the U.S. Air Force to provide air support for its deep battle constructs. This attack helicopter saw great success during Operation Desert Storm when employed in concert with ground forces. After all, the Army designed the Apache specifically to destroy second and third echelon Soviet armor with Hellfire missiles before these echelons joined battle at the forward line of troops. Apache helicopters destroyed approximately five hundred Iraqi armored vehicles in the Gulf War. Based on assumptions from that conflict, General Clark requested early in the Kosovo campaign that Apache helicopters be based in Macedonia for up-close employment against Serbian tanks. Army attack aviation doctrine considers the employment of Apaches in a deep-strike role, as envisioned in Kosovo, as "high-risk, high-payoff operations that must be executed with the utmost care." Clark indicated a willingness to assume this risk but was overruled by General Shelton. In fact, even President Clinton believed that the Apaches were "slow flying" and "vulnerable," claiming that they were "wisely withheld from combat." Given the sophistication of Serbian air defenses, Clinton's assessment was accurate. The Apaches would have been at much greater risk of being shot down than the fast-moving, fixed-wing aircraft from high above.

U.S. Air Force

The early development of American air power doctrine took place within the U.S. Army, as the Air Corps was initially a subcomponent of the Army's Signal Corps. In 1913 Brig. Gen. George P. Scriven, chief signal officer of the U.S. Army, testified before Congress that "the aeroplane is an adjunct to the cavalry." As such, airplanes could potentially spot hostile artillery from the air, but the notion of using aircraft solely in a reconnaissance role to support ground forces did not take root. During World War I units of horse cavalrymen waited behind the trench lines to exploit a breakthrough that never occurred. Personnel in these unused units were shifted to other roles. One such role was the newly formed units that flew airplanes. Once these cavalrymen took flight, bypassing the trenches from above, their imaginations took flight also.


Excerpted from Clean Bombs and Dirty Wars by Robert H. Gregory Jr.. Copyright © 2015 Robert H. Gregory Jr.. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
List of Abbreviations,
1. Before the Bombing,
2. The Bombing Begins,
3. Protracted Bombing,
4. After the Bombing,
5. The U.S. Army Reacts to Kosovo,
6. Spring in Libya,
7. Bombing Libya,
8. Clean Bombs and Dirty Wars,

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