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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

DEFENSE DOSSIER: Painless Victory an Illusion




The latest war in the Balkans was not like any other European war in recent history. NATO did not lose a single person in action, while inflicting a terrible toll on the Serbs. It did not look like war, but more like a colonial slaughter. It was like a detachment of U.S. Cavalry exterminating a hapless Indian nation with rapid-fire rifles, or British troops using machine guns to mow down spear-brandishing tribesmen in Africa.


NATO has officially announced that from March 24 to June 3, the allies flew 31,529 sorties, destroyed more than 100 Yugoslav aircraft, 314 artillery pieces, 120 tanks, 203 armored personnel carriers, 268 other military vehicles, killed 10,000 Serb soldiers and so on.


An impressive achievement, especially taking into account that the Serbs did not have 100 military aircraft to begin with. According to data provided by reliable international defense institutions, the Yugoslav air force before the war had 10 or 12 MiG-29s (15 years old), 35 MiG-21s (made 30 years ago) and also several dozen G-4 Super Galeb light attack aircraft that cannot be used for air combat.


Thus in destroying Serb warplanes, NATO was almost 200 per cent effective. In other categories of heavy equipment the toll was not as high: 203 armored personnel carriers destroyed out of a total of 850; 314 artillery pieces out of 3,750; 120 tanks out of 1,025.


Of course, it is well known that in war, truth is the first casualty. NATO and U.S. officials were openly lying about Yugoslav military losses, but what was the true extent of their overestimations?


Last week it was reported that NATO troops occupying Kosovo have found only three Serb tanks that were damaged by airstrikes and abandoned. It is likely that some other Serb tanks were hit outside of Kosovo, or that some were removed from the front for repairs. However, it highly unlikely that 120 tanks were hit, as NATO claims. Twelve or 13 is a better estimate, which means that on aggregate, NATO inflated its bombing successes tenfold.


A tenfold exaggeration of success is a long-time tradition of the U.S. Air Force, which began during World War II and was continued during Vietnam and the Gulf War. Taking into account this rule of thumb for bomb damage assessment, true Serb losses after almost 80 days of NATO bombing and more than 30,000 sorties come to 10 aircraft, 12 tanks, 20 APCs, 30 guns and up to 1000 soldiers killed and wounded.


During those sorties NATO planes used thousands of very expensive smart bombs and missiles each of which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars (sometimes up to a million). With that arsenal, the allies managed to destroy less than 1 percent of Yugoslavia's military might. Today Western military sources are saying that the Serbs were very good at camouflage, that highly expensive Western smart bombs were mostly hitting cheap plastic dummy tanks and fighters, while the real ones were safely hidden away.


It turns out that this war was not a slaughter after all, but one of the most ineffective air offensives in modern history. Then why did the Serbs capitulate?


When it was first announced that Belgrade was accepting NATO's conditions of surrender, a U.S. general told me that such a capitulation did not make any military sense. However, this seemingly senseless move may turn out to be one more of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's political gambles.


The foundation of Milosevic's rule was never the Yugoslav military, but the special police. For 10 years Milosevic has been funneling money into the police, while neglecting the armed forces. In Kosovo during the bombing, the Yugoslav army was lying low, waiting for a NATO ground offensive, while the special police were suffering casualties fighting Albanian rebels, and were exposed to NATO air attacks.


If NATO ground forces finally invaded Kosovo, lured in by false estimates of air damage, the Yugoslav army could have turned the course of the war. But a victorious military could then have challenged Milosevic's rule. Today the Serb military has been shamed and Milosevic is again safe in power.


While Milosevic is busy solving his internal problems, Washington is in triumph. The acute triumphalism that began to dominate U.S. foreign policy after the collapse of the Soviet Union has now been boosted even further. Hoping to win more wars with zero casualties, the U.S. may increasingly seek fights worldwide. But future enemies may not be as becoming as Milosevic. The United States may find out the hard way that its new smart weapons can be fooled and that a zero-casualty war is one of the rarest things in history.