March 24, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen repeated the Clinton administration position Wednesday that NATO is not waging war against the people of Yugoslavia. Cohen said the attacks were aimed, instead, at the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, which he said was responsible for the "killing and carnage" in Kosovo.
Cohen and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Hugh Shelton briefed reporters at the Pentagon on the first wave of U.S.-led NATO airstrikes against Serbian military targets in Yugoslavia.
Both officials stressed that the mission was still in its very early stages, and said that no military operation was "risk free."
Earlier Wednesday, President Clinton said that the airstrikes were necessary to demonstrate the seriousness of NATO's commitment to end what he called aggression against ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo.
"Kosovo's crisis is now full-blown and if we do not act clearly it will get even worse," Clinton said in a brief afternoon announcement at the White House. He said he would deliver an address to the nation on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. EST to explain in more detail why "this action is necessary."
The president did not provide specific details of the NATO mission, such as what weapons were used in the attack, what areas were targeted or how long the airstrikes would continue.
Using a computer model to simulate combat conditions, the Pentagon has projected that NATO could lose as many as 12 warplanes in the bombing campaign, a senior U.S. Air Force official told CNN.
Clinton said the attack was undertaken only after "extensive and repeated efforts" at a peace settlement, and after Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic violated earlier cease-fire commitments "to stop the brutal repression in Kosovo."
"Instead, his forces have intensified their attacks, burning down Kosovo Albanian villages and murdering civilians. As I speak, more Serb forces are moving into Kosovo and more people are fleeing their homes, 60,000 in just the last five weeks, a quarter of a million altogether," he said.
Clinton said the United States and its NATO allies have three goals:
Clinton spoke shortly after NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana first announced in Brussels that an attack had begun.
"We must stop the violence and bring an end to the humanitarian catastrophe now taking place in Kosovo," he said. "We have a moral duty to do so."
Warning of the dangers of the NATO action, Clinton said, "As I have repeatedly said to the American people, this action is not risk-free."
He added, "However, I have concluded that the dangers of acting now are clearly outweighed by the risks of failing to act -- the risks that many more innocent people will die or be driven from their homes by the tens of thousands; the risks that the conflict will involve and destabilize neighboring nations."
The refusal of Milosevic to call off attacks against Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority and sign a peace plan they agreed to in Paris last week prompted NATO officials late Tuesday to order allied military action.
Prior to the strike, Milosevic called on his people to defend the country "by all means."
"What is at stake here is the freedom of the entire country," he said in a nationally televised address as NATO prepared to launch its first attack against a sovereign country in its 50-year history.
U.S., allied planes, ships ready for attacks on Serbs
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