David H. Hackworht
June 28, 1999
SPINNERS, SINNERS AND NO WINNERS
During NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia, millions of folks around the world got a daily television fix on how NATO air power was smashing the Serbian Army. Silver-tongued spinmeister Dr. Jamie Shea said things such as "We're knocking the stuffing out of Milosevic," and, NATO "is conducting the most accurate bombing campaign in history."
The statistics he presented at the end of the fight were awesome: NATO pilots flew more than 35,000 sorties: 96.6 percent of their bombs hit their targets: 60 percent of Serb artillery and 40 percent of Serb tanks were damaged or destroyed; the Serb Army in Kosovo was battle-rattled after taking thousands of casualties and deserted their bunkers like post-Monica White House staffers.
Now that NATO has troops on the ground in Kosovo along with a few tell-it-like-it-is reporters, it should have been an easy task to match the briefing stats with the burned tank hulks and white crosses. But this hasn't been the case. So far, the grunts and scribes have found only a dozen destroyed vehicles and guns, no military cemeteries, no signs that Serb units were pummeled.
Something's wrong. This insane demolition job cost American taxpayers billions of bucks, so where's the Mother of All Army Junkyards? The Serb generals couldn't have swept that kind of reported battle destruction into a foxhole before scooting back to Belgrade. Blown-up 50-ton tanks, miles of twisted artillery barrels and 5,000 graves don't just disappear with the wave of a general's baton.
Yet the body counters have found only the shot up carcasses of three 1960s- model tanks, a lot of blown-up army buildings clearly vacated before the bombs fell, and carpet-bombed forested areas that look like cyclones twisted through them.
Ten battle-damaged tanks were observed heading north when the Serbian army pulled out along with 254 combat-ready tanks, thousands of missiles, cannons, armored vehicles, trucks and 60,000 defiant, smartly dressed and well-equipped troops -- exactly 50 percent more grunts than the spinners said were deployed in Serbia's Kosovo province in the first place.
For sure, Kosovo was not a Desert Storm. Remember the miles and miles of knocked out gear along the "Highway of Death"? No such battle damage has been found in Kosovo, where, unlike the Gulf War, the vast majority of bombs used were the expensive smart stuff, not the dumb old iron bombs that flattened Saddam's white-flag-waving army.
Robert Fisk, a friend of mine who's a British reporter for the Independent, writes, "Yugoslav military sources report that more than half the 600 -- Serb soldiers -- who died in Serbia were killed in guerrilla fighting with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) rather than by NATO bombing." While recently on the ground in Kosovo, after travelling more than 400 miles through that war-torn province, Fisk saw none of the death and destruction cited by the Allied briefers. He said a Serb military source told him that, "Only 132 members of the armed forces were killed in NATO attacks.
General Nebojsa Pavkovic, the commander of the Yugoslav Third Army, has given a different figure: 169 soldiers killed in Kosovo under NATO assault and 299 wounded."
The high figure of 169 Serb KIA is a long stretch from Dr. Shea's "5,000." Like the wild body-count numbers of the Vietnam War, somebody clearly got it wrong.
I don't think our pilots lied and kicked up the count. More than likely they were duped by clever Serbian bait-and-switch artists -- the subject of next week's column. It's almost impossible to accurately tell what's been hit when you're zipping along at 500 MPH and firing at 15,000 feet.
When the dust clears, I believe we'll find that Dr. Shea -- he has a PHD from Oxford, probably in Doublespeak -- and his companions-in-spin in the U.S. State Department and Pentagon, James Rubin and Ken Bacon, respectively, did what all propagandists do: lie, vilify, stretch the truth like a taffy candy to deceive friend and foe alike.
The moral to the story is that modern spin doctors from Nazi Dr. Goebbles to NATO's Dr. Shea have less credibility than a used car salesman who hasn't closed a deal in a month. The public should believe nothing when the cannons and spinmeisters toot.