Jane's Defence: NATO Forces Surrounded Pristina Airport, WW3 Averted


The second incident came as NATO forces were about to enter Kosovo to establish its peacekeeping operation. Russia managed to steal NATO's thunder by moving several hundred Russian troops, who had been serving as part of the Stabilisation Force (SFOR) in Bosnia into Kosovo, establishing themselves at the main airport in Pristina.

The dash to Pristina seemed a clever ruse, creating a bargaining position out of nothing. But in the end Russia lacked the funds and spare military capacity to follow it up. Within a short time, NATO forces surrounded the airport and took up positions throughout the province, thus smothering the Russians with condescension. KFOR personnel eventually became the Russians' only supplier of water.
Yeltsin couldn't follow up the dash to Pristina, further evidence that Clark wasn't risking WW3 by sending NATO troops to Pristina.

Update: From Clarksphere, there's a link (that doesn't work in my browser) to this interview of Clark on PBS's NewHour. Here's Clark's take on the standoff:
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: It was a surprising moment to me. It was Sunday the 13th of June, about 8:30 in the morning. And he said, "I'm not going to take your order to block these, this runway." And so we talked about it. He was extremely agitated and emotional and making all kinds of statements. So I said, "let's get your chief of defense," his boss in the British chain of command, "on the line." I talked to General Sir Charles Guthrie, the British chief of defense, and he said, "let me talk to Mike." And so I pass the phone over and then Mike handed the phone back to me. And the British chief of defense said, "well, I agree with Mike." And he says, "so does Hugh Shelton," the American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I was very surprised because I had gotten word from Washington that Washington supported, in fact, suggested that I block these runways and strongly supported how I did it, how I wanted to do it. So I called Hugh. It was about 3:00 in the morning in Washington, and I said, "well, you know, here is the problem and Guthrie says you support Jackson, not me. What... Do you support me or not?" Because you can't take actions in war without support of governments. He said, "well," he said, "I did have a conversation with Guthrie. I knew you were getting this order. Guthrie and I agreed we don't want a confrontation but I do support you." So I said, "well, then you've got a policy problem." And it really was a policy problem caused by the British government's differing perception than the American government's, and by Mike Jackson's perception of the situation.

MARGARET WARNER: What does this tell you about alliance warfare? I mean, that if push comes to shove, does the whole alliance command structure break down?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, only in... It tells you the same lesson we've always known about alliances, that if you are going to lead and you have the command positions, you have to back up that command position. You have to earn it by committing the resources. Now, in this case, although we had the majority of the aircraft and the air campaign, we had done our best to avoid taking a leadership role on the ground. The British had the vast majority of the forces. They were there first. They had the capital sector around Pristina and the Pristina Airport sector, and they had the commander on the ground. So it was going to be, except for the Apaches, it was all British troops at risk, and it was a British commander and therefore it was essentially a British operation under my command. It's the same thing that we would have found in the Second World War. Eisenhower was the supreme allied commander because the United States put the bulk of the forces in, not the Brits. In this case, because the United States didn't want to take the lead by committing its resources on the ground, when push came to shove, it was another country that actually set the policies.
Mike Jackson's perception of the problem might have stemmed from his association with Bloody Sunday, something that must still haunt him and his career. And there he was in the same area of the world that kicked off WW1, with the Russians on the move. And if Clark was wrong, it would be Jackson that fingers were pointed at back at home - it was British troops on the line, he possessed the power to stop it, and his government saw the situation differently from the Americans. That's why he let fly such an emotional remark. He wasn't about to repeat the scrutiny his life had undergone since Bloody Sunday.

Both men are perfectly understandable, once you understand the context.

Further Update: I believe I got a little too touchy feely with Gen Jackson. This Telegraph article (registration required) demonstrates that the General actually relishes the memory of his confrontation with Clark. The picture is an eye-opener too. He hasn't regretted a single action in his life. He's a Monty Python sketch waiting to happen. Jackson was dressing down Clark in as embarassing a way as he could that night.

He still turned right around and helped plan the move toward the Pristina airport later on, though. Didn't you, General?