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A balanced appraisal of the war in Kosovo must account not only for its accomplishments, such as avoiding civilian casualties, but also for its shortcomings in planning and execution. For example, the targeting process was ineffective, command and control arrangements were complicated, and suppression of enemy air defense was not thoroughly carried out. In addition, the Alliance strategy of ruling out a ground invasion and only gradually escalating air strikes, though politically understandable, likely convinced Milosevic that he could ride out the assault. The campaign also highlighted the need for a larger inventory of precision-guided munitions and for other aircraft that can deliver accurate munitions irrespective of bad weather. Airpower prevailed in Kosovo despite a risk-averse U.S. leadership and the difficulties of coalition operations. But the incrementalism of the campaign involved a potential price for questionable gain: It risked frittering away the hard-earned reputation of effectiveness that U.S. airpower had finally earned in Desert Storm. Airpower is a vital instrument of force employment in joint warfare, but it can never be more effective that the strategy it supports.

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Originally published in: Joint Force Quarterly, v. 30, Spring 2002, pp. 12-19.

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