Thursday, November 18, 2010

Did Wes Clark Almost Start World War III?

That's the inference being made by James Blunt in a new interview with the BBC. Blunt is probably best known in the United States for his soft rock hit single “You're Beautiful”; but before making his mark on the airwaves, Blunt was a cavalry officer in the British military. In 1999 he was leading troops as part of the NATO mission in Kosovo aimed at halting the fighting between the Kosovars and Serbian forces. A key point in the NATO strategy to establish security in Kosovo was to gain control of the airfield outside the capital, Pristina; but in a surprise move Russian forces swept through Kosovo and seized the airfield ahead of the NATO troops. While the Russians were supposedly part of KFOR, the international alliance that had come together to halt the fighting in Kosovo, suspicion ran high in the US/NATO command that the Russians were in fact trying to hinder the KFOR mission on behalf of their traditional allies, the Serbians who feared Kosovo would breakaway from Serbia (a fear that turned out to be correct).

According to Blunt, General Wesley Clark, then the NATO Supreme Commander Europe, ordered NATO forces to attack and “destroy” the Russians and take control of the Pristina airfield by force. Blunt, who was at the head of the NATO column approaching the airfield, would have led the attack, but the orders seemed so crazy to him that he called up his own superior officers for clarification. Commander of the British forces, General Sir Michael Jackson ordered Blunt and his troops to stand down, saying: “I'm not going to have my soldiers be responsible for starting World War III.” The NATO troops instead encircled the airbase; the Russians, who had rushed into Pristina in such a hurry that they didn't bring enough supplies for a siege offered to share command of the airbase two days later.

Now frankly I've always thought of Wes Clark as one of the better voices out there on foreign affairs, but his command to attack the Russians is just daffy and very possibly could have led to WWIII. I'd be tempted to doubt Blunt, except for the fact that Jackson backs up his account, and if you remember any of the news accounts from the KFOR mission, then you remember that Sir Mike Jackson was most definitely a no BS kind of guy.

For his part, Blunt says that even if Jackson had not backed him up, he still would have refused General Clark's order to attack the airfield and the Russians, even though it likely would have meant his court martial, since the orders were so blatantly reckless. He explained to the BBC that a “sense of moral judgment is drilled into us as soldiers in the British army” as to why he would have refused Clark's orders.
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