Military difficulties with sending in ground troops

Michael Pollak mpollak at
Sat Apr 24 00:21:49 PDT 1999

I found this extended Stratfor analysis very interesting. I would love to hear what our resident war games experts have to say about it. Also what they might have to say about Stratfor -- who they are and what they're worth, etc. Their main fault seems to be their authentically bureaucratic prose. That and that even their testimonials are anonymous.

This is part III of a three part analysis. Part I can be skipped and Part II, about the strategy of both sides, can be summed up in two paragraphs. NATO strategy, like US strategy, prides itself on great high tech weapons and intelligence of where everything is located. It is also very casualty adverse. We like unpopulated open spaces where we can obliterate the massed foe. We hate places where we can't see or shoot very far. Urban centers are therefore our bete noire. Moutainous terrain isn't our favorite.

The Serbs have had the same strategic plan since the 1940's. Assume the invader is coming from Hungary to Belgrade, and assume he has overwhelmingly superior force. Stall him as long as possible with armor while the infantry retreats to the mountainous center of the country. Then fight a harrassing war from there until the international situation is more favorable in a few years time. Their plan assumes they will lose the armor and Belgrade and most of the country. All they want is that it should take as long as possible, and ditto for the war as a whole.

[For the full report of Parts I and II, see crisis/kosovo/special36.htm]

The Strafor conclusions: the way things stand now, we could take part of Kosovo, but we couldn't take all of it -- or rather, it would be safer and easier to take all of Yugoslavia -- and then to take Kosovo -- than to occupy all of Kosovo without taking Yugoslavia. And taking Yugoslavia under current political conditions presents logistical problems that aid the Serb strategy of extending the war and make it a bad idea militarily.

Analysis of Ground Warfare Option - Part III

14 Apr 99 - 1727 GMT

Case 1: NATO Stages a Limited Ground Attack into Kosovo-The Battle of



Unable or unwilling to mount a full-scale invasion of Kosovo or

Yugoslavia or unable to wait until a sufficient build-up is in place,

NATO decides to mount a limited attack into a region of Kosovo. The

mission has two goals. The first is to inflict a punishing blow

against the Serbian forces, demonstrating NATO's ability and

willingness to wage effective war on the ground against Serbia. The

second is to secure a portion of Kosovo to create a safe haven for

returning refugees, either as an international protectorate or as an

independent Kosovo Albanian republic. Such a republic would also serve

as a rallying point for Albanians to keep them in the region rather

than migrating to Western Europe, and threaten Serbia with loss of



There are currently NATO forces in Macedonia and Albania. The

definition of Case 1 is its limited nature. It must be a direct

cross-border movement into terrain that is vulnerable to seizure and

yet is later defensible. Macedonia has made it clear, thus far that it

is unwilling to use its territory for attacks on Serbia. Moreover,

Greece has asserted that NATO may not use the port of Thessaloniki to

support a ground attack on Serbia. Given these constraints and the

limited nature of Case 1, the only practical

attack is into Kosovo from Albania. Part of this operation might be an

attack on Montenegro, but that would again expand the operation beyond

its constraints. A critical issue is how to build up an attack force

in Albania, which has no significant port facilities. In a sense, this

is the major limiting factor on any attack from Albania. Getting

forces in and supporting them in offensive operations will stress

Albanian infrastructure tremendously, thereby limiting the offensive

force structure.


The Kosovo-Albanian border is about 60 miles long. It is extremely

rugged terrain, with steep hills and mountains running the entire

length. The entire frontier, on both sides, is covered with mountains

in excess of 6,000 feet. There are, therefore, no major roads

traversing the mountains along the northern half of the frontier. The

south is somewhat less mountainous and more developed and has two

major roads.

The major road runs from Shkodara in Albania to Prizjen in Kosovo. The

road runs along the Drini I Bardhe's valley, crossing the frontier at

Vrbnica. The road runs between two low ridges to the town of Prinzren

and from there, along the southeastern portion of the Pagarusa Valley.

A second road splits off the first at Kukesi, crosses a bridge over

the Liq I Fierzes, then passes through extremely mountainous terrain,

crossing the frontier near the Kosovo town of Zub. Another arm of this

road runs from Baram Curri to Zogaj, but crossing the border at the

same point as the Kukesi-Zub Road. This crossing leads to the town of

Dakovica at the northern end of the Pagarusa Valley. In short, there

is one mountain road crossing the border and one valley road. Other

than that there are only mountain trails. The roads are a little over

ten miles apart. These two roads are the only ground attack options

from Albania into Kosovo.

This means that the only practical, limited ground attack option under

Case 1 is an assault on the Pagarusa Valley. The valley runs parallel

to the border, about eight miles along both roads. It then curves

northeastward. Inside of Kosovo, a road runs along the base of the

hills along the valley's southern edge, rising into the hills north of

Dakovica. That road runs southeast to Prinzen. The valley is ringed on

all sides by steep ridges and hills, but there are numerous good roads

running north into Kosovo from the valley.


We recorded the latest Serbian deployment of any reliability about

April 13th. The valley contained the 549th Motorized Brigade and the

52nd Light Air Defense Artillery-Rocket Regiment. Obviously this order

of battle has shifted of late both because of reinforcements and

because of intense NATO air attacks in the region. It is interesting

to note that the alleged Serbian attack on Kremica on 13 April did not

take advantage of either road, but passed through rugged mountain


This is will be an essential characteristic of Case 1. NATO forces

will be heavily road dependent because of the inherent characteristic

of their operations. Serb forces deliberately demonstrated that they

are not. This will pose a critical dilemma to NATO forces at all

stages of the operation. Clearly, NATO is currently engaged in air

operations in this region that is designed to open a Case 1 ground

attack option. However, as the Kremica engagement shows, the ability

of NATO to destroy armor and artillery using air strikes and Apache

helicopters does not completely close off Serbian operational

possibilities, so long as light infantry remains intact.

The prerequisite to taking the valley will be the seizure of the

mountains on the northwest and southeast side of the valley. Running

from Zvegan to the border, with Pec at the base, the Prokletije and

Mokra Gora ridges run over 8,000 feet in places. In the southeast, the

ridges run over 6,000 feet. Light infantry forces armed with mortars,

and infantry packed rockets will be in a position to fire into the

valley below. An M74 120-mm mortar is designed as a mountain weapon,

capable of being towed on a two-wheeled cart. With rocket assist

propulsion (RAP) projectiles, it has a range of about six miles,

bringing most of the valley into easy range. Even the Serb's M69B

81-mm mortar has a range of three miles. Therefore, the valley cannot

be taken and held unless the ridges are cleared.

Obviously, this is not a mission for a mechanized force. Nor is it

something that can be achieved using air power alone. Indeed, close

air support on this terrain is both difficult and dangerous, as man

portable anti-air systems are widely available among Serb infantry

units. NATO cannot get involved in a light infantry vs. light infantry

battle in which it loses all advantage to the defender fully familiar

with his terrain. This is NATO's main dilemma and one that is not

clearly or easily soluble except for introducing a large, mixed forced

able to carry out multiple missions simultaneously, thereby disrupting

and overwhelming resistance.

Without getting into force mix or sequencing, this option obviously

means an extended build-up. The problem is that NATO, even in the

limited Pagarusa operation, faces four missions:

1. Defending Albania from incursion by Serb infantry at points other

than NATO's attack points. This is also necessary as a defense of

lines of supply.

2. Seizing the ridges around the Pagarusa valley.

3. Seizing the valley floor.

4. Holding the Pagarusa against ongoing Serb infantry and artillery


Given the size of the valley, the multiplicity of missions, and the

mix of forces required it is obvious that this mission requires a

multi-divisional force to implement. Given that it has taken two weeks

to transship 24 Apache helicopters to Albania, it would appear that

Albania's infrastructure, if it could support multi-divisional forces

at all, would require a build-up period of at least two months for the

shipment of manpower, equipment, and above all, supplies, ranging from

petroleum to food. This logistics operation would run concurrently

with refugee operations.

Case 2: NATO Invades Kosovo


Deciding to enforce the Rambouillet Accords unilaterally and

simultaneously return the Albanian refugees to their homes, NATO

decides to invade and seize the Province of Kosovo, defend it from

Serb counterattack and make it either an independent republic or a

province of Albania.


Kosovo is surrounded by three countries: Albania, Macedonia and

Yugoslavia. Both Montenegro and Serbia border Kosovo. A direct attack

from Albania alone is extremely difficult to contemplate. Expanding

the conquest of the Pagarusa Valley into a general attack creates a

logistical dependency on two roads that are vulnerable to harassment

and intermittent interdiction by Serbian Special Forces and artillery

fire. Moreover, it is not clear that the two roads have sufficient

capacity to maintain lines of supply for extended offensive combat by

multi-divisional NATO forces operating at substantial distance from

base. Finally, Albania lacks the port facilities needed to stage a

substantial invasion of Kosovo.

Indeed, the key problem of any invasion of Kosovo is logistical.

Albania is separated from both Bosnia and Croatia by the Montenegran

republic of Yugoslavia. That means that land transport by rail or road

into Albania is impossible without the prior conquest of Montenegro or

the expulsion of the Yugoslav Second Army from Montenegro by internal

unrest. We regard that outcome as extremely unlikely. Thus, it is

impossible to move European-based NATO forces into position to attack

Kosovo by land. This makes the Italian ports useless for a Kosovo

invasion. The only alternative is access to the Greek port of

Thessaloniki. The Greek government, however, has made it clear that it

will not permit the use of Thessaloniki in support of a ground war

against Serbia.

An additional consideration is the matter of Macedonia. An attack from

Albania alone is unlikely to succeed. An attack supported from

Macedonia has a better chance of success by permitting two fronts.

However, the Macedonian government is adamantly opposed to the use of

its soil for mounting an invasion of Kosovo, particularly one which

might leave the Serb government intact and looking for revenge. The

Macedonians are caught between Serbia and Greece, neither of which

would look kindly on Macedonian participation in an invasion of


Finally, even an attack from both Albania and Macedonia suffers from

the same core defect: too few roads through extremely bad terrain from

which to support a multidivisional force in offensive, potentially

high intensity conflict. In order to invade Kosovo, it is essential

that NATO first seize Montenegro. From Montenegro, an attack east into

Kosovo along a more robust road system is possible. That would allow a

three-pronged attack into Kosovo that might succeed.

However, we have already violated the principle of Case 2, by positing

a prior expansion of the war to Montenegro. Having seized Montenegro,

an overland route to Albania and Macedonia would exist. But that would

mean first a build-up in Croatia and Bosnia for an invasion of

Montenegro; the successful defeat of the Second Army; repair of

wrecked transport facilities; a build-up in Albania and possibly

Macedonia; and finally the invasion of Kosovo.

In all of these senses, we regard Case 2 as impractical.

* Case 2 presupposes a prior attack on Montenegro which violates the

logic of the case in the first place and massively complicates the


* There are no available port facilities for building up a

multidivisional force in Albania.

* An attack from Albania cannot be sustained logistically.

* Macedonia is unwilling to permit an attack from its soil and its

own cross- border road system is limited.

* There are no port facilities available for sustaining ground

combat from Macedonia unless the Greeks reverse their position.


Geography makes an invasion of Kosovo impossible without an invasion

of Montenegro. That would mean that NATO would be engaged with both

the Serb Second and Third Armies. Under that circumstance, Case 2

would have become a general war with Yugoslavia rather than a limited

conflict on the order of the conquest of the Kuwaiti salient. Thus,

Case 2 forces us to consider Case 3, a general invasion of Yugoslavia.

Case 3: The Invasion of Yugoslavia


NATO has determined that it must invade and occupy Yugoslavia. One

motivation might be that it is impossible to seize all of Kosovo

without engaging the entire Yugoslav Army. Another motivation might be

the sense that without the overthrow of the Milosevic government,

NATO's goals cannot be achieved. Therefore, NATO orders the invasion

and occupation of Serbia.


Serbia can be attacked from all directions. On the surface, this would

appear to put it in a hopeless position. However, the situation is

more complex than it appears.

Five potential invasion routes exist:

1. From Hungary into Vojvodina toward the Danube

2. From Croatia and Bosnia east toward Belgrade through the Danube

and Sava Valleys.

3. Romania west through the Danube valley toward Belgrade

4. Albania-Macedonia north into Kosovo

5. Bulgaria toward Bor and Nis

It is important to note that even a simultaneous attack on all these

fronts, should it be mounted, would not undermine the core Serb

strategy. The area south of Belgrade, west of the Marava river, north

of Kosovo and east of Montenegro, around the towns of Kragujevac and

Krajlevo, is the redoubt in which Serbian resistance will form, even

assuming that Montenegro, Kosovo and Vojvodina are lost. There is no

rapid entry into that region.

But there are deeper issues.

* The main line of attack would come from Hungary. However, Hungary

has no contiguous border with any other NATO country. A buildup in

Hungary would have to pass through either Austria or Slovakia.

Austria has historically avoided NATO issues and is terrified of

refugees. An invasion from Hungary would generate hundreds of

thousands or millions of Serb refugees who would pour into Hungary

and Romania. They would inevitably find their way to Vienna. Since

refugees are one of the hottest issues in Austrian politics,

Austria will not support any action that would generate more.

Slovakia remains interested in entering NATO. It is also a Slavic

country with factions that have close ties to Russia. Tremendous

Russian pressure would come to bear on Slovakia. We are not

convinced that a buildup in Hungary is possible.

* An alternative route of supplies for Hungary, and supporting

Bosnia and Croatia as well, would be Slovenia. However, Slovenia

has no ports. This would require the use of Italian ports. The

Italians are deeply uneasy about the air war. A ground war based

on Italian logistics could bring down the government. Moreover,

while the U.S. already maintains substantial forces in Tuzla in

Bosnia, that infrastructure is already strained and would have to

be reinforced dramatically before further forces are introduced.

The situation is even worse in Croatia.

* A buildup in Albania for a limited operation in Kosovo is

possible. However, the terrain and port facilities are such that

major additional logistical forces would have to be introduced and

these would compete with refugee support.

* Macedonia has declared that it would not permit its territory to

be used against Serbia. Moreover, it would be impossible to

conduct a major buildup in Macedonia without Greek permission to

use the port of Thessaloniki. The Greeks have indicated that they

would not permit this.

* If building up forces in Hungary is complex, introducing forces

into Romania and Bulgaria would be logistically, politically and

diplomatically nightmarish.

Operational Geography and Terrain: A thrust south from Hungary would

be designed to reach and breach the Danube river, capture Belgrade and

Novi Sad, and permit the rapid penetration of the interior by NATO

forces. The direct route is down the Tisa river valley, with the

eastern bank the most natural line of attack. There are several

problems with an attack down the east bank of the Tisa. First, the gap

between the river and the Romanian border at the Hungarian-Serbian

frontier is barely more than ten miles wide. Unless the Romanians gave

permission for NATO forces to enter their territory, the possibility

of being delayed at the border by minefields and Serb armor and

anti-tank infantry would be substantial. Moreover, as one proceeds

down the Tisa river on the east bank, the ground becomes marshy and

poses problems for Infantry Fighting Vehicles. Finally, the town of

Zrenjanin is strategically located on several roads and must be taken

to approach Belgrade from that direction.

The approach down the western bank is more promising, with flat land,

excellent roads and multiple approaches from the Tisa to the town of

Sombor. Moreover, the attack can be supported out of Vukovar in

Croatia. Such an attack will certainly annihilate Serb forces north of

the Danube. The problem is that the Danube river would not be

breached. The Danube, between the town of Novi Sad and the Croatian

border poses a particular problem. Apart from being a formidable

barrier in its own right, the southern bank of the Danube is elevated

and, at certain points, consists of cliffs. Thus, the defenders on the

south side of the Danube hold the high ground and can pour fire down

on bridging forces.

Morever, a general advance to the Danube would have to wheel east to

take the town of Novi Sad and then, if it intended to approach

Belgrade, would have to cross the Tisa river. Thus, A relatively small

Serb force between the Tisa and the Romanian border could both prevent

an attack on the east bank and then move into position as a blocking

force for cross-Tisa operations.

A solution might be an attack out of Croatia between the Danube and

Sava rivers, designed to take the Danubian heights from the rear. The

problem is that the terrain of such an advance passes through low

hills with limited roads. The advance could not keep up with the speed

of the armored thrust to the Danube. It would be an infantry force

completely out of synch with the armor.

All of this, of course brings us to the core question: Belgrade.

Belgrade is located at the confluence of the Sava and the Danube. It

is densely populated with extensive construction and substantial

suburbs. Worse, it rests on hills on the southern side of the Danube.

Attacking it directly is an impossibility. It poses the classic

problem of urban warfare to a mobile force. It is to be avoided at all

costs. But Belgrade cannot be avoided. Access to the road systems into

southern Serbia require that Belgrade be at least placed under siege

if not attacked directly.

There are two models for taking Belgrade. One is the Berlin model.

There, Soviet forces with complete air superiority, superbly trained

infantry and armor, massed artillery, attacked a city defended by

untrained and poorly armed youngsters and old men. The Soviet Army

took 300,000 casualties in less than a week's fighting. The other

model is again drawn from the Soviets: the conquest of Budapest.

There, rather than entering the city, the Soviets surrounded it and

bombarded it with artillery and aircraft for six weeks until the city


In order to invest Belgrade, a force will have to move east along the

southern bank of the Sava river. That force would logically be the

10th Mountain Division that the U.S. currently has positioned at Tuzla

in Bosnia. Unfortunately, the logical route it would take passes

through Bjijelnjia, which is currently occupied by a Russian brigade.

Secondary routes are available but would extend operational time


With the fall of Belgrade, the real war would begin. NATO forces would

then face the need to move south into terrain populated by hills

ranging from 500 feet to more than 2000 feet in very narrow valleys,

heavy foliage in summer, poor roads and a hostile population.

The terrain argues against an attack on Serbia. A direct attack

designed to seize all of Kosovo is dependent on Greek cooperation. An

attack to seize a limited portion along the frontier does not require

more than Albanian cooperation and will probably not be heavily

resisted by the Serbs.

An attack designed to conquer Serbia is possible. However, it presents

massive problems of strategic geography and operational terrain that

have made it an extremely daunting task. Moreover, given Serbian

operational principles, the main thrust of the attack north of the

Danube plays directly into Serbian hands by given them time to retreat

into the south. Since no rapid penetration and seizure of the area

south of the Sava is possible except with a massive occupation force

prepared to accept substantial casualties, the geography and terrain

presents the first and most significant challenge to any attack.

Forces Required:

The first phase of the operation would require primarily armored and

mechanized forces. Given that the screening force north of the Danube

would have been heavily damaged by NATO air strikes, the movement from

Hungary to the Danube could be executed efficiently. Given the

frontage and follow-on missions anticipated, this would still require

at least two armored divisions. The strike from Croatia would require

a third division, while the attack out of Bosnia would require an

infantry division, preferably mountain.

This four division force would needed to be rotated into reserve for

maintenance and replenishment while Belgrade was placed under seize by

suitable forces, heavily weighted toward artillery designed to reduce

resistance in Belgrade. Thus, a reasonable assumption would be that

the conquest of northern Yugoslavia, including Belgrade and Novi Sad

would require five divisions plus support elements. In addition, if we

assume that a secondary thrust into Montenegro was planned, this would

consist of at least two divisions with a third in reserve.

Finally, and most importantly, forces would have to be made available

to enter Serbia south of the Danube, preferably before Belgrade

capitulated, in order to disrupt the withdrawal and deployment of Serb

forces into the central mountains. The preemptory establishment of

strategic fire bases throughout the area will require at least two

infantry divisions with heavy artillery and an air mobile division to

provide a mobile attack capability, in addition to light infantry to

engage the Serbs. We would calculate a four-division requirement.

Additionally, the equivalent of two divisions would have to be

deployed in defensive positions in Albania and Macedonia in order to

prevent Serb counteraction in those areas.

In short, we estimate that a force of twelve divisions with full

logistical and other support would be needed for a successful


The build-up period for this invasion would require at least four

months, assuming that the Germans were prepared to carry the bulk of

armored operations out of Hungary. If the United States and the United

Kingdom were to assume this burden, the preparation time for the

invasion would expand to well over six months.


We have examined three cases of ground combat against Serbia by NATO.

Each of these cases provides extremely difficult battle problems.

* Case 1 is a multi-divisional thrust designed to seize a small part

of Kosovo. It poses severe logistical problems with an extremely

large force required to seize a very small portion of Kosovo. The

possibility of long-term combat and attrition is high. This is the

most doable of the options.

* Case 2, the direct invasion of Kosovo, is impossible due to

geographical realities compounded by terrain.

* Case 3, the invasion and conquest of Serbia, requires a massive

mobilization and deployment of NATO's resources and extended

combat. It opens the United States to vulnerabilities elsewhere in

the world, particularly in the Persian Gulf and Korea. It is not

clear that even a ten-division force could subdue the Serbs in

their redoubt. However, short of complete pacification, this is a

militarily viable option, allowing for resource expenditures,

extended duration, casualties and geopolitical complications with

Russia and elsewhere.

In our view, NATO does not have acceptable ground combat options

against Serbia.

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