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Updated: 5 May 1999 Morning Briefings

NATO HQ

5 May 1999

Morning Briefing

By Jamie Shea, NATO Spokesman

Jamie Shea: Unfortunately, I have to begin this morning by telling you that last night an Apache helicopter crashed on a training mission in Albania and both pilots were killed. This was a training mission - I want to insist on that - there is no indication of any hostile activity. This accident underscores the great risk that is shouldered by all the men and women associated with operation Allied Force, we salute all of them and our thoughts at the moment are naturally, as you would expect, with the families of the two pilots who lost their lives last night.

As you know, the President of the United States was here this morning and I'd like to give you a brief read-out on his meetings.

First, when he arrived he had a bilateral with the Secretary General, Javier Solana. The President briefed the Secretary General on his meeting with the Russian special envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin, and on Mr. Chernomyrdin's most recent diplomatic efforts and President Clinton stressed two key points, first, it is important to encourage diplomatic efforts like the one of Viktor Chernomyrdin because they are an important part of our work; and second, the President made it very very clear that NATO will keep the military operations going and going strong until Milosevic accepts the demands of the international community and I reiterate them once again: to stop the killing, remove his forces from Kosovo, allow an international force in, allow the unconditional return of all refugees and work towards a permanent solution based on the Rambouillet peace plan.

After that, the President and the Secretary General had an in-depth conversation about how to improve and co-ordinate the Allied assistance to the refugees in Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as part of our ongoing humanitarian efforts.

The President then went to a second meeting this time with the Secretary General and with the Chairman of the Military Committee, General Klaus Naumann, and SACEUR, General Clark, and he received a detailed briefing on the progress of operation Allied Force from both General Naumann and General Clark.

General Naumann gave an overview of the air campaign's progress since the NATO summit, in other words in the last two weeks, and the message that he strongly conveyed to both the President and the Secretary General is "The campaign is working!" He stressed that NATO is having a real impact against everything from fielded forces to petroleum supplies to the Yugoslav air-defence network and we can and will continue to intensify this operation.

General Clark then spoke, he told the President and the Secretary General that as the air campaign continues to intensify, the emphasis - the priority - has increasingly been on Milosevic's forces in the field in Kosovo; he said that because NATO has been able to actively avoid losses, Milosevic must understand that he can never win. General Clark concluded by saying: "We are winning, the Yugoslav leadership and its military security force and support structure is vulnerable to collapse."

During this second meeting, President Clinton emphasised that NATO must be ready to move quickly once we have achieved our goals and once we have prevailed in Kosovo, he stressed that we must have plans ready to ensure that the Kosovar Albanians can return to their homes in safety and security and he repeated this message consistently.

As I usually do on these occasions, I want to give you a brief operational update on the operations of the last 24 hours. I must say that unfortunately the weather did impact our operations last night reducing the volume of attacks by about one-third. However, as on all nights, we were able to press our attacks against fields forces in Kosovo once again striking the full spectrum of targets, including command posts, troop-assembly areas, troops themselves, armoured vehicles, mortar and artillery positions, tanks and other military vehicles and where we were able to find a weather window, we were able to achieve some local successes and let me just give you the highlights:

We attacked a command-and-control site at Usize (phon) and at Prusevac and Kacak (phon), at Scheniker (phon), Ivanica and Kaponic. We struck fuel stores at Posega, bridges in three locations - Tresenic, Mure and Bare - and of course, as you know from yesterday already, a NATO aircraft engaged and shot down a Yugoslav MiG-29 yesterday around the early afternoon.

Before I open for your questions, I would just like to inform you that there will be at noon today a briefing by Secretary Cohen, General Shelton and General Clark, all three together, from Spangdalen (phon) air base in Germany and for technical reasons, that briefing will be transmitted to the White House Filing Centre which is just behind the cafeteria, not this room. It is purely for technical reasons but I think that is a distance of about 20 yards so I'm sure you won't mind going there. We are still ironing out the technical details but I hope everything is going to be up and running and therefore you will be able to go there and let me stress this will be inter-active, our aim is that you will be able to participate in the briefing and not just observe it so let's keep our fingers crossed that that all works out at 12 noon.

The Council is meeting at the moment so excuse me if I don't take many questions this morning but in view of my briefing at 3 p.m. I will obviously want to be in the Council for as long as I can so I'll just take a few questions.

Questions and Answers

Jonathan: In the light of the comments I think you attributed to President Clinton that NATO must be ready to move quickly once its goals are achieved, did he review with the military commanders the various discussions on updated ground force proposals? There is a long piece in the Wall Street Journal that I'd be grateful for your comments on suggesting that these plans are now firmer and that there is a figure of some 60,000 troops in play.

Jamie Shea: No, I am not going to confirm any numbers at this stage, Jonathan, because we don't have those numbers yet. As you know, the planning is being reviewed by the military authorities and yes, President Clinton was briefed on that ongoing assessment. Obviously, we want to be flexible to adjust our planning to the situation we are likely to encounter in Kosovo once the Serb forces have been driven out but these discussions are still ongoing and I wouldn't like to point you towards any specific numbers at this stage, that is still premature. But on the other hand, yes, certainly we want to be ready naturally as soon as we are able to get that security force in because, as I have stressed on many occasions, the worst thing to happen would be to leave a vacuum between the withdrawal of the Serb forces and the arrival of the international security force with the NATO core - to be accurate in my description - given the situation there is likely to be in Kosovo at the time and the need to get those refugees back as quickly as we possibly can.

Question (Turkish TV): Jamie, how about the discussions on the modalities of the so-called international force? There is news that Belgrade would think about a lightly-armed international force led by the United Nations, I think that has been discussed as well. What about the modalities?

Jamie Shea: First of all, I read this article in a very important British newspaper this morning and obviously it was not based on "on-the-record" or official sources so we don't know for certain if this is the way in which Belgrade's thinking is developing, we don't know. On the other hand, if it is true then it does show that Milosevic is beginning to move in a more constructive and rational direction. Even if that type of lightly-armed force which would exclude, according to the Financial Times article, a large number of NATO countries, it still falls far short of what we are looking for but if means that Milosevic is now looking for a way out, if it means that Milosevic is starting to realise that he has to move towards our five essential conditions, it would be welcome because remember, a few months ago Milosevic was saying "Never!" to any international presence in Kosovo; then he was saying: "Well, maybe but not to an armed force and no NATO countries!" If this report is true - and it's a big "if" of course - he is now saying: "Well, never say 'never'!" which I think is obviously a very sensible attitude to adopt in terms of "Yes, maybe some NATO countries! Yes, maybe an armed force after all" so let's see but of course, as I said before, it's a report based on background, it doesn't have any official status and we'll have to see if it all comes true. But NATO for its part is not going to back away from the essential condition that the force must be a properly-armed force with robust command-and-control and rules of engagement and the NATO core which alone will allow it to carry out the very extensive range of security tasks that an international force will have to accomplish in Kosovo once the Serb forces have left so I think it is a question of "Watch this space!" quite frankly.

Same Questioner: Has this been discussed at today's meeting?

Jamie Shea: No.

Question (Fox News): Can you confirm that the Apache that fell from the sky hit a power line and that's the reason that it crashed?

Jamie Shea: I heard that account but I cannot yet confirm that. We'll try to have the full update at three but again I stress it was a training accident and unfortunately, as you know, in military life there are these risks that are taken all the time particularly in the type of very intensive training at night that is ongoing not just in conjunction with Kosovo but in any kind of military operation and this is a tragic accident obviously but it was a training accident and all I have for the moment is what I told you a moment ago.

Doug: In the assessment that President Clinton was given of the force to secure Kosovo - and I realise that the idea is to send those refugees back as quickly as possible so that there will be no vacuum - but is it seen as realistic that these refugees would virtually go in the tracks of armoured vehicles ahead of them or is it realistic that there is going to be rather a long delay before a NATO-core force could secure Kosovo sufficiently?

Jamie Shea: No, Doug. As I mentioned, our aim would be not to have a long delay and don't forget we have a number of forces already deployed in the theatre particularly in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as part of the NATO KFOR, as we call it, Kosovo Force, and these are the enabling force elements which are being augmented at the moment and they are training for the mission and preparing for the mission so we already have an advance guard if I can use that term and we will be looking in the days ahead to see how we can strengthen that and build upon it but this assessment, this planning, is still ongoing, no decisions have yet been taken and it would be premature of me to comment further but I want to stress that we are very mindful, as we have always said all along, that an international security presence would be required on an urgent basis once the Serb forces have departed to address not only the security environment but also to address the humanitarian issues of the return of the refugees.

John: Jamie, just following up on this Apache crash, could you say whether or not these helicopters have actually been deployed in the theatre yet and if not, is it because of any safety fears?

Jamie Shea: They have all been deployed in Albania under Task Force Hawk and as you could see from last night's tragic accident they are undergoing at the moment very intensive training to be fully ready for their mission.

Jeff: You said that the President and the Secretary General discussed co-ordinated assistance to refugees in Albania and Macedonia. Did they also discuss aid to the displaced people in the country that has been under review for quite some time now? Is any progress being made on this?

Jamie Shea: Jeff, as I have said earlier on many occasions, there is unfortunately no easy solution to address the problem of the internally-displaced persons except through ending the violence and we all agree in NATO that the best thing we can do for those people in their suffering is to get the Serb forces off their backs as quickly as we can. That is the only way that you can address the humanitarian situation in a broad and lasting way certainly.

Why are they suffering? Why is food being denied to them? Because of the Serb forces that are persecuting them and until such time as those Serb forces are driven out unfortunately that persecution is only all too likely to continue so we have to keep our eye on our main objective here which is to stop the ability of the Serb forces to repress the Kosovar Albanian community.

We are looking at a number of options, I have made that clear, but none of those options are a substitute, Jeff, for stopping the fighting. We want to stop the fighting and that is, by the way, what these people also want us to do first and foremost because as long as you have the Serb forces there able to operate in the way that they have been operating in recent months, you are going to have in your newspapers every day - as you have at the moment - more and more accounts of atrocities and families being separated and summary executions, mass graves and all the rest. The problem for the Kosovar Albanians is not just hunger, it's actually being killed which is even worse than being hungry as you know so we have to stop the violence first and foremost, then we can begin to address the humanitarian situation in Kosovo at its roots.

Having said that, as you know, the United Nations Secretary General wants to send a humanitarian mission to Kosovo, the Red Cross is trying to establish itself and if Milosevic would allow these organisations back in, there is a certain amount that they could do in the humanitarian field and of course we support those efforts.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the regular briefing will be at three. Sorry! I have a new time. The inter-active press conference will take place at 12.15 here in the press theatre.

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