|Updated: 6 May 1999||Morning Briefings|
6 May 1999
By Jamie Shea, NATO Spokesman
Along that theme we have a very busy day here at NATO and of course it is a busy political day with President Clinton's visit to Germany, his meeting with Chancellor Schroeder and of course the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting in Bonn. But let me give you the basic operational details from yesterday evening and during the night.
Firstly though I want to tell you that this afternoon General Jertz of SHAPE will give you our comprehensive review of our attacks on fielded forces in Kosovo. We also have today at 3.00 pm a change of command ceremony for the outgoing Chairman of the Military Committee, Klaus Naumann, and for the incoming Chairman of the Military Committee, Admiral Venturoni. And as a result of this change of command ceremony, which is at 3.00 pm, our usual briefing by myself and General Jertz will be at 4.00 pm today, so please note that, 4.00 pm exceptionally today instead of 3.00 pm. That will also allow those of you who want to to attend the change of command ceremony.
On the operational front I have to start by saying that weather again had an impact on the activities yesterday. While the overall number of sorties flown remained around 600, the number of strike sorties that we were able to conduct was about one third less than the very high levels we were achieving earlier in the week.
Despite those weather limitations, we were able to strike at a wide range of Serb forces in Kosovo, we attacked artillery pieces, a command post, surface to air missile batteries, a military convoy near Prizren, armoured vehicles south of Djakovica and at least 7 tanks. I think that this range of strikes on fielded forces in Kosovo demonstrates our increasing grip on the operational theatre and that we are progressively pinning down the Serb forces and cutting them off from Belgrade. But we are now also increasingly moving into the phase where we can take out those forces. General Jertz will give you details of that, as I have said, when he comes along this afternoon.
There were a number of more strategic targets, or fixed targets elsewhere in Yugoslavia that were struck last night, there were radio relay facilities at Kaponik and at Novi Pazar, fuel facilities at Sombor, Prahovo and Nis, a bridge at Uzitze and ammunition facilities at Paninje and Kacak. We also attacked once again the airfield at Ponikve and I am happy to report that after last night's operations all of the NATO aircraft returned safely to their bases.
So with that brief up-date, let's see if there are any urgent questions of the day and the rest we will take at 4.00 this afternoon.
Philippe, AFP: Est-ce que tu peux confirmer que le F 117 du dbut du conflit a bien t abattu par un missile serbe, et deuxime question est ce que tu peux confirmer qu'il y a un SAS britannique qui a disparu depuis quelques jours au Kosovo ?
Jamie Shea: Philippe, en ce qui concerne l'avion Stealth, je n'ai jamais vu de rapport dtaill moi-mme sur les circonstances de sa disparition. Je sais ce que le gnral Naumann vous a dit l'autre jour et je ne vais pas contredire ses propos, mais tout ce que je peux vous dire, pour ma part, je n'ai pas vu de rapport concernant les circonstances exactes de la chute de cet avion, donc je resterai avec ce que le gnral Naumann - qui est mieux mme de connatre les circonstances - vous a dit l'autre jour.
En ce qui concerne le soldat de la SAS britannique, comme vous le savez nous ne faisons jamais de commentaire sur les forces d'oprations speciales, mais j'ai vu ce matin que le ministre de la dfense Londres a confirm qu'il lui manque pas de personnel, mais je ne vais pas bien sr commenter sur les activits quelconques des forces speciales dans cette opration.
Turkish Television: Jamie, Rugova's arrival in Italy, what is NATO 's reading of it and is NATO going to make any contact with him?
Jamie Shea: As I said yesterday, we very much welcome the fact that Ibrahim Rugova has been allowed to leave. The European Union, at one of their recent meetings in Luxembourg, asked the Yugoslavs to allow him to travel, it is obviously gratifying that Yugoslavia has done that now, everybody should be free to travel in a democratic society. And we welcome the fact that he has been also allowed to leave with his family, or at least his family members. Obviously we hope that he is in a position to be able to speak freely. We are waiting at the moment to see what he will have to say. I don't believe, unless you contradict me, that he has made any public statements yet, and if he has any specific proposals to make. Obviously what we would be interested in is the extent to which his proposals will meet the five essential conditions of the NATO Allies and of the international community and if they did then of course we would welcome that. But I think it is too early at this moment to judge, let's be grateful that this person who clearly has suffered a lot, has been allowed to travel to Italy and let's wait and see what he has to say, then it will be easier to comment further.
Question: You told us you would give us today more details on the operations, again the ground forces. Will you stick to your promise?
Jamie Shea: Oh yes, I said right at the very beginning of my briefing that we were going to do that today. I said the other day that we had a lot more information because first of all SACEUR prepared an operational update for the Council, and also for President Clinton yesterday, and I thought that you would prefer to have the new product rather than the old product quite frankly, and therefore I think sometimes a little patience gets its reward.
Doug Hamilton, REUTERS: Jamie, since this is not the briefing that is on CNN and not the one that is in , there are a couple of points that are on my mind that I would like to have your comment on. SACEUR yesterday said we are bringing the war on to the Serb people, SACEUR said we are flying lower. These are points that we have been trying to question here for some time. General Wall has been saying how many tanks have been hit, he has been giving a pretty good idea of the impact that is being made on the ground, a much clearer impact than is being made at the briefings here I must say. He said for example yesterday that dumb bombs are being used to hit troops in the field, which certainly gives you a good idea of the intensification of the war. We heard from the podium the other day that military funerals in Belgrade were taking place in secret to conceal the number of military casualties, I don't know where that information came from but today we see Dan Williams of the Washington Post going to a military funeral in Belgrade where they are firing rifle shots over the grave and so on.
Jamie Shea: Yes, but I don't see there is any contradiction there. I read Dan Williams' piece yesterday about one particular instance and I don't think there is any contradiction there, Doug, to what I said the other day. The two are not mutually exclusive. But please continue.
Doug: We also see things like in the papers today, reading from Steve Lee-Myers, on the visit and search regime, that Clark was fair and square turned down, he was told that NATO did not want to shoot at ships. So I am wondering what is happening to NATO's information policy here, I am wondering about the involvement frankly of spin masters and I am wondering about why more information now seems to be coming from Washington. That is just for your comment. I have also got a question about a force for Kosovo without American troops is again rearing its head this morning I understand and I wondered if you could address that?
Jamie Shea: Yes, sure. Well first of all, Doug, thanks for your comment, but let me just say that obviously we do at these briefings try to give you all the information that we have and we can and I don't think that there is any incompatibility quite frankly between the information you receive here and in other briefings.
On the business of the troops, as you know, when the Alliance launches any type of ambitious operation, particularly the one that would obviously have to take place in Kosovo once the Serb forces have left, the principle that the operation should be open to all Allies is very important and the basic transatlantic solidarity that you have for example in an operation like IFOR and SFOR in Bosnia is very important too, and I think it is also a very reassuring factor for the people of Bosnia, like it will be for the Kosovar Albanians. So at this stage, I obviously see lots of interesting press articles every day, but at this stage I am not aware that we are working on any kind of plan, as I said yesterday, that would involve some Allies but exclude others. Nobody is obliged to participate in these non-Article 5 operations, but on the other hand I think the principle that they should be open to voluntary participation by all Allies is very important and I haven't seen anything from Washington to suggest that the United States would not want to be involved in some way, just like the United States is involved in all of the different aspects of the operations that we have up and running at the moment.
On visit and search, I have explained this clearly, this is something which has political aspects, it is not simply a military matter, it has important political considerations as well. We have 19 Allies and they are all together in this operation and any visit and search regime has to have the consensus of all 19 Allies to be introduced. Obviously it has to be militarily effective but it has to be something that politically the Allies can live with as well, and we are looking at that at the moment. But I come back to the fundamental point that what really counted was switching off the oil tap in the first place. But yesterday the Council debated the question and the Oplan is being addressed and so we will have something on that within the next few days, but the most important thing is to have something which all 19 Allies are going to be able to participate in and it is going to therefore not only be more militarily effective but it will be more politically effective on that basis as well.
Mark Laity, BBC: One question and one point. I would actually like to agree with what Doug was saying, especially in regard to the Pentagon briefings which are, to be blunt, far more useful to us than the NATO briefings, certainly to me, and I would have thought even from a NATO point of view the wealth of detail that they are providing give a much better picture of the impact of the air campaign. If you wanted to make the point that the air campaign was working then General Wall's briefing the night before last when they had 20 videos, which in effect gave 25% of the battle damage, was a far more effective way of doing it than just saying it. So I would like to reiterate that not just from our point of view, but from your point of view, you would be better off if you were giving us more of what the Pentagon is giving us. And the question is that Belgrade hasn't been bombed for two nights, is that weather or is there another reason?
Jamie Shea: As you know, Mark, on the second question, the military commanders judge what are the important targets of the night, that is entirely in their hands and it doesn't mean to say that all of the important strategic targets are in Belgrade and therefore if we are not launching bombs at Belgrade then somehow we are sort of easing up, I don't think that is the case.
Jamie Shea: No, it is obviously the choice of the Operational Commanders to choose the targets.
And I will obviously again, and I make this point to you that as long as I am doing this job, press the military authorities to give you as much information as we can. That has been my credo all along but thanks again for the comment.
Jonathan Marcus, BBC: Two things. Can you tell us anything on the political diplomatic front about the story about possibly a statement coming out from the G8, something which would link the Russians more closely with the post-conflict peace force, or whatever? On the sort of general housekeeping front here, obviously we all welcome the briefings, in a sense the very detailed information that you are giving initially in the morning on targets hit and locations and so on, I would love to have that on a piece of paper very early in the morning or have the SHAPE press officers be able to issue that early in the morning, because in a way it is great to have it now but it is 11.15, it is not great certainly for the electronic media at this middle point of the morning. If that could be issued even at 8.00 in the morning, 9.00, once it was cleared by yourselves and SHAPE that I think would be very helpful and it wouldn't require your presence, it would just require them doing it on a sheet of paper.
Jamie Shea: OK, I am always open to suggestions and I will take that suggestion back and we will see if we can't give you something a little bit earlier, even if it is on paper, but at least give you the essential facts.
On the G8, obviously I think it is significant that the meeting is taking place, it is the first meeting in which a large number of NATO Allies, not all of course, but a large number of NATO Allies and Russia have sat round the table and discussed Kosovo as a group for a long time, there have been lots of bilateral contacts but this is the first one on a group basis and it is at the appropriate level, so I think that is encouraging. I would not expect any breakthroughs because I think in terms of working with Russia there are still differences, as you know, particularly on the nature of an international security presence and on the conditions for the deployment of that presence. But on the other hand we are now coming together much more around the principle that the force should be armed and on the principle of course that there should be some sort of sharing of the participation between NATO countries and Russia, and the willingness of Russia increasingly to be part of that force rather than on the outside.
So there have been more positive developments over the last few days and of course to the extent that we can get today, or soon, an agreement between NATO countries and Russia on the five principles, not just four or three but on five, which as I said yesterday represent a comprehensive and indistinguishable package, then I think we could succeed in isolating Milosevic very significantly politically and it would clear the way for Russia and the NATO countries, the five NATO countries on the UN Security Council, to go to New York and to draft a resolution which would endorse at the UN level the five conditions, including the international security force, and which would give that international security force a Chapter 7 mandate which would obviously empower it to do its job, which is what we want. Now I am not sure just how far the G8 will get today, it is very difficult to predict, but if it can at least make some progress in that direction, even if other meetings may be needed, then I think it would have done its job rather well. If we can at least get a joint statement today, which Russia would agree along with the NATO Partners, then I think again that would be a significant step that we are beginning to move together, even if perhaps not all details would be agreed, but if there would be a joint statement then I think it would be very significant.
Jonathan: When you say in that eventual force a sharing between NATO and Russia, are you envisaging ultimately a much more significant numerical role for the Russians than for example they had in Bosnia, I mean it was very nice to have them in Bosnia but frankly in military terms they were a very small contingent, it was merely their presence that was important. Would you see a much greater role for Russia?
Jamie Shea: Jonathan, that is a good question. We have said that we would welcome a substantial Russian role. Now let me make it clear, in Bosnia the Russian battalion of about 1,700 - 1,800 people is not limited by some kind of convention, it is a question of what individual countries want to contribute because they have to pay the cost and these operations can be expensive, you know the rotations every six months and the remainder. But we also not only have that, we have a special command structure, as you know, which gives Russia a Deputy SFOR Commander directly at SHAPE and that command structure reflects the special role of Russia and by the way has worked rather well. And again despite the differences we have had in recent weeks on Kosovo, that Russian contingent in SFOR has remained put and I think that is a positive development.
So yes we would welcome a significant Russian role, we have made that clear, but how large it would be would be for Russia itself to determine and of course the costs, what they are able to contribute, would be factors. But if we can at least get an agreement on the nature of such an international security force we then of course can start sitting down and work through, as we did between General Joulwan and General Grachev at the time of IFOR, the basic sort of issues of command structures and participation.
As the Secretary General and other NATO leaders have already made it clear, that while we are very firm on the principle of an international security force and that there must be a NATO core, on other details, as we have seen with IFOR/SFOR, we are perfectly prepared to be flexible.
Julie: There was no bombing last night over Belgrade but there are reports that much of the city, there was a blackout, there was a power outage, can you explain, was there some sort of residual from the other night?
Jamie Shea: Obviously I will ask General Jertz to look at this and clarify it at 3.00, but at least from what I have seen of the targets last night they were not generators or anything that suggests that it was NATO action last night that explains these power outages, I think it is probably still the consequences of what happened a few nights ago.
Julie: On this issue of what we are being told and how things are being represented here, we were told that NATO concluded that its bombs were not responsible for the assault on a bus near the Montenegrin border, but western reporters have gone to the site, they have seen remnants of cluster bombs, they have seen within the bus itself evidence that these were civilians, an old cane of a man, women's shoes?
Jamie Shea: And you think that that constitutes the conclusive forensic evidence that NATO did it?
Julie: No, that is not the point, but I think the representation was made here also that this was not a corridor for civilians and that this was an ambush area, and the inference that is left that there are no civilians here, that this was not a civilian inhabited area, and it is misleading.
Jamie Shea: No it is not misleading, Julie, it isn't. What I told you on that is absolutely true. At no stage did I say there were no civilians in the area, I said it was not a main civilian transport route, number one; I said secondly that NATO has no indication whatever that we were involved in that and we stand by that, and I do. And I am the first person to stand up here and then say "yes we did it" and to express regrets, the first person to do it. But that doesn't mean to say that every incident that is alleged to have been caused by NATO, sometimes yes, but other times no, and on this one after an extremely thorough investigation, genuinely we have nothing that says that any NATO aircraft dropped a munition on that particular target, nothing. And this wasn't simply interviewing a couple of pilots, it was very extensive checking into all of the intelligence data, several pilot interviews, reviewing all the cockpit video throughout the whole day from a vast area, in fact that tied us up for hours, and hours, and hours, when of course we want to be getting on with running the operation. But we do these things simply to clarify this, so that is what I have and it is an area where there are combat operations. That place, by the way, and I make this clear and I don't think anybody denies this, is a VJ/MUP assembly area where they park their vehicles and go into vehicles. I also said that there were several conflicting reports on that, even from the media inside Yugoslavia. I am not saying I have the explanation as to why it happened, you know the fact that I say we didn't do it doesn't mean to say I can give you a kind of account of who did, but all I am saying is that on that one, no it wasn't us.
So that is where we are and if somebody later on can go and pull out all of the facts as a good piece of investigative journalism, I would welcome that, but I can't accept responsibility for something that we haven't done simply because there isn't another alternative valid explanation.