Updated: 3 June 1999 Press Conferences


3 June 1999

Press Conference

by Mr Jamie Shea, NATO Spokesman
and Colonel Konrad Freytag, SHAPE

(Presentation Photo)

Jamie Shea : Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. Welcome to our 3.00 p.m. daily update. And, as you see, today Colonel Freytag is back with me here at the podium.

Let me begin very briefly by telling you that NATO, like you, is following news reports coming out of Belgrade closely, but I would like to stress that NATO has no comment to make at this point, and will not do so until the North Atlantic Council has received an authoritative report on the outcome of the talks that President Ahtisaari and Mr Chernomyrdin are conducting with the Yugoslav authorities. For now, our air operations continue and on that topic I would like to ask Colonel Freytag to give you the update of operations over the last 24 hours, then we will go directly into questions.

Colonel Freytag : Thank you Jamie. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

Yesterday, NATO flew more than 600 sorties against strategic and tactical targets. Strategic targets in Yugoslavia, outside Kosovo, included radio and TV broadcast and relay stations such as the one in Novi Sad, and an airfield at Ponikve. Other strategic targets in Serbia, outside of Kosovo, are shown here on this slide. General supply depots at Kuprije and Sveterzarevo, a highway bridge at Velika Orazde, and the POL trans-loading facility at Leskovac.

Air defence activity, including anti-aircraft artillery and radars was relatively light. There was no Serb aircraft activity, but 8 surface to air missiles or SAMs were launched at NATO aircraft. All NATO aircraft returned safely.

Let me now ask you to turn your attention to our air operation in Kosovo itself. Command control and communications targets in Kosovo were a radio relay site and one command post. And, on the ground in Kosovo, heavy fighting continued in the vicinity of Mount Pastrik. There was no apparent change in the relative positions of Serb and UCK forces. In spite of heavy losses, neither side seems able to prevail. Elsewhere in Kosovo the UCK is challenging Serb units who are conducting combined arms operations. Combined arms operations generically means the use of infantry, supported by tanks, artillery and/or other forces. Serb targets struck in Kosovo included tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery pieces, mortar positions, gun pits, refuelling vehicles and a troop staging area.

These are significant numbers and they come on top of several days where we have reported significant losses of Serb forces in Kosovo. The Serbs have had to concentrate their forces to mount the offensive against the UCK around Mount Pastrik. They have had some success, but they are paying a high price for doing so. As they have come out of their camouflage to conduct operations, so they have become exposed to our aircraft. That provides us with what General Jertz two days ago called a target-rich environment, and you have seen the impact in the cumulative damage that has been sustained to Serb heavy forces in Kosovo over the past week.

On the ground, the UCK continued their attempts to establish effective supply corridors. Serb forces continued border interdiction operations including the cross border artillery shelling of some Albanian villages.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes my portion of the briefing. Thank you.

Jamie Shea : Colonel Freytag, thank you. We will now take questions.

Matthew: Jamie, are there any plans for NATO officials to travel to Belgrade for talks with Yugoslav officials? And, for the Colonel, what's the state of readiness of the KFOR troops on the ground? How soon could they go into Kosovo if there was an agreement with Belgrade.

Jamie Shea : Well, Matthew, there are no plans at the present time. First of all, obviously, we will have to hear what President Ahtisaari has to report when he gets back later this afternoon. And of course we will have to ensure that the essential conditions of the international community have been fully met and that there will be of course the implementation of those conditions. So no more comments on that for the time of being.

Colonel Freytag : You know that 15-16,000 troops we have in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, designed to be the implementation force for the peace accord, they are ready to move whenever they get the order.

Greg Palkot, Fox News: Jamie, I know it's hard for you to comment on things that you don't exactly know.

Jamie Shea : Actually, Greg, it is extremely easy.

Greg: Associated Press has however come up with a translated version of the document which the Serbian parliament approved and to look at it it meets all of your specifications. It meets those critical, sacrosanct five points. And I believe you have seen this translation. Are you at least encouraged by this kind of report coming from Belgrade today?

Jamie Shea : Yes, I have seen the document that was on the wires this afternoon, but I can't vouch for it and again I believe that the wisest course of action for all concerned is to wait for President Ahtisaari and Mr Chernomyrdin to come back. President Ahtisaari, as you know, is going to brief the EU Summit and Strobe Talbott and other leaders upon his return, and then of course we will be in a better position to assess.

Greg: If this turns out to be true, would you be pleased? Would NATO be satisfied?

Jamie Shea : Yes, but again, let's hear from President Ahtisaari. He is the person who has been conducting the talks with Mr Chernomyrdin. He is the most authoritative source, more authoritative than a document on the wires, and therefore we are going to wait and listen to what he has to say first and foremost.

Question: Jamie is there maybe today going to be any NAC meeting about this document that has been approved by the Serbian parliament? You said that you are waiting for Ahtisaari, but who is going to inform the Ambassadors of NATO?

Jamie Shea : As you know, the Allies will be informed very quickly. But I cannot tell you at this time exactly when. But it will be soon, but no NAC meeting is scheduled at the moment for this afternoon.

Jake: Jamie, you or the Colonel, could you tell me what preparations have been put in hand among the troops waiting to go into Kosovo to carry out one of the first jobs which will be to disarm the KLA?

Jamie Shea : Well, as you know, we have had the best part of 12-13,000 troops in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for several months under General Jackson, so they have really had a lot of time to train for their mission. And they have been reinforced recently with two battle groups, with a lot of heavy equipment: German and British tanks, armoured personnel carriers and so on. So this is a force which is well armed as well as fully integrated and has had a lot of time to do training, including training as you know up on the border areas. So this force, which is now going up, it is just under 16,000 at the moment, is really fully ready for the mission, and I have no doubt that it will be a very strong enabling force once it is given the order to deploy, fully able to carry out the essential tasks while waiting of course for the other forces to be deployed too. We very, very much welcome the decision that was announced in Washington yesterday by the Prime Minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to allow us to station up to 30,000 forces in his country as a beefed-up enabling force. This will go ahead expeditiously so you can see NATO is fully ready for that mission.

Jake: Have you received any indications from the KLA that they are, in the wake of an agreement such as this, prepared to be disarmed by those forces?

Jamie Shea : Well, we will have to wait and see, won't we?

Colonel Freytag : I could add one aspect. General Jackson, who as a Major-General was in Bosnia one of our multinational division commanders, and his troops did an excellent job in disarming troops we did not like but they carried weapons.

Mark Laity, BBC: A couple of points. Any peace deal you have said will have to be verified before NATO air operations end. Can you give us some idea of how you can verify a withdrawal is beginning when the Serb forces will obviously think that if they come out of the trenches, they will be bombed immediately as we've just seen? So how can you actually verify the beginning of a withdrawal in a way which will satisfy their legitimate concern for safety? And also, on the question of air operations, are air operations in this interim period going to be modified in any way, targets changed, or are air operations going to continue completely unaltered?

Jamie Shea : Mark, let me make it clear that we can verify, very effectively a Yugoslav troop withdrawal from Kosovo. If we can find a camouflaged tank in a ditch and destroy it, believe me we can verify the departure of a whole army from Kosovo and specific arrangements for the verification will of course will be worked out in due course. For the time being, as I made clear in my introduction, the air operations continue. A decision to stop those operations has to be made by the North Atlantic Council together and for the time being the air operations are ongoing.

David: Just on the question of KFOR going in, there are plans now to build the force up to I think 50 - 51,000, but at what number, what is the sort of minimum number that would constitute the first unit going into Kosovo?

Jamie Shea : If I can David, though Colonel Freytag will have something to say on this too, but we are really facing an abundance of riches when it comes to this force. We have received in recent days, offers from all over Europe to participate. We have had from NATO countries such as the United States yesterday, from France, from the UK, too many countries really to name, all allies, offers to increase the numbers that they have already committed to the operation. Every day another Partner, another NATO member, makes an announcement so this is moving ahead, this is really going to be a force which will reflect the solidarity of the entire Euro Atlantic area. We are not having trouble finding soldiers and that's a very, very good sign.

As for the size of the initial deployment, that's something on which the NATO military authorities will be making their recommendations. But as I said before, we are in good shape, we already have a third of the total force pre-deployed in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, fully ready for its mission. We have a number of other NATO assets in the region, both on land and at sea, for example US Marines and, as you know, the Force Generation Conference at SHAPE on Tuesday surpassed our hopes in terms of providing the other forces and the capabilities, so we may take a few more days to have everybody together but we're going to be ready for this mission.

David: I thought in fact you said surpassing your hopes, in fact aren't you about 3,000 troops short of your desired figure in terms of commitments by Allies?

Jamie Shea : Put it this way, if you can get to within 3,000 on your first Force Generation Conference then, believe me, that's not bad going by any standards.

Doug Hamilton, Reuters: Jamie, why did the Secretary General and General Clarke cancel their trip to Aviano tomorrow with the NAC? And Colonel Freytag, could you say if you have any information, signals, intercepts, to indicate that Commanders in the field were aware of the Ahtisaari/Chernomyrdin visit and its potential importance?

Jamie Shea : Doug, obviously given the fast moving developments on the diplomatic front, clearly the Secretary General and the Ambassadors believed it would be necessary for them to remain here to be able to continue to evaluate the significance of events.

However, let me stress that NATO countries, the Secretary General, the Ambassadors, want to express to the pilots their thanks and their support, their solidarity for the very difficult and very professional mission that those pilots have carried out over the last 72 days of Operation Allied Force so I believe that it's better to talk about a trip postponed than a trip cancelled.

Colonel Freytag : I assume you mean the field commanders from Serbia?

Question: Were they aware of what did happen today? Were they aware that this could come?

Colonel Freytag : That I cannot confirm. I only can say that we have seen that two field commanders were ordered to go to Belgrade but we don't know for what reason.

Karen: Jamie Shea, yesterday you said the international force would move in as soon as the forces begin to withdraw. What is the mechanism for that? Would NATO troops for example only move in to vacated areas, demilitarised areas or would they take over barracks where Yugoslav soldiers are already present or how is that supposed to work?

Jamie Shea : Karen, again I can't give you every detail at this stage because that's something which the Council will be discussing when we get to that time, when we get to that time but, as I've mentioned, we have the forces, they're ready, they're in the area, they have their deployment plans, all of this has been worked out in advance and therefore I believe this operation will be conducted smoothly. But exactly the moment of the deployment, that is a decision which will be taken by the North Atlantic Council. I can't give you that yet.

Pierre: Jamie, la campagne va-t-elle vraiment se poursuivre aussi intensivement sur les troupes serbes au Kosovo, comme elle s'est fait - on peut dire depuis 72 heures, on a vu des bilans terribles, et y a-t-il une dcision dfinitive prise sur la KFOR, disons la KFOR+, quant son commandement unique ou double, c'est dire OTAN ou Russe?

Jamie Shea : Comme je l'ai dit - le Colonel Freytag galement - la campagne arienne se poursuit jusqu' ce que le Conseil de l'Atlantique nord dcide de l'arrt de cette campagne. Pour l'instant, cette dcision n'a pas t prise et donc la campagne avec exactement les mmes dimensions, les mmes activits se poursuit. En ce qui concerne la deuxime question, comme vous le savez, nous avons prvu une force de mise en oeuvre de la paix qui aura un noyau de l'OTAN, qui aura un systme de commande et de contrle de l'OTAN et qui aura des rgles d'engagement robuste, capable donc de mener bien la mission. Nous associons d'autres pays cette force, onze se sont dj prsents mardi la Confrence de gnration de force de SHAPE, nous esprons galement pouvoir associer la Russie cette force selon des modalits qui restent tre arrte, mais vu l'exprience trs positive que nous avons avec la Russie dans le cadre de la mission de stabilisation en Bosnie depuis quatre ans et toute l'exprience que nous avons accumul de travailler ensemble, je ne doute pas qu'une solution satisfaisante soit trouve.

Dominique Thierry, RFI: Dans quelle mesure est-ce que des contacts sont absolument ncessaires entre les responsables de l'OTAN, notamment les responsables militaires, et les yougoslaves avant le dploiement ou tout au dbut de dploiement. Est-ce que ces contacts sont une condition sine qua non?

Jamie Shea : J'ai vu a comme vous l'avez galement dans une dpche d'aujourd'hui mais je crois qu'il faut attendre l'valuation de l'acceptation par Belgrade des conditions essentielles de la communaut internationale avant de commenter. Pour l'instant je ne peux pas en dire plus.

Dominique: Est-ce que thoriquement de tels contacts sont ncessaires pour que l'opration de dploiement des troupes au Kosovo puisse se faire. Est-ce qu'il faudrait une rencontre ... ?

Jamie: S'il est important d'avoir ce contact pour arrter des modalits techniques et pratiques de mise en oeuvre, je ne vois pas de raison pour ne pas les avoir. Une fois de plus j'insiste que pour l'instant il ne faut pas brler les tapes, mon cher, il faut d'abord attendre voir dans quelle mesure les conditions de la communaut internationale sont satisfaites. Voila le point le plus foNot interpreted.

Freddie Bonnart: Two points, one has been mentioned before but let me ask one direct military question. You gave us, Konrad, or your predecessor there, gave us the equipment losses of the Serb forces in Kosovo and in fact in Yugoslavia generally. Is there an estimation of the personnel losses? Of these 40,000 in Kosovo, how many are now expected to have been reduced or reduced by? That's one question. The second one is a more general one but it's also partly military. You say that one third, Jamie, of the forces destined to go in are present and trained and so on, but two thirds are not in fact and these two thirds that have already been offered come from different national contingents and will not have been trained for that particular purpose. How long does one expect, if these talks are now successful and the move in, the political situation is ready for a move, then how long will it be before the adequate force will be available?

Colonel Freytag : We saw the reports that the Serbs themselves had confirmed about 1,800 losses, but our estimate is much higher, losses and injured people, far more than 10,000 and we see them bringing in fresh forces in particular in the Mount Pastrik area and we see them bring in forces with more modern equipment than before like T84 tanks, so the battle is not over there.

Jamie Shea : Freddie, as far as the question of the availability of forces is concerned, I think again we are preparing quickly. You remember that the original concept was for 28,000 and the troops that were not already in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia were on short notice standby in Alliance nations to move and those forces of course are still part of the overall concept. The forces for example that President Clinton announced yesterday, we know from the Pentagon briefing are coming predominantly from Germany, so they are close by. We have now a number of countries which are actively preparing the forces they are going to contribute for the mission and we are in touch with neighbouring countries to sort out transit arrangements. So believe me, this is being given the priority that it deserves.

Roy Gutman, Newsday: In the published report of the NATO plan, Serbian forces at border posts will be in small numbers. Leaving aside the nature of the plan itself, is this an accurate position?

Jamie Shea : The position of the international community is that initially in the first instance all those forces, Serb forces, military, paramilitary, police, must withdraw. And again I am not going to vouch for a document which is in the wires. Let us again wait and hear from President Ahtisaari all the details when he comes back and I am not going to comment further before then.

Colonel Freytag : I want to make one point clear. The Serb forces are responsible for the mine laying so they will be responsible for the mine taking out.

Go to Homepage Go to Index