|Updated: 4 May 1999||Morning Briefings|
4 May 1999
By Jamie Shea, NATO Spokesman
As you know, our strategy is to pin down these fielded forces, cut them off and take them out, and General Jertz today will expand on that strategic thinking and up-date you on our progress to date. But I would like to emphasise already this morning that we are pinning those forces down. Last night we continued our pursuit of Milosevic's regular army and his special police forces, once again attacking the full range of fielded forces in Kosovo, including armoured vehicles, artillery positions, command posts, radar sites, surface to air missile support vehicles and troops. The weather was favourable for most of last night as well.
Secondly I would like to emphasise that we are cutting those forces off. Even as we pressed the attack against those fielded forces, other NATO aircraft were involved in pushing our attacks against the strategic targets throughout Yugoslavia, the aim being to isolate those fielded forces even further and cut them off from their commanders and their supplies. We struck hard at command centres, we attacked the Mount Vala national command bunker, we attacked military command bunkers at Rakovica and Pristina, and we attacked the special police headquarters at Valjevo.
We also went after many elements of the Yugoslav military communication links. We attacked radio relay stations, satellite communication facilities and transmitter sites at Uzetza, Ivanica, Novi Sad and Korjerec. We also attacked a number of supply depots and lines of communications that Belgrade uses to resupply their fielded forces. We attacked in this respect the fuel depot at Porzec, the ordnance repair centre at Kacak, and the highway bridge at Bari.
And I would like thirdly and finally to emphasise that we are taking those fielded forces out.
On top of the wide variety of military equipment, such as tanks and artillery, military vehicles that were struck by NATO aircraft in the last 24 hours, we also attacked Yugoslav aircraft, we have concentrated attacks at two airfields, the first at Ponikve and the second at Obrva. I would also like to inform you that all NATO aircraft returned safely to their bases.
Finally, before going to questions, I would like to inform you, as I mentioned yesterday, that the out-going Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, General Klaus Nauman, a familiar figure to most of you, if not all, will come down this afternoon at 4.30 to give a press conference, his final press conference as Chairman of the NATO Military Committee. There will be a formal handover ceremony here on Thursday morning, I will give you details later on for that, when he will be succeeded, as you know, by Admiral Venturoni of Italy. So today, 3.00 and 4.30 for the press events and I hope at 3.00 pm also to be able to give you the final programme for the visit of President Clinton to NATO headquarters in the morning.
Jonathan: Two things. Could you say a little more on this alleged incident of NATO striking a bus yesterday? And also there are press reports from the States suggesting that the increase in Alliance warplanes being damaged or whatever, 3 or 4 in the last few days, is indicative of them flying lower. Now I know you are very reticent about giving altitudes, I am not asking for specific altitudes, but are NATO planes beginning to fly rather lower than they have been in the past, particularly against targets such as fielded forces in Kosovo?
Jamie Shea: Thanks for those questions. First of all on this bus incident, last night, yesterday afternoon, last night throughout the night the NATO military commanders have conducted an exhaustive, a thorough check of every attack that we carried out yesterday. All pilots have been interviewed, all of the gun camera footage has been reviewed, at least appropriate to the particular geographical area, and I can state today that we can find no evidence, I repeat no evidence, of any NATO involvement in this incident.
I think that if you look at the number of sorties that we have carried out, well over 14,000 and probably closer to 15,000 after last night's operations, the number of NATO aircraft which have been hit by bullets or anti-aircraft fire is extremely small. And I would see the answer here Jonathan, not a question of altitudes, and I am not going to comment on altitudes, but simply a question of the intensity of our air operations, and also of the fact that the Yugoslavs in the last few days have been using their air defence a lot more, in other words they are firing everything they can get their hands on up into the air, there has been more activity in terms of launching Sams and classical anti-aircraft fire, even if much of it is unguided by radar systems, because we have jammed those radar systems quite effectively. And so obviously if you are saturating your airspace with anti-aircraft tracer fire, the chances are that a NATO aircraft may be hit sooner or later, that is obvious. Fortunately in many cases as you know the NATO aircraft have managed to make emergency landings, the pilots are OK and as you know in the two instances where aircraft crashed, although we do not have definitive accounts as to how that happened, the two pilots were rescued. So I think that is the explanation rather than the question of altitude, which I don't want to comment on.
George: Could you say some words on the recent developments on the diplomatic field, you know something on these famous 4 points of Milosevic and also the result of Chernomyrdin in Washington. Do you have any comment, any reaction? And also there was a report that the American President announced the possibility that the airstrikes might be suspended temporarily, is it some American initiative or something which was discussed or envisaged already inside NATO?
Jamie Shea: No, I think the President's remarks, which I heard, were very clear yesterday and as you know other senior US officials have also confirmed what the President said, which is that Milosevic must meet the 5 conditions of the international community. President Clinton was totally unambivalent on that yesterday afternoon. The five are: stop the killing; Serb troops out; international force in; return of all refugees; and political settlement on the basis of Rambouillet. And I also think that the President was very clear too that what we are looking for is equally clear and equally unambivalent evidence that Milosevic is not only affirming that he is going to meet those 5 conditions verbally, but that he also shows action in terms of beginning to withdraw those forces and making it clear that those forces are leaving, and all of them are leaving. So our conditions are clear, the President restated those conditions yesterday and I don't think you can see this as implying any change from our previous position.
Secondly, on the diplomatic front, well obviously I have always made it clear that we want a diplomatic solution here and we are going to join every effort to achieve a diplomatic solution provided that it is on the basis of those 5 conditions. At the risk of repeating what I always say, but sometimes repetition is not a bad thing, we believe that anything short of those 5 conditions would not represent a solution, it would represent perhaps some sort of temporary relief, but we would soon be back in the same problems where we are today. Those 5 conditions is a sine qua non of achieving peace, not just peace but peace with justice. You see for us peace is important, but peace to last has to be peace with justice and only those 5 conditions deliver peace with justice.
Of course the talks between Russia and NATO Allies are going to go on. As you know, the G8 I understand had a successful meeting at the level of Political Directors, Mr Chernomyrdin goes up to New York today to see the UN Secretary General. We are very pleased that Russia is engaging with us in such a forthright way to work through the differences that we may have to try to achieve, and we hope we can achieve, a common position. The Allies are also engaging with Russia, as you know we are going to continue that effort, but my feeling is we are not quite there yet, I think that is the sense, but obviously the work is going to go on.
Julie: There was a report about a missile strike at the Morina command post, the border post between Albania and Kosovo, I wonder if you could fill us in on that? And secondly, there has been, or there seems to be, an increased activity on the part of Yugoslav troops in terms of their air defences, is there any indication that they have been holding them in abeyance until the Allied troops fly lower?
Jamie Shea: On the first one, one of the big problems that we have had in recent days is the fact that Serbs consistently shell villages in northern Albania, and as I have said the problem is not only is that a violation of Albanian territory, but secondly many refugees are in that area, particularly in Kukes, about 140,000, and they are obviously at risk from that kind of activity, and in fact some members of the international relief organisations have come close to being injured a few days ago in this shelling. So clearly we are going to do what we can to destroy those artillery pieces close to the border which are responsible for that firing, and that was what we were doing the other day because those artillery are very close to the border.
Julie: that they were going after?
Jamie Shea: Yes, we go after Serb artillery, mortars and all of that, which are lobbying shells into Albania and the Serbs have already terrorised the Kosovar Albanian population inside Kosovo and I think it is rather macabre that they continue to threaten them with these shells once they are outside Kosovo. It is bad enough that they are condemned to be refugees, albeit temporarily, without having then to suffer the added danger of being shelled by artillery across the border. So we will continue to do that, naturally.
On the business of the air defence, I think I gave my answer there when I hopefully answered Jonathan a moment ago, that the Serbs of course have a big air defence, we have known about that all along, and obviously they will try to use it to the best of their ability. But I think the fact that they have achieved so few hits in so many thousands of sorties by NATO aircraft night, after night, after night, particularly given the enormous number of NATO aircraft which are now flying 24 hours a day, shows that we have got that problem under control even if we can't eliminate all risks, as you know. And there is always a chance, as I said earlier, of an air defence system hitting a NATO plane because of a lucky strike, that is why our pilots have to continue to strike the air defence every night because it is something that you can never say that you have entirely eliminated. The Yugoslavs can always try to patch it back together again, maybe not as an effective air defence for the whole country, but to give it local effectiveness and it is something we take very seriously, and we take our pilot protection very seriously.
John: If my memory serves me, we haven't heard anything in the past couple of days about the hundreds of thousands of displaced people inside Kosovo. At one point there were discussions in the NAC I believe about whether an air drop of relief assistance to these people was feasible. Are those discussions still going on?
Jamie Shea: John, those discussions are still going on and I did yesterday spend some time in my briefing dwelling on the plight of Prizren and the 50,000 people who have been displaced from Prizren, which is the latest town cleansing operation that we know about, and which is now well documented by the way and we have got lots of evidence now, not just from refugees but from international organisations too on the plight of those poor people. Clearly this remains a major concern, we know that, but I have to come back to my fundamental point that aid drops, if they are to be done, carry great risks, we know about those. Even if they were done in a very intensive way, they would not succeed in bringing food to all of these displaced people. And why are they suffering? They are suffering of course because they are being moved around by Milosevic, because they have been ordered out of their homes, and because the Serbs as I said yesterday, according to the World Food Programme, are refusing to sell them food or supplies, or even burning food shops which they used to frequent.
Clearly the refugees that are arriving in neighbouring countries are in a worse physical condition than what happened some time ago. This makes us all the more determined obviously to carry on and drive the Serb forces out of Kosovo, because the only way we can address this humanitarian crisis is by stopping the fighting. It is like that old Chinese proverb of feeding a person for a day with a fish or teaching that person to fish, and we have to go for the fundamental solution of this problem. But again, this is something that is still under review. But even the international aid organisations acknowledge that if NATO began to air drop food, not only is there no guarantee that it would actually get to the right people of course, but it would also help the Serbs to better locate where these internally displaced people actually are and therefore they would then be able to move against them, and that is again a risk that you have to factor into all this. The best way we can help these people is to stop the fighting and that is by the way what these people want us to do.
MTV: There were reports saying that Yugoslav forces from time to time attack NATO soldiers in Macedonia along the border, and there were some reports saying that this caused some concern on the NATO side. Do you have any further information on that about the situation on the Macedonian side?
Jamie Shea: We know of course, as you do, that three US Servicemen, now thankfully free, were captured by Yugoslav forces in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, so this is certainly a threat that we take seriously, but most of the incidents that have occurred in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have been people who maybe are sympathetic to Belgrade, ethnic Serbs living there, who have stoned the vehicles of KFOR troops while they have been driving up and down. Obviously this is something that we take seriously because we are very concerned with force protection and we have looked into safety regulations for our forces to ensure that they are not exposed to this type of risk. But I think the problem has been more at that level than at the level of infiltrations of Yugoslav forces or deliberate military attacks, but obviously force protection is an extremely important criterion.
Patricia: We are hearing reports from the United States that the NATO or the US, and this isn't clear, who holds the two Yugoslav military prisoners, first of all is it NATO or is it the United States?
Jamie Shea: Patricia, I said the other day if you remember, I was asked this question and I said they were in the custody of the US military authorities and the US military authorities have the responsibility for that decision.
Patricia: So what are you hearing about whether they will be released?
Jamie Shea: I have absolutely no comments on that and I have no information either. That is something that you will have to address to the US military authorities.
Patricia: And why is it US military when they are part of a NATO operation?
Jamie Shea: Because they happen to be in the hands of the US military authorities and the US military authorities will take the decision in that case.
Patricia: Even though they are part of a NATO operation?
Jamie Shea: Yes.