Updated: 13 May 1999 Morning Briefings


13 May 1999

Morning Briefing

By Jamie Shea, NATO Spokesman

Jamie Shea : Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning, welcome to our morning update. I hope, in the usual way, that you have been given the basic details already on paper regarding our overnight operations.

As you know, reality does not often come to President Milosevic but there are signs today that he is now recognising the fact that his activities in Kosovo and the NATO air operation are both taking an increasingly heavy toll of his forces on the ground. We are being increasingly effective in destroying their equipment and disrupting their operations and yesterday President Milosevic acknowledged that. He said, if I can quote him: "In that struggle, many of your members (that's his armed forces) bravely gave their lives and their sacrifice and that is a bright example of their heroism and loyalty to their people and fatherland!" but I would like to point out that those sacrifices are wholly unnecessary and if sacrifices there have been, they are to President Milosevic's quest to remain in power and keep his grip on Yugoslavia than out of any displaced sense of loyalty to the fatherland because President Milosevic could have avoided those lives being spent, he could have agreed to the countless offers of the international community to help him to settle the crisis in Kosovo peacefully over the best part of 12 months. Even his adversary, the Kosovo Liberation Army, signed the Rambouillet peace agreement and they declared that they were also willing to seek a peaceful solution so let us therefore not speak, please, of "misplaced patriotism or sacrifice", it is Milosevic who has sacrificed those troops, nobody else.

NATO leaders are all together in lock-step in their resolve to end the ethnic cleansing once and for all. Last night, as you know, Chancellor Schrder spoke from Beijing and made it clear that NATO's goals are totally unchanged; today, President Chirac will speak from Moscow at 4 p.m. Brussels time about the continuing efforts of all of the Allies to encourage Russian help in persuading Milosevic to accept the non-negotiable five essential demands of the international community. Prime Minister Blair is addressing the people of Aachen while receiving the Charlemagne Prize today at 12 p.m. and he will say - and I quote from his speech which we have distributed to you in advance - "No compromise, no fudge, no half-baked deals!"; and President Clinton is going to address the National Defense University in the United States on Kosovo at 4.45 p.m. Brussels time.

Over the last 24 hours, the pressure on Milosevic and on his armed forces on the ground in Kosovo has continued. We have taken advantage of continuing good weather through the daytime hours to bear down on the forces on the ground - our key objective at the moment - and we have attacked armoured vehicles, riveted military vehicles, artillery and mortar positions; we also attacked a surface-to-air transloader, a logistics staging area and a tunnel complex. As you know from the details that we provided, military communication sites were struck at Kosovska, Novi Sud and Stara Azerva and highway bridges at Milasevo, West Olate and East Orlate.

At the same time, we continued to focus on the Yugoslav Air Force, destroying another five planes on the ground yesterday during attacks at two airfields - Bajenica and Obvra. This takes the total of aircraft destroyed by NATO forces to 100. The weather did take a turn for the worse at night but nonetheless our forces continued to attack the targets which I have outlined so we continued throughout the day and also throughout the night. I am happy to report that all aircraft returned safely to their bases.

This afternoon, General Jertz will be here of course to give you the usual update and he will be joined today by Command Maltinti from SHAPE - you are familiar with him - who comes occasionally to give you the detailed briefing on the humanitarian efforts. That is all I have for the time being and now I am happy to take your questions.

Julie: Jamie, is there any sense of concern here and sense of alarm at the proliferation of diplomatic efforts, diplomatic fronts that are growing now with the Finnish being enlisted?

Jamie Shea : No. As long as everybody is working towards persuading President Milosevic to accept the five key conditions the better but we again reiterate that the diplomacy to be successful has to be focused on those five conditions and nothing else. If President Milosevic is hearing a deafening crescendo of voices telling him that he has to accept those five conditions, then so much the better but I think that the main focus obviously is going to continue to be in the G8, which is going to be meeting tomorrow to work on the draft UN Security Council resolution, the Allies and Russia working together. Any supporting efforts will be welcome in that process of course.

Question : Jamie, yesterday there was a statement about the damage to the Yugoslav Army by the Belgian authorities and the numbers were not in accordance with what General Jertz told us. I think it was discussed yesterday too and the answer was they were outdated but the Belgian authorities say they have a different system so are they going to review these numbers or are they going to get some more details and explanation on that?

Jamie Shea : The numbers that we give - and you heard General Shelton of the United States in his briefing to the Senate yesterday give the same numbers as us - are the numbers of our military commanders after painstaking battle-damage assessment, they are the figures provided by a multinational military command to all of the 19 allies and so those are the figures which as far as we are concerned are the authoritative authentic figures. I am not going to comment on any other figures which national services may come up with, I am going to go on the figures of our own NATO commanders and I am happy to do that.

Mark Laity (BBC): Could you just give us, if you have got them, any sortie figures and the amount of ground strikes there were so that we can get an idea of the pace of the attacks and also whether there was any indication of the success of the attacks in Kosovo yesterday, the waves that were cancelled, if you have got a total sortie number?

Jamie Shea : No Mark, I don't have that information at the moment. I was on to SHAPE before coming here and it will be available and I will give it to you and everybody else as soon as we get it in. In fact, we don't have to wait for the 3 o'clock briefing, I should have those details in just a few moments but I didn't want to keep you waiting further this morning.

John: You started off talking about Milosevic getting a picture of the reality of the situation. I want to refer to a speech that Mr. Blair made on Monday where he implied that the media no longer - or perhaps never had - presented a full picture of what was going on in Yugoslavia. I wonder if that is your opinion too and if so, why and whose fault it is? Is NATO not getting its message across, are the Serbs better at getting their message across, what is the problem?

Jamie Shea : John, I don't think there is a problem here, I think we are getting our message across and will continue to do so. Rightly, we want to focus the attention of public opinion on the fundamentals, on the realities and it is true, particularly in a campaign that has gone on now for some weeks, that the news of the day can sometimes obscure the underlying reality, we can concentrate on the part of the iceberg that emerges and forget that an iceberg is really three-quarters what is submerged, what is less visible and I don't want anybody ever to lose sight of that submerged part of the iceberg, in other words the things that are not shown every day on tv but which at the end of the day are the fundamentals of this conflict, that is to say the suffering of the people in Kosovo which is on a scale much greater than any other type of civilian casualty even though I am the first person here to say that any civilian life has the same value obviously but we have to remind people of why we are doing this operation, the fact that there are - not on tv but nonetheless taking place in Kosovo every day - shellings of internally-displaced persons, further forced expulsions, further operations of the Serb security forces, and it is to stop that that we are going to continue this operation.

Question : Jamie, could you provide an update on the status of planning for any eventual KFOR deployment? Obviously there are still a lot of unanswered questions - you don't know exactly what environment you will be going into, you don't know exactly which nations will participate - but if Milosevic were to shock us by accepting all five conditions today or tomorrow, how long would it take to get everything buttoned up and be ready to go?

Jamie Shea : First of all, I don't think Milosevic will shock us when he accepts the five conditions, he is going to accept those five conditions and so it won't come as a surprise when it happens, it will simply be a belated acknowledgement of reality and if he had simply faced up to that reality earlier he could have saved not only the international community but his own people an enormous amount of sacrifice, all those soldiers who have died unnecessarily when there was a political solution available all along and a lot of suffering to his own people so believe me, that won't be a shock when it comes.

As to your question of are we going to be ready, yes. The North Atlantic Council has now been working with the military authorities to look at the parameters of KFOR, to see what are the tasks that it may have to perform when it obviously will enter Kosovo immediately once Milosevic has accepted the five conditions and withdrawn his troops; we are mindful of the fact that there has been an evolution in the situation over the last couple of months and there are many different tasks that we have to look at, tasks not only of an exclusively military kind but tasks relating of course to mines, to the resettlement of refugees, to helping setting up the transitional authority that is going to be established, tasks in dealing with reconnecting lines of communication, supplies and the rest. Kosovo, unfortunately, is not going to be a very pleasant place, there is going to be a lot to do so that those refugees can not only go back but actually resume their lives: physical reconstruction of burnt-out buildings and the rest, winterisation of those buildings, so there are other tasks.

At the moment, we are looking at that and we are going to have to see how many of those tasks will fall to a military force and how many will be taken on by the OSCE, by the European Union, by the UN or other organisations that will be involved so that is planning work which is ongoing at the moment and after that work has been done we can then look a little bit at the question of the troop-to-task ratio and the size of an overall force; no conclusions have been drawn up yet but we are doing that actively and we are ready. We have got 16,000 forces in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - that is the enabling force which is building up which is training for its mission - and believe me, we don't intend to leave any vacuum in Kosovo once the Serb forces have withdrawn, the international presence has to be ready to deploy very quickly and we are preparing for that.

Paul: First of all, the planes that were hit last night, do you have any details on the type of plane? Secondly, you mentioned a hundred planes destroyed overall, do you have any breakdown about types of planes, fixed-wing or whatever and thirdly what is a transloader?

Jamie Shea : That is a good question! (laughter) First of all, on the planes I will give you full details or General Jertz will when he comes today and a breakdown on the figure we can supply as well. As for a transloader, I believe it is a piece of equipment that transports military equipment but my military authorities will clarify that.

Jamie Shea : First of all on the troops: there have been reports I believe on AP this morning that say that some 250 may have left, these are unconfirmed reports. If that is true, that would be good news to the extent that that would be 250 less to burn villages, to expel the civilian population, to shell internally-displaced persons but at the same time, that would represent less than half of one per cent of what the Serb forces have in Kosovo and therefore I wouldn't even dignify that with the term "partial withdrawal", I would still say no withdrawal at all to that.

As for the "visit and search" regime, that is still being finalised by the Military Committee and when I have something new on that I will not wait for your questions but I will inform you.

Doug: Jamie, a short possibly futile question but I think it is the first time that Slobodan Milosevic talks of "many dead". NATO has never tried to estimate. Can you estimate how many military dead Yugoslavia may have suffered?

Jamie Shea : No, I don't have that figure quite frankly but the fact that Milosevic is indicating it suggests that it is significant, otherwise why would he bother to mention it and try to cloud it in the rhetoric of sacrifice to the fatherland and it also suggests that he is realising that his army is being melted away.

Yesterday, people said to me: "Isn't Milosevic meeting his objectives, isn't he being successful in meeting his objectives?" and I think what Milosevic is now saying implies that he himself is not very confident that he is meeting his objectives. His forces are being pounded every night, he is admitting to heavy losses, every day he sees another percentage of his army being stripped away and at the end of the day that is the basis of his power. His economy is in a nosedive, he has to sleep in a different bunker every night, himself, his family, his political business associates are outlaws who cannot get visas to travel to most of the civilised countries of the international community; he has to fear a war crimes indictment - Louse Arbour made clear just the other day the possibility of that happening, that would make him a fugitive for the rest of his life. He came to power with a pledge to keep Yugoslavia together but instead he has been responsible for it falling apart; he pledged to defend the interests of Serbs and yet everywhere - in Croatia, in Bosnia, in Kosovo - they have suffered under his rule and not because of foreign invasion but because of internal mismanagement for the first time in the history of the Serb people. He came to power pledging to preserve a Serb presence in Kosovo but the climate of insecurity and the violence he has unleashed has forced most of the Serb population there to flee. So generally, if this is what constitutes success in meeting your objectives, give me failure any day! I will see you at 3 o'clock. Thank you!

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