Updated: 16 May 1999 Morning Briefings


16 May 1999

Morning Briefing

By Jamie Shea

Jamie Shea : Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning. Welcome to the morning operational update. As you know, yesterday was Day 53 of Operation Allied Force. The NATO aircraft focused their attacks against Serb forces in south and south-eastern Kosovo, particularly in the areas of Junic, Prahovo, Boljevac, West Rogovo and Pristina. Once again, there was a focus on the Serb forces deployed in the field in Kosovo. As you've seen from the update that we distributed to you earlier, the NATO aircraft struck 6 tanks and also focused on armoured vehicles, artillery pieces, other military vehicles, troop concentrations and military storage and command-and-control facilities.

I can give you a little bit more detail now than what we had in the morning update: mortars and military vehicles were struck near Srbica. Artillery and armoured vehicles were struck near Decani and near Prizren; we were able to target concentrated artillery near Urosevac and also military vehicles and troops units near Stimlje.

Yesterday, the weather was generally good but it became worse late in the day and this resulted in the cancellation of some sorties. The NATO strikes knocked out the electrical power transformers supplying the Smederevo iron and steel plant and the Bor copper smelter and refinery.

As you know, apart from the attacks in Kosovo itself, there were also attacks against strategic targets elsewhere - a military radio relay site at Urosevac and highway bridges in five different locations. Two we gave you in the morning update earlier on - that is Kosmaca and Kursumilija, but there were also bridges which were struck at Vladicin, Svetozarevo and Cuprija. Three border posts - one at Kazazak but also at Cestak and near Djakovica. An ammunition storage site at Boljevac, a military storage area at Besinje and an army barracks and command post at Pristina. We also struck at three different command-and-control locations at Uzice, Krusevac and at Novi Sad and as you know from the morning update, petroleum storage sites at Prahovo, Batajnica, Padinska, Bor and also Novi Sad.

All aircraft, as we reported earlier, returned safely and for those of you who like statistics, the number of sorties flown in toto is now 21,903, strike sorties 7,710. But if you take away from those strike sorties the ones which are aimed at suppressing air defence, you have a total of 5,912.

A few other pieces of information for you today just so that you are fully aware of what is happening:

This afternoon, a Russian team will be arriving in Albania to begin another inspection under the Vienna Document 1994. You will recall that last week there was one that was conducted by Russia in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Once again, NATO will co-operate fully with that routine inspection in Albania.

As far as the humanitarian situation is concerned, AFOR staff are working now with the UNHCR in Tirana to assist in the UNHCR long-term planning, once again the main focus being to move at least 1,000 refugees a day from Kukes up in the north to the camps which are now being constructed elsewhere in Albania and which are in safer locations. The idea is to move those 1,000 refugees a day, beginning on 20th May so just in a few days' time. In particular to two camps which are now ready - one called Rushwall and the other one is called Fier and the German engineers that are also part of AFOR should complete engineering work on the Quatrum Camp today so that will be a third camp available to help with this evacuation.

Those are the main points I have for you at the moment. Just a few questions but needless to say I will be back with General Jertz at 3 p.m.

Question: The Italian Prime Minister, Mr. d'Alema proposed in an interview published today that NATO should decide a unilateral truce if Russia and China agree the text of a UN resolution on Kosovo. What is NATO's position on this proposal?

Jamie Shea : NATO, of course, welcomes all diplomatic initiatives that can help to resolve this crisis on the basis of the five conditions of the international community without which the crisis cannot be resolved, but only postponed, and that is what we do not want. And as you know, NATO's policy - the policy of all NATO governments - is to continue this operation until such time as President Milosevic accepts the five conditions. Any diplomatic process which can hasten the moment when President Milosevic will accept the five conditions, particularly via a UN Security Council Resolution, would be welcome.

Philippe: Jamie, est-ce que les Apaches ont taient mis sous le commandement de l'OTAN ou est-ce qu'ils sont toujours sous le commandement amricain ? Et dans ce cas, est-ce que pour qu'ils soient engags au Kosovo il faut qu'ils soient sous le commandement de l'OTAN et pas amricain ? Parce-que vu que Clark a la double casquette, c'est pas trs clair.

Jamie Shea : Oui. Ma comprhension des choses, Philippe, c'est que les Apaches sont toujours sous le contrle oprationnel des Etats-Unis et c'est aux Etats-Unis de transfrer le commandement l'OTAN en temps donn au moment opportun. Mais je dois insister sur le fait que les Apaches ont complts leur entrainement, leur prparation et comme le Pentagon a rendu clair l'autre jour, ces Apaches sont maintenant pleinement oprationnel. Mais le "timing" bien sr de leur intervention dpendra des commandements de l'OTAN en consultation bien sr avec le gouvernement des Etats-Unis. Mais ceci c'est une procdure, rien de plus. Simplement une procdure.

Mark Laity, BBC: Do you have a sorties total to give us now because I know you logged some strikes, so just to give us an idea of how the operations were affected? Also, would it be possible just to get an updated list because the World Service occasionally loves having these names even though they can't pronounce them any better than the rest of us?

Jamie Shea : Mark, an updated list is no problem at all because my pronunciation is far worse than the BBC World Service, as you know, so I am quite happy to give you the spelling. That's the first one. On the second one, no, I don't yet. I always try to get these things but I don't yet have the sortie total but I am sure General Jertz will have that at 3 p.m.

Julie: Could you comment on the status of the Apaches and can you also shed some light on reports that have been published that General Clark is pressing for the Apaches to enter into the combat and that he is getting resistance from the Pentagon Joint Chiefs-of-Staff and Secretary Cohen?

Jamie Shea : I have seen those reports but as far I am concerned - and General Jertz I am sure will confirm this from the SHAPE perspective this afternoon - is that the Apaches have been deployed. There has been intensive training obviously because this is a terrain with which the pilots have to be fully familiar. They have got to be prepared for this mission obviously and so you would understand that they had to undertake some training. The Pentagon, as I said in reply to Philippe a second ago, has announced that now the training is completed, the aircraft are already operational and it is up to SACEUR, in conjunction with the US Government, to decide on the exact moment and timing of their employment but I am not aware of any problem in that respect. As I said to Philippe, it is simply a procedural question.

John: I know you've said many times that NATO does not either directly or indirectly support the KLA but would you care to comment on newspaper reports today that British and US special operations teams are working alongside KLA fighters under an Operation called Picnic?

Jamie Shea : No, I would not care. Thanks for the offer, John, but I would not care to comment on those newspaper reports.

Rick: My map is not very good but I was doing some numbers while you were giving the statistics about the number of sorties flown, the number of strike sorties, the number of strikes against Serb air defence systems. So, just under 1800 strikes against Serb air defence systems in almost two months. What kind of air defence capabilities do the Serbs still have and the question I think is important so that maybe we can gauge when NATO planes might be able to dip down to lower altitudes and eliminate some of the mistakes that we have seen?

Jamie Shea : Okay, Rick, first of all the Serb air defence systems have been very seriously degraded when it comes to the central command-and-control, the ability to track NATO aircraft arriving in the theatre, the ability to direct radar-guided fire against those aircraft in a systematic way. That has been severely downgraded. On the other hand, the air defence is something like Lego - you can always sort of find a way of patching something back together by moving radars around and having a local tactical effectiveness even if your countrywide cover has been seriously depleted. So, clearly, this is something that NATO will always take seriously. We will never become complacent about air defence, otherwise we would start losing planes. But, thankfully, thus far, as you know, we have lost relatively few and particularly when you consider the enormous number of sorties that we have flown.

The other thing is that the ability now to operate 360 degrees around Yugoslavia, in other words to bring planes in from a variety of different directions, will help to further confuse and overwhelm the Yugoslav air defence. It will take us away from a kind of routine entry point procedure which the Serb air defence could obviously exploit, so that is very important as well. But they have a variety of different systems including the manned portable-type systems which we have to respect.

The second point I would like to make is that I am not going to comment on altitude, that is an operational matter. But I would like to get away from this idea that because of the altitudes at which we fly we cannot hit targets accurately. This is wrong. We have pointed out in previous briefings, we have fired an immense number of missiles and ordnance at targets throughout Yugoslavia. In 99.99 per cent of cases, whatever altitude the NATO planes have been flying at, those targets have been hit accurately and I am not just talking about large immovable objects like oil refineries, I am talking about tanks, troops concentrations, artillery in the field and even in an instance where civilians have been killed that does not mean that the military target was not hit accurately. It was. So I don't believe that there is a correlation between the altitudes at which we fly and our ability to be accurate. We are being accurate - that is the main point - at least in the overwhelming majority of cases and we will continue to be so.

John: Just to follow that up, Jamie, have any efforts been made over the last 48 hours or so following the attack on Kerisa to better try to establish whether or not there are any human shields being deployed to try to prevent the sort of public relations problems which NATO suffered from that attack?

Jamie Shea : John, obviously we are going to continue to take every endeavour to make sure that we have got the best intelligence that we can and I think so far our record on all of these military targets has been good. And secondly, of course pilots will, as always, verify the target before attacking and that certainly happened in the case in point which you referred to. We know that we are up against an adversary that has no scruples when it comes to using civilians as human shields. I have pointed to a number of examples over the last few weeks of people being rounded up and put in industrial plants for instance. I referred to this already weeks ago; secondly, people being put on bridges or under bridges. We know very well of mixed military and civilian convoys, so human shields are a factor but they are not obviously going to stop us continuing this air operation. That's the key point. We are going to continue the air operation. From what you saw last night it's clear that we are going ahead, but again I reiterate: we will never. never intentionally target civilians. The other day, when I was last here on Friday, I reported on a case where on two occasions last Thursday NATO pilots, although having a legitimate military target on the ground to strike at, aborted their operations because they could not discount the risk of hitting civilians and we continue to make every effort to avoid inflicting any casualties on civilians.

Yes, we take one final one and I'll be back at three o'clock.

Question: Jamie, some weeks ago, you told us that General Mladic war crimes were involved also in operations in Kosovo. Since then, do you have any news of these war criminals that are in Kosovo?

Jamie Shea : No, I don't have any further information about the activities of General Mladic and his supporters but all I am saying - and I continue to make this point - is that once the conflict is over, the International Criminal Tribunal will have of course unrestricted access to Kosovo and it will be able to conduct an extremely thorough investigation and I would not be surprised - and this is an understatement - if several further indictments against those responsible were made.

Having said that, of course the Government of Belgrade has a responsibility under the UN and international law to hand over to the Tribunal all of those people on its territory that have been formally indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal.

Thank you very much, I will see you at three o'clock.

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