Updated: 23 May 1999 Morning Briefings


23 May 1999

Morning Briefing

By Jamie Shea

Jamie Shea : I will just give you the quick operational up-date overnight. First of all let me give you the one piece of news that you didn't get in your information sheet this morning, which is that last night we flew 652 sorties, 222 of those were strike sorties and that is strike sorties without air defence, and 79 were strike sorties against air defence, so all in all 301 were strike sorties in the total out of a total of 652, so as you can see somewhat very slightly below 50%. So it was quite an intensive night of air operations and that brings now the number of sorties since the beginning of Operation Allied Force to over 25,000.

As you could see, yesterday we continued to enjoy favourable weather, it was Day 60 of Operation Allied Force and again the focus was very much on the fielded forces of the Yugoslav Army in Kosovo. You have seen that we struck at least 9 armoured vehicles, 10 artillery positions, tanks and other military vehicles. In addition we struck at 3 parked aircraft, 2 SA6 surface to air missile transporters and launcher vehicles, and also a radar site. Other facilities that were attacked that directly support the Serb forces in Kosovo were a command post at Rakovica and ammunition storage sites at Urosevac, Kosovska Mitrovica and Srebscka Mitrovica.

You have seen also that our aircraft attacked petroleum storage sites at Smedorevo and Leskovac. We also attacked TV and radio transmitters and radio relay sites at Kula, Kacanik Bodeva and Preprolac. In addition yesterday evening NATO aircraft struck at a special MUP police depot in Belgrade and an electrical power transformer yard at Obrarnova. Again I am happy to be able to announce that all of the NATO aircraft returned safely to their bases. Today as you know is Day 61 and the operations are already under way.

And as always I end with my usual announcement that there will be the usual press briefing at 3.00 this afternoon. General Jertz doesn't have a day off today so he is going to be back with me then.

Nick: Just a point of detail. The three parked aircraft, do you have any details on what they were? Can we assume they were military aircraft?

Jamie Shea : Yes, I think you can safely assume they were military aircraft but would hope that General Jertz will have the details at 3.00.

Jake: On the barracks, according to our correspondent in Albania, the Kosare barracks has been in KLA hands since 9 April. I am just recalling that this time yesterday you initially said do you mean Kasane? Is it not possible that a spelling mistake has become lodged in the system somewhere?

Jamie Shea : Jake, thanks for that because as I told you yesterday there was some confusion on that, which I readily acknowledge and obviously I asked the military commanders to clear up the confusion. I hope they have done so now, so let me give you what we know now.

The post that we attacked was at Glava, indeed that is what we said in our written morning up-date yesterday. This location is one mile from Kosare, and as you know that is the name that has been used in connection with the incident. But we are talking about one incident at Glava, a command post at Glava. We have been aware of fighting for a long time now between UCK forces and the Yugoslav Army in the area around Glava, but we were not aware that the post had been taken over by the UCK before we struck it. Obviously we missed something here in our targeting and this results from I suppose the necessary confusion that sometimes surrounds military operations. Obviously we want to minimise these kind of errors in identifying targets, but I am not going to pretend that we will ever entirely eliminate them in a very intensive operation such as this.

However, I would like to draw your attention to something which I am sure you have seen already, which is that Hassim Thaqi, the head of the Kosovo Liberation Army interim government for Kosovo did say that this attack by NATO was a technical mistake, so I believe that they understand fully well that of course NATO was not deliberately targeting the Kosovo Liberation Army, and he did say that despite this error NATO should intensify even more its air strikes. So I believe that at least he understands and that it was I am afraid a mistake, a technical error, and not something which results from a deliberate policy.

Jake: Inaudible.

Jamie Shea : Absolutely, Glava, it was one mile away from Kosare at a command post in Glava. I have had the military commanders working all night on that, to be absolutely certain. I would have liked to have been able to clear up the confusion yesterday, obviously I don't want to be the bearer of confusion, rather the bearer of clarity, but anyway that happened and that is the situation today.

Mark Laity - BBC : But what you are saying is that it is the same thing, we are all agreeing on the same building that was hit, it was just that you called it Glava and the KLA called it Kosare?

Jamie Shea : Yes, it is about one mile away and I think Kosare is the main place, but I want to be clear about that, it was a command at Glava, about one mile away.

Mark Laity - BBC : You have been hitting power transformer yards again. I have seen some of the pictures showing the damage, the Serb pictures, and they look different to the original pictures which were quite clearly this graphite bomb and soft bomb. Are you actually hitting them with explosive bombs rather than graphite bombs now.

Jamie Shea : Mark, you will forgive me if I don't give you the details, but I did say yesterday, and I repeat that today, that we are using a mixture of munitions to attack those targets and we are doing this again because this is fundamental to disrupting the military command and control system of the Yugoslav Army. It also obliges Milosevic, or the government, the army, to try to identify back-up systems, it puts pressure on them in terms of the priorities they give to the use of their fuel, whether they want to use the fuel for those back-up systems, either for civilian purposes or for military purposes, but most of the civilian installations, such as hospitals, obviously have back-up electrical transformer systems.

Mark Laity - BBC : Because the obvious Serb response is that they are going to say that NATO said it doesn't target civilians, but this is in effect targeting civilians?

Jamie Shea : We target anything that in our view will add to the worries of the Yugoslav Army and disrupt their operations, but as I say, the important civilian facilities have back-up transformer systems and I think that is demonstrated by the fact that those essential facilities continue to operate. I don't think anybody disputes that, even if the lights go out in terms of street lights and traffic lights for certain periods. But again this forces Belgrade to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort to use its back-up systems, it disrupts the command and control and again anything that we can do to hasten the end of this conflict by convincing Milosevic that his military machine is being degraded is something that we are going to continue to do.

Rick : I have noticed that a lot of times now we are hearing at the bottom of the operational up-date it says that the NATO manned aircraft all returned safely. Does that mean that some of the drones are not returning?

Jamie Shea : It does indeed Rick.

Rick : Do you have numbers on that, and also when you tell us about the strikes on the air defence system, are you noticing that the Serbs are able to fix those systems and get them back up and operational, and how quickly can they do that?

Jamie Shea : First of all on the unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles, or UAVs as they are called in the jargon, it is true that in the last couple of weeks we have lost a few of those. I am not sure if I have an overall figure now to give you, but for example we lost a Hunter on 21 May, that was south west of Prizren, we lost another Hunter on 22 May yesterday, although I understand that was successfully recovered. Now the reason for this is clear, these fly at far lower altitudes than our aircraft, they also fly very, very slowly indeed, so they are particularly vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire. The Yugoslav Army knows how valuable these are as reconnaissance and intelligence gathering platforms so clearly they will do whatever they can to take those down, although we have various other means of course as you know of gathering intelligence. So I don't have an exact figure, but clearly that is something there.

On the air defence, I think the fact that we have only had two aircraft come down thus far, with 25,000 sorties flown in 61 days shows that we have been successful at handling that air defence. To be honest with you I think it must be extremely depressing for President Milosevic every morning to be told by his military commanders: "Last night, Mr President, we tried, and we tried, and we tried to shoot down NATO planes but we didn't succeed", and I think this is an important part in demonstrating to Milosevic the effectiveness of NATO's air campaign, not simply the fact that we were able to hit the targets that he prizes the most, but also that he isn't shooting down NATO aircraft. Now we mustn't be complacent about that obviously because there is always the risk in any conflict that planes will be lost, but I think that if you look at the number of sorties again and compare that with previous air operations of this intensity, the safety record if you like is good. And this is not just a question of protecting our pilots, as we have said before. Obviously we want to protect our pilots, we have an obligation, if we are sending them into harms way, to give them the maximum protection we can give them. But it is also an important part of convincing Belgrade that they have to come to terms here, to show them that they are not shooting down our planes. I heard at least from various sources at the beginning of this operation the belief in Belgrade that they would be successful at shooting down about 6% of our aircraft every operation that we flew. Well the fact that that hasn't happened I think is an important means of influencing Belgrade.

Having said that, obviously as we have said, General Jertz has said, they have not got the central command and control any longer to direct operations nation-wide, they are very intelligent people, we know that, they have got a lot of military experience, they have got a very dense and redundant air defence system, and the amount of anti-aircraft fire shows that they are trying very, very hard to shoot down our aircraft.

Douglas Hamilton: I am wondering about this report yesterday that the prison in Mitrovica was emptied out and a lot of men in very bad condition came across the border to Macedonia. It is an old chestnut really, but is there any sign that Podujevo, Kosovska, Mitrovica, that sort of northern sector is being more emptied out than other parts of Kosovo, ie for some sort of end solution in which they get to keep the northern part with the mine and the minerals and the towns up there, is there any sign of that?

Jamie Shea : I don't believe that, Doug, quite frankly. I know that at the moment the ethnic cleansing is mainly in that area, that is Suva Reka as well, but as you know Urosevac in the south has been very comprehensively ethnically cleansed. Prizren, even if the actual physical damage to Prizren in the centre at least is less than in other cities, has been very effectively cleansed of its pre-conflict if you like Albanian population. So I generally think that the pattern is province wide and that doesn't seem to suggest any kind of plan for a partition. We don't quite know what Milosevic is up to, but I wouldn't have thought that. On the contrary, his plan would seem to be to have a solution with a very weak form of autonomy for Kosovo under his control, with maybe some Kosovar Albanians coming back, but far fewer than the pre-conflict population. If you want my opinion, that is more the strategy than the notion of a partition.

Having said that, the prison incident is a disturbing one. As you know, 2,000 apparently have been freed, 500 crossed the border at Kukes yesterday, the UNHCR as you know reported that these people were in extremely poor physical condition, having been put on a starvation diet of bread and water, many of them had broken bones, signs of beatings and the rest. Apparently 1,500, the rest are due to arrive soon. We have to wait to see today if those 1,500 are going to be bussed over like the other 500 yesterday. The good thing however, given our concern about the 225,000 missing men is at least those 2,000 seem to be, well are clearly alive, so that is if I could the positive side to this rather macabre affair and that suggests that one of the things that Milosevic may have been wanting to do by holding these men is either get them to do forced labour on defence fortifications, which has been happening, particularly in the south, or to use them as human shields. But anyway let's see where the other 1,500 are.

John: Coming back to Jake's first question as to when this particular command post changed hands, he said 9 April he had been informed, I didn't hear an answer to that?

Jamie Shea : You didn't hear an answer because I don't think he asked the question, or if he did I apologise for not answering. But I don't know exactly what our information is on when that changed hands, but clearly it did and we have acknowledged that.

John: The incident at Glava raises a question about exactly what nature of contacts are going on between the KLA and NATO. Could you explain how exactly the KLA would be expected to inform NATO of its whereabouts inside Kosovo? And could you comment on some of the press reports from people who were at the Glava post who said that they saw the KLA phoning in coordinants of Serb military positions to NATO air controllers?

Jamie Shea : John, I am not aware of any direct contacts between the UCK and NATO as such. There probably are contacts, we know that, between the UCK and allies, but there is no contact, to my knowledge, between the UCK and the political or military structures of the Alliance. So that is I think my point there.

As for the UCK, obviously we use all of the means at our disposal to monitor their activities, to find out where they are, where they are fighting and the rest, and I often report on that in the briefings. By the way, there is a great deal of fighting going on and the UCK at the moment is trying to push a corridor from Kosare into western Kosovo to provide a logistic supply to the UCK people there who are very short, by the way, of ammunition in western Kosovo but continue to fight on. But again I am not pretending that we are always going to have, despite our best efforts, the total, total, up-to-date information as to when a border post changes hands in what is obviously a very dynamic situation in a very mountainous area.

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