Updated: 9 June 1999 Morning Briefings


9 June 1999

Morning Briefing

By Jamie Shea

Jamie Shea: Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Morning. Let me just give you the quick morning update. Today, as you know, is Day 78 of Operation Allied Force and yesterday therefore logically had to be Day 77. And yesterday on Day 77 the initial focus of the air operations was against the VJ/MUP forces in Kosovo, with a few fixed targets in Serbia. I can tell you that overall NATO mounted 523 sorties, including 130 strike sorties and 56 missions aimed at suppressing Serb air defences. The attacks focused on the fielded forces in the western part of Kosovo, with attacks including artillery pieces, armoured fighting vehicles, tanks and equipment in the Djakovica area and south of Prizren. There were also additional strikes against ground forces which we judge to have been successful, both south and west of Pristina, including artillery pieces, resupply areas and armoured vehicles.

We also, as you have seen from the overnight update which you received this morning, eventually, struck at two military storage depots and also at an air defence reporting post at Kaponik. And of course all aircraft returned safely, as you have seen already, which is good news.

At the same time the build-up of the KFOR in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continues. We had 800 extra people arrive yesterday. That brings the total to 17,500 and the major elements were further British and French forces. We are expecting an ongoing large influx of forces into the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia over the next few days.

Today, the North Atlantic Council is meeting just now, and this afternoon we will be meeting with the partner countries of NATO that have shown an interest in participating in the KFOR mission. We will be briefing them on the revised Op Plan. After that, there will be another meeting of the Council, probably around 5.00 pm this afternoon, and at that meeting the Council will give its provisional approval to the Op Plan, which will remain a living document of course, particularly as we have to perhaps make some changes to it later on to associate the Russian forces when those details would have been worked out, and at the same time, once this decision is made there can be an Activation Order for the NATO forces assigned to KFOR to deploy fully to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. However, and I need to stress this, there will have to be a second Council decision in the near future before those forces move into Kosovo itself. So again, we look at this as a two stage affair: the decision which we expect to happen today to deploy the KFOR forces in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; and a second decision once the UN Security Council resolution has been officially adopted in New York and of course when the moment for the deployment of the KFOR has come, a second decision to actually begin the deployment into Kosovo itself. So I will brief you on those activities later on today.

Finally, I cannot yet give you a detailed read-out of what is going on down at Kumanovo. As you know there is still a recess while the Yugoslav side consults its authorities in Belgrade, but we are expecting those talks to resume soon. I can assure you that they are progressing well. I spoke to people very close to General Jackson earlier on today and they told me, as direct participants in these talks, that the Yugoslav Generals came in a much more constructive frame of mind last night than had been the case over the weekend. So we at NATO are, to use a phrase which is banal but at the same time apposite, we are cautiously optimistic that we can get this wrapped up quite soon now. But at the same time there is still work to do and of course we will always be vigilant until we see the signature on the paper and the dust on the tracks.

Mark Laity, BBC: If you can't give the detail, can you give any broad indication of where the key problems seem to be now? Is it still this sequencing thing of them wanting the bombing to stop before they start withdrawing? And on the UN thing are you saying that the ACTORD will be given after the UNSCR passes?

Jamie Shea: Yes. The ACTORD for the deployment in Kosovo itself, that is our plan at the moment, yes. You know that there was this sequence worked out by the G8 Foreign Ministers yesterday and that is the plan as we currently see it.

On the problems, I don't want to get into this, Mark, for all the reasons you can imagine, particularly while the discussions are still continuing. Let me just say we are looking at sequencing, we are looking at the timetable for the withdrawal and we are of course making it clear to the Yugoslav side that they can only have, once they have withdrawn, a very limited return of their forces to Kosovo. But we are not changing, as you know.

Mark Laity, BBC: Basically you are waiting them out?

Jamie Shea: They know very well what they have to do in terms of their withdrawal before NATO air operations will be suspended. And again, as I have said in the past Mark, it is totally up to President Milosevic how much shilly shallying and dilly dallying he can tolerate, given the fact that NATO air operations are on-going against his forces.

George Foris, Hungarian Newspaper: It seems to me that the time factor is going to be crucial, especially to avoid a security vacuum. How much time is needed for the deployment after the second ACTORD approved?

Jamie Shea: The deployment begins immediately once the Activation Order to go into Kosovo has been given by the North Atlantic Council. Some units are now under 4 hours advance notice to deploy, particularly some engineers, to secure the route up to Pristina for General Jackson and his advanced headquarters, because that is where he is going to be based. General Jackson has got a comprehensive plan. His whole headquarters is on 24 hours notice to move now, and as I have said, we now have 17,500 troops in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which is a good third of the total force and it will be going up to over a half of that force very quickly as the additional elements deploy. So obviously it will take a period for the entire force to be deployed, but a sufficient number of forces will be going immediately following the beginning of the withdrawal of the Serb forces to secure the situation and to prevent that security vacuum that we are all worried about from occurring, and to identify safe routes for the return of refugees and the safest areas initially for refugees to go back, and also to see what needs to be done to resolve the situation of the 503,000 that we estimate are still internally displaced inside Kosovo.

Although, if I may just on that subject, say that we are very encouraged that over the last food days some food has been getting through to those internally displaced persons. For instance, this morning the fifth air drop of the international rescue committee, with 4,000 individual food rations, were dropped from the two Hantanoff aircraft operating from Pescara, and yesterday for the first time in a long, long time, the International Committee of the Red Cross was able to deliver 4,000 food parcels to internally displaced persons in three areas. But of course there is still a great deal more to be done.

Guido Van De Kreeke, De Telegraf: You say that troops move in very quickly, how does this connect to the ACTORD and the whole other arrangement of troops moving in?

Jamie Shea: Guido, there were some countries that chose, and this is perfectly acceptable, to predeploy their forces in advance of the Activation Order. Some countries chose to do that and they are perfectly at liberty to do this. Once the Activation Order has been approved by the North Atlantic Council then all countries that are participating in the force then move. Some countries for example require a formal Activation Order from NATO before they are able to do this, other countries do not, according to their domestic, constitutional and legal arrangements. As you know, we are a diverse alliance of democracies and there are different legal and constitutional procedures in different countries. But that means after the ACTORD that everybody has to move, and will do so, to be prepared for the mission. But as I have said, and again I want to stress this, before anybody enters Kosovo there has to be a second decision by the North Atlantic Council.

Jean-Marc Illouz, France 2: Do you see a relationship between the fact that the Pentagon yesterday said there were some preparations going on, I understand a regrouping of vehicles, and second, the fact that it seems that there were fewer strikes last night?

Jamie Shea: I have made it clear, as you know, and I will say this again, that air operations are continuing and yesterday again the brunt of the attacks was on Serb forces in Kosovo. And again if you were on the ground, I don't suppose you would really see this as being less intensive. The military commanders will keep up the type of pressure that they deem necessary to focus President Milosevic's mind on what he has to do in Kumanovo.

Now we do have, as Ken Bacon said at his Pentagon briefing yesterday, some preliminary indications that the Serb forces may, but again I choose my words advisedly, may be beginning to withdraw. Although I want to stress, they haven't started withdrawing yet, these are simply preparations for what may take place in the near future. This concerns essentially, particularly in the north, the marshalling of heavy equipment transporters which has been observed south of Nis, heading into the northern part of Kosovo. And we have also seen some vehicles heading north from Podujevo using some secondary roads. Some VJ elements seem to be preparing also to use buses to withdraw. So those are the signs, but again I really want to be super careful here, one swallow, one bus, one train, one heavy equipment transporter doesn't make a withdrawal, no more than one swallow makes a summer, and so we are going to continue to watch this. But we want this to be an organised verifiable withdrawal and that is why General Jackson of course is holding his discussions with the Yugoslav commanders.

Jean-Marc Illouz, France 2: What about the intensity of strikes during the night please?

Jamie Shea: Again, I think if you see what we told you this morning, 523 sorties, including 130 strike sorties, now I don't believe that 130 strike sorties is a modest figure, it shows that the pressure is being maintained.

Jean-Marc Illouz, France 2: Sorry that was yesterday, does that include last night?

Jamie Shea: Yes, that is the overnight figure and I have said that operations this morning are on-going, we are going to continue the operations, focusing again on those Serb forces in Kosovo, until such time as we have the agreement in Kumanovo and we have the beginning of the Serb withdrawal. Our position has not changed one iota on that important topic.

Douglas Hamilton, Reuters: I am interested in this figure for IDPs of 503,000, it sounds like you may have some more accurate information than we have had in the past few weeks. Can you tell us any more information you have about the numbers and conditions of IDPs? And is it fair to assume that in the end phase NATO aircraft will be flying fully loaded, fully armed but not dropping, not firing?

Jamie Shea: Let me answer the second question first. When the Serb forces begin to withdraw from Kosovo we will be prepared to consider the suspension of the air operation, but the word we are using here is suspension, because obviously the air operation cannot be terminated until such time as the Serbs have fully completed their withdrawal from Kosovo. I have always said that we will prefer to verify than to trust in this particular instance and we do believe that there is a need to maintain an effective Sword of Damocles over Belgrade until we are satisfied that that withdrawal is a complete one. As for the IDPs, that is our best estimate, but it is an estimate, I am not going to say that it is the exact figure, it is very difficult to know exactly. We have always spoken of about half a million and we think that about 503,000 is where it comes out at the moment.

As for the condition of these people, well we only can go on the refugees that cross the border and those lately have been in a pretty lamentable condition quite frankly when they have crossed and that is why we very much welcome that some of these humanitarian organisations have been able to get the food in. But once KFOR enters Kosovo, taking care of these people is going to be one of the most urgent requirements. Now to some degree air drops will be facilitated by the fact that the Serb air defence system would have gone and therefore many more planes at low altitudes will be able to fly to drop food. At the same time, the World Food Programme has stored in the area one million daily rations with 30 trucks, so I expect that these humanitarian relief organisations will be ready to go in on our heels, they will be going in on the heels of the Serb forces and the UNHCR and the World Food Programme and others will be going in on the heels of KFOR to provide the relief that these people have been waiting for for far too long.

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