Updated: 26 March 1999 Press Conferences


26 Mar. 1999

Press Conference

by NATO Spokesman, Jamie Shea
and Air Commodore David Wilby, SHAPE

Jamie Shea: Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today is the third day of Operation Allied Force. Last night we had the second round of air strikes, which began at around 8 p.m. 64 aircraft participated from a number of NATO countries. Also a number of cruise missiles were launched from ships. Once again, operations were conducted without Allied losses.

Milosevic now knows NATO is serious and that he is in a grave situation.

The targets were exclusively military - every effort was made to avoid collateral damage - planes only fire at targets when we are confident that we can strike accurately - some aircraft in the first operation returned without dropping ordnance. Targets are carefully selected and continuously assessed to avoid collateral damage.


This morning the NAC met again to review the situation. There is a sense of unity, resolve and determination. The decision to act is taken by all Allies and all Allies are determined to see it through. This is not an operation designed to last only a few days. We know Milosevic is watching closely to see if we have stamina and staying power, if we are united and determined. Let me tell him: we are!

We have seen some headlines talking about war in Europe. As Secretary General Solana has pointed out, we have no quarrel with the people of Yugoslavia - only with the government of Yugoslavia which is using force against its own people. Our objectives are clear and unchanging:

  • to stop the violence in Kosovo
  • to prevent humanitarian catastrophes which is the inevitable consequence of continuing repression in Kosovo.

Obviously we would like to be able to terminate this operation as soon possible , but it is up to Milosevic to help us to this this by agreeding to our key requirements.

  • an immediate cease fire
  • withdrawing his forces back to barracks

Finally I want to stress NATO's objective is to support a political solution on to the Kosovo crisis, Milosevic can still backtrack.

Air Commodore Wilby: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,

We are now nearly two days into operation Allied Force. Let me remind you of our current mission statement which was so ably articulated by SACEUR yesterday.

In short to coerce the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to cease hostile action and agree to a cease-fire agreement and peace settlement.

The Current Situation


There is no evidence that ongoing Serb Counter insurgency Operations will cease. Fighting continues in the Northern and Southern Western areas of Kosovo. In addition there is evidence of a build up of armored units in the border area to the North of Kumonova.

Serbian troops have been reported as conducting brutal and violent attacks on Kosovar Albanians and kidnapping of leading intellectuals. We have also learned of the release of some 300 hard line Serbian prisoners who have been added to the ranks of the paramilitary troops. The UCK continues to mount attacks across the main lines of communication. You will have seen through the media, the isolated violence has spread to bordering NATO embassies particularly in Skopje.

On the operational front, we continue to prosecute our attacks on the FRY integrated air defence system. We have now struck over 50 targets and our battle damage assessment is showing us that our attacks have been effective. I know that you will always be pressing me for results, but I am afraid that we like to be very sure of our facts and this takes a little time. I am sure that you appreciate very well the sensitivity and care that goes into this meticulous process. However, I can now give you some results of our efforts - and, please remember that this is a truly multinational Allied effort with most NATO nations participating in either combat or supporting roles. We have conducted some 400 sorties and here is a list of some of the air defence facilities struck to date. In many cases, there may be several aim points associated with these important installations. I also have some filmed airborne recordings of the attacks.

Last night our attacks were carried out with no apparent fighter opposition and although some surface to air missile systems were detected, only one possible launch was noted, with no success. Perhaps that goes some way to demonstrate the effectiveness of our campaign against this highly sophisticated integrated air defence system.


I can give you a small update from night one. Whilst I am obviously unable to give you the tactical details, I can confirm that 3 MIG 29 Fulcrums were shot down. One over Kosovo and 2 over Central FRY.

In summary, our operations continue and you can expect us to maintain our careful and systematic campaign to interdict, disrupt and to neutralize the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's integrated air defence systems, we will achieve this with the minimum of effort necessary and with as little collateral damage to the civilian population and property as possible.

Mark Laity, BBC: Jamie, you talked about unity at the North Atlantic Council meeting this morning, but the Greek government spokesman is now on record as saying that the Greek government would like to see the bombings stop, so could you tell us what that means in the sense of unity, and a question for Air Commodore Wilby: one of the issues now is that you're attacking, if you like, strategic targets - the top targets - but it's the front line troops who are driving through the Kosovo villages, it's the tanks that are there. How soon can you get to attacking the actual targets, the actual Serb concentrations that are doing the damage in Kosovo?

Jamie Shea: Well, as I said in my introduction, everybody in NATO would like to see the bombings stop as soon as possible. We all share that same determination. We took a long time to get to this decision because we wanted first of all to try to exhaust all possibilities of arriving at a negotiated political solution in Kosovo without having to resort to the use of force. It's only when that final avenue was closed off, at least for the time being, that we realized we had no other option but to launch this operation. But, as I said a moment ago, clearly our objective still remains - to have a negotiated political solution at the end of the day. All Allies share this view. We don't want to drop one bomb more than is absolutely necessary. We don't want to prolong this operation one day longer than is absolutely necessary. But all Allies - and, Mark, this was the clear sense of the meeting this morning - also know that it's pointless to give up before our fundamental objectives have been realised. If we give up before then, then President Milosevic would decide that we are weak, that we are not determined, that he has a licence to continue with his campaign of killing in Kosovo and we're not going to do that. So as long as is necessary, but not one moment longer than is necessary.

Air Commodore Wilby: Thanks for your question, Mark, it's a good question and one that's very much in the forefront of SACEUR's mind at the moment and he knows that we need to address the problem on the ground to stop the troops as soon as possible, but you will also be aware that it is a very sophisticated air defence system and we want to make sure that before we put all our troops into harm's way, we do as much to interdict that system and make it far easier for us to prosecute. It's a very difficult part of the world to conduct any sort of campaign, the terrain is not good and as you know the weather at the moment is not particularly good, so what we want to do is concentrate on taking the air defences down and then we can go for the secondary targets.

Craig Whitney, New York Times: Commodore Wilby, do you have anything on what George Robertson said earlier today about two villages in north west Albania, I believe he said, being shelled yesterday? Do you have anything on the Yugoslav contention that a NATO missile hit akovica near the Kosovo/Albanian border, but missed the army compound and hit the old town?

Air Commodore Wilby: First of all, on the first point, yes we are aware of that and as an observer of the operations that have been going on there for many months, you will know that that happens quite regularly, we are aware of that and that was going on. As to your second point, I'm not aware that any of our missiles has done exactly as you said.

Jonathan Marcus, BBC: A military question to the Air Commodore: clearly you're aiming at the head and the coordinating aspects of the integrated air defence system, but many of the individual elements of that system, which remain clearly, will still continue to pose localized threats to NATO aircraft and how seriously do you view those threats, particularly in the light of the fact that so few surface-to-air missiles have been fired? What's your interpretation of that?

Air Commodore Wilby: I suppose you could take that two ways. Either, as I was sort of hinting at during my presentation, that perhaps it's an indication of the success of our campaign to date - it could also be a husbanding of resources - but our planners have been very careful in the targets that they've gone for and we are very systematically taking out the meat of the defence systems. Of course, we'll never be able to take out every target and at some stage we will commit to what is remaining.


Bill Drozdiak, Washington Post: Just a quick follow-up and then another question. Air Commodore, if this vanted air defence system is so great, why is it there has only been one attempt to bring down NATO planes? Are they hiding these things somewhere? And, secondly, a broader question: is there any planning going on at NATO or SHAPE to introduce ground troops in order to thwart the escalation in reprisals and attacks by the Serb troops.

Air Commodore Wilby: I'll pick up the first part of the question and Jamie will field the second. In terms of taking the response that we have had so far, it was very similar I think to what I've just said. We've seen very little come out of it so far, but we are using sophisticated airplanes, we're using sophisticated electronic measures and indeed some stealthy techniques and also using Cruise missiles, so life is favoured towards us at the moment, and of course at night we are slightly better off than we are in the day. But it's a very finely balanced argument, we really cannot afford to go into the area without taking great cognizance and trying to take efforts to neutralize that air defence.

Jamie Shea: Bill, on the other question, as you know we have about 12,000 NATO personnel currently deployed just across the border in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, but those forces are not there to invade Kosovo, they are there to prepare for a peace support operation which we hope to be able to launch in the near future, that's our preferred objective, to be the vanguard of an implementation force for a peace agreement and they are preparing for that mission at the moment. They do not pose any threat whatever to Belgrade, they are there solely for peace support purposes. So that would be my first point. The second point, picking up on your question, is that I would not wish anybody here to get the impression that the violence that we see in Kosovo today is somehow related to NATO initiating air operations. That violence has been going on for a year now, tragically. The death toll has already spiralled well in excess of 3,000 before NATO even got to the point of using force. We have seen already last October upwards of a quarter of a million refugees. That violence by the way today has deplaced virtually 25 % of the entire pre-conflict population of Kosovo. So I'm not saying, Bill, that you imply this, not at all, but just if I may make a general point. I think it would be somehow quite perverse to put the cart before the horse and somehow conclude that it's NATO action which has given President Milosevic a pretext to crack down. He's been cracking down without any pretext at all for the best part of a year. We are intervening to stop that from happening and to stop it once and for all.

Guido van de Kreeke, De Telegraaf, NL: Jamie, there was spoken of an operation in phases - Phase One and Two. When is Phase Two going in, and did Secretary General Solana already consult for this part of the operation? And another one - you handed out papers about the name of the operation as being Determined Force and now you are speaking of Operation Allied Force. When did that change?

Jamie Shea: Well, that's a good question, but my understanding is that it's Allied Force. We've probably used Determined for all of our previous operations and therefore it was time for a change. But let's go with Allied Force. Now David is better placed to answer your second question, but let me just say before I hand over to him that no we have not yet begun so-called Phase Two. The Secretary General has not yet authorized SACEUR to begin Phase Two, the essential rationale is that first of all we have to finish Phase One, that is entirely logical and that means that we have to be in a situation where we have taken out sufficient air defence assets so that our pilots can operate with a relatively greater degree of safety in Yugoslav air space, but David you may wish to comment with a bit more detail on that one.

Air Commodore Wilby: I think that was covered very well yesterday. We have no time line that we are trying to chase at the moment, we are getting on and doing the business as soon as we can and to the best of our ability.

Journalist: Question to Commodore David Wilby: there are reports that Serbs are starting to use civilians as kinds of human shields to protect their military facilities. Can you confirm that?

Air Commodore Wilby: We have no concrete evidence of that at the moment, although it's something that we have experienced before and at some stage we would expect possibly to have confront us in this sort of situation.

Patricia Kelly, CNN: Air Commodore, in the event of human shields, would NATO be prepared to send in its extraction force to rescue these civilians?

Air Commodore Wilby: I think that question is one that you would have to address to SACEUR and he would have to decide at the time with the Secretary General what we would do.

Jamie Shea: Patricia, as you remember, the Extraction Force, which we had in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, was there for the explicit and strict purpose of protecting the OSCE civilian Verification Mission, which was there at the time in Kosovo, but which has subsequently left.

Doug Hamilton, Reuters: Air Commodore, we have a report that NATO hit a Yugoslav special forces base just south of Pristina, with a 100% success, causing extensive human casualties. Can you confirm that? What can you tell us in general about human casualties and your intelligence on that?

Air Commodore Wilby: I certainly can't confirm your statement and in terms of how many human casualties, as I've said our planning is meticulous and we do try to make sure that the timing of our attacks and by the concentrated nature and accuracy of those attacks we do limit the number of casualties that might occur, but I have no real casualty information that I can give you at the moment that would be of any use to you. Our battle damage assessment is still coming in and of course casualties are very much something which we won't pick up much until you know you get in on the ground.

Jamie Shea: Doug, it hardly needs saying, but let me say it nonetheless, you know as well as I do, even better than I do, that Yugoslavia is not a free country. There is a free media, but most of it is in hiding or in jail, or prohibited from operating normally and the only tolerated media is the state media and therefore, obviously, I think everybody has to take with a certain degree of distance and objectivity stories about casualties until such time as we can all establish the facts.

Pavel Bouda, Czech TV: I wonder if it's possible at this stage to specify let's say costs, at least some rough estimates for the operation?

Air Commodore Wilby: I think cost is well above my pay grade.

Jamie Shea: And it's certainly not the determining factor in this operation, Pavel.

Stephen Dierckx, BRT: Two questions. Apparently last night you have been targeting facilities of the Yugoslavian army and police forces. Are we talking primarily here about command and support facilities? Second question: Yugoslavian army officials have been claiming that you have deliberately targeted military barracks and military housing. Can you respond to that claim?

Air Commodore Wilby: Yes, I can vehemently deny that. We do not target barracks, we target headquarters and communications facilities.

Jamie Shea: And those facilities, Stephen, are ones that in our judgment are used by President Milosevic to carry out an organized, systematic campaign of repression in Kosovo. And if we are to prevent that, given that naturally we cannot prevent every isolated incident of brutality from occurring, then we obviously have to be in a position to degrade those targets.

Mr.Johnsson, Norwegian Aftenposten: If you are not able to take out individual targets, how are you supposed to reach the final goal of this mission, namely to stop troops, to stop the special police forces do their job in Kosovo, their repression in Kosovo? If you are not able to knock out the troops themselves?

Jamie Shea: The answer to that is we are not going to systematically target troops but we are going to systematically target the heavy artillery and the tanks and the equipment without which the troops would not be able to carry out their brutal repression, and as David explained, to be in a position to do that, we have first of all to take out what we can of the integrated air defence system, then we can move on of course to that second stage. I can assure you that as this military campaign unfolds, we will be able to bring our pressure to bear directly on the units currently operating in Kosovo.

Alexander Mineyev, ITAR-TASS: Jamie, recently the general staff of the Russian army has given to NATO side reconnaissance picture about drug trafficking facilities of Kosovar Albanians, about their weapon communications from Albania, about the training bases of Kosovar separatists. Do you use this information anyhow and do you count this information in your operations?

Jamie Shea: Well, it's true, Alexander, that we did receive some extremely interesting information from the Russian general staff about the UCK. We're very grateful for that, it's another good example of NATO-Russia cooperation and it shows that that cooperation has produced good results, no matter what disagreements we may have had lately, of course, on Kosovo itself, and certainly as the Secretary General here just a couple of days ago made clear, when it comes to the UCK we condemn any type of provocative action, no matter who commits it, in Kosovo and we have explicitly called on the UCK to exorcise restraint and to not provoke the Yugoslav armed forces.

Frederic Albert, European Radio: A Pentagon spokesman said this morning that you've been already beginning to attack Serbian facilities, I mean the one they're directly using to make war in Kosovo. That is what the spokesman in the Pentagon said. So can you confirm that?

(Jamie Shea's reply and following question not audible).

Jamie Shea: Well, Foreign Minister Tarasuk is a good friend of NATO and he's also a very persuasive individual, and if he does go to Belgrade today, and he sees President Milosevic, our hope is that he will use his persuasive powers to send a very clear message to Milosevic on behalf of the international community, that Milosevic has no alternative but to comply with the requirements of NATO and with the border requirements of the international community and we very much hope and indeed anticipate that that is what he is going to do.

Journalist: Le gnral Clark, il a parl de 400 appareils de l'aviation au lieu de parler de 400 sorties, c'est dire que toute l'aviation a t utilis?

Air Commodore Wilby: I think from my poor French that you were talking about the number of sorties that we have flown, is that right?

Journalist: I repeat my question, le Commandant des forces allis le gnral Clark a parl d'une capacit aerienne de 400 appareilsAujourd'hui vous parlez de 400 sorties. Je voulais demander si a correspond au nombre d'avions que la force arienne de l'OTAN compte?

Air Commodore Wilby: What I briefed you today was that to date we have flown 400 sorties in the operation. Now, not all those sorties will be offensive combat sorties, many of those will be our fighter cap -fighters on patrol - some will be in support as tankers, reconnaissance, electronic, but that is the number - available sorties that we have flown.

Dubravka Savic, Novosti, Belgrade: Jamie, if there is any civilian casualties, will NATO ever take responsibility for these casualties, or will it be always up to Mr. Milosevic and the state media? And, for the Air Commodore, in the longer term, as you said, you will bomb Yugoslavia as long as is needed? Do you expect that Yugoslavia will stay a lonely country, or do you expect someone in the longer term, if it continues, to join Yugoslavia, at least to be two to nineteen?

Jamie Shea: Well, Mrs. Savic, thanks for that question, as I said earlier we are going to take every humanly conceivable precaution to avoid civilian casualties but if they occur, the responsibility is on the shoulders of President Milosevic for having manoeuvred, cornered - whatever you like to call it - the international community into a situation where it has had no alternative but to take action and whatever the situation, let's not lose sight of the general context, we are acting because already there have been too many civilian casualties in Yugoslavia, thousands of them dead, and infinitely larger numbers of people who have lost their livelihoods, their incomes, their work, their families, through the violence that has happened and it's in order to prevent this overall situation of a humanitarian catastrophe within the borders, and outside the borders of Yugoslavia because of the refugee overspill, that we are acting, so yes of course and I again stress we will do everything, everything we can to avoid civilian casualties, but let us at least not lose sight of the overall context which has made this necessary.

Air Commodore Wilby: I can perhaps add a little to that and I think it would be wrong of me to stand up here and to say that every weapon that we released went exactly where it was pointed. I have no doubt that at some stage during this operation, we may have one weapon or two weapons that fall in the wrong place and as ever sometimes civilian casualties may occur. What I can assure you is that we do everything that is humanly possible to make sure that our weapons are targeted on the right place, that we have done our homework to make sure that we are not targeting civilians, we're not targeting people, and we're not targeting civilian infrastructure. Our weapons are very accurate, but they're not perfect and our crews are extremely well trained, so unfortunately there are bound to be some casualties, but we will do all that we can to limit those casualties.

Jamie Shea: And of course the best way to avoid that is for President Milosevic to meet the demands of the international community. Then we avoid casualties in Kosovo and we also avoid any casualties elsewhere in Yugoslavia. That would be the most rational solution for everybody concerned. Let's go to the next question if I may. We'll come back to you in a moment, Mrs. Savic.

Christopher Dickie, Newsweek: Could you tell us a little bit more about the dogfights that took place the first night, what time they took place, what exactly the F16s and F15s were doing, what their mission was, what the engagement was like, any details you can give us about that?

Air Commodore Wilby: I'd love to be able to do that and wave my hands and give you the full fighter pilot treatment, but as I said, unfortunately it's tactical information and it's not information that I should give you, because our people are still flying out there and the way they do their operations is something that we need to keep very close to our heart, so I'm afraid I can't give you any of those details.

Christopher Dickie: at what time?

Air Commodore Wilby: Well, it was at night.

Pierre Lefevre, Le Soir: Jamie, at this stage, how precisely would you define the goal of the operation, what do you want to obtain to stop the operation?

Jamie Shea: We want to obtain, Pierre, the withdrawal of the Serb forces in Kosovo back to their normal peacetime barracks, either in Kosovo for those forces that normally are there and outside Kosovo for those forces that have been introduced into the province in recent weeks to augment the existing forces there. When I say forces, I'm referring to VJ army forces and MUP special police forces. It's these two in combination that have been carrying out the repression in Kosovo. President Milosevic signed an agreement last October, on October 25th, in which he promised to do precisely that and he has broken that promise and that is the reason why we see the situation that we see today. At the same time, we want President Milosevic to commit himself to an effective ceasefire, not a temporary lull in operations, but a permanent, effective ceasefire, and undertake to cease all repressive acts against the civilian population of Kosovo. Only in that way, by stopping the violence, can we stop the humanitarian situation. There's no point in trying to relieve the humanitarian situation, as noble an objective as that is, if the violence continues and produces still more refugees, so those are our concrete objectives.

Journalist: Commodore Wilby, yesterday at the briefing at the Ministry of Defence in London, there was a statement made that some of the British Harriers had dropped bombs short of their target, do we know what these bombs hit? You also mentioned earlier that army barracks were not a target, number four on the list is the Danilovgrad army barracks.

Air Commodore Wilby: It says army barracks, but it's a headquarters. I'm sorry, it's legimate, it's a headquarters, not a barracks. It is a barracks but it's a headquarters within a barracks.

Yesterday's bombs that fell short from the British Harriers?

Air Commodore Wilby: Yesterdays bombs - I haven't got the details on those. London are probably far better placed to have given you an indication of that.

Journalist: I just want a clarification on this point of targeting barracks, are you saying that even in Phase Two that barracks will not be a target, given that General Clark yesterday made a very strong statement about ultimately dismembering, attacking, degrading, destroying the military, the Serbian military capacity?

Air Commodore Wilby: I'm not prepared to go into the subsequent phases of the operation. We are certainly at the moment in a phase of taking out the air defence system.

Journalist: Will you have attacks on barracks in a future phase?

Jamie Shea: Let me make this clear. We will attack the targets that need to be attacked in Kosovo and if necessary around Kosovo and elsewhere, if necessary, in order to make it impossible for Belgrade to continue operations and attacks against the civilian population of Kosovo. That's clear. Let's go on.

Sarah Chase, National Public Radio: Jamie, you and others have said that one of the hopes behind this operation was that perhaps Yugoslavian military leaders might put some pressure on Mr. Milosevic to change his mind given that it's their resources that are being attacked. Is that wishful thinking or do you have any concrete indications that such a thing might take place? A second question too for the air commodore would be whether the attacks intensified last night compared to the night before?

Jamie Shea: We want to be in a situation whereby by keeping up this current momentum of activities, by keeping up the pressure, eventually it will become clear to the leadership - and I don't want to distinguish among the various elements of that leadership - but the leadership in Belgrade, that the price that they are paying, that is policy of represion in Kosovo is simply too high and that is why we have to keep going, and that is why we cannot afford to falter at the present time, and therefore as a result they will agree to the undertakings which I outlined a moment ago to Pierre Lefevre. That is our objective, it doesn't go beyond that objective, we want to stop the violence in Kosovo. Of course we hope that the international community in general also will be able over time to get the negotiations back on track because clearly we have to go beyond that to a situation where the government of Belgrade would also accept the Paris peace plan, which in our mind takes legitimate Serb interests into account in Kosovo as well as those of the Kosovar Albanians, and offers the most rational way forward. But our specific military objective is to stop the violence in Kosovo.

Air Commodore Wilby: Our operations last night were no more intense than the previous night.

James Landau, The Times: Jamie, can I just go back to this question of unity? You insist that NATO is united?

Jamie Shea: I insist.

James Landau: Despite what the Greeks say? You do insist on that? But do the Ambassadors recognise that the prospect of that unity becoming distinctly shaky is there, and have they done anything to prepare for it?

Jamie Shea: James, I can assure you and I hope you'll take my word for it, that every Ally realizes that having taken the momentous decision to launch this operation, we have to see it through, but again I stress our objective is a political one, we want only to use the amount of force which is necessary to help us to achieve the political objective of the international community in Kosovo, that's clear. But we're all together, because we realize - every Ally knows perfectly well - that if President Milosevic believes, however mistakenly, that there are cracks, that there is disunity in the Alliance, that he won't see reason, and therefore we won't be able to stop the violence in Kosovo. And that would not only be an appalling tragedy for the people of Yugoslavia, but it would also be a major step back for the international community. Therefore I can assure you, and I've just come out of a meeting with NATO Ambassadors, that we are all together in this, because we started it together and only by sticking together will we see it through to a successful conclusion. But again I stress, the objective is a political one, we are using force under extremely close political supervision and political guidance from the North Atlantic Council and we will stop and we will be happy to stop the moment our political objectives have been achieved.

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