by NATO Spokesman, Jamie Shea
and Air Commodore, David Wilby, SHAPE
Jamie Shea: First of all, I think you will have all seen our press release of a few moments ago informing you that NATO Foreign Ministers will be holding an exceptional meeting here at NATO headquarters on Monday and this meeting will be to once again underscore at high level NATO's resolve and determination to see its objectives fulfilled in the current Kosovo crisis. As the agenda develops, I will brief you on it in subsequent days.
Secondly, as you well know, we had the visit of Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, to NATO this morning. He briefed the Council on the outcome of his visit to the neighbouring states of Yugoslavia in recent days and I believe he has spoken to some of you so you have a read-out on that visit. The key message, of course, is that NATO has a very direct interest in the stability of those neighbouring states and those neighbouring states all agree that their stability and future prosperity also depend on NATO prevailing in the current Kosovo crisis and achieving a settlement that follows the conditions and requirements of the international community.
As you know, Secretary of Defence Cohen is also here today, he met with the Secretary General this morning and he will be briefing the Council at 3.30 this afternoon and I understand that a press event has been arranged which will enable him to speak to you some time later on this afternoon - I believe it 's 5-5.30 but we'll confirm that in the course of the afternoon, and the British Secretary of Defence, George Robertson, who today is on a visit to Germany, will be coming through this evening to meet with the Secretary General, with Secretary of Defence Cohen and other NATO ambassadors and leaders.
As you all know, yesterday evening the unilateral offer of a cease-fire by the Yugoslav and Serbian governments was judged by NATO to be insufficient and you saw the very firm statements that were made by President Clinton, President Chirac, Chancellor Schroeder, who of course is also President of the European Union, Prime Minister Blair, Prime Minister d'Alema and other Allied leaders demonstrating NATO's unity once again in ensuring that nothing less than the full satisfaction of our conditions will suffice to stop NATO's current air operations.
A cease-fire is of course necessary, but it is not sufficient, it cannot simply wipe the slate clean and take us back to the status quo ante, particularly as a cease-fire says nothing about the actions of those paramilitary units in Kosovo that we believe are directly responsible at the moment for the systematic looting of homes and burning of homes and forced expulsion of Kosovo Albanian civilians towards the borders. It leaves the key questions unresolved and as you know, in recent hours NATO leaders have put five key questions to President Milosevic which were not answered yesterday and to which we believe an answer is urgently necessary if NATO is to stop air operations:
Is President Milosevic prepared for a verifiable cessation of all combat activities and killings?
Is he prepared to withdraw military police and paramilitary forces from Kosovo?
Is he prepared to agree to the deployment of an international security force?
Is he prepared to permit the return of all refugees and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid?
And finally, is he prepared to put in place a political framework for Kosovo on the basis of the Rambouillet Accords?
And so we very much hope that the next time President Milosevic gets back in touch, he will answer those specific questions. However, we would of course like to see the gesture from Belgrade yesterday, albeit insufficient, as perhaps a sign of a chink in the armour, as it were, and therefore a gradual coming to terms of Belgrade with reality, but of course it's too early to make that judgement. For the time being NATO's air operations continue.
Now, obviously, as in previous days, one of the key areas of concern is with the humanitarian situation. Again I reiterate that NATO is not the cause of this humanitarian situation. No refugee that I have heard of arriving in Albania or in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has said that NATO aircraft were the reason for their departure. In fact Strobe Talbot this morning, when he briefed the Ambassadors, recounted many conversations that he had had with refugees on the border and they all told him that in fact they heard the noise of NATO aircraft up there in the sky as the only positive thing in their lives at the present time. One woman in particular described the noise of NATO jet engines as "the sound of angels" - I could never put it so eloquently.
But, of course, we are very much concerned with the situation in Albania, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. 42,000 people left Kosovo again yesterday. The overall figure of displaced persons since the crisis began last March has now crept over the 900,000 mark, it stands at 912,000 and of course, we are also concerned by reports that we have heard today, albeit still unconfirmed, that the Serb forces may have tried to push people back into Kosovo, as it were, by preventing them now from departing. Now we don't have much evidence on this and we're still checking it out but if it were to be true, it would be very alarming indeed because it is one thing to push refugees over borders where the international community is now increasingly ready to deal with them in a humane way but it is quite another thing to push them back into a waste-land where there is no food, very little water, no medical supplies, where everything has been looted and I hope that the Serbian government is not playing poker with people's lives and trying to create a further internal humanitarian crisis at the moment when the international community is on its way to solving the external humanitarian crisis.
In the meantime, NATO forces in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to provide assistance to the government there, to the international organisations. You heard the good news this morning that the camp in no-man's land, where conditions were very difficult indeed, has now been cleared and 35,000 refugees are now in the tent cities that have been constructed by General Jackson and the soldiers under his command in the NATO Enabling Force - that is good news. They have also delivered 1,703 tonnes of relief supplies to those refugees, and US Marines that arrived yesterday in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are setting up another camp as I speak.
At the same time, French and Italian forces - and I must mention the French in this respect that I didn't mention yesterday, they are also now in Albania - have delivered 60 tonnes yesterday of emergency relief up to Kukes and that area so this humanitarian air bridge or lifeline is now getting thicker by the day.
At the same time, yesterday the North Atlantic Council approved two concepts of operations:
The first one is for a humanitarian airlift which will allow SHAPE, our Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Co-ordination Centre and also the UNHCR in Geneva to co-ordinate military and civilian flights to ensure the minimum of red tape and the maximum of effectiveness for those cargo flights to be able to get in to the airports of the region even while air operations of course continue around the clock.
The second concept of operations which will now be worked up into a fully-fledged Oplan (operational plan) is for a NATO headquarters based on the Allied Mobile Force (Land) to be dispatched very quickly to Albania followed by a NATO force. As you know - I've mentioned this in previous briefings - an AFSOUTH team, a team from Allied Forces Southern Europe, is currently in Albania on a reconnaissance mission to identify the best location for that headquarters. We will be beginning force generation soon and that force will be open to participation by Partner countries and today, the International Military Staff has briefed interested partners on that concept and we would welcome their participation just like we have achieved it successfully in SFOR.
At the same time, ladies and gentlemen, we continue of course to be deeply preoccupied by the stories of war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law in Kosovo. I spoke about that yesterday. Statistics that I've seen today suggest that 50 villages have been torched since April 3rd. What is clear is that Serb homes and businesses remained largely intact. I understand from refugees that a Cyrillic "S" is painted on the door of those homes to prevent them from suffering the same fate as their Kosovar Albanian neighbours. We have reports, which are now on their way to corroboration, of about 22 alleged atrocities. Three mass graves have been identified from a number of refugee reports at the Drenica area in Maleviso and in the Pagarusa Valley and NATO governments are trying to get more information on another 27 alleged incidents of atrocity from reports that we are receiving. We've also heard of the Serb forces using Albanian men as human shields in covering artillery attacks on UCK forces. Again, I would like to stress as I did yesterday, that every day brings in more evidence and NATO governments will be building a case in the next few days and weeks against those who are responsible, and responsibility means either directly carrying out those violations of human rights, ordering those violations of human rights or simply condoning and failing to stop those violations of human rights. Again, I urge those who might be tempted to indulge in these activities to carefully weigh the consequences before doing so.
First a couple of final things before I hand over to David:
First of all, NATO expresses its gratitude to Slovakia, which yesterday agreed to authorise the unrestricted use of its air space to NATO in the context of current operations. We are very grateful for that strong sign of support and solidarity from a very important Partner country of this Alliance.
I'd like also, in response to some queries that I have received in recent days from various news organisations to stress that cannot NATO give any advance warning of actions that it might be undertaking in Belgrade or around Belgrade. There is a substantial risk, of course, which is inevitable in these types of operations and news organisations should be aware of those risks but again, NATO will do its utmost to minimise any harm or risk to civilians, including the representatives of news organisations but we cannot guarantee the safety of any group.
And finally, to end on a slightly better note, the two Spanish journalists that I've been referring to consistently in my briefings were freed today from Pristina and are now on their way to Skopje.
Air Commodore Wilby: NATO forces increased their efforts to relieve the situation of the refugees in Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We will continue to assist our partners to cope with the humanitarian crisis caused by the FRY. Shelters provided by NATO forces in FYROM now accommodate 28,000 refugees. 35 aid flights arrived in Skopje yesterday. Major deliveries included 180 tonnes of tents, one field hospital with a 100-bed capacity and 300,000 individual food rations.
The pace of our air campaign continues as we strike the fielded forces in and around Kosovo and we remain successful in our systematic efforts to degrade the FRY's strategic military infrastructure. We have had good results with precision strikes and we continue to work hard to minimise collateral damage. All of our aircraft have returned safely to their home bases.
In Kosovo yesterday, Serbian army and special police continued to conduct operations in the Decani sub-zone trying to clear the remaining UCK forces but I understand that they are fighting back.
We continue to use a comprehensive intelligence-gathering effort to identify and track all Serbian units operating throughout our area of operations. These units remain in the field, operating from dispersed and concealed locations.
Turning once again to our air operations, yesterday we had a robust day. Surface-to-air activity was similar to previous nights with perhaps a slight increase in AAA fire. Last night, an SA-6 battery in Montenegro illuminated an ingressing package of our aircraft; it was counter-attacked by an escorting defence-suppression aircraft using two HARM missiles. The subsequent detonation of these anti-radar missiles were the probable cause of the explosions that were reported by the media around midnight. I can confirm that we had no targets in Montenegro yesterday and that this engagement was conducted in self-defence. I have no indication of any damage that may have been caused by the missiles.
Another SA-6 battery fired at our aircraft near the town of Krusevac but I am pleased to say that it missed. I can reiterate that all our aircraft returned safely and although there was a launch of two MiGs, they cleared before we were able to engage.
We flew - and I'm going to give you the number of sorties today - 439 sorties and covered the full range of target categories, hitting some 28 fixed target areas and I'll remind you that these target areas often contain multiple-aiming points.
We also attacked Serbian military and MUP forces in the field. Of particular note, this was our first major breakthrough against armoured forces in the field. We were able to locate and attack several units; in one attack, we were able to drop weapons on a column of between seven and twelve vehicles with confirmatory visual evidence of success from the cockpit.
This slide is a somewhat notional depiction of what occurred:
You can see a road with vehicles on it and the aircraft attack using area weapons and the area weapons spread out alongside the convoy, causing a large ellipse of damage to those vehicles.
These attacks often employ area munitions as opposed to guided munitions which you have seen many pictures of during the past two weeks. Guided munition attacks give aircrew the opportunity to carry out their profiles from greater and safer distances from the target. These attacks also provide the benefit of target strike for battle-damage assessment.
The nature of attacks with unguided bombs are such that it makes it impossible to see the weapons' effects on our aircraft video. You will understand that our aircrews do not wish to remain in the threat zone once weapon release has been achieved.
I now have some imagery to share with you:
In the first - it may be difficult to see in this projection but under close professional scrutiny - it shows Serbian armoured vehicles in Kosovo which have been confirmed to be heavily damaged or destroyed in previous attacks.
Moving to my next slide - and it will be a little easier to see the damage in this one - shown here is the imagery of the Belgrade militia hangar facility. This image is before our attack and the next one is after our attack.
The next image is a pre-strike assessment of Pristina airfield and if you look very closely, you will see operational Serbian MiG aircraft on the parking aprons and taxiways.
The next image shows the same area of Pristina airfield after our attack, an attack which you will note added at least three more MiG aircraft to our total claims plus other damage to the airfield.
As I have stated throughout the week, this is a systematic air campaign and we have and we will continue to target those facilities which directly affect the activities of the Serbian military and MUP forces throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Kosovo. We have degraded the integrated air defence system, attacked command-and-control centres, communication nodes, logistic supplies such as ammunition and petroleum, military repair facilities and carefully-selected bridges which will directly affect the re-supply of FRY forces.
In addition, we have interdicted the all-important forces in the field and I have explained the meticulous care with which we approach the targeting process to ensure that we use the minimal amount of force to effect the maximum effectiveness with the least collateral damage and loss of civilian life. I think the results of our attacks which I have shown you throughout the last two weeks have exemplified the surgical precision with which we have been able to conduct our operations.
Today, the weather remains good and we continue to put heavy emphasis on our operations against forces in the field and this morning we have had very encouraging results once again. We will continue to maintain this unremitting campaign using the same ruthless efficiency.