Updated: 19 April 1999 Press Conferences


19 Apr. 1999

Press Conference

by Brigadier General Daniel P. Leaf

(Presentation Photo)

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I am Brigadier General Dan Leaf, Commander of the 315th Air Expeditionary Wing at Aviano Air Base, Italy. I'm an experienced pilot with over 3500 flying hours, and I've flown frequently over Kosovo since 24 March.

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My purpose today is to clarify the events of 14 April 1999 in Kosovo today I will tell you what I know, what we have enough information to believe, in other words, what we think, and I will address some unconfirmed information that has made it very difficult to determine, in detail the events on 14 April 1999.

I am going to brief you on a series of attacks from 1110Z to 1300Z on that date. During this period, at two separate locations, NATO aircraft dropped 9 GBU-12 500-pound laser guided bombs. The two separate target areas included one small group of vehicles north west of Dakovica, and the other, a very large convoy on a major road east south east of Dakovica going towards Prizren. To put the bottom line up front, NATO aircraft struck the first target area with two bombs, and may have hit a civilian-type vehicle, a vehicle associated with the burning of houses. In the second target area they struck the lead elements of the convoy. Vehicles that appeared to be military. Some of them may have been civilian type vehicles, and it is possible there were civilian casualties at both locations. Now, let me tell you what I have learned about these events.

My involvement in this review began very early in the process. I was scheduled to fly that night, and while in quarters heard the first news reports of potential collateral damage. I called my headquarters and asked them to ensure we reviewed our operations for any possible involvement. I received a return call almost immediately from my Operations Group Commander - my subordinate who directly supervises our flying operations. He told me that the review had already begun as part of our normal combat mission debriefing effort.

We review the tape from every sortie not just to assess damage to enemy forces, but to validate our tactics and techniques and ensure we make every effort to strike the right target the right way. I've drawn my conclusions from exhaustive reviews of mission tapes, from interviewing the pilots, examining intelligence data, counsel with other senior leaders, and indeed, from review of the reports you and your colleagues have prepared on this matter. This is a very complicated scenario and we will never be able to determine all of the exact details.

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The key players in this scenario are as follows: Bear 21, is a flight of two F-16s. Their mission was airborne Forward Air Control what we call FAC-A. Forward Air Controllers have the key responsibility of finding and identifying targets. Bear 31 and Bear 41 were similar flights of two F-16s also performing FAC-A duty these three flights of aircraft were given a responsibility over an extended period of time. What we call a vulnerability period, to cover the western half of Kosovo and engage Serb forces in the field.

Chisel 31 was also a flight of two F-16s. Their mission was not Forward Air Control. They were there to provide strike assets able to attack targets that our Forward Air Controllers discovered.

Saab 51 was a flight of two Jaguars, also performing as attack aircraft. Cub was a flight of two O/A-10s who were assigned FAC-A mission duties over in the eastern section of Kosovo. They flew into the western area later in the scenario. ABCCC is an EC 130 Airborne Command Control and Communications aircraft providing the critical link to our Command and Control Agency at the Combined Air Operations Center in Vicenza, Italy. The CAOC is the operational headquarters for the air campaign. To help give you a full understanding of these events, I want to describe the environment that our pilots are operating in as they fly these missions.

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The F-16 cockpit shown here is quite small and incorporates a multitude of sensors to acquire and attack targets. The pilot looks at three principal displays: one is a Heads-Up Display, a large piece of glass upon which tactical data is displayed in front of him. Also, two Multi-Function Displays, or MFD's, located on panels just above the pilots knees. Here, we have an example of a Multi-Function Display to illustrate their actual size. In one of the two Multi-Function Displays the pilot will display the attack from the Infrared Targeting Pod.

The cockpit videotapes we will show you are from the video recording of that data. Note the size of this MFD. It is approximately 4.5 x 4.5 inches. As you can see, the display is monochrome in shades of green.

A typical mission in Kosovo will last approximately 6 hours. The pilots take off from our base at Aviano, in-flight refuel and then proceed into the target area for the vulnerability period. Often they will exit the area, in-flight refuel, then go back into their area of responsibility and repeat the cycle. The mission is very demanding both physically and mentally.

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Here you see the Kosovo area of responsibility, or AOR. As I mentioned, the missions in question were flown in the Western half of the AOR of Kosovo looking for fielded forces. Because of the weather this day, most of our activity was confined to the south-western quarter of Kosovo the specific area addressed in this briefing was in the vicinity of Dakovica shown here.

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I will discuss two target areas. The first is an area North West of Dakovica where houses were seeing burned, and the first attacks occurred the second area was East South East Of Dakovica where NATO we attacked lead elements of a large convoy. I will lay the full chronology of these events for you as we know them and hopefully eliminate some of the confusion about this very dynamic battlefield situation.

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At approximately 1630 Zulu, Bear 21. One of our airborne forward air controllers came on station in Kosovo. This is the pilot whose voice tape you heard at a briefing several days ago, Bear 21, worked North West of Dakovica and witnessed a series of villages and houses burning. He watched this series of fires progress to the Southeast. This progression was very clear - - very graphic - - and very horrifying to bear 21 as he witnessed the houses being destroyed.

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He watched a vehicle leave one house that was burning and then proceed to another house further down the road. That house then erupted into flames. Individuals ran from the burning house, got into the vehicle, and drove to yet another house at this point, as he stated on the tape many of you have all heard, he concluded that the occupants of this vehicle were perpetrating the house burnings. It was only then that he elected to attack the vehicle. He struck the vehicle with a single GBU-12 500-pound laser guided bomb. As a side note, all of the NATO bombs expended in the scenario we are describing, both at the house burning and the large convoy, were the same GBU-12 laser guided bombs I've explained earlier. Additionally, none of our aircraft descended to low attitude during their attacks.

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The vehicle Bear 21 witnessed burning houses was joined by additional vehicles heading in a south-easterly direction. Bear 21 attacked this same vehicle which was the lead vehicle of a group of three. From the altitudes he was operating at, this appeared to be a military style vehicle and matched those travelling with it as a small convoy. I want to reiterate it was the association of this vehicle with the house burnings that made him decide to conduct an attack. Prior to reviewing the video presentation of his attack, let me explain the infra red imagery (explain display on screen and review imagery)

We will now roll the tape of his attack on the vehicle Run bear 21 video

You can see the targeting cursors on the single vehicle and watch the countdown until bomb impact. As you can see he targeted a single vehicle at 1110Z and strikes it directly with a 500-pound laser guided bomb. After the attack, he departed. The area to refuel and passed the co-ordinates of his attack to another flight entering the area, bear 41.

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In the interim, an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, transitioned through the area and imaged the site of Bear 21's attack. We will now roll the tape from the UAV and you can see the vehicle has been damaged, with other vehicles gathered around and that very distinct c-shaped complex. This area was also shown in some Serbian TV video that was provided the day of the attack.

run UAV video

After the UAV imagery, Bear 41 and 42 arrived at the area passed from Bear 21.

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Bear 41 flight it visually assessed the target area for over 10 minutes. He saw what appeared to be large vehicles in the courtyard of the c-shaped complex I pointed out earlier, and made the determination that they were likely to be military vehicles. He designated them as a target, and Bear 42 attacks them with a single GBU-12. As you watch this next video, note the area to the top of the screen. There is a large secondary explosion that is in the assessment of our analysts indicative of an accellerant, such as gasoline, being present in the structure. We have reports of Serbs hiding gasoline inside of homes which they use to refuel their vehicles and burn Kosovar Albanian property. Additionally, we have seen the Serbs place military vehicles, including tanks, up against and even in residential structures to deter NATO air attack in this case. Of course, there is no way of knowing, with certainty, what was inside the house.

Run Bear 42 video

Now we will roll the Serbian TV video of this target area.

Run CNN TV video?

You can see the distinctive c-shaped house and the destroyed trucks and what appear to be tractor type vehicles that were hit. 1148z ends the attack at the target area Northwest of Dakovica. We will display the geography and chronology of the attacks later in the briefing.

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As these attacks are coming to an end, another forward air controller, Bear 31, discovered a very large, more than 100 vehicle convoy on a major road running East- Southeast out Of Dakovica. He began communicating with the ABCCC aircraft about the target. There was an extensive Discussion of the convoy, with the forward air controller Striving to determine whether or not the convoy was a MILITARY TARGET. Several factors played in his decision to attack.

First, approximately 20 vehicles at the front (East-Southeast) end of the convoy were uniform in shape and colour as seen from the air. They were maintaining a set spacing and pace, characteristics of military movement. At About the same time, the FAC saw an unmanned aerial vehicle in the vicinity of the convoy, and was told by ABCCC that, "We just received word that this is a VJ convoy." They specifically discussed the probabilities of IDP's within the convoy and took additional precautions to validate their Targets. ABCCC has access to a variety of intelligence and operational sources, which, for security reasons, I am not at the liberty to discuss. The conversation between ABCCC and Bear 31 immediately prior to the attack is shown on the next Slide

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At that point, 1216z, Bear 31 commenced attacking the lead elements of the convoy. His bomb impacted at 1219z. This is Video of Bear 31's attack.

Next slide Run Bear 31 video

He missed his target vehicle, but a trailing vehicle ran off the road. As bear 31 co-ordinated for more fighter support to attack this convoy, his wingman, Bear 32 attacked and destroyed one of the vehicles. This is the video of his attack continue to run Bear 32 video note level of destruction... as we watch these videos on the large display in the comfort of this room, it appears possible the vehicles are tractor type vehicles. As I reviewed the tapes with the pilots, they agreed. However, they were emphatic from the attack altitude to the naked eye they appeared to be military vehicles again, the physical characteristics of the vehicles were only one factor in the forward air controller's target identification matrix. The lead elements of the convoy had several characteristics of military movement uniform size, shape and color as seen from the air, consistent spacing between vehicles, and a relatively high speed even prior to the attacks. Furthermore, there have been reports of Serb forces using civilian vehicles for military and paramilitary operations.

By this time, Bear had assisted two Jaguar aircraft, Saab flight, in locating the target area and cleared them to attack : both Jaguars reported unsuccessful deliveries. Now low on fuel, Bear 31 and 32 departed, passing off target co-ordinates and information to the next forward air controller on scene Bear 41. This is the same Bear 41 flight that had dropped one bomb on the target Northwest of Dakovica a series of attacks occurred from 1238z to 1258z

Remember that the convoy in question, East-Southeast of Dakovica, was very large and covered several kilometres, As it is moving ese, the attacks on the forward elements of the convoy moved further east. This next series of video clips show that series of attacks. First Bear 41 attacked with one bomb at 1238.

Run bear 41 video

Then Bear 41 and 42 made a simultaneous attack, with one hit and one miss at 1246z.

Run Bear 41/42 video

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In the recovery from Bear 41's first attack on the convoy, he took fire from Serb anti aircraft artillery, or AAA, near the convoy. The AAA fire was large calibre and has a burst height of approximately 13000'.

Run Chisel 31 video

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As chisel 31 completed their attack, ABCCC suggested that the forward air controller (Bear 41 ) verify the target ID. They sugges1ed this based upon communications with the combined air operations center in Italy, the combined force air component commander's war fighting headquarters. While discussing the ongoing attacks, intelligence specialists at the CAOC noted that Serbian forces do not often travel in convoys that large. Therefore, ABCCC suggested the revivification of the hostile identification.

To be better facilitate identification Bear 41 called for cub flight, O/A-10 aircraft to come view the convoy with binoculars. The O/A-10 is slower and more stable than the F-16, and the pilots can utilize 9-power space-stabilized binoculars to view targets.

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As this re-verification was discussed, Bear 31, who controlled and initiated the original attacks on the convoy, was returning to the scene. He overheard this discussion and suggested holding all fighters "high and dry, in other words, that attacks be suspended until re-verification Bear 31 also insisted that cub proceed to the area.

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When cub arrived in the area, the O/A-10 FAC carefully analyzed the convoy and stated that there are "definitely military vehicles in there" but that multicoloured and possibly civilian vehicles are also present. Bear 31, resuming his role as the on-scene forward air controller, terminated all attacks on the convoy and orders all fighters out of the area.

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This is a how the attacks occurred in time and space. At 1110Z came the first attack NW of Dakovica.

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At 1148, Bear 41 flight attacked the same area.

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The first attack on the large convoy occurred at 1219z.

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Attacks continued on the convoy moving east until 1258z attacks were suspended at 1300z and terminated completely at 1320z following cub's visual assessment.

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The chronology of Serbian reports is also important. The first reports on 14 April were in the form of Serbian television footage sowing the target area Northwest of Dakovica. We played the tape earlier.

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Then a full day later the Serbian government sponsored a media tour of the convoy area to the East-Southeast of Dakovica. Additional Serbian press reports alleged attacks on convoys at these locations.

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Now a summary of our attacks:

Bear 21 expended one GBU-12 on the vehicle NW of. Dakovica.

Bear 42 expends on multiple vehicles inside c-shaped compound

Bear 31 and 32 each expended GBU-12s in the first attack on the large convoy.

Saab 51 and 52 each expended a GBU-12 on the large convoy, but reported the attacks as unsuccessful.

Bear 41 expends two GBU 12s and Bear 42 expends one GBU-12 on the large convoy.

Chisel 31 expends a GBU-12 on the large convoy.

The first t target area selected due to its association with the burning of Kosovar-Albanian homes. We cannot determine the exact nature of the vehicles struck in the large convoy. To the pilots, they definitely appeared to be military. Serb media reports show civilian vehicles only, and without having been able to visit the scene, we cannot determine the exact status of the vehicle or casualties. In discussing the convoy, I would like to address the different types of vehicles. When I refer to "military vehicles" I mean a vehicle painted and marked for official military use, a civilian type vehicle is exactly that - - a civilian vehicle in the chaos that is Kosovo, we know that Serb forces are using both types of vehicles for their operations. Our pilots saw military vehicles within the convoy ESE of Dakovica, and the O/A-10 confirmed that with Binoculars. The 24 - hour delay in showing the large convoy to the press would have allowed sufficient time for Serb forces to remove any military vehicles or personnel from the area, and we simply cannot verify exactly what type vehicles were struck by whom. In fact, some reporters also indicated that victims in the convoy attack appeared to have been machine-gunned versus bombing victims.

It is our assessment that NATO forces may have inadvertently struck civilian-type vehicles, and perhaps civilian personnel in the attack on the large convoy. At the first indication that this may be the case, the forwarded air controller halted the attacks.

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There are some other significant reports following the 14 April NATO attack that we must address, and they help explain why it's difficult to verify facts of operations in Kosovo.

First, following the NATO attack, numerous reports from the area of the large convoy ese of Dakovica showed refugees died from machine gun and mortar wounds. However, NATO aircraft employed only precision bombs, not machine guns or mortars.

Second, refugee interviews conducted by the organization for security and cooperation in Europe (OSCE) revealed Serbian forces attacked a refugee convoy in the vicinity of Dakovica. The refugees reported attacks by low-flying MiG Type aircraft expending cluster munitions and grenades Thrown from helicopters. In this incident, NATO aircraft did not fly at low altitude, expended no cluster munitions, and do not include helicopters.

Third, witnesses in the region relayed that they observed a refugee column being attacked by Serb mortars at the same time as the 14 April NATO attack in ESE of Dakovica. Further, the witnesses believed 1hat the Serbs used the convoy as a human shield, positioning some of their military and police vehicles at the front of the column. In essence, this report claims that after NATO attacked the front military vehicles, Serb aircraft attacked the Kosovar Albanians refugees in the rear.

Reviewing the sequence of events reveals that in two separate attacks, Bear 21 and Bear 42 attacked targets associated with the burning of homes North West of Dakovica prior to 1200z on 14 Apr 99.

Beginning at 1219z, Bear 31 initiated and controlled an attack on lead elements of a large convoy east south east of Dakovica. Those attacks by various aircraft lasted until 1258z. I submit that there is a possibility that civilian-type vehicles and possibly civilians themselves were hit in this attack. However, we cannot determine the extent of the loss of life or verify the nature of the victims. Serb reports claimed 80-plus dead, but reporters saw only approximately 20 victims, many of whom did not appear to be victims of bombings

We also conclude that as soon as target id came into question, bear 31 terminated the attacks.

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In conclusion, I have told what I know of our attacks on 14 Apr 98. I cannot explain the bodies seen on Serb TV... we did not have observers on the ground or at the site... it's unlike in a peacetime environment where we have full access to the accident scene we can only speculate on their association with our attacks. There may haw been unforeseen casualties; however, the nature of our exhaustive process to positively identify targets and their association to military or repressive acts remains a key factor that led our pilots to conclude the targets were in fact. Contributing to Serb military or paramilitary activities

NATO continuously reviews its tactics, techniques and procedures to ensure that we minimise the potential for collateral damage or unnecessary loss of life. We have made several adjustments to our operations based on this event, and while I will not reveal tactical details, I believe they will further reduce the potential such events in the fog and friction of battle. So at the end of my presentation, my conclusions are clear:

. There! Were two incidents - - separated geographically

. We are now convinced that in the first incident we struck a valid military target. It was a vehicle directly involved in the burning of houses.

. In the second incident - - the one we have been referring to all along - - there was a confused picture. We engaged a large convoy with a mixture of Serb military and civilian vehicles.

. In this second incident, we may well have caused damage to a civilian vehicle and harm to civilian lives.

. It has taken five days for us to put these fact together - - but that is a very short period for a major inquiry of this kind.

. And one of the reasons why it could not be done even faster is because there was a blatant attempt to manipulate this incident by the Yugoslav's and to use it to their advantage.

Thank you for this opportunity, and I now invite your questions.

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