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Updated: 15 May 1999 Press Conferences

NATO HQ

Brussels

Press Conference

given by NATO Spokesman, Peter Daniel
and SHAPE Spokesman, Major General Walter Jertz

(Presentation Photo)

Peter Daniel: Good afternoon. Let me start with a brief word about the NATO attack on the military camp and command post just outside the village of Korisa. First, let me remind you that this area of south-western Kosovo has been subject to steady Serb military activity since March of this year. There was heavy Serb activity in the area during the specific time around the attack as well.

I'll leave the specific details of the strike to General Jertz, but let me just make a few points. I know there is a great deal of speculation about how many, and why, Kosovar Albanians were at that location at the time of the attack. We understand why you have those questions, but we can only tell you what we know to be true. Just as we are aware of Serb claims regarding casualties, we are aware of continued reports that the Milosevic regime uses human shields. We are not there on the ground, and you are not there on the ground. Serb media has a history of misrepresentation, to say the least. So that while we cannot vouch for the completeness, nor the credibility of the television footage that has been broadcast, NATO deeply regrets any accidental civilian casualties that may have resulted from this attack.

From this podium we have, can and will only tell you what we know, and what we know is this. We identified a military camp and command post at this site. It was planned as a target. The pilot confirmed that it was a valid military target immediately before executing the strike. We struck the site we targeted.

Now I will let General Jertz carry on with his military briefing, including more details about this incident.

Major General Jertz : Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I would like to begin today by reiterating the NATO statement from earlier this morning concerning the reports about the incident close to Korisa. Following Serb claims about a NATO attack near Korisa, we had conducted an extensive review of NATO operations in that area. Here is what I can tell you so far.

First of all, as already has been mentioned, it was a legitimate military target. NATO reconnaissance and intelligence orders identified just outside Korisa a military camp and command post, including an armoured personnel carrier and 10 pieces of artillery. Follow-up intelligence confirmed this information as being a valid military target. Immediately prior to the attack at 23.30 -11.30 p.m. - local time Thursday night an airborne forward air controller confirmed the target, so the identification and attack system of his aircraft, having positively identified the target as what looked like dug-in military reveted positions, he dropped two laser guided bombs. Following his attack, he cleared his wingman to also attack the same target using two more laser guided bombs. Approximately 10 minutes later, the third aircraft engaged the target with gravity bombs, with six gravity bombs. A total of 10 bombs were dropped on the target.

Contrary to Serbian reports, I want to be very clear that cluster munitions were not used against these targets. We have no way of confirming the casualty information being reported by the Serbian authorities. Thus I can add nothing to what has already been said.

There are two other items I would like to clarify before I give you the operational up-date of today. First, concerning the use of cluster munitions which was debated and discussed yesterday. NATO operational planners choose the best weapon based on the target to be attacked. Cluster bombs are valid munitions which are very effective against forces on the ground. Sometimes, cluster munitions are not appropriate and so we use other munitions. As with all weapons we employ, we take every precaution to avoid unintended damage when we use cluster munitions at all. In fact, as we have seen throughout the air operation, we prefer precision-guided munitions any time we can use them. This is in keeping with our aim to avoid collateral damage as much as possible.

I also told you yesterday that NATO aircraft have used 30mm depleted uranium ammunition. As you know, the United States has addressed this issue before, particularly in the Pentagon briefing on 3rd May in which it was confirmed the use of these shells.

Turning now to our air operations in the last 24 hours. Once again, we have seen no indications that Serbian ground forces in Kosovo are ceasing operations or maybe even withdrawing. They continue operations, moving forces tactically within Kosovo. In general, we have seen a reduction in ground combat activity between the Serbian ground forces and the UCK over the past 24 hours. Most activity however is still on-going in the western part of Kosovo.

Our air operations continued at pace with almost 600 missions flown in the last 24 hours, which is less than it was 24 hours ago. Within Kosovo we attacked more tanks, armoured personnel carriers, reveted artillery, fuel trucks, a bridge-making vehicle and assembly areas as shown here. These attacks continue to degrade and disrupt the Serbian ground forces in Kosovo. We are keeping the unrelenting pressure on these forces for obvious reasons.

This first post-strike image I have to show you illustrates the effectiveness of our attacks against the bases of Serbian ground forces. This was, by the way, the support base at Krivovo. Our strategic targets included strikes against command and control facilities at Novi Sad, Kosjeric and Novi Pazar, hits on integrated air defence sites - including radars near Belgrade and Pirot - petroleum facilities near Sjenica and Kraljevo, lines of communications near Verbas, Kosmaca and Orlate and other targets as shown on the slide.

Speaking of lines of communications and the vital resupply routes for the Serbian ground forces. This image shows the damage to the Popovac bridge north of Kosovo.

Air defence activity was similar to what we have seen over the past few days. There were seven surface-to-air missiles fired along with anti-aircraft artillery. All of our aircraft returned safely to their bases.

There are approximately ten, maybe even more humanitarian convoys going into Kosovo and into Yugoslavia today. Again, as I said yesterday, we are taking every precaution to ensure these convoys pass safely through Kosovo and Yugoslavia. Still it is a challenge to deconflict between these convoys and our essential combat air operations.

The humanitarian aid flights continue. Over the past 24 hours another 14 aid flights arrived in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and 13 flights arrived in Albania. And here is a summary of key deliveries thus far. These efforts, along with the outstanding work of our NATO personnel in theatre, have made tremendous strides in providing safe refuge for those innocent victims of Serbian brutality.

Thank you very much, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Jake Lynch, Sky News: We had a report from our military analyst, Paul Beaver, citing a military source that the building involved in this attack was in former times a tractor factory. Now, can you confirm first of all that tractors were on the ground near it when the attack took place and that this was interpreted by the pilots not as a warning signal that civilians may be nearby, but in fact a sign therefore that they were in the right place? And secondly, why have you not produced cockpit video of the incident at this briefing this afternoon?

Major General Jertz : What I can say so far is when the pilot attacked the target he had to visually identify it through the attack systems which are in the aircraft, and you know it was by night, so he did see silhouettes of vehicles on the ground and as it was by prior intelligence a valid target, he did do the attack. The cockpit video you know it takes a little while to really have it here because we would have to get it and I cannot promise you that we will get it in time, but I know the DoD Washington is working on it and so far you just have to wait. But there was no time to really send it up here.

Jake Lynch: Sorry, could I just ask you, the only inhibiting factor as to the reason why we haven't seen it this afternoon is the time it physically takes to get it here, and yet this is an attack that took place at 11.30 the night before last?

Major General Jertz : Once again, we are working the issue to have the video here. If we can show it to you then by that time it will be shown to you. But, once again, the nation who has to provide the video will come to us and then we will be ready to do it. But we did not have the time to do it yet.

Peter Daniel: If I can just refer you, at five o'clock this afternoon, Brussels time, there will be a briefing at the Pentagon and it may be a part of that briefing if it is available and possible to release it.

Augustine Palokaj, Koha Ditore: A question for the General. You mentioned that ten humanitarian convoys are going today to Kosovo. Are you aware about the way of distribution - who will receive that and will the displaced persons be able to receive the humanitarian aid?

Major General Jertz : Well you know the humanitarian convoys, under the lead of the UNHCR, or any other NGOs (non-governmental officials), who do try to aid those innocent people - you know we took all the precautions which we could do to make sure that they have a safe passage - but the areas they are going to, that is up to them and it is not under military command.

Peter Daniel: I might just add to that, that these humanitarian organisations of course give us their routes and where they are intending to stop and where they are going. In other words, where they are going to be the whole time that they are within the territory of the conflict area; and that gives us some indication of the breadth of where they are going to stop and what people might be in what given area. But as I have said again this morning and this afternoon - we are not on the ground, you are not on the ground and we can only go by the indications that we have and try to piece it together. And the information that we are given is that there is no discrimination with respect to the distribution of humanitarian aid, that it will go to all the people that are in either the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, that is in Serbia, or in Kosovo.

Xavier Vidal-Folch, El Pais: Two questions. General, why did the pilots not realise there were civilians in Korisa? Was it because it was night? Why do you bomb at night without sufficient guarantees that you won't provoke collateral damages? And secondly, could you confirm what was the altitude of the planes at the moment of the bombing?

Major General Jertz : First of all, for the first question, as I already said in my briefing, it was a legitimate target. Since late April we knew there were command posts, military pieces in that area and they have been continuously used. So for the pilot flying the attack, it was a legitimate target. But when he is in the target area for attacking, it is his responsibility to make sure that all the queues he sees are the ones which he needs to really attack. And at night he saw the silhouettes of vehicles and that is why he was allowed to attack. Of course, and we have to be very fair, we are talking at night. If there is anybody sleeping somewhere in a house, you would not be able to see it from the perspective of a pilot. But once again, don't misinterpret it. It was a military target which had been used since the beginning of the conflict over there and we have all sources used to identify this target in order to make sure that this target was still a valid target when it was attacked.

Peter Daniel: May I just add to that? If there are civilians in a target that has been clearly identified as a military target, it certainly wasn't NATO that brought them there. We know who brought them there. If there were civilians in this particular location identified as a military target, they were brought there by someone. And why aren't those people sleeping in their homes, where they should be, where we would never harm them because we would know that's where they were and that those were their homes?

Mark Laity, BBC: Given that the attack was on a military target, have you had any indications about any battle damage assessment? Are you aware of whether you accurately hit the target, whether there was any Serb vehicle casualties which you can usually make some kind of assessment of? And just taking up the point that you have made about what is called human shields, how much are you getting in the way of indications of the Serbs deliberately trying to use human shields? Are these reports accurate, are there many of them?

Major General Jertz : Let me say for the beginning that we had in the past weeks, looking at the target, we had no evidence that there were civilians present, no indication whatsoever. And as it was a military target, as it was used as a command post, and we saw one piece of artillery and the 10 pieces he was talking about, for sure it was for us a military target.

Mark Laity: I am not arguing, I am asking about post-strike, not the pre-strike. What indications have you had of BDA? Did you hit the target?

Major General Jertz : We hit the target which was supposed to be hit. That was the target the pilot was given and it was revetments. That is what he saw on his attack aircraft, on the attack screen, when he was attacking it. The battle damage is, then we would have been on the ground there and see what really has been done. And we are doing that. At the moment we are over-flying the area again to find out what the battle damage looks like now.

Mark Laity: Yes, but you do actually use video imagery as part of your BDA assessment and these were laser-guided bombs. So, you know, I am not trying to catch you out. I am just asking have you had any indications that you hit military vehicles because the film from the ground, which we know could have been manipulated, doesn't show any? So have you had any indications of things on the ground which were destroyed?

Major General Jertz : Let me reiterate. The targets which had been attacked by the pilots were the revetments and that was what he saw when the bombs did go down. Other than that, the battle damage is still on-going, we had nothing about tractors, we saw it on TV like you did.

Dominique Thierry, Radio France: Hier pour la premire fois cette tribune on nous a prcis qu'il y avait deux exemples le 13 mai d'utilisation de civiles comme boucliers humains sur deux ponts dans la valle proche de Pristina. Depuis hier vous nous laissez entendre et vous le prcisez encore aujourd'hui qu'il y a pu avoir des boucliers humains autour de cette cible. Est-ce que c'est effectivement ce que vous nous laissez entendre et en quoi et pourquoi est-ce contradictoire avec ce que vient de dire le General Jertz qui dit qu'il n'y a pas d'indications de boucliers humains ?

Peter Daniel: On ne peut pas confirmer qu'il y a des boucliers humains et je l'ai bien dit ce matin aussi. Nous avons beaucoup d'indications et il y a eu des reportages differents dont Jamie Shea en a fait part hier dans son briefing de l'aprs-midi. Mais le fait est que, comme je viens de dire, ces gens taient sur un site que nous avons bien identifi comme un site et une cible militaire qui a t vis et d'aprs ce que nous avons vu a la tlvision il y avait des civiles. Je ne peux pas dire plus que a. Nous ne sommes pas l, vous n'etes pas l, seulement les serbes sont sur place et il faut se fier a leurs compte-rendus.

Question: Vous n'tiez pas l-bas, les serbes ont t l-bas, mais il y avait aussi des albanais l-bas. Je vais vous dire qu'il y avait aujourd'hui, et a a t transmis par les services albanais de la Deutsche Welle, le rcit d'une des survcues de ce drame de Koris. Il a dclar la radio de la Deutsche Welle que les civiles albanais sont rassembls dans ce village et tenus par la force par l'arme serbe. Comment vous pouvez commenter ce rcit, ce temoignage de cette personne, de cet albanais qui a survcu ce drame ?

Peter Daniel: Oui, c'est justement ce que je viens de vous dire. Nous avons des rapports, des indications et des compte-rendus des gens dans les camps de rfugis, et a d'autres endroits, de differentes choses qui se sont passes. Mais j'ai clairement dit au debut cet apres-midi que si nous ne le savons pas par nos propres moyens, je ne peux pas vous confirmer cela.

Douglas Hamilton, Reuters: There are a couple of questions that I would like to put on behalf of Reuters colleagues in northern Albania who can't put them. They have seen all this bombing going on across the border, very close to the border, near the Morina checkpoint and they are wondering what NATO is doing there? Is there a specific purpose? Are you softening up that area in order to do something there such as to fly in Apaches? Second question from them, does NATO have any intelligence to offer the aid agencies about how many refugees are waiting on that side of the border? Apparently the UN is saying NATO isn't telling us what they see in terms of queues of refugees just across the border into Kosovo.

Major General Jertz : You know that there is heavy fighting, we have to admit that. There was and there is heavy fighting on the ground in this area between what we found out the UCK and Serb forces, but it is very difficult of course to really say exact numbers and how many military assets have been involved in that. So we really look into it, but having identified military VJ targets over there, that is of course also the emphasis that we are doing attacking those areas.

And on the other question, we are very sure that there are no refugees waiting to come into FYROM and/or Albania at the present time. All the indications we have are that they are more or less either forced or at least one has put some force on them to have them stay at home, or at least have them go back again to where they came from. And as Peter already indicated, the reason would be and is very obvious.

Peter Daniel: I can only say this: there is good co-operation between the agencies and NATO, there is good co-operation that I think you can witness on the ground in both the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and in Albania, and that co-operation also extends to trying to help in any way to relieve the suffering. You have to understand, and I think you are aware, that the refugees move around. The pattern isn't static, it changes from day-to-day and there are some people who are plainly hidden. Hidden means you want to hide from everything, including anyone that might be able to see you and they may be deeply hidden in the forests. But there is a lot of movement, people are moving from one area to another and moving around in groups and it is very difficult to draw a map and say here is where they all are on a given day, because things do change from day-to-day.

Jean-Marc Illouz, France 2: A question for General Jertz - three points. First of all, did I understand correctly that you said a third plane used gravity bombs about 20 minutes after the first strike? Second question: was the artillery located on that command post, had it been active in the previous days? And the third question is on validation: how does a pilot validate visually a target at night? And Peter, if you could then perhaps pick that one up in French I would like that.

Major General Jertz : Yes, I said there was a third aircraft called in because as the first aircraft, what we call forward air controller aircraft, had identified the revetments and the silhouettes, I already mentioned, and the third aircraft was called in to also hit the target, but according to the information I have is that it was about 10 minutes and not 20 minutes.

Jean-Marc Illouz, France 2: Two laser-guided bombs or was it a gravity bomb?

Major General Jertz : There were two aircraft with two laser-guided bombs each, and then 10 minutes later a third aircraft came in with six bombs, gravity bombs, inert bombs, hitting the target which was already indicated by the first two aircraft with the six bombs.

On the validation question, once again I really have to elaborate and reiterate again, it was a validated military target because we did have all the information since the beginning of the conflict that there was a command post and it was used as military target. And from a pilot's perspective, you can imagine flying at night at medium altitude. Of course you have to be very concentrated on the attack itself and by using the attack systems and validation systems in the aircraft, which he did, he did see silhouettes on the ground.

Jean-Marc Illouz, France 2: Are these night vision enhancers, or .....?

Major General Jertz : They are night vision enhancers and he has a good view on what is going on, on the ground.

Jean-Marc Illouz, France 2: And that means visual recognition using night enhancers?

Major General Jertz : Visual recognition via technical means, which are in the cockpit.

Peter Daniel: You asked me to pick that one up, I will be glad to do it after. Oui, je pourrais le faire plus tard.

CNN: General, deaths of civilians by NATO attacks gone wrong is not new, it has been a recurring theme in this campaign. Could you name one safeguard, one procedure you have put into place to lessen the chances of this happening?

Major General Jertz : Death of civilians at the beginning have been caused by Milosevic.

CNN: I am talking about in this campaign, the NATO-related deaths?

Major General Jertz : Also the NATO-related campaign had been started by Milosevic, and of course it is bitter to have deaths of civilians during a conflict and we do all our best to avoid collateral damage and that is why I have said we are using very often and mostly precision-guided munitions to keep collateral damage as low as possible.

CNN: Have you been doing that throughout?

Major General Jertz : No, I just told you that we were also using other kinds of munitions. But still what we are doing throughout is to do our best to avoid collateral damage.

Peter Daniel: I think what you are really asking is a policy question and it has to be answered from a policy perspective, and that is how are we conducting this campaign? We are trying to the utmost degree possible, first of all to properly identify and target only military or military-related targets; and secondly, to revalidate those targets, as we have explained to you today, to the extent possible. And we have told you time and time again that when they can't be properly validated, there is a very simple procedure, it is called abort, away we go home and we haven't done anything. And that has happened on many occasions, we have put it here in the briefing on many, many days where people have gone in, we knew where the target was, but if we couldn't be absolutely sure, we aborted, and that is basically the answer to your question. That there is a policy that is set down and that is the way we operate.

CNN: With respect Sir, that wasn't the question. The question was since these incidents have happened, have you put in place, can you name for me one procedure that you have put in place to lessen them happening? It's is a very simple question, Sir.

Peter Daniel: Here I have to turn for a bit to General Jertz, but I can pick that one up too.

Major General Jertz : We do have procedures, as I already said. We do go through all the intelligence sources which we have to make sure that these are valid targets, and only if they are valid military targets we do have them on the list. And once again, when we have good weather we make sure that we identify the target visually. When the weather is not as good or when it is at night we take other devices, like I already explained - attack devices and devices which are in the aircraft, enlarging the area where the target is being situated and those are the plans and we continuously do the validation of targets and then make sure that they are only military targets. And as Peter already indicated, I think we have shown you on several occasions that while we were attacking targets and the pilot could not identify the target as a military target, or he saw that was something which he did not expect, he turned away the guidance and the bomb did go somewhere else. What else can we do? The only other reason would be to not begin a war like that, but talk to Milosevic, he did it.

Pierre Julien, RTL: Je voudrais revenir a la question de mon confrre de France Inter. Avez-vous vraiment eu des exemples de multiplications, sans parler donc du cas prcis de Korisa, mais avez-vous eu des exemples de multiplications, d'exemples donc des boucliers humains ? Et ma deuxime question c'est : peut-on connaitre le type, ou tout au moins la nationalite, aussi des appareils qui ont participes aux raids ?

Major General Jertz : You know that we are not talking specific countries when we are talking what kind of aircraft had attacked, but I already indicated to you that it was F-16s, so it is up to you to find out which country it was, and it is always up to the country to announce, if they want to announce it, if it was theirs or not. And please be fair, let's stick to that policy.

Peter Daniel: Je crois sur la question des boucliers humains, j'ai rpondu a deux reprises. Ce matin aussi, et je vous ai bien dit que c'taient des indications des rapports des temoignages que nous avons reus mais nous n'avons pas de l'information que nous possdons directement qui nous permettra de le confirmer. C'est pour a que je vous dis, je vous rfre la situation dont on a un temoignage mais pas plus. Si le jour o on pourrait le confirmer, ce moment-l, a sera present comme une confirmation.

Major General Jertz : May I add to that? In 1995 there were 375 United Nations Protection Forces attached to munition support areas, to bridges, so that they should not be attacked, and that was Karadzic, including Milosevic, doing it and he continuously does it.

Abi Wright, ABC: Peter, you and the General have said repeatedly that this was a military target, that you had seen military activity there since the end of April. Why then did it take weeks later for this target to actually be bombed, why wasn't it bombed sooner if you had so positively and definitely identified it as an area of military activity?

Major General Jertz : Thank you very much for the question, I think it is an easy question. There are so many legitimate targets and of course when I indicated to you that we are using precision-guided munitions and not using weapons which are as brutal as Milosevic is using in other areas, it takes much longer because if you have one or two precision-guided munitions per aircraft then of course you have to go over and over again and go to the military targets which have been detected. On the other hand, whenever the tactical leader tells us that this target should now be attacked because the value of the military target has increased, then it is his right and his freedom to attack this target as long as it is detected as a legitimate military target.

Abi Wright, ABC: Do you mean by that then that there were more tanks sited in that site, that something new had developed there to make it more valuable as a target now as opposed to earlier?

Major General Jertz : There was more fighting on the ground by that time and that is why the tactical leader, and I wouldn't like to go into more details on that, the tactical leader at the site running the campaign down there, he decided that this target should be attacked on that night, and that is all I can say.

Peter Daniel: I would just remind you that this particular target is in the Prizren area and if you have seen the map for the last few days you would have noticed that there is a lot of activity in this area on our part and that is not just coincidence; it's because there is a lot of Serb military activity in this particular region. You have seen reports, and again I say reports, that were mentioned from this podium a week or so ago about Kosovar Albanians being conscripted to dig revetments and defences around Prizren and I mean this is an area where there are a lot of Serb military forces and a lot of military installations, and this particular village is only about five kilometres, as I understand it, from the centre of Prizren and that whole area around there is an area of quite high activity.

Question: Puisque vous parlez des boucliers humains, vous croyez que c'tait par hasard qu'ils taient l ? Parce que d'habitude on les mlange avec des tanks, ou est-ce qu'ils savaient qu'ils pouvaient tre attaqus ce soir-l ? Et encore je voudrais savoir, puisque vous avez dit qu'ils bougent souvent leurs postes de commandement - vous expliquez a depuis plusieurs jours - est-ce qu'il tait possible que vos renseignements taient perims ? Si c'tait des renseignements qui venaient du mois d'avril.

Peter Daniel: La rponse la premire partie de votre question, si je l'ai bien comprise, c'tait le fait pourquoi ces civiles taient l ? D'apres les indications encore et des temoignages, des gens que nous avons vu dans les journaux et sur les files, c'est que ces gens l passaient que la nuit dans ce village et ils taient auparavant dans les collines, dans la campagne, o ils se cachaient, o ils se rfugiaient et ils taient amens cette localit, encore aprs les temoignages, par des policiers serbes. C'est tout-ce que nous savons. Mais c'tait comme on vous l'a dit, identifi maintes reprises comme tant une installation militaire avec de l'quipement militaire et du personnel militaire sur place, et le reste je crois que nous l'avons rpt comment nous avons conduit l'attaque il y a 36 heures.

Major General Jertz : Of course our intelligence is not out-dated, we do up-date our military intelligence continuously and I think we come back to the same question again. It was a military, legitimate target and the information we had was it had to be attacked because it was a valid target.

Peter Daniel: Okay, I'm going to cut this off because the Pentagon will be going at five o'clock and we'll be back tomorrow morning at 10.30 and again at three o'clock.

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