Updated: 30 May 1999 Press Conferences


30 May 1999

Press Conference

by Mr Jamie Shea, NATO Spokesman
and Major General Walter Jertz, SHAPE

(Presentation Photo)

Jamie Shea : Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, good afternoon. It's good to see you. General Jertz is with me, as always, for the military operational up-date in a few moments.

Ladies and Gentlemen, yesterday I had the pleasure, along with some of you here in the room, to accompany the Secretary General and SACEUR down to Aviano and Istrana Air Force bases in Italy, and together with them I spent a fascinating day speaking to the military personnel of seven different NATO countries, the commanders, the pilots, the engineers, all working around the clock on Operation Allied Force. The pilots were flying USF16s, Spanish F18s, Italian AMXs, AWACs planes with multi-national crews. It was truly a very impressive line up. It brought home to me, that phrase of Franklin Roosevelt, when he spoke of the arsenal of democracy.

In fact, at some times, it was very difficult to speak and hear the words because every moment, virtually every minute, an aircraft was taking off, or another aircraft was landing. This really brought home to me what 700 sorties a day, and the intensification of the operation, really mean.

The pilots work in 12 hour shifts. For some it is their first combat missions. But they are all extremely motivated. They have 4 hours preparation before they get into the cockpit, during which they have enormous briefings, very detailed briefings, they take enormous care to identify the targets, to have all the latest information to ensure that they can be extremely accurate. They fly for 6 hours in gruelling circumstances, and then when they get back, they have a debriefing of 2 hours in which they analyse the mission, they share information to make sure that that accuracy is upheld. Indeed, some of those stories of the pilots are very impressive. One told me of how, at night, flying over Kosovo he could see lots of red dots representing houses and villages that are burning. More visible at night than during the day sometimes.

Another spoke to me of a deserted landscape in which virtually nothing moved. The roads were empty, no farmers, no activity in the fields, as if the population, like troglodytes had gone into hiding in caves and deserted houses.

Another one told me of how he saw MUP Special Police Forces set fire to a whole series of houses in Djakovica going up a hill. And those who believe that our pilots stay at safe altitudes and don't risk their lives, only need to speak to a few of those people coming back from their missions, and hearing of very intense anti-aircraft fire, of the way in which they have to take evasive action to steer clear of SA3 and SA6 weapons. It became very rapidly clear to me that if we have lost only 2 aircraft thus far, it's not because of Lady Luck, but it's because of the enormous combat skills, training, and extensive preparations of our pilots.

And this whole trip, really brought home to me, probably more graphically than anything else, the contrast between on the one hand a very professional, very disciplined, group of young men and women who really believe in the values that they are defending , who are extremely motivated, and under very firm control by their commanders; and on the other hand what we see in Kosovo today, which is a group of soldiers, out of control, being led by indicted war criminals, who clearly don't believe in what they are doing, and who are beginning to desert in large numbers as a result. And that contrast is the contrast that makes me believe that we are not going to win this conflict simply because we are the most powerful - although we undoubtedly are - and the extra aircraft arriving at the moment at their forward bases, the additional bases that are being made available to us to operate more intensively, certainly reveals just how we are adding all the time to our capabilities. No, it made me realise that we are going to win because we are right. Simple as that. Might doesn't always make right, that has been the mistake of Milosevic. But we have might in the service of right.

Tomorrow, in the afternoon at the Arlington National Cemetery in the United States on Memorial Day, President Clinton will make a speech underlining those important values, and he will honour those who have sacrificed themselves in previous wars in Europe, to allow others to live in peace and freedom and to have their human rights respected. Exactly why we are intervening in Kosovo today.

And last week, President Chirac of France, also referred to this when he said that France is fighting for law, for justice and for morality. We wage this fight with the thought of future generations in our minds. We owe them a strong and a peaceful Europe, where all are united around the essential values of democracy and human rights. It is for this Europe that we are fighting today. And indeed we are, because the facts of this conflict are crystal clear. Killing people because of their ethnic identity is wrong. Making their families witness those killings is equally wrong. Forcing the deportation of 1 million people, and robbing them of their savings and identity cards, simply because of their ethnic identity, is wrong. Looting and burning thousands of homes of people because of their ethnic identify is wrong. Abusing women because of their ethnic identity is wrong, and imprisoning thousands of men and beating them without charge or trial because of their ethnic identity is wrong. Either these moral values mean something in a civilised society or they don't. That is the bottom line.

Today, I noted that the respected UK military historian, John Keegan, and I respect him having read all of his books, has written, I quote "Patriotic though they are, the Serbs can read the writing on the wall. Not only cannot Milosevic win, but he also cannot escape the noose, that is being drawn around him." I agree with that conclusion. The writing on the wall which he speaks of is not going to go away. We are being successful, and we have right as well as might on our side. Those are the two fundamental reasons why we are also going to win. Thank you. Now General Jertz please.

Major General Jertz : Thank you very much Jamie. Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen.

NATO air forces maintained the pressure on Milosevic's military forces flying almost 700 sorties yesterday. Exact numbers are 309 strikes, 85 air defence suppression sorties out of a total of 697. This adds up to 29,979 total sorties.

I told you a couple of days ago, that the weather at present is on our side. With the help of this good weather, and the continuously increasingly capabilities of NATO aircrews as Jamie just pointed out, NATO's air campaign continued to be even more successful against Serb forces and equipment in Kosovo. We have severed their primary lines of communication, so Serb forces are having to use temporary bridges and other workarounds, slowing down, of course, their mobility.

Among the military equipment, they are moving, as we observed, replacements of artillery, replacement for those assets we have been targeting. Artillery is a high priority target for NATO because it permits longer range projection of fire power, including unfortunately cross border shelling as we have experienced the last few days towards Albania. And of course it is also used against people in Kosovo. We have reports of relocation and replacements of artillery units, in particular the 203rd battalion operating north-west of Nis, an indication that NATO air force has struck those forces successfully in the past. Here you can watch the bomb coming from the right side, a reveted artillery piece.

Other targets struck included mortar positions, air defence radars, surface to air missile launchers, and anti-aircraft artillery pieces, plus tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and other military vehicles.

Once again, we hit also airfields. This photograph of the airfield at Sjenica shows some damage and for sure this airfield will not be used for a long time. Outlined in red on the next photograph of the airfield at Ponikve you can see evidence of repair. The Serbs have reconnected two parts of the presently unusable run-way with a road through the damaged area. We do have good evidence that Serb forces tried hard to have this runway fixed again to be available for fixed wing aircraft operations because there are still quite a few number of aircraft left at Ponikve. We will continue to hit the airfields, so long as Milosevic continues patching the damage we do to them. We continue to attack Milosevic's communications capability. His radio and TV relay and broadcast sites, as shown on this slide.

We also hit Milosevic's military storage targets including ammunition storage sites, military storage areas, and military barracks as shown here. I know it is a busy slide, but you can realise that we have a full range of targets all over Serbia and Kosovo. On this video you can see an attack against an ammo storage at Pozega and watch the tremendous secondary explosion.

There was no Serb flight air activity in the last 24 hours, but as you can see Milosevic's air assets have no sanctuary on the ground. This video shows an attack against a helicopter south-west of Nis.

We also hit a command post located in a tunnel at Livadica. Command posts, as you know, are very important because they are the brains of the military force. There was only intermittent use of air defence radars yesterday, demonstrating once again the effectiveness of NATO air defence suppression. This is another measure of our success. 18 missiles were fired at NATO aircraft yesterday, but all are believed to have been shot ballistically. Anti-aircraft artillery fire was light. All NATO piloted aircraft returned safely.

On the ground, UCK operations in north-western Kosovo, in the vicinity of Mount Pastrik seem to have slowed down, indicating that Serb forces may have contained that offensive at least for the time being. Further north, near the Kosovo borders with Albania and Montenegro, the UCK is obviously attempting to maintain a corridor of supply and communication so that they can link up their forces.

This, Ladies and Gentlemen, concludes my portion of the briefing.

Greg - Fox News : Jamie, is it the sense at NATO that the next couple of weeks are crucial, crucial in the sense of diplomacy, crucial in the sense of your air campaign and crucial that after a few weeks maybe some more decisions might have to be made if there aren't results from the air campaign, from diplomacy?

Jamie Shea : Greg, obviously in a campaign like this, every week is crucial, I wouldn't like to characterise the next two as being more crucial than any other, it is an on-going effort, an on-going effort as far as the air campaign is concerned to continue to grind down the Yugoslav Armed Forces, although clearly we are having increasing success at doing that, and an on-going effort to construct with Russia a united diplomatic front to further isolate Milosevic. Certainly I would not like to use the word crucial, but the coming week will be an important one. There is an EU Summit as you know in Cologne in just a few days time, we are heading towards the G8 summit a couple of days after that. Clearly allied leaders are interested in learning from Mr Chernomyrdin what were the latest results of his visit to Belgrade and analysing those results to see where we go from here. But I would see it as a patient onward march rather than characterising things in terms of a decisive week or a make or break moment, I don't believe there are any make or break moments, this will be done through perseverance and persistence.

Greg - Fox News: There is a lot of talk that if by 18 June, if by the G8 summit there are not clear results, that is defeat from the air campaign and not clear results from diplomacy, then you will once again have to think hard about the ground invasion?

Jamie Shea : No I don't' see it that way, Greg. I think we are talking about the success of the air campaign, not the defeat of the air campaign. It was clear to me visiting the bases yesterday the enormous success that those pilots are having against those ground targets. I don't think that any other strategy is going to take out so many tanks so quickly as what we are doing at the moment and we are going to win this by sticking to our strategy. We are not the sort of an Alliance that changes horses in midstream.

Karen - ZDF: General Jertz, you have had a couple of days with favourable flight weather, can you update a little bit the figures or give us a percentage, how many weapons have been hit, now many aircraft? And in addition you mentioned replacements. From where do they come in, from Serbia or how can they replace forces in Kosovo?

Major General Jertz : Let me start with the latter. Replacements do come from Serbia but we of course observe the lines of communication and whenever we do have a chance, once they move into Kosovo, we of course do attack them the moment we see them. But once again, they are not reinforcements, they are replacements, just to make it clear. On the numbers, I would ask you to wait until next Tuesday where I am giving you a complete update on what has happened in the last two weeks actually.

Roy Gutman - New Republic Magazine: In the Telegraph today, you quoted Mr Keegan, there is another article that talks about Britain having offered the astonishing figure of 50,000 troops should ground combat be necessary. Could you address that just in the general sense, and also in the context of this meeting that took place last week of the Defence Ministers in Cologne?

Jamie Shea : The UK have already made it clear on-the-record that there is nothing behind this. I don't know where it came from, there are no NATO plans for a ground invasion whatever. We are continuing to focus on building up the forces necessary for the peace keeping force, the Peace Implementation Force, and as you know a force generation conference at SHAPE takes place on Tuesday to begin that process. There was a meeting of NATO Defence Ministers last week, not a formal one, an informal one, at which several Defence Ministers were represented. I understand that Secretary Cohen joined that meeting briefly. The focus was on two things: what we need to do to continue to intensify the air campaign, which everybody agrees is succeeding, and as you know there are now some additional assets on the way; and secondly what we can do to expedite our preparations to have our Peace Implementation Force ready to move into Kosovo as soon as the Serb forces have started to withdraw. But this was not about some sort of secret revision of NATO strategy. We have not invented a so-called third option, we are sticking to the two options on the table at the moment.

Roy : Were ground forces discussed at that meeting?

Jamie Shea : I can't say. I wasn't there. But I can certainly say that there was no decision to change the strategy, quite the reverse. We really believe now that we are starting to see the results, and you don't change a winning strategy, particularly when you start seeing the results you want.

Jake: Given the military and moral disparity which you describe, and John Keegan I am sure is right that ultimately Milosevic cannot win here. But it is clear, isn't it, that firstly it is within his power to spin this out and the longer he spins it out the more misery and mayhem he has potential to cause, not just in Kosovo but elsewhere as well. My question is, what is there in what is currently on offer from NATO to Mr Milosevic to incentivise him not to spin it out, especially given that politicians around the world are the same, if they have to perform a U-turn, they don't want it to look too much like a U-turn?

Jamie Shea : Jake, when you give President Milosevic an incentive to agree, he negotiates, and you end up with less than what you originally had hoped for, and that is not the mistake we are going to make. It is not a question of giving President Milosevic a carrot which encourages him to believe that he can settle this on his terms rather than the terms of the international community, it is keeping up the pressure so he knows that he has a simple choice: to agree to the five conditions or to continue to see his Armed Forces progressively taken away from him. That is the choice he has to make, simply to decide at what price he is going to accept the five conditions. But we are not going to start offering carrots and incentives and sweeteners to give him the notion that he can back away from those five conditions, that would be a fundamental mistake and we are not going to make it.

Jake - Sky News: But the condition of the international community, as represented by the G8 for example, is to have an international security presence, no mention in the wording of NATO core, NATO led or anything else. Now you have said from that podium before that the only real criterion of success for NATO is if those refugees go back to their homes. Realistically, if the choice is between remaining under canvas in a refugee camp and going back to their homes, perhaps rebuilt sometime after the end of hostilities, they are going to go back, whether the troops protecting them are from NATO countries, or from Russia, or anywhere else. How useful is it for NATO to carry on insisting on that if that is going to prove the stumbling block for example to getting agreement with Russia, or indeed to getting agreement from Mr Milosevic?

Jamie Shea : A peace keeping force in a country does not meant that things immediately get better. We have had examples of peace keeping forces in countries where wars got worse, where refugees flowed over the borders in ever greater number. So as far as we are concerned, a peace keeping force is not interchangeable with another peace keeping force, it is not simply changing the colour of the same car, it is fundamentally a different model we are talking about here. The refugees will not move unless they see a very strong NATO presence in that force. We know fully well that only a strong NATO force will be able to provide the security that is necessary for the reconstruction of Kosovo, that is why we are going to insist upon it.

Antonio Martins - RTP : Yesterday, talking to the Secretary General, I got the feeling that for the first time he thinks there is something else behind the words of Milosevic than the usual way of doing things. Is there anything now that might NATO think that Milosevic really is a lot under pressure and he will give up soon? And General, from a military point of view, and Milosevic is in charge of the army, does it really make a difference if we say all options are open, or there is a clear threat that the ground troops might go in if he keeps staying the way he is?

Jamie Shea : It is obviously a sign of things going in the right direction that President Milosevic now says that he is willing to accept the G8 principles, clear. But on the other hand, we have to wait and see what that means in terms of the details, details are very important here. Anything that means that Belgrade moves towards those five conditions is something that we will welcome, but at the same time we will remain cautious because details in this business are everything, as you well know. One could interpret those conditions in different ways and we want to make sure that Milosevic interprets those in the way that we interpret those. That is the first point.

Secondly, I saw the pictures of President Milosevic receiving Mr Chernomyrdin. I saw that his hair looked rather greyer than when I had last seen him, even a little bit further back on his forehead than what I had seen before. He certainly didn't have the demeanour of somebody who was just back from holiday. And so clearly if photos are to reveal anything, he is a man who is now under substantial pressure.

Major General Jertz : Well you know we are all aware of the fact that his power, Milosevic's power, is based on military force and we are very successful against his military forces. We do attack his command and control capabilities, we do take away his tanks, his artillery and everything he has, and once he realises that we are successful and he must do it pretty soon, because he has not too much left to play with, he realises that the air campaign is working successfully enough to really get everything away from him, what he needs to sustain his power, and that is why the air campaign should continue the way we are doing at the present time.

Antonio: But if NATO tells him that the option of the ground troops is real, instead of saying all options are open, does this make a difference? Because it is possible the man can stay for another two months under fire and this is not going to be very well received by the public opinion that counts in the countries of the Alliance?

Major General Jertz : Well to be honest, when I was trained to be on stage here, I was told that the 'if' questions are the bad ones, so don't answer those. Now to be honest, the campaign works well. NATO is united, NATO is doing a successful air campaign and we are so far ahead with the successes which we are doing at the present time, I think we just should stick to it rather than discuss any other options which are more than speculation.

ABC News: Two questions, one first for the General. About 20 minutes ago CTV had very sketchy reports of some bridge having been hit in southern Serbia, they are saying that many civilians have been killed, so I want to know if you have heard anything about that? Jamie, obviously we want Chernomyrdin to bring back good news when he goes to Belgrade, but it seems that recently what he has been discussing with Milosevic is a bit different from what NATO would like him to discuss with him, is that still what is going on do you think?

Major General Jertz : Did you refer to a specific area?

ABC News: Just before coming in, CTV reported that some bridge had been hit in southern Serbia, but no specific town yet.

Major General Jertz : First of all let me tell you once again that of course we do only attack military targets. Full stop. I have two reports, one is from the area of Pilot, it is an ordonance ammo depot which was attacked last night at 2320 Zulu and one of the bombs did go 300 metres away from the intended desired mean point of impact because the target was covered by smoke, but it did land in a wooded area; and the other incident I have a report on was that north-west of Nis, Kamrolija, we did attack military barracks. Indeed two bombs, the pilots did guide off intentionally because the target was covered so they couldn't identify the target well enough, so they intentionally discarded these two bombs which fell into a river called Nisavar, I hope it is spelt correctly. And the reason why I am saying this, I think once again let me emphasise that our pilots, even when they are under pressure, and Jamie has explained, he has talked to the pilots yesterday and you know I am flying aircraft myself, every time when you are under pressure and you are shot at by AAA, you are shot at by Sams, the pilots still do know that they are responsible for where their bombs are actually hitting and so like in this incident where they realised that they would not hit the target, they just guided them into a river, which was fortunate enough they did.

Remember though that Serb troops shelling civilians, they don't even think about collateral damage and we should keep that in mind.

Jamie Shea : As for the question, I saw some reports on Tass about some alleged ideas of Mr Chernomyrdin, but they are press reports and I think it is right and proper for me not to comment on that, let Mr Chernomyrdin explain directly to allied governments, as I am sure he will be doing at the moment, exactly the contents of what he discussed in Belgrade.

Karel - Agence Nouvelles tchque: Among more reports coming from Yugoslavia are alarmist reports about the environmental damage which is being done to the neighbouring countries. Is NATO doing some kind of assessment of these?

Jamie Shea : No, we are not doing a formal assessment, but there was a UN environmental protection programme conference a couple of days ago on this which really did not find any significant evidence of long term environmental damage, and therefore I am quite happy to go with that verdict. As you know, we are very discriminating in our targeting and we have no evidence of any long term effects.

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