By Jamie Shea, NATO Spokesman
Welcome to the rapid operational update. As you know, there will be the full briefing by myself and Colonel Freytag of SHAPE at 3 p.m. this afternoon.
It was another busy night for NATO forces over Kosovo and Serbia with activity at around similar levels as we have seen in previous days. Much of our activity last night continued to focus on cutting off the Serb forces inside Kosovo and striking them in the field. Our strategy here is very clear, we are cutting them off, pinning them down and taking them out and to cut off those forces last night we hit more of Belgrade's command-and-control network, particularly in three locations at Kopoknik (phon), Kacerevo (phon) and Vrsac. We also struck radio relay transmitters, petroleum storage sites at Novi Sad and Pasego (phon), we struck bridges at Durres, Pedina and in other locations and we also struck the airfield at Nis in southern Serbia.
As far as fielded forces in Kosovo are concerned, we struck at armoured vehicles, mortar positions, command posts, artillery, 6 surface-to-air missile launchers and air-control vehicles and given the unrelenting 24-hour-a-day,
7-day-a-week nature of our effort, Serb commanders in the field must be starting to feel very nervous at this unrelenting pressure, President Milosevic indeed has left his army in an impossible position. The trap is closing in on the Serb forces on the ground in Kosovo and our aircraft are now hitting them more and more intensively with each passing day. With the weather, as you know, much better now in the theatre, those forces are not going to have any place to hide.
Yesterday - or should I say rather earlier this morning - we gave you details of the incident with the bridge yesterday and at the moment I have no further details to add to what we conveyed during the night.
You also know - because this has been confirmed already by the United States and by myself earlier today - that an F-16 aircraft crashed last night near the town of Kosluk (phon) in north-west Serbia about 18 km indeed from the town of Kosluk, the pilot ejected at around 2.20 a.m. this morning, he was rescued by NATO forces two hours later and he is safely back at his operating base where he is receiving medical attention of course and being debriefed on the incident.
You also know that yesterday an AV-8B US Harrier aircraft crashed and once again the pilot was recovered safely. Further details on those incidents will be provided later to the extent we have more information at that time.
I will just answer a few questions briefly and then, as I said, I'll see you again at 3.pm.
Any explanation for the ...?
Questions & Answers
No, not yet. That is something we are still looking into. I know that Belgrade has claimed that the F-16 was shot down but I think we should be cautious for the time being on that until we've ascertained the exact reason for the crash. The F-16, as you know, is a single-engined aircraft so if it has a mechanical problem it has no back-up engine but again, John, I don't have any further elucidation of that for the time being nor of the reason why the AV-8B aircraft crashed.
Is there any movement on the embargo and where are we with the Apaches?
On the embargo, as you know, yesterday the EU embargo, supported by a large number of other countries around the world, came into effect and that means that from now onwards the vast amount of oil that Yugoslavia used to get won't be coming any more, the tap has been switched off and naturally we're very pleased at that, we're very pleased at the way in which the NATO countries and the European Union together have been able to approve this so quickly and in many cases pass the necessary legislation to bring it into effect and we're very pleased that so many other countries in Europe and beyond have decided to join this oil embargo as well.
On the "visit and search" regime which NATO is working on, this is still being worked on at SHAPE which has received some political guidance in recent days from the NATO Council and the SHAPE concept reflecting the political guidance should be back up here very shortly and I'll try at 3 p.m. today to give you an idea, Julie, as to exactly when we can be expecting it back so we are continuing this issue on a priority basis.
Patricia Kelly, CNN:
Have you got the number of sorties?
No, Patricia, I must say at this moment I don't have the number of sorties.
What is the other plane that you mentioned?
It was an AV-8B US aircraft which I believe crashed into the Adriatic attempting to return to a US carrier but very close to the carrier and the pilot was rescued. This happened yesterday afternoon but I don't have the exact time at the moment, I will give you that or at least Colonel Freytag briefing from the SHAPE perspective will give you all of that at 3 p.m.
Was there any indication that it was damaged by anti-aircraft fire?
No, there is no indication of that at the present time.
Can you tell us what kind of missions that plane would fly, I don't know what an AV-8B does?
It's a Marine AV-8B and it was flying on a training mission from the US Marine Expeditionary Unit, elements of which have been deployed in Albania and in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which is part of the enabling force, it is part of the force essentially in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia under the leadership of General Mike Jackson which is training and preparing for a peace-implementation mission in Kosovo.
Nick Childs, BBC:
We have been hearing that there has been very hard pounding of Serb fielded forces actually in Kosovo for two or three days now. Is there any new evidence of any direct impact it is having on Serb operations themselves?
We know that several missions have not taken place in the last few days because of the impact of NATO strikes and because of the oil shortage and problems of moving around. Of course, if they move they are going to be more visible than if they hunkered down and tried to camouflage themselves so it is having an impact.
I have spoken, Nick, in the last few days, as you know, about reports we've been having of morale problems particularly in the 252nd Mechanised Infantry Battalion where losses have been high and where desertions have occurred and many of the troops that have come into Kosovo have not been augmentations but simply replacements to make up those losses in activity and therefore we know that we are having an impact not simply in terms of the numbers of tanks or vehicles or whatever that have been destroyed but also in hampering the operations and in lowering morale and those are the three areas where we want to continue to work - reduce the equipment level, decrease the mobility and impact on morale - so that those forces begin to feel cut off, isolated, increasingly under pressure and see that they have no future except to try to pull out of Kosovo as quickly as they can.
You say you have taken out some SAM sites in the past 24 hours, is that an increase in activity against their anti-aircraft positions?
To use a golfing term, I would say that that is par for the course, quite frankly, with regard to what we've doing over the last few nights. I have reported - and so has SHAPE - in the last few days on that sort of number virtually every night being destroyed and not simply the sites but also the control facilities associated with them.
How close are you to changing the rules of engagement as far as aircraft patrols go given that you're taking out these sites?
There is no change in the rules of engagement, they are set by the NATO Council and they've remained the same. What do you mean by that, flying lower?
Have you hit enough anti-aircraft sites to make an impact on how you hit the Serb forces?
Certainly we have depleted the Serb air defence in a very major way and we know that because our planes are able to operate very well at the medium-to-high altitudes, that is clear and we have no confirmation that planes that have crashed, crashed because they were intercepted by missiles. Of course, there are still dangers, though, of flying very low because the Serbs have a very extensive air-defence system, including shoulder-held so-called Manpad missiles which can be a danger and therefore we have to continue to strike at the air defence again and again and again. You are never in a situation where you can claim to have totally eliminated it, they have a lot; even if their command-and-control, their ability to detect, to engage NATO forces with radars has been greatly depleted. They still have of course a lot of anti-aircraft fire and they still have the opportunity to get lucky obviously with a lucky shot, you can never eliminate that unfortunately so we still take this very seriously so that even if at the strategic level the air-defence system is no longer working as a viable air-defence system, at the tactical level, particularly with moving radars around, trying to rig and improvise local systems, it is still something that we have to take seriously and we will continue to do so.
Can you give us a reminder of how many planes have been lost so far during the campaign? There was the Stealth that went down over Yugoslavia but there were some others I think.
So far, we have lost - if you include this aircraft yesterday, this AV-8B Marine aircraft that was on a training mission and crashed into the Adriatic Sea - we have lost three aircraft but you have got to remember that we have well over 650 aircraft participating in this operation and that these aircraft have been engaged for the best part of five weeks so I don't that is a bad record frankly, given that these operations are inherently dangerous.
At the same time, I believe we have lost four so-called "pilotless" aircraft or drones, one US if I am correct and I believe three German drones. These are pilotless aircraft of course which photograph the ground and give us obviously valuable information.
I thought there were more than that, there was the Stealth that went down, there were two yesterday and wasn't there an F-16 that went down over Bosnia some time?
No, I'm not aware of that.
There was an Apache.
Oh sorry, an Apache helicopter yes, as well, on a training mission which happened during the week but this was on a training mission and you have to remember that military aircraft - I don't know if you've ever been in one, it has happened to me once - are very dangerous instruments, they go at incredible speeds and even with the most skilful pilots and the best technology, you are going to have accidents and many accidents occur in training by the way and it's the same in this type of operation but if you think of the momentum of operations, over 12,000 sorties in five weeks and constant round-the-clock operations, I think our safety record, if I can put it that way, is extremely good given the dangers inherent in this exercise.
It's true, Paul, that there have been - and I think this is what you are referring to with Sarajevo - a certain number of emergency landings, we have had one in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia with an A-10 recently and with an F-16 in Sarajevo but this is simply because there is a mechanical problem and obviously the pilot has had to land rather than take the risk of trying to get all the way back to base and for this type of momentum of operations I think it's pretty good thus far, I think any mechanic would be very proud of that.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you again, as I say, the fuller update will be at 3 o'clock this afternoon.