Updated: 25 April 1999 Press Conferences

25 Mar. 1999

Press Conference

by Secretary General, Dr. Javier Solana
and SACEUR, Gen. Wesley Clark

NATO HQ - 15.00 Hours

Secretary General: Yesterday evening around 8 p.m., Operation Allied Force began.

Last night's operation was carried out with a broad participation by Allies.

This demonstrates NATO solidarity, unity and resolve in carrying out this action.

Let me stress that strikes were conducted against carefully chosen military targets focussed on the air defence network of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Our initial reports indicate that these first strikes were successful.

All NATO aircraft returned safely to their bases.

I express on behalf of the North Atlantic Council our gratitude to the men and women in our Allied armed services who were involved.

In a few moments, I will ask SACEUR to give you an interim update on activities.

Let me reiterate we are determined to continue until we have achieved our objectives: to halt the violence and to stop further humanitarian catastrophe.

Let me emphasise once again that we have no quarrel with the people of Yugoslavia.


Our actions are directed against the repressive policies of the Yugoslav government, which is refusing to respect civilized norms of behaviour in this Europe at the end of the 20th century.

The responsibility for the current crisis rests with President Milosevic.

It is up to him to comply with the demands of the international community.

I strongly urge him to do so.

I will now hand over to SACEUR.

General Clark: Yesterday we began Operation Allied Force, as the Secretary General said, the first Alliance-wide air operation of its type, taken in response to the deepening humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Kosovo as Yugoslav military and security forces continue and intensify their attacks on their own people.

The purpose of this operation has been well articulated by the Secretary General and Heads of State and Government of many nations throughout the Alliance.

The military mission is to attack Yugoslav military and security forces and associated facilities with sufficient effect to degrade its capacity to continue repression of the civilian population and to deter its further military actions against his own people. We aim to put its military and security forces at risk . We are going to systematically and progressively attack, disrupt, degrade, devastate and ultimately destroy these forces and their facilities and support, unless President Milosevic complies with the demands of the international community. In that respect the operation will be as long and difficult as President Milosevic requires it to be.


This is not an attack against the Serb people. Every effort is being made to avoid harm to innocent civilians and to avoid collateral property damages.

In the operation thus far almost 400 aircraft and several warships have been involved from most nations in the Alliance of all different types.

Thus far more than 40 targets have been struck:

  • most of these targets were associated with the integrated air defence system;

  • other targets included command and control facilities, VJ/MUP forces and a few military support facilities;

  • I am not able today to identify the specific targets of this operation, but let me just say that they do extend throughout the FRY. There is no planned sanctuary. Downtown Belgrade was not stuck yesterday.

  • Battle Damage Assessment of targets continues and I have nothing yet to report on this but we will be making information available as it is analyzed and assessed. You may remember from your experience with other operations of this type, it normally takes several days to gain a clear understanding of the results of the operations.

What we are targeting here are military and security forces and the associated facilities. We are taking all possible measures to minimize collateral damage or damage to innocent civilians or nearby property that is not associated with the target. We obviously want to have the maximum effect on their ability to prosecute these offensive operations against their own people.

But we are starting with the integrated air defence system, the anti-aircraft sites , command and control facilities and infrastructure and will be then progressively and systematically moving from there.

Now just a few words about the operation:

It was a very well planned and organized Allied operation: the sorties, the ships, all of this came together on time. It was very well rehearsed before it began. It is the culmination of a long period of planning.

There was not a lot of air defence fire at the ingressing forces. Frankly we know what his air defence system is, we know he has some formidable capabilities, we just did not see them last night. But I want to emphazise that operations like this cannot be operated without risk. Last night the principle opposition seemed to be some fire aircraft that were brought up against us. We did detect and engage these aircraft, at least three were destroyed, including some of the most modern and capable aircraft in his inventory .

All NATO planes returned successfully and safely to their bases. I know that there has been an issue today about an F15 that sat down with engine problem in Sarajevo. It was a routine and maintenance issue and had nothing to do with any engagements with the enemy. I want to salute the brave men and women who flew in harms way in this mission and the superb leadership and the staffwork that was evident throughout the many, many parts of Allied Command Europe and national structures which are supporting this operation. Air operations continue today.

But let me also note that we have some 40,000 NATO troops in the region. In Bosnia-Herzegovina we have SFOR of about 30,000 people. They are in there doing their job, helping to try to bring peace and reconciliation to that war-torn country and they are doing a great job. There has been some political problem in recent weeks in that country, the Republika Srpska, but it seems to be working itself out and the SFOR forces there are at the ready today should they be challenged. But what we see is a great concern by the people in Bosnia-Herzegovina with their own problems and the challenges that society faces as it attempts to build .......

We have another 10,000 NATO troops in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia where we have the ACE Rapid Reaction Corps commanded by the British LtGen Michael Jackson. These forces are the leading elements of what will become the implementation force for the implementation of the Rambouillet Peace Agreement. They have arrived there over a period of weeks, they were in readiness, so that within a few days of the signing of that agreement they could go into Kosovo and begin their work. Of course, you know the story on that one. They are there, they are taking the appropriate measures to protect themselves and other measures that may be required should there be some instinct on the part of Serb forces to strike back at NATO forces in the neighbouring region, but I would say would that to happen, it would be a grave mistake by Serb forces and our forces there are perfectly capable of defending and protecting themselves.

So I think all is in readiness in the region and this operation will continue. At this point we will take your questions.

Pavel Bouda, Czech TV: Secretary General, so far NATO has conducted very decisive, very hard, massive air attacks, but what about a response from Belgrade? Do you have any indication whatsoever that Yugoslav President Milosevic might step back and accept the conditions of the Allies and, if not, do you really expect him to do so?

Secretary General: Not at this point. We do not have any positive response from President Milosevic. That is why, as General Clark has said, the operation will continue today.


Mark Laity, BBC: General Clark, two points. You mentioned that you were going to continue the attack for as long as it took. That implies that it could be weeks, maybe even months. They have a very large army, if they keep using it, you're going to have to be taking out almost individual tanks, so when you say how long it takes, are you talking about weeks and months if necessary? Secondly, can you give us an indication: one aim is that they should not attack in the Kosovo area. Have you had any indication from your reconnaissance as to what military activity the Serb army and police are conducting in the Kosovo region now?

General Clark: Well, to take the second question first. Serb military and police forces are continuing to attack in the Kosovo region today. We know this, although, obviously without the presence of the OSCE verifiers on the ground, our information is much less clear than it was before their departure. But we do see the evidence of continued and even intensifying operations in this region. In addition, I would just tell you that from a military perspective, we are prepared to continue the strikes. But I want to note that of course we're taking actions from NATO political authorities, from the NATO Secretary General, so he'll make the final decision in consultation with the nations and I don't presume to speak for the Secretary General, but I want to make it clear that we military leaders will not make that decision. What I'm conveying to you is that we recognise that this is a tough challenge, we have a lot of respect for the Serb air defence capabilities. It's a country that has long prepared itself for war and unfortunately its armed forces have gained rather a lot of military experience over the past decade, and so we're not expecting suddenly this to fall apart in there. We're going to very systematically and progressively keep the pressure on. We're going to grind away at him until we accomplish the military objective, or until our political leaders tell us to halt.

Craig Whitney, New York Times: General Clark, if the Serbs won't engage you with their air defences, how can you be sure you have got them all and will it take longer than was planned?

General Clark: I'm not going to be able to go into any details of air campaign tactics and strategy. I would tell you that there are different ways that conceptually they could play their capabilities, we saw one way of playing them last night, maybe it will be different in the future, we don't know. But if they're not used, they'll become irrelevant.

Alexander Mineyev, ITAR-TASS news agency: Secretary General, do you exclude any engagement of ground forces, of NATO, after the final phase of your operation? Second question: what do you think about the perspectives of NATO-Russia relations in the future?

Secretary General: To the first question the answer is very clear, NATO allies at this point are not in a position to deploy forces without a political agreement. Therefore all the pressure will be placed to find, to reach that agreement, and as you know, and as General Clark has said, troops are prepared to be deployed to guarantee that that agreement is implemented. The second question about Russia: I do hope very much that even if we disagree tactically in parts of the crisis of Kosovo - and I would like to say tactically because the aim of Russia and the NATO countries and the Contact Group has been the same. Let me remind you that Russia is part of the Contact Group and they have participated in the Rambouillet talks and the continuation in Paris. Now they have a disagreement with the tactics at this point. I do hope that that will not prevent us from continuing what we have invested already together in the NATO-Russia relationship. We have started an avenue of cooperation and I hope very much that that will continue.

Luc Rosenzweig, Le Monde: General Clark, is it true that the aviation bombed the Pharmaceutical Plant Galinka, and if it is true, why?

General Clark: No pharmaceutical plant was bombed, however the aircraft repair facilities were one of the facilities that we've been quite concerned about, and we did engage that facility. It's not a pharmaceutical plant.

Bill Drozdiak, Washington Post: General Clark, you mentioned that there was no planned sanctuary. Could you give us some indication as toelaborate for us a bit on that term, and does that suggest that at some point in this campaign downtown Belgrade could be targeted?

General Clark: I'm not going to speculate on what future targets could be, but just to say that President Milosevic and his military leaders should understand that there is no sanctuary for them, their military forces, their command and control elements, as this campaign continues because they're part of the mechanism of the Serb military and security forces and they're oppression and so that's the intent of that language.

Doug Hamilton, Reuters: General Clark, and Secretary General as well I guess, you said that ultimately you could completely destroy Yugoslavia's armed forces. Is NATO's aim to destroy Slobodan Milosevic, to depose the Milosevic government?

General Clark: Well, I gave you the military aims of the operation. I think that I will stand by that statement.

Secretary General: It is very clear what is the aim of the international community. It has been stated on several occasions, I would say on many occasions. We would like at the end of the day to have a political agreement that would allow peace and stability in that region of Europe. What we are doing is to support that strategy of the international community with all our capability at this point.

James Landau, London Times: General Clark, can you give us any details at all about the dogfights that took place?

General Clark: I have no details to disclose on that.

Christopher Dickie, Newsweek: I guess this will be for both of you, particularly Mr. Solana, if the objective is to achieve peace in the region, and if that cannot be done because President Milosevic is an unreliable partner in peace, which is why we would have to send NATO troops in to guarantee the peace in Kosovo, then isn't the bottom line that you hope to get rid of President Milosevic?

Secretary General: That is an objective that is not to be achieved militarily.

Stephen Dierckx, Belgian radio: I have two questions. Are we going to see, General, a recurrent pattern in the coming days of air attacks during the night and battle damage assessment during the day? Second question: do you have any information either contradicting or confirming Yugoslav claims about civilian and military casualties?


General Clark: First of all, the attacks are made in a pattern, at a time and in a manner of NATO's own choosing and I'm not going to disclose what future patterns there might be. I would tell you that we have obviously the capacity to attack around the clock and we will attack at the time that best suits our own purposes. You know it's not possible in a campaign like this to know precisely what's happening on the ground. I was watching television last night and they were showing pictures of a hospital in Belgrade with people in bandages and other things. And this was after the first attack had struck and if that's the case, they must have the most efficient ambulance service in the world and they must be using some awfully old bandages. So we don't know what's really happening on the ground at that level, but I will assure you that we're taking every possible measure to minimize the possibility of civilian casualties or collateral damage. We're working at this very, very hard.

RTL-TVi: Is it possible for you to estimate the collateral damage for the moment?

General Clark: Well, we will eventually be able to see some collateral damage as we do our battle damage assessment, but I can't tell you how many individuals may have been injured in a particular attack, because unless you have somebody on the scene and watching this as people walk away or whatever, you'd never know. All we know is that we have to take the proper actions in the planning process so that we look at the type of target it is, what the surrounding structures are, what the patterns of activity are in the region and so forth, to minimize these possibilities and I can assure you we are doing that.

Sarah Chase, National Public Radio: For the Secretary General, I'd like to return to this question of objectives, you said that the objectives had been consistent throughout and yet at least in language we have heard an evolution since the time when the peace talks were going on, when military action was clearly stated to be aimed at getting an agreement to the internationally sponsored draft accord. Now the objective and the justification is being stated in a rather different way, and I wondered if that's partly because of the problem of having militarily achievable aims and secondly whether there's a legal issue, whether you're trying to come up with a justification that makes some sense, at least in a context of international law.

Secretary General: I don't think that the objectives of the international community have changed and I don't think that the objectives of NATO in supporting the international community have changed. From the very beginning, we said that we would be prepared to help with our capabilities to achieve the objectives of the international community in general terms until the agreement was reached in October. Remember that in October, the agreement reached by Holbrooke was already with the threat of the use of force by NATO. It was the very same aim, the very same goal, we have continued with that throughout the Rambouillet process and later on the talks which took place the last weeks in Paris. So we have stayed the same. Let me also say that we are doing our best to stop the killing which is taking place at this very moment in Kosovo and it is very important to emphasize that at this moment. Let me remind you that at this point the Kosovo side has signed an agreement already and even having signed an agreement, the other side, the civilian side is killing them, and that is something we are trying to prevent.

Dirk Koch, Der Spiegel: General Clark, you said it's the first Alliance-wide air operation. How far were the three new members involved militarily and how did they perform up until now?

General Clark: I am not going to comment on the contributions or perfomrmance of any single member of the Alliance. We simply don't do that, we never have in these operations. It's not appropriate to do so. I will tell you that we've gotten very strong support from all members of the Alliance, including the three new members.

Mike Betcher, CNN: For the Secretary General, there seems to be some political pressure in Russia for Yeltsin to lift the arms embargo. What would your reaction be if it was broken by the Russians and would you try to stop it?

Secretary General: I hope that that would not be a decision taken by the Russian government, it is not for NATO to have any means to stop it if this decision is taken.

Rostislan Demtchuk, Ukrainian national news agency: Mr. Solana, Ukraine today made a statement and Ukraine is not in solidarity with NATO actions, and said that it is unacceptable to use air strikes against Serbian country. How do you see the future relationship between Ukraine and NATO, and how it will reflect on this relationship? Second question, you probably know that the Ukrainian parliament adopted a resolution in order to dismantle the status of Ukraine as a non-nuclear country? How do you appreciate this?

Secretary General: I respect the decision taken by any government which is democratically elected and have no comments to make, but let me say that the NATO countries think that this action is perfectly legitimate and it is within the logic of the UN Security Council and therefore that is why we are engaged in this operation in order not to wage war against anybody but to try to stop the war and to guarantee that peace is a reality for a country that has been suffering from war for many, many years.

Donatella Lord, NBC News: General Clark, both you and the Secretary General have said that you are doing your best to stop the killing in Kosovo yet you have also mentioned that the fighting has intensified there today. How many more days or weeks does it have to intensify before you think that your attacks will start making a difference?

General Clark: Well, I'm not going to speculate on that, that's a function of many, many factors, starting with the orders that are given to the Yugoslav military and police forces. It could be stopped instantly if those in charge gave the right order. As for what we're doing, it's a very systematic campaign, we're meeting a number of objectives in this, including protecting the forces that are conducting the operation themselves, and so we're going to proceed as I said systematically and progressively from target to target, from target set to target set, beginning with the integrated air defence system and we will be picking up other targets as we move through this, as I've explained on these charts, but I can't give you a forecast for any particular set of targets on a particular day.

Augustin Palokaj, Koha Bitore: Secretary General, does NATO have any plan to defend the civilians now on the ground in Kosovo, because there are some reports that Serbian forces and paramilitary forces are burning houses, kidnapping people and killing within the cities and for General Clark, there are some reports also that the Yugoslav army is using MiG-29 to attack the area of Podejevo, so will their aircraft be the target of your attack?

Secretary General: One of the purposes of this operation is to stop that from happening and General Clark, I think, has explained that properly in his introductory remarks.

General Clark: Yes, their aircraft are a target of our attacks.

Dubravka Savic, Novosti, Belgrade: For the Secretary General, you mentioned that the objective of this attack is to stop repression and humanitarian catastrophe. Are you convinced that provoking a new humanitarian catastrophe is the right way to achieve this goal, and especially concerning ground troops. For General Clark: could you please comment on the proportion of these attacks, it seems to be 19 to one country.

Secretary General: With all due respect, I would like to say once again that the only person who is responsible for creating the humanitarian catastrophe has a name and his name is President Milosevic, not NATO.

About Yugoslav people..

Secretary General: I said from the very beginning that NATO is not waging a war against the Yugoslav people, to the contrary.

Guido van de Kreeke, De Telegraaf: I would like to ask General Clark a question: could you give some specifics about the conditions and where MiG fighters were shot down and is it true what Minister Robertson said in his press conference that two US F-15s and one Dutch F-16 plane shot down a MiG.

General Clark: They were shot down at night in different locations over Yugoslavia, some in the vicinity of Kosovo, some apparently outside Kosovo and I can confirm what Minister Robertson said as our initial finding - two shot down by USF-15s, one by a Netherlands F-16 - that is the initial finding and we're still looking at the evidence.

Maria Laura Franciosi, ANSA: Secretary General, how would you reply to the worries of Italian public opinion that Italy is one of the most exposed countries now, having offered its territory for air bases?

Secretary General: Well, I will reply to that concern and I would like to address in particular to the Italian public opinion, the Italian people, from the military point of view as you know, as General Clark can elaborate, the Italian people have all the guarantees that nothing will happen to them from a military point of view. From the humanitarian point of view I know very well the concern of the government and the public opinion in Italy about the potential flood of refugees, I would like to tell you that I have been in touch all these weeks with Madame Agata and we are trying to do our best with cooperation with our means which are not very specific for humanitarian purposes, but within our capacities to cooperate with the proper agency of the UN and Madame Agata in particular in order to help in that possible problem for the Italian government and people. We are very, very concerned and I would like to send a very clear message to public opinion in Italy.

General Clark: Can I just follow on this very important question about Italy? First of all, we have the complete air protection of Italy assured. We've looked at this in great detail, we know very well what our capabilities are, what the risks are and we have this protection assured. There's also the issue of the maritime threat from the Adriatic. Yesterday morning, I called the Yugoslav military Chief of Defence Staff, General Oidinic, a man with whom I've had some dealings as we've tried to work out these problems peacefully, and I warned General Oidinic that his navy must remain in port; they must not come forth into the Adriatic or they will be treated as hostile forces. He asked me why that was. I said because they have weapons and they will be treated as hostile forces, and we have seen signs that they are remaining in port and taking up very passive positions.

Robert van de Roer, NRC Handelsblatt: Secretary General, are you sure that NATO's unity is not going to erode if this campaign is going to last for weeks?

Secretary General: Yes.

Why are you so sure?

Secretary General: Because I know the Alliance and I chair the Council.

Bill Drozdiak: Greece has called for a pause in the bombing. Does this not represent some kind of a break in the unanimity that the Council has shown until now?

Secretary General: Let me tell you that we have had a North Atlantic Council today at 11.30 and I can guarantee that the solidarity, the unanimity, the cohesion of the Alliance is total and absolute.

Journalist: General Clark, you said that the Extraction Force in Macedonia is prepared to defend itself, but will it do something to defend Macedonia if necessary?

General Clark: Well as the Secretary General has said, we take the territorial security of Macedonia very, very seriously. We have liaision with the armed forces of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and we have many necessary preparations in place, including unified NATO command and control over our own forces. I don't want to go deeper into speculation but let me say that these NATO forces are capable, they are credible and they are effective war fighting forces. They'll take the necessary actions to accomplish NATO's missions.

Craig Whitney, New York Times: General Clark I just wondered why you couldn't run down some of the targets that you had attacked, since the Serbs know they were attacked and there have been news reports about them. Why can't you list them? We sort of expected that here I think today.

General Clark: Well, I'm not going to list these targets today because it's not in our interest to go into detail in the specific nature of what was struck or why and I'm just not going to be able to explain to you why we need to keep in this forum, Craig, and I'll be very happy to talk to you afterwards, but right here I'm not going to be able to go into all the details of that. Let me just say that in an operation like this which is of an indefinite duration in which air crews are placed at risk night after night, which is intensively scrutinized by the armed forces of many nations, some of which may be providing information back and forth for all that we know, that we want to take all possible measures to protect our air crews and assure that we can accomplish the mission with minimum risk and so we're going to provide the public and you the greatest amount of information that we are absolutely certain of, that is clear and not confusing and that can be provided without jeopardizing the safety and security of our air crews or the people on the ground for that matter, or compromising their mission effectiveness. So at this point, I'm just not going to be able to release that target list. We will be releasing additional details in days to come.

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