NATO Pummels Serb Military, Damage Toll High
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 20, 1999 In the past two months, U.S. and NATO fighters have flown more than 6,000 combat sorties over Yugoslavia and dropped 14,200 bombs on Serb air defenses, airfields, roads, bridges, ground forces and other military targets.
Day after day, the continuous barrage of precision-guided missiles and other munitions is taking a heavy toll, according to U.S. and NATO military authorities. Officials at the Pentagon here and at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, updated battle damage assessments for reporters May 18 and 19.
NATO strikes have removed 90 percent of the artillery Serb forces had massed on Yugoslavia's borders with Albania and Macedonia, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said May 19. "The massed artillery is relatively easy for NATO planes to target," he said. "We have now removed the majority of the artillery in Kosovo."
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Wald, Joint Staff vice director for strategic plans and policy, reported the strikes have destroyed more than 80 percent of the Serbs' Mig-29s, about 30 percent of the Mig-21s, 35 percent of the Galeb fighter-bombers and 70 percent of the helicopters and other smaller aircraft. Along with the combat sorties, Wald noted, NATO aircraft have flown more than 16,000 combat support and combined support sorties.
NATO continues to hit Serb airfields hard and keeps them out of action with follow-on attacks, according to German air force Maj. Gen. Walter Jertz, a Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe spokesman. Since the air war began March 24, NATO has concentrated on interrupting key lines of communications within Serbia. The strikes have destroyed most of the primary road and rail bridges to disrupt the flow of weapons, ammunition and spare parts vital to the Serb military campaign, he said.
NATO strikes have destroyed 75 percent of Serbia's fixed surface-to-air missile sites and 12 percent of their mobile systems, Jertz said. The mobile systems now are forced to move continually to avoid destruction, which makes them less effective, he added.
NATO has eliminated the Serbs' ability to refine oil, Jertz pointed out. More than 30 countries have agreed to impose an oil embargo to cut the flow of oil to Yugoslavia, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea noted. Although oil continues to reach Yugoslavia, the amount is reduced, it's more expensive and Milosevic must funnel it to meet both civilian and military needs, he added.
In recent weeks, NATO has concentrated heavily on striking the ground forces carrying out Milosevic's ethnic cleansing policies in Kosovo. Jertz reported NATO forces have struck 11 battalion or brigade command posts, nearly 560 individual pieces of military equipment, including 312 tanks, artillery or armored personnel carriers -- about a third of the estimated heavy forces in Kosovo.
"Milosevic's forces are being taken apart faster and faster," Jertz said. "Their ability to operate effectively, let alone carry out acts of brutality, is further reduced with each day of this campaign. With Serb air defenses weakened, command and control undermined, Milosevic's forces on the ground are at growing risk as the conflict goes on."
And as each day goes by, NATO pilots and crews become more adept at their mission, he pointed out. Pilots are growing more familiar with Serb tactics and Kosovo's terrain, he said. "Pilots are more familiar with the valleys, the forests, the roads, the cities, and they increasingly know where Milosevic's forces are concentrated," he said.
The pilots' growing knowledge has caused a change in Serb tactics, Jertz said. "They are operating in smaller and smaller units to make them harder to detect from the air," he said. "The downside for the Serbian forces is that this makes them increasingly vulnerable to KLA ambushes, and it also makes Serb forces less mobile, to the benefit of those Kosovars still living within Kosovo."
Only about 130,000 ethnic Albanians remain in their home villages in Kosovo, according to Shea at NATO. About 90 percent of the province's 1.9 million ethnic Albanians have been displaced as a result of Milosevic's policies, he said. This figure equals the population of Denver; it's more than the population of Munich, Germany. About 580,000 ethnic Albanians remain displaced within Kosovo; the remainder, about 980,000, are refugees in other countries.