More Planes, Better Weather Mean More Strikes
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 26, 1999 More planes and better weather have stepped up the pace of NATO's air campaign against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's military, according to U.S. officials here.
More than 1,000 planes -- 723 U.S. and 281 allied aircraft -- are now taking part in NATO's Operation Allied Force, Navy Capt. Mike Doubleday said May 24 at the Pentagon. Still more are slated to join the air campaign in the days ahead.
The operation is shifting into even higher gear now that the weather has improved, U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Chuck Wald said at the Pentagon May 24. NATO combat and support aircraft are flying up to 1,000 sorties a day, persistently striking Milosevic's fielded forces and his ability to maintain his army, the Joint Staff's vice director for strategic plans and policy said.
Out of the 61 days since the air campaign began March 24, Wald noted, there have only been nine days where NATO pilots could fly most of the day over the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. With the advent of clear weather in June and July, Wald said, the operations tempo will increase as NATO fliers get the green light more often.
At present, about 33,500 U.S. military personnel support Operation Allied Force, and the American contribution continues to grow, Doubleday noted.
DoD has called up 1,022 Guard and Reserve airmen and 26 KC- 135 Stratotankers from the 126th Air Refueling Wing in Chicago; the 190th ARW in Topeka, Kan.; the 931st ARW in Wichita, Kan.; the 101st ARW in Bangor, Maine; and the 108th ARW in Wrightstown, N.J.
This latest callup brings the number of reservists mobilized to about 5,500. President Clinton has authorized DoD to activate up to 33,000 reservists for Operation Allied Force.
About 800 Marines and sailors and 24 F/A-18D Hornets deployed to Taszar in late May. A total of 54 U.S. F-15 and F-16 fighters are soon to be deployed to Turkey.
Along with the growing NATO force combating Milosevic's military, a larger Kosovo Liberation Army is also combating Serb forces, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said here May 21. The size and strength of the KLA is growing significantly, he said.
At the start of Operation Allied Force, DoD officials estimated the KLA consisted of 6,000 to 8,000 guerrillas -- up to 4,000 in Kosovo and the remainder across the border in Albania. This force has grown to between 17,000 and 20,000, Bacon said, and about 15,000 may be in Kosovo at any one time.
The KLA has acquired a new leader and better weapons, Bacon said. "They still remain a lightly armed, highly mobile force, still mainly an insurgent force without the heavy equipment of the Serb forces they are opposing," he said. "But the combination of new leadership, new weapons and new members has made them more successful, particularly as the NATO bombing campaign continues to inflict heavy damage on the forces in the field in Kosovo."
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea outlined NATO's progress May 23 in Brussels, Belgium. NATO forces have destroyed more than 550 pieces of major Serb military equipment and more than 100 aircraft, which is more than half the Yugoslav air force combat aircraft, he said. NATO has also taken out 75 percent of the Serbs' surface-to-air missile sites and 50 percent of the ammunition storage in Kosovo.
NATO has cut two main rail links from Serbia to Kosovo, Shea continued. Two major road routes have also been cut and minor roads have been badly damaged. All bridges over the Danube outside Belgrade have been cut. Oil refineries have been crippled, he said, causing increasing severe fuel rationing in Serbia.
NATO forces are serving on the humanitarian front, Shea noted. They have cared for almost a half million refugees in Albania and another quarter of a million in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. NATO troops have built six major refugee camps and seven more are under construction. They have helped distribute 5,000 tons of food, more than 1,500 tons of medical supplies, 2,500 tons of tent materials and 4,500 tons of general goods.
"The fact is that the Serb military machine is now being increasingly degraded," Shea concluded. "We are stemming the tide of human misery and we are caring for the hundreds of thousands made homeless by ethnic cleansing. And the international community is increasingly revolted by what has been going on and increasingly willing to support what we are doing to put a stop to it."
The latest evidence of the Serbs' brutality became known May 22 when 583 Kosovar Albanian men in "appalling physical shape" emerged from a Serb prison, Shea said. Another 1,500 men apparently remain there, he added.
According to international humanitarian officials, nearly 250,000 ethnic Albanian Kosovar men are unaccounted for, and refugees continue to stream across Kosovo's borders. About 5,000 refugees reached Macedonia May 22 and another 5,000 arrived the next day in a 13-carriage train and four buses.
A U.N. commission, led by Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Sergio Viera de Melo, has entered Kosovo to investigate the situation there. Shea reported that after visiting Prizren, a member of the U.N. team was quoted as saying "the silence of the city is frightening."