NATO Holds, So Ask Milosevic When He'll Fold
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 9, 1999 The answer to when NATO will stop its bombing campaign against Serbia lies with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Wald, vice director of strategic plans for the Joint Staff.
"When he's ready to stop doing what he's doing, that will be when the objective is met," Wald said during an April 8 Pentagon press conference. "We're going to continue to degrade his capability until the time comes when he's ready to stop."
More than 400 sorties by NATO pilots April 8 struck 28 Serb military target sets. Wald said the United States is prepared to send whatever aircraft U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO's top military officer and commander of Operation Allied Force, says he needs. He added there has been no official request yet.
"But I'd like to remind everybody again that the secretary of defense and the chairman have said that when those requests come in and they're needed, they will support it," Wald noted.
Wald also said airlifts have started to prepare the airport in Tirana, Albania, for Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopters being deployed from Germany. The Apaches will fly from Germany to Albania, and the first should be attacking Serb armor in seven to 10 days, he said.
He described a number of engagements flown both day and night on April 7 and 8. Dutch F-16s flew against anti-aircraft artillery and armor units, U.S. F-16s bombed Serb military vehicles, and U.S. A-10 aircraft fired up military vehicles in southwestern Kosovo.
Wald also showed gun camera footage that demonstrated some of the air defense threat still facing allied pilots. In one sequence, a U.S. A-10 fired a guided missile at a bridge in the face of a oncoming, steady stream of tracer fire from a Serb anti-aircraft artillery weapon. Tracer rounds help gunners aim by leaving a visible, fiery trail.
"You can see the flashes coming on," Wald said. "Usually, the tracer is about every fifth or sixth bullet, so [the pilot is] taking what we would consider moderate to heavy AAA [anti- aircraft artillery] all the way in on this run. So as I explained earlier, this is not without risk."
In an infrared video clip taken by an F-16 on an attack run, two SA-3 surface-to-air missiles suddenly streak past the fighter. "It looks like a black streak going by so you'll have to look close," Wald said. "But we're not making this for television production. This is combat."
Rear Adm. Thomas Wilson, Joint Staff director for intelligence, said allied pilots hit a staging area where a significant number of personnel casualties occurred. Aircraft also bombed an army force near Decani that damaged tanks, self-propelled anti- aircraft artillery and assorted other vehicles. NATO pilots struck two Serb vehicle convoys in southwest Kosovo, forcing at least one to reverse course, he said.
"This is clear evidence that not only are we successful in attacking the garrison areas, but mounting evidence that they're feeling the impact among their deployed forces," Wilson said. He said NATO has indications that Serb units have "reduced the tempo of operations" since Milosevic declared a unilateral Easter cease-fire.
Cease-fire or no, he said, the Serbs and Kosovars are still fighting. The Kosovo Liberation Army continues to resist and is even initiating some of the combat, he added.
Wilson said NATO's attacks on Yugoslav fuel depots and lines of communication into Kosovo are having an effect. "We believe that in total the military and strategic reserve fuel storage capability has been reduced somewhere over 20 percent of capacity," he said. "But even less is getting through because so many bridges, railroads and roads have been bombed. Fuel shortages are being reported throughout the country."
Wilson said he has heard, but cannot confirm, allegations that Serb troops have been using ethnic Albanian Kosovars as human shields. He also address press criticism of collateral damage and damage allegedly caused by NATO bombers in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.
"I'm certainly not up here to convince you that we have done no collateral damage, but I do believe that the collateral damage that has been done by NATO is at an absolute minimum," he said. "We take great care in both targeting and in terms of the application of fire power to ensure that collateral damage does not occur."
He flatly denied NATO was responsible for most of the damage to civilian facilities that are not legitimate targets in Pristina. Wilson delineated the NATO targets and the bomb damage assessment. "The collateral damage is being done by the Serbs," he said.
U.S. intelligence sources have tracked Serb forces as they burned towns and villages throughout Kosovo. "So while we may have unintended consequences to a few of our strikes which can't be avoided in this kind of scenario, this is intentional damage being done to civilian populations and villages throughout Kosovo which is tragic, indeed," Wilson said.
Wald said Serb ethnic cleansing has created 1.1 million to 1.3 million refugees. "Right now, the good news is the majority of refugees outside of Kosovo have cover, shelter and health care," he said. "[They] are being taken care of with food, and indications are many of those refugees would just as soon stay a little bit closer to Kosovo and their home, maybe in Europe."
Still, the United States is putting into action a plan to move 20,000 of the refugees to Guantanamo Bay Navy Base, Cuba. Wald said U.S. Southern Command teams are readying the base for the refugees. The relocation will take time; the plan calls for families to stay together as much as possible. The first refugees may fly within the week to "Gitmo," which once housed Haitian and Cuban refugees.