Assault On The Serbs: Nato says 50 targets hit in more than 400 sorties

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THE FIRST strikes of Operation Allied Force were felt in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, at just after 8pm local time on Wednesday. The city of 280,000 people was blacked out by two enormous explosions.

It was later confirmed that those first strikes had been by cruise missiles, launched from six United States B-52 aircraft that had taken off from their base at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire.

Tomahawk cruise missiles were also launched from six US warships in the Adriatic, and from the British submarine HMS Splendid - the first time such a missile had been launched in anger from a British vessel.

The strategy taking shape was similar to that used against Iraq in Operation Desert Fox last December. These missiles would hammer the Yugoslavian air defences, to clear the way for manned aircraft to carry out their missions with a reduced risk.

In total, 36 cruise missiles were launched on Wednesday night, followed up by 150 sorties flown by 13 air forces. Those on actual bombing raids were from the US, Britain, France, Canada and France, with the remainder flying in support.

The bombardment of the much-vaunted Yugoslav integrated air-defence system was continuing again yesterday, while targets from a wider range of military facilities were also being hit.

The scale of the raids was being increased every day. Nato in Brussels yesterday said that 50 targets had been hit in a total of 400 sorties since the operation began. Army barracks, ammunition dumps and weapons factories were on the list of other facilities hit. They were located from Novi Sad in the north of Serbia to radar sites in Montenegro in the east and Pristina in the south.

Six RAF Harriers targeted an ammunition store near Pristina on Wednesday, but only one aircraft released its bombs as the store became obscured by smoke and fire from earlier strikes. On Thursday they flew again, successfully hitting ammunition stores at a military barracks at Leskovatch.

Very little resistance from the Yugoslav anti-aircraft system was encountered. Despite a number of Serb claims to the contrary, all the allied aircraft returned from their raids on the first two nights.

Three Yugoslav MiG-29 fighters, the Yugoslav's most advanced warplanes, were shot down by US and Dutch fighters on the first night of the operation.

Yesterday for the first time, Nato commanders felt confident enough to send their aircraft up during daylight.