Assault On The Serbs: Raids increase with daylight strikes

Air Raids
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NATO LAUNCHED the first daylight raids of Operation Allied Force yesterday afternoon, marking a considerable escalation of the action against Yugoslavia. It also showed increasing confidence that the Yugoslav air defences had been at least temporarily silenced.

As in the previous two days of raids, the commencement of attacks was marked by the launch of a Tomahawk cruise missile from a US warship in the Adriatic.

The USS Philippine Sea was about 50 miles off the coast of Croatia when a single missile was fired at 2:20pm local time (13:20 GMT) - the 35th missile launched from the cruiser and its sister ship USS Gonzalez since the start of the bombardment. Previous operations involved the launch of several missiles in swift succession.

Earlier in the day, witnesses saw US B-52 bombers loaded with cruise missiles fly out of RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire. While in north-east Italy, six F-16s and two transport planes took off from from the Aviano airbase, the main launching pad since Wednesday for manned strikes against Yugoslavia. Shortly after the Philippine Sea fired its missile, three more F-16 fighters took off at 45-second intervals.

State radio reports in Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital, said that planes had bombed the outskirts of the city shortly before 5pm. It quoted a local alert centre as saying bombs had fallen on the suburbs of Vozdovac and Mali Mokri Lug.

The probability of daylight raids was hinted at by General Sir Charles Guthrie, Chief of the Defence Staff, at a press conference earlier yesterday. Asked whether night-time raids would be sufficient to achieve Nato's aims, he said: "You shouldn't assume that they will always be at night."

General Guthrie also described the operations carried out by RAF Harrier aircraft on Thursday, the second night of the raids. Six of the planes attacked an ammunition storage dump within a barracks at Leskovac in Serbia.

Four of them carried laser-guided bombs, while the other two acted as target designators, "illuminating" the buildings for the bombs to home in on.

Videos taken from these escorting aircraft were shown, and two bombs were seen hitting two separate targets. Secondary explosions on the film indicated that the ammunition inside had also detonated. The Harriers "locked on" to a third target, but the pilot could not release his bombs because of a technical problem. All the aircraft returned safely to base.

"Weapons and equipment stored included anti-aircraft guns, surface-to- air missiles, target-tracking radar and large calibre self-propelled and towed guns," said General Guthrie.

"Such weapons are used for air defence and ground operations, and are therefore relevant both to our objective of suppressing Yugoslavia's air defence system and to our aim of reducing Yugoslavia's capability to repress the Kosovo Albanians," he added.

Turning his attention to the 4,500 British troops stationed in Macedonia, where they form part of a potential peace-keeping mission to Kosovo in the event of any peace deal being agreed, General Guthrie warned the Serbian forces against attacking them. "We have plans that would very, very seriously affect Yugoslavian forces if they are stupid enough to do it," he said.

He added that on Thursday, following reports that the Yugoslavian army might be tempted to shell British positions, 155mm AS90 heavy guns had been moved into a position to return any fire. Challenger tanks and Warrior fighting vehicles had also been moved to defensive positions. "Should there be an attack our response will be swift and severe," said General Guthrie.

Entering the debate over whether or not air strikes alone would be sufficient to achieve the Nato allies' aims, General Guthrie stressed his own confidence in the plan.

He said: "My fellow Nato chiefs and I, who are involved in this operation and have studied its aims and military objectives for weeks now, are in no doubt that what we have been asked to do can be done."