Assault On The Serbs: Strategy is to step up the pressure each day

The Nato Campaign
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The Independent Online
NATO COMMANDERS said the first round of air strikes against Yugoslavia had been successful, even as their aircraft were being armed for another night's bombardment.

American B-52s based at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, which led the way with salvos of cruise missiles on Wednesday, were rearmed and ready to fly again yesterday afternoon. Shortly after 7pm local time, as they had a day earlier, six F-117 Stealth fighters took off from Aviano base, north Italy.

Their task would be to take up where they had left off the previous night, continuing with the campaign aimed at the systematic destruction of Yugoslav air defences and other military capabilities.

Surprisingly little anti-aircraft fire was encountered during the first raids, so planes in action last night were expected to widen the scope of their targets from the integrated air defence system to direct hits on army and special police units, both in the disputed province of Kosovo and elsewhere in Yugoslavia.

Wednesday night's bombing attacked targets as far apart at Novi Sad in the north of Serbia, to Montenegro in the west and Kosovo in the south. Airports, radar, command and control facilities and army barracks were all attacked.

Military centres around Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital, were hit particularly hard.

This progressive strategy, continued last night, is designed to gain air supremacy and then "degrade" the ability of Yugoslav forces to continue "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo.

Javier Solana, the Nato secretary-general, yesterday confirmed that all the allied warplanes had returned safely from the first night of attacks.

"Our initial reports indicate that these first strikes were successful," he said, while stressing that the operation was far from over.

"Let me reiterate we are determined to continue until we have achieved our objectives: to halt the violence and stop further humanitarian catastrophe," Mr Solana added.

General Wesley Clark, Nato's Supreme Commander in Europe, said allied aircraft hit 40 targets throughout Yugoslavia and destroyed three Yugoslav fighters that had attacked them.

Two of the MiG-29 Fulcrum aircraft, from a total of 16 in the Yugoslav air force, and the most modern they have, were shot down over Kosovo, while the other was brought down farther north. First reports suggested that two had been brought down by US F-15s, with the third being destroyed by a Dutch Air Force F-16.

General Clark warned that, while these attacks had been repelled, they represented only one way in which the Yugoslavs could threaten alliance pilots. Despite initial attacks being made against the Yugoslavs' integrated air defence system, the situation was still potentially dangerous, he said.

He also gave a blunt warning of what lies ahead unless the Yugoslavs bow to Western pressure. The allied operation "will be just as long and difficult as President Milosevic requires it to be", he said.

If all else failed, the forces that had been so brutal would be destroyed. "We're going to systematically and progressively attack, disrupt, degrade, devastate and ultimately - unless President Milosevic complies with the demands of the international community - we're going to destroy these forces and their facilities and support," said General Clark.

Earlier, George Robertson, Secretary of State for Defence, stressed that the air strikes would carry on unless Mr Milosevic agreed to stop the repression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. On Wednesday, before the first allied attacks began, the Serbs in Kosovo were still destroying villages, openly carrying out a policy of "ethnic cleansing" that had to be stopped, he said.

"Let me make it clear, that we have the will, the determination and the stomach to see this through and to stop the flow of blood and the misery in Kosovo," said Mr Robertson.

He also reiterated the aim of the operation. "The military objective of these operations is clear-cut. It is to avert an impending humanitarian catastrophe by disrupting the violent attacks currently being carried out by the Yugoslav security forces against the Kosovar Albanians and to limit their ability to conduct such repression in the future."

A Yugoslav military communique said that 10 members of the Yugoslav army had been killed, 38 were wounded and that one was missing in the first night of bombing; 30 targets had been hit but damage was minimal.

However, the Russian general staff in Moscow said the Nato attacks had badly damaged five military airfields, two factories, a communications centre, several barracks and a police training base.

The British contribution was also detailed yesterday. A unspecified number of Tomahawk cruise missiles had been launched in the first attacks, just before 8pm local time, from the submarine HMS Splendid. This was the first time such missiles had been fired by a British vessel in anger.

They were aimed at a radar facility near the airfield at Pristina, the Kosovo capital. It was the site of two highly capable air defence radars and a control building. As part of the integrated network, it was able to correlate data from a number of other radars and feed it into the system.

This in turn would control air defences such as surface-to-air missiles and fighters, and so posed a great threat to allied aircraft. About an hour later six RAF Harriers were scrambled from Gioia del Colle, in southern Italy, to attack an ammunition dump a few miles to the east of Pristina that was used to supply Serb special police in Kosovo. The Harriers were in the third wave of attacks on the target and smoke and flames from previous hits made it difficult for the pilots to "lock on" their 1,000lb laser- guided bombs.

The first one to launch dropped its bombs short, and the others decided to return to base without dropping theirs, to avoid the risk of causing "collateral damage."

Clearly encouraged by the allied strikes, Kosovo Liberation Army rebels attacked government forces in numerous areas. For all sides concerned, it seems, the conflict has just begun.