War in the Balkans: Air War - Nato reports hits on air force HQ and army base

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The Independent Online
NATO MISSILES struck Yugoslavia's air force headquarters and a key army installation yesterday in the south of the country used for launching military operations in Kosovo.

As Operation Allied Force entered its 13th day with round-the-clock raids, commanders promised the scale and pace of the assault would be stepped up with improving weather.

Air Commodore David Wilby, the Nato military spokesman, said alliance forces had "escalated its air campaign aimed at strategically degrading the Yugoslav military capability".

He added that on Sunday, "an improvement in the weather enabled us to make full use of all our assets". The attacking forces had met considerable surface-to-air missile fire and some anti-aircraft fire, but all had returned safely.

Targets included petroleum production and storage facilities, airfields, air defences, ammunition storage dumps and bridges, said Air Cmdre Wilby. Around Belgrade, the allies hit the HQ of the Yugoslav air defence forces, an interior ministry police garrison, a radio relay and communication centre, an army garrison and a SAM support facility.

He added: "The weather has only just cleared to give us a little more chance of hitting them hard and we are now getting our tactics right, making sure we have got all our forces in there. We have ramped up the number of sorties we are doing, and taking the fight to them very hard. I think you will find very direct results coming very shortly."

Some military sources asked yesterday why it had taken so long to get the "tactics right" when the equipment now being deployed, including the US Apaches, had been available all along. "To go on about the weather just isn't good enough," said one. "The RAF has been monitoring the weather in former eastern bloc countries for 15 years, so they must have known the conditions at this time of year."

The Tornado GR1 bomber is designed to operate in total darkness and nil visibility against types of targets the Harriers and their laser- guided bombs have been unable to attack. Six RAF Tornados from Bruggen in Germany completed their first sorties on Sunday, striking difficult targets, including tunnels and bridges, and early intelligence reports suggest all were successful.

Harriers have made only two successful attacks in 12 nights of flying.