War in The Balkans: Allies admit killing 23 civilians in bridge bombing

Innocent Victims

NATO HAD to again own up to causing civilian deaths yesterday as the intensified air campaign increased its toll of innocent lives, this time passengers on a bus travelling over a bridge as it was bombed.

After the furore over its accidental attack on a refugee convoy, the alliance has changed its media strategy and admitted responsibility quickly, hoping the public will accept that in modern warfare tragic accidents are inevitable.

There is, however, concern at Nato headquarters about the amount of "collateral damage". One senior military figure last week said that, even with laser- guarded missiles or "smart bombs", a 10 per cent failure rate has to be expected. "We are doing better than that," he added.

As the alliance intensifies its air campaign, increasing its sorties and tackling more ambitious targets with a greater number of planes, the risk of accidental casualties grows.

The latest incident occurred when a bus was blown apart as it crossed a bridge in the town of Luzane, 20 km (12 miles) north of Pristina, at 1.15pm on Saturday. At least 23 people, including children, were killed and Serb media put the death toll at 60, although Nato yesterday said it was impossible to verify casualty figures.

On this occasion the two laser-guided bombs were not at fault, but the pilot who targeted the bridge had not seen the bus. At a press conference yesterday the alliance's military spokesman, Colonel Konrad Freytag, insisted the bridge was a "legitimate military target on a key re-supply route".

He added: "Unfortunately a bus was on the bridge but was not seen by the pilot. He did not target the bus and there was no intention to target civilians and any loss of innocent life is regretted."

The incident bears a striking resemblance to an earlier episode at Grdelica when, once the pilot's weapon had been released, he saw a train approaching the bridge.

Last week a stray missile hit a suburb of Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, causing damage and acute embarrassment if no casualties. On this occasion the authorities believe that the weapon was deceived by a Serb radar system which targeted a Nato warplane, forcing the pilot to attack the air defence unit before it fired at him. However the radar was then switched off, leaving the missile no "path" to its target.

"Weapon malfunction" has been responsible for several Nato accidents, including the bombing of Surdulica, a town near Serbia's border with Bulgaria, where at least 16 people died. Similarly, a technical failure was to blame for damage caused in a residential block after an attack on the Pristina telephone exchange. One particular problem in this campaign has been the weather: when there is cloud between a laser-guided bomb and its target, efficiency is impaired.

And, according to some estimates, as many as 15 per cent of Tomahawk cruise missiles will miss their targets.

However pilot error seems to have been to blame for some of the biggest casualties, in particular during the bombing of the refugee convoys which took place near Djakovica. During two separate attacks civilian vehicles were mistaken for military ones because army trucks are more difficult to identify accurately than tanks or armoured personnel carriers which have a more distinctive shape.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...