War in the Balkans: Serb tanks wrecked by air strikes

Air War
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NATO BOMBERS have destroyed six more Serbian tanks in Kosovo, as Apache tank-killing helicopters head for Albania to kickstart the next phase of the air campaign.

Alliance spokesmen said several armoured personnel carriers and other military vehicles were also destroyed in raids on Monday. But commanders are relying heavily on the Apaches to make a real impact on the situation.

Nato has repeatedly shied from giving a running total of tanks hit, but it has given separate briefings on 17 believed "kills". The rate of strikes is increasing, although there is a long way to go before Serb forces are seriously threatened. Analysts say the 40,000 Yugoslav army and special police in Kosovo, have 300 tank.

Warplanes also attacked a FROG short- range surface-to-air missile launcher and its support vehicles and some 20 fixed targets including ammunition storage sites, radio relay stations and a command post.

Nato in Brussels reported that Serbian special police in Kosovo were now using tear gas in the Pristina area.

In London, General Sir Charles Guthrie, chief of the defence staff, said Nato had flown a total of 8,000 sorties, of which 2,500 have been attack missions. The RAF has flown about 10 per cent of this, using Harrier GR- 7s, Tornados flying from Germany, Sea Harriers from HMS Invincible, tankers and other support aircraft.

General Guthrie said the figures emphasised three points - that a large amount of support flying has to be done to ensure attack flights could be carried out safely, that there was no "quick fix" solution to such a large-scale campaign, and that Nato was pursuing it with "utmost determination".

He added: "We can and will continue with these air strikes until the objectives of the international community have been met and the Kosovar Albanian people can return to their homes".

Alliance aircraft were again targeted by anti-aircraft fire and missile attacks but the attacks were suppressed and no aircraft were hit.

Tony Blair yesterday visited RAF crews at the Bruggen air base in Germany, from where Tornado GR-1 bombers fly against Yugoslavia.

He told them: "I would like to express my thanks and the gratitude of my country and of all the leaders of nations in Nato for the work these crews and the staff are doing in support of the Nato action."

Mr Blair said 50 per cent of Serbia's best fighter planes, the MiG- 29s, had been destroyed, along with 25 per cent of its MiG-21s and 30 percent of its Super Galebs, used in attacks on civilians in Kosovo.