War In The Balkans: Nato top brass put on the defensive

Nine Days Of Conflict

John Davison
Friday 02 April 1999 00:02

AFTER MORE than a week of bombing and amid fears that control of the conflict is slipping out of the allies' hands, Nato commanders yesterday gave their fullest account yet of the air campaign against Yugoslavia.

In Brussels a move to bolster confidence came with the appearance of Javier Solana, Nato secretary-general, and General Wesley Clark, Nato's Supreme Commander Europe at the daily press briefing. The world's media have routinely been addressed only by two spokesmen.

Starting with a forthright attack on the Serb leadership, which ranged from accusations of brutality to the idea that they were "in denial", General Clark went on to give a day-by-day account of the bombing.

His moral tone rose particularly high on the subject of Yugoslav army terror tactics against the Kosovo population. "It's being perpetrated largely against defenceless civilians by the last vestige of a hard-core Communist dictatorship in Europe," he said. "Man does not do this to his fellow man. We are all of us in uniform outraged at the sight of this. This is not something uniformed military soldiers do to civilians."

Emphasising the constant Nato line that its forces are not fighting the Serbian people, but the "brutal leaders and instruments of power", he maintained that the attacks had done much to damage these means of oppression.

But seeking to explain the fact that the Serbian leadership did not seem to see it that way, he lapsed into something approaching psycho-babble. "The leadership of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia seems to have remained short-sighted and defiant. Perhaps they are in denial," said General Clark. "Their calculus is diverging increasingly from the material facts at hand and a rational assessment of the course of future events. Ultimately they will have to face reality."

He sought to explain that reality with a number of maps showing the attacks against some 70 targets in Yugoslavia that aimed "progressively and systematically [to] attack, degrade, disrupt and further diminish the capacity of the Serbian war machine to perpetrate these atrocities against its own people".

Day One (Wednesday): Heavy strikes against Belgrade, attacking air defence facilities.

Also air defence sites in Montenegro and Pristina and command and control of these defences. A few attacks on the headquarters of the interior ministry police (MUP).

Day Two: Air defence, command and control. Increasing attacks within Kosovo.

Day Three: More attacks against headquarters in Kosovo. Renewed attacks against air defence around Belgrade.

Day Four: Strikes continue in the same pattern.

Day Five: Emphasis switches south from air defence to command and control and support facilities, with increasing attacks in Kosovo.

Day Six: Back to attacks of air defences around Belgrade. Continuing attacks against ground forces.

Day Seven: More attacks against forces in Kosovo and against the reinforcing units and their headquarters north of the province.

Day Eight: Yet more attacks against ground targets, command and control, air defence and support facilities.

General Clark said the weather had not been as good as expected, but he was proud of the way his forces had adapted to the changing conditions. "In the history of modern air campaigns there has never been any group of leaders who have shown any more responsiveness and adaptability than our airmen and their commanders have shown in this campaign," he said.

In London Air Marshal Sir John Day, director of operations for UK forces, also gave the fullest assessment yet of the British contribution. Again, his remarks were dominated by the weather and he spoke of the frustrations of RAF Harrier pilots who, after hours of planning and preparation, have been unable to reach their targets.

Given the constraints, however, he said he was "satisfied with our progress to date".

Many hopes were being pinned on the arrival in Britain yesterday of five US B-1B Lancer bombers, which can drop armour-piercing fragmentation bombs against tanks, whatever the weather. They use a system based on satellite positioning rather than lasers, so the pilot does not need to see the target before launching the bombs.

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