|NATO Press Conference, Brussels, May 2, 1999 |
NATO Press Conference, Brussels, May 2, 1999
Transcript of the Press Conference given by Dr Jamie Shea (NATO) and Colonel Konrad Freytag (SHAPE)
Jamie Shea: Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Afternoon. As you can see, I am joined once again at the podium by Colonel Konrad Freytag of SHAPE. Konrad, thanks once again for coming up to give the operational briefing today.
Ladies and Gentlemen, over the last 24 hours NATO forces have kept up the intense pace of their attacks against the Yugoslav Armed Forces, with a twin focus: firstly, Milosevic's forces in Kosovo and the lines of communication; and the command and control network that keeps them in touch with Belgrade. So two lines of focus: firstly the fielded forces themselves; secondly the more strategic target of the command and control network, without which they would not be able to operate for long. Our strategy is straightforward, to cut them off, pin them down and take them out so that they have no option but to leave Kosovo.
As Colonel Freytag will explain to you in more detail presently, we successfully yesterday evening went after the complete array of fielded forces in Kosovo, starting with armour but also attacking command posts and ammunition depots. At the same time, NATO aircraft engaged Milosevic's army and special police forces, while more NATO aircraft attacked the systems that Belgrade uses to control them, including 8 radio relay sites and yesterday more than a dozen bridges, most of them road but some of them rail bridges.
As you all know now, this morning during the early hours an F16 aircraft went down in the north-western part of Serbia. As we increase the intensity of our air operations, 24 hours a day, so the greater the risk obviously to our pilots as well from an increased momentum of operations. But I want to highlight the fact that this pilot within a matter of 2 hours was rescued by NATO forces and taken to safety and I would like to salute the professionalism and the efficiency of that combat search and rescue time that for the second time since Operation Allied Force began managed to rescue a downed pilot. That pilot is safe, well, receiving medical attention and is now being debriefed on the incident.
So thank you and I now hand over to Colonel Freytag for his more detailed operational up-date.
Colonel Freytag: Thank you Jamie. Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen.
NATO's air campaign continued with intensive strikes against military and strategic targets throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Once again we focused the major weight of our effort on the Serb fielded forces in Kosovo. I want to be quite clear about this, by attacking fielded forces and their support systems we seek to make it incredibly difficult for anyone to get into Kosovo, and almost impossible to move around and operate within Kosovo.
As part of this continuing effort, during the past 24 hours we struck the full spectrum of tactical targets throughout the province. … artillery guns, tanks, armoured personnel carriers, mortars, military vehicles, artillery rocket systems, command post and local ammunition and fuel supplies were hit.
The following videos were taken over the past week. The first shows an attack against fielded artillery gun.
The next two cockpit videos are of an attack with precision guided weapons against fielded tanks.
In the up-coming days we will be giving you a more detailed briefing on our overall assessment of the effects of our concentrated efforts on the targeting of fielded forces and I hope that this meets your hunger about figures on tanks.
Turning to Serbian forces' operations, first I will cover ground operations in Kosovo. Serb forces continue to seek to establish control over all the key terrain and lines of communication in Kosovo. The tempo of Serb military activity has reduced. Continuous operations have likely inflicted a gradual degradation of Serb combat sustainability and caused rising levels of demoralisation among their troops.
Increasing use of special police and paramilitary units affect augmentation needed to conduct further security operations. These security operations increasingly are conducted by MUP units supported with VJ armour or artillery in order to relieve VJ troops. It also likely reflects an overall Serbian army wish to return responsibility for internal security in Kosovo to the special police.
In central Kosovo special police elements conducted operations against the UCK in the Pristina area along the Suva Reka … line of communication. Combined VJ and MUP forces intensified operations near Suva Reka south of the Dulja Pass where they encountered strong resistance from the UCK.
Fighting between Serb forces and the UCK continued in western Kosovo along the Kosovo-Albanian border focusing on the area of Marina and Potomarina. VJ artillery shelled villages in northern Albania including Leiti and Borea. UCK forces also continued to operate in western Kosovo, as shown here.
Turning now to Serbian Air Force activities. Serb early warning radar activity was again noted, Serb Air defence launched 6 surface to air missiles, anti-aircraft artillery was again active. A small number of MiG21 aircraft were detected, dispersing to nearby airfields. No air defence fighters opposed our Air Forces.
As earlier mentioned, we lost 1 aircraft during yesterday's operation. At 2.20 this morning, local Brussels time, an F16CJ experienced an engine failure 18 kilometres east of Kosluk whilst returning from a mission over Yugoslavia. The cause of the engine failure is under review. The pilot was recovered safely and is now at a NATO base. An AV8B Harrier aircraft was also lost in a training accident. This aircraft was not assigned to NATO but was supporting NATO's operation.
Turning back to this operation and covering first the humanitarian issues. On the humanitarian side NATO forces' support for non-governmental organisations and the governmental institution of Albania and FYROM continues. Our support contributes significantly to the relief efforts in these countries.
In the last 24 hours there were 11 aid flights flown into Fyrom with 13 tons of food and water and 15 tons of medical supplies. For Albania there were 16 aid flights delivering a wide range of humanitarian supplies.
Now I will turn to our air operation. As previously stated in the briefing we placed a concentrated effort against fielded forces in Kosovo. However, we also continued to target the strategic assets that permit the Serbian forces to support and control the operations in Kosovo.
In this regard allied aircraft once again struck the full range of military targets. We again placed an emphasis on the radio relay and TV transmission facilities that are integral elements in the command and control network of the Serbian leadership and military command. 8 transmission towers and facilities were targeted as detailed in the slide. The Tivet radio relay site located at the Tivet Bay in western Montenegro was considered to be a keynote in the command and control structure and this was targeted.
The following cockpit videos are of attacks against 3 communication towers conducted over the last few days. The first video is against the Losnikar radio relay tower. The next film is of our aircrew attacking the Semika radio communications station. And the final video is of the Subotika radio and TV transmitter.
The integrated air defence system was again targeted, including the Nis airfield. We will continue to selectively target elements of the system to prevent the Serb military from reconstituting the system. Petroleum storage and production facilities were targeted, including the facilities at Lopatnika, Novi Sad and Pozega. We also targeted the Kakai Ordnance repair facility.
We again struck lines of communication, including 12 road bridges and 5 railroad bridges. Unfortunately on one of our attacks on Saturday unintended damage occurred and NATO aircraft carried out one single attack against the Lusana bridge north of Pristina. This was a legitimate military target on a key north-south resupply route for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia military and special police operations between Pristina and Podujevo. Unfortunately, after weapons release, a bus crossed on the bridge but was not seen by the pilot whose attention was focused on his aim point during weapon trajectory. He did not target the bus and there was no intention to harm civilians, and any loss of innocent life is regretted.
Serbian force infrastructure was struck, including the Novi Paza and Pokupulia ammunition depots. The following slide is an expansion of the military infrastructure struck in Kosovo. These targets included the Besinya and Djakovica storage areas and the military facilities at Pec, Nujana and Vranja.
And with this slide I end my operations up-date for you. Thank you very much.
Freddie: Both my questions to Konrad. The first one concerns the statement that there were rising levels of demoralisation. Can you give us some evidence which indicates that? Question two concerns the location of the air attacks against field forces seem to be connected with the area of UCK activity, are these in face partially in support of the UCK?
Colonel Freytag: Concerning the first, I can only repeat what I have stated yesterday. We have some confirmed and some unconfirmed reports of desertion. We have seen reports from Commanders who brief their soldiers, if they were to desert they will be shot. We have seen desertions from Kosovar Serbs, from Voyvodina Serbs, from Montenegro Serbs who all didn't want to join these Armed Forces and didn't want to continue that, but they are ordered because they wanted to stay a normal military man and not looting and burning and raping and whatever they were tasked to do. But I think Jamie has another report.
Jamie Shea: Yes, Konrad, if I could just come in there. I just want to draw your attention to an interesting interview in today's … Zontag Newspaper with a 34 year old officer of the Serbian Army who is under the alias of Veran Tesanovic, an alias of course because his identity has to be protected. But he gives an account of the circumstances which induced him to desert from the Yugoslav Army and to flee to Hungary where he is now in a refugee camp. He makes it clear that he was given orders to kill people, he makes it clear that he was given photographs of the people that he was meant to kill, or to have killed, and he also makes it clear that many others in his unit were equally sickened, as he was, by having to carry out this appalling work under the direct orders of the Chief of the General Staff. He says that since his desertion his family has been intimidated and his wife has been beaten. So again it is only one story of one individual, but I think it is nonetheless indicative that not everybody in the Yugoslav Army is content to have to do this bloody work, quite frankly.
Colonel Freytag: On your second question, no there is no co-ordination between our air campaign and the UCK, at least not from our part. But we have increased our air activities, in this case supported by the good weather conditions.
Jamie Shea: Freddie, if I can add here just in amplification of what Konrad has said, I understand that this morning there were some attacks along the Albanian border near the border post of Morani and they of course were seeking out Serb artillery positions which are not only firing against UCK positions but are firing very close to where a large number of refugees are taking shelter, posing a threat to refugees, in fact even some members of humanitarian relief organisations very narrowly escaped injury yesterday from such shelling, and of course they are violating the sovereignty of a neighbouring country by firing over the border, so those are targets but for those good reasons.
Patricia: Colonel Freytag, in your military briefing when you were talking about Serb ground activity you showed a photograph. I would like to know where that photograph was taken, when and what its source is?
Colonel Freytag: I have to come with an answer later on. My people will give me an answer on that.
ABC News: We are hearing reports that after yesterday's bombing of the bus in Lusane, on the bridge, that a second vehicle that had arrived on the scene, an ambulance evidently that had come to rescue the injured, was also hit by NATO planes. Do you have any information about that?
Colonel Freytag: First of all, we did not bomb the bus, we hit the bridge and we will probably have some details for you on this incident later on, but I want to underline that we did not bomb the bus and we did not target the bus. I have seen the video and on that video it shows much earlier another vehicle passing the bridge and not being harmed at all. That is all I can say at this moment.
DAG: Just a couple of technical questions. On the videos, the artillery and the tank looked remarkably exposed. Is there any possibility that they are putting out dummies for NATO to hit? And on another chart you showed 6 SA6s were fired, only one of which was guided, what happens when they are not guided, do they just sort of point them? And on the Lusane bridge, in general would the risk of such incidents be less, or more, or about the same if pilots were allowed to go down to low altitude before targeting their targets?
Colonel Freytag: Let me start with the last question. I cannot talk about the altitudes from which we attack our targets, I am not allowed to do that. When there is an anti-air attack and it is not guided then it is just a lucky shot, as we have had in several instances earlier. Only with the guided approach the Serb forces could be somehow successful, but we have not seen, Thank God, too much success in that. No, we do not target and we do not hit dummies and I am sure that the briefers next week will have some hard facts for you on what we have hit and what we have destroyed.
Questions & Answers
Question: Colonel Freytag, first of all, are you saying that it was engine failure that knocked down the F-16 and Jamie, could you tell us a little more on this oil blockage plan? I understand the military plan is still with the Military. Has it gone to them, have they sent it back?
Colonel Freytag: Yes, I repeat it was engine failure but as we of course are interested in what caused the engine failure, we are still reviewing this incident. It will be difficult because we don't have the wreckage, it is on FRY soil. It is still under review.
Jamie Shea: On the oil embargo, I think, as I'm always saying, we have to make a distinction between the oil embargo and the "visit and search" regime that NATO is looking into.
The oil embargo is up and running and is working well. As you know, it came into effect yesterday following decisions by the European Union, you've seen that the United States has also imposed very comprehensive sanctions on Yugoslavia, other allies have also joined this oil embargo and I've given you a list already these past days of as many countries are in the European Union but which are not, also having joined the oil embargo so most of those countries which before this conflict were shipping oil to Belgrade have stopped doing so and this is going to have an enormous effect. I can't obviously put a figure on it and I can't say that there won't be certain leakages here and there but nonetheless this is going to be a very significant drying-up of the oil tap and that's the most important thing because if countries don't ship oil in the first place then obviously that's going to be the most effective type of embargo that one could consider.
As for the "visit and search" regime, we are still working on it and there's nothing wrong in that. We'd rather do something that's going to be carefully thought out, militarily effective and which will have the political support of the largest numbers not just in the Alliance but beyond, than rush into something which will be ill-thought-through and which would not work so well so it has not yet gone to the Council - I anticipate it will do so at the beginning of this week - but what has happened is that the military authorities, having received some initial political guidance from the political side of NATO, are going back to work on a few other things. It's a complicated thing because we want something of course that's going to be consistent with international law obviously, something which is going to take account of the different status of different countries that are involved in shipping in the Adriatic and something of course which is going to have the widest degree of acceptance in the international community so we will continue to work on this but this regime is infinitely less significant than the fact that a great number of countries, former oil suppliers to Belgrade or major industrial powers of the world, have said: "Right! The tap is being turned off, no more oil is going to get through!" This is going to make it first of all much more difficult for Milosevic to get oil and it's going to vastly drive up the price that he is going to have to pay on the black market per gallon for the small amount that he might still be able to get his hands on so that's what counts, it's the embargo. A "visit and search" regime could be a reinforcement of that but the embargo first and foremost is what we want.
Question: Yesterday and the day before we were told there is evidence of the intensification of the NATO air campaign, that there had been 600 sorties flown in a 24-hour period. In the most recent 24-hour period, has that rate of sorties or your measurement of intensification continued at the same level, increased or decreased and if it has decreased, is that in response to the Rev. Jackson's call for a pause?
Colonel Freytag: We have flown during the last 24 hours a bit more than 600 sorties.
Jamie Shea: And so I think that answers your question.
Colonel Freytag: To be clear, when I said that I have not given and I am not authorised to give you figures on how many strikes are in these sorties and only if we would measure the total amount of sorties vis-à-vis the strikes could you make a statement of decrease or increase and I told you we had an increase in our strikes.
Same Questioner: Is there by any measurement any decrease in the war effort on the part of NATO in response to the Rev. Jackson's plea?
Jamie Shea: I think Konrad can answer that better than I but if I may have a word, if you look at the number of targets that were struck last night on Day 39 and the very extensive number of locations throughout Yugoslavia where those targets were engaged - and those strikes were not restricted to Kosovo - then I think you have your answer.
We obviously congratulate the Rev. Jesse Jackson on the success of his mission to release the three US servicemen, we share, as you can imagine, the relief of the families to have those servicemen back among them but the release of the three US servicemen does not constitute either the achievement of the essential objectives of the international community nor the end of the violence in Kosovo which goes on today with several thousand more refugees having crossed the frontiers since we came in this morning and so clearly the air operations are going to be linked to the achievement of those five objectives and when they are achieved then we will stop.
I understand that the Rev. Jackson has some proposals that he is carrying to President Clinton. I have no idea what those proposals are, I understand there are four of them whereas a couple of days ago Belgrade made seven proposals. For us the lucky number is five, this is the magic number here, not seven, not four but five and you all know what those five are and that's what we will want to see before we consider ending this campaign.
Colonel Freytag: May I add a military view on it? The whole air campaign is under the direct and close control of NATO's political leaders and SACEUR does not have the liberty to escape from that and I think no-one would expect him to escape from that.
Question (Parks News): According to the Rev. Jackson, it took about an hour for Mr. Milosevic to decide to release the three POWs yet apparently there has not been an order yet to remove the estimated 40,000 Serbian troops from Kosovo. Do you see the gesture to release the prisoners as an olive branch or as a ploy to influence American public opinion?
Jamie Shea: I think what's going to influence American public opinion are facts, not olive branches, facts not words. If President Milosevic can order those three servicemen released in an hour, he can probably order his 40,000 troops out of Kosovo in an hour as well. Clearly, he can take decisions when he wants to, he has just demonstrated that. He could also change his mind when he wants to, we know that from the past and we have had another illustration: a couple of days ago, President Milosevic was telling envoys that those three servicemen would not be released and then suddenly today they are released and I think that clearly shows that this is a person totally able to change his mind and change direction if he wants to but what he's got to understand is that the decision which is going to impress us most is the decision to pull the troops out of Kosovo and accept the conditions of the international community. We are interested in acceptance rather than olive branches.
Charles: On the POWs, is it mildly irritating to you at NATO to see the news agenda being driven by President Milosevic as it seems to have been really in the last 24 hours, the fact that most of the tv screens are full of news of these POWs coming back and their progression through Zagreb back to the United States rather than news of your air strikes from last night, does that irritate you here at NATO?
Jamie Shea: Charles not at all because for the families of those three servicemen, seeing them being released is probably the best thing that's ever happened to them in their lives and that is a happiness that we're happy here at NATO to share. Because we have still not met our objectives, doesn't mean to say that we do not welcome the fact that those servicemen have been released, in fact they should never have been taken captive in the first place as I've constantly said. But I think that on the tv screens over the last few days - and I would like to say how much I acknowledge this because you are the people responsible - the real story has continued to be shown, the story of the refugees being once again pushed over the border, the story of the recent accounts of massacres that we've heard about, the way in which Belgrade came up with a 7-point proposal a few evenings ago which fell far short of what the international community is demanding so if I can say so, I think you're doing an excellent job of presenting all aspects of this story in a fair way and I'm very happy to say that and to live with that.
Antonio: A follow-up on what Charles just said. On the very same day that we have the three American soldiers released, we have the pictures of the bus and all the bodies. Do you think it is a coincidence or just another lesson of strategy that we were not expecting because Milosevic has got the initiative right now?
Jamie Shea: Personally, Antonio, I do not believe that President Milosevic has the initiative, I think that we have got it quite frankly and it's increasingly evident that we have it because we are foreclosing with each passing day the options that Milosevic has. He is coming up with proposals and plans and he's seeing that NATO is united in saying nothing short of the five key objectives, that we are not going to accept anything that falls short of that and he knows full well that if he wants to gain the ears of the NATO Alliance, he is going to have to come forward with something which meets those five key objectives.
Secondly, he is seeing that despite the difficulties - which I readily acknowledge - in this campaign and difficulties which are bound up with an operation of this magnitude, the NATO Alliance is continuing, we're holding together, we are not being diverted, we are not being distracted, we stay on course day after day. I think he is also seeing that public opinion in our member states although not enthusiastic - that's obvious about such a campaign, how could public opinion be enthusiastic? - nonetheless accepts the necessity of what we are doing and nonetheless believes that force has to be used to stop force.
I think that whatever President Milosevic may say publicly or whatever his colleagues in government say publicly, they know that they are losing this, they know that it is only a matter of time and they have to seek some way out, an exit strategy, that there is no alternative. I would not myself be deflected by the surface turbulence on top of the water, I would look preferably at the undercurrents below and I think those undercurrents below are pointing in one direction and one direction only.
Antonio: Jamie, do you consider this as being a coincidence because the first information we had from Belgrade is that the POWs wouldn't be released and after the accident with the bus there was an order from President Milosevic to release them.
Colonel Freytag, you said - and we all believe - there was no intention to target a bus full of civilians. However, the bus was targeted, the train was before. Is there any other way to make these operations during the night so that buses and trains are not targets?
Colonel Freytag: Let me repeat, we did not target the bus as we have not targeted earlier the train. We target bridges and I am sure that the Serb authorities know that these bridges are of extreme value to their lines of communications and when they allow public traffic over these bridges, then they risk a lot of lives of their own citizens.
Jamie Shea: Antonio, I don't know if this is a coincidence or not, that is something that you have to ask Milosevic. We are happy that those servicemen are released but is there going to be a reward for Milosevic for doing that? Clearly no, we have made that clear. The only thing that will stop NATO is Milosevic accepting those five conditions, the sooner he realises that, the sooner he will stop, the better for everybody but we are not going to give him any kind of ray of light into thinking that somehow he can wiggle out, he can escape rather like Houdini, the master escapologist, from meeting those implacable non-negotiable conditions of the international community.
Question: We also hear reports about some efforts of American congressmen in Vienna and there must be some indication from Belgrade according to their reports that Milosevic could be ready for any military armed force in Kosovo. What is your ?????? , did NATO elaborate on that and how seriously is that taken by NATO.
The other question is concerning this incident yesterday on Lujana (phon) bridge. What is the number of casualties NATO has got, do you have any information on that?
Jamie Shea: Thank you for that question. If Milosevic is truly ready o accept an international armed presence, then I hope that that is not something he is going to keep to himself as the best guarded secret in Belgrade, I hope that he will tell the world clearly and unambiguously that he accepts an international armed presence in Kosovo.
Incidentally, in an interview that he gave to UPR and I understand some American newspapers the other day, he spoke of this as an "occupation force of Yugoslavia". It is not an occupation force of Yugoslavia, it's an international security presence inside Kosovo, nowhere else and I want to make that absolutely clear and it will certainly not be behaving when it is deployed like any kind of occupation force. An occupation force is normally something that represses the local population, we are talking about something that is going to protect the local population and restore their human rights to them. An occupation force is not something normally which is welcomed by the local population whereas we know - and you heard this from Mr. Schala and the other Kosovar Albanian leaders here just a few days ago - that is something that they most ardently want so I would therefore just like to clarify that.
Unfortunately, we haven't heard from Belgrade thus far that they are prepared to accept an international armed presence. There was a tantalising slip of the tongue by the Foreign Ministry just a couple of days ago but that was immediately with the results that you know so as I say, if this is indeed true let President Milosevic tell us and then we may even begin to believe him but not until he says it publicly and commits himself to it publicly as well but that is only one of the five conditions, it helps but it is not in itself sufficient, the other four have to go too, it is either all or nothing.
Colonel Freytag: On the casualty questions, when you see the hit of the bridge and how the bus is running into it, you must assume that there were casualties if there were passengers on board of that bus, at least the driver or some others but we do not have any evidence about the casualties, we have only seen the same pictures on tv as you have seen, we are not on the ground, we don't know about the identity of passengers or of the casualties and we don't know about numbers, that can only be verified on the ground.
(Questions In French)
Jamie Shea: (Reply in French)