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Yugoslavia: NATO Plans To Augment Force With More Planes

  • Ben Partridge



London, 14 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Wesley Clark, says air strikes on Serb military targets in Kosovo and elsewhere in Serbia have destroyed some 70 per cent of the fuel stocks available to the FRY military.

The U.S general also said the three-week air campaign aimed at curbing Serb military, police and paramilitary "repression" of ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo is "going to be increasingly intense."

Clark spoke at NATO headquarters in Brussels yesterday about alliance plans to beef up the air campaign with plans to augment the present strike force with an extra 300 U.S. planes, as well as attack aircraft and support aircraft from other NATO allies.

Military analysts estimate the number of alliance planes based at airfields ringing Yugoslavia on land and on carriers in the Adriatic will be boosted from the initial figure of 430 to some 1,000.

Clark said the strikes at fuel dumps aim at choking off the petroleum, oil and lubricants essential to the FRY military, as part of what military analysts call "a slow process of strangulation."

Speaking after a second NATO strike on an oil refinery outside Belgrade, Clark said there are reports Serb units in Kosovo have been told to cease operations and stay put in order to conserve fuel.

Referring to Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, Clark said: "This is an attack against his reconstruction and repair capabilities. Right now, he is losing that race."

His assessment of the situation on the ground came as U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met in Oslo with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to discuss the Kosovo crisis.

Albright said that the two sides cannot agree on the composition of a peacekeeping force which, it is hoped, will eventually move into Kosovo to enforce a political settlement, and safeguard the security of many thousands of returning refugees. Moscow has condemned the NATO air strikes against their fellow Orthodox Slavs.

As they met, reports said that Serb forces had briefly occupied a village in northern Albania, raising fears of a conflict "spillover." The first reports said that a number of houses were set on fire, before the Serb troops pulled back. Belgrade denied the incident.

The incident prompted the U.S. to warn Belgrade that it would face "serious consequences" if it widened the conflict.

In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the House of Commons that the NATO air campaign would continue until its aims were met. They include an end to Serb repression, a return of refugees, and a peace settlement based on the Rambouillet accords.

Blair, who received all-party support, said what he called the "murder, rape and terror inflicted on innocent people" in Kosovo by the Milosevic regime "provides ample justification for our action."

Clark says the intention of the air campaign, as he put it, is to "attack, disrupt, degrade and deter further Serb actions."

He noted that the air campaign, which he stressed was not aimed at the Serb people, has used the "highest proportion of precision weaponry that has ever been used in any air operation anywhere."

But he said overcast weather has slowed the air operations. The 21-day operation has seen 10 days where more than 50 percent of strikes were cancelled, and only seven days where the weather was favorable. So far, 2,000 sorties have been flown.

He said the allied fliers are operating on what he called "two axes of attack". The first aim is to go after Serb forces inside Kosovo and nearby "to destroy their forces, interdict them and to prevent a continuation of their campaign" against Kosovar Albanian civilians.

The second is to strike at strategic targets, including supply bases, the integrated air defense system, command and control mechanisms, headquarters, and supply routes including bridges. Clark said NATO officials "very much regret" an "unfortunate incident" earlier this week when a NATO pilot hit a railroad bridge and train in Serbia with a remote-guided bomb, killing some 10 people, according to Belgrade. He said the pilot caught sight of the train only at the last moment, when the bomb was locked on target.

NATO still insists it has no plans to send ground troops into Kosovo but a build-up of allied forces is gathering momentum with fresh contributions from France, Germany and Italy. Blair today announced plans to send an additional 1,800 troops to Greece and Macedonia, boosting the British troop presence to more than 6,000.

Military analysts say the NATO complement of troops in Macedonia will soon rise to 14,000, with hundreds of fresh arrivals boosting the peace implementation force there. They also say the NATO troop presence in Albania will soon rise to 8,000, tasked with the humanitarian responsibility of caring for Kosovar Albanian refugees. Also on the way to Albania are 4,000 U.S. troops, and 24 Apache helicopters, an effective weapon against ground armor.

Within Kosovo, NATO military planners believe the Yugoslav army can muster 27,000 soldiers, plus another 16,500 special police and paramilitary forces. But still the word is: no ground troops.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook used strong language yesterday in insisting that the alliance remains totally committed and united behind the air campaign. Noting that the military alliance was born in the aftermath of the defeat of fascism in Europe, he said member countries "will not allow this century to end" with what he called a "triumph for fascism and genocide."

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