Prague, 16 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Clifford Beal, editor-in-chief of the British military magazine Jane's Defence Weekly, talked yesterday with RFE/RL about military aspects of NATO's air campaign in Yugoslavia.
Beal spoke by telephone from London. The following are excerpts of his comments:
On the current state of the military campaign in Kosovo:
"It's been very difficult for military observers of this conflict to get a sense which NATO objectives are being accomplished and attained, because NATO headquarters and the Pentagon have been very parsimonious in giving out detailed operational information. So we are getting rather general information. We find it difficult to find out, for instance, which aircraft may be involved in any particular operations. For us, at Jane's Information Group, we are having trouble trying to find out what the effectiveness is of the bombing campaign."
On the length of the campaign and the state of the Yugoslav armed forces:
"There is a wide difference in expectations of this campaign. NATO said from the outset that this thing could easily last weeks, if not months, and I think many people and the general public in the West have lost sight of that.
"Secondly ... the Yugoslav armed forces were well-equipped, especially with surface-to-air missiles and other defenses. This would require a fairly lengthy campaign to take apart those defenses, piece by piece. And the Serbian military have fought very defensively, and they have not used all their missiles. They are holding them back. They have spread out their tanks; they have concealed them in areas. This makes it more difficult [for NATO]."
On how long the NATO campaign could last:
"It probably won't last much longer. I think there will be a finite, a sort of a window of opportunity for [NATO] to continue with this sort of military solution. Then they will be faced with an option of scaling back the operations or escalating them and moving to ground operations. But I think carrying on with these relentless strikes from the air, that eventually -- and maybe sooner than later -- they will have actually to rethink that. It is very difficult for us, in the media, to judge the effectiveness of the bombing. We should [assume] they have had some successes. But we also know, for instance, that the Yugoslav army had nearly 1,000 main battle tanks, and you are not going to get every one of them by hitting them individually. That would take months, if not a year, and even then you will not get them all. So, this is why NATO has been trying very hard to take out facilities and maintenance depots, fuel depots, that sort of thing, take out bridges. Because it limits the effectiveness of using tanks. But it is very difficult to say how much success the campaign is having."
Shortly after RFE/RL's interview with Beal yesterday, NATO issued a statement admitting that one of its planes mistakenly dropped a bomb on a civilian vehicle in Kosovo yesterday. Belgrade says dozens were killed. NATO expressed regret for any civilian loss of life but said the vehicle was part of a convoy that may have been surrounded by Serb police or military vehicles.
Beal was asked about how NATO pilots accurately identify their targets:
"Generally speaking, they have a variety of means of telling what they're firing at: they have their own eyesight to see at low level. It is fairly easy to tell the difference between a tractor and a main battle tank or a military truck, or an automobile, for instance. Those things can be seen at low level. ... We know that the American pilots were very nervous about this, just for the very same reasons as to what apparently has happened. And they want to be very careful in what they are engaging."
On sending U.S. Apache attack helicopters to Albania:
"I don't know what the war plans are of NATO. Apache attack helicopters can be used to soften up, take out individual enemy tanks before ground troops or helicopter-borne troops are brought in subsequently. Or they could fly top-cover for transport helicopters. They could do those sort of things. But generally, they are very effective in taking out individual tanks. They have a variety of targeting aids and types of missiles they can use, and they fly at low level so they are able to distinguish targets probably more easily than fighter aircraft. And they are flying at slower speeds."
On the prospective use of NATO ground troops:
"I actually think there is a chance of a political settlement. I would put chances at 50-50 within the next two weeks. I really believe that it is less likely that we'll see a ground invasion. It doesn't mean the ground troops will not go in, but I think if they go in, it will be a part of an overall settlement."