|NATO MILITARY BRIEFING|
April 15, 1999
NATO Spokesman Jamie Shea and Italian General Marani brief the press on the accidental bombing of the Kosovar refugees.
JAMIE SHEA: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. General Marani once again joins me up here at the podium.
I would like to comment first on yesterday's incident. NATO deeply regrets the loss of life to civilians from the attack yesterday on a convoy travelling between Prizren and Dakovica. As you all know, NATO pilots have orders to strike only at military targets. We have taken every possible precaution to avoid causing harm to civilians. Our Operation Allied Force was launched to save civilian lives, not to expend them. There has never been a military operation in history in which so many stringent measures have been taken to minimise harm to civilian lives and civilian property. We are using more precision-guided munitions than in any previous operation.
Yesterday a NATO pilot was operating over western Kosovo. He saw many villages being burned. This is an area where the Yugoslav Special Police Forces, the MUP, have been conducting ethnic cleansing operations in recent days. The 5,000 refugees that have arrived in Albania in the last 48 hours testify to that fact. The road between Prizren and Dakovica is an important resupply and reinforcement route for the Yugoslav Army and the Special Police. The pilot attacked what he believed to be military vehicles in a convoy. He was convinced he had the right target. He dropped his bomb in good faith, as you would expect a trained pilot from a democratic NATO country to do. The pilot reported at the time that he was attacking a military convoy. The NATO bomb destroyed the lead vehicle, which we now believe to have been a civilian vehicle.
I again stress, NATO deeply regrets the loss of life from this tragic accident. But I also want to stress that no conflict in human history has ever been accident-free, or will ever be. We can reduce the risk of accidents but we cannot eliminate them altogether. But we are also encouraged by the statements of many ethnic Albanians, for instance refugees arriving in Albania yesterday, that they want NATO to continue its operation, and continue it we will because one tragic accident cannot and will not undermine our conviction that our cause is a just one to end human suffering and to save lives. Nor will it weaken our resolve to continue our operation until our key objectives have been achieved.
But I would also like to ask in this connection two questions. First, why was a refugee convoy escorted by Serb military vehicles on the Prizren-Dakovica road at 3.00 o'clock yesterday afternoon in the first place? Why weren't the people in their homes, at their jobs, going about their normal lives? Why were they en route to the border? Because they had been forced from their homes and because they were on their way to joining the 580,000 Kosovar Albanians that have already been expelled from Kosovo. My second question: why was a NATO pilot 15,000 feet up in the air yesterday afternoon over Kosovo? Because along with about 1,000 other NATO pilots, he was risking his life every day to stop human suffering in Kosovo and to allow these 580,000 refugees to be able to go back home.
So let us not allow one accident, no matter how tragic, to obscure the real stakes in this crisis, which is that sometimes one has to risk the lives of the few in order to save the lives of the many.
I now ask General Marani to give you the operational up-date.
GENERAL MARANI: Good Afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I will provide you with an up-date of activity in the last 24 hours and then I will move on to the circumstances, as we understand them, regarding the regrettable loss of life of displaced people in Kosovo.
The weather affected some operations yesterday, but six packages were flown and all were partially successful. This map indicates the targets that were struck. They include command and control, storage and petroleum facilities. Fielded forces in Kosovo were also attacked, together with surface to air missile sites. At least one SA-6 was destroyed.
Once again there was significant anti-aircraft artillery and surface to air missile activity against NATO aircraft. None of our aircraft were hit. This map shows the area of MUP activity in the region of Pristina and Srbica. The main Yugoslav Army activity was in the western border area. There was some cross-border activity, including artillery action, during clashes with the UCK forces.
Now I will move on to the incident which resulted in loss of life and injury to civilian people in Kosovo. You will be aware that the first reports of this accident only emerged at the end of yesterday's press briefing. The situation was confused as there had been NATO attacks on a number of convoys in Kosovo. This map shows the area of the attack in question. NATO confirms from its preliminary investigation that it appears that one of its aircraft may have mistakenly dropped a bomb on a civilian vehicle in a convoy yesterday. The following tape gives the description of what may be this incident. The callsigns and the identity of the crew have been removed from this tape.
"It was a white lead pack A control. We worked various targets throughout the morning with not a lot of success due to weather. However, sometime around 11.00 o'clock Zulu, I spotted near the town of Dakova what looked to be ITP convoy that was stacked up on the west side of the town. I moved north from there to look and see what the reason for the flood of refugees was down at the town of Dakova and what I found was a series of villages that had been set on fire, entire villages set on fire. As I moved up to the north I found the first village that had been set on fire, it looked like it had been burning for quite a long time and was about to burn out. Then as I move further south I see the next village south on fire, fresher fire, still burning vigorously. Cloud cover was somewhat in the way. I moved further to the south, orbit the area, I am able to see underneath the cloud now to the second village that was on fire and I am able to see now another smaller village that is even a fresher fire.
So the picture that I am building now in this south western part of Kosovo is that MUP and VJ forces are methodically working themselves from the north to the south through villages, setting them ablaze and forcing all the Kosovar Albanians out of those villages.
I worked my way down LOC that run south-east into the town of Dakova. On that LOC there weren't any villages to burn but as you work your way south-east every house on that road was set ablaze. I see close to the town of Dakova what looks like civilian vehicles flowing into the town and to the choke point where I saw the 60 plus vehicles stacked out to the east. I work my way back up to the road and I see another house that has just been set ablaze and I spot a three vehicle convoy moving south-east, about a click from the freshest burning house. I clock my wing man's eyes on to the convoy and explain to him what I am seeing there, he gets his eyes on there, we see three uniformly shaped dark green vehicles, they look like duce and a half troop carrying vehicles. They come to a stop at the next house down the road and I am convinced now that it is the VJ and MUP forces working their way down towards Dakova and the refugees and they are preparing to set this next house on fire.
I take my system, my targeting pod, and I make several passes over these vehicles to ensure that they are in fact military vehicles, I roll in on two passes to get a close look both with my eyeballs and with my targeting pod IR picture and at this point, this is about 25 minutes into building the whole picture of the destruction that is following from north to south, into the town of Dakova, and I make a decision at that point that these are the people responsible for burning down the villages that I have seen so far. I roll in, put my system on the lead vehicle and execute a laser-guided bomb attack on that vehicle, destroying the lead vehicle. From there my wing man is low on fuel so we end up having to depart the area. On my way out of the area I pass my BDA to AB triple C and to the forward air controller that is coming in to replace me, I pass him target co-ordinates, a threat up-date of the area and a general description of the three vehicle convoy that we have prosecuted an attack on.
From that point I leave the AEO and the RTPN finds the target area that I briefed to him and he now spots three large trucks in the middle of the compound, or the housing area next to where we had just attacked, and he proceeds to execute a laser attack on those vehicles."
GENERAL MARANI: This is the summary of the knowledge that we have now really is the synthesis of our knowledge of what happened. In summary, NATO's efforts to engage carefully and precisely only legitimate military targets have thus far resulted in some collateral damage. However, it must be recognised that although the crews have specific orders not to attack civilian targets, this intense air campaign will inevitably result in loss of life among innocent civilians and damage to civilian structures.
NATO intensifies the air campaign and continues to increase pressure on strategic targets, fixed installation and fielded forces of the FRY Army and Special Police. The infrastructure that supports the military and Special Police conducting operations in and around Kosovo has been severely damaged. All of our aircraft have returned safely.
The refugee relief effort continued in the last 24 hours with 35 aid flights to Albania delivering 219 tons of food and water, 24 tons of medical supplies and 100 tons of tentage. There were also 18 flights into Fyrom carrying 44 tons of food and water, 19 tons of medical supplies and 87 tons of other items.
JAMIE SHEA: General, I would just like to give you a further up-date on other aspects in the Alliance over the last 24 hours. I would like first of all to give you an up-date on Operation Allied Harbour, just to let you know that the rules of engagement for this were approved by the North Atlantic Council yesterday.
Following the reconnaissance mission by ASELF in Albania, we have reduced the number of forces in Allied Harbour from the originally planned 8,700 to 7,300. This force will be divided into three essential task groups: the first will be responsible for shelter, forward relief reception, the support of refugees, because the basic requirement in Albania is to bring more refugees out of fairly appalling accommodation into better tented accommodation in new refugee camps; the second task force will deal with the distribution and logistics of supplies and will secure lines of communication; and the third task force will be responsible for direct support for the international humanitarian organisations, particularly storing their supplies.
As you know, even before the Activation Order for Allied Harbour, a number of countries had already pre-deployed forces, for example 450 from France, 200 from Germany, 230 from Greece, 830 from the United States, 1,100 from Italy and Belgium, Canadian and Dutch contingents are currently en route. Yesterday, during his meeting with Madam Ogata of the UNHCR, the Secretary General assured her that we will not impede in any way the humanitarian flights into Tirana due to the momentum of the arrival of NATO forces on military flights.
Currently Allied Harbour needs more engineers, medical personnel and transport staff. These are of course essential people in a humanitarian effort of this kind, and so SHAPE will have a force balancing conference to look for these additional elements on 16 April.
At the same time a very brief up-date on the situation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. I would like to tell you that the Secretary General has appointed Ambassador Hans Jörg Eiss to be NATO's Special Representative in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. He will maintain political liaison between the government there and NATO headquarters. We are very grateful to Germany for providing Ambassador Eiss.
At the same time we are concerned by the fact that in the last 24 hours numerous refugees have again been arriving, particularly from the area of Orasejbac, into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and many thousands more may be on their way and this may have the consequence that our forces there, the forces under General Jackson, may have to re-engage in the humanitarian relief effort. We will see of course what the flow is like in the next few days in that respect. In the meantime, our policy of handing over management of the refugee camps to international organisations continues.
So that is I think the general up-date to complement what the General said. We now go to questions.
CHARLES BREMNER, TIMES: General, could you give us some more information please? Could you tell us what type of aircraft was involved, what was the altitude from which it released its weapon? Could you explain what the second attack was and the results that it achieved with the three trucks, there were some technical words there we didn't understand? And is there a problem with these aircraft making their approaches from too high an altitude to avoid the anti-aircraft fire, does this lead to some imprecision?
GENERAL MARANI: First of all, as Shea said, the altitude was 15,000 feet and the type of aircraft, a fighter type aircraft I would say. They were F16s. And of course operating from that altitude is not less precise because the precision is still the same, the precision is within the system, but of course the identification of the target is more complex and normally is carried out correlating more information, not only what the pilot sees but other information that he has before leaving, before arriving to the area from other aircraft, from other weapons systems but not necessarily on board of his aircraft. This is what operating from altitude means.
The three trucks were attacked and they were hit, the three trucks have been hit.
(Pause in tape here )
REPORTER: After three weeks of air campaign, I got a feeling that the Allies do control almost 100 per cent of the air space over Yugoslavia but before we got the information that this incident has happened due to a mistake of the Allied pilot there was an option that even VJ aircraft or the Yugoslav army could do this. Does it mean that NATO doesn't control the air space of Yugoslavia? That means the Yugoslav army or let's say the pilots of the Yugoslav army, can conduct such attacks against the civilians in Kosovo? .
JAMIE SHEA: I can give a first answer and then the General will add if he wishes. It is true that the Yugoslav army has been using helicopters but I've had no reports in perhaps the last few hours of that and also Supergalab (phon) aircraft which have been used in Bosnia in the past; NATO can detect them but of course they take off, they hug to the hills very closely, they stay at very low altitude, they stay in the air for 15 minutes or so and then they land again before they can be intercepted. What you however do notice is that they are not flying with their MiGs or their fighter aircraft any longer because they know that the risk of being shot down by NATO aircraft is simply too great.
GENERAL MARANI: In principle, what you say is possible but in practical terms the effectiveness of a mission conducted having to take off and land almost immediately to avoid being shot down would be very limited.
MARTIN WALKER (THE GUARDIAN): In the light of this incident, is there any consideration being given to tightening-up the rules of engagement for NATO pilots?
GENERAL MARANI: The rules of engagement are already tightened and the pilots are already trained and instructed properly. The obvious consideration is that when you are conducting an air campaign, despite everything you can do, despite how strict the rules you are applying, mistakes can happen and the number of mistakes is proportional to the volume of the air operation and the difficulties that are encountered in theatre. You can try to minimise - and this is exactly what NATO is doing - try to minimise the possibility of a mistake but mistakes can happen.
JAMIE SHEA: Also, can I add something in that respect, Martin, in answer to the question too?
Kosovo is not the deserts of Iraq in the sense that it's not an area which is largely free of population in which you have essentially only military vehicles operating with perfectly blue skies, it's a very different area. As you know, it's very mountainous, it's cloudy - we've obviously made that clear in these briefing over the last three weeks - and you have a situation where the military are intermingled with the civilians, that's the whole basis of ethnic cleansing, to have the military very much cheek-by-jowl with civilians, sharing the same roads so this means that there are risks associated with this operation that one obviously is going to try to minimise and we are trying to minimise them but we cannot eliminate those risks, that is the essential point.
On the other hand, we believe very strongly that even despite these accidents we have to continue and we have to see this, if you like, in the larger picture because if you look at the situation yesterday, there were not only NATO bombs in Kosovo, there were about 5750 people expelled from their homes and pushed over the border; there was the city of Prizren which continued to be emptied. We have no idea of how many people have been killed by the Serb forces since this operation began - NATO's operation - on March 24th, but there are some documents circulating among Allied governments which suggest the toll could be anywhere between 3/4,000, we don't know but we know that there have been a number of killings so what I want to say is that no matter how tragic and how regrettable this accident, if you put it into context I still think it's fair to say that the overwhelming percentage of casualties in Yugoslavia today are being inflicted not by NATO but by the Serb forces and that of course is why we're going to press on with this operation.
REPORTER: C'est déjà la quatrième erreur humaine et la deuxième importante après celui du train, Jamie, donc je voulais que vous approfondissiez un peu les causes profondes, parce que cette réitération des erreurs humaines a des effets disons aussi sur l'opinion publique, sur l'appui de l'opinion publique à la validité de l'opération de l'Alliance donc d'abord cette réiteration, ce n'est pas que ce soit un accident isolé, ça c'est dû - disons - au hasard, il y a que l'erreur humaine donc il manque de préparation des pilotes ou bien une réticence à obéir aux ordres des commandements dans le sens d'être le maximum soigné, disons d'éviter les "collateral damage", ou bien est-ce que la terminologie qu'on utilise est insuffisante, je voudrais que vous approfondissiez un peu sur ça et aussi une valorisation politique : il y a une semaine vous disiez que l'appui de l'opinion publique à l'opération était énorme surtout à cause des réfugiés. Est-ce que vous croyez que cette réiteration court le risque d'être minée par la réiteration des erreurs.
JAMIE SHEA L'OTAN visiblement n'a pas ciblé les civils, il s'agit d'une erreur, mais tout le monde - et je crois que l'opinion publique aussi - comprend qu'il s'agit d'une erreur. Le pilote agissait de bonne foi, c'est tout à fait évident et je ne pense pas qu'un tel incident risque de miner le soutien public, parce que l'opinion publique comprend très bien que c'est une opération de grande envergure qui comporte de sérieux danger, de sérieux risques et personne ne s'attend à ce que nous sortions de l'opération en ayant complètement évité les dégâts civils et humains. Ce serait impensable et irréaliste. Tous ce que nous pouvons faire, c'est de continuer de les minimiser, mais ici aujourd'hui je ne peux pas, et je ne vous donnerai pas de garanties qui s'agit du dernier incident de cette sorte, personne ne peut donner une telle garantie. Par contre ce que je peux vous garantir, c'est que nous continuerons de prendre toutes les précautions imaginables pour les réduire au strict minimum.
REPORTER: Bear with me for a moment... I want to get some things straight here. First of all, you talk about multiple convoys were hit. How many convoys were hit around Jakovica yesterday?
GENERAL MARANI: At least two.
REPORTER: Is that two strikes on two different convoys or are you talking about the two air strikes .
GENERAL MARANI: No, no. I'm talking of two different convoys.
REPORTER: Right. And then there were two strikes on this one convoy?
GENERAL MARANI: If you mean by "strikes", the number of bombs
REPORTER: Bombs, well OK. There were two planes that dropped bombs.
GENERAL MARANI: Yes.
REPORTER: We heard the first pilot describe how he despatched the second pilot back to drop bombs again and bombs were dropped again.
GENERAL MARANI: Correct.
REPORTER: And that's one convoy?
GENERAL MARANI: One convoy, yes.
REPORTER: There was another convoy, where was that?
GENERAL MARANI: It was south of that location.
REPORTER: Can you give us a road, can you point to a town?
GENERAL MARANI: If we can have the map, I will tell you.
JAMIE SHEA: Can we put the map back on, please? Is that possible? While we're doing that, let's go to another question. We'll come back to you once we get the map on, Jim.
REPORTER: I noticed on the map that the spot where this incident occurred is now identified as being on the Dacane-to-Dakovica road and not on the Dakovica-to-Prizren road which we were told all day yesterday and which is where I believe the Serbs identified the incident which they have showed video film of. I also note that that the pilot said that he saw three dark-green two-and-a-half tonne vehicles which are obviously not tractors with trailers behind them or horses and carts. Is there some discrepancy here? Are we talking about two possible different incidents?
GENERAL MARANI: The pilot said he saw the houses burning on a road north of the road that we are talking about, then when he came back he attacked the vehicles on the road south of where the houses were burning. There is more than one road and if we have the map I can show you.
JAMIE SHEA: OK, we'll try to get the map in a few moments, hopefully Technical Support can bring the map back for us, please.
REPORTER: General, is it possible for the pilot to recognise from the picture that all have seen just lately where the bomb went, is it possible for him to see through the pictures?
GENERAL MARANI: Sure.
REPORTER: Can he confirm that those pictures were the place where the bomb went?
GENERAL MARANI: The place that we are talking about is the place where the accident occurred.
REPORTER: OK. There is another report 5 km from Dakovica that another strike has been made on a convoy, hitting civilians, 5 people have been killed. Can you confirm that this was another air activity and eventually Supergalab (phon) has been involved in this?
GENERAL MARANI: I don't have any notice about Supergalab but another convoy has been struck and it was a military convoy that has been hit.
REPORTER: Is it possible that Supergalab or any other kind of aircraft are flying now into Kosovo without NATO knowing about these activities?
GENERAL MARANI: I really don't think so.
JAMIE SHEA: Mark, you've been waiting patiently, go ahead!
MARK LAITY (BBC): Can we just clear up a few of these points. First of all, if it was laser-guided bombs that were dropped then there will be video imagery of it. Can you confirm you've got video imagery and will it be made available?
GENERAL MARANI: It should be available with the imagery.
MARK LAITY: And secondly, the Serb television video that we have seen shows two separate incidents, one is clearly on a highway and this I assume is the incident that we're talking about on whether it's the Prizren-to-Dakovica road or Dakovica-to-Datani road but there is another incident which is a different video which is more like a dirt-track so there are two different videos. This other incident, which clearly involves tractors and all of that kind of thing, they are attributing to NATO air forces.
There seems to be no question that there are two separate instances so what is this second .
GENERAL MARANI: There is no questioning the incident I was referring to was the one on the dirty road. I'm not aware of civilians being hit on a highway.
MARK LAITY: We are seeing two sets of pictures, one which looks like a highway and one which looks like a dirt-track.
GENERAL MARANI: I am referring to the dirt track, there are no highways in the area that I was referring to.
MARK LAITY: And the video imagery that we're seeing, the imagery that we've seen from the Serbs, shows tractors that have been damaged. Are you aware of anything connected with those?
GENERAL MARANI: I'm aware that the accident I'm referring to is the one that was shown on the dirty track. I understand that tractors have been filmed, nevertheless what I want to say is that when the pilot attacked the vehicles, they were military vehicles, if they then turned out to be tractors that is a different issue.
JAMIE SHEA: Mark, as you know, I believe that Belgrade has invited a group of international correspondents to visit the scene and let us hope that Belgrade will give these people the latitude to have a look and carry out an investigation on the spot and try to determine these things in the most objective way because it's clear that unless we have people on the ground - and we don't have people on the ground - it is difficult to determine these things with the precision that you require. All we can do is give you the information that we have based on 15,000 feet up in the air and our pilot but I think we've got the map back up, General, and you can explain in reply to Jim's question where the location is.
GENERAL MARANI: An attack on the road between Jakoviza and Pfrizen.
(SEVERAL VOICES - INDECIPHERABLE)
GENERAL MARANI: You asked me if more than one attack on convoys happened yesterday, I said yes, more than one attack took place. One is the one we were talking about before, that of Jakoviza and another one took place south of the same town but it is not the one we are talking about.
JAMIE SHEA: OK, thank you. I'll take just a couple of final questions now. Margaret, would you like to ask a question? Wait for the microphone, we'll just take two more.
REPORTER: I'm sorry, I'm just very very confused by your responses so I wonder if you could try to be very clear with us. You say that when the pilot was attacking these vehicles, they appeared to be military vehicles. Were they military vehicles with civilians inside them or were they in fact tractors? What do you know about these vehicles after they were attacked?
GENERAL MARANI: After they were attacked
REPORTER: Did they change?
GENERAL MARANI: No, no, of course they didn't change but after they were attacked, from the best information we have are the ones that we see on television but when the pilot attacked the vehicles appeared to him and to his sensors to be military vehicles, this is why he attacked them.
REPORTER: Jamie, I'm wondering how severely hampered the air-bombing operation is now going to be because of this and as you said, you are constantly going to be in a situation where you have civilians and military mixed up together. Isn't that going to actually prevent you being able to continue the air-bombing campaign or indeed make pilots so very very cautious whenever they are doing any attacks that the number of targets are actually going to be dramatically reduced?
Secondly, can you confirm that General Clark will not be going to Aviano as planned this afternoon and why not?
JAMIE SHEA: On the second question, we'll have to check with SHAPE. Konrad, any information on that?
KONRAD: No information right now.
JAMIE SHEA: No information right now on your second question.
On the first one, I think that you will see from last night's operations, which were very intensive, that there has been no let-up at all in the air campaign. Last night, for example, despite some anti-aircraft artillery fire, we engaged very successfully a large number of targets throughout Yugoslavia including of course Kosovo, a control-and-reporting centre, an ammunition depot, a military airport at Pristina, an army barracks at Pec, fuel production storage facilities in two places, bridges, lines of communication, the airfield at Nis and so on so no, I think that goes to show there's not going to be a loss of momentum, we'll continue to take every conceivable precaution that we possibly can in this area but obviously again I'm not going to pretend for one minute that we can eliminate the risks involved, particularly in trying to strike at the tanks and the artillery in the field but on the other hand, of course, we have to continue to place those targets at high risk, to force them to hunker-down, to try to get them to stop their operations and eventually to get them to withdraw and I can assure that at the end of the day this will go on and this will succeed.
Thank you very much.