|NATO DAILY BREIFING|
June 9, 1999
NATO Spokesman Jamie Shea discusses signs that Serb forces may be preparing to withdraw from Kosovo. The following is the full transcript of today's NATO briefing:
Jamie Shea : Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon to you all, welcome to today's briefing.
As you all know, the eyes of the world, and also the eyes of NATO headquarters, are currently focused on General Jackson's tent in Kumanovo as you await, and we indeed await, the outcome of his discussions there with the Yugoslav Commanders. Those discussions, as you know, picked up again just about one hour ago, so we will see what progress is achieved.
General Jackson has a difficult job to nail down the details of the Serb military withdrawal, but he is not only a tough General, he is also a very tough interlocutor and he has very clear guidance from the North Atlantic Council as to the type of agreement that he is to achieve. And knowing General Jackson, he will stick at it until such time as he has an agreement which meets his military requirements and is to his satisfaction.
So we remain, as these talks resume, cautiously optimistic. But as we are dealing with Belgrade, we will also be optimistically cautious until we see what the results are going to be. But I hope that President Milosevic will seize this opportunity to make peace, because every day that President Milosevic continues to procrastinate and to prevaricate is another day during which the Yugoslav Army in Kosovo continues to suffer heavy losses at the hands of NATO forces.
Now as you know, it has been just about a week since Milosevic agreed to the Ahtisaari-Chernomyrdin peace plan. So in other words he has had a week during which he could have made that peace real. And during this time he has lost 29 tanks, 93 armoured personnel carriers, 209 field artillery pieces, 11 air defence artillery positions, 86 mortars and innumerable prepared positions and support vehicles, and these are the sort of losses that no army can suffer for long and remain operational.
But more importantly than that, during those past 7 days during which Milosevic accepted peace and could have had peace, we have obviously witnessed the loss of many Yugoslav soldiers. We don't know how many, but they did not need to have either been killed or been injured, they could be now today back in their homes in Serbia had Milosevic followed up on his promises immediately and agreed to withdraw his forces, without talking either of the misery of the Yugoslav people that continue to suffer because Milosevic has not yet signed on the dotted line.
So it is not NATO which is prolonging the air operations beyond the point at which we would like to have suspended them, it is Milosevic. So I hope now, as these talks resume in General Jackson's tent, that President Milosevic will finally put his people first and not his politics or his prestige, and that he will instruct, or will have instructed, his military commanders to conclude the Military Technical Agreement now. Peace is on offer today. The NATO Allies are doing everything in their power, both diplomatically and militarily, to make that peace happen. But as we all know, it takes two to tango.
At the same time, the build-up of the Kfor forces in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue. We now have 17,500 troops in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia under the operational command of General Jackson. Over 800 arrived in the last 24 hours and we expect a similar number to arrive in the next 24 hours. This afternoon, as I speak, NATO Allies are meeting with those partner countries of NATO which have offered to participate in this operation alongside us in a broad coalition for peace and we will be discussing with them the updated operational plan for Operation Joint Guardian, and subsequent to that consultation the North Atlantic Council, the 19 NATO countries will meet again to approve the operational plan and to issue the Activation Order for the remaining forces to be rapidly deployed to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in preparation for deployment to Kosovo. But I stress that a further decision by the North Atlantic Council will be required before the deployment in Kosovo itself goes ahead.
So, ladies and gentlemen, we at NATO are getting on with it. We are moving ahead speedily. I can only hope that Belgrade will follow our example.
Now I would ask General Jertz to give you his military update.
Major General Jertz : Thank you very much Jamie. Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Acknowledging the meeting in Kumanovo, NATO flew more than 500 sorties in the last 24 hours against a very limited number of strategic targets and with some more emphasis against tactical targets.
Today I would like to start with air events. Serb air defence radars were active yesterday, but only one surface to air missile was fired. For the first time in the last days we observed also flying activity, limited to a flight of 3 helicopters assessed to be probably logistics related. Two strategic targets were attacked: a supply depot, as depicted on the slide, and an early warning site at Kapa Junik, just outside the northern tip of Kosovo.
Yesterday I mentioned that during our strike on Batajnica Airfield, NATO hit 3 MiG 29 aircraft which of course now you can add to the summary of Jamie's numbers. Subsequently there was battle damage analysis indicating that all three MiG 29s were really destroyed, leaving the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia with only 2 out of 16 most modern fixed wing assets. Once again, I am happy to say that all manned NATO aircraft returned safely.
Let me now turn to NATO's air operations against ground troops. As in the past, our main emphasis continues to be on attacks against Serb forces in Kosovo. The whole spectrum of military targets, including heavy weapons, military vehicles, tanks and so on, was struck.
Ground fighting in Kosovo is still ongoing in the west. Serbs remain engaged with the UCK in the Junik area in the vicinity of Kosare and near Mount Pastrik. Once again reports indicate that artillery was firing into Albania along the Kosovo Albanian border.
Some VJ operations were also reported in other parts of Kosovo on a small scale, especially the change of Serb military activities in the northern and central part of Kosovo we do interpret as preparatory signs of withdrawal.
As mentioned before, fighting was heavier in the west with the emphasis on the usage of artillery. Artillery fire is often used by ground troops to assist in breaking contact with close-in enemy forces. With the assistance of artillery one can discourage opposing forces from closing in. This could also very well be another sign for preparation of withdrawal.
Yesterday I noted the movement of armoured units in central Kosovo and that the intentions are well known, as you might remember. We now believe that they are used to secure lines of communication for withdrawing troops. I have also previously mentioned reports of heavy looting in Pristina. Today unfortunately I have to elaborate on this statement again. We have more recent and credible reports that looting in Pristina and in the area is still ongoing, taking windows and doors off houses. We do have experience of those actions in Bosnia where we observed that immediately prior to departure of forces, these forces literally steal whatever they can. There is also evidence of home burnings in central Kosovo. This also could very well be a final message in their wake.
With these thoughts, which everybody should think about, I finish my briefing of today.
Jonathan Marcus, BBC: Two questions. Firstly, can you give us any more information on the preliminary signs of preparations for withdrawal? There are reports from Yugoslav sources about MUP units already beginning to leave the province. And secondly, could you explain, is there in effect part of the negotiation in Kumanovo to be a sort of dove-tailing of KFOR's entry with the departure of Yugoslav forces, or are the Yugoslav forces going to be expected to have to quit the province altogether before the first NATO-led troops move in?
Jamie Shea : On those two questions, General Jertz of course will also have his comments. But I can tell you that yes we have noticed that in certain areas the Serb forces have slowed down their operations in recent days and have begun grouping for what may be a withdrawal. We have also seen some signs of some vehicles being sent in, for example military transporters heading south from Nis apparently in southern Serbia to the northern part of Kosovo. That again could be a sign of units that are preparing to sort of pack up, strike their tents as it were and begin to withdraw. But again I think we have to be cautious about this because one transporter doesn't make a withdrawal, any more than one swallow makes a summer. But we are going to monitor those signs very, very carefully.
As far as the tent at Kumanovo is concerned, we are going to be very clear on this. General Jackson, as you know, has very clear instructions and that is to tell the Serb commanders that Kfor will be coming in at the earliest possible opportunity once the Serb forces withdraw. We are not going to wait until the last soldier has left and switched off the lights as it were, because the whole purpose of Kfor is to make sure that no vacuum ensues between the departing Serbs and the arriving NATO troops. The people of Kosovo have suffered long enough and we want to make sure that they get the assistance as quickly as possible. So there may be, if you like, in geographical terms a little gap between the last boot of the Serb soldier and the first boot of the NATO soldier, but it will be a fairly short gap.
General Jertz, anything to add there?
Major General Jertz : Actually only once again, which I already pointed out, that the two brigades moving from the central part into the western part, they more or less stopped and we are pretty sure now that they are the ones who really have to secure the lines of communications, especially for those forces which are still heavily engaged in the fighting in the western part. And they of course, as I already indicated in what I said about the artillery, for a military man it is very difficult to get away from when you are in close-in fighting, so you need some coverage which of course these forces do give.
Question: If the Serbs start the withdrawal before signing the Military Technical Agreement, will it be enough to stop the air campaign?
Jamie Shea : Well we want this military agreement. As I have always said, it is not enough for the Serbs simply to withdraw some units or say they are withdrawing. We have to know if it is going to be a full verified withdrawal and we can only do that by having an agreement which organises this in a way that makes sense, from a military point of view, and which we can verify. Otherwise how would we ever know, in the absence of this Military Technical Agreement, if the Serbs had withdrawn half their forces, or two-thirds, or three-quarters, and who would have stayed behind? The fact is that the Serbs have 40,000 troops. These forces are broken down into all different kinds of formations, military, military police, police, paramilitary, anti-terrorist units, border guards. There is a lot of it about and therefore we want to make certain that all go and this requires an organised way, in four phases, dealing with geographical areas with a certain timing, following clear assembly points and clear routes. Otherwise we wouldn't have the guarantee that this was a real withdrawal and therefore the conditions for the cessation of NATO air strikes would not be there either.
Patricia Kelly, CNN: We are getting wire reports crossing from Germany that one of the German generals has said NATO air strikes have effectively been suspended and have effectively stopped. Can you confirm that?
Major General Jertz : Do you want a German to be a asked or a Britisher?
Patricia: Can you confirm it or not?
Major General Jertz : I have no reports on it and I already told you that in the last 24 hours we continued our attacks and when I left SHAPE we were still fighting.
Jamie Shea : You will remember Mark Twain about "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated!" That decision would have to be taken by the North Atlantic Council, Patricia, and it hasn't been taken yet.
Mark Laity, BBC: If the Serbs withdraw but don't sign an agreement, are you actually hitting units as they withdraw because it is possible that the Serbs, rather than recognise the status of NATO forces coming in, may prefer to pull out as far as they can leaving KFOR in its uncomfortable legal position so would you actually hit these forces as they withdraw if there has been no agreement?
Secondly, is there going to be any compromise on the bombing pause which would follow from that?
Jamie Shea : Mark, we cannot do anything to give any guarantees to the departing Serb forces in the absence of a military technical agreement, the whole purpose of this military technical agreement is to organise this in a way that NATO can have confidence in it. In the absence of this military technical agreement, NATO would not have confidence in any Serb withdrawal which we could not effectively verify and which we could not ascertain to be complete or incomplete and so it is clearly in the Serb interest in terms of ensuring the safest possible withdrawal of their forces, that they conclude this technical military agreement with the Alliance.
Major General Jertz : But we will make sure that we will not attack military forces withdrawing, this will be for sure and we have to make sure that whatever is agreed upon in the military technical agreement, that Serb forces stick to what they promise they will do.
Mark Laity, BBC: The point I am making is that if the Serbs, who are unwilling to sign aspects of this agreement - for instance recognising KFOR's right to be there - if they just start pulling out anyway rather than sign the agreement, will you bomb them?
Jamie Shea : Mark, first of all, NATO does not attack retreating forces, General Jertz has made that clear, but on the other hand we cannot give guarantees to Serb forces involved in a withdrawal in the absence of a military technical agreement which would make clear to us what is going on and as for the legal basis of the International Security Force, that is now very well-defined in a UN Security Council resolution which we hope to have voted on very soon.
Gyorgy Foris, Hungarian TV: Have you received any commitment from the UCK, formally or informally, that they will not abuse the possibility of any kind of security vacuum? I know that you warned the UCK several times not to abuse the situation but I wondered if you had any feedback? Secondly, do you have any fresh information which questions hostage this famous talk in that tent in Macedonia?
Jamie Shea : Gyorgy, you have seen statements by the Political Head of the UCK, Mr. Thaqi, in recent days saying that the UCK will indeed issue a declaration soon on its willingness to exercise restraint and co-operate with the Alliance in the withdrawal of the Serb forces. We welcome that and we would like to see that declaration of course be made as soon as possible. On the other topic, no, I am not going to get into the nitty gritty of what is being discussed particularly while the talks are still going on but as I said, General Jackson has clear guidelines, he is not there to negotiate and he is going to stick at it until we get an agreement satisfactory to us.
Antonio Esteves Martins, RTP : Question to both of you. Can you confirm that there has been extended the delay of the withdrawal of the Serbian troops by five or six days once the material has been put on the ground in some circumstances if it is difficult and how it is going to work? You said there should be no vacuum in the area so we suppose that KFOR will get in as soon as the United Nations Security Council resolution so is there any plan for troops to go into places like Pristina and in the north by helicopter or something else just to ensure that the withdrawal of the troops will go swiftly? And do you expect NATO troops or UN-led NATO troops to be in Kosovo at the same time when Serbian troops are still on the field?
Jamie Shea : Antonio, as I indicated earlier, yes, I would expect the first elements of the NATO force to go in while the Serbs are still withdrawing, that as I said earlier in reply to a previous question is a way to avoid leaving any kind of dangerous vacuum and that is why we need a military technical agreement so that all of this is clearly spelled out and there are no misunderstandings on either side later in that respect. General Jackson is working on a plan at the moment for a withdrawal in phases broken down into geographical areas which ensures that it is orderly and it is done in a way which will be totally consistent with the early deployment of KFOR and yes, General Jackson has his own plans to set up an advanced headquarters in Pristina immediately after the UN Security Council resolution has been voted on and the North Atlantic Council has issued the activation order for the deployment of the force with the rest following on behind.
I said already, Antonio, on this subject that if it is a question of 24 hours here or 24 hours there, we can look at that but at the moment, as there is no agreement yet from Kumanovo, there is no agreement on this point either. The key for us is the fundamentals which are that the Serb forces all have to leave and in an organised, verifiable way and NATO has to come in - that is key and if it is a question of 24 hours, then we can look at that as long as nobody tries to unravel the basic fundamentals.
Doug Hamilton, Reuters: The Chief of Staff of the German Armed Forces, General Hans Peter von Kirkbach, has said that NATO air strikes are effectively halted. Have you issued orders to pilots to no longer go after troops, is that what you mean by "technical" targets only now?
Jamie Shea : Doug, this question has already come up with all due respect and we have answered it. Air operations continue, nobody has taken any decision to halt them or suspend them yet because we haven't yet seen any withdrawal of the Serb forces.
Question: Jamie, you said before that KFOR forces in Macedonia are for the Kosovo mission, but the NATO troops in Albania are not, but now we are seeing some reports that American soldiers can enter Kosovo from the Albanian part, so is it necessary to have a special decision for that or can they go in within the mandate of KFOR with the same purpose?
Jamie Shea : It can all be part of the same mandate, I don't think there is any difficulty there of a legal or any other nature. I saw that the Pentagon yesterday said that about 1,700 troops assigned to Task Force Hawk could be assigned to KFOR with I believe 8 Apaches, at least that is what I saw in the open press sources. You will obviously have to verify that with the US government but that is a very welcome contribution and what we expect to be a substantial contribution from the US.
Same Questioner: Will they enter Kosovo from Albania or do they have to go first from Albania to Macedonia?
Jamie Shea : No, I think that the United States would have all of the means required to get them into Kosovo from Albania but that is a detail that should be addressed to the Pentagon rather than here but as I say, it is a detail.
Craig Whitney, New York Times: General Jertz, as you know we hang on your every word and you said all "manned" NATO aircraft returned safely. Does that mean that a drone or something did not come back?
Major General Jertz : Good question! Thank you very much! Yes, we lost one drone in the last 24 hours.
Jamie Shea : Craig, we were hoping after 78 days that you would be less alert than ourselves but clearly the contrary is true!
Jake Lynch, Sky News: The Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, said last night there were still difficulties between NATO and the Russians over the understanding as to how they would fit it or how they would be "folded in", to use a phase that some people have been using here so what is your understanding of the nature of those difficulties?
Secondly, you said yesterday that there would be a process whereby the G8 draft would be put into blue ink to be in a format where it could be passed to the United Nations. So far as you know, is that process going to address this vague phrase in the G8 draft about "taking the Rambouillet text fully into account", otherwise what does it mean?
Jamie Shea : Jake, as you know, Strobe Talbott is going to Russia tomorrow and he has some military advisers who will already be there today; they will be sitting down with the Russians both politically and militarily to start having an initial first round on the modalities whereby Russian forces could be associated with KFOR. The Russians will see that we are flexible, we are imaginative, that we will be looking at ways to co-ordinate with them in a force which would preserve of course the essential command arrangements on the NATO side but also take into account the specificities of Russia.
I know that I repeat this ad nauseum but we have a very effective model which has worked well in Bosnia to look at even it may be changed - who knows? - but at least it is something to guide those talks so we haven't wasted any time. You had the G8 breakthrough on one day, Tuesday, and then on Thursday you have these talks already beginning so we are going very quickly there.
As far as the G8 draft for the UN Security Council resolution is concerned, it is our understanding that we will endeavour to get that through without any changes of the text and we hope that will be possible so it means what it means which is that when we get to the stage once we have solved the humanitarian crisis, that we can begin to look at the political future of Kosovo, there will be a lot in Rambouillet that will still be valid and we won't have to start from scratch. Parts of Rambouillet of course will have been overtaken by events but parts of it will still be useful and therefore there is no need to go back to square on there.
Julie McCarthy, National Public Radio: General, you talked about "artillery fire". Could you elaborate some more on that? Where are you seeing that and where are you seeing it as a possible cover for withdrawal and how does that work? Jamie, you mentioned that General Jackson had a plan that maps out Kosovo along geographical lines; can you confirm for us that there are actually five sectors and that the forces will deploy into five sectors based on countries?
Major General Jertz : Especially in the area of Mount Pastrik and the Junic area I already mentioned in the last few days that there is heavy fighting between the UCK and the VJ and here we have had indications in the last few days that VJ artillery had been coming closer to this border, using the artillery not only to shell Albania for whatever reason - maybe they want to have Albania drawn into the fight which would be a little late now - but they do shell the UCK with heavy artillery to give a kind of a shelter so that their own tanks and troops can move back again and that is why we think it is a kind of withdrawal rather than an indication of heavier fighting.
Jamie Shea : Julie, let's be clear! I was talking about General Jackson's plan for the phased withdrawal of the Serb forces from Kosovo so that it can be done in waves in an organised, verifiable way. That is totally different from the five sectors which are planned for the KFOR within the principle of the unity of command. OK, we'll take the last question - honneur à la France.
Dominique Thierry RFI: J'essaie de la représenter dignement! Une question - toujours sur ces 4 phases de retrait. Si je comprends bien, vous allez annoncer qu'il y aura un déploiement avancé du quartier général du Général Jackson sur Pristina au moment où les troupes continuent à se retirer. Est-ce que cela veut dire que lors de l'enchaînement de ces 4 phases de retrait, des troupes de la KFOR seront déjà installées à des points de contrôle pour vérifier le passage des soldats serbes?
Jamie Shea : La vérification on l'imagine plutôt par des voies aériennes, de l'observation aérienne, de raison de plus pour que nous assistions sur le retrait immédiat des systèmes de défense anti-aérienne yougoslave, mais si vous voulez, la coordination entre le départ des serbes et l'arrivée des forces de l'OTAN souligne une fois de plus la nécessité d'un accord militaro-technique qui, croyez-moi, est dans le profond intérêt des deux parties - des deux parties - et c'est pour cette raison que le Général Jackson a insisté.
Major General Jertz : It isn't Jamie who has the last word but he can still have it once I have finished (laughter) It is written in German and I have to translate it even though it is a very short sentence. The German general said it but he didn't mean it (laughter) To be honest he said: "It is pretty close to being finished" and he said it in German: "Luftangriffe sind factisch eingestellt!" - air raids are factually finished. Factually! Is that a good word?
Jamie Shea : Practically.
Major General Jertz : Practically, yes, but of course, as I said, it is up to NAC and other authorities to finish.
Jamie Shea : Before these briefings turn into language classes, I think we had better stop them! (laughter)