NATO: Possible civilian deaths in 2 convoy raids
April 19, 1999
The official, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Daniel Leaf said in both cases the pilots believed they struck military targets.
However, NATO could not determine what kind of vehicles were hit. "It is possible there were civilian casualties at both locations," Leaf said.
Leaf said the evidence NATO has gathered suggests that, in the first attack, north of Djakovica, the targeted vehicle was a "legitimate military target" because it was involved in the burning of home. In the second attack, he said, evidence indicates military vehicles were in the convoy.
"This is a very complicated scenario and we will never be able to determine all of the exact details," he added.
Leaf said NATO fighters dropped nine laser-guided 500-pound (225 kg.) bombs in the two attacks. In the first, he said, the pilot, whose voice was played for reporters last week, said he saw what he believed was a military vehicle near a string of burning houses and believed people in the vehicle were setting the fires.
A second fighter dropped a bomb on vehicles in the courtyard of a crescent-shaped building, which Leaf said was shown on Serb television.
Leaf said the explosion at that site indicated that fuel may have been stored in the building, but he said it was impossible to say for certain.
In the second attack, southeast of Djakovica, he said "lead elements" of a large convoy of more than 100 vehicles were struck.
Pilots, said Leaf, believed the lead vehicles were military because of their size and speed. In addition, he said, an AWACS aircraft reported to the pilots that the convoy was military. Leaf would not say how the AWACs plane obtained its information.
The pilots did discontinue the attack, fearing civilians were in the convoy. Slower-flying A-10 aircraft using binoculars also said there were military vehicles in the convoy.
However, he added, "There is a possibility that civilian-type vehicles and possibly civilians themselves were hit in this attack."
Leaf said he could not explain the bodies shown on Serb television.
"Serb reports claimed 80-plus dead but reporters saw only approximately 20 victims, many of whom did not appear to be victims of bombing," he said.
In addition, he said there had been reports that some of the refugees had died from machine-gun fire but that NATO only uses laser-guided bombs.
He noted that refugees who had made it to Albania told the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that low-flying planes had attacked the convoy. Leaf said the NATO planes did not fly at low levels.
Earlier, NATO officials said the bombs had been dropped from 15,000 feet.
Leaf commands the Air Expeditionary Wing at the Aviano Air Base in Italy, which now operates with 170 aircraft.
Criticism has dogged NATO for days since NATO Headquarters and the Pentagon delivered confusing accounts about the convoy attacks.
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