NATO beefs up firepower, doubles targets in Yugoslavia
April 21, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- As U.S. attack helicopters began arriving in Albania to boost NATO's firepower against Yugoslavia, NATO forces again struck in and around Yugoslavia's biggest cities.
The official Tanjug news agency reported "very strong detonations" early Thursday near the Batajnica airfield north of Belgrade, where dense smoke could be seen rising. Tanjug also reported an attack on the central Serb town of Valjevo, which has been frequently targeted in recent weeks.
Air raid sirens were followed by explosions in Yugoslavia's second-largest city, Novi Sad.
The attacks came on a day when former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was due in Belgrade on a new Russian mission to end the conflict over Kosovo.
The first of a contingent of U.S. Apache helicopters flew into Albania on Wednesday, after days of delays due to bad weather. Eleven of the tank-killing Apaches touched down at an airport near the capital, Tirana, along with an escort of Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters.
A total of 24 Apaches are slated to be in Albania by Thursday. More than 2,600 U.S. troops from bases in Germany will staff the growing helicopter force and provide protection. In addition, 615 personnel from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, are being sent to Albania.
NATO strikes political party headquarters
Early Wednesday, NATO cruise missiles severely damaged the Belgrade headquarters of Serbia's Socialist Party, the political organization led by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea described the Socialist Party offices as "the very center of the power structure in Belgrade," containing not only the political party office but parts of Yugoslavia's air defense command, communications and propaganda operations.
The structure houses the offices of TV Pink, a popular entertainment studio that has been involved with recent anti-NATO protests, and Kosava radio and TV, owned by Milosevic's daughter Marija.
NATO said the building also housed communications links that aided the Yugoslav army and air defense.
"That is enough for us to consider that a wholly legitimate target," Shea said.
With the additional aircraft committed to the Balkan campaign since NATO began air raids on March 24, the alliance is now able to hit twice as many targets daily as it could at the outset, Shea said. NATO hit 30 targets Wednesday, he said.
While Shea denied that Milosevic himself was a target, the attacks were meant to demonstrate that NATO "will go for the brain as much as we'll go for the fingertips."
But the "fingertips" -- the Yugoslav army in Kosovo -- were still moving Wednesday, attacking supply lines and attempting to disrupt communications of the Kosovo Liberation Army, Shea said. The ethnic Albanian rebel group has been battling Yugoslav troops for more than a year in a bid for independence for the province.
Much of that fighting has taken place west of the city of Pec, where as many as 15,000 Kosovars have been displaced and are on the move. An increasing number of refugees crossing into Albania and Macedonia have shrapnel or bullet wounds, Shea said.
NATO's military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Giuseppe Marani, said NATO pilots encountered only light resistance from Yugoslav air defenses and suffered no losses.
Pilots were hampered by poor weather, but were still able to attack Yugoslav troops in Kosovo, Marani said.
Yugoslavia says 500 civilians dead
Another NATO attack in Novi Sad severely damaged the Zezeljev bridge, Yugoslavia's last link across the Danube River, NATO said.
Serbian television reported the bridge is now impassable except to pedestrians. Television footage showed the bridge was damaged, but not destroyed.
The Yugoslav Foreign Ministry told CNN that 500 civilians have died and more than 4,000 have been injured in the NATO bombing campaign. The report said 11 bridges had been destroyed and 14 damaged; 12 railways and railway stations hit; and six major roads, seven airports and 40 factories damaged or destroyed.
The report said 16 hospitals and health care centers also had been attacked, along with 190 schools and "tens of thousands" of private homes. Seventeen television relays and transmitters were also hit, the report said.
Serbian TV also reported:
Campaign shadows summit
The bombing campaign continued even as NATO's political leaders gathered in Washington to mark the 50th anniversary of NATO's creation. Shea said the mood would be one of "determination, resolve, but not one of despondency."
"I believe this is probably the finest way we could celebrate the 50th anniversary of NATO -- to be actually doing things to uphold the principles in which we believe," Shea said. "I think it's much better to be defending those principles rather than simply proclaiming them."
Ceremonies will be "distinguished but more sober," he said. The commemorative aspects of the anniversary conference have been toned down to make time for more meetings among NATO ministers.
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