NATO air armada begins wave of attacks on Serbian targets

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Howard Gethin/LONDON Ramon Lopez/WASHINGTON DC

Aircraft from 13 NATO nations began an air and missile bombardment of Yugoslav military targets on the night of 24/25 March in response to the failure of the Yugoslav Government to sign up to peace talks over the disputed Kosovo region of Serbia.

The participating nations included Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, UK and the USA.

Phase one of the campaign centred on attacks on the Yugoslav air defence system but specifically did not include attacks on troop concentrations in Kosovo.

The first strike followed the pattern of recent Allied action in the Gulf, with a wave of cruise missile strikes from US Navy ships in the Adriatic and, for the first time, the Royal Navy submarine HMS Splendid and from Boeing B-52 bombers from RAF Fairford in the UK. The Northrop Grumman B-2 also carried out its first combat missions, flying from Whiteman AB in the USA, each aircraft dropping 16 Boeing Joint Directed Attack Munitions on undisclosed targets before returning to the USA.

US Defense Secretary William Cohen says the B-2 "performed according to its capabilities. It's a stealthy aircraft-We were satisfied it was able to carry out its mission accordingly."

Phase one hit targets across Yugoslavia, including sites near the capital, Belgrade, and Pristina, the regional capital of Kosovo.

Among the targets hit in the attacks by Royal Air Force GR7 Harriers from Gioia del Colle in Italy was an ammunition dump near Pristina which had supplied Yugoslav army forces in Kosovo. A large cruise missile strike is reported to have hit an early warning radar station at Podgorica in Montenegro. The attacks included the first by German aircraft since the Second World War, by German air force Panavia Tornados based at Piacenza in northern Italy.

The initial targets included Yugoslavia's extensive air defence system, including SA-6 and SA-3 weapons, mobile anti-aircraft guns, and a range of shoulder-fire heat-seeking missiles. The Pentagon says there was not a lot of air defence fire. Other targets included ammunition dumps, radar installations, artillery and command and control headquarters and other assets.

Large numbers of USAF Europe tactical aircraft were involved in the attack, including Lockheed F-117s, Boeing F-15Es, Lockheed Martin F-16s, EC-130s and Grumman EA-6Bs from Aviano. An F-15E was reported to have made an emergency landing at Sarajevo Airport, possibly after suffering combat damage on 24 March, but no NATO aircraft were reported lost by 26 March.

Aircraft from the Belgian and Dutch air forces have been involved in combat operations for the first time in Europe since 1945. A total of four MiG-29s were shot down during an engagement, at least two by USAF F-15s and one by a Netherlands air force F-16 using a Raytheon AIM-120 missile. The Royal Netherlands air force has deployed F-16s deployed at Amendola airbase, in southern Italy, as part of the NATO air force. The Belgian air force has 10 F-16s at the same base in a multinational unit. Included in the array of allied air forces deploying aircraft were Spanish and Canadian CF/A-18s and French Sepecat Jaguars and Dassault Mirage 2000s at Istrana.

Backing up the combat aircraft was an armada of support aircraft, electronic warfare aircraft and airborne early aircraft from NATO.