U.S. commits more planes for Balkans

82 additional aircraft heading to region for attacks on Serb troops

`Take the fight to ... the field'

NATO strikes criticized by Yugoslav media for continuing on holiday

April 11, 1999|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- In an effort to increase the attacks on Serbian ground troops in Kosovo, the Pentagon added 82 U.S. aircraft to the NATO air armada attacking Yugoslavia yesterday, saying that dozens of other alliance planes were expected in the coming days.

In the package are 34 combat aircraft, including two dozen U.S. Air Force F-16CJ Flying Falcons, equipped with anti-radiation missiles designed to take out air defenses, and four A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthogs," which target tanks and other armor.

"We plan to take the fight to the army in the field in a big way," Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles F. Wald told reporters. "We expect it to be degraded more over the next few days."

As air-raid sirens were heard again over Belgrade last night and early today, the Yugoslav government's official Tanjug news agency announced: "NATO barbarians are attempting to bomb us just a few hours before the Orthodox Easter celebrations."

Officials said there would be no halt in the bombing campaign for today's holiday observance. "NATO's position is one of insisting that it is President [Slobodan] Milosevic who has to stop, first and foremost," said Jamie P. Shea, an alliance spokesman.

NATO cruise missiles struck near the Kosovo capital, Pristina. There were no immediate reports on casualties or damage.

The Belgrade-based news agency Beta said NATO warplanes had bombed the central Serbian town of Kraljevo. Quoting a local television station, it said two explosions were heard near the town.

Serbian television also said NATO missiles blasted both military and civilian targets in the towns of Prizren and Urosevac, in southern Kosovo.

"In Prizren, civilian targets and military barracks were hit by six missiles while in the attack on Urosevac four missiles were launched," it said.

NATO bombs caused "considerable" damage in the western town of Pec and had hit the old residential part of Djakovica, near the border with Albania, it said.

Shortly after the army sounded air-raid warnings last night in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica, a series of flashes in the sky could be seen, witnesses said.

Missiles also struck a railway station in the town of Kosovo Polje early yesterday and the airport at Slatina, southwest of Pristina, yesterday afternoon, Tanjug said.

The additional U.S. strike aircraft, which also include six EA-6B Prowler anti-radar jets, as well as 48 cargo and refueling planes, are expected to reach the region over the next few days, and the allies plan to announce additional aircraft this week, officials said.

Including the U.S. planes announced yesterday, more than 680 NATO aircraft are taking part in the round-the-clock bombing mission.

Pentagon officials were asked whether the increase in U.S. aircraft would lead to a presidential call-up of military reserves, who fly the majority of the Air Force's cargo and refueling planes.

Reserve volunteers have stepped forward to meet the demand, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth H. Bacon said, but should that pool dry up it's possible reserves would have to be activated.

Attack helicopters delayed

The Pentagon said there could be additional delays in moving the 24 Apache attack helicopters from Germany to Albania, where they will be used to target Serbian troops and special police units in Kosovo.

Last week, officials estimated that it would be seven to 10 days before the helicopters arrived. Now officials say it could take up to a month, because bad weather is grounding flights and competition for cargo space between humanitarian goods and Apache equipment.

Weather again hampered efforts to hit Milosevic's forces yesterday.

On Friday, the allies were able to strike only four target areas with five sea-based cruise missiles and attacks from F-15 Eagles and other alliance aircraft.

Among the targets were a microwave radio relay facility near Pristina and two petroleum sites, one each in Kosovo and elsewhere in Yugoslavia, said German air force Col. Konrad Freytag, a NATO spokesman.

A probable surface-to-air missile site was attacked Friday night.

In addition, Serbian television in Pristina was knocked off the air by Friday's attacks; Freytag said the TV facility had civilian and military uses.

Fighting continued between Serbian and rebel forces in southwestern Kosovo, including the area around Malisevo and Dakovica.

"Overall, the Yugoslav forces appear to be focusing on defensive and force-protection measures against NATO attacks," said Freytag, while Pentagon officials said attacks on fuel depots appear to be slowing the advance of government troops.

A clash took place Friday between government and rebel troops on the Albanian-Kosovar border, southwest of Decani, officials said.

Freytag said at least two Serbian artillery rounds landed in Albania.

Clinton asked to explain

While President Clinton devoted his weekly radio address yesterday to the issue of welfare, the GOP response called upon him to offer a "complete picture" of the situation in the Balkans.

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