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How the Pentagon Unwittingly Admitted NATO Leaders are Guilty of War Crimes against Yugoslavia

1. Comment by Jared Israel

2. Excerpts from Pentagon Press Conference, 14 April 1999

[Posted 30 January 2004]

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Comment

Below I have posted excerpts from a 1999 Pentagon press conference. It helps answer the question: Did NATO bomb thousands of Yugoslav civilians by mistake (collateral damage) or on purpose (to send a message of terror)?

General Wald's remarks posted below constitute an unwitting confession of guilt for war crimes. But no harm done, because not one newspaper or TV station reported this sensational news.

The press conference was held April 14th, 1999, shortly after NATO bombed a column of Albanian refugees trying to return to their homes in Kosovo.  NATO had not yet accepted responsibility for the bombing and General Wald was fielding reporters' questions.  What had happened? Did NATO bomb the refugees?  Or did the Serbs do it?

General Wald went into some detail explaining NATO's Rules of Engagement (ROE) because he wanted to prove it was absurd to speculate that NATO might have bombed the Albanian refugees accidentally. The implication: since NATO would never intentionally bomb refugees, the only remaining possibility was that either Yugoslav forces used an Albanian convoy as a shield for military vehicles, and NATO bombed those vehicles, or the Yugoslavs bombed the convoy and were blaming NATO.

(The refugee column was bombed in the province of Kosovo, so Wald refers to NATO's Rules of Engagement (ROE) for "[bombing] missions in Kosovo," but it is clear from his remarks that he is talking about NATO's ROE throughout Serbia.)

Unfortunately for the General, Serbian TV (RTS) broadcast pictures of the markings on exploded bombs or pieces of bombs at the bombing site, indicating that at least some were Made in USA. RTS also broadcast interviews with the Albanian victims, who testified that the jets had made multiple passes, hitting the refugees even after bodies were strewn all over. To punish RTS for broadcasting this devastating expose, NATO bombed RTS TV ten days later (23 April 1999), killing 16 civilians.

Because of the RTS broadcast, NATO was forced to accept blame for the bombing: 

[Excerpt from Telegraph starts here]

"Having spent the previous five days denying it was involved in the attack on a civilian convoy south of the Kosovan [sic!] town of Djakovica last Wednesday, it admitted that it had attacked it, eight times....

US Air Force Brig Gen Dan Leaf, who commands the 31st Air Expeditionary Wing at Aviano air base in Italy, said he had devoted the past five days to trying to establish the facts as best he could.

In a highly detailed press conference he explained how the events of that tragic day unfolded, but would not admit that his pilots had hit anything other than a military target. He did admit that from the comfort of the briefing room, the video of the attacks appeared to show alliance aircraft attacking what seemed to be tractors. But he stressed that pilots of F16s had only a pair of monochrome 4.5in screens by their knees to study."
-- Ben Rooney in London Telegraph, 20 April 1999

[Excerpt from Telegraph ends here]

Notice that NATO's defense was that the pilots may have made a mistake. The significance of "pilots" (i.e., that there was more than one plane) becomes clear when you read General Wald's explanation of NATO's Rules of Engagement (ROE), below. He states that before a plane is allowed to drop bombs, another plane, piloted by a Forward Air Controller, checks out the target.  His job is to make "eyes-on contact."

[Excerpt from Pentagon press conference starts here]

"They're trained [i.e., the Forward Air Controllers are trained] for identifying military targets, as you can imagine, and at that time will call in another set of fighters, probably two, to expend their ordnance on the target. But before they do that, the FAC, the forward air controller, will talk to the other set of fighters and make sure they both have 100 percent assurance that they have the correct target, they both identify it, and there's a verbiage that goes on between the two of them. And just as my answer is taking a long time, it takes a long time for this to happen."
-- General Wald, from Press Conference quoted below.

[Excerpt from Pentagon press conference ends here]

So at least two and possibly more planes check out the target before dropping any bombs.

By explaining why NATO's ROE would virtually preclude the mistaken bombing of refugees (or anything else), General Wald was unwittingly confessing that, if NATO did eventually admit it had bombed the refugees, it would be admitting the bombing was deliberate.

As Wald says:

"I can also tell you that it's easy to tell the difference between a tractor and a tank. So yes, I'd answer your question that you can tell. And if there's any doubt, you just don't drop."

This is relevant to court proceedings currently taking place in the Netherlands, in which former top Dutch officials are being forced to explain why the government should not be considered guilty of war crimes against Yugoslavia. The proceedings are focused on two atrocities: the bombing of RTS (Serb TV) and the bombing of a hospital and open air market in the Serb city of Nis.

During the first Court hearing, 26 January, former Prime Minister Kok said, regarding the bombing of Nis:

"It's even more sad, seeing that a market and a hospital were hit, that the actual target was missed." 

Based on General Wald's explanation of NATO's Rules of Engagement, it is obvious that pilots could not have bombed such easily identified locations as a market and hospital, or for that matter a column of refugees, by mistake. 

It is noteworthy that in bombing the city of Nis, NATO used cluster bombs, which do minor damage to concrete and metal but shred human flesh. These are anti-people weapons, not what you would use if you intended to destroy a military target.

-- Jared Israel
Editor, Emperor's Clothes

 

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NATO Unwittingly Confesses Guilt

General Wald Press Conference 
14 April 1999

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Copyright 1999 Federal News Service, Inc. Federal News Service  April 14, 1999, Wednesday
Section: Defense Department Briefing
Headline: Defense Department Regular Briefing Briefers: Kenneth Bacon, Pentagon Spokesperson Major General Charles F. Wald, USAF, The Pentagon
[Posted for fair use only]

[...]

Q: Could you give us some details on the attack on the convoy today? What time it happened and what happened?

Major General Wald: I don't know the exact time. I do know it was day time, from what I've heard reported. I understand NATO is reviewing the mission at this time.

But I can say that the way these missions work in Kosovo with a forward air controller -- either an A-10 or an F-16 forward air controller -- is that the forward air controller will be cued to a target area by possibly an off-board sensor or some other report, or possibly he will be looking in the area himself and find what could be a military target. That cueing could come from Predator, could come from JSTARS, could come from, once again, from the pilot himself finding the target.

In the case of an A-10, he will find the target; he will identify it actually using binoculars, very slow speed -- and reports I've heard today and from last night they're taking heavy AAA and significant SAMs and MANPADS were fired both last night and today. He loiters over the area to identify the target. They're trained for identifying military targets, as you can imagine, and at that time will call in another set of fighters, probably two, to expend their ordnance on the target. But before they do that, the FAC, forward air controller, will talk to the other set of fighters and make sure they both have 100 percent assurance that they have the correct target, they both identify it, and there's a verbiage that goes on between the two of them, and just as my answer's taking a long time, it takes a long time for this to happen...

Q: So it's eyes on.

Major General Wald: It's eyes on and conformation both from the forward air controller and the pilot itself -- the air crew that's going to drop the weapon -- and the forward air controllers can self-expand, but it's eyes on, and it's dual-control from the standpoint there is verification both from the pilot dropping the bomb and the forward air controller through a set of dialogues that goes on. And then, and not until then, is the pilot cleared in to drop the bomb. And once the forward air controller is assured that this pilot is dropping on the right target, he will clear him to drop the bomb. Then from bomb fall until target impact is about 10 to 15 seconds, so through that 10 to 15 seconds, it's once again basically you're at the mercy of fate. But the fact of the matter is, in both the mind of the pilot and the air crew that's dropping the bomb, you have to be in your own mind 100 percent sure of what you're going on before you actually release. So it's about as positive control on a weapons release as you can get.

Q: And tractors from the air, filled with people's mattresses, don't look like military convoys, would you think?

Major General Wald: I've been a forward air controller in Vietnam; I've flown in Bosnia these types of missions, dozens of times; I've flown them over Iraq, and I can honestly say that if there's any doubt whatsoever in either the pilot or the air crew that's dropping the bombs, the FAC or the air crew's minds, they will not drop.

I can also tell you that it's easy to tell the difference between a tractor and a tank. So yes, I'd answer that you can tell. If there's any doubt, you just don't drop.

Q: But the distinguishing there here is, to a large extent the convoys that have hit have not been tanks, they've been trucks. They've been vehicles filled with equipment. But that also is relatively easy, are you saying, for a pilot to see, a forward air controller and an attacking pilot, a difference.

Major General Wald: Right. I wouldn't say it's easy, but unless they're sure, they will not drop. But it is easy once you can see, if you can tell what it looks like, which I can tell you they have ways of doing that, to tell a military vehicle from a civilian vehicle. But if the Serbs are using civilian vehicles painted like military vehicles, which could happen, then there could be a doubt. But once again, I go back, unless there's 100 percent assurance that what you're hitting is a military target -- and I've been through this for years over there -- you don't drop. And there have been many, many cases where I know people have come back with bombs thinking almost 100 percent they had the target identified, and with that little bit of doubt, would not drop.

Q: Can I do a follow up on that please, General? When you're a forward air controller, and I don't want to give away the candy store here, but do you stay high all the time? Will you change altitude to get a better look at what you're seeing?

Major General Wald: You're right, I won't tell you what altitude they're at, but you vary your altitude. But generally they'll stay out of AAA range, of course, and there are MANPADS that can range, so you're always in the threat area, but the tactics they use will keep you generally out of those areas, and of course, they've practiced it for years, so they know how to do that.

Q: And the guys that are in the FAC are in the most vulnerable position. They're the ones that are in the shooting gallery and going slow and hanging around the target. Is that correct?

Major General Wald: I would say so, yes.

Q: General, do you know if this was an American plane that dropped the bombs?

Major General Wald: No, I don't know what type of plane dropped this.

Q: Are there, the procedures you describe, are there standard rules of engagement for what level of certainty you have to have about a target? Do they vary? Are there cases in which something less than 100 percent, less than 90 percent would be tolerable? And how would you characterize the ROEs applied here? Are they as stringent as possible?

Major General Wald: I would characterize the ROE as as strict as I have seen in my 27 years of military, and the procedures are very, very complex, but they're also set out and they've been standardized over the years. In a forward air control, combat, close air support mission if you will -- they call it CAS -- those procedures are practiced and trained for routinely. And once again, going back to my time in Bosnia, those are the type of missions we flew every day, day in and day out, with ground forward air controllers as well as airborne forward air controllers. So people are trained to that, and the ROE is very stringent. I will say this, I won't talk about the specific ROE, but I will say that the rules have been and are that unless you're 100 percent sure in your mind what you're hitting in a forward air control, CAS mission, is the target, you won't drop. That's for the reason of close air support de facto means there's some friendly or something you don't want to hit in close proximity. So it's very, very difficult and sometimes very frustrating because you many times think I have this target, I just know in my mind what it is, but I can't be 100 percent sure. So it's a dangerous mission for the pilots and the air crew.

Q: The Serbs have described this convoy that was struck as a 100 vehicle convoy including tractors and so on. Have any such very, very large convoys been struck by NATO in recent...

Major General Wald: I haven't heard any reports of that.

Q: You'd certainly be able to tell the difference between a 100 vehicle convoy and the kind of thing you normally would strike.

Major General Wald: Without a doubt.

Q: General, how you are submitting the targets against Yugoslavia, and actually, how do (inaudible) countries like Germany, have avoiding the selection process?

Major General Wald: I won't talk about target selection. That's for NATO to speak to.

Q: Are they dropping any, are the planes dropping any anti-personnel weapons, or are they strictly unitary bombs?

Major General Wald: NATO is not dropping any what would be characterized as anti-personnel weapons that are in the category that aren't approved. Every weapon that NATO drops is well within the confines of international law, and all these weapons could be anti-personnel, which are army, VJ, or MUP, or anti-equipment, anti-armor. So there isn't anything that's characterized necessarily as anti-personnel.

Q: Cluster bombs?

Major General Wald: We have been dropping cluster bombs. They're well within the confines of international law.

Q: General, what do you know about these reports that the Serbs may have actually retaliated against these refugees that were either in that convoy or a separate convoy?

Major General Wald: Just as Mr. Bacon mentioned earlier, that's under review. I guess from a personal perspective, there's no doubt in my mind that the Serbs would do that type of thing, have been known to do that type of thing. And as I've gone through in kind of intricate detail today, in the way that the NATO air crew, trying to make sure that their targets are 100 percent identified, I don't see any of that coming from the Serbian army whatsoever. So they have totally different rules of engagement. So that wouldn't surprise me one bit that they'd do that.

[...]

[Footnotes Follow The Appeal]

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Footnotes and Further Reading

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To read Emperor's Clothes articles on NATO war crimes in Yugoslavia, go to
http://emperors-clothes.com/yugo.htm 


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