Pentagon: U.S. soldiers' capture not stopping NATO bombing missions
April 1, 1999
BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- NATO said Thursday it is doing the "right thing" in its bombing campaign against Yugoslavia and that airstrikes had inflicted "substantial damage to instruments of oppression."
The Pentagon said the capture of three U.S. soldiers had not stopped planned bombing runs.
"We did attack a Yugoslav army unit in central Kosovo that's been involved in some of the ethnic cleansing activities," said Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon. "We also attacked a major ammunition dump in Kosovo."
At a briefing late Thursday afternoon, Bacon also announced 13 additional F-117A stealth fighters will soon leave Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, and fly to Italy to participate in NATO's Operation Allied Force. One is to replace the warplane downed last week.
"That will bring our total of stealth fighters up to 24 in the theater, and our total number of aircraft up to about 220," Bacon said.
He also said A-10s -- awkward-looking planes dubbed "wart hogs" and "tank killers" -- were being flown but did not know if they had fired weapons yet.
Bacon said he hadn't heard reports that U.S. forces were running short of jet fuel in Europe, but he said the fuel was easy to buy.
NATO leaders expressed concern about the safety of the three captive U.S. soldiers shown on Serbian television earlier in the day.
"We've seen their pictures, and we don't like it. We don't like the way they are treated. We have a long memory about these kinds of things," said NATO's supreme allied commander, Gen. Wesley Clark.
He said NATO will hold Serbian authorities accountable for the soldiers' treatment and is investigating where the soldiers were captured.
The Pentagon said the captive U.S. soldiers are prisoners of war and therefore should be covered by the protections of the Geneva Conventions.
But the Pentagon spokesman denied that claiming prisoner-of-war status for the U.S. soldiers meant the United States acknowledged it was at war with Yugoslavia.
"By international law, the Geneva Convention applies to all periods of hostilities," Bacon said.
He said the three soldiers had been armed with M-16 rifles, but it was not clear whether they had fired any rounds when they came under fire.
The Pentagon is trying to determine exactly where along the Macedonia/Yugoslavia border the three men were surrounded and captured.
Bacon said the soldiers were part of a three-Humvee patrol.
"These soldiers from the First Infantry Division first went to Macedonia to participate in a United Nations mission called UNPREDP, the U.N. Preventative Deployment, which was protecting Macedonia," Bacon said.
When that mission expired, Bacon said, the soldiers stayed behind to protect U.S. infrastructure at Camp Able Sentry at the Skopje airport, which would have been a staging area had U.N. peacekeepers been sent into Kosovo.
The soldiers were helping 1,500 U.N. troops from various nations withdraw from Macedonia.
Yugoslavia said they were "captured on Serb territory" and "resisted arrest." The Belgrade-based news agency Tanjug said a military court will begin an investigation of the three American soldiers who, according to British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, were seized in a "snatch" operation in Macedonian territory.
U.S. President Bill Clinton on Thursday repeated NATO's position and said the United States, too, would hold Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic responsible for the safety of the three American soldiers.
"President Milosevic should make no mistake," Clinton said. "We will hold him and his government responsible for their safety and for their well-being."
A senior U.S. official told CNN the United States had relayed through Sweden its demands that Yugoslavia treat the captured U.S. troops humanely and allow international medical personnel and others to visit the men immediately.
NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said NATO remains committed to stopping Milosevic's "criminal war machine" in Kosovo.
"It is the right thing to do, and it is our duty to do whatever we can to stop the killings in Kosovo," he said during the NATO news conference.
"After one week of NATO air operations, I am confident that we are having an impact on Belgrade's war machine," he added.
Clark said that in the past eight days of strikes, NATO significantly damaged Yugoslavia's military air defense systems, command and control centers, and field forces arrayed against ethnic Albanians. He referred to the targets as "instruments of oppression."
He said NATO attacks on Serb military targets will continue unabated, "step by step, day by day, with precision and a great deal of attention to avoid civilian casualties."
Bacon said the intention was to disrupt movements by the Yugoslav forces.
"It is part of a plan to make force mobility more difficult, to interdict the flow of supplies and of forces," Bacon said.
Serb media reported Thursday that NATO missiles had destroyed a major bridge over the Danube River in Novi Sad.
State television aired pictures that it said showed remnants of the destroyed bridge, which connected two parts of the city.
The television report said the attack badly damaged the city's water system.
Serbian media also reported that NATO bombed the town of Uzice in western Serbia and the village of Gnijlane in Kosovo.
The Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said 10 NATO missiles had struck targets around Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, on Wednesday night.
Correspondent Brent Sadler contributed to this report.
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