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Fifth Day of NATO Attacks Under Way

March 28, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The American and allied air armada broadened its attacks on Yugoslavia on Sunday to target Serb military forces in Kosovo, raising the risk to NATO pilots but also holding the promise of more effective strikes against Serb ground troops. President Clinton said ``the continued brutality and repression of the Serb forces further underscores the need for NATO to persevere.″

The Pentagon announced that more American warplanes, including long-range bombers, would be added to the nearly 200 already participating in Operation Allied Force. Spokesman Ken Bacon said between six and 12 planes would be added, although Defense Secretary William Cohen had not signed the formal order Sunday.

As a fifth straight night of NATO bombing got under way, including cruise missile strikes by B-52 bombers, the Pentagon and NATO were officially mum on what brought down an Air Force F-117A stealth fighter-bomber near the Yugoslav capital on Saturday. A senior defense official, however, said there are strong indications it was hit by a surface-to-air missile, possibly the Soviet-made SA-3 air defense missile.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no reported mechanical problem but an explosion was heard. NATO officials, without referring to the F-117A, said SA-3 missiles were fired Saturday.

At the White House, Clinton met with his top national security aides and said he had talked with leaders of several NATO allies, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French Premier Jacques Chirac.

``All of them share our determination to respond strongly to Mr. Milosevic’s continuing campaign of inhumane violence against the Kosovar Albanian people,″ Clinton told reporters. ``That is what we intend to do.″ Clinton said he strongly supported NATO’s decision to step up its air campaign in Kosovo.

Without specifically mentioning Saturday’s loss of an F-117A, Clinton said he had warned from the start of ``real risks″ in NATO’s confrontation in the sky over Yugoslavia. ``But the continued brutality and repression of the Serb forces further underscores the need for NATO to persevere,″ he said.

As he stepped away from the podium, Clinton was asked whether the NATO bombings were a driving force behind the escalating atrocities in Kosovo. ``Absolutely not,″ Clinton replied.

The F-117A pilot, whose identity was not made public, was reported in ``good shape″ at Aviano Air Base in Italy after a daring rescue and recovery operation.

Cohen, speaking on the Sunday TV talk shows, said the loss of the F-117A _ one of the most sophisticated and secretive aircraft in the U.S. arsenal _ would not affect NATO’s air campaign against the Serbian government as the attacks widen to target Serb forces in Kosovo.

``We are going to move into a wider array of targets including not only those dealing with command-and-control structures, ammunition dumps, but also start to go after the forces in the field as such,″ Cohen said.

At NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, British Air Commodore David Wilby told reporters, ``We are now just beginning to transition″ from focusing air attacks mainly in Yugoslavia’s air defense network to targeting the Serb tanks and troops that are continuing to pound the Kosovar Albanians.

The NATO airstrikes were launched last week after Serbs refused to enter into a peace agreement with the majority ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, the largest Serb province. Serbia is the main republic in Yugoslavia.

U.S. and NATO officials provided a few details of Saturday’s air attacks, which included a further use of the Air Force’s B-2 Spirit bomber, a stealth aircraft built with radar-evading technologies that are a leap ahead of those employed by the smaller 1980s-vintage F-117A fighter-bomber.

NATO officials said 66 allied aircraft attacked 17 major targets on Saturday, including various elements of the Yugoslav air defense network as well as an airfield and an ammunition supply facility.

There was no indication that any allied planes had hit Serb tanks or other armored vehicles, although U.S. and NATO officials said that would happen as part of the intensified second stage of the air campaign.

``We’re looking at an expanded set of targets,″ U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark said on NBC’s ``Meet the Press.″ As Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Clark is the top NATO military authority. He declined to answer when asked whether the main tank-killing aircraft, the A-10 Warthog, had been used.

The Pentagon released a few aerial photographs of damage done by the NATO bombing. One showed a destroyed Serb military headquarters in Kosovo, which Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said was hit by an American cruise missile on the second night of the war.

Shelton, speaking on CNN’s ``Late Edition,″ also disclosed that the two Yugoslav MiG-29 fighters shot down Friday over Bosnia were not, as NATO officials first reported, targeting NATO ground troops.

Shelton said the MiGs were armed with air-to-air weapons. ``So there’s no indication that they were in fact bound to attack our troops. That’s not the type of ordnance that you’d carry for a mission like that,″ he said.

Cohen said he did not yet know what caused the F-117A fighter-bomber to crash Saturday.

``We are unable to determine whether it was due to anti-aircraft fire, a surface-to-air missile or a malfunction,″ Cohen said.

He denied that the loss of the F-117A would jeopardize the American monopoly on stealth technology. ``The aircraft itself would be hard to replicate″ with the remains of the downed plane, he added.

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