The NATO bombing of Yugoslavia (code-named Operation Allied Force) was NATO's military operation against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that lasted from 24 March to 10 June 1999 and is brought the close of the Kosovo War. It was only the second major combat operation in NATO's history, following the September 1995 smaller-scale bombing Operation Deliberate Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Yugoslav Government claimed that it was protecting the minority Serbian population of Kosovo against attacks by the Kosovo Liberation Army.
The proclaimed goal of the NATO operation was summed up by a NATO spokesperson as "Serbs out, peacekeepers in, refugees back". That is, Serbian troops would have to leave Kosovo and be replaced by international peacekeepers to ensure the Albanian refugees could return to their homes. However, the summary had an unfortunate double meaning which caused NATO considerable embarrassment after the war, when over 200,000 Serbs and other non-Albanian minorities fled or were expelled from the province. It was also suggested a small victorious war would help give NATO a new role. Terms like "humanitarian bombing" and "humanitarian war" were employed by the politicians.
The campaign was initially designed to destroy Serbian air defences and high-value military targets. Bad weather hindered many sorties in the early stages. NATO had seriously underestimated Milošević's will to resist: few in Brussels thought the campaign would last more than a few days, and although the initial bombardment was more than just a pin-prick, it was nowhere near the concentrated bombardments seen in Baghdad in 1991 and 2003. On the ground, over 300,000 Kosovo Albanians had fled into neighboring Albania and Macedonia, with many thousands more displaced within Kosovo. By April, the United Nations was reporting that 850,000 people — the vast majority of them Albanians — were refugees that fled from Kosovo. Another 230,000 Albanians were listed as internally displaced persons (IDPs) who had been driven from their homes, but were still inside Kosovo.
The cause of the refugee exodus has been the subject of considerable controversy, not least because it formed the basis of United Nations war crimes charges against Slobodan Milošević and other officials responsible for directing the Kosovo conflict. The Serbian side and its Western supporters claimed the refugee outflows were caused by mass panic in the Kosovo Albanian population, and the exodus was generated principally by fear of NATO bombs. It was also alleged that the exodus was encouraged by KLA guerrillas, and in some cases the KLA issued direct orders to Albanians to flee. Many accounts from both Serbs and Albanians identified Serbian security forces and paramilitaries as the culprits, responsible for systematically emptying towns and villages of their Albanian inhabitants by forcing them to flee. There were some well-documented instances of mass expulsions, as happened in Priština at the end of March when tens of thousands of people were rounded up at gunpoint and loaded onto trains, before being deposited at the Macedonian border. Other towns, such as Peć, were burned and their inhabitants killed.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer claimed the refugee crisis had been produced by a Serbian plan codenamed "Operation Horseshoe". While the existence of that named plan remains controversial, the United Nations and international human rights organisations were convinced the refugee crisis was the result of a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing. A postwar statistical analysis of the patterns of displacement, conducted by Patrick Ball of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, found there was a direct correlation between Serbian security force operations and refugee outflows, with NATO operations having very little effect on the displacements. There was other evidence of the refugee crisis having been deliberately manufactured: many refugees reported that their identity cards had been confiscated by security forces, making it much harder for them to prove that they were bona fide Yugoslav citizens. Since the conflict ended, Serbian sources have claimed that many of those who joined the refugee return were in fact Albanians from outside Kosovo.
It is unclear what Milošević may have hoped to achieve by expelling Kosovo's Albanian inhabitants. One possibility is he wished to replace the Albanian population with refugee Serbs from Bosnia and Croatia, thereby achieving the "Serbianization" of the province. NATO achieved considerable moral advantage by the flight, whether desired or not. If desired it was a great success, as it convinced NATO's member states populations that they had to win the conflict. Europe was still coping with previous waves of refugees and asylum seekers from the Balkans, and a further wave of refugees could have destabilised south-eastern Europe. The war in Kosovo was not initially in the interests of the NATO states, but the refugee crisis made it so. The pictures of thousands of refugees streaming across the border provided a stable foundation for NATO to claim that Serbian ethnic cleansing was a greater injustice than NATO bombardment.
NATO military operations switched increasingly to attacking Serbian units on the ground — hitting targets as small as individual tanks and artillery pieces — as well as continuing with the strategic bombardment. This activity was heavily constrained by politics, as each target needed to be approved by all nineteen members states. Montenegro was bombed several times, but NATO eventually desisted to prop up the precarious position of its anti-Milošević leader, Milo Đukanović. So-called "dual-use" targets, of use to both civilians and the military, were attacked: this included bridges across the Danube, factories, power stations, telecommunications facilities, the headquarters of Yugoslavian Leftists, a political party led by Milošević's wife, and the Avala TV Tower. Some saw these actions as violations of international law and the Geneva Conventions in particular. NATO however argued these facilities were potentially useful to the Serbian military, and their bombing was therefore justified. The alliance also stated it tried very hard to avoid civilian casualties during its bombing campaign.
At the start of May, a NATO aircraft attacked an Albanian refugee convoy, believing it was a Serbian military convoy, killing around 50 people. NATO admitted its mistake 5 days later, but the Serbs accused NATO of deliberately attacking the refugees. On May 7, NATO bombs hit the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese journalists. NATO claimed they were firing at Yugoslav positions. The United States and NATO later apologized for the bombing, saying it occurred because of an outdated map provided by the CIA. This was challenged by a joint report from The Observer (UK) and Politiken (Denmark) newspapers which claimed NATO intentionally bombed the embassy because it was being used as a relay station for Yugoslav army radio signals. The bombing strained relations between China and NATO countries and provoked angry demonstrations outside Western embassies in Beijing. According to Global Research, unnamed, high-ranking NATO sources confirmed in 2005 that the attack was deliberate: "The NATO sources told Defense & Foreign Affairs that the attack was based on intelligence that then Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević was to have been in the Embassy at the time of the attack. The attack, then, was deliberately planned as a "decapitation" attack, intended to kill Milošević."
By the start of April, the conflict seemed little closer to a resolution, and NATO countries began to think seriously about an invasion of Kosovo with ground units. This would have to be organised very quickly, as there was little time before winter set in, and much work would have to be done to improve the roads from the Greek and Albanian ports to the envisaged invasion routes through Macedonia and north-eastern Albania. US President Bill Clinton was reluctant to commit American forces for a ground offensive. At the same time, Finnish and Russian negotiators continued to try to persuade Milošević to back down. He finally recognised that NATO was serious in its resolve to end the conflict one way or another and that Russia would not intervene to defend Serbia despite Moscow's strong anti-NATO rhetoric. Faced with little alternative, Milošević accepted the conditions offered by a Finnish-Russian mediation team and agreed to a military presence within Kosovo headed by the UN, but incorporating NATO troops.
On 12 June, after Milošević accepted the conditions, KFOR began entering Kosovo. KFOR, a NATO force, had been preparing to conduct combat operations, but its mission was limited to peacekeeping. The force was based on the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps headquarters commanded by then-Lieutenant General Mike Jackson of the British Army and consisted of British forces, a German Army brigade that entered from the west while the remaining forces advanced from the south, and Italian Army, Spanish Army and United States Army brigades. The U.S. contribution, the Initial Entry Force consisted of forces from the 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment; the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit from; the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, and Echo Troop, 4th Cavalry Regiment. Also attached to the U.S. force was the Greek Army's 501st Mechanized Infantry Battalion. The initial U.S. forces established their area of operation around the towns of Uroševac, the future Camp Bondsteel, and Gnjilane, at Camp Monteith, and spent four months——the start of a stay which continues to date——establishing order in the south east sector of Kosovo. The American and other NATO soldiers were greeted by Albanians young and old cheering and throwing flowers as KFOR rolled through their villages. Although no resistance was met, three U.S. soldiers from the Initial Entry Force lost their lives in accidents.
An important portion of the war involved combat between the Yugoslav Air Force and the opposing air forces. United States Air Force F-15s and F-16s flying mainly from Italian air force bases attacked the defending Yugoslav fighters, mainly MiG-29s. Other NATO forces also contributed to the air war.
Dogfights/incidents of the 1999 Kosovo War:
The United States Navy provided a naval task force that included the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge. The French Navy provided the aircraft carrier Foch and escorts.
Human Rights Watch reported between 489 and 528 civilians were killed in the ninety separate incidents in Operation Allied Force. Albanian refugees were among the victims. Almost two thirds (303 to 352) of the total registered civilian deaths occurred in twelve incidents where ten or more civilian deaths were confirmed. Almost half of the incidents resulted from attacks during daylight hours, when civilians could have been expected to be on the roads and bridges or in public buildings.
Operation Allied Force inflicted less damage on the Yugoslav military than originally thought due to the use of camouflage, which concealed vehicles and war techniques, and numerous easy-made decoys. Other misdirection techniques were used to disguise military targets. While NATO believed it had destroyed about 120 Serbian tanks during the conflict, only 14 were confirmed destroyed. It was only in the later stages of the campaign that strategic targets such as bridges and buildings were attacked in any systematic way, causing significant disruption and economic damage. This stage of the campaign led to controversial incidents, most notably the bombing of the People's Republic of China embassy in Belgrade where three Chinese reporters were killed and twenty injured. NATO claimed this was erroneous because of old Belgrade maps. Other controversial events included the attack on Serbia's main TV station, the Zastava car factory, and the bombing of chemical factories resulting in major pollution incidents and loss of jobs.
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević survived the conflict and declared its outcome a major victory for Yugoslavia and Serbia. He was, however, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia along with a number of other senior Serbian and Yugoslav political and military figures. His indictment led to Yugoslavia as a whole being treated as a pariah by much of the international community because Milošević was subject to arrest if he left Yugoslavia. The country's economy was badly affected by the conflict, and a year later, popular disillusionment with the Milošević regime led to his overthrow in October 2000.
Thousands were killed during the conflict, and hundreds of thousands more fled from the province to other parts of the country and to the surrounding countries. Most of the Albanian refugees returned home within a few weeks or months. However, much of the non-Albanian population again fled to other parts of Serbia or to protected enclaves within Kosovo. Albanian guerrilla activity spread into other parts of Serbia and to neighbouring Republic of Macedonia, but subsided in 2001. The non-Albanian population has since diminished further following fresh outbreaks of inter-communal conflict and harassment, and veterans of the officially disbanded KLA are threatening renewed violence if their demand for secession is not fulfilled.
In December 2002, HM Queen Elizabeth II approved the awarding of the Battle Honour "Kosovo" to squadrons of the RAF that participated in the conflict. These were: Nos 1, 7, 8, 9, 14, 23, 31, 51, 101, and 216 squadrons. Squadrons that are emboldened are authorized to have the battle honour emblazoned on their Colours.
Some critics have accused the coalition of leading a war in Kosovo under the false pretense of genocide. United States President Bill Clinton, and his administration, were accused of inflating the number of Kosovar Albanians killed by Serbians. Clinton's Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, said, "The appalling accounts of mass killing in Kosovo and the pictures of refugees fleeing Serb oppression for their lives makes it clear that this is a fight for justice over genocide. On CBS' Face the Nation Cohen claimed, "We've now seen about 100,000 military-aged men missing...They may have been murdered. Clinton, citing the same figure, spoke of "at least 100,000 (Kosovar Albanians) missing". Later, Clinton said about Serbian elections, "they're going to have to come to grips with what Mr. Milošević ordered in Kosovo... They're going to have to decide whether they support his leadership or not; whether they think it's OK that all those tens of thousands of people were killed...". In the same press conference, Clinton also claimed "NATO stopped deliberate, systematic efforts at ethnic cleansing and genocide. Clinton compared the events of Kosovo to the Holocaust. CNN reported, "Accusing Serbia of 'ethnic cleansing' in Kosovo similar to the genocide of Jews in World War II, an impassioned President Clinton sought Tuesday to rally public support for his decision to send U.S. forces into combat against Yugoslavia, a prospect that seemed increasingly likely with the breakdown of a diplomatic peace effort. Clinton's State Department also claimed Serbian troops had committed genocide. The New York Times reported, "the Administration said evidence of 'genocide' by Serbian forces was growing to include 'abhorrent and criminal action' on a vast scale. The language was the State Department's strongest yet in denouncing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević. The State Department also gave the highest estimate of dead Albanians. The New York Times reported, "On April 19, the State Department said that up to 500,000 Kosovar Albanians were missing and feared dead. The claims of purported genocide had subsequently been proven untrue.
The United Nations Charter does not allow military interventions in other sovereign countries with few exceptions which, in general, need to be decided upon by the United Nations Security Council. The issue was brought before the UNSC by Russia, in a draft resolution which - inter alia - would affirm "that such unilateral use of force constitutes a flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter". China, Namibia and Russia voted for the resolution, the other members against, thus it failed to pass. The absence of Security Council approval as a legal basis for the intervention led some observers to argue that the intervention undermined international law.
On April 29, 1999, Yugoslavia filed a complaint at the International Court of Justice at The Hague against ten NATO member countries (Belgium, Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and USA). The Court did not decide upon the case because it ruled that Yugoslavia was not a member of the UN during the war.
In Western countries, opposition to NATO's intervention was mainly from conservatives and libertarians on the right, and from most of the far left. In United Kingdom, the war was opposed by many prominent conservative figures including former UK Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont, and journalists Peter Hitchens and Simon Heffer, whereas opposition on the left was confined to The Morning Star newspaper and left-wing MPs like Tony Benn and Alan Simpson. However, the Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee), a Leninist splinter-group, backed the Kosovo Liberation Army (while opposing NATO's intervention, seeing it as American-led imperialist opportunism) and supported the complete secession of Kosovo from Serbia.