The NATO bombing of Yugoslavia was the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's (NATO) military operation against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) during the Kosovo War. The air strikes lasted from March 24, 1999 to June 10, 1999. The official NATO operation code name was Operation Allied Force; the United States called it "Operation Noble Anvil", while in Yugoslavia, the operation was incorrectly called "Merciful Angel" (Serbian: Милосрдни анђео/Milosrdni anđeo), as a result of a misunderstanding or mistranslation. The bombings continued until an agreement was reached that led to the withdrawal of Yugoslav armed forces from Kosovo, and the establishment of United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), a UN peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.
The bloodshed, ethnic cleansing of thousands of Albanians driving them into neighbouring countries, and the potential of it to destabilize the region provoked intervention by international organizations and agencies, such as the United Nations, NATO, and INGOs. NATO countries attempted to gain authorisation from the United Nations Security Council for military action, but were opposed by China and Russia that indicated they would veto such a proposal. NATO launched a campaign without UN authorisation, which it described as a humanitarian intervention. The FRY described the NATO campaign as an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign country that was in violation of international law because it did not have UN Security Council support.
The bombing killed between 489 and 528 civilians, and destroyed bridges, industrial plants, public buildings, private businesses, as well as barracks and military installations.
The NATO bombing marked the second major combat operation in its history, following the 1995 NATO bombing campaign in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was the first time that NATO had used military force without the approval of the UN Security Council.
|Operation Allied Force|
|Part of the Kosovo War|
Novi Sad on fire, 1999 Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
|Commanders and leaders|
Gen. John W. Hendrix
James O. Ellis
| Slobodan Milošević
30 attack ships and submarines
Task Force Hawk
| 114,000 regulars
20,000 Yugoslav police
100 SAM launchers
14 modern combat aircraft
1,400 artillery pieces
1,270 combat capable tanks
825 combat capable armoured vehicles
|Casualties and losses|
| 3 fighter jets, 2 helicopters and 25 UAVs destroyed; 3 fighter jets damaged
2 soldiers killed in non-combat helicopter crash, 3 soldiers captured
| 956–1,200 killed, 5,173 wounded and 52 missing
disputed numbers of tanks, APCs, and artillery pieces; as well as 121 aircraft destroyed
Economic loss of $29.6 billion
Human Rights Watch concluded that between 489 and 528 people died as a result of air attacks, nearly 60% of whom were in Kosovo. The Yugoslavian government gave estimates of between 1,200 and 5,700 civilian deaths.3 Chinese journalists killed in United States bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade
After September 1990 when the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution had been unilaterally repealed by the Socialist Republic of Serbia, Kosovo's autonomy suffered and so the region was faced with state organized oppression: from the early 1990s, Albanian language radio and television were restricted and newspapers shut down. Kosovar Albanians were fired in large numbers from public enterprises and institutions, including banks, hospitals, the post office and schools. In June 1991 the University of Priština assembly and several faculty councils were dissolved and replaced by Serbs. Kosovar Albanian teachers were prevented from entering school premises for the new school year beginning in September 1991, forcing students to study at home.
Later, Kosovar Albanians started an insurgency against Belgrade when the Kosovo Liberation Army was founded in 1996. Armed clashes between the two sides broke out in early 1998. A NATO-facilitated ceasefire was signed on 15 October, but both sides broke it two months later and fighting resumed. When the killing of 45 Kosovar Albanians in the Račak massacre was reported in January 1999, NATO decided that the conflict could only be settled by introducing a military peacekeeping force to forcibly restrain the two sides. After the Rambouillet Accords broke down on 23 March with Yugoslav rejection of an external peacekeeping force, NATO prepared to install the peacekeepers by force.
Operation Allied Force predominantly used a large-scale air campaign to destroy Yugoslav military infrastructure from high altitudes. After the third day of aerial bombing, NATO had destroyed almost all of its strategic military targets in Yugoslavia. Despite this, the Yugoslav Army continued to function and to attack Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) insurgents inside Kosovo, mostly in the regions of Northern and Southwest Kosovo. NATO bombed strategic economic and societal targets, such as bridges, military facilities, official government facilities, and factories, using long-range cruise missiles to hit heavily defended targets, such as strategic installations in Belgrade and Pristina. The NATO air forces also targeted infrastructure, such as power plants (using the BLU-114/B "Soft-Bomb"), water-processing plants and the state-owned broadcaster, causing much environmental and economic damage throughout Yugoslavia.
The Rand Corporation examined the issue in a study. The then-Dutch foreign minister Jozias van Aartsen said that the strikes on Yugoslavia should be such as to weaken their military capabilities and prevent further humanitarian atrocities.
Due to restrictive media laws, media in Yugoslavia carried little coverage of what its forces were doing in Kosovo, or of other countries' attitudes to the humanitarian crisis; so, few members of the public expected bombing, instead thinking that a diplomatic deal would be made.
According to John Keegan, the capitulation of Yugoslavia in the Kosovo War marked a turning point in the history of warfare. It "proved that a war can be won by air power alone". By comparison, diplomacy had failed before the war, and the deployment of a large NATO ground force was still weeks away when Slobodan Milošević agreed to a peace deal.
As for why air power should have been capable of acting alone, it has been argued that there are several factors required. These normally come together only rarely, but all occurred during the Kosovo War:
On March 20, 1999 OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission monitors withdrew from Kosovo citing a "steady deterioration in the security situation", and on March 23, 1999 Richard Holbrooke returned to Brussels and announced that peace talks had failed. Hours before the announcement, Yugoslavia announced on national television it had declared a state of emergency citing an "imminent threat of war ... against Yugoslavia by Nato" and began a huge mobilisation of troops and resources. On March 23, 1999 at 22:17 UTC the Secretary General of NATO, Javier Solana, announced he had directed the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), General Wesley Clark, to "initiate air operations in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." On March 24 at 19:00 UTC NATO started the bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.
NATO's bombing campaign involved 1,000 aircraft operating from air bases in Italy and Germany, and the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt stationed in the Adriatic Sea. At dusk, F/A-18 Hornets of the Spanish Air Force were the first NATO planes to bomb Belgrade and perform SEAD operations. BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from ships and submarines. The U.S. was the dominant member of the coalition against Yugoslavia, although other NATO members were involved. During the ten weeks of the conflict, NATO aircraft flew over 38,000 combat missions. For the German Air Force, this mission was its first conflict participation since World War II. In addition to air power, one battalion of Apache helicopters from the U.S. Army's 11th Aviation Regiment was deployed to help combat missions. The regiment was augmented by pilots from Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne Attack Helicopter Battalion. The battalion secured AH-64 Apache attack helicopter refueling sites, and a small team forward deployed to the Albania – Kosovo border to identify targets for NATO air strikes.
The campaign was initially designed to destroy Yugoslavian air defences and high-value military targets.
NATO military operations increasingly attacked Yugoslavian units on the ground; as well as continuing the strategic bombardment. Montenegro was bombed several times, and NATO refused to prop up the precarious position of its anti-Milošević leader, Milo Đukanović. "Dual-use" targets, used by civilians and military, were attacked; the targets included bridges across the Danube, factories, power stations, telecommunications facilities, headquarters of Yugoslavian Leftists, a political party led by Milošević's wife, and the Avala TV Tower. Some protested that these actions were violations of international law and the Geneva Conventions. NATO argued these facilities were potentially useful to the Yugoslavian military and that their bombing was justified.
On April 14, NATO planes bombed ethnic Albanians near Koriša who had been used by Yugoslav forces as human shields. Yugoslav troops took TV crews to the scene shortly after the bombing. The Yugoslav government insisted that NATO had targeted civilians.
On May 7, NATO bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese journalists. NATO had aimed at a Yugoslav military target, but navigational errors led to the wrong building being targeted. The United States and NATO apologised for the bombing, saying it occurred because of an outdated map provided by the Central Intelligence Agency. The bombing strained relations between the People's Republic of China and NATO, provoking angry demonstrations outside Western embassies in Beijing.
Solana directed Clark to "initiate air operations in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia". Clark then delegated responsibility for the conduct of Operation Allied Force to the Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces Southern Europe who in turn delegated control to the Commander of Allied Air Forces Southern Europe, Lieutenant-General Michael C. Short, USAF. Operationally, the day-to-day for responsibility for executing missions was delegated to the Commander of the 5th Allied Tactical Air Force.
The Hague Tribunal ruled that over 700,000 Kosovo Albanians were forcibly displaced by Yugoslav forces into neighbouring Albania and Macedonia, with many thousands displaced within Kosovo. By April, the United Nations reported 850,000 refugees had left Kosovo. Another 230,000 were listed as internally displaced persons (IDPs): driven from their homes, but still inside Kosovo. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer claimed the refugee crisis was produced by a Yugoslav plan codenamed "Operation Horseshoe".
Serbian Television claimed that huge columns of refugees were fleeing Kosovo because of NATO’s bombing, not Yugoslav military operations. The Yugoslav side and its Western supporters claimed the refugee outflows were caused by a mass panic in the Kosovo Albanian population, and the exodus was generated principally by fear of NATO bombs.
The United Nations and international human rights organisations were convinced the crisis resulted from a policy of ethnic cleansing. Many accounts from both Serbs and Albanians identified Yugoslav security forces and paramilitaries as the culprits, responsible for systematically emptying towns and villages of their Albanian inhabitants by forcing them to flee.
Atrocities against civilians in Kosovo were the basis of United Nations war crimes charges against Milošević and other officials responsible for directing the Kosovo conflict.
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, which were in poor condition, due to lack of spare parts and maintenance. Other NATO forces also contributed to the air war.
Air combat incidents:
By the start of April, the conflict seemed closer to resolution. NATO countries began to deliberate about invading Kosovo with ground units. U.S. President Bill Clinton was reluctant to commit US forces for a ground offensive. At the same time, Finnish and Russian negotiators continued to try to persuade Milošević to back down. 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 June 12, after Milošević accepted the conditions, KFOR began entering Kosovo. KFOR, a NATO force, had been preparing to conduct combat operations, but in the end, its mission was only peacekeeping. It was based upon the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps headquarters commanded by then Lieutenant General Mike Jackson of the British Army. It consisted of British forces (a brigade built from 4th Armored and 5th Airborne Brigades), a French Army Brigade, a German Army brigade, which entered from the west while all the other forces advanced from the south, and Italian Army and US Army brigades.
The U.S. contribution, known as the Initial Entry Force, was led by the U.S. 1st Armored Division. Subordinate units included TF 1–35 Armor from Baumholder, Germany, the 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment from Schweinfurt, Germany, and Echo Troop, 4th Cavalry Regiment, also from Schweinfurt, Germany. Also attached to the U.S. force was the Greek Army's 501st Mechanised 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 southeast sector of Kosovo.
The first NATO troops to enter Pristina on June 12, 1999 were Norwegian special forces from FSK Forsvarets Spesialkommando and soldiers from the British Special Air Service 22 S.A.S, although to NATO's diplomatic embarrassment Russian troops arrived first at the airport. The Norwegian soldiers from FSK Forsvarets Spesialkommando were the first to come in contact with the Russian troops at the airport. FSK's mission was to level the negotiating field between the belligerent parties, and to fine-tune the detailed, local deals needed to implement the peace deal between the Serbians and the Kosovo Albanians.
During the initial incursion, the U.S. soldiers were greeted by Albanians cheering and throwing flowers as U.S. soldiers and KFOR rolled through their villages. Although no resistance was met, three U.S. soldiers from the Initial Entry Force lost their lives in accidents.
Following the military campaign, the involvement of Russian peacekeepers proved to be tense and challenging to the NATO Kosovo force. The Russians expected to have an independent sector of Kosovo, only to be unhappily surprised with the prospect of operating under NATO command. Without prior communication or coordination with NATO, Russian peacekeeping forces entered Kosovo from Bosnia and seized Pristina International Airport.
In 2010 James Blunt in an interview described how his unit was given the assignment of securing the Pristina in advance of the 30,000-strong peacekeeping force and the Russian army had moved in and taken control of the airport before his unit's arrival. As the first officer on the scene, Blunt shared a part in the difficult task of addressing the potentially violent international incident. His own account tells of how he refused to follow orders from NATO command to attack the Russians.
Outpost Gunner was established on a high point in the Preševo Valley by Echo Battery 1/161 Field Artillery in an attempt to monitor and assist with peacekeeping efforts in the Russian Sector. Operating under the support of 2/3 Field Artillery, 1st Armored Division, the Battery was able to successfully deploy and continuously operate a Firefinder Radar which allowed the NATO forces to keep a closer watch on activities in the Sector and the Preševo Valley. Eventually a deal was struck whereby Russian forces operated as a unit of KFOR but not under the NATO command structure.
While not directly related to the hostilities, on March 12, 1999 the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland joined NATO by depositing instruments of accession in accordance with Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty at a ceremony in Independence, Missouri. These nations did not participate directly in hostilities.
A large element of the operation was the air forces of NATO, relying heavily on the US Air Force and Navy. The French Navy and Air Force operated the Super Etendard and the Mirage 2000. The Italian Air Force operated with 34 Tornado, 12 F-104, 12 AMX, 2 B-707, the Italian Navy operated with Harrier II. The British Royal Air Force operated the Harrier GR7 and Tornado ground attack jets as well as an array of support aircraft. Belgian, Danish, Dutch, Norwegian and Turkish Air Forces operated F-16s. The Spanish Air Force deployed EF-18s and KC-130s. The Canadian Air Force deployed a total of 18 CF-18s, enabling them to be responsible for 10% of all bombs dropped in the operation. The fighters were armed with both guided and unguided "dumb" munitions, including the Paveway series of laser-guided bombs. The bombing campaign marked the first time the German Air Force actively participated in combat operations since the end of World War II.
However, NATO forces relied mostly upon the Americans and the proven effectiveness of its air power by using the F-16, F-15, F-117, F-14, F/A-18, EA-6B, B-52, KC-135, KC-10, AWACS, and JSTARS from bases throughout Europe and from aircraft carriers in the region. The American B-2 Spirit stealth bomber also saw its first successful combat role in Operation Allied Force, all while striking from its home base in the continental United States.
Even with this air power, noted a RAND Corporation study, "NATO never fully succeeded in neutralising the enemy's radar-guided SAM threat".
Operation Allied Force incorporated the first large-scale use of satellites as a direct method of weapon guidance. The collective bombing was the first combat use of the Joint Direct Attack Munition JDAM kit, which uses an inertial-guidance and GPS-guided tail fin to increase the accuracy of conventional gravity munitions up to 95%. The JDAM kits were outfitted on the B-2s. The AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW) had been previously used in Operation Southern Watch earlier in 1999.
NATO naval forces operated in the Adriatic Sea. The Royal Navy sent a substantial task force that included the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible, which operated Sea Harrier FA2 fighter jets. The RN also deployed destroyers and frigates, and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) provided support vessels, including the aviation training/primary casualty receiving ship RFA Argus. It was the first time the RN used cruise missiles in combat, operated from the nuclear fleet submarine HMS Splendid. The Italian Navy provided a naval task force that included the aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi, a frigate (Maestrale) and a submarine (Sauro class). The United States Navy provided a naval task force that included the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, USS Vella Gulf, and the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge. The French Navy provided the aircraft carrier Foch and escorts. The German Navy deployed the frigate Rheinland-Pfalz and Oker, an Oste-class fleet service ship, in the naval operations. The Netherlands send the submarine HNLMS Dolfijn to upheld trade embargoes off the coast of Yugoslavia.
U.S. ground forces included a battalion from the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. The unit was deployed in March 1999 to Albania in support of the bombing campaign where the battalion secured the Tirana airfield, Apache helicopter refueling sites, established a forward-operating base to prepare for Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) strikes and offensive ground operations, and deployed a small team with an AN/TPQ-36 Firefinder radar system to the Albania/Kosovo border where it acquired targets for NATO air strikes. Immediately after the bombing campaign, the battalion was refitted back at Tirana airfield and issued orders to move into Kosovo as the initial entry force in support of Operation Joint Guardian. Task Force Hawk was also deployed.
Human Rights Watch concluded "that as few as 489 and as many as 528 Yugoslav civilians were killed in the ninety separate incidents in Operation Allied Force". Refugees were among the victims. Between 278 and 317 of the deaths, nearly 60 percent of the total number, were in Kosovo. In Serbia, 201 civilians were killed (five in Vojvodina) and eight died in Montenegro. Almost two thirds (303 to 352) of the total registered civilian deaths occurred in twelve incidents where ten or more civilian deaths were confirmed.
According to one Serbian claim, NATO tactics sometimes included second post strikes in populated areas, with the aim of destroying rescue and medical teams.
Military casualties on the NATO side were limited. According to official reports, the alliance suffered no fatalities from combat operations. However, on May 5, an American AH-64 Apache crashed and exploded during a night-time mission in Albania. The Yugoslavs claimed they shot it down, but NATO claimed it crashed due to a technical malfunction. It crashed 40 miles from Tirana, killing the two crewmen, Army Chief Warrant Officers David Gibbs and Kevin Reichert. It was one of two Apache helicopters lost in the war. A further three American soldiers were taken as prisoners of war by Yugoslav special forces while riding on a Humvee on a surveillance mission along the Macedonian border with Kosovo. A study of the campaign reports that Yugoslav air defenses may have fired up to 700 missiles at NATO aircraft, and that the B-1 bomber crews counted at least 20 surface-to-air missiles fired at them during their first 50 missions. Despite this, only two NATO manned aircraft (one F-16C and one F-117A Nighthawk) were shot down. A further F-117A Nighthawk was damaged by hostile fire as were two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs. One AV-8B Harrier crashed in the Adriatic Sea due to technical failure. NATO also lost 25 UAVs, either due to enemy action or mechanical failure. Serbia's 3rd Army commander, Lt. Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic, claimed that Serb forces shot down 51 NATO aircraft, though no other source verified these numbers.
In 2013, Serbia's then-Defence Minister Aleksandar Vučić announced that Yugoslavia's military and police losses during the air campaign amounted to 956 killed and 52 missing. Vučić stated that 631 soldiers were killed and a further 28 went missing, and that 325 police officers were also among the dead with a further 24 listed as missing. The Government of Serbia also lists 5,173 combatants as having been wounded. In early June 1999, while the bombing was still in progress, NATO officials claimed that 5,000 Yugoslav troops had been killed in the bombing and a further 10,000 wounded. NATO later revised this estimation to 1,200 soldiers and policemen killed.
Throughout the war; 181 NATO strikes were reported against tanks, 317 against armored personnel vehicles, 800 against other military vehicles, and 857 against artillery and mortars, after a total of 38,000 sorties, or 200 sorties per day at the beginning of the conflict and over 1,000 at the end of the conflict. When it came to alleged hits, 93 tanks, 153 APCs, 339 other vehicles, and 389 artillery systems were believed to have been disabled or destroyed with certainty. The Department of Defense and Joint Chief of Staff had earlier provided a figure of 120 tanks, 220 APCs, and 450 artillery systems, and a Newsweek piece published around a year later stated that only 14 tanks, 12 self-propelled guns, 18 APCs, and 20 artillery systems had actually been obliterated, not that far from the Serbs’ own estimates of 13 tanks, 6 APCs, and 6 artillery pieces. However, this reporting was heavily criticised, as it was based on the number of vehicles found during the assessment of the Munitions Effectiveness Assessment Team, which wasn’t interested in the effectiveness of anything but the ordnance, and surveyed sites that hadn’t been visited in nearly three-months, at a time when the most recent of strikes were four-weeks old. The Yugoslav Air Force also sustained serious damage, with 121 aircraft destroyed.
Operation Allied Force inflicted less damage on the Yugoslav military than originally thought due to the use of camouflage. Other misdirection techniques were used to disguise military targets. 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, which NATO claimed was a mistake.
Relatives of Italian soldiers believe 50 of them have died since the war due to their exposure to depleted uranium weapons. UNEP tests found no evidence of harm by depleted uranium weapons, even among cleanup workers, but those tests and UNEP’s report were questioned in an article in Le Monde diplomatique.
In April 1999, during the NATO bombing, officials in Yugoslavia said the damage from the bombing campaign has cost around $100 billion up to that time.
In 2000, a year after the bombing ended, Group 17 published a survey dealing with damage and economic restoration. The report concluded that direct damage from the bombing totalled $3.8 billion, not including Kosovo, of which only 5% had been repaired at that time.
In 2006, a group of economists from the G17 Plus party estimated the total economic losses resulting from the bombing were about $29.6 billion. This figure included indirect economic damage, loss of human capital, and loss of GDP.
When NATO agreed Kosovo would be politically supervised by the United Nations, and that there would be no independence referendum for three years, the Yugoslav government agreed to withdraw its forces from Kosovo, under strong diplomatic pressure from Russia, and the bombing was suspended on June 10. The war ended June 11, and Russian paratroopers seized Slatina airport to become the first peacekeeping force in the war zone. As British troops were still massed on the Macedonian border, planning to enter Kosovo at 5 am, the Serbs were hailing the Russian arrival as proof the war was a UN operation, not a NATO operation. After hostilities ended, on June 12 the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne, 2–505th Parachute Infantry Regiment entered war-torn Kosovo as part of Operation Joint Guardian.
Yugoslav President Milošević survived the conflict and declared its outcome a major victory for Yugoslavia. He was, however, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia along with a number of other senior 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 in addition to electoral fraud, this was a factor in the overthrow of Milošević.
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 following the operation. 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.
In December 2002, 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. This was also extended to the Canadian squadrons deployed to the operation, 425 and 441.
Ten years after the operation, the Republic of Kosovo declared independence with a new Republic of Kosovo government.
Those who were involved in the NATO airstrikes have stood by the decision to take such action. U.S. President Bill 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 Yugoslav 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 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." President 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 up to that time in denouncing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević." The State Department also gave the highest estimate of dead Albanians. In May 1996, Defense Secretary William Cohen suggested that there might be up to 100,000 Albanian fatalities."
Five months after the conclusion of NATO bombing, when around one third of reported gravesites had been visited thus far, 2,108 bodies had been found, with an estimated total of between 5,000 and 12,000 at that time; Serb forces had systematically concealed grave sites and moved bodies.
The United States House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution on March 11, 1999 by a vote of 219–191 conditionally approving of President Clinton's plan to commit 4,000 troops to the NATO peacekeeping mission. In late April, the House Appropriations Committee approved $13 billion in emergency spending to cover the cost of the air war, but a second non-binding resolution approving of the mission failed in the full House by a vote of 213–213. The Senate had passed the second resolution in late March by a vote of 58–41.
There has also been criticism of the campaign. Joseph Farah accused the coalition of exaggerating the casualty numbers to make a claim of potential genocide to justify the bombings. The Clinton administration was accused of inflating the number of Kosovar Albanians killed by Serbs.
In an interview with Radio-Television Serbia journalist Danilo Mandic on April 25, 2006, Noam Chomsky claimed that Strobe Talbott, the Deputy Secretary of State under President Clinton and the leading U.S. negotiator during the war, had written in his foreword to John Norris' 2005 book Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo that "the real purpose of the war had nothing to do with concern for Kosovar Albanians", but rather "It was because Serbia was not carrying out the required social and economic reforms, meaning it was the last corner of Europe which had not subordinated itself to the US-run neoliberal programs, so therefore it had to be eliminated". On May 31, 2006, Brad DeLong rebutted Chomsky's allegation and quoted from elsewhere in the passage which Chomsky had cited, "the Kosovo crisis was fueled by frustration with Milosevic and the legitimate fear that instability and conflict might spread further in the region" and also that "Only a decade of death, destruction, and Milosevic brinkmanship pushed NATO to act when the Rambouillet talks collapsed. Most of the leaders of NATO's major powers were proponents of 'third way' politics and headed socially progressive, economically centrist governments. None of these men were particularly hawkish, and Milosevic did not allow them the political breathing room to look past his abuses."
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.
Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Ariel Sharon criticised the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia as an act of "brutal interventionism" and said Israel was against "aggressive actions" and "hurting innocent people" and hoped "the sides will return to the negotiating table as soon as possible". However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself from Sharon's statement, expressed his support for NATO's mission in the war and announced that Israel would provide aid to Albanian refugees, saying "We as Jews have a special sensitivity to suffering".
On April 29, 1999, Yugoslavia filed a complaint at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague against ten NATO member countries (Belgium, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the United States) and alleged that the military operation had violated Article 9 of the 1948 Genocide Convention and that Yugoslavia had jurisdiction to sue through Article 38, para. 5 of Rules of Court. On June 2, the ICJ ruled in an 8–4 vote that Yugoslavia had no such jurisdiction. Four of the ten nations (the United States, France, Italy and Germany) had withdrawn entirely from the court's “optional clause.” Because Yugoslavia filed its complaint only three days after accepting the terms of the court's optional clause, the ICJ ruled that there was no jurisdiction to sue either Britain or Spain, as the two nations had only agreed to submit to ICJ lawsuits if a suing party had filed their complaint a year or more after accepting the terms of the optional clause. Despite objections that Yugoslavia had legal jurisdiction to sue Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada and Portugal, the ICJ majority vote also determined that the NATO bombing was an instance of “humanitarian intervention" and thus did not violate Article 9 of the Genocide Convention.
Amnesty International released a report which stated that NATO forces had deliberately targeted a civilian object (NATO bombing of the Radio Television of Serbia headquarters), and had bombed targets at which civilians were certain to be killed. The report was rejected by NATO as "baseless and ill-founded". A week before the report was released, Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had told the United Nations Security Council that her investigation into NATO actions found no basis for charging NATO or its leaders with war crimes.
Moscow criticised the bombing as a breach of international law and a challenge to Russia's status.
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The Belgrade officials and policemen who took hundreds of murdered Albanians’ corpses from Kosovo to Serbia and concealed them in mass graves have never been prosecuted in their home country.
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