Operation Allied Force
Operation Noble Anvil

The Kosovo crisis began in early 1998 when large-scale fighting broke out, resulting in the displacement of some 300,000 people. A ceasefire was agreed in October 1998 which enabled refugees to find shelter, averting an impending humanitarian crisis over the winter. A Verification Mission was deployed under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). However, violence continued and the situation worsened significantly in January 1999. A peace conference, held in Paris, broke up on 19 March with the refusal of the Yugoslav delegation to accept a peaceful settlement.

Operation Allied Force was a NATO contingency response aiming at ensuring full compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1199 (Sept. 23rd 1998). Operation Noble Anvil was the American component of this NATO action to promote regional stability, cooperation and security, in support of the international community. At 1900 hours GMT on 24 March 1999, NATO forces began air operations over the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. These air strikes against Serbian military targets in the Former Yugoslavia sought to:

  1. Ensure a verifiable stop to all military action and the immediate ending of violence and repression in Kosovo;
  2. Withdrawal from Kosovo of Serbian military, police and para-military forces;
  3. Agreement to the stationing in Kosovo of an international military presence;
  4. Agreement to the unconditional and safe return of all refugees and displaced persons, and unhindered access to them by humanitarian aid organisations; and
  5. Provide credible assurance of Serbian willingness to work on the basis of the Rambouillet Accords in the establishment of a political framework agreement for Kosovo in conformity with international law and the Charter of the United Nations.

NATO was prepared to suspend its air strikes once Belgrade unequivocally accepted the above mentioned conditions and demonstrably began to withdraw its forces from Kosovo according to a precise and rapid timetable. This would follow the passage of a United Nations Security Council resolution requiring the withdrawal of Serb forces and the demilitarisation of Kosovo and encompassing the deployment of an international military force to safeguard the swift return of all refugees and displaced persons as well as the establishment of an international provisional administration of Kosovo.

The multinational force was tasked by NATO to bring a swift end to hostilities committed by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia against ethnic Albanians in the southern province of Kosovo. The military objective of Operation Allied Force was to degrade and damage the military and security structure that Yugoslav President President Milosevic has used to depopulate and destroy the Albanian majority in Kosovo. The Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) delegated authority for the implementation of Operation Allied Force to the Commander in Chief of Allied Forces Southern Europe (CINCSOUTH), whose headquarters is in Naples, Italy. CINCSOUTH delegated control of the operation to the Commander, Allied Air Forces Southern Europe (COMAIRSOUTH), also based in Naples. Operational conduct of day-to-day missions was delegated to the Commander 5th Allied Tactical Air Force, at Vicenza, Italy.

The Yugoslavs apparently thought that they could wipe out the Kosovar Liberation Army in five to seven days as part of Operation Horseshoe. They thought thought once they did that, they could negotiate an arrangement for peace. The Serbian leadership apparently also assumed that NATO would never launch airstrikesm, and that once the airstrikes were launched they would be pinpricks lasting a few days. And they assumed that NATO would not remain unified long enough to carry out significant air attacks, which would quickly end due to political divisions within NATO.

Operation plan OPLAN 10601 "Allied Force" covered altogether five phases, which went from the transfer over a possible application outside of and within the air space of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia up to redeployment. The Application instruction (ACTORD) was effective from 13 October 1998, with simultaneous approval and preparatory exercises. The decision by NATO of 27 October 1998 was to maintain the ACTORD with execution dependent on further a NATO council decision. Constrained by the directive that collateral damage was to be avoided as far as possible, the concept of operations envisoned targeting based on a phasewise gradual, situation-adjusted application of NATO air forces, depending upon political and military developments. Operation Allied Force implemented, when ordered by the North Atlantic Council, phased operations which differ according to the attack targets and their geographical location.

  • Phase Zero - During Phase 0, released on 20 January 1999 as political signal, air forces of NATO were shifted for the accommodation of practice flight operation to their operational airfields.
  • Phase One -- Conduct limited air operations, such as air strikes against designated militarily significant targets. Phase 1 began on 24 March 1999 with attacks on the integrated air-defense system (e.g. weapon systems, radar facilities, control devices, airfield/aircraft) in the entire Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
  • Phase Two -- Since the authorization of this phase on 27 March 1999 attacks extended to the security forces infrastructure military in Kosovo and reinforcement forces (e.g. headquarters, telecommunication installations, material and ammunition depot, systems for production and storage of fuel, barracks). The authorization of this phase took place with the unanimous resolution of the NATO allies.
  • Phase Three - The focus of this phase, which was not authorized, was the expansion of the air operations against a broad range of particularly important targets of military importance north of the 44th parallel in the entire Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. [24 Apr. 1999 NATO Press Conference] By a month into the air campaign it became apparent to NATO that a constrained, phased approach was not effective. At the insistence of US leaders, NATO widened the air campaign to produce the strategic effects in Serbia proper. At the April NATO Summit SACEUR was given the flexibility to strike at additional targets, within the existing authority of phase 1 and phase 2 of the operation that were necessary to keep the pressure up, both on the tactical side in Kosovo and on the strategic side elsewhere in Yugoslavia.
  • Phase Four -- [support of stabilization operations?]
  • Phase Five -- [redeployment operations?]

The Phase One "Limited Air Response" provided a fast available, temporally limited and supported with small strength feasible air operations against military targets in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia - exclusive to the use of precision standoff weapons. Additional operations outside of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were provided for observation and for the air defense of the air space of NATO nations and Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as to the protection of SFOR. The selection of target categories with the target of the minimization of collateral damage with at the same time high political and military significance. Operation execution was required within 48 hours after decision of the NATO advice possible. This Operations Concept was approved on 21 August 1998, with application instruction ACTORD from 13 October 1998; the decision NATO advice of 27 Octover 1998 for maintenance ACTORD with execution dependent on further NATO council decision.

The early goal of Phase One of the campaign was to attempt to force Yugoslavia to the bargaining table. Some countries in NATO argued that it might be possible to do that with a few days or a week of attacks, without demolishing the whole country. Some of the NATO partners were initially prepared to wage only a phased air operation to show NATO's resolve in the hope of achieving an early settlement. The campaign did not begin the way that America normally would apply air power -- massively, striking at strategic centers of gravity that support Milosevic and his oppressive regime. The phased concept of operations of Operation Allied Force did not apply principles of military operations such as surprise and the use of overwhelming force, and this cost time, effort and potentially additional casualties, the net result being that the campaign was undoubtedly prolonged. NATO did not succeed in this initial attempt to coerce Milosevic through airstrikes to accept its demands, nor did it succeed in preventing the FRY pursuing a campaign of ethnic separation.

Initial air operations started at an altitude that was estimated to be appropriate for the air defense threat that was expected, which allowed attacks against fixed targets with guided munitions in Kosovo and around Belgrade. Flying at or above 15,000 feet, attack aircraft were flying only at night and were instructed not to make multiple passes or other maneuvers that would entail unnecessary risks. NATO gained air superiority over Kosovo and the rest of Yugoslavia by degrading Milosevic's integrated air defence system. After allied planes mistakenly bombed two refugee convoys on the same day near the Kosovo town of Djakovica, new tactics were implemented with pilots flying lower to identify targets better. The net result was increased risk to allied pilots. Three NATO fighter-bombers were hit by ground fire in early May, and an American F-16 crashed with engine failure over Serbia as a result of Yugoslav anti-aircraft fire.

As Yugoslavia demonstrated that it was completely unmoved and intransigent, the pressure and the tempo of the attacks grew, with the decision at the NATO Summit here on 23 April 1999 to expand the campaign. As the campaign continued, the target list expanded into so-called sustainment targets -- petroleum, lines of communication, electrical grids, and command and control targets.

Air operations did not attack some strategic targets because of anxiety among NATO's 19 governments that further accidental civilian casualties could erode public support for the operation. On 07 May 1999 NATO bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. The planned target was the Federal Directorate for Supply and Procurement in Belgrade but the wrong building was attacked. Following NATO's mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy, the alliance stopped hitting targets in the city for nearly two weeks while NATO authorities sought to ensure that another such mistake would not occur.

By mid-May NATO pilots had grown increasingly familiar with Kosovo's terrain and with the tactics of the Serbian Armed Forces on the ground. Pilots increasingly knew where Serbian forces were concentrated, which explained the change in the tactics of Serbian forces. They were operating in smaller and smaller units to make them harder to detect from the air. The downside for the Serbian forces is that this made them increasingly vulnerable to KLA ambushes, and it also made Serb forces less mobile to the benefit of those Kosovars still living within Kosovo.

Responsive or "Flex" targets were targets in the fielded forces, and normally not targets that would be a static target like a bridge or a petroleum area or a building. Such targets move around, and would be located by various means, such as a pilot report or JSTARS. NATO had aircraft in the area that can respond rapidly to attack such "Flex" targets. Quick response options for targets that may pop up via different means included aircraft holding on a tanker outside the area waiting for a target to occur, aircraft on the ground waiting on alert, or aircraft diverted from another engagement zone to a target of opportunity.

During the first two months of air operations the majority of days the weather was unfavorable or marginal. Persistent low cloud cover over Kosovo and the rest of Yugoslavia forced the cancellation of many planned strikes. NATO had the capability to operate through solid cloud cover, however for a variety of reasons there were restrictions on operations in bad weather. The single biggest reason was the commitment to ensuring strikes against only military and military-related targets. Flying below the clouds is more dangerous from a technical standpoint, putting NATO air crews down into the range of tactical surface to air missiles, anti-aircraft artillery and small arms fire. It also highlights aircraft against the clouds, making them easier to see and target from the ground. Kosovo is a very mountainous area, and with the peaks of mountains frequently enveloped by the clouds, air crews were careful about avoiding terrain. The weather also provided some cover for the Serbian military to continue their attacks, and they took advantage of these times to conduct ground and air operations.

At the beginning of the operation, the weather was so poor that NATO could operate against fielded forces only about 15% of the time. Since those early days NATO adapted its tactics to take maximum advantage of its comprehensive array of intelligence gathering capabilities. By early May NATO was able to collect and distribute information efficiently so that air crews were able to react quickly to targets of opportunity. NATO also adjusted flying patterns to ensure a continuous presence of combat air power that is able to operate in the directed attacks against Serbian ground forces. NATO had planes circling, awaiting the call to strike from other aircraft flying forward air control spotter missions.

The fundamental factor in the conclusion of ALLIED FORCE was NATO's unity and resolve. NATO acted in a way that was tough, progressively tougher throughout the campaign. It failed to be deflected from its goals. This lesson was very clear to Milosevic, who had hoped he could outwait NATO. Secondly, both the precision and the persistence of the air campaign were fundamental factors in convincing Milosevic that it was time to end the fight. The air campaign, which started slowly but gathered momentum as it went on, became systematically damaging to his entire military infrastructure, not just the forces in the field in Kosovo, but throughout the entire country. The pounding his forces took during the last week had to have a huge impact on his determination to continue the fight. It had a big impact on the morale of the forces. Desertions were increasing, and there were increasing reports of lack of food, lack of fuel, lack of equipment, lack of will, lack of morale, and increasing dismay with the leadership not only of the forces but of the country, and an increasing feeling that they just saw no way out. And they realized, because of NATO's persistence, the situation was just going to get steadily worse.

On 3 June, President Slobodan Milosevic finally accepted peace terms presented by EU envoy President Martti Ahtisaari and Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin. With the authorisation of the United Nations on 10 June 1999, NATO forces deployed into Kosovo.

Chronology of Events

  • March 24 -- NATO launches air campaign, with the goal of crippling the Serbian war machine in Kosovo and enforcing compliance with the international peace plan drawn up at Rambouillet, France.
  • March 26 -- The first of a massive tide of refugees arrive in Albania.
  • March 27 -- A US F-117 Nighthawk Stealth fighter is lost near Belgrade but the pilot is recovered.
  • March 31 -- Three US soldiers are snatched by Serb forces after an incident on the Macedonian border.
  • April 1 -- Moderate Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova is shown on Serb television talking with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
  • April 13 -- Yugoslav forces mount a cross-border attack on a village in northern Albania.
  • April 14 -- Yugoslavia claims that rockets fired by allied jets killed 75 people in two separate refugee columns. NATO later admits accidentally hitting a civilian vehicle.
  • April 20 -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin says Moscow "cannot break with leading world powers" over Kosovo.
  • April 21 -- Two NATO missiles smash into the headquarters of Yugoslavia's ruling Socialist Party.
  • April 23 -- NATO bombs the headquarters of Serbian state television. NATO leaders in Washington rebuff as inadequate an offer by Milosevic to accept an "international presence" in Kosovo.
  • April 28 -- Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic is dismissed after he accuses the country's rulers of "lying to the people."
  • May 1 -- Forty-seven bus passengers are killed when NATO bombs a bridge in Kosovo.
  • May 2 -- Three captured US soldiers are released into the custody of US civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.
  • May 5 -- NATO suffers its first losses when the two-man crew of a US Apache attack helicopter die in a crash in Albania. Rugova is released by the Yugoslav authorities and flies to Rome.
  • May 6 -- Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) agree on a framework for a peace plan which calls for the return of all refugees and the deployment of an international "security" force in Kosovo.
  • May 8 -- The Chinese embassy in Belgrade is hit by NATO missiles which kill three people. NATO describes the bombing as a "tragic mistake" caused by "faulty information."
  • May 10 -- Yugoslavia begins proceedings before the UN International Court of Justice in the Hague, accusing NATO of genocide. Belgrade says it has begun pulling troops out of Kosovo.
  • May 13 -- NATO dismisses as insignificant a reported pullout by 250 Yugoslav troops.
  • May 14 -- At least 79 people are killed and 58 wounded when NATO missiles hit Korisa, a village in southern Kosovo.
  • May 19 -- Milosevic and Russia's Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin back a settlement of the Kosovo conflict within the framework of the United Nations.
  • May 21 -- Russia says mediation efforts with the West are deadlocked. A NATO bomb kills 10 inmates in a Pristina jail.
  • May 22 -- A UN humanitarian mission visits Kosovo, as NATO admits bombing a position held by the KLA.
  • May 23 -- Fighting flares on border between Serb forces and Albanian police. President Bill Clinton says he no longer rules out "other military options".
  • May 26 -- NATO agrees to boost the number of troops in a future Kosovo peacekeeping mission from 28,000 to 45,000.
  • May 27 -- Milosevic and four other top officials are indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague.
  • May 29 -- Yugoslavia says it has accepted the Group of Eight principles for a peace deal in Kosovo.
  • May 30 -- NATO says it wants a clear, personal statement from Milosevic that he accepts alliance conditions before it will halt air raids. A German soldier dies when a tank crashes off a bridge in Albania.
  • May 31 -- At least 20 people are killed at a sanatorium at Surdulica, southern Serbia. NATO denies that its missles are responsible.
  • June 1 -- Belgrade says in a letter to Bonn that it "has accepted the G8 principles." European, US and Russian envoys meet in Bonn to hammer out a common policy for a peace mission to Belgrade.
  • June 2 -- The International Court of Justice rejects Yugoslavia's petition to order an end to NATO airstrikes. EU and Russian envoys travel to Belgrade for talks with Milosevic and hand him a peace plan worked out in Bonn with US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.
  • June 3 -- Talks in Belgrade resume for a second session. A Russian spokesman in Moscow says Yugoslavia viewed the peace plan as a "realistic" way out of the Kosovo crisis.
  • June 9 -- NATO and Yugoslav military authorities sign an agreement on the withdrawal of Yugoslav security forces from Kosovo.
  • June 10 -- NATO suspends air strikes.

Collateral Damage Incidents

    NATO has repeatedly denied that it deliberately attacks non-military buildings and insists that all possible precautions are taken to avoid civilian casualties. Serb officials put the death toll from the following incidents, most of which but not all NATO acknowledges as errors, at more than 460. Overall, they say, some 2,000 civilians have been killed since the start of the air campaign on March 24.

  • April 5 -- A 550-pound NATO bomb aimed at Yugoslav army barracks in Aleksinac in southern Serbia misses its target and lands in a residential area. Serbs put death toll at 17.
  • April 9 -- NATO hits homes near a telephone exchange in the Kosovo capital, Pristina. NATO said civilian casualties were possible but neither side provided a death toll.
  • April 12 -- A NATO pilot fires two missiles into a train crossing a bridge at Grdelicka Klisura in southern Serbia, killing 55 people, according to Belgrade. NATO insists the bridge, a key supply line for Yugoslav forces in Kosovo, was the target and that the pilot saw the train too late.
  • April 14 -- NATO bombs refugee convoys in the Djakovica region of south-east Kosovo, leaving 75 dead, according to Belgrade. NATO, without confirming the civilian toll, said it was targeting military vehicles but admitted hitting two convoys.
  • April 28 -- NATO, aiming for an army barracks in the Serb village of Surdulica (250 kms/150 miles south of Belgrade), bombs a residential area, leaving at least 20 civilians dead.
  • May 1 -- NATO bombs a bridge at Luzane near Pristina, killing 47 people aboard a bus which was travelling along it. NATO, without confirming the figure, admitted the following day having targetted the bridge without the intention of causing civilian casualties.
  • May 7 -- A NATO air raid hits central Nis in southeast Serbia, leaving at least 15 dead and 70 injured. NATO said its planes were aiming for a landing strip and a radio transmitter but that a cluster bomb had missed its mark.
  • May 8 -- NATO mistakenly attacks the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three journalists. The United States and NATO said the intended target was a Yugoslav building with military use, but US maps used in the planning of the operation were old and marked the embassy at a previous address.
  • May 13 -- NATO bombs the village of Korisa, leaving 87 civilians dead according to the Serbs. The allies claim that the civilians were being used as "human shields" and that Korisa was a legitimate military target.
  • May 20 -- A Belgrade hospital is hit by a missile at around 1 -- 00 a.m., killing three patients. NATO attributes the accident to a missile which went astray during an attack on a nearby military barracks.
  • May 21 -- NATO bombs Istok prison in north-west Kosovo. Alliance officials insist the prison was being used as an assembly point for Serb forces in the province. Serbs say at least 100 inmates and a prison officer were killed.
  • May 22 -- NATO admits bombing by mistake positions of the Kosovo Liberation Army at Kosare, near the border with Albania. Sources close to the KLA say seven guerillas were killed and 15 injured.
  • May 30 -- NATO bombs a highway bridge at Varvarin in a daytime raid in central Serbia. The Serbs claim 11 people died while attempting to cross the bridge in their cars. NATO has not confirmed whether there were cars on the bridge and insists the bridge was a legitimate military garget.
  • May 31 -- Missiles strike a sanatorium at Surdulica, southern Serbia, killing at least 20 people, according to the Serb authorities. NATO says it successfully attacked a military barracks in the town but refuses to confirm, or categorically deny, hitting the hospital.
  • May 31 -- A NATO bomb aimed at a military compound strikes a four-storey apartment block in the town of Novi Pazar. NATO confirms one of its bombs went astray and landed in a residential area. Serb authorities report 23 dead.
  • 1 June -- A NATO bomb landed in a residential neighbourhood in the Serbian town of Novi Pazar.

Basic Documents

Sources and Methods

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