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Crisis 1999
News Archive 1999

NATO bombed dummies

Nato dropped thousands of bombs on dummy roads, bridges and soldiers ... and hit only 13 real Serb tanks

From Michael Evans, defence editor, in Pristina

NATO'S 79-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, which involved thousands of sorties and some of the most sophisticated precision weapons, succeeded in damaging only 13 of the Serbs' 300 battle tanks in Kosovo, despite alliance claims of large-scale destruction of Belgrade's heavy armour.

With Nato's Kosovo Force (Kfor) now spread out into every area of the province, troops from all the different nationalities taking part in the peacekeeping operation have been searching for destroyed or damaged tanks and artillery. They have, so far, come across only three crippled tanks.

During the air campaign, elaborate claims were made by Nato officials that hundreds of Serb tanks, artillery pieces, mortars and armoured personnel carriers had been struck. It was also suggested this was one of the main reasons why President Milosevic decided to cave in and agree to a ceasefire and the deployment of a large international peace-keeping force in Kosovo. Now some Nato officials are baffled about why he did surrender.

It was claimed that up to 60 per cent of Serb artillery and mortar pieces had been hit and about 40 per cent of the Yugoslav Army's main battle tanks had been damaged or destroyed. There were even reports of an attack by B52 bombers on a Serb brigade which was drawn out into the open by Kosovo Liberation Army fighters, leading to the death of up to 700 Serb soldiers.

However, before the Serbs finally withdrew three days ago, they informed Kfor that Nato had managed to hit 13 of the 300 or so tanks that they had deployed in Kosovo - most of which have been remove d from the province on low-loaders.

Kfor troops have found just three damaged T55 tanks left behind in Kosovo. "What we have found is a huge number of dummy tanks and artillery," one Kfor source said.

The Yugoslav Army used well-practised Russian camouflage techniques which involved placing dummies around the countryside, some of them next to dummy bridges with strips of black plastic sheeting ac ross fields as fake roads to delude Nato bombers into thinking they had a prime target to hit. "Whe n you're travelling at 500mph at 15,000ft, it is easy to be fooled," another Kfor source said.

When the Serbs finally withdrew from the province, at least 250 tanks were counted out, as well as 450 armoured personnel carriers and 600 artillery and mortar pieces.

Travelling around Kosovo, one sees many destroyed army barracks, state police buildings and oil ter minals, firm evidence that the Nato bombers were successful in hitting these prime targets. However, apart from the wrecks of a few trucks left behind by the Serbs, it is virtually impossible to spot a destroyed tank.

Source: London Times

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