Nato Silent On Details Of Strikes

Posted: April 05, 1999

BRUSSELS, Belgium — NATO's briefing yesterday on the air campaign against Yugoslav forces produced a welter of statistics about tents, supplies, meals-ready-to-eat and blankets for ethnic Albanian refugees.

But even less hard data than usual were dispensed about the air strikes, apart from simplified maps, images of two targets struck, and generalized information about the campaign.

This is the unapologetic policy of U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, the NATO supreme commander who is running the show.

NATO will not say which aircraft dropped what on whom. Military briefers at NATO headquarters tell which targets were struck, but not those that were missed.

They duck any more detailed questions about the strikes ``for reasons of operational security.''

``What would the statistics do for you?'' Clark asked reporters over the weekend.

``There is almost nothing I can give you that, if I give it to you like that and it's printed, it can't help him,'' Clark said, referring to the adversary, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

``If I tell you how many missiles we fired or how many times the air defense activated, then he knows how much we know about his air defense.

``If I tell you how many aircraft are flying, each time, he checks it against his radar hits.

``If I tell you what the specific composition of a [aircraft attack] package is, then he knows what the purpose of each of the aircraft is and how they fit together in the package. And he develops more specific countermeasures,'' Clark said.

``This is a campaign that may go on for several more days, or weeks or months. And I have to protect that kind of sensitive information,'' Clark said.

The daily NATO briefing duo comprises Jamie Shea, a graying, 45-year-old Oxford graduate and professor of international affairs who serves as NATO's chief political spokesman; and Air Commodore David Wilby, a British officer with precise, meticulous presentation - and clear instructions to reveal nothing.

Wilby invariably begins with a talk on the refugee situation on the ground, but rarely a word about what the allies are doing.

For reporters who covered the Persian Gulf war, the difference is stark.

Marine Brig. Gen. Richard Neal, the main press briefer in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, who is now a CNN military analyst, and Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the war against Iraq, revealed virtual libraries of information.

Schwarzkopf decided to have high-ranking people brief reporters with lots of detail, while allowing knowledgeable officers to supplement that with solid information to be used as background.

While access to troops was sometimes troublesome, detailed information was available in the daily briefings.

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