FROM SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA BALKAN AFFAIRS
NATO's Secret Losses
How Serbs Launched Stealth Raids Destroying Scores of NATO Aircraft on the Ground
Unsung Heroes of Serbian Air Force: "Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee"
By Bob Djurdjevic
SCOTTSDALE, Arizona, Aug 29, 2006 - Sometimes, the truth comes out in dribbles, years after an event has taken place. Two new stories out of Belgrade about NATO's 1999 war on Serbia make this point. To appreciate their significance, however, we must turn our clocks back to April 16, 1999...
That Friday, Day 24 of NATO's war on Serbia, NATO had launched its first daytime bombing raids on Belgrade. The air raid sirens went off mid-morning, just as this writer was meeting with the Serbian Patriarch Pavle, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church. From then on, daytime attacks became routine. Such an escalation of war was a clear sign that NATO leaders were getting exasperated. The bombing was supposed to last 7-10 days and result in a surrender of Serbia, according to a pre-war estimate by General Wesley Clark, then the supreme NATO commander. Yet here we were, already in the fourth week of the war, and there was no let up in the Serbian resolve to fight back.
What followed was a wild and woolly Saturday night, Day 25 of NATO's war on Serbia. Salvos of anti-aircraft artillery fire (AAA) filled in the audio gaps between detonations of NATO bombs and missiles. It was a horrifying symphony of death and destruction orchestrated from Brussels by one General Clark, and from Washington by one draft dodger Bill Clinton. Ground shook as the cold spring air whipped up by explosions occasionally swirled around this writer's head like a mini-tornado. Belgrade was getting it, Novi Sad was being pounded (the second largest city in Serbia), Sremska Mitrovica was also taking heavy hits. But the worst off was Mount Fruska Gora, that lies between these three cities. It was being raked over by NATO bombers as if it were a meadow (click on the image left for a detailed map of this area and of the Balkans).
That Saturday night, as this writer was sending you live reports from his laptop in the midst of this mayhem, first from Belgrade, then from the countryside near Sremska Mitrovica (see "Angry Skies over Serbia," Apr 17 and the map - left), a bold plan was being hatched in the Serb military headquarters. While the Serbs made NATO leaders believe that they were destroying Serbian tanks and planes (which later on turned out to be cardboard dummies cleverly made to look like real McCoys - see "How Serb Dummies Fooled NATO Dummies," June 1999 and the NATO Dummies UPDATE, July 1999), the Serbian Air Force was to stage two raids into neighboring countries, destroying scores of NATO aircraft on the ground there. They were to be a lightening strikes back at NATO, in which the Serbian warplanes were to "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee," to borrow the words of Muhammad Ali.
And that's exactly what happened around 1:30PM on Sunday, April 18, roughly the time this writer was returning to Belgrade from his overnight field trip to the Serbian countryside. He found the Serb capital threatened by a huge toxic cloud caused by the overnight bombing of the Pancevo oil refinery and chemical factory (see left photo). One could not help but think... where was Al Gore's concern for the environment then and there? (Bill Clinton's vice president was one of the chief proponents of NATO's war on Serbia). Oh well...
Meanwhile, it's interesting to note that neither Bosnia nor Albania, where these two Serb air strikes took place, are NATO countries. But "might makes right." NATO had used them anyway to launch military operations against Serbia as if they were its home turf. So they became fair game for Serb retaliation. This infuriated the mighty NATO into unleashing a fiery fury against Serbian civilian targets, such as those described in the opening paragraphs, and even the post office in Uzice, a city near the Ponikve airport from which the Serbian warplanes took off [click on the thumbnail image (right) to enlarge a detailed map].
To find out more about these truly stealth Serbian raids (unlike the F-117 "stealth" plane that the Serbian AAA downed on the fourth day of the war), check out the following excerpts translated and adapted from the original stories by Zvonimir Trajkovic, published in Serbian language...
"Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee:" Right Hook
"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" - Casius Clay's a.k.a. Mohammad Ali's famous boxing line describes aptly what happened in the early phases of NATO's war on Serbia. After it became evident that there would be no quick surrender of Serbia, NATO started to change its tactics. On April 8, 1999, eight NATO fighter planes arrived at the Tuzla airport in northeastern Bosnia (see above map), tasked with offensive bombing missions of special targets in Serbia (Tuzla is a predominantly Muslim city which was then as now under control of the central Bosnian Muslim government in Sarajevo). Prior to April 8, the Tuzla airport was primarily intended as the landing destination for NATO bombers hit by AAA fire over Serbia. So as of mid-April, there were 12 damaged NATO fighter planes on the ground there as well as four rescue helicopters, and several transport aircraft.
A strike force consisting of six Eagles J22 (left photo), two MIG 21s, and one Seagull G4 (right) was assembled at the Ponikve airport. At about 1PM on Sunday April 18, they took off from the Ponikve airport ready to pounce on NATO planes at the Tuzla airport, a 25 to 30 minute-flight. They flew low and arrived undetected by the Tuzla radar, which was sabotaged by a local Serb sympathizer. Even the AWAC surveillance plances failed to notice them until they were only 6 miles from Tuzla, too late for the NATO aircraft to take off. The Serb Air Force squadron struck at exactly 1:30PM.
According to Major Gavrilovic, who piloted one of the Eagles, he released his bombs on a group of damaged NATO planes on the ground, then turned around and came back to attack the helicopters, too. He was followed by three more Eagles who unloaded their deadly cargo to select targets. Two remaining Eagles stayed behind to mop up and hit the NATO planes getting ready to take off, as well as the eight fighter jets that had just arrived in Tuzla on April 8. The two MIGs and the Seagull finished off the NATO sitting ducks with missiles and machine gun strafing.
The entire action over Tuzla took about 15 minutes. One of the Eagles was downed on the return flight to base by a ground-to-air missile, killing its pilot, Lt. Col. Mihailo V. from Kragujevac. The other eight Serbian Air Force aircraft returned to the Ponikve airport. A MIG damaged by a ground-to-air missile, flown by Major Zeljko M. from Novi Sad, was forced to an emergency landing some six miles from the Ponikve runways.
Confirmed damage assessment at the Tuzla airport was 17 NATO aircraft and three rescue helicopters destroyed. Some unofficial observers claim that 21 NATO airplanes and three helicopters were destroyed, and that the subsequent ammunition and fuel explosions also took two out two transport aircraft. What reportedly caused special outrage among the NATO "supermen" was the loss of 11 of its officers, pilots and ground air force personnel in this raid alone.
But the hapless NATO leaders took out their rage on Serb civilians. For three days in a row, NATO aviation targeted Uzice and its vicinity, including the city center (a shopping area and the post office that are of no military or strategic value). They also dropped over 80 bombs and missiles on the Ponikve airport. But none of the airport's vital systems or aircraft were damaged. Ponikve continued to function normally till the end of the war.
The most important strategic victory for Serbia that the April 18 Tuzla raid represented was that the Bosnian airport was never again used by NATO during the bombing campaign against Serbia.
"Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee:" Jabs and Uppercut
Especially brazen and daring were the two Serbian Air Force attacks on NATO aircraft stationed at the Tirana airport in Albania which also took place in April 1999. That's where NATO had positioned a squadron of 12 Apache helicopters that were supposed to provide air support for the "Atlantic Brigade," a ground force that was supposed to attack Serbia from Albania, across the Kosara and Gorozup passes. The Atlantic Brigade consisted of some 6,000 Albanian volunteers from Diaspora, who were trained by American military instructors. Along with the KLA terrorists who operated inside Kosovo, but retreated to Albania, the Atlantic Brigade and the KLA were to occupy take the southern part of Kosovo since the NATO air campaign had not produced the desired results. So altogether, this was a ground force of some 20,000 fighters, including the foreign, mostly American, instructors and special forces.
The first air raid in Albania by the Serbian Air Force took place on April 13, when four Serbian warplanes attacked the preparation camp of the Atlantic Brigade near Kamenica in northern Albania. One of the Apaches was destroyed and serious losses inflicted on the Atlantic Brigade troops. This was repeated on May 5, when three Serbian Eagles and two Seagulls attacked the Atlantic Brigade several times within short intervals.
But one of the most spectacular actions the Serbian Air Force had undertaken against NATO took place on April 26, when the U.S. Apache air base near Tirana was attacked. That was a particularly risky operation as the flight from Ponikve airport to Tirana is almost an hour (54 minutes). So there was plenty of time for the technologically superior NATO aviation and the AWACs to detect the Serbian warplanes and take defensive action. As it turned out, they did not. And the result was devastating for NATO.
Two Seagulls G-4S took off from the Ponikve and Golubovci (near Podgorica, Montenegro) airports synchronized to arrive in Tirana about 20 minutes apart. The two Seagulls from Golubovci (Montenegro) arrived first, undetected, unleashing their fury on the unsuspecting NATO ground troops and helicopters. About 2o minutes later, the other two Seagulls (that had taken off from Ponikve) arrived, also undetected before reaching the target, having flown low through canyons and mountain ranges of southern Serbia and Kosovo (see the above map).
In the wake of the two air raids, five Apache helicopters were destroyed. All four Seagulls returned to base, though not necessarily the one from which they took off. The strategic significance of this attack was that NATO never used the Apache helicopters again for the duration of the war. And the ground offensive from Albania that was supposed to wrest Kosovo from Serbia never materialized.
(Translated and adapted from an article by Zvonimir Trajkovic, a political analyst in Belgrade, Serbia).
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Also see... Kosovo War & "Peace," "Put the UN Justice on Trial" - TiM Bulletin (8/17/98); "Milosevic: 'A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery'..." - TiM Bulletin (June 1998); Milosevic on Trial - Balkans Affairs (Feb 13, 2002); "An ugly double standard in Kosovo conflict?" (WT column, 10/25/98)
Also, check out... Truth in Media Statement on the Kosovo War, "Wither Dayton, Sprout New War?", "On the Brink of Madness", "Tragic Deja Vu's," "Seven U.S. Senators Suggest Ouster of Milosevic", "Biting the Hand That Feeds You", "A Balkan Affairs Potpourri", "Put the U.N. Justice on Trial", "International Justice 'Progresses' from Kidnapping to Murder", "Milosevic: 'A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery'...", "Kosovo Lie Allowed to Stand", "New World Order's Inquisition in Bosnia", "Kosovo Heating Up", "Decani Monastery Under Siege?", "Murder on Wall Street", "Kosovo: 'Bosnia II', Serbia's Aztlan", "What If the Shoe Were on the Other Foot?", "Serb WW II General Exonerated by British Archives," "Green Interstate - Not Worth American Lives", "An American Hero or Actor of the Year?" (A June '95 TiM story) and/or "Clinton arme secrètement les musulmans bosniaques", "Kocevje: Tito's Greatest Crime?", "Perfidious Albion Strikes Again, Aided by Uncle Sam", "Lift the Sanctions, Now!" (1993)
Or Djurdjevic's WASHINGTON TIMES columns: "Chinese Dragon Wagging Macedonian Tail," "An Ugly Double Standard in Kosovo Conflict?", "NATO's Bullyboys", "Kosovo: Why Are We Involved?", and "Ginning Up Another Crisis"
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