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U.S. Sending 82 More Aircraft to Join NATO Forces

4/12/99- By Jim Garamone American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON -- A total of 82 more U.S. aircraft will join NATO's Operation Allied Force air campaign against Yugoslavia, DoD officials announced April 10.

The air package comprises 24 F-16CJ fighters, four A-10 close air support aircraft, six EA-6B Prowlers, 39 KC-135 tankers, two KC-10 tankers and seven C-130 transports. The addition will bring the total number of U.S. aircraft committed to about 500. The aircraft will come from stateside and European bases.

The aircraft will give NATO more deep-strike capability and help it increase the intensity of round-the-clock air strikes in Yugoslavia, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said. He said he expects other NATO allies will also beef up their contributions.

The 82 aircraft are separate from an earlier request for six F- 15C aircraft, which will deploy from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, DoD officials said.

There is no rotation schedule yet for U.S. aircrews flying Operation Allied Force strike and support missions, the DoD officials said.

So far there has not been a need to call-up reservists; any who have mobilized were volunteers. "Should we reach a point where we exhaust the volunteer pool, then we probably would have to seek a reserve call-up for pilots," Bacon said.

The weather has been affecting operations, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Wald, vice director for strategic plans and policy on the Joint Staff. NATO pilots hit five major targets on April 9 and four on April 10.

NATO is hitting primarily fuel supplies to cripple Yugoslavia's ability to sustain military operations, said Wald during an April 10 news conference. "Their command and control for both execution of operations and the integrated air defense systems were hit yesterday by both cruise missiles and NATO fighters -- F-15s and the like."

NATO is increasing operations over Yugoslavia. "We are flying day and night," he said. "The intention is to intensify our operations over Kosovo and to take the fight to the [Yugoslav army and police] throughout Serbia and Kosovo."

Wald said the request for more aircraft does not mean something is wrong with the air campaign. As the operation unfolds, some aircraft will be needed more than others and some can do a better job of attacking Yugoslav forces in the field, he said.

"We want to do it in an increased operational tempo," he said. "That will be adjusted as we go, and that's no surprise to anybody."

Task Force Hawk will bring 24 tank-killing Army AH-64 Apache helicopters to the airport at Tirana, Albania. Some of the ground support is already in place.

Air Force teams are working at the airport to increase its aircraft-handling capacity and make it available day and night and in bad weather. Operational missions, such as the equipment for Task Force Hawk, and humanitarian relief missions should be able to share the airport.

Wald said the humanitarian mission of caring for more than 600,000 refugees outside Kosovo is going well. He said military, governmental and non-governmental organizations are working well together. For the time being, the U.S. offer to take in 20,000 Kosovar refugees is on hold.

"The United States remains prepared to receive refugees as needed, but our indications are the refugees would prefer to stay closer to home with their families," Wald said. "[Kosovo is] where they live, and they want to go back to their homes later. So we're prepared to receive them as we need, but there isn't any need as of today."

Officials estimate up to 700,000 "internal refugees" are in danger in Kosovo. Bacon said there have been recent reports out of Kosovo that young women are being herded into a camp near Dakovica, in southwest Kosovo, then raped and killed by troops. He called the reports an "eerie and disturbing echo" of documented Bosnian war atrocities.

Wald said fighting continues inside Kosovo, despite an alleged unilateral Easter cease-fire declared by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.