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Friday, June 25, 1999 Published at 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK

World: Europe

Analysis: How Yugoslavia hid its tanks

Spot the difference: Belgrade claims Nato hit decoy tanks

By Paul Beaver

Last week, I watched the long lines of Yugoslav army (VJ) vehicles pulling out from Kosovo, especially in the area from Pristina airport and Kosovo Polje, the so-called cradle of Serb civilisation.

Kosovo: Special Report
I counted over 50 main battle tanks, including at least six of the latest M84A (T-72G) main battle tanks.

All had all been in hiding.

Within 24 hours of the Nato land forces entry into Kosovo, the VJ began moving their carefully hidden armour - tanks, armoured personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery and bridging units - from cover. In the village of Magura, T-55A main battle tanks clanked out of the cover of burnt out Albanian homes, sheds, workshops and orchards.

[ image: Nato targetting map: The whole truth?]
Nato targetting map: The whole truth?
The crew were cheering, feeling perhaps that they had achieved a kind of victory.

During the next seven days of travelling around Kosovo, I encountered only one burnt out armoured personnel carrier and two low-loaders with their back broken.

There was no real evidence of a successful Nato air operation against armoured vehicles.

[ image:  ]
There was, however, evidence of missiles and bombs which had not exploded - including a US$ 1.25 million AGM-88 HARM (High Speed Anti Radar Missile) on a highway and a Maverick anti-tank missile which had apparently missed its desired target and embedded itself in the road side verge.

So what about the 100 plus armoured vehicles which the Nato website claims were destroyed?

In Kosovo, there was no sign of them.

[ image: Another bomb dropped: But did it hit anything?]
Another bomb dropped: But did it hit anything?
The VJ had employed decoys - pneumatic rubber images of tanks which include heat sources for decoying thermal imaging systems carried by Nato aircraft; decoys used by Saddam Hussein and often procured from the Nato nations, including the British.

Just like the Gulf war, hundreds of the targets which were "destroyed" were decoys.

Bridges were destroyed but many were still intact. There was evidence of paint on the road - perhaps marked to show "damage" to fool Nato reconnaissance aircraft and satellites. Battle damage assessment is better carried out on the ground.

The VJ - including elements of forces which had fought in the Krajina war of 1995 (by the flags flown on the retreating tanks) - is relatively unscathed. Nato itself estimates that 45,000 troops, 250 tanks, 450 armoured personnel carriers and over 400 artillery/mortar systems were withdrawn from Zone 1 alone.

The moral of the story - air power is decisive but not all powerful. Battle damage assessment takes time and attacking individual targets hidden in the field is not best done from 15,000 feet.

But, it must be remembered that hidden tanks cannot be used against civilians.

Paul Beaver is spokesman for Jane's Information Group, London.

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