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Monday, October 12, 1998 Published at 17:57 GMT 18:57 UK

Analysis: Nato's military options

Kosovo Section
Nato's plans for military action in Kosovo centre on preparations for a phased air campaign. Ground troops may be used in follow-up action.

Defence Correspondent Mark Laity examines NATO's military options
Major Charles Heyman, Editor of Jane's World Magazine, said: "We are probably looking at a two-phase operation.

"The first phase is an operation from the air, designed almost certainly to hit, first of all air defence sites and then also communication sites at virtually the same time.

"Then, I think, they are going to try to cut Kosovo off from the rest of Serbia by destroying the rail and road links to be sure that even if the Serbs wanted to, there would be no way that they could reinforce into Kosovo."

Nato strength

[ image:  ]
Nato is assembling a considerable force, although any actual operations will be dominated by the United States.

The US 6th fleet is in the Mediterranean, made up of submarines, aircraft carriers and warships.

More than 230 planes, other than those with the 6th fleet, are also ready for action including six B52s and two B2 Stealth bombers.

Thirteen of the 16 Nato members are expected to provide aircraft.

Chief news correspondent Kate Adie with the US 6th Fleet
Nato commanders are concerned about the Yugoslav military's relatively elaborate air defence system, so they will be anxious to suppress that quickly, probably mainly with cruise missiles.

Beyond that, many of the Serb forces in Kosovo have been operating in fairly small, mobile units - making them difficult targets.

Probable targets

Nato is likely to concentrate its attentions on command centres, rear bases, barracks, logistics depots, and ammunition stores.

But defining the pilots' exact task is no easy matter.

[ image: More than 250,000 have been made homeless since the offensive began]
More than 250,000 have been made homeless since the offensive began
Nato knows from bitter experience in Bosnia that pin-prick attacks are next to worthless and missiles cannot tell a war criminal from an innocent infantryman or a civilian.

It must pitch the level of force at just the right amount needed to warn off Mr Milosevic's forces.

The uncertainty, and the test of nerves for Nato governments, will be how much military pressure will be enough for the alliance to achieve its aims.

There is also the risk of reprisals against Western and other targets on the ground, and that any action might initially increase the flow of refugees.

Ground troops ready

Nato is looking at ground deployments as well but, at the moment, mainly in the context of supporting any agreed ceasefire or peace settlement which might eventually emerge.

Large numbers of units on standby throughout the US and Europe.

Key points of entry for those troops will probably be through Macedonia, for American forces, and via the Albanian port of Durres, for the French and British.

Pristina air base, in Kosovo itself, is also likely to be central to any land operation.

Major Heyman says he believes ground troops may have to be deployed for a lengthy period.

He said: "Eventually Nato will have to commit up to 50,000 troops and we have got to expect them to be there for 10 years in order to get some way to some kind of solution for this problem."

John Nicol: "Ground troops would be incredible step"
And John Nicol,a former RAF airman who was shot down during the Gulf War, says air strikes would achieve little without ground troops.

He said: "Air strikes would make us feel better but without Nato intervention on the ground there is nothing to stop the killing from continuing."

Nato's goal is not to punish Mr Milosevic, but to bring about a swift ceasefire that would enable thousands of refugees to return to their homes before the onset of the worst of the winter weather.

The BBC's Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus says how bombing will achieve this is by no means clear.

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