Why do the Chinese claim that their embassy was bombed intentionally? Ronald Lewis examines the theories.
PERHAPS THE MOST significant issues that have arisen since the June of AFM was published, are the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and the disheartening loss of civilian life in other mistaken or accidental attacks.
The Western media, and the public it serves, have been deeply affected by the loss of innocent lives, but often, what does not come through is that many of the casualties have been unavoidable. Worse yet, Serbian propaganda efforts have gone virtually unchallenged as web pages and interview statements maintain a constant tirade about pregnant mothers, babies, and the elderly falling victim to NATO attacks, as reported for the May 20 bombing near a hospital in Belgrade. An objective look at the Serb web sites reveals that, among the 18 photos of the hospital damage, there are none of glass-strewn delivery rooms. And what of the concealed military vehicles and camouflage netting next to the hospital?
Although some NATO weapons have been mis-targeted, two things need to be borne in mind; 1) the construction techniques of buildings with load-bearing walls exacerbates the effects of shock waves from nearby air strikes and 2) some of the weapons which have gone ‘astray’ could have been victims of Serb ground fire. In one recent report by Serb media, it was said that a missile detonated in mid-air after being hit by AAA fire. The general news media is, unfortunately, so ill-informed about military ordnance that it often fails to recognise propaganda when it sees it.
After the tragic bombing of a refugee convoy near Djakovica on April 14, an NBC reporter described seeing a ‘bomb fin’ for a 1,0001b (454kg) bomb marked as ‘M-K-82’. In fact, the Mk 82 general purpose bomb is a 5001b (227kg) weapon, not 1,0001b, and the Mk 82 stencilling is usually applied to the bomb body, not the fins of the guidance unit attached to what then becomes a GBU-12. As mentioned last month, it is clear from the evidence that at least some bodies were posed near bomb craters for benefit of the cameras — anybody that close to the detonation of a 5001b bomb would have been torn apart.
The west’s general media has made other serious mistakes throughout this war, including its coverage of the US Army patrols along the Kosovo-Macedonia border. Last month, you could not be told the following detail because three US soldiers captured in Macedonia on March 31 were still being held captive. Two days before their capture, an NBC camera crew had accompanied another three-man patrol in the same general area. Both NBC and the US Army should be made to explain why the video was not screened prior to airing, because it showed those soldiers noting cruise missile impacts inside Kosovo and using a radio to relay information. In effect, that action could have been construed as forward artillery observation and could well have been used in any trial the Serbs dared to prosecute. The reporting was completely irresponsible.
But those troops would still have been wearing UN-blue armbands and driving white Humvees as part of a United Nations peacekeeping force, had it not been for China’s petulant decision, in January of this year, to veto the extension of Macedonia’s peacekeeping force because it developed diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
In early May, China made no secret of its open support for the Yugoslav Government and newspapers were reporting that US films in China were being pushed aside to make way for anti-war and pro-Serbian films. A few days later, a blundering targeting error blamed on faulty maps would send three GPS-guided JDAM bombs from a high-altitude B-2 bomber slamming into the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. The Chinese Government exploited this for everything it was worth. Riotous demonstrations against US diplomatic missions in China ensued, egged on by a government which not only incited the attacks but even facilitated them by providing transportation to the US Embassy in Beijing!
What did the US have to gain from bombing a Chinese Embassy? Nothing. What did the Chinese have to gain from exploiting the tragedy? For one, it allowed them to twist facts and say that the long-standing Chinese nuclear spying scandal in the US was created to divert attention from the bombing. Secondly, the Chinese tried to extort membership in the World Trade Organization, something they had previously failed to do by normal means. Finally, it allowed the Chinese to vent some of the mounting tension surrounding the upcoming tenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, thus diverting it away from the Chinese leadership.
Although the embassy bombing was a monumental blunder, let’s objectively examine some of the more interesting Chinese statements about the tragedy and ask some hard questions. If China honestly felt that this was a deliberate attack, an act of war, why did it not openly ally itself with Yugoslavia? Firstly, it knows Yugoslavia is going to lose and it knows that its government will be the subject of a war crimes enquiry — not the best of photo opportunities for leaders who have their own problems with separatist movements and massacres. Secondly, the government might then have to answer some painful questions about what it was doing in that Belgrade embassy. Just why was it so close to the intended target, a Yugoslav arms and procurement agency? And why do the Chinese claim that the attack was intentional? They say it’s because the bombs seemed to focus on the communications and defence attache’s portion of the embassy. Is this an honest belief or is it actually because the Chinese are self-conscious about having such a large portion of their embassy devoted to communications and defence matters in a capital city in a state of war? There appears to be more here than meets the eye, and the huge Chinese response seems to be more of a cover for what is really going on, than a true expression of outrage.
As predicted last month, NATO has targeted bridges in order to isolate forces in the field and to cut off any escape. Airfields are being hammered on a regular basis to prevent takeoff of any aircraft, including light attack planes that Serb propaganda claimed would be flown by American and German pilots to launch attacks on Albanian citizens and blame the Serbs. As this is being written, at the end of May, clear weather is now allowing NATO aircraft to launch unprecedented numbers of attack sorties. To give some idea of the scope of the operations, more than one-third of all frontline USAF fighter aircraft are now involved, and the force of 165 tanker aircraft assigned is roughly the same number of refuelling planes assigned to Operation Desert Storm.
Questions have been raised about the nonparticipation of the AH-64, and why the A model has been employed when the more advanced AH-64D Apache Longbow exists. The simple answers are that the AH-64 was never designed to go into combat without ground troops. The downing of helicopters in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 3, 1993, haunts the Pentagon, as well it should. Once the heliborne infantry is deployed and armour is advancing, the AH-64AS will come into their own. Until then, they would be a poor waste of attack helicopters. As for the AH-64D, only one unit, assigned in the United States, is operationally capable on the type, and it only became so a few months ago.
It has also been revealed that US Air Force AC-130U Spectre gunships have been active along the Kosovo-Albanian border at least since April 14. Although the AC-130 is capable of hitting pinpoint targets with devastating precision and monitoring traffic at night with its
FLIR sensors, it is also vulnerable to shoulder-fired SAMs, as demonstrated by the loss of one Spectre during Operation Desert Storm. However, since the AC-130s belong to Special Operations Squadrons, it’s likely that an AC-130 played a role in the rescue of a downed F-16CG pilot on May 2.
As last month’s article went to press, NATO began dropping BLU-114 ‘soft bombs’ to disable electrical power systems. This weapon was an improved version over the type deployed against Iraq in 1991 because it uses strands of graphite rather than the unrestrained filaments that permanently damaged Iraqi electrical stations. Instead of understanding that NATO only wanted to disable and not destroy the Yugoslav power grid, the Serbs boasted of their efforts to get power back on line. Eventually, NATO was forced to do permanent damage, destroying several electrical facilities. The Serbs decry the impact on hospitals and water-pumping stations — but of course this power is also supplied to air defence radars for area SAM batteries.
Early in the campaign, NATO tried to inflict limited damage on the Novi Sad oil refinery, striking only the critical structures necessary to knock it off-line. An oil embargo was proposed. The Serbs vowed to get around it. Now, in progressive strikes, the Novi Sad refinery has been effectively demolished. If you cannot stop the enemy’s oil supplies, then stop his capacity to refine it.
The reality is that Slobodan Milosevic will have to answer for all of this, either to the international war crimes tribunal that recently indicted him, or to the will of his own people. There have already been protests and dissent in Yugoslavia and, in one town, it was reported that a mayor in Milosevic’s party was hanged. He knows that his time has come. If he had only heeded his own words, spoken in early August 1995, when he rebuffed urgent Croatian Serb pleas for help by saying: «Hundreds of thousands of people would have avoided the horrors of war if the Vance-Owen plan was accepted over two years ago. The consequences of rejection of dialogue are great loss of life, the loss of the territory of the Serb Krajina, an exodus of the people, ceaseless bloodshed and power wrangles in Republika Srpska.”
The danger is that Milosevic will expand the war by fomenting trouble in Macedonia, starting a civil war in Montenegro, or moving against the ethnic Hungarians in northern Vojvodina province, particularly now that Hungary has allowed US refuelling aircraft and F/A-18Ds to be stationed there. If history holds any lessons, truces, treaties and promises are only intended to buy time for Milosevic before he can start another bloodbath and wrap himself in a protective cocoon of nationalism.
This is why NATO is not negotiating and this is why, despite embassy bombings, damage to hospitals, the deaths of innocents, and all of the other bloody tragedies of war, this fight must continue to a decisive victory. If not, there will be no end to the bloodshed, possibly for years to come.