Eveline Lubbers on Tue, 20 Apr 1999 01:41:06 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Serbs used CIA phone to call in convoy raid


Glasgow Herald, 19 april 1999

Serbs used CIA phone to call in convoy raid

IAN BRUCE, Geopolitics Editor 

The refugees targeted by mistake in the Nato raid involving
the U.S. Air Force last Wednesday died because a Central
Intelligence Agency undercover operation involving the
Kosovo Liberation Army went drastically wrong. 

More than 70 fleeing men, women and children were killed
as bombs straddled their convoy of tractors and trailers on
the Prizren to Djakovica road in Kosovo, producing a
propaganda disaster for Nato and triggering a furious
behind-the-scenes row between the Pentagon and the US
intelligence community. 

The Herald can now reveal that the fatal strike was called
in by the Serbs using a mobile phone and security
identification codes supplied to a KLA "spotter" by the CIA.
The man is believed to have been captured early last week
and tortured into telling what he knew. He was then

Intelligence sources said last night that a joint CIA-U.S.
special forces group operating out of the eastern Bosnian
town of Tuzla is running a group of KLA agents inside
Kosovo. These men are tasked with reporting the location
and movements of all Serb troops and police units via
mobile phones. 

The KLA spotters are being trained by the U.S. equivalent
of Britain's SAS - Delta Force - in camps set up in Albania.
They are taught to map read and transmit exact
co-ordinates of mobile Serb teams responsible for the
ethnic cleansing offensive inside the province. 

The co-ordinates are then passed to allied air operations at
Aviano air base in Italy and fighter-bombers vectored in to
attack with what was hoped would be pinpoint precision. 

The KLA fighters have individual identification codes for
their CIA handlers. Armed with those codes, the Serbs are
understood to have called in five different air strikes last
Wednesday in the hope of luring Nato into bombing
refugees. Two involved RAF Harrier teams. 

On those two occasions, the RAF pilots went below their
"safe flight ceiling" of 15,000ft to obtain visual confirmation
of their targets when they felt that something was not quite

On both occasions, they aborted the bombing runs.
However, on two other occasions, US pilots dropped
bombs. One of these incidents, when an F16 pilot hit the
lead tractor in a three-vehicle convoy, was admitted last
week after 19 hours of frantic examination of cockpit video
footage and at least two fumbled explanations of events. 

But the main incident, near Djakovica, remained a mystery
until last night. The Pentagon and Nato headquarters,
furious at what one officer described as "a typical
CIA-sponsored spook screw-up", have been fielding
awkward questions for four days without being able to tell
the truth or clear their military reputation. Alliance
politicians, including Tony Blair and Robin Cook, have tried
unsuccessfully to spin the intelligence shambles into
pinning the blame on Yugoslav President Slobodan
Milosevic for provoking the conflict in the first place. 

Part of this cover-up stems from the fact that the UK and
the United States both see a Western-trained and armed
KLA as the proxy ground arm of their campaign and a
means of avoiding the commitment of Nato ground troops
and inevitable heavy casualties. 

There are 40,000 Serb troops, police and paramilitary
volunteer units inside Kosovo, supported by an estimated
500 surviving armoured vehicles, including main battle
tanks and artillery, in small groups and well camouflaged. 

The SAS is understood to have about 70 men guiding in
allied jets and illuminating targets with laser designators.
But they are thin on the ground and the province consists
of more than 11,000 square miles of heavily-wooded hills
and mountains. The KLA has perhaps 25,000 men under
arms, scattered in small groups in the hills. 

The Serbs move in platoon-sized units of between 30 and
50 men, careful to hide their vehicles when they halt.
Barns, monasteries and mosques have all been used to
conceal the marauding armour from Nato pilots. 

An intelligence source said: "Milosevic must have laughed
himself sick. Using CIA-supplied mobile phones to lure US
pilots into doing a bit of final ethnic cleansing for him is a
neat trick and a major intelligence coup. 

"We were probably lucky it only worked twice. It's a pity
that 70-plus refugees who must have thought they were
within touching distance of safety had to pay with their lives
for a breach of security which could and should have been
foreseen. Perhaps the CIA should realise this is not
Nicaragua, where blunders could be buried without coming
under the spotlight of the world's media." 

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