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Sizing up the war's damage

Two months of heavy bombing start to hurt Serb forces, but Milosevic

Whether NATO reports it took out another bridge, or plunged Yugoslavia into darkness again, the alliance has declared each day that the air campaign is wearing down the Yugoslav Army. But the pace at which Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic is losing his military is disappointing to NATO generals.

And NATO's goals - an end to "ethnic cleansing" and autonomy for Kosovo - seem no closer after more than 60 days. Ultimately, says NATO spokesman Jamie Shea, Mr. Milosevic will be the judge of how much military he is willing to lose. NATO expects many more weeks of strikes.

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So far, the hardest part has been in Kosovo itself. NATO jets go after anything military in nature, such as command posts, fuel, and ammunition dumps. But diplomats and military planners say picking off individual tanks, artillery pieces, and armored cars is painfully slow.

"I'm not surprised in the slightest" that the bombing campaign has gone on for two months, says Duncan Lennox, editor of the London-based specialist magazine Jane's Air-Launched Weapons. "And there are still many, many targets left to hit."

The bombing got off to too slow a start, alliance officials say. NATO bombers were 12 days into their campaign before they had dropped as much ordnance as was dropped on Iraqi targets during just the first night of the Gulf War.

NATO planes are currently flying an average of 585 sorties a day, but only about 200 of them carry bombs or missiles. The other sorties include air-patrol and reconnaissance missions.

NATO's first targets were the Serbian radar, antiaircraft missile sites, and airplanes that threatened alliance planes.

NATO now enjoys clear air superiority. Only two alliance planes have been brought down so far, after more than 23,000 sorties. But thousands of Serbian soldiers still have shoulder-launched "Manpad" surface-to-air missiles.

NATO spent a lot of time attacking Serbian strategic targets outside of Kosovo such as airfields, fuel refineries, electricity networks, and military headquarters (see chart, left).

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Not all have been clearly military targets, though, and political party offices, TV stations, Milosevic's home, and factories belonging to Milosevic's friends have been hit in a psychological campaign against the Serbian leader. The strategy is to "get up close and personal ... hit what is near and dear to him," in the words of a senior NATO diplomat.

The campaign has also done heavy damage to factories and businesses that Serbian officials say were private, civilian enterprises, and bombs hit the Chinese Embassy in what NATO said was a mistaken raid. Yugoslavia claims that 1,200 civilians have been killed in the bombing so far.

Key to NATO's strategy has been to knock out resupply routes between Belgrade and troops in Kosovo. Both major roads and both railway lines linking Kosovo to the rest of Serbia have been destroyed, making resupply difficult, NATO officials say.

NATO planners say they will continue to step up the number of daily raids, and that the only constraint is the limited airspace over Serbia. "We can intensify operations against Kosovo even more, to soften up the [Serbian] troops there even to the point where they might run," says one diplomat at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

If Milosevic does not surrender to NATO's demands, and if NATO governments are unwilling - as almost all of them seem to be - to send troops into Kosovo against anything but the most enfeebled opposition, several more weeks of increasingly heavy bombardment against fielded Serbian forces in Kosovo seem inevitable.

At the heart of NATO's strategy lies a mismatch. "What the military has been tasked to do - to destroy as much as possible of the elements supporting ethnic cleansing - does not translate into what people are interested in, which is when the refugees can go home," worries one NATO diplomat.

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