Int. Herald Tribune
US erred on Kosovo clip

By Roberto Suro

Paris, Tuesday, January 8, 2000

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon has disclosed that its explanation in April of a missile attack on a Serbian passenger train during the Kosovo war was flawed in one important respect: A videotape of the air strike on a railroad bridge was shown at nearly three times its normal speed.

But U.S. military officials denied that the tape had been sped up to make it seem that the pilot had little or no time to react to the arrival of the train on a bridge that was targeted for destruction.

Accelerated and compressed video images, normally used only for intelligence assessments, were displayed at a NATO briefing because U.S. officials were in a rush to explain the accident and no one realized the tape was running too fast, said P.J. Crowley, a Defense Department spokesman. All the other bombing videos made public during the Kosovo campaign were at normal speed, he said.

At least 10 people were killed on the train as it crossed the Grdelica ravine, 240 kilometers (150 miles) southeast of Belgrade, about noon on April 12, Yugoslav officials said.

At the time, Serbia and the United States were locked in a public opinion battle in several European countries, including some NATO allies, and the debate often centered on whether the United States was bombing indiscriminately.

The speed of events was a key element in NATO's explanation of the train bombing. At a news conference in Brussels the day after the accident, NATO's supreme commander, General Wesley Clark, said the video demonstrated that the pilot of an F-15 fighter-bomber had aimed at an empty bridge but the train then appeared so quickly that the crew had no chance to divert the missile.

Describing what the plane's weapons officer saw as he guided an AGM-130 missile to its target, General Clark said: ''At the very last instant, with less than a second to go, he caught a flash of movement that came into the screen, and it was the train coming in. Unfortunately, he couldn't dump the bomb at that point. It was locked, it was going to the target.'' The general called it an unfortunate incident ''all of us very much regret.''

[URL may be different next day if article is archived]