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By SGM Herbert A. Friedman (ret.)

NATO aircraft took part in an aerial bombing and propaganda campaign over Kosovo and Serbia in early 1999. In the opening days of an earlier Serbian ethnic cleansing campaign American forces were involved in Bosnia in an operation called "Provide Promise." Two "food drop" leaflets were disseminated during that early stage of what we might call "the Serbian problem." Over one million leaflets were dropped between February 27 and March 1 of 1993.

At a later date, a number of additional "consolidation" leaflets were prepared with the themes of explosives warning, the IFOR radio frequencies, and most interesting, Children's Superman comic books with a "Deadly Legacy" anti-mine theme.

In early 1999 the Serbs again seemed intent on purifying their lands of all foreign ethnic groups. Television reports told of thousands of ethnic Albanians persecuted, raped, or murdered. This time it was the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that took action. NATO demanded full compliance with UN Resolution 1199 of September 23, 1998. The resolution called for all parties to cease hostilities.

At a meeting held March 15, 1999, in Paris, the Kosovar separatists agreed to a cease-fire, but the government of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic refused. NATO warned that refusal to cease hostilities against the Kosovar civilians would lead directly to military force. After a week of Serbian refusals, the 19-member organization unanimously agreed to initiate air strikes. The first occurred at 2 p.m. EST, on March 24, 1999. NATO aircraft pounded military and political targets within Serbia as part of "Operation Allied Force." Several weeks later, fighter aircraft attacked Serb military forces in Kosovo.

No NATO leaflets were dropped during the first week of bombing. This was surprising. Since the Serbs tightly control their news, it was thought that the people in the countryside had no idea why they were being bombed. It was important for NATO to explain to the masses that the bombing was a direct result of Milosevic's stubbornness, and would cease the moment Serb military forces were pulled out of Kosovo.

The Serbs had dropped aerial propaganda leaflets on the Kosovars on several occasions. In August of 1998 a Serbian Internal Affairs Ministry aircraft had dropped leaflets over Kosmet and the southern province of Kosovo-Metohija calling on all ethnic Albanians to return to their homes. The leaflet guaranteed their safety. The leaflet printed in Serbian and Albanian stated "The Government of Serbia knows the difference between our Albanian citizens and terrorists. Every citizen wants peace in Kosmet." It continued "Terrorists can bring nothing good. They only bring evil…take your villages, put guns in your hands, dishonor your women and girls, take your money for the so-call Kos Liberation Army, and block roads."

The Serbs dropped leaflets again in April of 1999. These leaflets were dropped over the displaced person's camp outside of Kisna Reka in Kosovo. As before, the leaflets told the ethnic Albanians that it was safe to return home and promised safe passage. Most of those who were targeted by the leaflets decided that it was far safer to stay away from the Serbian forces.

NATO finally responded in early April 1999. American Hercules EC-130 Commando Solo aircraft from the 193rd Special Operations Wing broadcast propaganda programs to the Serbs that filled the airwaves with news and films of the thousands of refugees caused by Milosevic's ethnic cleaning in Kosovo. This aircraft, flying from Ramstein Air Base in Germany is able to broadcast AM, FM and TV images over any frequency.

At the same time, other aircraft dropped 2.3 million Serbo-Croatian leaflets over Yugoslavia on the weekend of April 3 and 4. These leaflets told the people why they were being bombed, and how it could be stopped. The majority of the drops were over the northern area of Yugoslavia where there was little knowledge of the atrocities occurring in Kosovo.

NATO reported a second leaflet drop of 2.5 million leaflets overnight on April 10 and 11. These leaflets were dropped during the Orthodox Easter weekend, and explained that NATO would stop if Yugoslavia withdrew its forces from Kosovo, allowed refugees to return home, and accepted an international peace force in the province of Kosovo.

NATO Strikes propaganda leaflet

NATO Strikes propaganda leaflet

The first three NATO leaflets are the standard 6 x 3" size, considered the optimum for pinpoint dropping on selected targets. The first (fig. 1) has black text on white paper. The text is in Serbo-Croatian and Cyrillic. The left side of the leaflet is blue. There is a NATO symbol at the right and the word "HATO."

When turned over (fig. 2), the paper is all white, the NATO symbol is at the upper left and lower right, and two words are highlighted in red. There is no code number on this leaflet, but the official code number is 04-Q-07-L0001-d. The title of this leaflet is "NATO Strikes." The text on this leaflet says, "In March 1998, the United Nations called for a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Kosovo. Since then the international community has made every effort to find a peaceful compromise. On March 18, 1999 the Kosovar Albanians agreed to a plan that would disarm the KLA and keep an autonomous Kosovo as a legal part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. However, your political leadership not only spurned this opportunity, but also stepped up its military campaign of repression and violence against the entire Kosovar Albanian population. The Interim Political Agreement – the road to peace."

Text on the other side of the leaflet states, "As a direct result of your government's actions, NATO has conducted air-strikes against military targets. NATO has no quarrel with the Serb people, or their right to national Sovereignty. NATO and the international community still desire a peaceful solution for Kosovo." The leaflets were first dropped on the far-northern town of Subotica.

NATO Strikes propaganda leaflet

NATO Strikes propaganda leaflet

The second leaflet (fig. 3) is somewhat similar. It has the same NATO symbol and word "HATO" at the lower right. They are in blue. The rest of the text is in black and the paper is white. When turned over (fig. 4), the paper is all white, the NATO symbol is at the upper left and lower right in blue, and several words are highlighted in blue. The title once again is "NATO Strikes."

Some of the text reads "For the last week Serb armies and police, under direct orders of Slobodan Milosevic, have emptied the villages and towns of Kosovo and burned or destroyed thousands of houses. Heads of families have been pulled from the arms of their wives and children and shot. Thousands of innocent and unarmed people are feared dead. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are fleeing Milosevic's pogrom. Do not allow misguided patriotism to blind you to his atrocities. NATO defends the defenseless" The code number on this leaflet 04-B-02-L001.

Is it really his to gamble? Propaganda Leaflet

Is it really his to gamble? Propaganda Leaflet

The third leaflet (fig. 5) bears two photographs. One side shows a rather gruff looking Slobodan Milosevic. The text and photo are in black on white paper. The text beneath the photo of Milosevic reads "For years, Slobodan Milosevic has gambled with the future of the Serb people. His policies have lost Krajina, Western Slavonia, Baranja, and Sarajevo. Now he gambles again with his pogrom in Kosovo. He is wagering Serbia's sacred places, her place in the world, and the lives of his own people. Are these truly his to lose?" The other side of the leaflet (fig. 6) shows a burning building. Text next to the burning building reads " Is it really his to gamble?" This leaflet is coded 04-B-02-L002.

In mid-April of 1999, the NATO attack plan added tactical strikes against the Serb military forces in Kosovo to the strategic bombing of Serbia. Aircraft searched out troops, vehicles and armor taking part in the Kosovar persecution.

A new series of leaflets threatening the Serb military forces was prepared. Each of these took the NATO four-pointed star and turned it into crosshairs as might be seen through a target scope.

Don't wait for me! Propaganda Leaflet

Don't wait for me! Propaganda Leaflet

The first (fourth overall in the new series) leaflet (fig. 7) pictured an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter in the foreground, and a small Serb tank silhouette in target crosshairs in the background. The Apache helicopter is armed with a M230 30mm multi-barrel chain gun and 16 laser-guided Hellfire missiles. The Hellfire has a range of 4.4 miles and a speed of Mach 1.7. It is a deadly tank killer.

This leaflet was dropped as early as April 15. The leaflet says in Serbo-Croat, "Don't wait for me" on the front beneath the helicopter. Text on the back (fig. 8) reads "Attention VJ (Yugoslav Army) Forces! You can hide, but NATO forces still see you. Remain in Kosovo and face certain death; or leave your unit and equipment, and get out of Kosovo now. If you choose to stay, NATO forces will relentlessly attack you, with many different weapon systems, from many different nations, from the land, from the sea, from the sky. Stop following Milosevic's orders to commit genocide and other atrocities against civilians in Kosovo. You are responsible for your own actions, and ultimately will be held accountable. The choice is yours." The text is in black except for the first and last lines which are in blue. The code number is 03-Q-09-L004.

Don't wait for me! Propaganda Leaflet

Don't wait for me! Propaganda Leaflet

The fifth leaflet (fig. 9) is similar. It pictures an A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft commonly known as "the warthog" in the foreground. The Thunderbolt is firing a missile. Once again, a small Serb tank silhouette in target crosshairs is shown in the background. The A-10 is armed with a GAU-8/A 30mm seven-barrel Avenger cannon which fires approximately 4,000 armor-piercing rounds per minute, and six Maverick missiles. The Maverick has a range of 25 miles at subsonic speed.

Text on the front of this leaflet beneath the aircraft reads "Don't wait for me!" Text on the back (fig. 10) reads "Over 13,000 Yugoslavian service members have already left the armed forces because they can no longer follow the illegal orders in Milosevic's war against the civilians in Kosovo. Remain in Kosovo and face certain death, or leave your unit and equipment, and get out of Kosovo now. If you choose to stay, NATO forces will relentlessly attack you from every direction. The choice is yours." The text is in black except for the first and last lines which are in blue. The code number is 03-Q-09-L004.

A sixth leaflet shows a number of Yugoslav tanks rolling forward. The lead tank is covered with target crosshairs. These leaflets were reported dropped on Yugoslavia by F-16 aircraft about April 16. Some of the propaganda tells the people of the crimes committed by Milosevic's forces. The leaflet is entitled "NATO remains adamant to protect the vulnerable of Kosovo…" and states that the Serbs "have emptied villages and towns in Kosovo, burning or destroying thousands of homes." It says that Milosevic is "gambling with the future of the Serbian people."

A seventh leaflet shows target crosshairs on a Serb tank. Text on the back reads "Attention Serbian Armed Forces. You are a NATO target. Halt your current operations and return to your garrisons immediately. If you fail to follow these instructions, NATO will continue to attack your unit. Save your lives. Flee while you can."

An eighth leaflet gave the frequencies of five radio and television channels that the people could tune in to receive NATO radio and television broadcasts. The leaflet has the title "We want to speak to you." The stations listed are Radio Kosova (102.2 kHz), B-92 (92.5 kHz) 106.4 kHz and 1003 medium wave (AM). Television channel 21 is listed, but I understand that only fuzzy pictures and weak audio can be heard over this channel.

A ninth leaflet shows a photograph of Slobodan Milosevic with an arrow pointing backwards. The text above the president's name read "No gasoline, no electricity, no trade, no freedom, no future." This leaflet was dropped in late April as a warning of the coming bombing of crucial services like electricity and water. On May 3 NATO attacked the hydroelectric power station west of Belgrade and darkened much of Serbia. The weapon used was a bomb containing thin graphite wires and particles that short-circuit the power lines, but do not destroy the generators. There were continued attacks on oil and gasoline stocks, and talk of a NATO boycott.

The text on the back of this leaflet says "As long as Milosevic is going to continue his program of destruction, rape, and murder in Kosovo, Serbia will go deeper into isolation. Don't be prisoners of Milosevic's awfulness."

By April 29, over 19 million leaflets had been dropped over Yugoslavia. Many of these leaflets were dropped along the Kosovo border where Serbs troops were operating. Belgrade radio reported that NATO had dropped propaganda leaflets on April 27 near the Macedonian border and over Novi Sad on April 29. This number grew to 33 million leaflets by May 9, with 14 leaflet drops over 12 cities in Yugoslavia.

There was no mention of leaflet drops for several weeks, than another flurry at the end of May. The first mentioned the alleged dropping of thousands of NATO leaflets over Serbian troops in Kosovo on May 26-27. This leaflet was meant to remind the Serb military leadership that they were being watched and their crimes would be prosecuted. The officers were told that their names had been collected and evidence of genocide, killings, ethnic cleansing, rapes, forced deportations, mass graves, looting, destruction of homes, destruction of religious and cultural objects, and crimes again humanity were being recorded.

This information was being collected and forwarded to a tribunal in The Hague. The leaflet reminded the troops that every commander and other Army officer is responsible for the behavior and acts of his subordinates. It reminds soldiers that they do not have to obey illegal orders because everything will be documented and they will pay the consequences. These leaflets list the names of the commanders of the units operating in Kosovo.

Among them are MG Vladmir Lavarevic from the Prishtina Corps, COL Milos Mandic of the 252nd Armor Brigade, COL Mladen Qirkovic of the 15th Armored Brigade, COL Dragan Vhivadinovic of the 125th Motorized brigade, COL Kirsman Jelic of the 243rd Mechanized Brigade, COL Bozhidar Delic of the 549th Motorized Brigade, COL Milos Kosan of the 53rd Air Defense, and MAJ Vhelko Pekovic of the 52nd Battalion of Military Police.

It should be noted that the Allies did something similar during WWII when they would show the photographs and dossiers of certain Nazi leaders and mention that the hangman's rope was awaiting them.

On May 29, two additional leaflets were mentioned in the press. Pentagon officials announced that NATO was trying to exploit friction between Yugoslav Army troops and the Interior Ministry Police by exacerbating the situation. NATO is dropping leaflets that read "Attention VJ Troops! While you endure NATO bombing in the field, low of fuel and supplies, unpaid and past your service obligation, the MUP return home to count the profits from their confiscated 'booty.' They draw regular pay, use your equipment at our expense, and investigate you for not following their orders. The only thing you share is blame for blame for the MUPs atrocities."

The police are considered to be more loyal to President Slobodan Milosevic and are better equipped and often receive better treatment than their army counterparts. The inequality of treatment has created a long-standing animosity between the two services. Once again we should mention that this technique was used in WWII to cause friction between the German Wehrmacht and the SS, and again in the Persian Gulf to point out inequalities between the Iraqi conscripts and the Republican Guard.

The second leaflet reported on May 29 pictures the USAF B-52 Stratofortress. It was reported that two such aircraft were seen over Pristina at 1400 GMT dropping leaflets that warned Yugoslav troops to leave Kosovo. The leaflets said "NATO is now using B-52 bombers to drop MK-82 225-kilogram heavy bombs on the Yugoslav Army units in Kosovo. Every B-52 bomber can carry more than 50 of these bombs. These planes will keep coming back for you until they expel your unit from Kosovo and prevent you from committing atrocities. If you want to survive and see your family again, abandon your unit and weapon and leave Kosovo immediately! Thousands of bombs…and the will, and the power, and the support of the entire world to relentlessly drop them on your unit." The back of the leaflet shows a B-52 dropping bombs.

The expressed reason for these leaflets from the very first day was to educate the common Serb of the reason for the bombing. For instance, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said on April 11, "We have dropped leaflets on Yugoslavia…to allow any willing Yugoslav to be able to read the position of the international community…."

There were some negative comments about the leaflet campaign. A number of Serbs indicated that the language was stilted and incorrect and not as good as the leaflets dropped by the Nazis during WWII. This could be an attempt to attack the technical quality of the leaflet while ignoring the message -- The old "shoot the messenger" ploy.

In Vojvodina an elderly man was quoted as saying that the Nazi leaflets were good for cigarette rolling paper, but the NATO leaflets "aren't even good for that." Many academians believed that the threats and bullying tactics would harden the will of the Serbs.

Perhaps a stronger criticism was made by one of our ex-military officers who spent a lifetime in psyops. He said, "Where is the empathy with the masses? Where is the expression of sorrow for the disruption in the lives of the innocent? Where is the expression of regret for the damage to the infrastructure? It sounds as if our total psyop effort is about as subtle and psychological as a turd in a punch bowl." A rather colorful way to express one's disdain of the campaign.

In addition, it seems that the Serbs are using bacteriological threats to frighten their own people and keep them from picking up the leaflets.

The Serbs have been masters of using the Internet for their own purposes. One letter in Soc.culture.yugoslavia was entitled "NATO is using biological warfare." It went on to state that "I have already wrote you that NATO airplanes are dropping propaganda papers from time to time on cities all over the country. And, those papers are found to be bacteriological positive. There's another thing…workers who were packing these papers in airplanes were wearing special anti-bio-chemical suits…strange?" This attempt to frighten the masses with germ or explosive scares is an old trick used on many occasions in warfare. The last thing a government in power desires is that you pick up and read enemy propaganda.

At the conclusion of the operation 104.5-million leaflets had been dropped by NATO, 34 different leaflets in 31 distinct varieties. There were numerous themes. Some of the more interesting ones are:

  • Divide and conquer. The leaflet telling the Army that the police were better equipped and committing crimes that the military would be blamed for.
  • Overwhelming strength of NATO forces. The leaflets showing helicopters, fighter aircraft, rocket-launchers and B-52 bombers.
  • Leave your equipment. The leaflets showing Serb tanks in crosshairs.
  • Criminal acts of the Serb military. The leaflets showing crying Serb women and children.
  • The threat of punishment. The leaflet naming Serb military commanders.
  • Crimes of the leader, not the people. The many leaflets showing Milosevic, and stating that NATO was fighting the political leadership and not the people of Yugoslavia.
  • Corruption of the leader. The many leaflets showing Milosevic's son as a playboy in Belgrade, or showing yachts and villas allegedly owned by the president.
  • Explanations. The leaflets explaining Serb crimes against the Kosovar people and the UN resolution.

The entire Kosovo operation was studied in depth in Lessons from Kosovo: The KFOR Experience, Larry Wentz, The Command and Control Research Program (CCRP), 2002. He said:

The KFOR information operations “weapons of choice” were public information, PSYOP, Civil-Military Cooperation, and the Joint Implementation Commission. Use of disinformation and deception were not allowed. Only “white” PSYOP was employed, and there was no KFOR-led counterpropaganda campaign in spite of extensive use of propaganda by the Serbs. The general rule of thumb was “do not react to disinformation. Instead, react to selective issues of importance and tell the truth.” The goal was to create conditions for the implementation of a political settlement. This resulted in themes such as: promote a safe and secure environment, deter violence and criminal activities, encourage a free and open society, promote a positive UNMIK and KFOR image, and mine and UXO awareness, to name a few. The target population was mainly 20 to 50 year olds and was a mix of Roma, Turkish, Albanian, and Serbs. Teenagers were not a major factor in the KFOR information campaign. In Bosnia, the German PSYOP product “MIRKO” was specifically targeted for teenagers, and was one of the more useful products produced by the IFOR/SFOR information campaign. A similar product was not funded for Kosovo and little effort was directed at addressing teenagers’ needs.

Wentz says in part in regard to the 315th U.S. Army Reserve PSYOP Company and its interaction with the maneuver brigades:

The PSYOP company consisted of a tactical PSYOP detachment with three tactical PSYOP teams (TPT) and a product development detachment (PDD), located at Camp Bondsteel. In order to meet Multinational Brigade (East) force protection requirements, each TPT consisted of four military personnel plus an interpreter. Although the PDD developed and produced their own products, they did some local contracting for publishing as well. The PSYOP team used print media, radio, television, and face-to-face dissemination. The PDD could generate print products in 12 hours or less once approved. Radio scripts could be done in less than 2 hours. However, getting product approval for dissemination could take up to 12 days.

One of the other big challenges was timely and accurate translation into Albanian and Serbian. TPTs were also used to support special events, such as the 1-year anniversary of the liberation of Kosovo. They also supported cordon and search missions where weapons were confiscated. In these cases, the TPTs deployed with loudspeakers in order to help the maneuver battalion with crowd control should a disturbance occur. In addition, the PDD developed 5 to 7 print documents weekly and a newsletter, the K-FORUM a one page, front and back newsletter. Other publications were the Dialogue, the KFOR magazine produced in Pristina and the Multinational Brigade (East) PAO published Falcon Flier when it was available. Posters addressed a variety of issues, such as reporting crime, the KFOR and local veterinarian program to capture stray dogs, and mine awareness.

In addition to producing and disseminating fliers, handbills, posters, and other print products, the PSYOP Company was capable of producing radio and television programming. There were two Serbian radio stations, Radio Max in Silovo and Radio Zupa in Brezovica. There were seven Albanian stations under contract: Radio Festina in Urosevac, Radio Victoria in Gnjilane, Radio Iliria in Vitina, Radio TEMA in Urosevac, Radio Energji in Gnjilane, Radio Pozaranje in Pozaranje, and Radio Kacanik in Kacanik. UNMIK ran a joint Albanian/ Serbian radio station in Kamenica. The number of contracted radio stations grew from 6 regional stations in April 2000 to 14 by the end of July with coverage that extended to all 7 municipalities across the brigade’s sector.

PSYOP team also launched a cross training exchange with the German, UK (referred to as Shadow Element) and French PSYOP elements. PSYOP fliers were distributed to the public as different needs or events arose. Fliers announced curfews, explained KFOR actions, and promoted community-building initiatives.

Although the shooting phase of the war is long over, Kosovo is still an open wound. On 17 February 2008, Kosovo formally declared itself an independent and democratic state backed by the United States and key European allies but contested by Serbia and Russia. In the capital, Pristina, revelers danced in the streets, fired guns into the air and waved red and black Albanian flags in jubilation at the birth of the world's newest country. Two years earlier in October 2006, a Serbian referendum had declared Kosovo an integral part of Serbia. In June 2007, U. S. President George Bush said that Kosovo needs to be independent “sooner rather than later.” After the independence announcement Serbian President Boris Tadic urged international organizations to immediately reject the act, “which violates the basic principles of international law.” Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, a former rebel leader of the now-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army, said “Kosovo will never be ruled by Belgrade again.”

Thirteen years after the manhunt for war criminal Radovan Karadzic began; he was finally tracked down and captured in Belgrade. He had been working as a doctor before his arrest. He had disguised himself as an intellectual with a white beard, a mane of hair and black robe. He used the false name Dragan Dabic and was a doctor of alternative medicine with a clinic in Serbia’s capital Belgrade. He had also founded a Belgrade magazine called Healthy Life and wrote for it.

He had been free for over a decade, but with the appointment of a new, pro-European government in Belgrade that hopes to join the European Union, Serbia was under considerable pressure to hand over indicted war criminals to the UN tribunal in The Hague.

Karadzic was ordered to be extradited for trial at the UN war crimes court in The Hague, Holland. There was jubilation in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. During the war in the former Yugoslavia, the Serbs shelled the city for 43 months and carried out merciless ethnic cleansing against Bosnian Muslims and Croats. In the worst atrocity in Europe since World War Two, 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Karadzic’s troops in Srebrenica. Karadzic was charged with several counts of genocide, persecutions and other crimes when forces under his command killed non-Serbs during and after attacks on towns throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A preliminary catalogue of NATO leaflets can be found here.

Anyone with any additional data please write to the author, Herb Friedman or the editor of the Falling Leaf, Lee Richards.

This article is an updated version of the story first told in:
The Falling Leaf. No. 165. Summer 1999.

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