The NATO Bombing of Yugoslavia

An example of destruction from the NATO bombing of Serbia.
An example of destruction from the NATO bombing of Serbia.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) bombing was a military action against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) in the Kosovo War. The operation involved airstrikes and bombing that began on March 24, 1999, and ended on June 10, 1999. The NATO operation code was officially known as the Operation Allied Forces. The bombings did not stop until the two parties Belgrade and the Kosovar Albanians reached an agreement that the Yugoslavian armed forces were to be withdrawn from Kosovo and this led to the creation of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) which began the mission of peacekeeping in Kosovo.

Historical Background

Kosovo experienced a state organized oppression after its quest for self-governance was dismissed. Albanian language television, newspapers, and Radio were restricted and shut in the 1990s. This followed the firing of Kosovar Albanians who worked in the institutions and public enterprises. The University of Pristina was dissolved in 1991 and later in September that year when the new school year began, Kosovar Albanian teachers were barred from accessing school premises, this forced the students to do home study. In 1996, Kosovo Liberation Army was formed that led the resistance against the Belgrade. Clashes between the two parties erupted in 1998. This resulted in the signing of a NATO treaty later that year that was supposed to end the fighting but this agreement was broken and fighting resumed two months later. NATO decided to form a military peacekeeping force that could stop the fighting in January 1999 after the killing of 45 Kosovar Albanians. In March that year, the negotiations of installing external peacekeeping forces broke as Yugoslavia rejected the idea. That forced NATO to install peacekeeping forced against their will.

Objectives Of The Operation

Following the meeting held at the NATO headquarters on April 12, 1999, the organization established objectives in resolving the Kosovo conflict. Their primary goal was to end the military action by the two parties and bring the fighting to an end. Other goals of NATO was to withdraw all police and military forces from Kosovo, station UN peacekeeping in Kosovo, foresee the safe return of refugees and people who were displaced, and to establish a political framework for Kosovo that was to conform with the international law.

What Happened During The Operation?

On March 23, 1999, the Yugoslavian government announced a state of emergency at its national television and claimed that NATO forces threatened to attack them. The government set troops and invested a lot of resources to engage in the war. Javier Solana, the Secretary General of NATO, directed the Supreme Allied Commander to begin air operation in FRY and the bombing started the following day. NATO used 1,000 aircraft in its bombing campaign. The first batch to bomb Belgrade was the Spanish Air Force. NATO military continued to attack the Yugoslavian military on the ground as well as in the air. April that year, ethnic Albanians who had been used as shields by the Yugoslavian forces were bombed. On May, the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was mistakenly bombed by NATO as they targeted the Yugoslavian military. This was followed by an apology and by NATO and the United States to the Republic of China. The bombing was suspended on June 10, 1999, when the Yugoslavian government agreed to withdraw its forces from Kosovo and the war came to an end on June 11.

Outcome Of The Operation

The Human Rights Watch reported that several hundred civilian deaths were witnessed. NATO military forces suffered less damage the only one being the plane crash on a night mission in Albania.

The Yugoslavian government claimed that the bombing caused an economic loss of $100 billion. The operation also led to the withdrawal of the Yugoslav forces from Kosovo and this restored peace as the United Nations supervised Kosovo politically.


Amnesty International reported that NATO forces targeted civilians deliberately, but NATO dismissed this report. Others also accused NATO of exaggerating casualties to justify their bombing. There was criticism from Moscow that the campaign was a breach of international law.


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