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Milosevic Residence Bombed In Predawn Strike on Belgrade

By Bradley Graham
THE WASHINGTON POST -- Four sea-launched cruise missiles slammed into a residence of President Slobodan Milosevic in a predawn attack on Belgrade on Thursday, and Pentagon officials declared NATO’s air campaign against Yugoslavia had broadened into an effort to decapitate the government.

The strike on the white mansion in a residential neighborhood of the Yugoslav capital gave a new personal dimension, involving targets that are closely associated with Milosevic and not strictly military, to the month-old allied offensive. It came a day after attacks on a tall Belgrade building that housed, among other things, offices of Milosevic’s Serbian Socialist Party and a television station operated by his daughter Marija.

In an exchange with reporters at the White House, President Clinton said NATO was not trying to target Milosevic. And Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder declared the action consistent with a long-standing U.S. presidential order prohibiting assassination attempts against foreign leaders. Another senior administration official said Milosevic is known to be spending his nights in various other locations.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon called the house a legitimate target because it included “security and military bunkers” and was operated as a “command and control facility” helping to direct the crackdown in the Serbian province of Kosovo.

“Much of the military and security forces are run out of a variety of buildings throughout the country, particularly in the Belgrade area,” he said. “They are all interconnected.”

Bacon said NATO’s intent was to target “the head of this military regime” in an effort “to cut that off and break the central nervous system” of the Yugoslav military. In the same vein, he described efforts to strike at Yugoslav tanks and troops in Kosovo as an assault on the regime’s “feet.”

U.S. authorities have warned for days that NATO air strikes were on the verge of going after new, more politically sensitive targets, after daily poundings of Yugoslav air defense sites, airfields, bridges, industrial facilities and military vehicles in the field failed to weaken Milosevic’s will and prompt a withdrawal of government troops from Kosovo. But the escalation, particularly against targets in downtown Belgrade and other heavily populated urban centers, also carried the risk of greater civilian casualties.

Briefing reporters on the results of 30 days of bombing was Rear Adm. Thomas Wilson, director of intelligence for the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Despite a great deal of damage, defense officials acknowledged little sign of a Yugoslav retreat. To the contrary, Bacon cited reports this week of Serb forces shelling homeless ethnic Albanians in the mountains near the town of Urosevac in southeastern Kosovo.