The Bombing Campaign: Now for the Hard Part

When the planes start targeting Serb ground troops, the real danger starts.

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KOSOVO: So far, so good: Operation Allied Force has destroyed 50 Serbian military targets in two days -- big, immobile targets like weapons depots and troop garrisons -- and with the third wave of bombing under way Friday, NATO forces haven't lost a plane yet. But TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson says the easy part, known as Phase I, is almost over. "With the big, fixed targets, the pilots can stay higher up, out of harm's way," he says. But now NATO is transitioning into Phase II, where the F-15's, F-16's and A-10's will be going after the smaller targets such as tanks, artillery and troops, which will require them to fly lower. Says Thompson: "The targets are getting more dangerous for the pilots with each passing day."

Raising Pentagon blood pressures even further is the fact that Milosevic seems to be saving his porcupine of surface-to-air missiles for just such a juicy opportunity. "The worrisome thing is that the SAMs keep hiding so we can't target them, and you know they're going to poke their ugly heads out sooner or later," says Thompson. Wednesday night, only 20 percent of targets had directly to do with NATO's stated mission: halting the Serbs' assault on the Kosovars. But that percentage has been creeping up, and focusing the raids on agile Serb ground troops (armed not only with mobile SAMs but with deadly shoulder-launched SA-7 missiles) will put NATO's planes right where Milosevic wants them -- within striking distance.

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