US & Allies Devise Plan for Air Strikes Against Serbs in Bosnia
The Milwaukee Journal
8 February 1994.
“All those who are depriving us of this natural right to self-defense will be considered accomplices in this crime.” – Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic
The United States and its NATO allies essentially have completed their military planning for air strikes over Bosnia, but the Pentagon remains leery of such a move because of the serious risks involved, US officials say.
Defense Secretary William Perry, while acknowledging that air strikes were “among the options” being considered by the allies, said Monday, “we’re trying to … minimize the problems and the limitations.”
The Pentagon, acting on a request from the White House, drew up a full-fledged mission plan in August, defense analysts said. It includes a list of aircraft and crews that would be needed and a wide choice of targets, depending on the military objectives.
Those targets range from Serbian troops and artillery now surrounding Sarajevo to Serbian-controlled artillery bases, ammunition dumps, command centers and logistics depots. US planners have coordinates for each and update them continually.
US officials say the planes could be ready to go “within an hour” of any decision by NATO leaders to proceed with the attacks. The NATO Advisory Committee, a high-level planning panel, is slated to meet in Brussels on Wednesday.
In Washington, a new package of military options mixed in with a call for more vigorous diplomacy was approved Monday night at the White House by top US policy-makers for presentation to the council Wednesday.
The most striking element in the package was the French suggestion that NATO issue an ultimatum to the Bosnian Serbs to remove their artillery or risk a NATO attack.
“We’re lining up with the French on this,” said an administration official who described the results of the White House meeting on condition he would not be identified.
President Clinton was briefed in Shreveport, La., by Anthony Lake, his national security adviser, who flew there Monday night and then returned Tuesday to Washington for another White House meeting of the senior policy-makers, administration officials said.
“They are putting the finishing touches on the package,” said another official, who insisted on anonymity.
The overall aim is to lift the siege of the Bosnian capital while mediators pursue a diplomatic settlement among the warring Serbs, Croatians and Bosniaks. In this regards, the Clinton administration is seeking some territorial concessions to the Muslim-led government, which has been forced by the Serbians and Croatians to surrender most of the former Yugoslav republic.
Ejup Ganic, vice president of Bosnia-Herzegovina, said on CBS-TV that “people (in sarajevo) expect now or never. That’s what ordinary citizens are saying. Of course we are busy burying our dead. We hope America will speed this procedure within NATO.”
In Moscow, Russian foreign minister Vitaly Churkin, former special envoy to the former Yugoslavia, indicated that Russian would block any effort by the United Natioins to authorize punitive air strikes.
Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev warned that an escalation of the fighting around Sarajevo could lead to World War III.
Robert Gaskin, a former Pentagon war planner, said the air operation would entail an estimated two weeks of gruelling, round-the-clock bombing with conventional weapons — a far cry from the precision down-the-chimney high-tech bombing seen during the Persian Gulf War.
He and other military experts warned that air strikes would pose some serious risks, both to Bosnian civilians and to possibly drawing the allies into a protracted war.
NATO military experts in Brussels say strikes against Bosnian Serb positions around Sarajevo would be effective but they should not be seen as some kind of magic pill that would end the war.
The main purpose of air strikes would be to demonstrate NATO’s capability and willingness to act and to chip away at Serbian morale and military power.
But air power would not necessarily prevent atrocities such as the bloodbath that claimed 68 lives in a Sarajevo marketplace over the weekend, NATO experts said. Nor would air strikes, which would have an estimated 80% to 90% success rate, have to be followed up by ground operations — a “myth” the experts in Brussels want to explode.
In the gray area between enforcing the flight ban over Bosnia and a full-scale invasion by allied troops, there’s a lot that could be done by N ATO, military experts say.
Bosnian officials say the West at least has the moral duty to stop the Bosnian genocide allow them to defend themselves.
“All those who are depriving us of this natural right to self-defense will be considered accomplices in this crime,” said Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic after a single shell killed 68 in the Sarajevo marketplace.
NATO knows that air strikes could not possibly take out all the Bosnian Serbs’ heavy weapons and certainly not all light artillery pieces such as mortars.
Bosnian Serb forces, which have been besieging the Bosnian capital for 22 months and showering the city’s 380,000 inhabitants with constant shelling and sniper fire, could easily transfer their light weapons and set them up elsewhere.
But UN reconnaissance both on th e ground and in the air over the last few months have provided enough intelligence for NATO to be confident of neutralizing many of the Bosnian Serbs’ heavy weapons.
While French aircraft have been flying reconnaissance missions over Bosnia on a virtually daily basis, UN forces have been locating and evaluating targets from the ground.
NATO countries have stationed about 140 planes near the Balkans, most of them in Aviano in northern Italy. Half the pilots under NATO’s southern command in Naples are available for air strikes in Bosnia.
The other planes are interceptors, according to NATO sources, who also said NATO was ready to back up any peace plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina with ground troops — probably some 50,000 — should an agreement be reached by the warring factions.