BOMBS OVER BOSNIA:THE ROLE OF AIRPOWER IN BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
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BOMBS OVER BOSNIA:THE ROLE OF AIRPOWER IN BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
MICHAEL O. BEALE
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE FACULTY OF
THE SCHOOL OF ADVANCED AIRPOWER STUDIES
FOR COMPLETION OF GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS
SCHOOL OF ADVANCED AIRPOWER STUDIES
MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, ALABAMA
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author. They do not reflect the official position of the US Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force, or Air University.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Major Michael O. Beale (BS, USAF Academy; MS, Embry-Riddle Air University) is an F-16 fighter pilot and currently a student at the School of Advanced Airpower Studies, Maxwell AFB, Alabama. Major Beale’s initial assignment was as an A-10 pilot at RAF Bentwaters in 1984. While there, he spent much of his time at Leipheim and Ahlhorn Airbases in Germany as part of NATO’s first line of defense against a Warsaw Pact invasion. Following that tour, Major Beale served as an instructor pilot and flight examiner at Vance AFB, Oklahoma from 1987 to 1989. From 1989 to 1992, Major Beale flew the lead solo position on the USAF Aerial Demonstration Team, the "Thunderbirds," at Nellis AFB, Nevada. In 1992, Major Beale rotated to Ramstein Airbase, Germany where he served as an F-16 fighter pilot. While there , he participated in Operation PROVIDE COMFORT, a Kurdish relief mission over northern Iraq, and in Operation DENY FLIGHT, an aerial deterrent mission over Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 1994, Major Beale attended Air Command and Staff College, before his current assignment to the School of Advanced Airpower Studies. He is a senior pilot with 4000 hours of flight time and is married to the former Karen Leslie Quinton of Martlesham, England. They have three children, Daniel, Dominic, and Bronte.
I would like to thank my professor Major Mark Conversino for his tireless efforts and support on behalf of my research on Bosnia-Herzegovina. He was always there to help and for that I am grateful.
NATO initiated Operation DENY FLIGHT at the request of the UN Security Council in April of 1993, in response to the on-going war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Two and one half years later, in December of 1995, DENY FLIGHT officially ended after an almost continuous 970 day "aerial presence" constituting over 100,000 aircraft sorties. In that time, NATO aircraft dropped more than 3000 bombs while participating in combat operations for the first time in Alliance history.
DENY FLIGHT’s initial mission was to enforce a UN Security Council mandated "no-fly" zone over Bosnia. This mission expanded in the ensuing months to include Close Air Support, when requested, for UN Protection Forces on the ground, and to deter Serb aggression against six UN designated "safe areas." By August 1995, warring Croats, Muslims, and Serbs had consistently violated the no-fly zone. The UN had documented over 5000 airspace violations, primarily by helicopters. Serbs, Croats, and Muslims had killed or wounded over one hundred UNPROFOR soldiers and aid workers and the Serbs had overrun three of the six designated safe areas. Serbs had also used UNPROFOR soldiers as "human shields" to guard against NATO airstrikes.
NATO took a more forcible stance with Operation DELIBERATE FORCE which was designed to break the "so-called" siege of Sarajevo and get peace negotiations back on track. Whereas DENY FLIGHT was generally ineffective in its mission, DELIBERATE FORCE was, in the word’s of US Secretary of Defense, William Perry, "the absolutely crucial step in bringing the warring parties to the negotiating table at Dayton, leading to the peace agreement."
To understand the role DENY FLIGHT and DELIBERATE FORCE played in getting a peace agreement signed, one must understand the political and historical context of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Ethnic animosities, severe economic hardships, and opportunistic leadership, combined with an uncertain post Cold-War landscape, merged to create a confusing and dangerous situation in Bosnia. By the late summer of 1995, the Bosnian Serbs, who early on controlled 70% of Bosnia, were in retreat. Serbia cut off its economic and political support of the Bosnian Serbs and a Bosnian/Croat Confederation Army had been gaining ground against the beleaguered Serbs throughout the spring and summer. Facing defeat and domination, the Bosnian Serb Army was a ripe target for a coercive bombing operation. DELIBERATE FORCE proved to be the coercive catalyst that led to the Dayton peace agreement and the current cessation of hostilities.
DISCLAIMER........................................ .................................................i i
ABOUT THE AUTHOR............................................ .............................iii
ABSTRACT.......................................... .................................................. v
1 A HISTORY OF DIVISION AND CONFLICT.......................................1
2 THE DEATH OF YUGOSLAVIA ACCELERATES..............................13
3 DENY FLIGHT: THE DETERRENT USE OF AIRPOWER.................26
4 OPERATION DELIBERATE FORCE............................................. .......44
5 CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS...................................... .........60
CHAPTER 1: A HISTORY OF DIVISION AND CONFLICT
English persons, therefore, of humanitarian and reformist disposition constantly went out to the Balkan Peninsula to see who was in fact ill-treating whom, and, being by the very nature of their perfectionist faith unable to accept the horrid hypothesis that everybody was ill-treating everybody else, all came back with a pet Balkan people established in their hearts as suffering and innocent, eternally the massacree and never the massacrer.
Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, 1943
He had not slept much the night before. He was too excited about this morning’s mission. With jet fuel in short supply and flying hours limited, Zvezdab Pesic knew that this was the most important mission of his life. The munitions factory at Bugojno was the only such plant that the Bosnian government had. A successful strike, coupled with the on-going UN arms embargo, would severely diminish the Bosnian government’s offensive striking power. Bombing deep in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in direct violation of UN resolutions, was risky, but the target was never more important, or the timing ever better. The crew of the American aircraft carrier was on shore leave in Trieste. The NATO units at Aviano Airbase, Italy, would probably not turn a wheel all day due to bad weather. Besides, the Vrbas valley was deep and wide enough that the planned six-ship formation could fly down it and avoid enemy radar with ease, popping up just long enough to deliver munitions on the target that Zvezdab had memorized in every detail. Even if enemy fighters engaged his flight, what were the chances of them actually shooting? NATO had never fired at anyone in anger and the UN had done nothing to counter any aggressive acts, yet.
Briefing, taxi out, take-off and join-up were uneventful. Four minutes later, as the Serb flight entered Bosnian airspace flying into a gorgeous sunrise, Zvezdab’s senses were alive. It was great to be flying again but his head was on a swivel, keeping his flight lead in sight and scanning the horizon for enemy aircraft. Twenty-five minutes later, the Jastreb pilot was releasing his weapon within perfect altitude, angle, and airspeed parameters. Looking over his shoulder, he watched with pride as his bombs exploded five seconds after he hit the pickle button, right on top of the factory. In thirty minutes he would be shutting down his engine and reuniting with his fellow pilots. It was at this moment of euphoria, that Pesic watched the number six aircraft explode twice, once as an AMRAAM AIM-120 air-to-air missile slammed into its fuselage, and three seconds later as the aircraft hit the ground two hundred feet below. Forty-five seconds later, number four exploded in the same fashion, but from where? The Jastreb pilot did not have long to contemplate as beads of sweat were replaced by expanding rods from an AIM-9M Sidewinder perforating his body. His last conscious sight was the earth rushing up to meet him.
Pesic died on 28 February 1994. NATO F-16s shot down four of the six Serb aircraft in that organization's first-ever combat engagement, as part of Operation DENY FLIGHT, which lasted from 12 April 1993 until 20 December 1995. During that time, NATO aircraft flew more than 100,000 sorties in support of the United Nations in Bosnia-Herzegovina. DENY FLIGHT was initially implemented to enforce a no-fly zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina. As the operation evolved, the UN authorized NATO to fly additional missions providing Close Air Support (CAS) to UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) soldiers on the ground, if requested, and to protect UN designated safe areas.
Geopolitically, Operation DENY FLIGHT demonstrated the UN’s resolve to get more forcefully involved in ending the deadly ethnic fighting on Europe’s doorstep. Operationally, DENY FLIGHT escalated from primarily a deterrent operation towards a more coercive use of airpower. It culminated in Operation DELIBERATE FORCE, a two week bombing campaign designed to lift the siege of Sarajevo. As a deterrent, NATO aimed DENY FLIGHT at the Bosnian Serb Army,(BSA) which the UN considered the aggressor in the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The BSA had achieved most of its operational objectives prior to April of 1993 and controlled nearly 70% of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Serb leadership was interested in keeping this territory, and negotiating politically to legitimize their gains. Deterrence initially worked well under these circumstances, but as strategic reversals replaced BSA successes, the deterrence threshold rose. In essence, the Bosnian Serbs were more willing to violate UN resolutions and risk a NATO response as they saw their military power eroding. UN and NATO inconsistencies in responding to violations underscored the lack of an internationally unified and resolute political stance, thus doing little to discourage or deter the Serbs.
By the late summer of 1995, much of this had changed. The combined Bosnian Government Army (BIH) and Bosnian-Croat Army (HVO) outnumbered the Bosnian Serbs. NATO and the UN were also more politically united following a series of humiliations at the hands of the Serbs and were thus more willing to use force to coerce the Serbs. Milosevic had also earlier cut off Serbian aid and support to the Bosnian Serbs. Alone, outnumbered, and facing imminent defeat and domination, the BSA was a ripe target for a coercive bombing operation; one designed both to break the siege of Sarajevo and to bring the Bosnian Serb leadership to the bargaining table. DELIBERATE FORCE proved to be the coercive catalyst that led to the Dayton peace agreement and the current cessation of hostilities.
For the purposes of this study, "Bosnians" are those people within Bosnia fighting on the side of the government of that newly recognized country, whether they are Serb, Croat, or Muslim. Serbs, Croats, and Muslims are all nationalities, while Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina are nations. Admittedly, the Muslim religion is a faith, but Muslims were designated a "nationality" by the Yugoslav constitution in 1974. In this paper I will use Bosnia and Bosnia-Herzegovina interchangeably, although in reality, Herzegovina is the southwestern part of the country, where Croats are the majority nationality. Because Serbia and Montenegro are the only republics left in the former Yugoslavia, now known as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia or FRY, some speak of the JNA as the Serbian army. The JNA, by default, is now mainly Serb and Montenegrin, especially since Yugoslavia disintegrated into five separate countries with many soldiers from those respective countries returning to their native lands.
To gain an appreciation of the impact of Operation DENY FLIGHT, one must look at the complex history of the Balkans to distill the important historical points that led to the death of Yugoslavia and the subsequent war in Bosnia. John Allcock of Bradford University in England wrote, "Unfortunately, one real truth about Yugoslavia is its incredible complexity and any attempt at simplification results in distortion." Allcock analyzed coverage of Yugoslavia in the British press for a whole year and found that each report contained at least one error.
Seventeen hundred years ago the emperor Diocletian divided the vast Roman Empire in half for administrative purposes. The new eastern capital was at Byzantium, later Constantinople, and the western capital remained in Rome. The fissure placed modern day Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the west and Serbia in the east. In the 11th century, the old Roman world that had embraced Christianity divided over ideological issues with the Orthodox church forming in Constantinople and the seat of the Catholic Church remaining in Rome.
In 1389, the Ottomans swept up the Balkan peninsula from Turkey and defeated the Serbians at Kosovo-Polje on 28 June. This humiliating defeat represented the start of five hundred years of domination of the Serbians by the Ottoman Empire. The battle of Kosovo-Polje is the most important date in Serbian history, not because the Serbians lost, but because Kosovo-Polje ushered in a dark epoch of Ottoman oppression of Serbs. The Serbians take great pride in emerging from that period with their language, culture, and values intact and, ironically, draw great strength and inspiration from their subjugation. Serbian resistance during this time is a romantic part of their identity, much as the "Wild West" is a part of America’s.
Geography, which has played such a large part in the history of the Balkans, was especially significant in Bosnia-Herzegovina. "Balkan" is a Turkish word meaning "mountain" and is a good description of the area. Bounded on the north by the Sava River, in the east by the Drina River and in the west by the Dinaric Alps which run from Austria through Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina is physically isolated from much of the land around it. On their relentless strategic march up the peninsula, the Ottomans conquered Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1463. Previous to this, the Bosnian people, due primarily to their geographic insularity, had practiced a puritanical form of Catholicism, known as Bogomilism. By papal decree, they, along with the Ottomans were declared heretics and condemned by Rome. By contrast, the Ottomans offered the Bosnians land, tax relief, education, and jobs in exchange for adopting the Muslim faith. Most Bosnians converted. For the next five hundred years, the majority of wealthy landowners, military officers, and politicians within Bosnia practiced the Muslim religion, and commanded a peasant class of Serb Orthodox serfs.
From the 15th to the 19th century, many of those Serbs who did not convert to Islam left the land under Ottoman rule and settled farther north in the Krajina, or military frontier, in Croatia. This was essentially the buffer zone between the Hapsburg (latter-day Austro-Hungarian) Empire and the Ottoman Empire. The Hapsburgs, seeking fortified garrisons in southern Croatia and Hungary in order to hold back the Turks, offered tax relief, release from feudal obligations, and freedom from religious persecution. In exchange, settlers in the Krajina provided a permanent military force. Noted for their fierce nature and fighting skills, the Krajina Serbs did their job well.
As the Ottoman Empire declined in power, the Austro-Hungarian Empire prospered and spread its influence throughout Croatia and into Bosnia-Herzegovina. To check the growing influence of a rival Serbia, a newly independent state, which had played a prominent role in defeating the Ottoman Empire in a series of wars in the nineteenth century, and to deny Serbia access to the Adriatic Sea, the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908. Vienna was also fearful that an independent Serbia would serve as a magnet for Slavs within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Many Serbs who had settled in Bosnia were enraged at seeing the Ottomans, whom they had defeated in battle throughout the 19th century, replaced by yet another foreign imperial power. Furthermore, Vienna kept the Muslim-dominated Bosnian government in power when the Ottomans left, since the bureaucratic apparatus was already in place to administer the country. The tensions created by Vienna’s annexation of Bosnia finally broke several years later. When Archduke Ferdinand of Austria visited Sarajevo on the anniversary of Kosovo-Polje in 1914, Bosnian Serb nationalists killed him.
Serbian soldiers fought on the Allied side in the ensuing first World War and were pushed off the Balkan peninsula by a combined force of Austrian, German, and Bulgarian units in 1915. Over one hundred thousand Serb soldiers perished in the punishing winter retreat as they abandoned their country; but like the Russians before Napoleon, they were never truly defeated. Two years later, the Serbs fought back up the peninsula as part of an Allied army driving back the Central Powers in the Balkans. When the war ended, the Austro-Hungarian Empire no longer existed. This left a power vacuum in a region filled with starving Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes. The Serb Army was the only local force strong enough to restore order. Although ethnically diverse and without a history of living together under the same government, the Southern Slavs’ collective security as a single country countered potential threats from western Europe, Russia, or Turkey. Thus, in 1919, the Allied victors recognized the new "Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes."
In the federation, the Serbs were a majority of the population; the other groups felt dominated by them. The Croats and Slovenes, in particular, saw themselves as better educated and more cultured than the Serbs, and bitterly resented Serbian domination. By contrast, the Serbs argued that they had liberated the Croats and Slovenes at a great cost in Serbian blood. Liberated people were supposed to be grateful; non-appreciative citizens were therefore despised.
Trying to forge a consensus in this new nation proved to be nearly impossible. Despite the principle of equal status among the various nationalities, there was only one five-month period in the twenty-three years between the two world wars when a Serbian was not prime minister. The King of Yugoslavia, Alexander Karageorgevitch, dissolved parliament in 1929 and assumed dictatorial powers in part to establish a political structure which could effectively govern "Yugoslavia," as the country was now known. Five years later, the Ustase, a Croatian nationalist group, born of his 1929 coup, assassinated Karageorgevitch. The emblem of the Ustase was the Savonica, a checkerboard shield symbolic of the medieval kingdom of Croatia, and the dream of an independent Croatian nation. A Serbian ultra-nationalist group composed of World War I veterans, the Chetniks, also grew after the assassination of Karageorgevitch. Their aim was to protect Serbians against the growing nationalistic hatred arrayed against them.
Yugoslavia was on the point of civil war when Adolph Hitler invaded in 1941. Hitler exploited ethnic tensions masterfully. After less than two weeks of fighting, Yugoslavia capitulated with Germans listing no more than 558 casualties. The Croatians and Slovenes put up virtually no fight and welcomed the Germans. One Croat brigade even held a party in their mess to welcome the German troops.
The period between 1941-1945 is particularly bloody in Yugoslav history and is a central factor in much of the modern day fighting in Bosnia. After the Germans subdued the Balkans they moved on to a larger objective; Operation Barbarossa, the conquest of the Soviet Union. The Third Reich annexed Slovenia and created the "Independent State of Croatia," which encompassed both Croatia and Bosnia. The Ustase served as Croatian foot soldiers. Along with several German and Italian divisions, they were responsible for security in the region. The Ustase initiated their own program of genocide against the Krajina Serbs and eliminated almost three quarters of a million Serbs during their four-year reign. Ante Pavelic, the "Fuhrer" of Croatia, had a recipe for fixing the Serb problem in Croatia. "One third must be converted to Catholicism, one third must leave, and one third must die." Even German officers were repulsed by Croatian concentration camps and were generally disgusted with the Ustase’s treatment of their fellow Slavs.
Two groups countered the Ustase and German occupation forces. General Draza Mihailovich led the Chetnik army fighting in Serbia early in the war. The British supplied Mihailovich in his fight against the Germans. Following a series of brutal German reprisals against Serbian civilians whenever the Chetniks killed a German soldier, General Mihailovich redirected his fight towards both the Ustase and any other groups that may have attempted to gain influence at Serbia’s expense. Josep Broz Tito led a partisan group countering the Chetniks, Ustase, and Germans. Tito, the son of a Croat father and Slovene mother, proved to be a skilled leader, surviving at least five German offensives. His power base increased throughout the war. Through superior organization and brutal partisan tactics, Tito kept thirteen Axis divisions tied down in the country. Ironically, most of the fighting in Bosnia was among the various indigenous groups. At one point, Mihailovich was even allied with the Germans against Tito’s partisans. By the end of the war 1.7 million people, 11% of Yugoslavia’s pre-war population, were dead. One million of these deaths were self-inflicted.
Tito came out of World War II with a tough objective: keeping Yugoslavia together as a nation. He used communism and the slogan "Brotherhood and Unity" to refocus ethnic differences on a common ideology. He also liquidated most of those responsible for the genocide within Yugoslavia during the war years, including Mihailovich.
Forty percent of those in post-war Yugoslavia were Serbian. To dilute their influence, Tito created six republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro. He recognized the Muslims in Bosnia as an ethnic group and further created the autonomous regions of Vojvodina and Kosovo within the Republic of Serbia, incorporated in constitutional change in 1974. These republics and provinces shared equal power under a rotating presidency within the government. Ultimate power rested with Tito and the Communist Party.
The 1974 constitution minimized centralized control and effectively reduced the influence of Belgrade as the capital of both Serbia and Yugoslavia, with the introduction of the two new autonomous regions. Any of the eight republics could now also veto any federal legislation they did not favor. Once Tito died, there would be no opportunity for a new communist or nationalist leader of his stature to emerge under the collective arrangement. With individuals representing provincial interests, there would be little chance of swift or authoritative leadership whenever crises might call for it.
Breaking in 1948 with the Soviet-sponsored Comintern, or worldwide communist movement, over issues of direction, Tito became a leader of the global non-aligned movement and profited handsomely by balancing between the US and USSR. Both superpowers provided hefty economic aid to curry Tito’s favor. However, throughout Tito’s rule, underlying ethnic tensions remained, and he used strong political control, backed up by a formidable police apparatus, to keep the nation together.
The army, including the officer corps, was a demographically ethnic mirror of Yugoslavia throughout the Tito years. Serbs represented about 40% of the nation’s population and that percentage was generally maintained in the military force. As the nation broke apart, the percentage of Serbs increased proportionately as the other republics’ soldiers resigned or deserted from the national army. Essentially, Serbian dominance within the contemporary Yugoslav army grew primarily by default.
After Tito’s death in 1980, the Serbs continued to be frustrated with a power sharing arrangement where they had 40% of the population, but only 1/8th of the vote. With veto power, any republic could override any proposed legislation, so nothing of substance came out of the government. As both Yugoslavia’s economy and Communism declined in the late 1980s, Slovenia and Croatia pressed for more autonomy from a Serbia which was clamoring for tighter central control. The economic disparity between Croatia and Slovenia on the one hand, and Serbia on the other, exacerbated these tensions. Serbia had half the per capita GNP of Croatia and Slovenia. The richer republics in the north were not happy to see their tax revenue going into coffers in Belgrade or supporting a national army that did not have their republics’ best interests at heart. The republics in the south wanted to see a redistribution of wealth while
CHAPTER 2: THE DEATH OF YUGOSLAVIA ACCELERATES
The people were divided into the persecuted and those who persecuted them. That wild beast, which lives in man and does not dare to show itself until the barriers of law and custom have been removed, was now set free. The signal was given, the barriers were down. As has so often happened in the history of man, permission was tacitly granted for acts of violence and plunder, even for murder, if they were carried out in the name of higher interests, according to established rules, and against a limited number of men of a particular type and belief.
Ivo Andric, The Bridge on the Drina, 1959
The ‘80s represented a period of economic turmoil within Yugoslavia, and continuing ethnic problems within the autonomous province of Kosovo. Ninety percent of Kosovo’s population was ethnically Albanian and wanted to merge with Albania, where they felt their rights would be better protected. Yugoslavia, with its historic and symbolic ties to Kosovo, would never let this happen. Periodically, the JNA mobilized in Kosovo throughout both the Tito and post-Tito eras to quell ethnic unrest there. Politically, anytime a vote came up in the collective communist leadership, the Kosovo representative could always be counted on to vote against any measure of substance that the Serbians favored.
In 1987, an ambitious communist party apparatchik, Slobodan Milosevic, went to Kosovo from Belgrade to investigate a charge, by the Albanians, of human rights violations by the minority Serbs there. Instead, he sided with his brother Serbs, who felt they were being mistreated, and made a famous speech that propelled him to ultimate leadership within the Yugoslav Communist Party. Milosevic told the Serbs in Kosovo that they would not be treated as minorities within their own country because he would not allow this to happen. "You will not be beaten again" was his battle cry. The furor that this caused within the multi-ethnic Yugoslav government opened a Pandora’s box of nationalist aspirations within the various republics and is generally cited as the flash point for the break-up of Yugoslavia. Kosovo reawakened the old Chetnik dream of "Greater Serbia" with Milosevic providing the leadership. Kosovo, and then Vojvodina, lost their autonomous status through Serb strong arm tactics such as threatening those who spoke out against reintegration of the two provinces within Serbia. Slovenian representatives saw that Serbia was trying to gain political leverage at the expense of the other republics and walked out of the Communist Party Congress in 1991. This all occurred in the context of the collapse of Communism within the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany.
The dream of a modern Greater Serbia was actually formulated by Kosta Pecanac, the leader of the Chetniks in the ‘20s and ‘30s. Their ideology only recognized the Slovenian, Croatian, and Serbian nations which would be ruled in a centralized state under Serb leadership. Greater Serbia would include "old Serbia," Bosnia, Dalmatia, Herzegovina, Montenegro, the Batschka, the Barrat, the Sandzak, approximately half of Croatia and some Bulgarian and Romanian border areas. The remaining area of Yugoslavia would consist of a federation. In order to "Serbianize" this new country, the Chetniks would forcibly move or "ethnically cleanse" 2.5 million Yugoslavs from greater Serbia and resettle 1.3 million Serbs from non-Serb territory. In this way, Greater Serbia would constitute about two-thirds of the population and territory of Yugoslavia. Milosevic rekindled this "Greater Serbia" dream among his people as Yugoslavia’s economy and Communist ideology began collapsing in the late ‘80s.
Croatia and Slovenia held presidential elections early in 1990 for the first time in over fifty years citing irreconcilable differences over the political direction of Yugoslavia. Over the course of 1990, the other major republics held presidential elections, helping to accelerate the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Slobodan Milosevic was elected as president of Serbia, Franjo Tudjman, president of Croatia, and Alija Izetbegovic, president of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Ironically, other than Alija Izetbegovic, the five other presidents elected were all former high-ranking members within the Yugoslav Communist Party.
Within Bosnia-Herzegovina, voting was so much along ethnic lines that it appeared to be more of a census than an actual election. When Alija Izetbegovic became the new president of Bosnia, he formed a coalition government of all three parties. From the beginning, the government was stalemated over issues of its relationship with the other republics, organization of police and the bureaucracy, economics, and everything else of substance. Croatia and Serbia moved towards more militant positions but Bosnia-Herzegovina was paralyzed.
Croatia’s President Tudjman campaigned with the slogan "We alone will decide the destiny of our Croatia." The new flag of Croatia featured the medieval checkerboard Savonica, now more symbolic of Ustase atrocities in World War II than older national traditions. Government officials within Croatia, including police and judges, had to sign a loyalty oath to Croatia and those who did not were fired. The new Croatian constitution changed the status of the Serbs living within Croatia from that of a "nation" to that of a "minority." Many Serbs living there rightfully feared for their safety and domination at the hands of the Croats. Within the Krajina region centered on the town of Knin, Serbs set up roadblocks and refused to acknowledge the leadership of Tudjman. Instead, they formed their own independent Krajina Serb Republic.
In June of 1991, war erupted when Slovenia and Croatia declared their full independence. Slovenia’s withdrawal was relatively bloodless due to their population’s ethnic homogeneity, their distance from Belgrade, and their pre-emptive defensive actions. Yugoslavia accepted European mediation under the EC’s threat to cut off one billion dollars in scheduled aid. The EC also used the implied threat of recognizing the breakaway republics if mediation was replaced by fighting. Eventually, Slovenia was recognized even though Yugoslavia withdrew and allowed Europe to broker a peace treaty.
Croatia was a different story. The JNA entered Croatia in July of 1991, ostensibly to protect the Serb minorities and maintain order, but what followed was an "ethnic cleansing" campaign which started in Croatia and reached fruition a year later in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The European Community consequently agreed to recognize republics within Yugoslavia if these republics agreed to independence in nationwide referendums, and also to protect all citizen’s human rights. In both Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, a majority did vote for independence. However, in both republics, voting was largely along ethnic lines. Serbs living there did not partake in the referendums, and instead, set up their own governments.
Following four months of savage fighting, representatives of Croatia, the Krajina Serbs and Yugoslavia signed a peace treaty. In February of 1992 UNPROFOR soldiers entered Croatia on a peacekeeping mission under the mandate of UN Security Council Resolution 743. The US and other Western nations on the council wanted to include a statement from Chapter 7 of the UN Charter that would force countries to obey Security Council mandates concerning Yugoslavia under penalty of economic sanctions or military force. That statement was deleted when India and some Third World countries objected.
Pictures of Serb attacks on Croat territory, combined with Serb paramilitary atrocities against civilians, branded them, in the world’s view, as the aggressors and war criminals. Scenes from the Croatian cities of Dubrovnik and Vukovar that flashed across TV screens throughout the world during the war showed the indiscriminate nature of Serbian artillery barrages. From a strategic viewpoint, Dubrovnik provided access to the sea for the land locked Serbs. In the Krajina, Vukovar was the gateway across the Danube River into Croatia, so Zagreb massed its limited forces here. The JNA initiated a relentless artillery barrage to break Croatian resistance as well as limit their own casualties upon taking Vukovar. According to Canadian General Lewis MacKenzie, the JNA was the product of the "Soviet mentality of never sending a man where a round can go first. They like to use artillery and mortars. They don’t like face-to-face operations. If they fight you, it will be from a distance and they will take innocent victims hostage in the face of intervention."
On 7 April 1992, in the midst of a tentative Serb-Croat ceasefire, the US and the EC recognized Bosnia-Herzegovina. UNPROFOR was using Sarajevo as its main base of support operations for troops in Croatia. They were now put in the difficult position of trying to provide humanitarian relief to a growing refugee population with no mandate for action in Bosnia. Meanwhile, the Serbs quickly gained ground in eastern Bosnia, displacing hundreds of thousands of Muslims from their homes. Their army comprised 80,000 former JNA soldiers. Yugoslavia organized, trained and equipped this force, but, for the most part, the soldiers fighting in Bosnia were native Bosnians.
The broader question was whether the Bosnian war was a civil war, which the Serbians felt it was, or a war of aggression by Serbia against the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which the Bosnian government felt it was. Yugoslavia was providing support to the Krajina Serbs in Croatia and had a limited number of troops keeping the strategic Posavina corridor opened in northern Bosnia. But, by far the majority of the fighting in Bosnia was between indigenous Serbs and Muslims, and later Croats. This author’s analysis shows that the war was a civil war with Muslims, Serbs, and Croats all fighting for ultimate political control. Yugoslavia, Croatia, and an Islamic coalition were the major external actors providing support to fuel the Bosnian war.
Debate on the crisis in Bosnia offered a variety of solutions. The US was the most enthusiastic about using offensive air operations against the aggressor Serbs, NATO less enthusiastic, and the UN least enthusiastic of all. Bombing in a peacekeeping or peacemaking environment would have enormous strategic and political implications. Donald Snow, a professor at the US Army’s War College, said "Impartiality is perhaps the most important aspect of peacekeeping operations and will be exceptionally difficult under the best of circumstances, since almost any action will benefit one side at the expense of the other. To march unprepared into a strategic maelstrom could do enormous harm." Was it even possible to be impartial? Different cultures perceive reality through different lenses and a notable factor in Bosnia was that much of UNPROFOR’s information was being filtered through Bosnian government "lenses" since they had, by far, the most contact with the UN force.
The divergence of operational perspectives in coalition warfare worked directly against the US strategy of injecting force into the former Yugoslavia. Within NATO, most of the allies, with the notable exception of the US, had UNPROFOR soldiers on the ground in the region. A US air strategy to strike at the Bosnian Serbs to enforce peace would put UN and humanitarian aid workers on the ground directly into a more threatening environment. UNPROFOR was spread throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina supporting the humanitarian relief being provided by numerous organizations and they were often caught in the crossfire. Directly targeting the Bosnian Serbs could provoke retaliatory responses against these personnel who had no effective means of self-defense.
By the summer of 1992, numerous organizations and countries were taking a more active interest in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Rhetoric increasingly centered on stopping Serbian aggression by military means, if necessary. Widespread human rights abuse, a growing refugee problem in western Europe, and the threat of Islamic extremists taking a more active interest in the Balkans were three of the biggest factors mobilizing anti-Serb sentiment.
Reports coming out of Bosnia-Herzegovina suggested that widespread acts of genocide were occurring within Bosnia. The emaciated bodies of inmates at the Serb-run Manjica concentration camp, revealed in the summer of 1992, reminiscent of the Nazi holocaust, stirred passions and a strong desire to do something. Presidential candidate Bill Clinton shared these feelings and promised to pursue a more active role in Yugoslavia if elected. On 5 August 1992, Clinton, then governor of Arkansas, called for the UN to authorize the use of airpower in Bosnia to counter Serb aggression. The White House jumped on the bandwagon making the same request of the UN, although President George Bush was also sounding the familiar theme that "America was not going to get bogged down in some guerrilla warfare." Clinton exploited a weakness in Bush’s policy saying that he had "failed to develop intermediate policies to deal with an unsettled world of foreign crises that fall between the extremes of the need for invincible force and the possibility of doing nothing." NY Times writer Anthony Lewis was even more critical of President Bush.
The greatest failure, the one that will forever stain George Bush’s reputation, has been in the former Yugoslavia. Bold American leadership, exercised in a timely way, could have prevented much of the political and human disaster. Mr. Bush wrung his hands yet it happened on George Bush’s watch. How is it possible to square the feeble, feckless Bush of these events with the gung-ho President who rallied the world against Saddam Hussein? Does the difference come down to oil?
Because a US core security interest was not at stake, a military commitment to peripheral and vaguely definable objectives created a fertile ground for political opportunists. The media influence also played a more significant role under these circumstances. Images of hapless war victims and alleged atrocities being committed fed on public emotions, clouding rational action and complicating political decisions.
Getting political mileage out of the Balkans at the expense of an incumbent was both tempting and easy to do. Nightly footage on CNN showed hideous scenes of "ethnic cleansing" which made talk of "doing something" more vocal and strident. On 4 August 1992 in public hearings on "Developments in Yugoslavia," Congressman Tom Lantos, commenting on the previous day’s news footage showing two children who had allegedly been killed by Serb snipers, said:
All you have to do is flip on your television set. And if you can force yourself to look away from the Olympics for ten minutes, there are those two little children in the bus with their plaintive little eyes looking at you and looking at me, and months after months after months we get this diplomatic garbage saying caution and reluctance, and no proof.
He went further to state that allowing acts of genocide to go unpunished would be equivalent to appeasement, just as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain appeased Hitler in 1938.
Many of those Yugoslavians "ethnically cleansed" or fleeing the fighting were leaving Yugoslavia altogether. Germany, with its liberal immigration laws, received over 700,000 Yugoslav immigrants in 1990 and 1991, while dealing simultaneously with reunification. Many of these refugees going abroad were the people Yugoslavia could least afford to lose. On 3 May 1993, Yugoslav President Dobrica Cosic said, "We are suffering a huge brain drain." Thousands of university students emigrated or were looking to do so. In another study, of the 830 top Yugoslav scientists who had left the country in the last fourteen years, one quarter of them had departed in 1992 alone.
The Islamic factor was also a consideration. Croat officials uncovered 4,000 guns and one million rounds of ammunition on board an Iranian aircraft in Zagreb in September of 1992. The plane was ostensibly delivering humanitarian supplies to Bosnian refugees. According to a 26 September Washington Post report, Turkish, Afghan, Syrian, Saudi and Bahrainian volunteers were fighting in Bosnia. Graham Fuller, in his book, The Siege of Islam, summarized the Islamic interest succinctly:
The second potential catalyst for Muslim consolidation emerges from foreign policy crises that produce severe setbacks, humiliation, or suffering to Muslims. Traditional Muslim issues have consistently included the Palestinians’ unresolved grievances, Western military attacks against Muslim states, and most recently the Bosnian crisis. Because the Bosnian Muslims are broadly perceived as the chief victims in the broader Yugoslav crisis and because the West is seen as having done little to improve their position, the Muslim world perceives such inaction as tantamount to a Western desire to eliminate one of the last centers of Muslim population and culture on Western soil. For a long time to come the Bosnian question will remain a running sore and symbol of anti-Muslim religious oppression in the West. It is becoming the "new Palestinian issue" in terms of its emotionalism and symbolic significance to Muslims everywhere-precisely because it is in Europe. Unless dramatically and justly resolved from the Muslim point of view, the Bosnian issue will complicate Western diplomatic intervention elsewhere in the Muslim world for the indefinite future.
Sheikh Mustafa Ceric, the top Islamic official in Sarajevo made a compelling argument as well:
If Christians were being massacred in any Islamic country like the Muslims are being killed here, the world community would have quickly found the means to condemn the Muslims as fundamentalists, and fighters of a holy war, and things would be taken care of overnight. A Muslim’s life is now worth the least on the world market. Bosnia’s Muslims are the new Jews of Europe. This is the first world-class crime to be carried out like a football game before the eyes of the entire world on television. The Serbs are doing the dirty work of dealing with Bosnia’s Muslims for all of Europe.
With initially no means of self-defense, the Bosnian government’s strategy relied on an extremely effective information campaign to present their situation to the outside world and get world opinion firmly on its side. The diary of Zlata Filipovic, a young Muslim girl living through the siege of Sarajevo, became a bestseller in America and was reminiscent of another young girl, Anne Frank, in another war. Although Alija Izetbegovic was the prime minister of Bosnia, the face on CNN was that of the vice president, Haris Silajdzic, a good looking man who pleaded the Bosnian government’s case both in perfect English and less stridently than Izetbegovic. Even UNPROFOR soldiers on the ground in Sarajevo spoke of the Bosnian "strategy" for getting on the evening world news. The Muslims on at least one occasion fired on Serbian positions from the vicinity of a hospital, knowing that the return fire would fall on or near the hospital. They then made sure that the media was there to film the ensuing barrage.
In February of 1993, the town of Srebrenica became a global symbol of Bosnian Muslim resistance to Serbian aggression. Serbians had the town surrounded and were shelling indiscriminately to force people to leave. General Phillip Morillon, UNPROFOR commander in Bosnia, went on a personal visit and ostensibly stayed for almost two weeks as a symbol of the UN stand against the Serbian ethnic cleansing. In reality, General Morillon was held there as a hostage of the Muslims to focus world attention on their plight.
Within the US, Congressional records reflected the success of the Bosnian government’s information campaign combined with actual Serb aggression. In February of 1991, while the US was engaged in Operation DESERT STORM, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Senator Joseph Biden, held a well-balanced hearing on the problems within Yugoslavia to "thoroughly reconsider American interests and policy in the area." Experts expressed a variety of opinions supporting all sides within Yugoslavia in the context of a potential civil war. From 1992 through 1993, the discussion within both the Senate and House of Representatives became more one-sided. In at least ten Congressional hearings focused on the war in the former Yugoslavia, only one testimony, that of Canadian General Lewis MacKenzie provided a balanced view of the conflict. There was also a one page letter written by a Serbian American, Stevan Kovac, representing the Serbian perspective within Yugoslavia, and submitted for the record. All other testimony virtually corroborated the Bosnian government’s theme of Serbian aggression and a defenseless Bosnia-Herzegovina.
At a ceremony for the opening of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC on 22 April 1993, Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust victim, said to President Clinton, "Mr. President, I cannot not tell you something. I have been in the former Yugoslavia last fall. I cannot sleep since what I have seen. As a Jew I am saying that. We must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country." Clinton’s inclination for the month after this ceremony was to bomb the Serbs and arm the Bosnian government, but he had a change of heart when advised by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, of the necessity for well-defined objectives, a timetable of action, and a clearly defined exit strategy. In the face of the United States’ continued inaction, Senator Daniel Moynihan later sarcastically remarked that at a future date the US would be dedicating a new museum to honor Serbia’s victims.
Croatia and Slovenia wanted to invest in their own infrastructure. Double-digit inflation, spiraling foreign debt, and eight republics jealously guarding their own interests with the liberal use of veto power further destabilized the Yugoslav economy. Nationalism grew well in this soil.
CHAPTER 3: DENY FLIGHT: THE DETERRENT USE OF AIRPOWER
The use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for a moment; but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again: and a nation is not governed which is perpetually to be conquered. Edmund Burke
By April 1993, the war in the former Yugoslavia had been going on for almost two years It also marked the first anniversary of the Bosnian war. The UN and EC strongly favored the Vance-Owen Peace Plan which divided Bosnia-Herzegovina into ten cantons split evenly between the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims. The Bosnian Serbs were against it because the plan left most of Bosnia’s natural and industrial resources in Muslim and Croat hands. The Bosnian government was against it because it partitioned Bosnia, which directly countered the government’s vision of a single multi-cultural nation. The Bosnian Croats were the big winners in the peace plan as they stood to gain a fair amount of land and recognition despite representing only 17% of the Bosnian population. The US was against the plan because it ceded land gained by the Bosnian Serbs through "acts of aggression." There were elements of truth in all these arguments. The Vance-Owen plan necessitated compromise, primarily between the Bosnian Serbs and the Bosnian government. Compromise, however, was still a long way off.
The US had started unilaterally dropping pallets of food to besieged enclaves in eastern Bosnia two months earlier in February. This represented a significant escalation on the part of the United States, just one month into President Clinton’s term of office. The Bosnian government was overjoyed. In the words of one government official, "The Americans are now in the game, and they can’t leave." Bosnian Vice President Zlatko Lagmdzija said, "The star has walked onto the court and decided to play with the good guys... Michael Jordan is in the game."
Attempting to level the playing field and protect humanitarian operations on the ground, the UN Security Council had passed UNSCR 781 in October of 1992. It prohibited flights over Bosnia that were not authorized by the UN. NATO cooperated by providing aerial surveillance. By April of 1993, NATO had documented over 500 airspace violations. This flaunting of UN resolutions coupled with continued fierce fighting throughout Bosnia, led to UNSCR 816 which directed participating nations, particularly those within the NATO alliance, to take more active measures to control unauthorized flights over Bosnia. Operation DENY FLIGHT began officially on 12 April 1993 as NATO’s response to UNSCR 816.
The initial objective of Operation DENY FLIGHT as explicitly stated was to conduct aerial monitoring and enforce compliance with UNSCR 816, which banned flights by fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft in the airspace of the Bosnia-Herzegovina No Fly Zone. The operation’s implied objective was to demonstrate UN and NATO determination to stabilize the situation in Bosnia so that a peaceful settlement could be achieved. An air option was the cleanest way to get NATO involved without exposing its troops to a hostile ground environment. Further, if the situation deteriorated badly, an air armada could be pulled out more easily than one positioned on the ground. UNPROFOR soldiers on the ground were lightly armed and had suffered casualties while escorting relief convoys throughout Bosnia. The US badly wanted to be engaged but would not send ground troops except as part of an international force after the warring parties signed a peace agreement and observed a cease-fire. Chairman of the JCS, General Colin Powell considered peacekeeping and humanitarian operations a given. It signaled US commitment to its allies and resolve to potential violators of the peace.
Stopping Serb aggression with airpower was the preferred solution within the new Clinton Administration. US success in Operations DESERT STORM and PROVIDE COMFORT helped strengthen the airpower option. In northern Iraq, PROVIDE COMFORT was effectively checking Iraqi aggression against a lightly armed Kurdish population. Since the end of DESERT STORM two years previously, a combined task force of British, French, and US airpower had been providing a protective umbrella. Jean Kirkpatrick, former US ambassador to the UN, equated Milosevic to Saddam Hussein and advocated using force as the only thing he would understand. She wanted to punish Serbia for aggression, for concentration camps, for human rights abuses, and for taking land illegally.
I do not think the use of American ground forces would be necessary to deal with this problem, though I have no objection to the US participation in peacekeeping forces if that seems desirable at some later point. I do believe that the highly focused selective, limited, and restrained use of US or NATO or EC or Franco-German, whoever is competent, airpower to enforce some of the provisions that have already been provided by the Security Council is appropriate.
A huge and virtually insurmountable problem for NATO from day one was stopping unauthorized flights by helicopters. DENY FLIGHT rules of engagement required that the engaged fighter needed to physically observe the helicopter committing a "hostile act" in order to shoot it down. Flying on an unauthorized mission over Bosnia was not enough justification. The violators quickly learned the rules on engagement and would play cat and mouse games with NATO. When intercepted, the violator would heed the warning to land but would wait until the interceptor left to continue on his flight.
All three warring sides in the conflict possessed helicopters which they used frequently to resupply and move troops, as well as evacuate casualties and refugees or shuttle diplomats and force commanders. Sometimes the UN flight coordination center in Zagreb authorized these flights but often they did not. The Croatians flew MI-8 Hip helicopters painted white and similar in color to UN helicopters, while the Bosnian Serbs flew Gazelles with red crosses on the side. Whether ferrying general officers or medical emergencies, the red cross remained. A picture in one magazine prominently showed the internationally recognized symbol painted on the side of Serb General Ratko Mladic’s personal helicopter. Helicopters were a tactical necessity in the mountainous terrain. Roads were few and treacherous and getting supplies through could take a long time. Snipers could anticipate avenues of resupply and seriously delay logistical lines.
The number of unauthorized helicopter flights climbed throughout Deny Flight and by July of 1995, the number of apparent violations since monitoring began in November of 1992 had climbed to 5,711. Often, there was no time to coordinate helicopter operations through Zagreb. On 8 April 1993, 300 angry Serb civilians surrounded UNPROFOR commander General Phillip Morillon. He was in a relief convoy destined for the besieged enclave of Srebrenica. Prevented from going any farther, Morillon was airlifted out in the helicopter of Serb General Manojlo Milovanovic. The flight technically violated the UN no-fly zone over Bosnia. The rule of thumb for NATO pilots was thus basically to track helicopters, and make an obligatory radio call on the emergency frequency that all pilots were required to monitor. After the Blackhawk helicopter shootdown over northern Iraq in April of 1994, the DENY FLIGHT Combined Air Component Commander again reiterated the strict ROE regarding helicopter engagements over Bosnia.
Stopping fixed wing aircraft was an easier problem to overcome. Assuming that Serbia and Croatia did not fly into Bosnia, only the Bosnian and Krajina Serbs had fixed wing aircraft. Most estimates placed the combined total of fixed wing fighters possessed by both the Krajina and Bosnian Serbs at thirty-two. All of these fighters were ground attack models with virtually no air-to-air capability. In order to employ ordnance, the aircraft were limited to daytime and good weather conditions. Before Operation DENY FLIGHT, the Krajina Serbs had suffered almost 50% attrition to shoulder fired Croat SAMs and had ceased most of their air operations. Their superiority in heavy arms and a complete lack of enemy air opposition gave the Serbs a tremendous military advantage without using airpower. When Serb fighters did bomb targets in Bosnia on 28 February 1994, NATO rules of engagement were clear and well executed. The F-16s did actually observe hostile activity, so they were cleared in "hot" to shoot the Serb fighters down.
On 6 May 1993, the Bosnian Serb parliament officially rejected the Vance-Owen peace plan. That same day, Milosevic condemned the Bosnian Serbs for causing problems for all Serbia and closed the Serbian/Bosnian border to all supplies except food and medicine. Milosevic felt that the Bosnian Serbs had a guaranteed future under Vance-Owen, and that continued fighting would just cause further suffering for all Serbian people. The UN also passed a new resolution demanding that six areas, Sarajevo, Tuzla, Gorazde, Bihac, Zepa, and Srebrenica, be treated as "safe areas," free from hostile acts which endangered the inhabitant’s safety. The model for these safe areas was Srebrenica where UNPROFOR had disarmed the citizens there in exchange for a Serb ceasefire guarantee.
The tension between the US and its European allies over the use of airpower to broker a peace agreement was readily apparent here. The Europeans, with peacekeepers exposed on the ground, wanted to use Milosevic to pressure the Bosnian Serbs and get American troops into Bosnia to help defend the UN safe areas. The US wanted to mount airstrikes against the Bosnian Serbs and rearm the Bosnian government to coerce the Serbs into reaching an agreement. This political failure to unite over the issue of using force or diplomacy did not bode well for NATO. As Clausewitz had said nearly two centuries before, military force is an extension of the political process by other means. In Bosnia, with widely differing political agendas, military options were at a standstill. British Air Vice Marshal Tony Mason, a noted expert on peacekeeping operations, offered that airpower may be used as a force equalizer before a political settlement has even been identified. The air commander’s objective is to neutralize the warring parties in order to assist in implementing a peace settlement, while the politicians work out the political objectives. When using military force, it is imperative to coordinate air and ground actions to provide a symmetric, concerted effort regardless of the political objectives.
UNSCR 836, passed on 4 June 1993, was a response to the fighting, primarily initiated by Bosnian Serb paramilitary forces. It directed that NATO provide close air support "in and around the safe areas to support UNPROFOR in the performance of its mandate." That mandate directed UNPROFOR to deter attacks against the safe areas, monitor the cease-fire, and, if necessary, use force to ensure freedom of movement of UNPROFOR or of protected humanitarian convoys. The UN authorized additional troops to help implement the resolution. These troops were still lightly armed, outnumbered, and limited in their capacity to defend themselves. Later that month, the North Atlantic Council directed NATO to begin planning for airstrikes in and around the safe areas to enforce UNSCR 836 and to provide air support for UNPROFOR. By August, the DENY FLIGHT Operations Plan had been modified to allow for close air support of UNPROFOR and airstrikes within Bosnia with UNPROFOR approval.
The implementation of UNSCR 836 proved contentious. The NATO chain-of-command went from the fighter aircraft, through an airborne command and control C-130, to the Combined Air Operations Center at Vicenza, Italy, where the Combined Force Air Component Commander was the approving authority for employing ordnance. The other chain-of-command went from the UNPROFOR forward air controller on the ground through the Bosnian Air Support Operations Center located in Kiseljak, Bosnia and then to Zagreb. There, the UNPROFOR commander asked UN Headquarters in New York for permission to employ ordnance. The seven hour time difference between New York and Bosnia caused even greater coordination problems. Essentially, getting clearance to execute CAS in a timely fashion proved nearly impossible from the beginning. By 1994, in an attempt to streamline the process, UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali delegated release authority to his special envoy in Bosnia, Yasushi Akashi. Most air operations in support of UNPROFOR on the ground needed to happen immediately when the fighting was in progress and the two chains of command were too unwieldy to support prompt actions.
Nevertheless, the international community was still widely divided over using airpower for either close air support or attacking the Serbs directly. Britain, France, and Russia objected to the US position on bombing the Serbs. Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s Special Envoy, stated that the US position was having a very negative impact on peace talks. On 7 August 1993, under intense diplomatic pressure and perhaps, to deflect growing pressure for airstrikes, the Serbs withdrew from some of the territories they had seized, making NATO airstrikes unlikely. Many observers accused the international community of talking tough but not taking action against the Serbs. Lord David Owen, the EC’s chief negotiator and architect of original Vance-Owen peace plan, criticized the US early on for "employing high moral standards on the basis of absolutely zero involvement. When the US had the opportunity, at the start in 1991 to go in, guns blazing, and to take a dominant military role, they declined to do so, saying it was Europe’s problem." Owen also advocated a much earlier use of airpower, disagreeing with the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense that airpower could not be employed without putting in ground forces. Once ground forces were in place as part of UNPROFOR, the air options were more limited because of the threat to outnumbered and lightly armed ground forces.
While the Serbs may have been guilty of initiating much of the fighting within Bosnia, there was plenty of blame to go around. Following the break down of the Vance-Owen plan in mid-April of 1993, Croat paramilitary forces within Bosnia, backed by regular Croatian Army units, attacked Muslims in western Bosnia. The Croats sought to carve out their own independent state, closely allied with Croatia, and with its capital in Mostar. Radovan Karadzic and Mate Boban, the Serb and Croat leaders within Bosnia, had met in Austria shortly after the Croat offensive began, apparently to deconflict and coordinate Serb and Croat military actions. In north central Bosnia, there were coordinated Serb and Croat artillery attacks against Muslim enclaves, most notably around the town of Maglaj. Muslims in the Bihac pocket of northwest Bosnia, led by Fikrit Abdic, actually broke away from the Bosnian government in the Summer of 1993 and formed their own alliance with both Croatia and the Serbs in the region. Abdic was anxious to end the fighting, which was causing widespread economic devastation. The Bosnian government declared Abdic a traitor and ordered its Fifth Corps in Bihac to destroy Abdic’s renegade Muslims.
By November of 1993, diplomatic handwringing and the confusing ground picture ensured that the UN and NATO accomplished little militarily or politically. All three sides targeted UNPROFOR soldiers. The majority of the aid workers and UN personnel on the ground who lost their lives were caught in Muslim and Croat crossfires. Lord Owen said on 15 November, that international intervention in Bosnia might actually be prolonging the conflict since the humanitarian aid is helping to feed the warriors on all sides.
From the spring of 1993 until February of 1994, the Croats, Muslims, and Serbs were essentially fighting against and allied with each other at various points throughout the country. In Bihac, it was Abdic’s Muslims allied with Serbs, fighting Bosnian government soldiers. In Mostar, it was Croats fighting Muslims; in north central Bosnia, it was Serbs and Croats fighting Muslims; and in Croatia, it was Krajina Serbs fighting Croats. This was in addition to Serbs and Muslims fighting in eastern and northern Bosnia. The battlefield maps and intelligence scenario changed daily. Frustrated NATO and UN personnel kept searching for solutions.
On 5 February 1994, a mortar round, allegedly fired by the Serbs, exploded in the crowded Mrkale market place leaving 68 people dead in the highest single casualty incident of the war. One month prior, at a NATO summit meeting, ministers had reiterated a warning first made to the Serbs in August of 1993 that they would mount airstrikes to prevent the strangulation of Sarajevo. The marketplace bombing, with its wide media coverage, put western public opinion squarely in favor of using force if necessary. NATO gave the Serbs ten days to pull back heavy weapons from around the city or risk being bombed. General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb field commander said, "We Serbs have never accepted any ultimatum and never will." Greece, a NATO member, threatened to pull its aircrews from NATO surveillance flights over Bosnia if the Serbs were bombed. Romania and Russia both denounced the proposed NATO airstrikes. In fact, Russia was furious with NATO over the threatened airstrikes. Russia persuaded the Bosnian Serbs to pull back
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