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.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR.........................................................................iii
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 in exchange for putting Russian peacekeepers on the ground around Sarajevo. Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was "grateful to Russia for its involvement in the resolution of the crisis," and accepted Russia’s "request" to withdraw heavy weaponry around Sarajevo. Prior to Russian involvement, and just one day before the issuance of the ultimatum, the Serbs had not budged on moving their weapons. NATO was going to have to either strike or back down from coercive airstrikes. Russian peacekeepers arrived one day after the ultimatum’s expiration, greeted as brothers and protectors by the Serbs. NATO could not now strike without inflicting casualties on the Russians peacekeepers in the area.
It was within this context that the US accomplished its most significant act of "realpolitik" of the war. The US negotiated an agreement between the Croats and Muslims to link their armies and territories together after almost a year of fighting. "Right away, many of our problems went away," according to chief negotiator, Charles Redmon. Bosnian Serbs condemned the alliance as a "further escalation of crisis." In a sense they were right. Bosnian government forces released from action against Croats mounted an offensive against the Serbs in north central Bosnia the same month that the new alliance was formed.
One of the major areas of interest and supply build-up for the Bosnian government was Gorazde, just southeast of Sarajevo, and one of the six UN-designated safe areas. This was part of a key line of communication for the Bosnian government, linking Muslim communities in the Drina valley and farther east into the Sandzak area of Serbia. For the Serbs, Gorazde was the last major Muslim presence in the Drina valley and a significant pocket of Muslim resistance. In early April of 1994, the Bosnian Serbs launched an offensive against Gorazde. US and UN officials stated that they were not prepared to launch airstrikes or take military action to curb the Serb assault on the enclave. Speaking on "Meet the Press," Defense Secretary William Perry said the US would not take military action to save the Gorazde enclave or protect its inhabitants. "We will not enter the war to stop that from happening." For one year, NATO had been threatening airstrikes and then backed down when the Serbs violated this safe area. In a NY Times article on 5 April, analysts argued that countering the Serbs would force them to accept a peace agreement, while others argued that it would only antagonize them further. This waffling was a reflection of the same confusion going on at higher political levels and highlighted the dilemma of a deterrence policy not backed by action if needed.
Group Captain Andy Lambert, an expert on deterrence and coercion theory, argued that an operation begun for deterrence purposes, such as NATO’s DENY FLIGHT, needed to anticipate being tested by the party they were attempting to deter, in this case the Bosnian Serbs. If NATO was going to deter the Serbs, they needed to be ready to back up threats with force. "Credibility is paramount and when credibility fails, thence goes deterrence." This theory appeared to hold true, at least with the UNPROFOR on the ground. Relief convoys had a much higher chance of getting through Serb checkpoints when UNPROFOR pulled up with their armored units and dictated to the guards that the convoy was authorized to proceed. Often guards would not quibble over paperwork or authorization if the convoy escort appeared determined. Convoys acquiescing to vehicle and body searches, and accommodating the checkpoint guards, were often turned back.
One week into the Serb offensive on Gorazde, Serb artillery shelling killed an UNPROFOR soldier. NATO had not been willing to counter the Serb offensive against the town, but it did respond to protect UN soldiers. NATO fighters dropped bombs for the first time in alliance history on 10 April 1994. The targets were a Serb mobile command post and a tank shelling the town from the position believed responsible for the UNPROFOR soldier’s death. Serb commander Mladic was furious and ordered his troops to surround 150 UNPROFOR soldiers positioned in Gorazde. He raged by telephone that if NATO did not stop its actions, not one UN soldier would leave alive. According to Michael Williams, a UN special advisor, it "brought home to us the limits and difficulties of using airpower when you had such an exposed force on the ground." In the ensuing week, the Serbs badly damaged a French fighter aircraft and shot down a British Harrier. By 17 April, the Serbs had captured Gorazde despite NATO threats and Russian intervention to stop the Serb offensive. Russian Envoy Vitaly Churkin described the Serbs as "extremists, drunk on the madness of war."
UNSCR 913 extended the weapons exclusion zone in place around Sarajevo to all five remaining safe areas and forcefully warned the Serbs to pull out of Gorazde or face direct attack. That, combined with NATO ultimata and Russian pressure, forced the Serbs to pull out of Gorazde on 23 April, but not before they had burned numerous buildings and destroyed a water pumping station.
The idea of a multi-ethnic cantonized Bosnia had, by early 1994, faded. There was too much hatred, too many refugees, and no common ground on which the factional leaders could unite. The hope that the UN could keep the warring sides apart simply by declaring safe areas and positioning monitors in those areas was also vanishing. Bosnian government forces and renegade Muslim units would often sortie out from the safe areas to attack surrounding Serb forces. They could always retreat to these "safe havens," where Serb counterattacks would be condemned by the UN.
All designated safe areas were locations under siege by Serb artillery and troops. Ironically, the most savagely wrecked city in Bosnia-Herzegovina was Mostar. Early on in the war in 1992, Serbs shelled the city from the eastern high grounds, but the majority of the damage was done after the Muslims and Croats started fighting there in 1993, with the Serbs watching from the sidelines. Flying over Bosnia at 24,000 feet, the only city where one could readily see major destruction from that height was Mostar. All five bridges across the Neretva River were gone, including the world famous Stari Most bridge, which Croatian militia destroyed. The Muslim inhabitants on the east side of the river suffered more privations than perhaps any other group in the country. Mostar should have been designated as a safe area along with the other six safe areas that the UN Security Council decided on. Such an action would have shown more impartiality on the part of the international community.
On 25 April, following Gorazde, the US, France, Great Britain, Germany and Russia formed the Balkan Contact Group and started pushing a new strategy. New strategy would focus on persuading the Serbs to give up approximately 20% of the territory they controlled. This would leave a 49/51% division of Bosnia between the Bosnian Serb Republic and the Confederation. UN representatives were excluded from the group which planned punitive measures against any side that would not accept an otherwise non-negotiable map built by the Contact Group.
In late July 1994, the Contact Group persuaded the UN Security Council to tighten economic sanctions against Serbia. Shortly after the Contact Group initiated sanctions, Milosevic broke relations with the Bosnian Serbs on 4 August.
They have rejected peace at a time when their Serb republic has been recognized within the half of the territory of former Bosnia-Herzegovina and when by accepting peace, they would have ensured the lifting of the sanctions against those without whom they could not survive. Their decision to reject peace can only be in the interests of war profiteers and in the interests of those who do not have a clean conscience, and who fear the arrival of a peace in which all crimes will come to the surface.
Serbia had been suffering terribly by the economic embargo, with inflation rates in excess of 200% per month and over 50% unemployment. The three-year-old embargo and break-up of the country had almost totally destroyed Serbia’s economy and significantly undermined Milosevic’s credibility. The Security Council subsequently lifted some of these sanctions two months later when Serbia showed that it had effectively sealed its border and aid to the Bosnian Serbs.
Karadzic responded that the Bosnian Serb Republic was a "child being separated from its mother. The child doesn’t want it to happen but the child has to stand on its own two feet." Thus, by the Summer of 1994, the Bosnian Serbs were effectively isolated from the rest of the world and were extremely vulnerable to a bombing strategy that targeted their warmaking potential. The Bosnian Serbs had very few means to replace heavy armor and artillery, since they had almost no autonomous war production capability. Without the weapons, Confederation forces outnumbered them two to one.
August 1994 was perhaps the ideal time to coerce the Bosnian Serbs to the negotiating table. They were politically isolated, but Serbia may not have been able to keep the border closed for long. The powerful far right Serbian Nationalists Party was pressuring Milosevic to reopen the border. The Bosnian government army was also making gains on three fronts during the first week in August, including the area around the Sarajevo exclusion zone. Unfortunately, the BIH initiated most of the offensive actions around Sarajevo in direct violation of UN resolutions. The UNPROFOR commander at the time, British General Michael Rose actually condemned the Bosnian government’s actions and warned them of a possible NATO response. Rose was furious that the Bosnian government was directly violating NATO and UN policy concerning the Sarajevo safe area. Many UN officials were appalled with Rose for even thinking about attacking Bosnian government forces and called for his replacement.
Politically isolating the Bosnian Serbs and building a consensus for a coercive air operation was difficult with the Bosnian government violating UN mandates around Sarajevo. If the Bosnian government had exercised restraint, there may have been a more concerted effort at this point to coerce the Bosnian Serbs to sign the peace agreement. President Clinton was continuously calling for a greater use of force by NATO in Bosnia if the Bosnian Serbs would not lift the siege of Sarajevo. In response, General Rose said "Patience, persistence and pressure is how you conduct a peacekeeping mission. Bombing is a last resort because then you cross the Mogadishu line." This was a reference to US and UN casualties sustained in Somalia, when they elevated a humanitarian mission to one of going after rebel warlord, Mohammed Farah Aideed.
The Croats and Muslims achieved major victories in October and November of 1994. The Serbian blockade was apparently having a significant impact on the Serbs. In western Bosnia, the Confederation displayed an unprecedented level of cooperation and routed the Bosnian Serb army. In the Bihac pocket, according to UN spokesman Lt. Col. Tim Spicer, the BSA "crumbled. Their command and control system is gone. They’ve abandoned a lot of equipment, which is very unusual for them." The Bosnian Serbs countered with their heaviest artillery barrage on Sarajevo since the February 1994 ultimatum. The Serbs still controlled the high ground around the city. Losing this territory would imperil the five Serb suburbs within Sarajevo, along with about 200,000 Serbs living there.
Airpower now confronted NATO and the UN with another dilemma. Both Bihac and Sarajevo were being shelled with weapons prohibited by UN ultimata. The deterrent effect of NATO airpower at this point was virtually nil. Serbs threatened peacekeepers in both areas and the political and military precedent had been set to strike the Bosnian Serbs. However, the BIH initiated most of the offensive action in the two regions. If NATO bombed government forces who were violating UN resolutions, it would add an entirely new and unwanted dimension to the conflict. In effect, the Serb perception that NATO and the UN were on the side of the Muslim-Croat Confederation was valid. Yet, the Bosnian parliament was also calling for Rose’s ouster as UNPROFOR commander in Bosnia. Bosnian Government political parties accused Rose of having "done everything to water down the decisiveness of the free world in punishing crime and fascism. We will be asking for an impartial, objective commander, one who will implement UN resolutions on the ground."
The Bosnian Serbs were able to counterattack in coordination with the Krajina Serbs and retake much of their lost territory in the Bihac region. Karadzic closed public schools and mobilized the entire Serbian population, including school-aged children. The self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb Republic had been suffering from a dearth of manpower since the start of the war. Some accounts stated that there were 50% less Serbs in Bosnia than pre-war estimates so the pool of available manpower was low. The Serb forces were in need of fuel and supplies and used the renegade Muslim, Fikrit Abdic, to resupply them because of his business connections.
In support of the combined offensive, the Krajina Serbs launched airstrikes from Udbina to bomb the Bihac pocket on several occasions. The cluster bombs and napalm their fighters employed did not explode, however. This was a good indicator of the dismal state of weapons in the Serb aerial arsenal as well as the training of its pilots and maintainers. The unauthorized use of Croatia-based, fixed-wing fighters over Bosnia presented a problem for NATO. With the Bihac pocket bordering on Croatia, these fighters were able to drop bombs and get back across the border before NATO fighters could engage them. In response, UNSCR 958 increased the UN mandate to protect UNPROFOR in Croatia as well as in Bosnia and set the stage for NATO to strike Udbina directly to compel the Serbs to quit using that airfield for offensive operations.
In the biggest air strike in the history of NATO, thirty-nine aircraft damaged the runway at Udbina, along with anti-aircraft artillery and SAM sites on the perimeter of the field. According to Admiral Leighton W. Smith, the NATO Allied Forces South commander, "Our intention was to try to limit collateral damage. We did not want to go outside of the airfield area, and we wanted to limit the number of people on the ground who might be casualties."
When the Serbs overran the Bihac pocket they took UN hostages. The Bangladesh UNPROFOR troops there did not have the equipment or procedural knowledge to call in airstrikes. Dutch peacekeepers, well versed in NATO CAS procedures, were ordered to move there, but were blocked by the Serbs surrounding the enclave. NATO conceded that it would launch no more airstrikes and the UN declared that it could not stop the Serb assault on Bihac. NATO’s hands were tied, consequently, and once again, the limits of airpower in a peace operation, with a humanitarian mandate, became glaringly obvious. The Bosnian Serbs detained approximately 300 UNPROFOR and used them as human shields forcing two of them, in one case, to lie down on a runway for eight hours, to deter NATO strikes.
In a total reversal of policy, the UN and NATO suspended flights over Bosnia on 2 December and went to Pale to talk to Karadzic. The Contact Group also indicated that they were willing to negotiate the previously unconditional map on the future division of Bosnia. In essence, not only was NATO unable to deter Bosnian Serb aggression or counter-attack, but the Bosnian Serbs actually forced the Contact Group to change their negotiating strategy to one more favorable to the Serbs. Continued fighting throughout Bosnia had also caused a severe shortage of supplies and fuel for the UN, much of which the warring parties hijacked. Near Gorazde, British peacekeepers were patrolling on foot and using mules to move supplies. Not only was the peacekeeping mission threatened in Bosnia-Herzegovina with the British and French looking for a way to get their peacekeepers out of country, but NATO’s reputation was so severely tarnished that the entire alliance was threatening to unravel.
CHAPTER 4: OPERATION DELIBERATE FORCE
The presidency and the Government of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, greatly embittered, warn once again that the aggressors, Serbia and Montenegro, despite all the Security Council resolutions passed against them, continue to understand the language of force alone, and that therefore force is the only successful method of confronting them.
Statement by Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Multi-Ethnic Presidency, 1993
On 30 August 1995, at 0210 hours Central European Time, sixty NATO strike and support aircraft attacked targets in southeast Bosnia-Herzegovina initiating Operation DELIBERATE FORCE. Two weeks later on 14 September, NATO suspended operations when the Bosnian Serb forces largely complied with UN demands that they cease attacks on the designated safe areas of Sarajevo, Gorazde, and Tuzla; remove their heavy weapons from a twenty kilometer exclusion zone around Sarajevo; and open Sarajevo airport and roads leading into the city, which had been cut by Serb sniper and artillery fire. Within two months of the end of DELIBERATE FORCE, the UN had all three warring parties represented at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio to initial a peace agreement on the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina. To paraphrase the chief negotiator, Richard Holbrooke, airpower broke the back of the Bosnian Serbs and directly led to the outcome in Ohio.
With the decision to launch NATO airstrikes now delegated to the UN and NATO military chain of commands, what was needed, on the part of the Serbs, was a clear violation of one of the UN resolutions. An attack on one of the safe areas or the use of heavy artillery in the weapons exclusion zone would constitute such a violation and act as a trigger for DELIBERATE FORCE. Two days prior to DELIBERATE FORCE, a mortar attack on the Mrkale market in Sarajevo galvanized US Admiral Leighton Smith, CINCSOUTH, and British Lt. General Rupert Smith, UNPROFOR commander in Bosnia into responding to this overt and provocative act of violence. Admiral Smith saw the results on CNN immediately after the attack occurred. This was the trigger event that initiated Operation DELIBERATE FORCE. Angered by the marketplace shelling, Admiral Smith coordinated with British General Rupert Smith, acting UNPROFOR commander in the absence of French General Bernard Janvier, to approve NATO airstrikes against Bosnian Serb positions, if they were the culprits behind the mortar attack. UN ballistics experts could not determine conclusively who fired the mortar round, but the burden of proof was low after countless shells had already been falling on Sarajevo in the course of the preceding three years. Both commanders now agreed to act against the Serbs who they thought were most likely responsible for the mortar attack. The two commanders jointly ordered the execution of Operation DELIBERATE FORCE.
Operation DELIBERATE FORCE represented a significant break from past NATO and UN actions in the region. Previous strategy had focused on the deterrent use of airpower to maintain a somewhat stable status quo while political negotiators hammered out an equitable solution to the crisis. In May 1995, UN and NATO strategy changed. News footage of UNPROFOR soldiers held hostage by Serbs and chained to potential NATO targets flashed across television sets worldwide. In July, the Serbs overran Srebrenica, a UN declared safe area, thus angering the western powers. With deterrence failing, a stronger response was needed.
Many proponents of airpower point to the Balkan peace accord following DELIBERATE FORCE as clear proof of NATO’s aerial victory. This operation, together with DESERT STORM before it, is "expected to serve as a template for future US conflict with a greater reliance on airborne technology, precision strike and integrated planning, and a deemphasis of the American military’s ground role." Secretary of Defense William Perry said "DELIBERATE FORCE was the absolutely crucial step in bringing the warring parties to the negotiating table at Dayton, leading to the peace agreement."
To understand the impact and effectiveness of DELIBERATE FORCE on the Bosnian Serbs, one must look at events in the Balkans that took place in the Spring and Summer of 1995 that led, in turn, to the first bombs falling on 30 August. There were at least three other important influences that directly led to the Dayton peace accords: Milosevic’s dropping of political, economic, and military support to the Bosnian Serbs; the coordinated Croat/Muslim offensive throughout Bosnia; and the previously mentioned Croat-Muslim Confederation. Some even argue that DELIBERATE FORCE was unnecessary and there is documented proof that the day before DELIBERATE FORCE began, the Bosnian Serbs had accepted the US framework for a peace settlement, including a 49/51% territorial split.
In the summer of 1995, the war in Bosnia was in full swing and both NATO and UN credibility were suffering. The previous December, former President Jimmy Carter had brokered a four month cease-fire among the warring factions in the country. All sides honored the cease-fire until the Bosnian government launched a major offensive in late March of 1995. The resumption in fighting also coincided with the good weather months of spring and summer. For the past three years, the warring sides had generally spent the winter months bivouacked, recuperating and training while waiting for better weather. Thus the four month cease-fire, although at first hailed as a breakthrough, was not as effective as may have been perceived by the UN and NATO.
On 1 May, Croatia launched a major offensive against Serb forces in Western Slavonia, Croatia. This was the Zagreb’s first major offensive in more than three years. Within Bosnia itself, government forces initiated large-scale offensive action against the Bosnian Serbs in the areas of Sarajevo and the strategic Posavina corridor that linked Serbia with the northern Bosnian Serb stronghold around Banja Luka and the Krajina in Croatia.
In defiance of a UN ultimatum, Bosnian Serbs seized heavy weapons from a UN-guarded weapons depot near Sarajevo. Seemingly justified by the new Croat and Muslim offensives, and outnumbered in manpower, the Serbs were nevertheless countered by NATO airstrikes on their Pale weapons depot on 25 and 26 May. In response to the aerial strike, they seized UNPROFOR personnel as hostages. The images of helpless UN soldiers chained to buildings sparked further outrage throughout most of the world. Ironically, it was the only way that the Bosnian Serbs could counter NATO bombs. The Serbs had no other effective means to counter NATO bombing of their essential war stocks other than to relocate the stocks. This was logistically impractical. Combined with the above events, the Bosnian Serbs felt trapped. According to one NATO general, "The Bosnian Serbs have declared war on the UN. They’ve made it hard to back off." UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali spoke of increasing troop strength in Bosnia and giving them a mandate to more forcefully impose a peace settlement.
The dilemma presented by hostages on the ground did make NATO leaders pause to think. Although NATO and the UN denied it, Bosnian Serb hostage taking had once again exposed the weakness of UNPROFOR against a determined foe, and exposed the weakness of an offensive air strategy tied to a peacekeeping and humanitarian mission on the ground. It also suggested a major lesson that air and surface operations in the same theater needed to be unified under one command structure to ensure that all operations were mutually supporting instead of mutually inhibiting.
These precipitous events at the end of May forced the UN to look for a better way to carry out its mandate and also protect its troops on the ground. The outcome was a heavily armed UN Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) with a more aggressive ROE to counter hostile acts. The new ROE would allow the RRF to enforce the peace by targeting any of the warring parties who violated it. Previously, UNPROFOR had to stand-by, unless acting in self-defense, as the warring parties fought. By the end of July, the RRF had moved onto the high ground of Mount Igman southwest of Sarajevo. Their mission was peace enforcement, not peacekeeping and represented a fundamental shift in the UN’s mission in Bosnia.
NATO was not invulnerable to Serb ground to air threats despite having almost total air supremacy over Bosnia. On 2 June 1995, a Bosnian Serb SA-6 battery shot down Captain Scott O’Grady’s F-16 over northwest Bosnia. By coincidence or perhaps fearing escalation, two hours later, Bosnian Serbs released 121 UN hostages. Consequently, NATO sent HARM (High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) equipped aircraft into Bosnian airspace and reassessed the intelligence failure that contributed to the shootdown. With all the electronic emissions-gathering sources in theater and on board the F-16, the pilot had adequate warning of incoming missiles. One important outcome of the O’Grady shootdown was that aircraft would stay out of Bosnia unless SEAD (Suppression of enemy air defense) assets were on station. The Serbs had now shown their ability to counter NATO’s front-line fighter force and DELIBERATE FORCE planners took this into account, as will be discussed later.
In July, Bosnian Serb forces took the safe areas of Srebrenica and Zepa and threatened the town of Gorazde. Their forces also launched a new offensive on the Bihac pocket in northwest Bosnia. The fall of both Srebrenica and Zepa was a humiliating event for the UN. In agreement, the UN and NATO drew a "line in the sand" at Gorazde during the London Conference held at the end of July 1995.
The London Conference was the pivotal turning point in getting a decisive air operation turned on. Foreign and defense ministers of sixteen nations involved in the conflict in Bosnia met to discuss new developments in the war. Secretary of State Christopher put the Serbs on notice that "an attack on Gorazde would be met by substantial and decisive air power." More significantly, five days later, UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali delegated strike authority for the UN to the military commander of all UN troops in the former Yugoslavia, French General Bernard Janvier. Previously, authority had rested with Boutros-Ghali’s special envoy to Bosnia, Yasushi Akashi. Admiral Leighton Smith, the commander of NATO forces in southern Europe, made NATO's military decisions. This new authority did not contradict any UNSC resolutions already in place because it still required joint decision making between the UN and NATO. It simply took out several layers of coordination between Boutros-Ghali and Janvier. In any event, the Russians, who were the Serbs's traditional allies, would have vetoed any new UNSC resolutions. Moscow vehemently opposed NATO airstrikes against Serb targets.
Following the fall of Zepa on 25 July, the North Atlantic Council extended NATO’s threat of decisive aerial bombardment if Serbs threatened any of the remaining four safe areas, Sarajevo, Gorazde, Bihac, or Tuzla. "Military preparations which are judged to represent a direct threat to the UN safe areas or direct attacks upon them will be met with the firm and rapid response of NATO air power," said NATO Secretary General Willy Claes after the meeting.
The widely condemned Serb offensive against Zepa and Srebrenica represented a significant change in the status quo. The Serbs had agreed two years before not to take Srebrenica, if the Muslims in the pocket disarmed. UNPROFOR soldiers were in the area to deter Serb aggression and ensure Muslim disarmament. The UNPROFOR commander at the time promised UN protection for the beleaguered town. When the Serbs attacked Srebrenica on 11 July 1995, the Dutch UN commander in the town repeatedly asked for CAS through UN channels. The UN did not approve the request until noon on 11 July, just as Srebrenica was about to fall. NATO planes arrived two and one half hours later, destroying one tank and damaging another, but their response came too late. NATO scrambled more CAS aircraft, but by that time Serb General Mladic had warned the UN that any more strikes against his troops in Srebrenica would result in the death of thirty Dutch UN peacekeepers that he now held hostage.
The Serb offensive was a major escalation but also an act of desperation. Serb power, since the start of the Bosnian war, had been waning vis-à-vis the Croats and Bosnian government forces. The Confederation had been expanding its armies and receiving arms, despite the arms embargo, and were thus growing in strength. According to the Croatian weekly magazine, Globus, the Bosnian/Croat Confederation outnumbered the Serbs as much as six to one in manpower (counting reserves), two to one in tanks, and almost two to one in heavy artillery. In his article, "Making Peace with the Guilty," retired Air Force General Chuck Boyd pointed out that it was:
...a remarkable achievement of Bosnian diplomacy, and one reinforced by the government’s rhetoric after the fall of Srebrenica, that the Muslims have been able to gain significant military parity with the Serbs, while nonetheless maintaining the image of hapless victim in the eyes of much of the world community.
To counter the offensives mounted by their adversaries throughout Bosnia and Croatia, the Serbs needed to invest the safe areas in the east. This would secure their rear flank. Those troops around Srebrenica and Zepa could then be used as reinforcements to help the outnumbered BSA elsewhere. The BSA also needed their military hardware, then under guard by the UN in storage areas around Sarajevo. Milosevic and the rump state of Yugoslavia had earlier cut off support for the BSA. The UN monitored the border between Serbia and Bosnia, at the invitation of Serbia, to ensure that military supplies and personnel were not entering Bosnia.
On 4 August, the Croatian Army launched a hugely successful offensive into the Krajina and within a matter of days pushed the Krajina Serb Army out of Croatia altogether. The exodus of more than 200,000 Krajina Serb refugees out of the region was the largest example of ethnic cleansing to date in the Yugoslav war. Now both the Croatian Army and Croat paramilitary units were positioned inside Bosnia, heady from an easy victory, and preparing for further offensive operations. The Bosnian Serbs now had an additional 200,000 Krajina refugees to deal with and a much more formidable security challenge. Despite UN and NATO assertions that they were maintaining impartiality, it was apparent to the Serbs that both organizations were very much on the side of the Confederation. With Bosnian government and Croatian forces growing stronger daily and world opinion of the Serbs continuously souring, the situation in August of 1995 was growing desperate for the Bosnian Serbs.
The deteriorating situation in theater kept planners busy considering possible contingencies. Two plans, DEAD EYE and DELIBERATE FORCE, were built and put on the shelf. DEAD EYE was designed to reduce the Integrated Air Defense System (IADS) of the Bosnian Serbs so that NATO warplanes could then safely bomb designated targets in the DELIBERATE FORCE plan. Under DEAD EYE, key air defense communications nodes, early warning radar sites, known SAM (Surface to Air Missile) sites and support facilities, and air defense command and control facilities, were all on the target list and would be first priority. DELIBERATE FORCE was a denial campaign designed to reduce the offensive military capabilities of the BSA. Targets included the heavy weapons of the fielded forces, command and control facilities, direct and essential military support facilities, and the supporting infrastructure and lines of communication for the BSA. In order to avoid excessive casualties, the actual fielded forces would only be targeted if they were massing for attack. Throughout the tense summer of 1995, both NATO and UN personnel refined the target list and joint UN-NATO implementation arrangements were nailed down. In addition, a joint air-land coordination document specifying the necessary operational details of joint/combined operations between the RRF and NATO was also refined. To avoid the repeated humiliation of hostage-taking, UN headquarters tasked its soldiers to evacuate isolated outposts before operations began. One hour before the actual execution, French peacekeepers blew up an eastern observation post, Krupac 1, and slipped away to safety. By the end of August, the number of UNPROFOR soldiers on the ground in Bosnia had also been reduced from over 20,000 personnel in May to approximately 4000 personnel, now deployed in better defensive positions.
The objectives of Operation DELIBERATE FORCE were limited. According to NATO Secretary General Willie Claes, the main objective was to reduce the threat to the Sarajevo Safe Area as well as any of the other designated Safe Areas. On 6 September, after Operation DELIBERATE FORCE was one week old, Admiral Smith explained the three conditions necessary to stop the operation. The Bosnian Serbs would have to stop attacking designated safe areas, withdraw heavy weapons from within a twenty kilometer exclusion zone of Sarajevo, and allow complete freedom of movement for UN forces distributing humanitarian aid.
Working from UN and NATO objectives and in the context of the on-going war, Lt. General Michael Ryan, the Combined Forces Air Component Commander working for Admiral Smith, developed the planned air operation objective to: "Execute a robust NATO air operation that adversely alters the BSA’s advantage in conducting successful military operations against the BIH." Ryan’s end state was one where the Bosnian Serbs sued for cessation of military operations, complied with UN mandates, and agreed to negotiate. His planning assumptions recognized the Bosnian Serbs as the aggressors and exploited the Serbs historic "fear of domination" by the Muslims. The Serbs main advantage was their ability to "swing a more capable but less numerous, heavy weapon equipped force to places of need or choosing." Attacking this capability would change the balance of power. Further assumptions were that the Serbs would not realize this shift in the balance of power and sue for termination of hostilities unless they were subjected to a "robust attack."
At 0212 Central European Time, the first bombs exploded as strike and supporting aircraft attacked targets in Southeast Bosnia as part of Operation DEAD EYE. Shortly thereafter, another twenty-eight aircraft struck DELIBERATE FORCE targets. Four more strike packages totaling more than forty strike aircraft hit targets over the course of the next sixteen hours. For forty-eight hours, NATO hit targets on a list of fifty-six pre-approved targets and their 338 associated DMPIs (desired mean point of impact). All strikes were in a southeast zone of action centered on Sarajevo and Pale.
Another dilemma facing planners was using aircraft without a precision capability. Many NATO aircraft had no precision capability and consequently could not be employed as accurately. Since DELIBERATE FORCE was a coalition effort, it was imperative that NATO show a "combined front" to the UN as well as the warring parties within Bosnia. Targets located close to concentrated populations were hit by precision weapons and the non precision weapons were used where the risk of collateral damage was lower. By the end of the campaign, approximately one third of the weapons used were unguided bombs. This allowed NATO countries, such as the Netherlands, to participate in an offensive role. According to Brigadier General Dave Sawyer, the deputy director of NATO’s Combined Air Operations Center in Vicenza, Italy, "There were many targets attacked by Dutch Air Force F-16s with unguided bombs, which did better than anything in the history of air warfare." Because of on-board "smart" computer systems, even unguided bombs were highly accurate. The use of either smart munitions or unguided bombs dropped from smart systems made for outstanding bombing accuracy and results.
Actual operations required making tough targeting and weaponeering decisions. NATO and the UN wanted to use airpower to coerce the Serbians into cooperating but collateral damage and casualties needed to be minimized. General Ryan personally approved every DMPI. At Dayton, the Bosnian Serb representative brought up the issue of collateral damage and casualties suffered by his people, as one of the first orders of business. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic angrily told him to "Shut-up. Only twenty five people were killed." The subject was never brought up again.
The weapon of choice for eliminating mobile artillery systems was the CBU-87, a cluster bomb containing 202 submunitions which would blanket an area. The problem was that the fragmentation pattern was too large to sufficiently limit collateral damage and there was also the further problem of potential unexploded ordnance. Even if 90% of the submunitions functioned properly that would still leave twenty potential bombs lying around the area that would have to be cleaned up later at a high risk to someone. One A-10 unit did employ two cluster bombs on the first day of DELIBERATE FORCE before being told by Ryan’s CAOC (Combined Air Operations Center) then to cease using that munition.
Militarily, DELIBERATE FORCE was an excellent example of using airpower coercively, to get the Serbs to lift the siege of Sarajevo. For the first forty-eight hours, NATO aircraft bombed key military targets around Pale with an overabundance of force, and were generally impervious to Serb retaliation. One French Mirage aircraft was shot down by a shoulder-fired infrared missile. The Serbs dug-in and consequently, some of their equipment was hard, if not impossible, to get at. Hitting communication nodes, weapons and ammunition storage areas and lines of communication took away Serb mobility and did not allow them to respond to BIH or HVO offensives elsewhere in Bosnia.
After two days, NATO temporarily paused bombing at the request of Janvier who was attempting to get Mladic to remove his heavy artillery from around Sarajevo. Mladic refused unless he could have guarantees that the BIH around Sarajevo would cease any military activities. Negotiations broke down when Janvier would not guarantee Mladic’s request, and NATO reissued its ultimatum to the Serbs to remove heavy artillery within two days, or bombing would resume. Only about 20 of the estimated 300 Serb artillery pieces in place around Sarajevo were moved by the deadline. NATO issued a statement that those moves "failed to demonstrate the intent to comply with the ultimatum." NATO resumed bombing on 7 September.
On 13 September, one day before a ceasefire actually took effect, the Serbs had still not moved from around Sarajevo. Bosnian Serbs in Sarajevo feared attack by the BIH if they withdrew their weapons. General Ratko Mladic, responding to the UN, asked about UN assurances regarding the BIH, massed north of Sarajevo, if he withdrew. Mladic’s fears were well-founded, since the UN had not responded when his own forces had taken Srebrenica. In fact, the year before, the BSA had given up Mount Igman, and now there were BIH gun emplacements where formerly there had been BSA artillery, even after the UN had assured the Serbs that the UN would occupy the ground.
On 14 September, NATO halted airstrikes when General Mladic agreed to move his weapons from around Sarajevo, after refusing for weeks to accept terms. One day prior, on 13 September, NATO planners were running out of authorized targets to hit and the BSA had still not moved. The situation on the ground complicated the political and military situation for the Serbs. On 10 September, the BIH and HVO launched new offensives in western Bosnia with surprising success. UN spokesman, Alexander Ivanko said the BSA did not appear to be putting up a fight. "It was more like an organized retreat." Another UN official said that "It’s easier to scare people into moving out of an area that is going to be given up, than to try and make them leave in peacetime."
The Confederation offensive complicated NATO targeting procedures. NATO coordinated with Confederation forces to make sure they did not bomb newly overrun positions. At the same time, the UN condemned these same offensives. General Ryan told representatives of the BIH to make sure they shut down one captured SA-2 site as they rolled through the area so that NATO planes would not have to bomb it. The offensive moved quickly through Bosnia, almost to within artillery range of the largest Bosnian Serb town of Banja Luka, before Mladic agreed to move his equipment from around Sarajevo.
Combined with DELIBERATE FORCE and the Confederation offensive, Milosevic’s rejection of support for the Bosnian Serbs was perhaps the most decisive factor of all. The Serbian rejection came shortly after the Bosnian Serb parliament rejected the Vance-Owen peace plan in May 1993. After the Serbs’ Gorazde offensive in April 1994, Serbia was even more eager to distance itself from the Bosnian Serbs. By August of 1994, the UN began lifting some of the embargoes against Serbia in exchange for Serbia closing its border with Bosnia. Bosnian Serbs realized that Milosevic was under a lot of pressure from the international community but still had some hope of his support if they were desperate and in danger of losing their war of independence. After the Croats pushed all the Krajina Serbs out of country without a significant response from Serbia, the Bosnian Serbs realized that they truly were on their own. With almost no outside logistical, moral, or political support, the Bosnian Serbs were left to fend for themselves, as NATO bombs fell.
CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
NATO’s actions are pushing all the countries of the former Soviet Union-and not only them-to establish a new bloc to protect themselves. Here’s the picture that comes to mind: A big, drunk hooligan is in a kindergarten. He is the only grown-up and thinks he can do whatever he wants. The world needs a counterbalance.
Retired Russian General Alexander Ivanovich Lebed, 1995
Operations DENY FLIGHT and DELIBERATE FORCE were key elements within the broader Yugoslav War, but not, by themselves, the decisive factor resulting in the current peace agreement. To understand airpower’s role in Bosnia, one must understand the nature of the war in Bosnia and the events that led to the escalating involvement of the UN, NATO, and US in the region. Factors equal in importance to airpower were the role international and domestic politics played; the difficulty of forging an acceptable "military option" agreeable to both the UN and NATO; economic sanctions against the former Yugoslavia; and the growing military superiority of the Bosnian/Croat Confederation.
The US position on the breakdown of Yugoslavia lacked consistency over time. On 27 June 1991, US presidential spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, condemned both the Slovenian and Croatian moves towards independence. Three years later, on 4 July, the US opened its embassy in Sarajevo, two years after recognizing the independent nation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This represented a major US shift in strategy. President Bush approached the situation in Yugoslavia much more cautiously than did President Clinton later. The Clinton Administration, by recognizing Bosnia-Herzegovina and its government, primarily Muslim, as sovereign, heightened the security concerns of a sizable Serb population, within Bosnia. These Serbs did not wish to secede from Yugoslavia. The "war of aggression" that followed in Bosnia was fought primarily by an indigenous Serb population. Their brutal ground campaign, including widespread incidents of rape and murder, and their intentional starvation of concentration camp inmates, reminiscent of World War II, were reprehensible. Serb atrocities also negated their tactical successes on the battlefield in the long run by diminishing their valid security concerns, in western eyes. Federal structures in place during the Tito years, established to diffuse ethnic and nationalist tensions, served to gestate a series of embryonic states. The West needed to understand sooner the reality that Yugoslavia was not one country, according to one Yugoslav expert speaking in 1989, but several. Instead of simply recognizing the various independent republics springing from the old Yugoslavia, the international community needed to provide both the leadership and the framework for a new country or countries where all citizens had guaranteed rights. Unfortunately, although easy to state in theory, building a new framework required cooperation and compromise, two ingredients sorely lacking in Yugoslavia.
US Congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley put forward an equally compelling argument for maintaining a whole Yugoslavia, one that also illuminated the Serb point of view:
Imagine if millions of Mexicans in Texas were to demand an ethnic 51st Latino State in those areas where they had a majority. How would the US react if they openly planned on secession of that future state from the Union and its merger with a foreign country. And finally, let us imagine how we would react to any foreign legislature which had the effrontery to condemn us if we took decisive steps to prevent such an outcome. This is precisely how the Serbs feel today.
The UN was initially on the ground in Bosnia prior to the start of the Bosnian war to act as peacekeepers within Croatia, following a cease fire between the Krajina Serbs and Croatia. UNPROFOR’s mission of providing humanitarian relief escort in Bosnia came about only when the Bosnian Serbs initiated offensive operations in April of 1992. This was essentially the first time the UN had ever attempted large-scale peacekeeping and peace support missions in an active war zone.
The UN’s humanitarian relief mission often directly countered warring parties’ strategies, especially the Bosnian Serbs. Indiscriminate Serb artillery fire and a huge refugee problem led to a UN decision to declare selected enclaves as "safe areas." Often times, Muslims within the six designated safe areas would use them as a base of operations from which to attack the Serbs surrounding the area. Provoking a Serb response would sometimes cause casualties that, in turn, were broadcast on CNN and sure to keep Bosnian Serb atrocities center stage in the on-going war.
According to Canadian peacekeeper and former UNPROFOR commander, General Lewis MacKenzie, "Dealing with Bosnia is a little bit like dealing with three serial killers. One has killed 15. One has killed 10. One has killed five. Do we help the one that has only killed five?" While he was in Bosnia, MacKenzie was disappointed because no one ever told him what the political objectives within Bosnia were. Everyone wanted the military to recommend something, but that can be dangerous. During Bosnian hearings before Congress, General MacKenzie recalled his:
...year at your Army’s war college in Carlisle when the Chairman of your Joint Chiefs of Staff during the early days of the Vietnam war described to us in livid detail how he met with President Johnson once in the elevator at the White House. The President stuck his finger in his chest and said, "General, I want your boys to stir things up in Vietnam." That is not my idea of clear political direction and it sounds a little like today’s collective international plea to the military, "For God’s sake, do something in Bosnia.
That "something" was implementing Operation DENY FLIGHT. Ineffective at stopping unauthorized overflight of Bosnia by helicopters, DENY FLIGHT did show direct UN and NATO involvement in the region. The air threat in Bosnia posed by fixed-wing fighters was minimal. Both the Bosnian government and the Croats had no fixed-wing fighters. The BIH and HVO effectively neutralized the Serb air threat with AAA and infrared SAMs. NATO’s shootdown of four Krajina Serb Jastrebs in February of 1994 was executed according to UN mandates and NATO ROE. It was the only significant military event in the course of the Bosnian war that met unanimous approval from all the key players in the region, except, of course, the Krajina Serbs, who were silent on the issue. Serbia even condemned the no-fly zone violation.
By contrast, use of helicopters was widespread and virtually untouchable since all sides were using them, including the UN and NATO. Most of the missions these helicopters flew, unauthorized or otherwise, were resupply and evacuation. Their use minimized casualties on all sides. Helicopters could avoid the dangerous lines of communications in country, rife with snipers and road blocks. Expecting the combatants to cease flying operations over Bosnia, especially in conjunction with military operations, was demanding more than DENY FLIGHT could back-up without a high risk of collateral damage or fratricide. Consequently, early on, NATO "defined away" the helicopter problem, with its stringent ROE, that required approval of the Combined Force Air Component Commander, to authorize weapons employment against helicopters.
NATO’s decision to expand the DENY FLIGHT mission five months after its inception, to provide CAS for UNPROFOR soldiers in their humanitarian mission and to protect the safe areas, was not properly thought out or implemented. For CAS to be effective, it needed to be immediately responsive to the needs of the ground troops. With the unwieldy dual chain of command requiring the UN Secretary General’s personal approval, CAS was dead on arrival. Protecting the safe areas also proved difficult when all warring factions were initiating artillery barrages. As a deterrent against assaults on the safe areas, DENY FLIGHT was partially effective but when challenged, airpower could neither deter assaults on the safe areas, nor protect UNPROFOR soldiers and civilians on the ground against a determined foe. Consequently, UN and NATO credibility was undermined.
From the beginning of DENY FLIGHT and the establishment of the safe areas, it was apparent to the Serbs that UN actions were directed only against them, even when the BIH or HVO were also violating the integrity of the safe areas or harassing UNPROFOR soldiers and aid workers. The Serbs generally honored the ceasefire agreements, but would retaliate in response to BIH offensive actions. According to General MacKenzie, "God knows, overall, the majority of the blame does rest with the Serbs; however, whenever we arrange any type of cease-fire, it’s usually the Muslims who break it first."
Economic sanctions directed primarily against Serbia were probably the most decisive factor affecting the situation in Bosnia, although they took time to become effective. UNSCRs 757 and 820 cut off virtually all outside aid other than humanitarian assistance to Serbia and put immense pressure on Milosevic to help broker a satisfactory settlement in Bosnia. The Yugoslav economy had been built on the economic integrity of the six republics all economically intertwined. When the two most prosperous republics, Slovenia and Croatia, seceded, followed shortly thereafter by Bosnia and Macedonia, the remaining republics of Serbia and Montenegro were left devastated economically. Furthermore, Yugoslavia had been receiving billions in foreign aid from both the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War years. This aid was no longer available after the break-up of the Soviet Union. With Yugoslavia’s break-up, Serbia was even more reliant on outside aid.
In 1994, the UN offered Milosevic incentives to lift some economic sanctions if Serbia would close its border with Bosnia and quit resupplying the BSA. By 1994, the majority of Serbians considered the BSA a liability, so Milosevic acceded to the UN request. The UN offered Bosnian Serbs their own territory and a continued existence within a republic. This satisfied Milosevic when the Serbian leader weighed that against the economic hardship Serbia and Montenegro were suffering for their continued support of the Bosnian Serbs. Serbia’s termination of aid and support crippled the Bosnian Serbs. Admittedly there was some leakage of aid along the border but the overall impact was severe and sharply curtailed Serb offensive operations within Bosnia. When Serbia failed to respond to Croatia’s sweep through the Krajina in August of 1995, the Bosnian Serbs suffered a major psychological blow.
Another decisive impact was the growing qualitative capabilities of both the Croat and Muslim armies added to their already considerable quantitative superiority. When allied from February 1994 on, their Confederation and subsequent battlefield successes severely threatened the Bosnian Serbs. In May of 1995, NATO’s pinprick attacks against the Bosnian Serbs for retaking their heavy weapons within the Sarajevo exclusion zone created a hostage crisis. Although UNPROFOR soldiers had been taken hostage before, the UN and NATO had not been able to effectively counter this Serb asymmetric strategy against airpower. By August of 1995, with UNPROFOR troops on the ground in secure positions, the Bosnian/Croat offensive provided unintentional synergism to NATO airstrikes during DELIBERATE FORCE. Bosnian Serb morale was inevitably broken down by not being able to respond to NATO raids together with its inability to respond effectively to widespread Bosnian and Croat offensives throughout the country in August and September. By September, the Bosnian Serbs realized that they were not going to be able to keep the 70% of the country they once held and ordered a strategic withdrawal in western Bosnia to more secure positions around Banja Luka. Amazingly, they now controlled almost exactly 49% of Bosnia, the percentage called for in the proposed peace agreement.
Consequently, DELIBERATE FORCE was the coercive catalyst that forced the Bosnian Serbs to lift the siege of Sarajevo and brought all three warring parties to Dayton. It was the cumulative effects of a combined ground offensive, economic and political isolation, and the Serbs’ inability to respond to a joint air/ground operation that provided the incentive for the Bosnian Serbs to capitulate. However, to emphasize the NATO airpower presence to all three warring parties when they arrived at Dayton, Ambassador Holbrook had every fighter in the US arsenal on static display and fully loaded on the VIP ramp at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. As the various Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian leaders deplaned, they walked past the most formidable Air Force in the world. That night, at a dinner set up in the aviation museum at Wright-Patterson, these same leaders ate surrounded by past and present fighters and bombers of the United States Air Force.
Airpower has many advantages as well as limitations. Its mobility, precision, and destructive capability combined with air superiority make it a formidable weapon. But, as this paper shows, airpower without political consensus in a hostile environment can be more of a liability than an asset. To use airpower as a deterrent, expect that the party one is trying to deter will challenge the strategy. Attempting to use airpower to deter or coerce an opponent can be seriously undermined if there is a different strategy at work on the ground such as that of humanitarian relief supported by lightly armed and outnumbered ground forces. If the deterrent and coercive warnings or actions are started and stopped in a seemingly random fashion, due to a failure between air and ground components to coordinate activity, the result is mixed signals, and possible confusion in the mind of the party one wants to deter or coerce.
All of the organizations involved in Bosnia throughout the course of Operation DENY FLIGHT were often working at cross purposes. UNPROFOR’s humanitarian support operations helped keep thousands of refugees from starving but severely hampered NATO’s ability to respond at those times it was authorized to do so, because of the retaliatory threat to UNPROFOR and aid workers. The US, non-committal early on, grew to be the major power broker in Bosnia, often recommending actions which could seriously affect the ground situation where there was virtually no American military presence. For example, the US, backed by extensive Bosnian government lobbying, tried repeatedly to get the UN arms embargo lifted against Bosnia, which was no longer a part of Yugoslavia. The British and French, in particular, with large contingents of UNPROFOR soldiers on the ground, were constantly and consistently opposed to that strategy. The US argued that it would level the playing field, but the European response was that it would elevate the killing field. The UK and France threatened to pull out their peacekeepers if the arms embargo was lifted.
Lifting the arms embargo may, ironically, have brought the war to an earlier conclusion. With Bosnia essentially landlocked, Croatia could screen virtually all arms going into Bosnia During the arms embargo, the Croats allowed a sizable arsenal, minus substantial amounts of heavy weaponry, to flow through their border to Bosnia. To get more of the heavy equipment and arms through to Bosnian government forces would have probably required airlift into Sarajevo. The Bosnian Serbs would have surely countered this threat by targeting the Sarajevo airport, thus closing it to flights, and arms deliveries as well as humanitarian aid. The UN and NATO would have had to respond. Nevertheless, the UN Security Council never rescinded the arms embargo and Bosnia was still able to rearm to a large extent.
Ambassador Holbrooke and General Ryan, two of the key players during the period of DELIBERATE FORCE, were also working at cross purposes at times. General Ryan and his staff hit targets during the operation as fast as possible, fearing that the UN or NATO would order a halt to the bombing at any time. Ambassador Christopher Hill, Holbrooke’s right-hand man from August 1995 onward, said that diplomats were worried that NATO was going to run out of targets and take away Holbrooke’s "big stick" before he was through with tough diplomatic negotiations. In turn, Ryan was extremely sensitive to collateral damage and did everything he could to avoid casualties on all sides. Ambassador Hill said they were not as worried about collateral damage as Ryan appeared to be. To his credit, Ryan’s approach was more realistic. Holbrooke and Hill were representing the US position. Ryan was directing a NATO operation with allies that would have been much more alarmed than the US by significant amounts of collateral damage.
The impact that DELIBERATE FORCE had on Russia cannot be overestimated. Russia was essentially marginalized during that operation. They would surely have vetoed any new UNSCR intended to strike at the Serbs, although bombing the Serbs in the vicinity of Sarajevo, where the majority of the targets were, was consistent with past UNSCRs that were designed to protect the safe areas. The Russians considered the DEAD EYE campaign, while perhaps a military necessity, as a serious escalation and a misinterpretation of UNSC resolutions. President Boris Yeltsin publicly criticized the NATO bombing operation. "Those who insist on an expansion of NATO are making a major political mistake. The flames of war could burst out across the whole of Europe." The Russian parliament, which had been very vocal in its opposition to NATO’s participation in Bosnia throughout DENY FLIGHT, likewise condemned DELIBERATE FORCE. In April of 1993, it voted for Russia to use its Security Council veto against any UN resolution authorizing force against Bosnia’s Serbs. Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Vitaly I. Churkin said, however, that cabinet members "receive their orders only from the president and obey only him." Nevertheless, Russian popular sentiment was firmly allied with the Bosnian Serbs. General Lebed’s quotation at the beginning of this chapter may sound an ominous warning of Russian feelings that the US is going to have to try to understand.
At the Grand Strategic level, Russia has stated that it will protect the rights of Russian nationals living abroad. For example, a sizable portion of Lithuanian citizens are Russian, the result of Soviet colonization and Joseph Stalin’s efforts to "Sovietize" the country after the Soviet Union annexed it. These Lithuanian Russians are complaining to Russia that they are being discriminated against and harassed by Lithuanians who would like to see them leave. This situation is analogous to that of the Serbs living outside Serbia. Russians, with their own ethnic problems, view themselves as protectors of fellow Slavs and are very interested in seeing Serbs throughout the former Yugoslavia treated equitably.
Many Bosnians roundly criticized Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic for agreeing to a partition between the Serbs and the Confederation. Izetbegovic’s long-term goal is a reunified Bosnia with a multi-ethnic constituency. He signed the peace agreement to "stop the killing." With the new balance of power now shifted towards the Confederation, there will be cries for reunification if the political process and economic restructuring are unsatisfactory. International organizations and states must continue to send aid and encourage dialog and reconciliation. Rebuilding Bosnia will cost billions of dollars, $1.2 billion in 1996 alone, of which so far only $500 million has been pledged. "Clear messages of reconciliation and confidence-building are also needed. That is not happening." according to one UNHCR representative.
For future operations of this sort, the US needs to develop a balanced military/economic/political approach to emerging security concerns. The humanitarian element is important, but going in to "do something" without a coherent strategy can lead to more death and destruction than before. Ironically, most of ethnic cleansing was done by the time NATO arrived. The US put its stamp on Bosnia by using military force to get the three sides to sign a peace agreement. Now, time, continued dialog, and a strong peace enforcement presence are necessary for an indeterminate period, but certainly longer than one year.
Peace enforcement versus peacekeeping is going to continue to be a controversial issue for the UN. Somalia and Bosnia are both examples of environments in which the UN did not have a clear mandate for action. Warring parties in both countries had not agreed to a cease-fire. If the UN or the Security Council feels it is important to enter contested areas, then an increased emphasis on peace enforcement will be necessary.
DENY FLIGHT was essentially a peace enforcement mission, intended initially to prohibit unauthorized flights over Bosnia-Herzegovina and, subsequently, to protect UNPROFOR soldiers and designated safe areas. Impartiality was always suspect. Now that the warring parties have ratified a peace agreement, the US is in a peacekeeping and peace building posture helping to organize, train, and equip a Bosnian government military force. Many European nations do not support the US effort in this regard. Determining how much organizing, training, and equipping is needed to "level the playing field" is the toughest problem that the US is wrestling with now.
Counter to American interest in checking the spread of radical elements of Islam, there is mounting evidence that Bosnia has become a solid fundamentalist foothold in the Balkans. "We knew it was bad, but it is worse than we thought." one senior US administration official said. Iran has the largest foreign diplomatic presence in Sarajevo. According to the US Information Agency, 83% of Bosnian Muslims have a favorable view of Iran, which is second only to the 95% approval rating of the US. The Iranians provided the bulk of arms to the Bosnian government during the war. Implementation Force soldiers uncovered an Iranian sponsored terrorist training facility on the ski slopes near the 1984 Olympic village.
One continuing theme of future US operations is coalition warfare. America will be fighting within a coalition and divergent coalition interests could hamper military strategy. DELIBERATE FORCE would have been much easier if it was a US-only operation but that was not feasible given the politics of the situation. In the words of General Ryan, "It may not have been an efficient use of airpower, but it was effective." Efficiency may have to be sacrificed to sustain a coalition effort.
Two questions to ask in the aftermath of DENY FLIGHT are the efficacy of an "air presence" and when or if to attack an IADS. For two and one half years, NATO kept fighters airborne over Bosnia-Herzegovina, for almost 23,280 straight hours over the course of 970 days. In that time there were over 5000 unauthorized flights actually tracked and untold flights that were not documented. Helicopters were virtually untouchable and fixed wing aircraft flights were rare. Both the Krajina and Bosnian Serbs based their fighters at one of two airfields, either Banja Luka or Udbina. The UN had monitors at both fields to watch for unauthorized flights. Because Banja Luka was in Bosnia, the Serbs could not fly aircraft without UN authorization. The Serbs could fly in the Krajina region of Croatia without violating UN mandates. One of the four NATO aerial gates into Bosnia tracked in almost directly over Udbina. Often, NATO pilots going in or coming out of the country could actually observe flight operations if the Serbs were flying. Since Udbina was virtually the only base the Serbs used, fighter CAPs (Combat Air Patrols) monitored the field from the northern part of Bosnia, in case Serb fighters strayed across the border. The UN Security Council finally passed a resolution so that NATO was able to bomb Udbina when that airfield was supporting combat operations over the Bihac pocket of Bosnia in November of 1994.
Thus, the question future strategists must answer is whether an around-the-clock air presence over Bosnia or a punishing, coercive strike on a violator’s support facilities is more effective or, in the long run, more politically viable. Unauthorized flights over Bosnia undermined NATO’s air presence. When the Serbs started using their fighters on Bihac, NATO took out their runway. A better use of airpower may have been to minimize NATO’s air presence and take out the Serb airfields when the Serbs used them to violate UN resolutions.
On the issue of IADS, the Air Force has invested much into targeting an enemy’s integrated air defense network. Part of gaining and maintaining air superiority is taking out an enemy’s ground-to-air capability. Because optically guided anti-aircraft artillery and infrared hand-held missiles are harder to target, NATO aircraft stayed high to avoid this threat, exposing themselves to a radar threat which HARM-shooters could target and electronic countermeasures platforms could jam. With the older systems that the Bosnian and Krajina Serbs employed, onboard systems were effective at countering most threats. Without support from Serbia, BSA equipment, much of it inherited from the routed Krajina Serb, broke down. Targeting the area around Banja Luka, to help break down the IADS may have made doctrinal sense, but it definitely caused consternation among our allies, and enraged the Russians. Avoiding the radar SAM threat by changing ingress and egress routes may have been a better option, politically.
Finally, statements that the US can win wars through the use of airpower, and then pointing to DESERT STORM AND DENY FLIGHT as examples on which to build, can be misleading. One needs to understand the context in which airpower is used. Ethnic animosities, politically acceptable solutions, and impartiality on the part of the international community are issues that demanded more fidelity than airpower could provide in Bosnia. Airpower did coerce the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims to sign a peace agreement in October of 1995. However, a Confederation army, Milosevic’s cut-off of economic and political support, and a more unified international consensus to target the Serb, provided the environment for airpower to be most effective. Airpower does not operate in a vacuum, but its synergistic effect when combined with other instruments of power makes it a trump card in America’s strategic arsenal.