Pentagon gathers intelligence on Bosnian Serbs Could be used to plot attacks

May 10, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- As the United States and its allies weig possible military action against the Bosnian Serbs, the Pentagon has begun intensifying its efforts to marshal allied intelligence data to help plot possible targets and tactics, analysts here say.

Led by the Defense Intelligence Agency, the military is gathering a wide array of information, ranging from photographs taken by U.S. spy satellites to firsthand reports from allied troops on duty in Bosnia-Herzegovina and from recent refugees.

What has emerged is a picture of a combat zone in which weather and terrain would pose serious challenges to the allies. But it also appears that the potential enemy's firepower is limited to relatively unsophisticated weapons and that its supply lines could be disrupted with little difficulty.

Still unclear is the likely effectiveness of the Bosnian Serbs' fighting force -- whether the 40,000-man army would prove troublesome for the United States or is undisciplined and apt to run quickly, as some experts contend.

George Kenney, an expert on Eastern Europe at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says the paradox posed by Bosnian Serb troops may prove one of the thorniest -- and most frustrating -- challenges for any allied intervention forces.

"For the most part, the Serb forces aren't a credible fighting force and wouldn't fight very well," Mr. Kenney contends. "These are criminal gangs much more than military units. It's mainly the officers who are . . . trained. In any real crunch, most of them would flee."

At the same time, Mr. Kenney cautions, the absence of any real discipline means that die-hard Serbian guerrillas would likely continue to be a threat far longer than conventional forces might be.

Defense analysts say a stepped-up pace of intelligence gathering on Bosnia began early in March.

Over the past few months, both U.S. and NATO intelligence-gathering agencies have been sharpening their focus, steadily increasing the number of passes by spy satellites over Bosnia.

But weather and the mountainous terrain have been hampering some efforts. Adding to the troubles, the Bosnian Serbs' arsenal is stashed in mountain caves, first used during the regime of Yugoslav dictator Josip Broz Tito, and is thus out of range of aerial photography equipment.

Jeffrey Richelson, an analyst with the National Security Archives, said that if a military confrontation came, the allies would be able to use satellites and some ground stations in the region to monitor the Serbian forces' radio transmissions.

Unfortunately, however, there is a shortage of skilled linguists capable of translating such transmissions.

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