NATO to take up authorization for Bosnia air strikes

February 08, 1994|By Paul Martin | Paul Martin,Special to The Sun

Brussels -- When the NATO Council meets tomorrow to discuss U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's call for authorization for air strikes in Bosnia, it will be in the firm knowledge that such a call could be answered "in a maximum of 30 minutes."

More than 140 fighters and bombers under NATO command are deployed at Italian bases and on aircraft carriers close to the Bosnian coast ready for the order to strike.

Hundreds of shells fall on Sarajevo each day from the estimated 230 artillery pieces and T-55 tanks ringing Sarajevo.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's military command is confident it could essentially destroy the artillery pieces in a strike executed over a day or two.

"NATO has identified more than 600 prime targets for possible air strikes," a NATO official said. "We know what we want to take out. The intelligence gathering is constant."

The official was referring to the 11,000 NATO fighter, tanker and AWACS reconnaissance sorties -- including 6,859 fighter missions over Bosnia -- that have been flown in the past 10 months as part of Operation Deny Flight.

Almost 4,000 personnel from 12 NATO countries have been deployed for the air operations, including NATO forward air controllers.

If the political decision came, the air strikes would be directed by U.S. Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda, commander, Allied Forces Southern Europe. Admiral Boorda recently flew to the United States to brief the United Nations on NATO contingencies.

Since its summit last month, NATO has exchanged letters with Mr. Boutros-Ghali on the use of air power.

"Even before the Sarajevo massacre we were far advanced on the question of the use of air power," said a NATO official.

"We had made it clear that air strikes could be launched at U.N. request after the NATO Council's approval. The planes would be in action in a maximum of 30 minutes."

Admiral Boorda has an array of assets at his disposal -- mostly U.S. firepower -- at a string of Italian air bases and on carriers positioned within striking distance of Bosnia.

The U.S. forces include 12 F-16C fighters, eight F/A-18A and D fighters, 12 O/A-10 attack aircraft and three EC-130 Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Centers based at Aviano; two AC-130 gunship aircraft in Brindisi; 10 KC-135 air-to-air refueling aircraft in Pisa and NAS Sigonella; 12 F/A-18C or F-14 fighters and six F-18/A-6E fighters on the carrier USS Saratoga.

France has committed 10 Mirage 2000 fighters operating from Cervia, five Mirage F-1 reconnaissance aircraft and eight Jaguars at Istrana, one E-3F AEW operating from Trapani and a C-135 tanker from Istres.

It also operates six Super Etendard 4P fighter-bombers from the aircraft carrier Clemenceau.

Britain has eight F-3 Tornado fighters and eight Jaguar attack aircraft at Gioia del Colle (reinforced by four British-based Jaguars), two K-1 Tristar tankers flying from Malpensa and six Harriers operating from the carrier Ark Royal.

Other NATO aircraft includes Holland's eight F-16A fighters (backed up by four home-based F-16A fighters and six F-16A Close Air Support aircraft operating from Villafranca).

Turkey has 10 F-16C fighters at Ghedi and eight other F-16C fighters at Turkish air bases.

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