Background: Croatian Serb (aka: Krajina Serb) stationed in the so called demilitarized zone of the self-declared “Republic of Serbian Krajina” have used the fighter planes from Udbina airfield to bomb the besieged Bosniak civilians in the Bihac area of Bosnia three times since Nov. 9, including an attack Friday on Bihac city with napalm and cluster bombs. On Saturday, nine people were killed and 15 wounded in nearby Cazin when one of two Yugoslav-made Orao attack planes crashed during a raid. In addition, Serbs in Croatia have been firing artillery into Bihac pocket in support of Bosnian Serbs trying to regain lost territory.
U.S.-led Force Bombs Airfield Held by Serbs
By Aida Cerkez
Observer-Reporter, p. Front, A2
22 November 1994.
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — In its biggest airstrike ever, NATO retaliated Monday for repeated Serb attacks on a U.N. safe haven by bombing an airfield in a Serb-controlled section of Croatia [self-declared Republic of Serbian Krajina].
NATO commanders said the raid knocked the Udbina airfield out of commission for 30 days. The airfield and its artillery batteries have been used by Serbs in recent weeks to terrorize residents of government-held areas of north-west Bosnia.
A Croatian commander said only two runways were damaged by the midday airstrike and that they could be repaired as early as Wednesday. The airfield is 22 miles southwest of the U.N-designated safe area of Bihac.
In Washington, a Pentagon official said the mission’s intent was to temporarily disable the airfield, not destroy it. NATO officials said they wanted to limit casualties.
A little more than 20 warplanes participated in the mission of about 30 aircraft, the Pentagon official said on condition of anonymity. The plane sincluded F-16C, F-15E, and F-A-18D attack planes.
The planes bombed Serb anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missile sites first, and then the airfield. NATO reconnaissance planes did a damage assessment.
In addition to the U.S. planes, Jaguar and Mirage jets from Britain, France and the Netherlands crossed the Adriatic for the airstrike, NATO’s seventh since the Bosnian war started in April 1992 and the alliance’s first in neighboring Croatia.
“Initial reports are that the strike was successful,” said Adm. Leighton W. Smith, NATO commander for southern Europe. Serb surface-to-air missiles were fired at the NATO planes, but he said all warplanes and 20 support aircraft returned safely to their bases in Italy.
The U.N. commander for former Yugoslavia, Gen. Bertrand de Lapresle, requested that the NATO warplanes target runways and taxiways — not destroy aircraft, Smith told reporters in Naples, Italy.
“Our intention was to try to limit collateral damage,” Smith said. “we did not want to go outside of that airfield area, and we wanted to limit the number of people on the ground who might be casualties as a result of the strike.”
Slobodan Jarcevic, an aide to Croatian Serb leader Milan Martic, asserted that two villages north of the airfield were destroyed, “and it is assumed that all civilians that were in those houses were killed.” There was no independent confirmation. [Serbs are known for spreading vicious propaganda during Balkan wars]
After the raid, Croatian Serb troops seized two Czech U.N. soldiers and threatened to kill them, Jarcevic said. The United Nations said the two were later released, but anti-U.N. hostilities remained high.
Smith said the raid wasn’t meant “to put the airfield out of commission for an awfully long time. If we had wanted to we would have taken out all the aircraft, the ammunition.”
Croatia’s air force commander, Col. Imra Agotic, said the damage to two runways could be repaired in 48 to 72 hours. Agotic also said about 20 planes and 10 helicopters were destroyed or damaged.
The airstrikes actually may play into the hands of Bosnian and Croatian Serbs. Since they have been attacking Bosnian government lands jointly in recent weeks, an escalating cross-border conflict might pressure Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to help the Serbs.
Milosevic [supposedly] cut off most aid to Bosnia’s Serbs in August in exchang for eased international sanctions on Serb-dominated Yugoslavia. He continues to wield influence in Serb-held parts of Croatia.
Senior U.N. envoy Yasushi Akashi said Monday that he and Milosevic would meet Wednesday with Martic, who condemned the bombing.
Akashi, the top U.N. official in former Yugoslavia, insisted the NATO airstrike was a “necessary and proportionate response.”
And President Clinton said: “It was a strong and entirely appropriate response. That airfield has been used to conduct the air attacks against the Bihac region. It was the right thing to do.”
Serb planes flying from Udbina have bombed the Bihac area of Bosnia three times since Nov. 9, including an attack Friday on Bihac city with napalm and cluster bombs. On Saturday, nine people were killed and 15 wounded in nearby Cazin when one of two Yugoslav-made Orao attack planes crashed during a raid.
In addition, Serbs in Croatia have been firing artillery into Bihac pocket in support of Bosnian Serbs trying to regain lost territory. Serbs have seized control of about 70 percent of Bosnia.
The U.N. Security Council on Saturday extended NATO air authority to Croatia after warplanes flying from the Udbina base staged airstrikes on Bosnian government targets. The resolution specifically allowed NATO to target the Udbina airfield.
The council met Monday at Russia’s request to clarify whether the airstrike was within the bounds of the resolution. Russia has repeatedly urged that airstrikes be used only as a last resort
“We reiterate our support for the resolution, but we need more information on the procedures used,” Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov told reporters after the council meeting.
Lavrov said Russia also was concerned about the safety of U.N. peacekeepers following the attack.
With the raid over, the United Nations was assembling a convoy to resupply its peacekeepers in Bihac who are running short of food and fuel, Maj. Gen. Raymond Crabbe, a Canadian U.N. spokesman, said Monday.
The 1,200 Bangladeshi peacekeepers in the Bosniak pocket have enough rations for about five days, Crabbe said.
In Sarajevo, heavy gunfire broke out late Monday near the Holiday Inn, the temporary headquarters of the U.S. Embassy.