U.N. military officials said Tuesday that almost two weeks of NATO bombing have failed to eliminate the Bosnian Serbs’ threat against Sarajevo and, because of target restrictions, show little promise of quickly forcing them to lift their siege.
In the eyes of military observers here, the limited scope of the NATO campaign goes a long way to explain why Ratko Mladic, the separatist Serbs’ military leader, persists in defying NATO and U.N. demands to withdraw his arsenal of more than 300 artillery pieces from the hills and mountains around the Bosnian capital - one of the main conditions set down for a halt to the bombing. “NATO is operating with one hand tied,” a senior U.N. military officer said. “If I were Mladic, I would resist to the last.”
The United Nations based its assessment partly on the Serbs’ large reserves of ammunition, along with their ability to resupply themselves and to repair damaged facilities. Furthermore, officers here said, the limits NATO places on its attacks guarantee the Serbs have room to persevere.
Few airstrikes have been directed against front-line units that generally keep three weeks’ worth of ammunition and other supplies close by - including the artillery ringing Sarajevo. NATO has specifically placed those targets off-limits so as not to be seen as trying to strategically affect the outcome of the war.
Storage facilities and gun placements in civilian areas are also untouchable, because of fears of killing non-combatants. No strikes have been organized against civilian factories, power stations or other non-military targets, although some damage to civilian facilities has been reported.
An expansion of targets would require a new NATO political decision in Brussels. Unified NATO backing apparently has remained strong for the current target menu but could be strained by any escalation, U.N. officials here said.
NATO staff officers in Naples, the alliance’s southern headquarters, reported that continuing fair weather permitted a steady procession of bombing strikes Tuesday to batter targets around Sarajevo. Between dawn Monday and noon Tuesday, 76 planes bombed what has become the customary array of ammunition dumps, communications facilities and storage depots.
As the campaign closes out its second week, NATO pilots have flown over Bosnia with more than 3,200 sorties - one flight by one plane - according to the Naples air operations officer, Group Capt. Trevor Murray.
Pentagon officials in Washington reported that the cruise missile attack Sunday against Serb air defenses in northwest Bosnia succeeded in destroying the two targets assigned to the 13 missiles. An early warning radar facility and a radio relay station were rendered inoperable by the attack, the officials said, basing their account on reconnaissance photos.