Assault on the Serbs: Two MiGs shot down over Bosnia

Air Raids
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The Independent Online
NATO LAUNCHED the first daylight raids of Operation Allied Force yesterday afternoon, while two Yugoslav MiG-29 fighters were shot down over Bosnia in an apparently desperate attempt to attack Nato peacekeepers there. Both developments marked a significant escalation of the conflict.

As in the previous two days of raids, the commencement of Nato attacks yesterday was marked by the launch of a Tomahawk cruise missile from a United States warship in the Adriatic. The Philippine Sea was about 50 miles off the coast of Croatia when the single missile was fired at 2.20pm local time.

Earlier in the day, witnesses said they had seen US B-52 bombers loaded with cruise missiles fly out of RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire. State radio reports in Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital, said that aircraft had bombed the outskirts of the city shortly before 5pm. The raids served as a preliminary to another heavy night of bombing by Nato aircraft taking off from bases in Italy.

In Bosnia, Nato jets flying defensive missions "encountered" the MiGs and shot them down about five miles inside the border. A spokesman said that the two Serb pilots were captured by peace-keeping forces. Official Yugoslav sources denied the report, but it seems to have been part of a developing Yugoslav strategy of striking at Nato where ever it might seem vulnerable.

Whatever happens, Yugoslav commanders are soon going to have to come up with another idea. They have so far lost five of their 16 MiG-29s, the most sophisticated aircraft in their air force, since the outbreak of hostilities.

The probability of daylight raids by Nato was hinted at by General Sir Charles Guthrie, Chief of the Defence Staff, at a press conference yesterday. Asked whether night-time raids would be sufficient to achieve Nato's aims, he said: "You shouldn't assume that they will always be at night."

General Guthrie also described the operations carried out by RAF Harrier aircraft on Thursday, the second night of the raids. Six of them attacked an ammunition storage dump within a barracks at Leskovac in Serbia. Four carried laser-guided bombs, while the other two acted as target designators, "illuminating" the buildings for the bombs to home in on.

Videos taken from these escorting aircraft were shown, and two bombs were seen hitting two separate targets. Secondary explosions on the film indicated that the ammunition inside had also detonated. The Harriers "locked on" to a third target, but the pilot could not release his bombs because of a technical problem. All the aircraft returned safely to base.

Weapons stored in the dump included anti-aircraft guns, surface-to-air missiles and large calibre guns, General Guthrie said. "Such weapons are used for air defence and ground operations, and are therefore relevant both to our objective of suppressing Yugoslavia's air-defence system and to our aim of reducing Yugoslavia's capability to repress the Kosovo Albanians."

Turning his attention to the 4,500 British troops stationed in Macedonia, where they form part of a potential peace- keeping mission to Kosovo in the event of any peace deal being agreed, General Guthrie warned the Serbian forces against attacking them.

"We have plans that would very, very seriously affect Yugoslavian forces if they are stupid enough to do it," he said.

He added that on Thursday, in response to reports that the Yugoslav army might be tempted to shell British positions, a battery of six AS90 155mm guns had been moved into a position to return any fire. Challenger tanks and Warrior fighting vehicles had also been moved to defensive positions. "Should there be an attack, our response will be swift and severe," he said.

General Guthrie also said that he was completely content with the military task he had been given. "What worries me as a military man is that this area is being destabilised by one man and a very evil regime. We had to do something about it," he said.

John Davison