Helicopters and artillery needed for retaliation

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The Independent Online
IF UN troops, including members of the 2,400-strong British force in Bosnia, come under fire in retaliation for air operations against the Serbs they will need to respond quickly and effectively. They will also require artillery and helicopters and a change in rules of engagement and command procedures.

The troops are well equipped to respond to any Serbian fire, although it is likely they would be sent longer-range weapons. The reinforced battalion group took its usual complement of mortars and Milan anti- tank missiles to Bosnia, although the 9th/12th Lancers left behind their longer- range Striker missile launch vehicles.

To respond quickly to incoming fire they might be augmented with artillery - probably 105mm light guns which can be transported by helicopters - and radars to determine the position of Serbian mortars and artillery.

The multinational Nato HQ at Kiseljak has been working on plans to add helicopters to the forces for some time. Although helicopters are vulnerable to ground fire, they could operate along the same routes as the ground convoys and would give UN forces a decisive advantage. However, they are weather-limited: in the mist and blizzards of the Bosnian mountains they can operate only for some of the time.

The UN staff have been attempting to negotiate safe passage for helicopters, but in the event of full-scale fighting the value of helicopters is likely to outweigh concerns for their safety.

The British have 900 troops at Vitez and 650 at Tomislavgrad, both fairly close to Serbian positions. The British force centres on 45 Warrior infantry fighting vehicles and 20 Scimitar light tanks plus numerous armoured personnel carriers and engineer vehicles: a huge force by the standards of the Bosnian civil war.

The air power which could be available to UN forces would increase their military superiority exponentially. The US has provided air transport to move British troops and US officers at Kiseljak have quietly masterminded plans for air movements, but by enforcing the air exclusion zone the US could play a more prominent part without committing ground troops.

The US Navy has the carrier John F Kennedy in the area, with 80 combat aircraft aboard.

RAF sources last night said they had no indication that Britain would be expected to provide aircraft to enforce the ban on Serbian flights imposed by UN Resolution 781 in October. Italian Air Force planes or US carrier-borne aircraft are the most likely instruments for enforcing the zone.

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