Muslim numbers make up for forces' lack of weapons

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The Independent Online
BOSNIA'S Muslim-led government forces are heavily outgunned by their Serbian and Croatian enemies, but they have a superiority in personnel that suggests they can put up prolonged resistance. The Bosnian army has 120,000 active troops and 80,000 reservists, according to James Gow, a military specialist at King's College, University of London.

Not all these troops are fully equipped, but they inflicted setbacks on the Serbs in eastern Bosnia last January and, in recent weeks, on the Croats in central Bosnia. The Bosnian army scored a dramatic success in May 1992, soon after the war broke out, when troops surrounded a 100-vehicle Serbian column near Tuzla and captured 15,000 weapons.

The Bosnian Serbs have about 60,000 troops, reinforced by up to 20,000 soldiers from the Yugoslav army. At the start of the war, they received crucial support from irregular militias, based in Serbia, who overran much of northern and eastern Bosnia. The Bosnian Serbs dominate by virtue of an overwhelming advantage in tanks and artillery. They have about 300 tanks, more than 200 armoured cars and 500-600 guns and howitzers.

By contrast, the Bosnian government forces have only 40 tanks and 30 armoured personnel carriers. However, they have ample supplies of mortars as well as shoulder-launched rocket systems. At Novi Travnik, the Bosnian army has maintained production of artillery, ammunition and multiple rocket-launchers.

The Bosnian Croats are nominal allies of the Muslims, but in practice they have colluded with the Serbs in Bosnia's partition. The Bosnian Croat forces, the HVO, number between 30,000 and 35,000, and they are supplemented by 15,000 troops from the Croatian army. The combined Croatian forces have about 100 tanks and more than 160 guns and howitzers.

The Muslims suffer from an almost complete lack of air-power, possessing only four helicopters and one Jastreb- 2 aircraft that is not even in use. The Bosnian Serbs have 49 fixed-wing aircraft and 21 helicopters and have also benefited from helicopter missions flown by the Serbian-led Yugoslav army. The Croats have only a small number of light aircraft and helicopters. In theory, all military operations in the skies of Bosnia are banned under the UN's 'no-fly zone'.

Despite their limited firepower, the Muslims have fought tenaciously. They would face tremendous difficulties if Serbia and Croatia threw the full weight of their forces into the battle. But Croatia cannot commit all its forces without weakening its chances of recapturing land lost to the Serbs in 1991. Similarly, Serbia needs to keep some forces in reserve for possible conflicts in Croatia and Kosovo.

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