Saving Sarajevo: Jets stand ready to fly in and 'hit hard'

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The Independent Online
THE procedures which the 70 Nato aircraft based in Italy would use to attack Serb forces strangling Sarajevo are already in place. The operation of Nato and UN forces is already worked out and integrated to such an extent that the idea of the US acting unilaterally appears incredible.

In order to minimise civilian casualties and achieve the necessary precision, air attacks on Serb positions would need to be directed by a team of forward air controllers. These are already on the ground with the UN forces. But they are all European.

In order to initiate an air attack, the UN commanders in Bosnia and Croatia - Belgian Lieutenant-General Francis Briquemont and his superior, French General Jean Cot - would request help from Nato's commander of Allied Forces Southern Europe, US Admiral Jeremy Boorda.

A Nato commander said the forward air controllers were British, French, Spanish and Dutch. They were trained to describe the target and guide the pilot. The pilots then satisfy themselves that Nato rules of engagement are met.

The Nato aircraft in Italy 'for possible support to the UN Protection Force as per UN Security Council Resolution 836' include eight Jaguars and six Super Etendard fighter-bombers from France; six Dutch F-16s; 12 RAF Jaguars and six Royal Navy Sea Harriers; and 12 A-10s, six F/A-18s three EC-130 Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Centre aircraft and AC-130 Spectre Hercules gunships from America. There are also a dozen American F-16s and eight US Marine F/A-18s which, like the Royal Navy's Sea Harriers, can be adapted to the ground attack role.

Royal Navy sources said they were playing down the possible involvement of the Sea Harriers, although they could carry cluster bombs and Martel anti-tank missiles.

An RAF spokesman said: 'The main aim is to keep collateral damage to a miniumum. The squadron has been working very closely with its Nato counterparts. Flexibility is the key. They (British jets) can hit with great accuracy and they can hit very hard.'

The Defence Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, speaking from Vitez in Bosnia, said that British warplanes were ready to intervene if necessary. Air strikes would add a new and important dimension to the conflict.

'We have envisaged for some time the possibility of air strikes,' Mr Rifkind told the BBC. 'We won't hesitate to use them (air strikes) to protect our own people and there may be wider circumstances in which their use may become necessary.'