DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
September 5, 1995

BOMBS OVER BOSNIA FAILED BIG TIME

There's no question that air power worked during the Gulf War. Like a giant smashing ants with a sledgehammer on a concrete pad, allied air power had a field day pounding away at an overrated Iraqi army with no place to hide and no will to fight back.

But in Bosnia -- despite what we're shown on the tube by Pentagon hucksters with their precision bombing commercials -- NATO air power flunked the course big time.

The Serbs had two critical elements of war, terrain and weather, working for them in spades. The rugged mountain terrain of Bosnia. with its thick forests, is shielded by cloudy skies and an ever-present ground fog.

Then, too, Serb soldiers make flying below 10,000 feet very hazardous to NATO airmen and do to NATO just what the Vietnamese did to the United States in another war too quickly forgotten by the always eager proponents of air power.

A NATO deep throat source tells me that last week's 800 sortie air campaign was "extremely disappointing." He added that the pause in the bombing campaign wasn't to give the Bosnians time to collect their wits, but to allow NATO commanders -- who had three years to develop their bombing plan -- time to try and figure out what went wrong and what to do about it.

He says, "The smart weapons Just aren't working against Serb hardware that's well dug-in and expertly camouflaged in heavy forest."

A Pentagon source says the Bosnian Serbs have lost less than 10 percent of their artillery and armored vehicles to NATO air, and there's no indication the Serbs' will has been broken. He says the only two aircraft that have been effective are the all-weather FA18A and the Desert Storm hero, the A-10 Warthog. The rest, he says, are "junk that fly too fast and are a close air support joke."

Air power has a limit, and the Bosnia air campaign will again bring this truth home. In Vietnam, three times more bombs were dropped than both the Allies and Axis powers used during all of World War II, and we still lost.

The CIA isn't convinced that the Serbs fired the mortar shells that killed 38 Muslims in the Sarajevo market. This tragic but convenient event triggered the bombing campaign, causing the United States to take sides in the three-way civil war and NATO to become the Bosnian government's air force. A CIA analyst suggests the Muslims were up to their old trick of shelling themselves and blaming the Serbs.

The Muslims staged such an attack in the same market in 1992 (May 27) and followed up with the shelling of then British foreign minister, Douglas Hurd (July 17), the explosion in the Sarajevo cemetery (Aug. 4), and the killing of ABC producer David Kaplan (Aug. 13), all of which, with the help of Western television cameras, were blamed on the Serbs.

The United Nations concluded that in all these cases the Serbs were not within range and that the weapons actually used against the victims were not those claimed by the Bosnians. For example, I checked out the 1992 market shelling on the ground and can bear witness that the weapon used was not a Serbian mortar round, but a Chinese Claymore mine triggered by someone on the scene.

The United Nations and NATO have ordered the Serbs to remove their 300 cannons, which have long terrorized the city of Sarajevo, or be prepared for another aerial blitz. The Bosnian Serbs have so far ignored this challenge.

A U.N. source says Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic won't be the first one to blink. Mladic insists that the Muslims give him assurances that they won't take advantage of his withdrawal.

Since neither NATO nor the United Nations can cause the three combatants to jump when they holler, I expect to see more bombs fall and the NATO air campaign to become even more violent -- all, sadly, to no avail except to suck America further into an unforgiving swamp.

Clinton, the main pusher of NATO air, should do what Lyndon Johnson didn't do in Vietnam after his initial bombing campaign failed: announce victory and run like hell.

Bombs alone will not blast the combatants to the peace table.