NATO raid disables Serb airfield

The Associated Press

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina In its biggest airstrike ever, NATO retaliated Monday for repeated Serb attacks on a U.N. safe haven by bombing an airfield in a Serb-controlled section of Croatia.

NATO commanders said the raid knocked the Udbina airfield out of commission for 30 days. The airfield and its artillery batteries have been used by Serbs in recent weeks to terrorize government-held areas of northwest Bosnia.

A Croatian commander said only two runways were damaged by the midday airstrike

and that they could be repaired as early as Wednesday. The airfield is 22 miles southwest of the U.N.-designated safe area of Bihac.

In Washington, a Pentagon official said the mission's intent was to temporarily disable the airfield, not destroy it. NATO officials said they wanted to limit casualties.

A little more than 20 American warplanes participated in the mission of about 30 aircraft, the Pentagon official said. The planes included F-16C, F-15E and F-A-18D attack planes.

The planes bombed Serb antiaircraft artillery and surface-to-air missile sites first, and then the airfield.

In addition to the U.S. planes, Jaguar and Mirage jets from Britain, France and the Netherlands crossed the Adriatic for the airstrike, NATO's seventh since the Bosnian war started in April 1992.

"Initial reports are that the strike was successful," said Adm. Leighton W. Smith, NATO commander for southern Europe. Serb surface-to-air missiles were fired at the NATO planes, but he said all warplanes and 20 support aircraft returned safely to their bases.

The U.N. commander for former Yugoslavia, Gen. Bertrand de Lapresle, requested that the warplanes target runways and taxiways not destroy aircraft, Smith told reporters in Italy.

"Our intention was to try to limit collateral damage," he said. "We did not want to go outside of that airfield area, and we wanted to limit the number of people on the ground who might be casualties as a result of the strike."

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