Derring-Do in Bosnia


The daring rescue yesterday of an American pilot shot down by Bosnian Serbs six days earlier is testimony, once again, to the bravery and resourcefulness of those who serve in the armed forces.

Under new Pentagon orders, no longer will F-16 pilots like Capt. Scott F. O'Grady have to fly over hostile territory unprotected from Serb surface-to-air missiles. They will be accompanied by bombers, enhanced radar detection and minute-to-minute pictures of enemy installations. And if that isn't enough, the United States should consider an air strike to obliterate the SAM sites altogether.

That this latter step was not taken earlier, despite Serb provocation, illustrates the extraordinary difficulty of trying to conduct a multi-national military operation. When American officials broached the idea in NATO councils, their British and French counterparts argued against it, warning that their own peacekeeping forces on the ground would be put at unacceptable risk.

This dilemma is but a metaphor for the confusing muddle that the Bosnian war has become. As the U.S. improvises policies designed to keep this country out of the conflict, developments on the ground keep drawing our armed forces in deeper.

President Clinton's decision last week to add to the list of circumstances under which U.S. ground forces would be sent into Bosnia is a case in point. Not content with limiting the prospective U.S. mission to enforcement of a peace settlement (unlikely) or aiding the withdrawal of U.N. peacekeeping forces from the battle zone (more and more likely), the president said American troops could also be used to help reposition the U.N. contingents.

What this means is that if the Serbs attack Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia that have been declared U.N. safe zones, American forces could be sent in to move them to more defensible positions. This admitted enlargement of mission has raised a firestorm on Capitol Hill, and rightly so.

NTC The response from key senators, however, has not been reassuring. Many favor termination of the U.N. mission in Bosnia despite Defense Secretary William Perry's warning that this could produce another bloodbath. Since the secretary may be ** preaching against the inevitable, his stand is not very compelling.

Mr. Perry is on sounder ground in rebuffing another congressional gambit -- this one to lift the U.N. arms embargo so Muslim forces could be supplied with modern weaponry. The secretary's contention that this could lead to a widening of the conflict throughout the Balkans should not be taken lightly. Any struggle potentially involving such NATO allies as Greece and Turkey could indeed put America's vital interests in jeopardy, and could lead to the kind of direct U.S. military involvement that ought to be avoided at all costs.

The Bosnian war is a tortuous affair which offers very few happy moments like Captain O'Grady's rescue. In the end, the conflict may subside only with the exhaustion of all combatants.

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