The Pentagon said Monday that allied air strikes against the Bosnian Serbs this month have been the most accurate on record, but analysts said they still failed to destroy most of the Serbs' overall war-making capability because, for political reasons, the targets were so restricted.
While declining to provide specific figures, senior military officers said that increased use of laser-guided munitions in Bosnia meant that a higher percentage of the bombs dropped struck their targets than in the Persian Gulf War, which marked a breakthrough in bombing accuracy.
At the same time, however, private analysts--and some senior defense officials as well--said that North Atlantic Treaty Organization political leaders were so intent on avoiding "collateral" damage to civilians that pilots were prevented from going after many key weapons.
As a result, they said, despite about 900 bombing runs by NATO warplanes, the air campaign only moderately damaged the Bosnian Serbs' basic war-waging capability, leaving them still able to threaten Sarajevo and other U.N.-designated "safe areas" if the political situation should change.
"This was a politically correct target list," said retired Air Force Col. Robert W. Gaskin, a former Pentagon military strategist. "The Serbs weren't really damaged that much militarily. The main reason that they are retreating is that the allies were persistent."
Officials said NATO air commanders personally reviewed all prospective targets to make sure they were isolated, avoiding civilians and public buildings.
The allied bombing of Bosnian Serb targets began Aug. 30 and continued until the United Nations called a brief moratorium. The air strikes resumed Sept. 5 and continued until Thursday, when the Serbs agreed on a cease-fire.
The United Nations and NATO have granted the Bosnian Serbs another reprieve--until 10 p.m. Wednesday--on grounds that they appear to be moving their heavy weapons out of the exclusion zone around Sarajevo.
Defense Secretary William J. Perry told reporters last week that NATO's air campaign had been "enormously effective," with assessments showing "levels of effectiveness of about 95%"--meaning that NATO bombs destroyed or disabled almost all the targets on which they were dropped.
The military officers who briefed reporters Monday did not dispute that assessment, but they declined to provide any backup figures on the grounds that assessments were not yet complete. They also cited concerns that detailed information could be of help to the Serbs.
One senior military official said that in 25 years as an intelligence officer, he had "never seen [a] better battle-damage assessment" than that of the last month.
In Monday's presentation, senior military officials said the bombings "severely reduced" Bosnian Serb air defenses, command centers, ammunition dumps and lines of communication such as railroads and bridges, and "moderately reduced" their supply depots.
The officials also unveiled air reconnaissance photos showing before-and-after scenes of Bosnian Serb military installations that were hit. In some cases, the buildings and equipment were destroyed. In others, installations were only damaged.
The Pentagon officials attributed the high accuracy to two factors:
* The bombs that allied warplanes dropped over Bosnia included a higher proportion of precision laser-guided munitions--about 60% in the Bosnian air campaign, compared to about 50% during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
* More allied warplanes have been equipped to use precision-guided weapons, and NATO has improved its techniques for making bombing runs with them.
Nevertheless, military officials conceded that the continual bad weather over much of Bosnia--combined with the "extreme considerations" of harming civilians--impeded the amount of damage done to Bosnian Serb targets.