US F-16s in bombing 'exercise' over Bosnia
Two F-16 fighter jets practiced airstrikes over Bosnia-Herzegovina on Monday, in what the US embassy in Sarajevo described as a show of force in support of the country’s central government amid ongoing tensions with Bosnian Serbs.
US Army Special Forces operators and members of the Bosnian military acted as forward air controllers on the ground, guiding the jets as they flew over the Brcko and Tuzla areas in northern Bosnia. The two F-16 were accompanied by a KC-135 Stratotanker refueling plane.
The “training event” was also intended to “demonstrate the US commitment to ensuring the territorial integrity and sovereignty of [Bosnia],” the embassy said, adding that the US “will not stand by while the Dayton Peace Agreement and [Bosnia’s] institutions are challenged.”
The US-brokered deal ended the 1992-95 civil war by partitioning Bosnia between the Serb Republic (Republika Srpska, RS) and the Federation run by the Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and Croats. Monday’s demonstration came as Republika Srpska authorities celebrated its founding on January 9, 1991 – a holiday the Muslims have sought to ban as divisive.
RS President Milorad Dodik has objected to what he described as repeated violations of the peace agreement and the Bosnian constitution, saying the entity will declare independence if they continue.
NATO bombed the Bosnian Serbs in 1995, intervening in the war on behalf of the Bosniaks and Croats. Serb air defenses shot down an F-16 flown by Captain Scott O’Grady over Banja Luka in June that year.
Republika Srpska officials mostly shrugged off the US show of force on Monday, proceeding with their January 9 celebrations.
“As far as I’m concerned, they could have joined our parade and flown their F-16s over Banja Luka alongside our helicopters,” Prime Minister Radovan Viskovic told reporters. “We won’t waste our time on them, let them do their jobs and we’ll do ours.”
In his speech, President Dodik insisted that the Serbs “want peace and stability and do not threaten anyone,” but will not allow anyone to infringe on what is theirs.
“To Serbs in these lands, freedom has never been a philosophical concept but an existential one, driving so many of our actions,” he said. “We don’t want war. We want Republika Srpska to remain our oasis of freedom.”
Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Porfirije noted that a ban on celebrating January 9 – the feast of St. Stephen the Martyr – would effectively mean a ban on Orthodox Christianity.
“We don’t impose our way of life on anyone, but we cannot renounce our patron saint in any way, for that would be giving up our faith and ourselves, what is ours by the laws of both man and God,” he said.