VICENZA, Italy -- Warplanes from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization launched operation 'Deny Flight' to enforce the U.N. no- fly zone over war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina Monday, flying missions outside the alliance's traditional defensive area for the first time ever.
A French Mirage jet participating in the operation crashed into the Adriatic Sea after developing engine problems shortly after taking off from Italy en route to Bosnia-Herzegovina, the French Defense Ministry said. The pilot ejected and spent 30 minutes in the water before being rescued by a French helicopter.
The crash of the French warplane was the only mishap reported during the opening day of the mission, which was being hailed by NATO leaders as a new era for the Western alliance.
'This is a historic moment for NATO in that for the first time its forces are being used with operational possibilities outside the area of NATO competence,' U.S. Adm. Mike Boorda, commander-in-chief of Allied Forces, Southern Europe, told a news conference at the Vicenza air base in northeastern Italy.
Boorda briefed reporters on the operation a few hours before its scheduled start at 2 p.m. Italian time.
The admiral was flanked at the news conference by Italian Air Force Gen. Antonio Rossetti, commander of NATO's 5th Allied Tactical Air Force (ATAF), who will direct the NATO operation from his base at Vicenza.
Boorda said that in the first days of the operation code-named 'Deny Flight' about 100 planes from the air forces of the United States, France and the Netherlands will take part. He said the number of planes involved may be increased later.
He named seven Italian bases from which the first flights will operate. But altogether about 15 Italian bases are involved, located all over Italy from the northeast of the peninsula to southern Italy, with some support bases in Sicily.
Some U.S. jets will fly from the carrier USS Roosevelt, currently in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of the former Yugoslavia.
Boorda said the object of the operation was to enforce observance of U.N. Resolution 816 which forbids flights over Bosnia-Herzegovina except by those authorized by the United Nations.
He said it was a continuation of surveillance operations in effect since 1992 by NATO and Western European Union ships and planes in the Adriatic Sea.
At the start of the operation the NATO fighter planes, already in flight before the 2 p.m. deadline, were to head east, making authorized flights through Croatian air space to the 'patrol areas' over Bosnia Herzegovina.
He said in the event the NATO planes sight unauthorized aircraft they would apply the 'Rules of Engagement,' but he gave no details of these rules for security reasons.
At the end of their sorties, the NATO planes will return to their bases in Italy. In some cases they can be refuelled by tanker planes flying over the Adriatic.
Boorda said one of the main problems of the NATO pilots would be to identify aircraft flying slowly and at low level.
'In fact, we may potentially have to do with a great variety of aircraft, including helicopters,' the U.S. admiral said.
He said the pilots would also face problems posed by the rugged mountain terrain over which they were operating and from adverse weather conditions.