SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Two U.S. fighter jets flew over Bosnia on Monday in a demonstration of support for the Balkan country's integrity in the face of increasingly secessionist policies of the Bosnian Serb pro-Russia leader Milorad Dodik.
The U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons flew as part of joint air-to-ground training involving American and Bosnian forces. The flyovers took part in the regions of the eastern town of Tuzla and northern Brcko, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo.
“This bilateral training is an example of advanced military-to-military cooperation that contributes to peace and security in the Western Balkans as well as demonstrates the United States’ commitment to ensuring the territorial integrity of BiH (Bosnia-Herzegovina) in the face of anti-Dayton and secessionist activity," the statement said.
“The United States has underscored that the BiH (Bosnia-Herzegovina) Constitution provides no right of secession, and it will act if anyone tries to change this basic element" of the Dayton peace agreements that ended the 1992-95 war in the country, the statement added.
The ethnic conflict in the 1990s erupted because Bosnia's Serbs wanted to create their own state and join neighboring Serbia. More than 100,000 people were killed before the war ended in a U.S.-brokered peace accord that created Serb and Bosniak-Croat entities held together by joint institutions.
Dodik, who is the president of the Serb entity called Republika Srpska, has defied U.S. and British sanctions over his policies. Backed by Russia, he has repeatedly threatened to split the Serb-run half from the rest of Bosnia.
Dodik's government on Monday started marking a controversial national holiday that Bosnia's top court has declared unlawful. On Jan. 9, 1992, Bosnian Serbs proclaimed the creation of an independent state in Bosnia, which led to the bloodshed.
Bosnian media reported that the thunderous sound of jets flying over could be heard in the northwestern town of Banja Luka — the main town in the Serb entity — during a ceremonial gathering there. In a speech, Dodik reiterated that the “the aim of the Serb people is a Serb state in these areas,” regional N1 TV reported.
Dodik has dismissed the U.S. jets' flyover, ironically saying it would contribute to Tuesday's celebrations, which routinely include a parade of armed police and their equipment.
The U.S. Embassy had said that the mission was to be supported by a KC-135 Stratotanker providing aerial refuelling for the F-16s.
The aircraft returned to base immediately following mission completion. “The ability to rapidly deploy, reach a target and return home demonstrates the United States’ ability to project power anywhere at a moment’s notice and operate alongside Allies and partners.”
Western countries fear that Russia could try to stir trouble in the Balkans to avert attention from the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which was launched by Moscow nearly two years ago. The U.S. Embassy statement said that “Bosnia and Herzegovina is a key U.S. partner with a shared goal in regional stability.”
Bosnia is seeking entry into the European Union, but the effort has been stalled because of slow reform and inner divisions.