The Italian Government has lifted operating restraints on Italian air force strike aircraft, allowing them to take part in the NATO air war against Yugoslavia, after almost a month of debate over whether to allow such action.

The restrictions on the air force, which has previously only been operational in defensive combat air patrol and support sorties, was due to dissent within the coalition government over the campaign. The ban ruled out participation by Italy's Panavia Tornado strike aircraft and AMX tactical fighter bombers.

Italy's Tornado ECR electronic warfare/SEAD aircraft have been taking part in missions, and continue to do so, firing HARM missiles at Yugoslav radar sites. The air force has promised NATO 42 aircraft for operation Allied Force, and is committing a total of 60 aircraft to maintain the required operational readiness.

Italy joined the air war as NATO began a series of powerful strikes against the infrastructure around the Yugoslav Government, hitting targets such as the headquarters of the Yugoslav Socialist Party and local TV stations (struck by cruise missiles), Slobodan Milosevic's official Belgrade home, the last remaining bridges over the Danube, a car factory and the post and telecommunications centre in Pristina, Kosovo's capital.

The Belgian Government has approved the sending of four more Lockheed Martin F-16As toItaly to participate in the NATO air campaign against Serbia. The deployment brings the numberof Belgian air force F-16s operating from Amendola airbase, Italy, to 14 aircraft.

In addition, the Dutch Government has sent four moreF-16s, bringing the joint Belgian/Dutch unit to a total strength of 34 F-16A MUP aircraft.

The first of 48 US Army AH-64 Apache anti-armour helicopters arrived in Albania on 21 April, staging through Tirana before final deployment at a forward airfield near Lezhe.

Source: Flight International