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Appendix II

Intelligence and the war in Bosnia 1992 Ė 1995: The role of the intelligence and security services

Chapter 4
Secret arms supplies and other covert actions

5. The deployment of mercenaries, advisers and volunteers

The fact that the war in Yugoslavia attracted mercenaries and volunteers was to be expected.[1] This phenomenon manifests itself in almost every armed conflict; examples are volunteers of the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War in 1936-1939, or the Belgian mercenaries in Katanga during the fighting in the Congo in the 1960s. The distinction between mercenaries and volunteers was also clear in Yugoslavia. The first group were paid for their activities; the second group were not, and they fought for 'a just cause'. A search in the press turns up many articles on the involvement of mercenaries, volunteers and advisers. They are said to have operated with all the warring factions, where it is noticeable that some nationalities - such as British and Germans - worked for the Bosnian Croats, the Bosnian Muslims and for the Bosnian Serbs.

The first reports of Russian volunteer units, which consisted mainly of Afghanistan veterans, appeared as early as the end of 1992. Russian mercenaries and advisers generally worked for the VRS.[2] According to accusations made by the Bosnian government, Russian military advisers were sent from Serbia and more than 4000 mercenaries from Russia, the Ukraine, Romania and Greece supported various paramilitary organizations.[3] Romanian mercenaries were supposedly fighting with the Bosnian Serbs near Sarajevo in 1992.[4] Greek and Russian mercenaries were also involved in the attack on Srebrenica. A Greek Volunteer Guard, a unit based in Vlasenica, was formed in March 1995 and was fully incorporated in the Drina Corps.[5] Only about one hundred men fought with this unit and in September 1995 Karadzic decorated four members of the Guard with the medal of the 'White Eagle'.[6] The ABiH also intercepted a message from the VRS, which stated that the Serbian flag had been run up on the destroyed orthodox church.[7] Another message suggested that the Greek mercenaries should also run up their flag, and that 'because of the marketing' this should be recorded on video.[8]

The number of mercenaries was never considerable, because the warring factions generally paid poorly.[9] Therefore it was mainly volunteers that were active. Their military duties ranged from taking part in hostilities to gathering intelligence. For instance, a Danish volunteer travelled through Srpska in a car with Danish registration plates. His Danish passport gave him sufficient protection for intelligence gathering for Croatia. Many soldiers claimed that they had served with the French Foreign Legion or the SAS, but that seldom proved to be the case.[10] Dutch mercenaries likewise fought on the side of the Croats 'at Zageb, Zabeg, Zagreb, or whatever it is called'.[11] The mercenaries responded to an advertisement on 2 November 1991 in the newspaper De Telegraaf by the Dutch-Croat Foundations, which was set up by the right-wing extremist Douwe van de Bos. Their applications led to the deployment of the First Dutch Volunteer Unit in Croatia.[12]

Most Dutch mercenaries were, like their American, British, Canadian, German and French counterparts in Croatia, active in the 103rd infantry brigade, which was formed in the winter of 1992 as an International Brigade. There was also a special Italian unit, the Garibaldi battalion. In addition, there were reports of Dutch mercenaries in Bosnia. According to Serbian accusations, some mercenaries, including Dutch, were guilty of war crimes.[13] One of them was the Dutch mercenary Johan Tilder, who was mentioned in the previous chapter.[14]

The Mujahedin in Bosnia

The greatest tension was caused by the participation of Muslims from Western Europe and the Middle East in the ABiH. 'Approximately 4000 Mujahedin, supported by Iranian special operations forces, have been continually intensifying their activities in central Bosnia for more than two years', according to the American Lieutenant Colonel John Sray, who was an intelligence officer in Sarajevo from April to August 1994.[15] There are no reliable figures on the number of mercenaries or volunteers in Bosnia, Srpska and Croatia. Neither is anything known about their effectiveness. According to Bosnian-Serb sources, in the Muslim-Croat Federation there were more than 1300 fighters, including those of Kurdish, Algerian and other Arab origin. This group was said to be centred around Zenica. The MIS considered the number mentioned to be exaggerated.[16] Like the author Ripley points out, there was no joint Muslim command and the rival Iranian, Saudi, Turkish and Malaysian-back groups all operated according to their own agendas.[17]

Mercenaries of non-Yugoslav origin were involved from the outbreak of the armed conflict. An active group was the Mujahedin. These were non-Bosnian, Islamic-fundamentalist fighters from Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Jordan, Lebanon, Algeria and Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, the names of Jihad, Fis, Hamas and Hezbollah were linked with the Mujahedin in Bosnia. Sray estimated the number of Mujahedin fighters at 4000; in April 1994, the CIA arrived at the conclusion that there were approximately 400 fighters.[18] In 1994, the UN put the number [19] at 450 to 500, and in 1995 at approximately 600. American estimates, however, spoke of 1200 to 1400. A BVD report from late 1995 likewise gave an estimate of only 200.

This group withdrew from the control of the Bosnian authorities, both politically and militarily. There were unconfirmed reports of control by authorities of the countries of origin, by Islamic-fundamentalist terrorist organizations and by criminal organizations.[20] The Mujahedin formed part of the 4th, 7th and 8th Muslimski brigade, stationed around Zenica in central Bosnia, and took part in the activities of several paramilitary units, such as the Black Swans. They fell under the responsibility of the ABiH 3rd and 7th Corps. Furthermore, there were approximately 25 other Muslim factions and units active in Bosnia, which also included women.[21]

These groups were supplied by the ABiH, but operated decentrally as special units or shock troops. Many ABiH sources, according to an internal UNPROFOR report, considered their military value to be limited. Nonetheless, the UNPROFOR intelligence staff followed their movements closely. The UN estimated their number in the summer of 1995 to be no more than 1500 fighters.[22] Military experts were, according to the BVD, of the opinion that because of their small number, the threat from these Mujahedin should not be overestimated.[23]

Furthermore, the population was not particularly enthusiastic about the fighters and appeared to be indifferent to their religious propaganda. The Bosnian government appeared to have less antipathy to the Mujahedin. President Izetbegovic especially appeared to see the fighters as 'a conduit for funds from the Gulf and Middle East'.[24] Within the framework of the Dayton agreement, the Mujahedin fighters should have left Bosnia before 13 January 1996.[25] In October, UNPROFOR concluded that the numbers had declined to between 700 and 800. The presence of the Mujahedin was used by the Croats in particular to delay the process of reconciliation and normalization. The number of clashes with the local population around Tuzla increased, and the risk to the British UNPROFOR units was deemed to be significant. According to the ABiH, radical elements within the 7th Muslimski Brigade were responsible. The mood deteriorated after a British soldier killed a Mujahedin fighter. According to UNPROFOR, the US pressure on Izetbegovic was stepped up strongly to force the Mujahedin out of Bosnia.[26] Janvier also appealed to the UN in New York to step up pressure on the Bosnian and Croatian ambassadors.[27] Iran did continue to support Izetbegovic, and in the autumn of 1996 they donated another $ 500,000 to his election campaign. Only at the end of 1996 did the US government get its own way, and Bosnia severed the military and intelligence links with Iran.[28]


[1] For a good overview: Ripley, Mercenaries, pp. 40 - 59.

[2] MoD, MIS/CO. No. 2726, Developments in the former Yugoslav federation, no. 100/92, 21/12/92; UNNY, DPKO, coded cables. Janvier to Kittani, Z-2056, 06/11/95; Robert Fox, 'Dangerous games of fact and fantasy', The Daily Telegraph, 10/02/93 and 'Nederlands konvooi in oosten BosniŽ overvallen' ('Dutch convoy attacked in east Bosnia'), De Limburger, 30/05/94.

[3] NMFA, PVNY. Biegman to Foreign Affairs, attached Bosnian memo, 04/09/95.

[4] Ripley, Mercenaries, p. 57.

[5] Interview with Emira Selimovic, 21/10/98.

[6] Michas, Unholy Alliance, pp. 17-41.

[7] ABiH Tuzla. Komanda 2. Korpusa, Str. Pov. Br. 02/8-10-1223, 11/07/95.

[8] ABiH Tuzla. Komanda 2. Korpusa, Str. Pov. Br. 02/8-10-1224, 11/07/95 and interview with Semsudin Murinovic, 17/0/99.

[9] For an overview of most of the paramilitary factions and the role of mercenaries and volunteers, see: MoD, MIS/RNLA, Supintrep no. 29417/4/040794, 04/07/94.

[10] A. Rogers, 'Yugoslavia', in: Flashpoint 1994, London, 1994, pp. 139-148.

[11] 'Het moet daar gewoon afgelopen zijn' ('It just has to stop there'), De Volkskrant, 02/12/91.

[12] See for example Sluik & Kurpershoek (eds.), De Duiveljager, pp. 97-109; 'Oud-strijders mobiliseren Nederlands steunkorps voor onderdrukt KroatiŽ' ('Ex-servicemen mobilize Dutch support unit for repressed Croatia'), Trouw, 06/11/91; 'Extreem-rechts schiet leger KroatiŽ te hulp' ('The extreme right leaps to the aid of Croatia's army'), Trouw, 07/11/91; 'Garanties ontbreken: vrijwilligers gaan niet naar KroatiŽ' ('No guarantees: volunteers not going to Croatia'), Trouw, 08/11/91; 'Vrijwilligers alsnog "op verkenning" bij militairen KroatiŽ' ('Volunteers "on reconnaissance" with Croatia's soldiers after all'), Trouw, 25/11/91; 'Ultra-rechts in Europa op de bres voor KroatiŽ' ('The extreme right in Europe into the breach for Croatia'), NRC Handelsblad, 06/11/91; 'Werving KroatiŽ-strijders gestopt na kritiek op comitť' ('Recruitment of Croatia fighters stopped following criticism of committee'), De Volkskrant, 08/11/91; Jos Slats, 'De huurling gaat omdat de hele wereld KroatiŽ laat stikken' ('The mercenary goes because the whole world is leaving Croatia in the lurch'), De Volkskrant, 11/12/91; idem, 'Nederlandse huurlingen vuren op ServiŽrs' ('Dutch mercenaries fire on Serbs'), De Volkskrant, 23/12/91; idem, 'Vrijwillige strijders vereerd door Kroaten' ('Voluntary fighters honoured by Croats'), De Volkskrant, 14/01/92; 'Nederlandse huurlingen gevangen in Hercegovina' ('Dutch mercenaries captured in Hercegovina'), De Telegraaf, 25/07/92; and Bert Huisjes, 'Opgejaagd op de Balkan' ('Rout in the Balkans'), Algemeen Dagblad, 19/09/01.

[13] 'Servische media: Nederlandse huurlingen pleegden oorlogsmisdaden' ('Serbian media: Dutch mercenaries committed war crimes'), De Limburger, 18/05/95.

[14] Confidential interview (19). See also: 'ServiŽrs schieten Nederlandse huurling dood' ('Serbs shoot dead Dutch mercenary'), De Limburger, 17/05/94.

[15] John Sray, 'Selling the Bosnian Myth', Foreign Military Studies, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, October 1995 and MoD, CRST. Netherlands Army Crisis Staff, Bastiaans to Brantz, 11/07/94.

[16] MoD, MIS/CO. No. 2694, Developments in the former Yugoslav federation, no. 02/94, 08/09/92. See also; Andrew Hogg, 'Arabs join in Bosnia battle', intelligence service The Times, 30/08/92.

[17] Ripley, Mercenaries, p. 57.

[18] James Risen, 'Iran gave Bosnia leader $ 500,000', Los Angeles Times, 31/12/96.

[19] UNNY, DPKO, Coded Cables UNPOROFOR. De Lapresle to Annan, Z-1371, 07/09/94; UNNY, UNPROFOR, Box 88039. DFC to Brigadier Baril, 03/11/94.

[20] Archives BVD, BVD Report The Mujahedin in Bosnia, 29/01/96.

[21] For an overview of most paramilitary factions and the role of mercenaries and volunteers, See: MoD, MIS/RNLA. Supintrep no. 29417/4/040794, 04/07/94.

[22] UNNY, DPKO, File #87303. G-2 to COS, 07/01/95 and UNGE, UNPROFOR, Janvier to Annan, Z-1623, Mujahedin in Bosnia, 08/09/95.

[23] Archives BVD, BVD Report The Mujahedin in Bosnia, 29/01/96.

[24] UNGE, UNPROFOR. Janvier to Annan, Z-1623, Mujahedin in Bosnia, 08/09/95.

[25] Archives BVD, BVD Report The Mujahedin in Bosnia, 29/01/96.

[26] UNGE, UNPROFOR. Akashi to Annan, Z-2024, Update on Mujahedin in Bosnia, 31/10/95.

[27] UNGE, UNPROFOR. Janvier to Kittani, Z-2040, Mujahedin Activities in Bosnia, 03/11/95.

[28] Barry Schweid, 'CIA: Bosnia has broken military, intelligence ties with Iran', Associated Press, 31/12/96; James Risen, 'Iran gave Bosnia leader $ 500.000', Los Angeles Times, 31/12/96 and James Risen, 'Report of Bosnian Spy Network stirs concerns in U.S.', Los Angeles Times, 06/02/97.


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History of the Balkans

Big powers and civil wars in Yugoslavia
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Proxies at work
(Muslims, Croats and Albanians alike were only proxies of the big powers)

The Aftermath


The truth belongs to us all.
Last revised: October 16, 2004