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Appendix II

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

Chapter 4
Secret arms supplies and other covert actions


6. Special Forces in Bosnia

The signing of the Washington Agreement in March 1994 and the institution of a ceasefire in central Bosnia made an effective liaison between UNPROFOR and the warring factions necessary to supply accurate information to the UN commanders. The activities, expertise and competence of the UNMOs was deemed insufficient. Furthermore, the UNMOs did not fall under the authority of Bosnia-Hercegovina Commander Rose. London therefore decided to introduce special troops into Bosnia, which were known as Joint Commission Observers (JCOs).[1] In reality these were units of the Special Air Services (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS).

The JCOs operated in small teams of a few soldiers. Attempts were made to create a multinational JCO organization, but because of the different levels of skill, poorly coordinated communication facilities and the lack of a joint intelligence infrastructure, the mixed patrols were no great success. There were various SAS operations in Bosnia. The Guardian reported a special SAS operation involving ambulances, which carried communication equipment instead of stretchers. These 'ambulances' were donated to Bosnia by the British Humberside health authority out of humanitarian considerations, but would often suddenly appear in the most surprising places, such as in the Bihac.[2] According to a former UNPROFOR worker, the JCOs were already active in Bosnia from 1992 and gathered UK-eyes-only Humint. These JCOs reported within a UK-eyes-only chain. Part of what they gathered was shared with the UNPROFOR Military Information Office in Zagreb.[3]

An SAS unit was stationed in Gorazde[4] and an SAS unit was also sent as JCOs to Srebrenica.[5] The primary underlying objective of the JCOs in Srebrenica was to gather intelligence on Dutchbat and to discover whether anything illegal was happening between the ABiH and Dutchbat.[6] On 18 March 1995, a new two-man JCO team arrived in Srebrenica. They relieved a team of four JCOs, consisting of three British soldiers and a Swedish soldier nicknamed 'Schwarzenegger.'[7] On 17 May, a third British solder joined this new team. The patrol was attached to the commandos in Potocari. The JCOs were mainly involved in the normal reconnaissance patrols. This SAS unit was easy to identify by their British uniforms.[8] Shortly after his arrival in the enclave, their commander had a meeting with Karremans, whom he immediately offered support, such as the use of secure satellite communication equipment. The SAS unit also worked with one time pads (codes for one-off use) and cryptography equipment. According to a British intelligence service official, the SAS communication traffic was unbreakable.[9]

Karremans insisted that the JCOs should work only with the commandos. The JCOs encouraged the commandos to explore 'hot spots', and to talk with the warring factions, which until then they had not done. However, Dutchbat soldiers were not allowed by the battalion leaders to have much contact with the population. The JCOs did rapidly meet ABiH representatives, a consequence of which was that Karremans banned such meetings in the future, and he also banned the JCOs from attending the regular meetings between Dutchbat and the warring factions. The JCOs continued with their patrols together with the commandos. In April, the fighting increased, and there were rumours that the VRS was going to attack the enclave. The local ABiH commander, Oric, seemed to have disappeared; another SAS patrol then arrived from Zepa on a 'visit' to Srebrenica. Dutchbat soldier Van Duijn recalled this incident; he later became acquainted with a British soldier on an SAS course in the UK who had been in the enclave in April 1995. Van Duijn did not recall seeing the soldier, which turned out to be correct, because the SAS soldier stated: 'I arrived with a patrol from the outside.' They were looking for Naser Oric, who had meanwhile left the enclave and was in Tuzla. The SAS soldiers wanted to know where he was. Van Duijn later asked how they ended up in Srebrenica; it seemed that the SAS unit had simply walked from Zepa to Srebrenica. One of them spoke fluent Serbo-Croat.[10]

On 25 May, Bosnia-Hercegovina Command informed the commander of the JCOs that an operation against the eastern enclaves was a realistic probability, and that Srebrenica would then be the first on the list. This was passed on to Karremans, but he did not believe it. On 27 May, the VRS announced to Dutchbat that it intended to capture OP-E. The VRS threatened to use force and Dutchbat reinforced the OP; an offer of help from the SAS was rejected by Karremans, because he said he had enough soldiers available. Subsequently, on 3 June, OP-E fell into VRS hands.[11]

On 8 June, the ABiH announced to Dutchbat that an attack on the entire enclave was expected soon; the JCOs too then reported that to Karremans. The JCO commander pointed out afterwards, however, that such rumours circulated constantly and were difficult to take seriously. The JCOs had furthermore no intelligence of their own that indicated an attack. Only on 9 July was it clear to the JCOs that the VRS wanted to capture the entire enclave.[12] Karremans considered the JCOs mainly as potential Forward Air Controllers and not so much as useful 'instruments' for gathering additional intelligence. There were differences of opinion between the SAS and Karremans on several occasions, and the battalion commander restricted the opportunities for their operational action considerably.[13] Had the SAS gone against the wishes of Karremans, they would have been asked to leave the enclave.

After the start of the attack, the JCOs contributed to guiding NATO aircraft to VRS targets (for this see comprehensively Chapter 6 of Part III of the main Srebrenica report). The JCOs were led by Major Jacko and had their own communication equipment. Their mission was also to serve as 'forward observers' during NATO air strikes. That this came too late, had, according to Muslim witnesses, to do with the fact that the JCO unit had refused to make a correct assessment of the severity of the VRS attack.[14] Eventually, the SAS would leave the enclave at the same time as Dutchbat. In May 1996, the Daily Telegraph revealed the presence of the SAS in Srebrenica, which had been given the task of reporting to General Smith in Sarajevo.

The SAS also operated in the area of the Scandinavian battalion. This battalion was not authorized to give orders to them. The ten-man SAS unit did not report to the Scandinavian battalion nor was this unit responsible for the safety of the SAS soldiers. An agreement was reached later with the commander of Sector North East at least to know in which areas the SAS were located. According to commander Arlefalk of that battalion, the SAS soldiers moved 'hither and thither' and so occasionally got caught up in skirmishes. [15]

In addition to British, there were also French Special Forces active in Bosnia, especially in the Skenderija district of Sarajevo. A number of them came from the French Gendarmerie's special intervention team, where they were responsible for anti-sniper duties. These teams had been through a very special training, and they had the most up-to-date optical devices and equipment. The French determined that Bosnian-Serb snipers were not the only ones that were active and causing large numbers of victims among the population, but some sniper fire also came from ABiH soldiers, who deliberately fired on their own civilian population to be able to blame the Bosnian Serbs.[16] The ABiH 'hated' the French special unit, because they sometimes used laser weapons to disable their opponents.[17] The French Special Forces also operated in the Maglaj. In early 1993 they are said to have been on standby in Split to free Morillon from Srebrenica in a secret rescue operation.[18]

How the Canadian battalion got out of the enclave

American special units were also often spotted in Bosnia. The most important operation in which Special Forces were involved took place in March 1993. Until then, neither the VRS nor the ABiH had permitted the Canadian battalion to be relieved by Dutchbat. On 12 February 1994, an agreement was reached between the Canadian prime minister, Jean Chrétien, and President Clinton: American Special Forces were to remove Canbat from Srebrenica in a night-time operation with helicopters and Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) aircraft. It was more or less an execution of the agreements set down in an earlier secret American memorandum, destined for the Canadian Chief of Defence Staff, containing the promise that the American army would come to the aid of the Canadian peacekeepers if 'circumstances warranted and their safety was in peril'.

It was agreed that in addition to Canbat, a Dutch reconnaissance unit would also be removed from the enclave in this operation, which after many problems[19] had meanwhile arrived in Srebrenica at the end of February. The Chief of Operations on the Canadian side was General Maisonneuve. There were two landing sites, Dorval and Mirabel, named after the Montreal airports. The Canadians and Dutch were to muster at Dorval, and all vehicles and heavy materiel was to be placed at Mirabel. This site was to be destroyed after removing the soldiers, so that the ABiH and VRS would not benefit from the equipment. NATO in Naples was informed of this plan.[20] It is not known whether UNPROFOR command in Zagreb, or Bosnia-Hercegovina Command in Sarajevo, were aware of it.[21] General M. Baril, Boutros-Ghali's Canadian military adviser, said otherwise that he was unaware of these plans to remove Canbat from the enclave by force.[22] The same was true of Netherlands Defence Minister Relus Ter Beek.[23]

The tension in Ottawa increased: Canbat could not leave Srebrenica and Dutchbat had still not arrived. The question was whether Dutchbat would arrive before the rotation was forced by the deployment of air power and the Special Forces. On 20 February, a discussion took place between the Canadian commander in Srebrenica, Yvan Bouchard, and the overall Canbat commander, Moore, through coded messages. Moore spoke, for example, of visitors from Italy (being US Special Forces). The following day, the two talked to each other again about the execution of the operation.

On 22 and 23 February, a meeting took place in Naples between a Canbat representative and four members of the Canadian Joint Task Force Two (JTF2), which can be compared with the British SAS.[24] In the nine-page operation plan that was discussed in this meeting, the operation for removing from the enclave a total of 140 Canadian UN soldiers, six members of the Dutch reconnaissance party, six UNCivPol workers, two UNMOs and four Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) workers with Sea Stallion helicopters was covered in great detail. The code name of the plan was Operation Royal Castor/Blue Jay. It described on a minute-by-minute basis how, from takeoff to landing in Brindisi, Italy, a total of 158 people would be removed from the enclave in a secret night-time operation in a matter of few hours. Different scenarios were considered, including one in which the operation would be carried out in a moderately to highly hostile environment. The Joint Task Force Two together with US Special Forces were to carry out the operation.[25]

On 24 February, the Special Forces arrived in Zagreb and were brought to a state of readiness. An air fleet of 2 C-130 Gunships and a few F-18s were to provide close air support and the operation was to start at 18.00 hours. The mission was flown from the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga and from the air force base Brindisi (Italy). Bouchard received instructions that the Dutch were not allowed to come to Dorval and Mirabel, but they would be taken along. In the meantime, Canbat had started with the expansion of the night-time APC patrols, so that neither the ABiH nor the VRS would be alarmed by Canadians driving around in the dark. In total, five people were informed of the entire operation, but otherwise it was a completely American-Canadian affair, in which UNPROFOR was entirely uninvolved. The expectation was that there would be approximately fifteen deaths.

The plan was sent to Visoko. A Canadian officer, whom Moore sent to Srebrenica with an aid convoy as a courier, carried the secret operation plan on his body. On 2 March, this officer returned from Srebrenica, after speaking extensively with Commander Bouchard about the operation. On 3 March, the official handover to Dutchbat took place; one day later, the Canadian compound in Srebrenica was blocked by five hundred ABiH soldiers. Canbat was accused in a hostile atmosphere of permitting the VRS lines to be advanced. The VRS also stepped up the pressure and refused to allow the convoy that had come to collect Canbat access to the enclave.[26] On 5 March 1994, the ABiH surrounded the compound again, this time with more than 2000 people.[27]

After this news, Ottawa decided to execute the plan. Apparently only Canbat was to be evacuated, and there were no plans to take along the Dutch reconnaissance unit. The evacuation of Canbat was to be carried out with helicopters, and furthermore the aircraft carrier Saratoga was standing by. Bouchard told the Dutch that he had developed a plan involving close air support and tear gas to clear a path out of the enclave.[28] He gave the impression of being under severe stress in those days.[29]

On 7 March, everyone was ready and the special operation should have taken place, but ultimately it was abandoned at the last moment, because the VRS lifted the blockade and Canbat could leave by road after all.[30] Canbat was therefore able to leave the enclave without intervention, although it was a close shave.[31]

The evacuation of the Canadian battalion appeared to be problematic and raises the question of whether similar plans also existed for Dutchbat. According to the Chief of Staff of BHC, General Brinkman, the evacuation of Dutch units was never seriously discussed. The grip on the UN troops was actually extremely loose. The headquarters in Sarajevo was not a normal headquarters, and there was not even any formal transfer of authority over the troops. All the national governments maintained varying degrees of frequent contact with their own units in the field. They also took their own measures to support or evacuate their units. Nonetheless, the US Secretary of Defense, Perry, had indicated that the Dutch soldiers in Bosnia would be able to count on support if they were to find themselves in difficulty. The promised support was not specified in detail at the time, and neither did that appear to be necessary then, with this promise on the table.[32] According to Brinkman, UN-plans for an evacuation continued to be no more than paper tigers. The serious plans had to come from NATO, such as the withdrawal plan Oplan 40104 as well as from the national governments: the British for Gorazde and the French for Sarajevo.[33]

US Special Forces also remained active in Bosnia later. They were said to have been given permission to use UNHCR jeeps fitted with special registration plates for their operations.[34] The security services of the Bosnian Serbs had allegedly occasionally picked up CIA or SAS personnel, but an arrangement was worked out with UNHCR, that they would then issue a statement that it was one of their people.[35] Dutch soldiers for example observed fifty US Special Forces soldiers in Mostar, who vanished again abruptly.[36] After July 1995, US Special Forces and the SAS were even more active in the region; there were said to be serious plans to have them capture Karadzic.[37]

  



[1] Confidential information (1).

[2] Ed Vulliamy, 'Britain's secret war in Bosnia', The Guardian, 02/04/96 and Franchet, Casque bleu, pp. 27-30.

[3] Confidential information (39).

[4] MacDonald, SAS, p. 153-154.

[5] See for a personal account of one of the SAS soldiers: Nick Cameron, 'Witness to Betrayal', The Sunday Times, 07/07/02; Left to Die', The Sunday Times, 21/07/02 and 'Going in for the Kill', The Sunday Times, 21/07/02. 'Britse Defensie wil SAS'er Srebrenica de mond snoeren' (British MoD wants to silence SAS soldier), Leidsch Dagblad, 01/08/02.

[6] Confidential interview (68).

[7] Interview with D.J.E. Veen, 11/01/99.

[8] Interview with C.J. Matthijssen, 11/10/99.

[9] Confidential information (1) and interview with J.R. Mulder, 06/10/98.

[10] Interview with L.C. van Duijn, 02/07/99. A British intelligence source denied that a SAS patrol ever walked from Zepa to Srebrenica. Confidential information (85).

[11] For this, see also Part III of the main Srebrenica report.

[12] Confidential information (1).

[13] Confidential interviews (43) and (49). Further: Tom Walker, 'SAS Book on Bosnia blocked', The Sunday Times, 09/07/00.

[14] Jon Swain, 'The Damned', The Sunday Times, 12/05/96.

[15] Interview with G. Arlefalk, 18/05/00.

[16] John Sray, 'Selling the Bosnian Myth', in: Foreign Military Studies, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, October 1995 and Tom Quiggin, 'Srebrenica and the international community in Bosnia', The International Spectator, Vol. 52 (1998) 2, p. 83.

[17] Confidential interview (9). These arms were forbidden by international conventions. See also: Harald Doornbos, 'Groene spionnen tussen blauwhelmen' ('Green spies among blue helmets'), De Stem, 10/05/95.

[18] Stankovic, Trusted Mole, p. 105.

[19] DND, Ottawa, Green Folder Confidential, Memo J3 Ops Note, 24/01/94.

[20] Interview with D. Moore, 15/11/99.

[21] The British government was also informed. Confidential information (16).

[22] Interview with M. Baril, 21/12/99

[23] Interview with A.L. ter Beek, 13/01/00.

[24] For JTF2 operations in Bosnia: Pugliese, Canada's Secret Commandos, pp. 41 - 46.

[25] Confidential information (17).

[26] UNGE, UNPROFOR. Declassified by DND, Briefing Note for COS J3, 07/03/94 and 'Serbs stall Canadian withdrawal', The Toronto Star, 04/03/94.

[27] 'Bosnian Muslims want Canadian troops to stay', The Toronto Star, 07/03/94 and Interview with Yvan Bouchard, 15/11/99. Further: Confidential information (18).

[28] Canadian AIA, Relief in Place, p. 95.

[29] Jellema, First-In, pp. 105-106.

[30] Interview with D. Moore, 15/11/99. See also: 'Canadian convoy heads to Srebrenica' The Toronto Star, 09/03/94.

[31] NMFA, Embassy Ottawa, Fietelaars to Foreign Affairs, no. 046, 22/04/94.

[32] Interview with J.C. Gmelich Meijling, 04/12/01 and also Interview with M.C.J. Felix, 06/04/00.

[33] Interview with J.W. Brinkman, 11/10/99 and F. van Bouwdijk Bastiaanse, 28/08/00. See also: Välimäki, Intelligence, p. 87. See also Part III of the main Srebrenica report.

[34] Harald Doornbos, 'Groene spionnen tussen blauwhelmen', De Stem, 10/05/95.

[35] Interview with Milovan Milutinovic, 20-22/03/00.

[36] Confidential interview (38).

[37] Confidential interview (69) and Maggie O'Keane, 'Hunting Radovan', The Guardian, 20/02/01.


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