Balkan Strategic Studies

November 1997

Turning Point In Brcko

By Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor of Defense & Foreign Affairs publications, Director of Research at the International Strategic Studies Association (Washington DC), Director of the US House of Representatives Task Force on Terrorism and Low-Intensity Conflict, and author of several books, including two on the crisis in the former Yugoslavia.

The long-term impact of the Clinton-Islamist coalition in Bosnia-Herzegovina is now showing. The US has ensured that the Bosnian Muslim army is ready to begin attacking and eliminating the remaining Serb areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina to create a unified Islamic state, perhaps as soon as next Spring.

THE US CLINTON Administration is now on record as saying that it intends to keep US forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina "indefinitely" in order to secure the survival of an Islamic state controlling the entire territory. With that confirmation, the long-standing policy of the Clinton Administration -- securing Izetbegovic's Islamic State at all cost, including direct US military intervention -- is being spelled out publicly.

In mid-September 1997, US senior officials suggested in Sarajevo that the US forces would remain in Bosnia beyond their scheduled pullout in June 1998. Instead, the diplomats argued that it was imperative for US forces to stay in Bosnia-Herzegovina in order to ensure the implementation of the Dayton-Paris Accords.

"To leave without firm institutions in place would be a debacle," said Jacques Klein, the US deputy high representative for Bosnia. "That would be a disaster for the West." Ambassador Robert Frowick is convinced US forces should remain committed to Bosnia for an "indefinite period of time to pull together the civilian and military dimensions" of their current mission.

Thus, into the fifth year of relentless implementation, the initial long-term consequences of the Clinton Administration's Bosnia policy are already apparent. The US "direct" and "indirect" involvement in the former Yugoslavia since early 1993 -- irrespective of whether these activities have been within or outside "the letter of the law" -- has already had a profound impact on the developments in the former Yugoslavia, and, consequently, on the global strategic posture of the United States. Significantly, all the direct and indirect strategic by-products of the Bosnia policy of the Clinton Administration have proven adverse to the vital interests of the US itself and its closest allies.

The essence of the Clinton Administration Bosnia policy has been to tolerate, even encourage, Islamist support for the Izetbegovic Administration, particularly its assertive and escalatory military strategy. Washington considers the Islamists the only bloc capable of sustaining support for the besieged Administration in Sarajevo even though the vehemently anti-US objectives of militant Islam, led by Iran, could not have been misunderstood or missed.

There should not have been any doubt about the essence of the Izetbegovic Administration either. Since 1990, Izetbegovic and the top leadership of Bosnia-Herzegovina have repeatedly demonstrated their commitment to the Islamist line and their very close relations with Tehran and other Islamists, as well as determination to work jointly to further the march of militant radical Islam in the Balkans and into Western Europe. Moreover, since the Spring of 1991, in the aftermath of the Gulf Crisis, the Islamist leadership has been stressing that the assault on Western Europe, and subsequently the US, is the urgent priority of militant radical Islam.

The Iran-led Islamist camp began supplying weapons to the Muslim forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina even before the formal independence of the country. By 1992, the Sarajevo leadership was so confident in its survival that it formulated an offensive oriented long-term plan that is still being implemented. Two major aspects in this plan are: (1) to instigate a major clash between the US-led West and the Serbs and Croats through the use of terrorism (including self-inflicted) and provocations, and (2) to build the largest armed forces in the region capable of maintaining offensive pressure and, following the West's victory over Sarajevo's enemies, to maintain regional hegemony.

When the Clinton Administration took office in early 1993, the Bosnian Muslim forces were already preparing for an escalatory surge. For the Clinton Administration, staunch support for the Bosnian Muslims was a combination of a moralistic imperative (assisting victims of atrocities) and, given the importance of Bosnia to the Muslim world, an instrument of getting the Muslim world to tolerate the US's invigorated effort to contain both Iran and Iraq.

However, it did not take long for this policy to fall apart. Since assuming power, the Clinton Administration has used a range of political machinations to bring about the collapse of every diplomatic initiative to reach a ceasefire and negotiated solution. It has also facilitated a massive flow of arms and experts into Bosnia Herzegovina.

The marked improvement in the military capabilities of the Bosnian Muslim forces as a result of the initial flow of weapons and experts from the Muslim world brought Sarajevo to attempt to consolidate better control over the weapons' supply lines: attacking the Croats in central Bosnia-Herzegovina. Consequently, the Croats cut all delivery routes through Croatian territory. According to French officers, the US resorted to direct supply by air to the Muslim forces in Bihac. Meanwhile, the US put tremendous pressure on Zagreb to reach an agreement with Sarajevo: the Croat-Bosnian "federation". In return, Washington would assist the Croats to destroy the Serb enclaves on Croatian territory.

In early 1994, with the supply lines secured, the Bosnian Muslim forces embarked on a major build-up and escalation. Direct US involvement and better UN protection were achieved as a result of the "Serb mortar shell" in Sarajevo: self-inflicted terrorism by the Bosnian Muslim Government. Meanwhile, a massive weapons and experts supply system was being established, dominated by Iran. A very apprehensive Zagreb wondered if the West should not reconsider the ramification of this Islamist build-up. Washington had "no instructions" concerning the matter and the Islamist build-up immediately went underway. There was no way back. The specific incident of late April 1994 was thus but one episode in a persistent and much wider Bosnia policy formulated and pursued by a small group of very senior US officials personally led by the President.

However, despite the massive build-up, the Bosnian Muslim forces failed to defeat the Bosnian Serbs or instigate a major Western military intervention. Therefore, Sarajevo convinced Washington in the Winter of 1994-95 to further escalate its direct involvement in the war. Consequently, in February 1995, the US arranged and was responsible for an airlift into Tuzla in order to facilitate a strategic offensive. It failed. There followed a series of provocations (including yet another self-inflicted "Serb mortar shell" in Sarajevo) to get the US-led NATO to launch a massive bombing campaign against the Serbs, facilitate the Muslim-Croat offensive, and ultimately impose the Dayton-Paris Accords.

Although the Clinton Administration insists that the Dayton-Paris Accords aim to consolidate a multi-ethnic democratic state, there has been no effort on the part of the US or its NATO allies to implement this aspect. On the contrary, the Islamists are well entrenched as the dominant force in Sarajevo and the Bosnian Muslim armed forces. Iran has the strongest influence in Sarajevo. Thus, the Clinton Administration in effect facilitated the most important Islamist strategic surge -- establishing a foothold and a springboard into Europe -- in the outcome of a policy aimed to "containing" the spread of Islamism in the Middle East.

Furthermore, the mere process of getting the weapons and mujahedin into Bosnia-Herzegovina has global reverberations and disastrous ramifications for the US. In its eagerness to arrange for large quantities of weapons and experts for Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Clinton Administration looked the other way as resources were being diverted by participants in the conspiracy to their own pet-causes: Islamist subversion from Kashmir to Chechnya, Islamist terrorism from Western Europe to Egypt. Even Arab security officials now acknowledge that the rising groups of the "Balkans" [Islamist volunteers who fought in the Balkans] are worse than those of the "Afghans" [Islamist volunteers who fought in Afghanistan during the 1980s]. The on-going struggle of the Muslim state in Bosnia under pressure from both Croats and Serbs only increases the despair and militancy of the "Balkans", sending them to seek revenge against those powers they blame for the failure of the Islamist Sarajevo. The US tops their list.

MEANWHILE, THE regional ramifications of the imposition of the Dayton-Paris Accords since late 1995 have been adverse. The validity, viability and legitimacy of the Dayton-Paris Accords as the cornerstone of a peaceful resolution of the wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina is far from certain. Similarly, the ability of an increasingly US-dominated I-FOR (Implementation Force) and later S-FOR (Stabilising Force), even if it is impartial, to enforce a peace process should be assessed on the basis of the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the willingness of the local key players to accept the peace process. A closer examination of the dynamics in the former Yugoslavia since the Fall of 1995 cast grave doubt on the logic behind, and viability of, the Dayton-Paris process.

While attention is being focused on the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the key regional powers -- Yugoslavia and Croatia -- are fully aware that the solution envisioned by the Accords cannot be stabilised and that a regional eruption is therefore highly likely. Consequently, there is an escalation of an arms race between Croatia and rump Yugoslavia in preparation for the regional war to determine the fate of the post-crisis Balkans. The only thing Zagreb and Belgrade seem to agree on is the inevitably of the partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, that is, the elimination of a Muslim political entity. The differences in the military build-up in the new Yugoslavia and Croatia are a reflection of the emerging national priorities of these two key players in the Balkans. Both are united in their commitment to co-existence in a new Balkans, having carved up Bosnia-Herzegovina between them.

These dramatic developments did not happen suddenly or in a vacuum. Rather, they are the outcome of a major disruption -- the US imposition of the Dayton-Paris Accords -- to already escalating inner tensions and dynamics in the former Yugoslavia. This process, already dangerous and destabilising in its own right, has been evolving since the early 1990s in and around Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the aftermath of the Dayton-Paris Accords there is a profound difference in the key players' perception of the immediate future. President Franjo Tudjman's Zagreb believes there is no escape from a major war before a new realignment of forces in the territory of the former Yugoslavia can be established. President Slobodan Milosevic's Belgrade still hopes to be able to negotiate and bargain its way to Western recognition of the emergence of a new Serb-dominated Yugoslavia and a new Croatia dominating the territory of the former Yugoslavia, including the partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina between them. The new Yugoslavia is exhausted from the sanctions and the collapse of Serb spirit. Croatia, in a sharp contrast, is rejuvenated by the success of the offensive in the Krajina and Bosnia-Herzegovina, particularly the Western tolerance of the ensuing "ethnic cleansing" of Serbs. Tudjman is in a fighting spirit, convinced that Zagreb will be able to realise its regional aspirations only through the force of arms.

Sarajevo is not oblivious to this process. Fully aware of the extent of the threat to its very existence, the Izetbegovic Administration is adamant on instigating crises in order to have US/NATO forces destroy the Serbs and Croats for them so that there is no threat to Sarajevo. Sarajevo has a bigger objective in mind: to evolve regional dynamics, and especially establish outright US commitment to Sarajevo, which will deter Germany and Russia from endorsing and facilitating the elimination of the Muslim entity for their respective proteges. Alija Izetbegovic and his closest aides, particularly Delic, are convinced that the Clinton Administration can be manipulated into playing this role even in the face of clear preparations for, and active support of, anti-European Islamist terrorism from territory controlled by Sarajevo.

These Islamist activities, including the manipulation of the Clinton Administration, are the primary destabilising factors threatening the chances for a lingering peace in the former Yugoslavia. Sarajevo is determined to deliver the spark that can ignite the region and thus become the catalyst for an uncontrollable escalation of any eruption into the rest of Europe.

The vast improvement, and ensuing assertiveness, of the Bosnian Muslim armed forces is a direct outcome of the US and Arab/Muslim military assistance programs. By mid-1996, senior officers and high-level politicians were no longer concealing their determination to go to war and complete the occupation of Serb and Croat held territory the moment their forces were ready and equipped. In mid-April 1997, Bosnian Army commander, General Rasim Delic, issued a stern warning that the Bosnian Muslims would fight any move to carve up Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of a permanent solution. "The creation of the Bosnian Army is the biggest historical fact that marked the beginning of a new political era in Bosnia," Delic said. The Bosnian Muslim Army is "a true force and all enemies of Bosnia who want partition of the country or who would dare to risk the adventure of a new war must take that fact into account".

Sarajevo's belligerency enjoys the support and endorsement of the Clinton Administration, if not in words than in deeds as demonstrated by the continued supply of weapons and military expertise to the Bosnian Muslims. Moreover, starting the Summer of 1997, the US -- under the banner of S-FOR -- has launched a concentrated effort to fracture and demoralise the Bosnian Serbs to the point of self-destruction, or, at the least, inability to withstand a Bosnian Muslim surge. This effort has been justified as the pursuit of war criminals and the implementation of political reforms among the Bosnian Serbs. Taken together, the US involvement in inner-Serb politics in Bosnia-Herzegovina -- from the hunt for war criminals to the return of Muslim refugees to Brcko -- is aimed to fracture the Bosnian Serbs, divide them into two rival pockets, and instigate a clash involving massive use of S-FOR power that will ultimately permit the Bosnian Muslims to complete the "liberation" of "their" country as advocated by Izetbegovic and Delic.

The Bosnian Serb leadership is painfully aware of this dynamic but has so far proven incapable of withstanding the US-led pressure and enticements. Momcilo Krajisnik, President in the Bosnia-Herzegovina Presidency from the Bosnian Serb Republic, warned that the goal of the current political dynamics is to divide the Serb Republic in two parts -- western and eastern -- that would not exist without each other. "What the Serbs in the [Bosnian] Serb Republic gained from this war is that they have become aware of their national status and unity; that is why some are trying to break us up," Krajisnik said. Although the Bosnian Serbs will neither rise up against Bosnia-Herzegovina as defined by the Dayton-Paris Accords, nor will they let anyone take away their independence.

"WE WANT to implement the Dayton Agreement and at the same time preserve the Serb Republic with a high level of independence and state attributes the republic gained through the peace agreement," Krajisnik said. He implied that the US-led S-FOR was actively attempting to reverse these gains. "A terrible propaganda campaign is being waged. Its aim is to turn the Serbs against each other and weaken the Serb Republic from within. We must not allow this because the only losers in intra-Serb clashes will be the Serbs themselves." Krajisnik reminded that the self-weakening of the Republic of Serb Krajina enabled the Croats to destroy it and evict all the Serbs (in a campaign endorsed and supported by the US).

The already apparent fracturing of, and internal feuds among, the Bosnian Serbs are but instruments for the expediting of two possible scenarios aimed to establish Izetbegovic's rule over the entire Bosnia-Herzegovina.

According to the first scenario, some Bosnian Serbs, will use arms against the US forces with S-FOR, leading to a massive US retaliation including the use of air power. Subsequently -- as in 1995 -- the Bosnian Muslim armed forces will then exploit the rout of the Serbs to surge and complete the occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Given the long history of Sarajevo's use of self-inflicted "Serb mortar shells" and other provocations in order to instigate US reaction and use of force, another provocation, this time against the US forces, should not be ruled out particularly given the large number of Islamist mujahedin still in Bosnia-Herzegovina who would relish such an opportunity.

The second scenario anticipates that the Bosnian Serbs will fracture, and, in the aftermath of riots and chaos as a result of infighting, will succumb to S-FOR and later Muslim forces imposing the implementation of the Dayton-Paris Accords. Recently, this scenario has become a near reality.
Preparations For War

BY MID-September 1997, Sarajevo was actively preparing for the resumption of war in Bosnia-Herzegovina as early as the Spring or Summer of 1998. The character and key operations of this war have all but been determined. The final date will be decided on the basis of one criteria: whether the US forces will remain in Bosnia past July 1998, and hence whether Sarajevo should wait for their withdrawal before launching the war.

The preferences of the Clinton Administration concerning the timing of the war are taken into consideration because the Izetbegovic Administration would not like to lose the US support. Sarajevo maintains that Izetbegovic was assured by the highest possible echelons of the Clinton Administration that if the Dayton process collapses, the West would facilitate the Bosnian Muslims' "reunification" of Bosnia-Herzegovina by force of arms. Indeed, the entire US-sponsored "Train and Equip" program was organized toward this end. As far as Sarajevo is concerned, the program's objective has been, in the words of a senior official in Sarajevo, to enable the Bosnian Muslim forces "to attack the Serbs when the US troops leave Bosnia in June 1998". As was the case with the violations of the arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims before late 1995, the US-led West now looks the other way as Arab and Muslim states exceed international quotas with their contribution of weapons and ammunition to the Bosnian Muslim armed forces.

Little wonder that Sarajevo is confident the Clinton Administration will at the least tacitly support the next war. High-level Bosnian Muslim sources insist that "during the peace talks in Dayton, the Bosniak politicians were told from a very high-ranking position in the US Administration that the alternative to non-implementation of the peace agreement is that the West is giving the Bosniaks a chance to militarily reintegrate some parts of Serb Republic. After all, this is the silent 'Annex' of the Dayton Agreement or the so-called 'Dayton 2.'" The build-up and training of the Bosnian Muslim armed forces is built around the concept of "when we attack the Serbs"; there is no "if" in that frame of reference.

Sarajevo's contingency plans call for a major swift offensive to occupy the eastern parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Officially, this approach is justified by the claim that these territories in the eastern part of the Serb Republic used to have a Bosnian Muslim majority before the war. In order to ensure support in the West, the offensive will be justified as facilitating the return of Muslim refugees -- all "victims of Serb ethnic cleansing and atrocities", of course -- to the key cities and villages in the area. The Bosnian Muslim offensive is modeled, both strategically and politically, on the Croat Storm offensive of 1995 in which the entire Krajina Serb population was evicted by force and sent into exile with tacit US endorsement. Significantly, the bulk of the planned Bosnian Muslim offensive operations will take place in the US zone.

The key military maneuvers are based on twin pincers and a series of follow-up "mop-up" operations: Sarajevo's euphemism for ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Serbs.

The major pincer will be based on (1) the Tuzla-based forces surging from the Kalesija area, and making a south-east arch along the border with Yugoslavia, capturing such key strategic cities as Zvornik, Bratunac, Srebrenica, Zepa, and up-to the northern approaches Visegrad; and (2) the Gorazde-based forces surging eastward and southwards, capturing the entire area leading to the Yugoslav border between Foca, and the Piva River in the south to the southern approaches to Visegrad in the east. Then, a series of swift mop-up operations launched along a wide front from Sarajevo to Kalesija will push the Bosnian Serb population from the Serb pocket of Han Pijesak, Pale, Sokoc, and Rogatica eastward through the Visegrad corridor (which explains why both pincers only approach the city) to Yugoslavia. Sarajevo is convinced that just as the West tolerated the mass eviction of the Krajina Serbs in the 1995 operation Storm, it will tolerate the emptying of eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina from Serbs as long as their eviction is completed swiftly and resolutely. Sarajevo is convinced that lacking any major economic and political viability on its own, the rest of Serb south-eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina will succumb without the need for a direct military occupation.

The second pincer will be smaller but strategically crucial: (1) The northern arm will surge just east of Brcko and will advance eastwards along the Sava River to the northeast corner of Bosnia-Herzegovina; and (2) the southern arm will surge from the Krstac-Teocak area and advance northwards along the Drina River until joining up with the first arm. This maneuver will completely separate the Bosnian Serbs from on-land links with Yugoslavia.

The success of the north-eastern surge will enable Sarajevo to be generous with the Bosnian Serbs under President Biljana Plavsic. With the strategic importance of Brcko lost, the Bosnian Serbs would be permitted to retain control, as long as large numbers of Bosnian Muslim refugees are permitted to return. Senior officials in Sarajevo insist that the Clinton Administration has assured them that the US will deliver the western parts of the Bosnian Serbs, under the leadership of Mrs Plavsic, without the need for a major offensive and occupation. The recent US blatant intervention in Bosnian Serb inner politics under the excuse of pursuing "war criminals" has begun the fracturing, suppressing and conditioning of the Bosnian Serbs. In the aftermath of the forthcoming war, the western Bosnian Serbs will be completely isolated from the rest of the Serbs, and with their leadership completely demoralized, the Serbs will acquiesce to the position of a protectorate of sort rather than face the fate of their brethren in eastern Bosnia or the Krajina. This way, the senior officials in Sarajevo point out, Sarajevo would be able to pretend that a multinational state based on the Dayton Accords and that is not inherently anti-Serb is being built in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

As for the Croat-dominated parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina, senior officials in Sarajevo acknowledge that Sarajevo has been advised by what they term "Christian Europe" to not even contemplate challenging the de facto annexation of these areas by Croatia. Be happy with the decimation of the Serbs and forget about the Croats, Sarajevo was told in no uncertain terms.

By mid-September, Izetbegovic's Sarajevo was confident that it had already won US approval and support for a military surge in order to complete the subjugation of the Bosnian Serbs before the Summer of 1998. Recently, senior officials in Sarajevo brought up the possibility of such an offensive in a discussion with a senior "Western" diplomat. "We would officially condemn, but we would understand and we would probably not undertake any efficient steps," a high-ranking "Western" diplomat assured Sarajevo. "This is exactly what we expect. There is a real possibility. If the West does not gather the courage to arrest the war criminals, if the return of the refugees is not made possible before the US troops withdraw, and if there are no real possibilities for a practical application of the local election results, then a military intervention similar to the Storm operation is quite a real possibility. Who can forbid the Bosniaks to take what is, first of all, morally theirs?"

Hence, both senior Bosnian Muslim officials in Sarajevo and senior Arab officials consulted with concede, the only question which remains to be resolved is when to surge forward. Presently, the majority opinion is that Sarajevo should wait for the replacement of S-FOR with a new US-dominated international force which will be far more supportive of their "cause".

Already aimed to stay "indefinitely" in Bosnia-Herzegovina, this new force will serve as an umbrella protecting the gains of the Bosnian Muslim offensive from a hardly-possible Yugoslav retaliation or any other adverse repercussions. However, these senior Bosnian Muslim officials in Sarajevo and senior Arab officials stress, Sarajevo and its Muslim backers are determined to "decisively resolve the Serb problem" soon, and, therefore, if Washington changes its mind about the forthcoming offensive, "appropriate means" would be found to expedite the withdrawal of US forces. These "means", it can be surmised, are spectacular terrorist strikes by the numerous Islamist mujahedin still in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The result of the crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina, according to both Sarajevo and the Clinton Administration, is the emergence of a need for a US-led and dominated international force to secure the new order in Bosnia-Herzegovina until the Izetbegovic Administration is capable of consolidating an Islamist administration over a country with a Christian majority (both Serbs and Croats) and a large base of secularized Bosnian Muslims. Given the inevitable widespread resistance to the Islamicization of Bosnia-Herzegovina, US forces would have to remain there "indefinitely" in order to impose a government closer in spirit and political loyalty to the mullahs' Tehran than to Washington DC.