Purdue University History Professor Charles Ingrao says the US military saw Ratko Mladic at least 20 times in 1996 alone but the Pentagon was not then interested in capturing war crimes indictees in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The startling claim, one in a series of controversial claims concerning the role played by the United States and its allies in post-Dayton Bosnia, appears in a broad work of investigative research undertaken by 300 scholars from the Western Balkans and beyond.
The research work, published recently is entitled Scholars’ Initiative: Confronting the Yugoslav Controversies and aims to “bridge the cognitive gap between the region’s peoples”.
“Between late February and early July 1996”, says Ingrao, “a specially designated US Army reconnaissance team observed Ratko Mladic himself on at least 20 occasions, closely tailing him as he commuted between his command post inside Mount Zepa, the nearby compound of the VRS [the Republika Srpska Army], the Sixty-Fifth Protective Regiment, and other locations in the vicinity of Han Pijesak.”
But, there is more, Ingrao says. On several other occasions the same unit escorted US Colonel John Batiste and a military policeman to Republika Srpska Army regimental headquarters on Mt Zepa for face-to-face meetings with Mladic, allegedly to negotiate his voluntary surrender.
Ingrao told Balkan Insight it was documented in their research that “the platoon even rehearsed the protocol for Mladic’s ‘permissive detention’, though never any procedure for forcibly arresting him.
“The unit did not actually see Mladic but they told me there was no doubt Batiste went to that location to meet him”.
Asked who told him of the “close encounters” between Col Batiste and Mladic, Ingrao says: “He was a military officer with this unit…. a member of the US intelligence community”.
Then asked whether the Pentagon was then aware of the meeting between a high-ranking US officer and the war crimes indictee, Ingrao says: “There is no question that for an American senior officer to meet with a twice-indicted war criminal, this could only have been done with the fore-knowledge and approval of the Pentagon.”
He adds: “There is no question about that. It would seem very unusual if they were not in touch with the Pentagon”.
He goes on to say that several US military officers he interviewed stated as much.
“Also… the former US Ambassador to Croatia and Serbia, William Montgomery, has been on record also talking about the degree to which the US military actively ‘torpedoed’ any attempts to get indicted war criminals arrested. It was clear that the US military was not going after war criminals.”
Ingrao says similar preferential treatment was extended to the former Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, who regularly commuted between his Pale home and office in full view of the International Police Task Force, IPTF, whose Austrian, Swedish, and Ukrainian officers neglected to report these encounters to their Sarajevo headquarters.
The history professor says the US prohibition on capturing suspects “was so proscriptive that not a single one of more that 50 indictees was apprehended by IFOR during the first 18 months of its deployment in Bosnia”.
He describes the events being played on the Bosnian “playground” from 1995 onwards as a form of bizarre game: “Whereas White House Press Spokesman Mike McCurry announced that pictures of all of the indictees were being distributed at IFOR checkpoints, the photos were posted only at the headquarters’ compounds, far removed from the checkpoints and, presumably, from the fugitives themselves.
“When a Bosnian-Croat fugitive, Miroslav Bralo, turned up at a checkpoint in Vitez and offered to surrender, Dutch IFOR units merely took down his name and address, then returned to their base to look for his picture.
“It soon became apparent that US military commanders were actively forestalling efforts by the Dutch, Danish and other IFOR contingents to apprehend fugitives, a charge confirmed by military and civilian officials from several NATO countries and by Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, then serving as the international community’s High Representative for Bosnia”.
The Pentagon was not the only American “player” to show no interest in capturing war-crimes indictees, he says. The then president, Bill Clinton, was no fan, either:
“When the US went into Bosnia it was an obsession of Clinton that this would not be ‘another Mogadishu’ [when US troops were dragged through the streets of the Somali capital in 1993]. So, he was quite unwilling to overrule the Pentagon, despite State Department attempts to get him to do so.”
The State Department was the only major player that wanted war criminals arrested, because it wanted to establish stable government in Bosnia. They understood that as long as Karadzic headed the Republika Srpska, that aim was not possible.
“Their agenda was, quite understandably, to have these war criminals arrested, including, and perhaps beginning with, Karadzic, but they knew the US military would not do it.
“Therefore, when [US envoy Richard] Holbrooke was sent to Belgrade to negotiate with [Serbian leader Slobodan] Milosevic, the whole focus was on getting Karadzic out of the government”.
Touching on the alleged Karadzic-Holbrooke tradeoff, in which Karadzic agreed to disappear from public life in return for impunity from arrest – a tradeoff Holbrooke strongly denies ever existed – Ingrao says that at least three high-ranking State Department officials have confirmed such an exchange of pledges happened.
“Holbrooke accepted Karadzic’s terms, knowing fully well that the US, French and British military had no intention of arresting any ICTY indictees, but declined to put such a promise in writing,” he says.
“Instead, he instructed his principal assistant, Christopher Hill, to draft a memorandum to be signed by Karadzic in which he agreed to give up power and retire to private life”.
Asked if the State Department gave Holbrooke the green light to negotiate such a deal, Ingrao says: “One of our sources is unaware of the degree to which Holbrooke was given the green light to negotiate such an arrangement. What we do know is that he was encouraged to be ‘creative’; that the people in the State Department, including Warren Christopher [Secretary of State from January 20, 1993 until January 17, 1997] were basically telling him: do what you have to do, but get Karadzic out of the government”.