Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Karadzic Raid: Not Even Close
The latest raid on the Bosnian town of Pale has raised more questions about why, after seven years on the trail of indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, NATO troops appear to be no closer to finding him.
A highly-placed source within the Hague tribunal says NATO’s SFOR troops are consistently getting it wrong, so that there is little chance they will ever run across the former Bosnian Serb president.
SFOR insists it is determined to track down war crimes suspects such as Karadzic.
The night-time raid conducted in Pale, Karadzic’s old stronghold, on April 1 left an Orthodox priest and his son injured. NATO troops arrived in unmarked vehicles, followed minutes later by at least four helicopters which hovered over the residence of Jeremija Starovlah, a priest who openly supports Karadzic.
The operation ended badly – Starovlah and his son Aleksandar were seriously injured when SFOR blew a door in. Angry Serbs gathered outside the town church to protest against the incursion, especially the assault on a place of worship. The following day both injured men were reported to be in a coma.
There was no sign of Karadzic.
The failed swoop has raised doubts about whether SFOR is on the right track. A highly-placed source at the Hague war crimes tribunal has questioned the way the force uses intelligence and picks its targets for raids.
“Nobody believes Karadzic is in Pale. He is quite simply not there,” said the source, who declined to be named. “Why would he be in Pale when SFOR have raided it at least once a month since the beginning of the year?”
The source pointed out that the continuing presence of internationals in the town would almost certainly act as a further deterrent to Karadzic.
Lieutenant-Colonel Julian Bower, chief press information officer for SFOR, would not comment on remarks from an anonymous source, but told IWPR, “Our PIFWC [Persons Indicted for War Crimes] operations are intelligence-driven based on information from a variety of sources, only one of which is the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia].
“The operations in Pale are a visible sign of our efforts to detain PIFWCs; there are other less visible operations in other parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina but I am unwilling to provide further details of these.”
The charge that SFOR is looking in the wrong place appears to be strengthened by suggestions that it has failed to act on intelligence pinpointing Karadzic’s exact whereabouts on the border between Bosnia and Serbia.
Five weeks ago, IWPR received information from a reliable international source that Karadzic was in Zaovine, a village that straddles the border between the two countries. “The information on Zaovine was passed to SFOR at the highest levels by one of the most senior ICTY officials,” a different source within the Hague tribunal told IWPR.
Zaovine would seem a perfect place for Karadzic to hide out. This mountainous village can be approached only by two country roads. Reports that the former Bosnian Serb leader frequently moves back and forth across the border were recently confirmed by both tribunal and EU officials in Bosnia.
Despite expectations in the Hague that SFOR would act on the intelligence, no raid was mounted.
An SFOR intelligence source told IWPR that the information from the Hague was not good enough, “SFOR did receive information concerning a PIFWC sighting in eastern Bosnia. However, the information we received was limited. Even so, SFOR took specific actions to determine whether it met the threshold for intelligence. It did not.”
But the Hague believes that the report was worth acting on. "While no information can be judged 100 per cent accurate, ICTY believed that this information was worth investigating very carefully," IWPR was told by its senior source in the Hague. “There was more chance of finding him in Zaovine than in Pale.”
The source went on to say that tribunal officials never heard back from the military,“We pass intelligence to SFOR, but we get no feedback.”
In February, IWPR reported on SFOR`s new strategy to catch Karadzic by detaining alleged members of his support network, such as his former bodyguards Dusan “Bato” Tesic and Zeljko “Luna” Jankovic. Some observers believed the noose was at last tightening around Karadzic, and that an arrest based on high-quality intelligence gathering was imminent.
But since then SFOR actions to capture their man appear have become unfocused. Tesic and Jankovic have been released without charge, while subsequent raids have targeted sites of symbolic significance rather than the remote areas in which Karadzic is believed to travel.
About 10 days after they received information that the suspect was in Zaovine, SFOR mounted a highly public raid on his daughter Sonja’s radio station in Pale.
"It seems odd that they mounted a raid on Sonja Karadzic’s radio station rather than in Zaovine, when a reliable source had told them that they believed Karadzic to have been there," said the Hague source.
IWPR has been told that SFOR’s current failure to achieve visible successes may be at least partly attributable to the rapid rotation of its intelligence officers. A large proportion of teams filtering intelligence on Bosnia’s most wanted fugitives are replaced every six months, making it difficult to sustain the flow of information.
James Lyon, director of the International Crisis Group’s projects in Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro, told IWPR, "The reason why SFOR are failing in their attempts to catch Karadzic is, number one, they are lacking good intelligence; number two, the type and quantities of the specialised troops required for such an operation are missing from the Balkan theatre; and number three, the political will at a higher level does not appear to be there.”
SFOR’s intelligence gathering capacities have also been questioned by international officials advising the Bosnian State Border Service, SBS, which is responsible for controlling Bosnia’s eastern borders where Karadzic is believed to spend most of his time.
"SFOR’s intelligence reports contain little worthwhile information and are full of spelling mistakes," said one experienced foreign advisor. "Even more worrying is the lack of coordination between SFOR and the SBS. There appears to be a distinct lack of trust on the part of the Americans, and this means that they are unable to effectively coordinate their activities with us."
IWPR’s source at the tribunal echoed this sense of dissatisfaction with SFOR’s reluctance to share information.
A source in SFOR, who asked to remain anonymous, told IWPR that military secrecy rules forbids US soldiers serving in the force from talking to “unauthorised” outsiders, and conceded that this did make it hard to coordinate effectively.
The NATO force is adamant that it is working all out to arrest war crimes suspects. “SFOR will continue to support the ICTY and work with the international community and the Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities to seek out persons indicted for war crimes and bring them to justice,” said a statement from SFOR on April 1. “Every operation takes us a step nearer to success.”
Yet actions against obvious targets in Pale have provoked derision in the Bosnian media, while ordinary people are showing signs of disillusionment with SFOR’s current efforts. A recent opinion poll run by a local television station in Bosnia revealed that out of 6,000 respondents, about 80 per cent did not believe the international community would arrest Karadzic.
IWPR’s Hague source had some harsh words to say about the wider implications of failing to catch Karadzic, “There are three or four indicted war criminals still at large in Bosnia and approximately 15 in Serbia, and as Belgrade government officials never tire of telling us, how can they be expected to be able to arrest their indictees while the world’s most powerful military alliance finds it so difficult to catch those in Bosnia?”
Lyon believes that despite all the problems, there is “an increased sense of urgency” to arrest Karadzic before a NATO summit in Istanbul scheduled for the end of June, so that Bosnia could be admitted into the Partnership for Peace programme.
Hugh Griffiths is an investigations coordinator with IWPR. Nerma Jelacic is IWPR country director in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight