caption: Late Bosnian Muslim leader Izetbegovic and then USA president Bill Clinton
Introduction and Summary
In late 1995, President Bill Clinton dispatched some 20,000 U.S. troops to Bosnia-Hercegovina as part of a NATO-led “implementation force” (IFOR) to ensure that the warring Muslim, Serbian, and Croatian factions complied with provisions of the Dayton peace plan. [NOTE: This paper assumes the reader is acquainted with the basic facts of the Bosnian war leading to the IFOR deployment. For background, see RPC’s “Clinton Administration Ready to Send U.S. Troops to Bosnia, “9/28/95,” and Legislative Notice No. 60, “Senate to Consider Several Resolutions on Bosnia,” 12/12/95] Through statements by Administration spokesmen, notably Defense Secretary Perry and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Shalikashvili, the president firmly assured Congress and the American people that U.S. personnel would be out of Bosnia at the end of one year. Predictably, as soon as the November 1996 election was safely behind him, President Clinton announced that approximately 8,500 U.S. troops would be remaining for another 18 months as part of a restructured and scaled down contingent, the “stabilization force” (SFOR), officially established on December 20, 1996.
SFOR begins its mission in Bosnia under a serious cloud both as to the nature of its mission and the dangers it will face. While IFOR had successfully accomplished its basic military task — separating the factions’ armed forces — there has been very little progress toward other stated goals of the Dayton agreement, including political and economic reintegration of Bosnia, return of refugees to their homes, and apprehension and prosecution of accused war criminals. It is far from certain that the cease-fire that has held through the past year will continue for much longer, in light of such unresolved issues as the status of the cities of Brcko (claimed by Muslims but held by the Serbs) and Mostar (divided between nominal Muslim and Croat allies, both of which are currently being armed by the Clinton Administration). Moreover, at a strength approximately one-third that of its predecessor, SFOR may not be in as strong a position to deter attacks by one or another of the Bosnian factions or to avoid attempts to involve it in renewed fighting: “IFOR forces, despite having suffered few casualties, have been vulnerable to attacks from all of the contending sides over the year of the Dayton mandate. As a second mandate [i.e., SFOR] evolves, presumably maintaining a smaller force on the ground, the deterrent effect which has existed may well become less compelling and vulnerabilities of the troops will increase.” [“Military Security in Bosnia-Herzegovina: Present and Future,” Bulletin of the Atlantic Council of the United States, 12/18/96]
The Iranian Connection
Perhaps most threatening to the SFOR mission — and more importantly, to the safety of the American personnel serving in Bosnia — is the unwillingness of the Clinton Administration to come clean with the Congress and with the American people about its complicity in the delivery of weapons from Iran to the Muslim government in Sarajevo. That policy, personally approved by Bill Clinton in April 1994 at the urging of CIA Director-designate (and then-NSC chief) Anthony Lake and the U.S. ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith, has, according to the Los Angeles Times (citing classified intelligence community sources), “played a central role in the dramatic increase in Iranian influence in Bosnia.” Further, according to the Times, in September 1996 National Security Agency analysts contradicted Clinton Administration claims of declining Iranian influence, insisting instead that “Iranian Revolutionary Guard personnel remain active throughout Bosnia.” Likewise, “CIA analysts noted that the Iranian presence was expanding last fall,” with some ostensible cultural and humanitarian activities “known to be fronts” for the Revolutionary Guard and Iran’s intelligence service, known as VEVAK, the Islamic revolutionary successor to the Shah’s SAVAK. [LAT, 12/31/96] At a time when there is evidence of increased willingness by pro-Iranian Islamic militants to target American assets abroad — as illustrated by the June 1996 car-bombing at the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that killed 19 American airmen, in which the Iranian government or pro-Iranian terrorist organizations are suspected [“U.S. Focuses Bomb Probe on Iran, Saudi Dissident,” Chicago Tribune, 11/4/96] – it is irresponsible in the extreme for the Clinton Administration to gloss over the extent to which its policies have put American personnel in an increasingly vulnerable position while performing an increasingly questionable mission.
Bosnian Muslim leader Izetbegovic wit foreign Islamists
Three Key Issues for Examination
This paper will examine the Clinton policy of giving the green light to Iranian arms shipments to the Bosnian Muslims, with serious implications for the safety of U.S. troops deployed there. (In addition, RPC will release a general analysis of the SFOR mission and the Clinton Administration’s request for supplemental appropriations to fund it in the near future.) Specifically, the balance of this paper will examine in detail the three issues summarized below:
1. The Clinton Green Light to Iranian Arms Shipments (page 3): In April 1994, President Clinton gave the government of Croatia what has been described by Congressional committees as a “green light” for shipments of weapons from Iran and other Muslim countries to the Muslim-led government of Bosnia. The policy was approved at the urging of NSC chief Anthony Lake and the U.S. ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith. The CIA and the Departments of State and Defense were kept in the dark until after the decision was made.
2. The Militant Islamic Network (page 5): Along with the weapons, Iranian Revolutionary Guards and VEVAK intelligence operatives entered Bosnia in large numbers, along with thousands of mujahedin (“holy warriors”) from across the Muslim world. Also engaged in the effort were several other Muslim countries (including Brunei, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Turkey) and a number of radical Muslim organizations. For example, the role of one Sudan-based “humanitarian organization,” called the Third World Relief Agency, has been well-documented. The Clinton Administration’s “hands-on” involvement with the Islamic network’s arms pipeline included inspections of missiles from Iran by U.S. government officials.
3. The Radical Islamic Character of the Sarajevo Regime (page 8): Underlying the Clinton Administration’s misguided green light policy is a complete misreading of its main beneficiary, the Bosnian Muslim government of Alija Izetbegovic. Rather than being the tolerant, multiethnic democratic government it pretends to be, there is clear evidence that the ruling circle of Izetbegovic’s party, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), has long been guided by the principles of radical Islam. This Islamist orientation is illustrated by profiles of three important officials, including President Izetbegovic himself; the progressive Islamization of the Bosnian army, including creation of native Bosnian mujahedin units; credible claims that major atrocities against civilians in Sarajevo were staged for propaganda purposes by operatives of the Izetbegovic government; and suppression of enemies, both non-Muslim and Muslim.
The Clinton Green Light to Iranian Arms Shipments
Both the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Select Subcommittee to Investigate the United States Role in Iranian Arms Transfers to Croatia and Bosnia issued reports late last year. (The Senate report, dated November 1996, is unclassified. The House report is classified, with the exception of the final section of conclusions, which was released on October 8, 1996; a declassified version of the full report is expected to be released soon.) The reports, consistent with numerous press accounts, confirm that on April 27, 1994, President Clinton directed Ambassador Galbraith to inform the government of Croatia that he had “no instructions” regarding Croatia’s decision whether or not to permit weapons, primarily from Iran, to be transshipped to Bosnia through Croatia. (The purpose was to facilitate the acquisition of arms by the Muslim-led government in Sarajevo despite the arms embargo imposed on Yugoslavia by the U.N. Security Council.) Clinton Administration officials took that course despite their awareness of the source of the weapons and despite the fact that the Croats (who were themselves divided on whether to permit arms deliveries to the Muslims) would take anything short of a U.S. statement that they should not facilitate the flow of Iranian arms to Bosnia as a “green light.”
The green light policy was decided upon and implemented with unusual secrecy, with the CIA and the Departments of State and Defense only informed after the fact. [“U.S. Had Options to Let Bosnia Get Arms, Avoid Iran,” Los Angeles Times, 7/14/96] Among the key conclusions of the House Subcommittee were the following (taken from the unclassified section released on October 8):
“The President and the American people were poorly served by the Administration officials who rushed the green light decision without due deliberation, full information and an adequate consideration of the consequences.” (page 202)
“The Administration’s efforts to keep even senior US officials from seeing its ‘fingerprints’ on the green light policy led to confusion and disarray within the government.” (page 203)
“The Administration repeatedly deceived the American people about its Iranian green light policy.” (page 204)
Clinton, Lake, and Galbraith Responsible
While the final go-ahead for the green light was given by President Clinton — who is ultimately accountable for the results of his decision — two Clinton Administration officials bear particular responsibility: Ambassador Galbraith and then-NSC Director Anthony Lake, against both of whom the House of Representatives has referred criminal charges to the Justice Department. Mr. Lake, who personally presented the proposal to Bill Clinton for approval, “played a central role in preventing the responsible congressional committees from knowing about the Administration’s fateful decision to acquiesce in radical Islamic Iran’s effort to penetrate the European continent through arms shipments and military cooperation with the Bosnian government.” [” ‘In Lake We Trust’? Confirmation Make-Over Exacerbates Senate Concerns About D.C.I.-Designate’s Candor, Reliability,” Center for Security Policy, Washington, D.C., 1/8/97] His responsibility for the operation is certain to be a major hurdle in his effort to be confirmed as CIA Director: “The fact that Lake was one of the authors of the duplicitous policy in Bosnia, which is very controversial and which has probably helped strengthen the hand of the Iranians, doesn’t play well,” stated Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Shelby. [“Lake to be asked about donation,” Washington Times, 1/2/97]
For his part, Ambassador Galbraith was the key person both in conceiving the policy and in serving as the link between the Clinton Administration and the Croatian government; he also met with Imam Sevko Omerbasic, the top Muslim cleric in Croatia, “who the CIA says was an intermediary for Iran.” [“Fingerprints: Arms to Bosnia, the real story,” The New Republic, 10/28/96; see also LAT12/23/96] As the House Subcommittee concluded (page 206): “There is evidence that Ambassador Galbraith may have engaged in activities that could be characterized as unauthorized covert action.” The Senate Committee (pages 19 and 20 of the report) was unable to agree on the specific legal issue of whether Galbraith’s actions constituted a “covert action” within the definition of section 503(e) of the National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. Sec. 413(e)), as amended, defined as “an activity or activities . . . to influence political, economic, or military conditions abroad, where it is intended that the role of the United States Government will not be apparent or acknowledged publicly.”
The Militant Islamic Network
The House Subcommittee report also concluded (page 2): “The Administration’s Iranian green light policy gave Iran an unprecedented foothold in Europe and has recklessly endangered American lives and US strategic interests.” Further –
” . . . The Iranian presence and influence [in Bosnia] jumped radically in the months following the green light. Iranian elements infiltrated the Bosnian government and established close ties with the current leadership in Bosnia and the next generation of leaders. Iranian Revolutionary Guards accompanied Iranian weapons into Bosnia and soon were integrated in the Bosnian military structure from top to bottom as well as operating in independent units throughout Bosnia. The Iranian intelligence service [VEVAK] ran wild through the area developing intelligence networks, setting up terrorist support systems, recruiting terrorist ‘sleeper’ agents and agents of influence, and insinuating itself with the Bosnian political leadership to a remarkable degree. The Iranians effectively annexed large portions of the Bosnian security apparatus [known as the Agency for Information and Documentation (AID)] to act as their intelligence and terrorist surrogates. This extended to the point of jointly planning terrorist activities. The Iranian embassy became the largest in Bosnia and its officers were given unparalleled privileges and access at every level of the Bosnian government.” (page 201)
Not Just the Iranians
To understand how the Clinton green light would lead to this degree of Iranian influence, it is necessary to remember that the policy was adopted in the context of extensive and growing radical Islamic activity in Bosnia. That is, the Iranians and other Muslim militants had long been active in Bosnia; the American green light was an important political signal to both Sarajevo and the militants that the United States was unable or unwilling to present an obstacle to those activities — and, to a certain extent, was willing to cooperate with them. In short, the Clinton Administration’s policy of facilitating the delivery of arms to the Bosnian Muslims made it the de facto partner of an ongoing international network of governments and organizations pursuing their own agenda in Bosnia:the promotion of Islamic revolution in Europe. That network involves not only Iran but Brunei, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan (a key ally of Iran), and Turkey, together with front groups supposedly pursuing humanitarian and cultural activities.
For example, one such group about which details have come to light is the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA), a Sudan-based, phoney humanitarian organization which has been a major link in the arms pipeline to Bosnia. [“How Bosnia’s Muslims Dodged Arms Embargo: Relief Agency Brokered Aid From Nations, Radical Groups,” Washington Post, 9/22/96; see also “Saudis Funded Weapons For Bosnia, Official Says: $300 Million Program Had U.S. ‘Stealth Cooperation’,” Washington Post, 2/2/96] TWRA is believed to beconnected with such fixtures of the Islamic terror network as Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman (the convicted mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing) and Osama Binladen, a wealthy Saudi emigre believed to bankroll numerous militant groups. [WP, 9/22/96] (Sheik Rahman, a native of Egypt, is currently in prison in the United States; letter bombs addressed to targets in Washington and London, apparently from Alexandria, Egypt, are believed connected with his case. Binladen was a resident in Khartoum, Sudan, until last year; he is now believed to be in Afghanistan, “where he has issued statements calling for attacks on U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf.” [WP, 9/22/96])
The Clinton Administration’s “Hands-On” Help
The extent to which Clinton Administration officials, notably Ambassador Galbraith, knowingly or negligently, cooperated with the efforts of such front organizations is unclear. For example, according to one intelligence account seen by an unnamed U.S. official in the Balkans, “Galbraith ‘talked with representatives of Muslim countries on payment for arms that would be sent to Bosnia,’ . . . [T]he dollar amount mentioned in the report was $500 million-$800 million. The U.S. official said he also saw subsequent ‘operational reports’ in 1995 on almost weekly arms shipments of automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, anti-armor rockets and TOW missiles.” [TNR, 10/28/96] The United States played a disturbingly “hands-on” role, with, according to the Senate report (page 19), U.S. government personnel twice conducting inspections in Croatia of missiles en route to Bosnia. Further –
“The U.S. decision to send personnel to Croatia to inspect rockets bound for Bosnia is . . . subject to varying interpretations. It may have been simply a straightforward effort to determine whether chemical weapons were being shipped into Bosnia. It was certainly, at least in part, an opportunity to examine a rocket in which the United States had some interest. But it may also have been designed to ensure that Croatia would not shut down the pipeline.” (page 21)
The account in The New Republic points sharply to the latter explanation: “Enraged at Iran’s apparent attempt to slip super weapons past Croat monitors, the Croatian defense minister nonetheless sent the missiles on to Bosnia ‘just as Peter [i.e., Ambassador Galbraith] told us to do,’ sources familiar with the episode said.” [TNR, 10/28/96] In short, the Clinton Administration’s connection with the various players that made up the arms network seems to have been direct and intimate.
The Mujahedin Threat
In addition to (and working closely with) the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and VEVAK intelligence are members of numerous radical groups known for their anti-Western orientation, along with thousands of volunteer mujahedin (“holy warriors”) from across the Islamic world. From the beginning of the NATO-led deployment, the Clinton Administration has given insufficient weight to military concerns regarding the mujahedin presence in Bosnia as well as the danger they pose to American personnel. Many of the fighters are concentrated in the so-called “green triangle” (the color green symbolizes Islam) centered on the town of Zenica in the American IFOR/SFOR zone but are also found throughout the country.
The Clinton Administration has been willing to accept Sarajevo’s transparently false assurances of the departure of the foreign fighters based on the contention that they have married Bosnian women and have acquired Bosnian citizenship — and thus are no longer “foreign”! — or, having left overt military units to join “humanitarian,” “cultural,” or “charitable” organizations, are no longer “fighters.”
- “Foreign Muslims Fighting in Bosnia Considered ‘Threat’ to U.S. Troops,” Washington Post, 11/30/95;
- “Outsiders Bring Islamic Fervor To the Balkans,” New York Times, 9/23/96;
- “Islamic Alien Fighters Settle in Bosnia,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/23/96;
- “Mujahideen rule Bosnian villages: Threaten NATO forces, non-Muslims,” Washington Times, 9/23/96; and
- Yossef Bodansky, Offensive in the Balkans (November 1995) and Some Call It Peace (August 1996), International Media Corporation, Ltd., London.
Bodansky, an analyst with the House Republican Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, is an internationally recognized authority on Islamic terrorism.]
The methods employed to qualify for Bosnian citizenship are themselves problematic: “Islamic militants from Iran and other foreign countries are employing techniques such as forced marriages, kidnappings and the occupation of apartments and houses to remain in Bosnia in violation of the Dayton peace accord and may be a threat to U.S. forces.” [“Mujaheddin Remaining in Bosnia: Islamic Militants Strongarm Civilians, Defy Dayton Plan,” Washington Post, 7/8/96]
The threat presented by the mujahedin to IFOR (and now, to SFOR) — contingent only upon the precise time their commanders in Tehran or Sarajevo should choose to activate them — has been evident from the beginning of the NATO-led deployment. For example, in February 1996 NATO forces raided a terrorist training camp near the town of Fojnica, taking into custody 11 men (8 Bosnian citizens — two of whom may have been naturalized foreign mujahedin – and three Iranian instructors); also seized were explosives “built into small children’s plastic toys, including a car, a helicopter and an ice cream cone,” plus other weapons such as handguns, sniper rifles, grenade launchers, etc. The Sarajevo government denounced the raid, claiming the facility was an “intelligence service school”; the detainees were released promptly after NATO turned them over to local authorities.
- [ “NATO Captures Terrorist Training Camp, Claims Iranian Involvement,” Associated Press, 2/16/96;
- “Bosnian government denies camp was for terrorists,” Reuters, 2/16/96;
- Bodansky Some Call It Peace, page 56]
- In May 1996, a previously unknown group called “Bosnian Islamic Jihad” (jihad means “holy war”) threatened attacks on NATO troops by suicide bombers, similar to those that had recently been launched in Israel. [“Jihad Threat in Bosnia Alarms NATO,” The European, 5/9/96]
Via Srpska mreža. org