US 'Doubts over Air Strikes to Protect Bosnia Enclaves Led to Slaughter of 8,000' as the 20th Anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre Approaches, Robert Fox Reports on the Terrible Consequences of a Failure in Political Decision-Making and Military Strategy

The Evening Standard (London, England), July 6, 2015 | Go to article overview

US 'Doubts over Air Strikes to Protect Bosnia Enclaves Led to Slaughter of 8,000' as the 20th Anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre Approaches, Robert Fox Reports on the Terrible Consequences of a Failure in Political Decision-Making and Military Strategy


Byline: Robert Fox

A SHIFT in policy emanating from the Clinton White House and UN Headquarters, leading to the suspension of air strikes over Bosnia in the summer of 1995, allowed Bosnian Serbs under Ratko Mladic to overrun easily the UN protected enclave of Srebrenica, it has been claimed 20 years after the event. The capture of the enclave, defended by a small force of Dutch UN soldiers, led to Mladic's men then killing some 8,000 unarmed Bosnian Muslim men the worst war crime in Europe since the Second World War.

The strange story of the suspension of Nato air strikes, and the shift of policy driven by the US and the UN, has only fully come to light this past week through a TV documentary by the Dutch VPRO channel and documents disclosed to a closed-door conference of experts on Srebrenica at the Institute for Global Justice in the Hague.

Just a stone's throw from the institute, General Mladic and his political crony Radovan Karadzic are being tried for war crimes at the International Tribunal.

The documents show that by the end of May 1995 Bill Clinton and his security adviser on Bosnia, Sandy Berger, had become disillusioned with the use of mass air strikes to deter the Serbs in Bosnia as they had led to 450 UN peacekeepers being taken hostage.

Doubts were compounded when a US F-16 on patrol over northern Bosnia was shot down by Serb missiles the pilot, Scott O'Grady, was rescued after hiding out for almost a week. Nothing was said publicly about the shift of view on air strikes, however.

Mr Clinton and the UN also wanted to try to get peace negotiations started and believed suspending air strikes would help this. "You can't even say there was a proper, clear decision, it was just a drift in policy through the capitals and at the UN headquarters," said a senior official who was on the ground at the time and attended last week's conference.

Which probably makes things worse. The suspension of air strikes was not communicated to UN forces, nor to the Dutch and Bosnian governments.

"We asked for air strikes nine times," said Joris Voorhoeve, the Dutch defence minister in 1995, recalling the Bosnian Serb attack on Srebrenica on the weekend of July 9-11. "None came, and we didn't know why," he said in The Hague. …

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