Part III
The fall of Srebrenica

Chapter 6
The Fall of Srebrenica: 6 to 11 July 1995


3. A closer look at the headquarters and chain of command

The structure of the UN organisation in Yugoslavia was outlined in detail earlier in Part III. The bottom-up structure can be represented as follows: Dutchbat in Srebrenica —> Sector North East in Tuzla —> UNPROFOR (formerly known as the Bosnia-Hercegovina Command) in Sarajevo —> UNPF (formerly known as UNPROFOR) in Zagreb. This fell under the authority of the UN Headquarters in New York. To obtain deeper insight into the events that occurred in the period between 6 through 11 July 1995, it is both useful and necessary to analyse the mutual relations and practical communication problems that arose between those headquarters.

The Zagreb headquarters featured the most prominently in the UN organisation in the former Yugoslavia. This is not primarily because it was in charge of the UN’s political and military operation in Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia, but mainly because it had the final say in the deployment of air power. Any decision for Close Air Support required the permission of Akashi, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the UN (in the period around the fall, the ultimate decision for air strikes lay in New York with Boutros-Ghali; see Chapter 2 for more detail). This put the headquarters in Zagreb in a special position. At the same time, there was a world of difference between the various headquarters: while Zagreb was not in a state of war, the headquarters in Sarajevo and Tuzla did operate under war conditions. The level of tension under which those headquarters operated could not really be compared to the situation in Zagreb. Zagreb was mainly confronted with political pressure, while Sarajevo was under the pressure of the warring factions and the consequences of war. Due to its location, the contacts in the Sector North East Tuzla were limited to mainly Bosnian Muslims.

UNPF in Zagreb

Cooperation between the headquarters in Zagreb and Sarajevo left much to be desired. There were clear differences of insight into a wide variety of issues. As was also explained in the introductory chapter, this was partially due to the personal attitudes of the commanding generals, the French General Janvier in Zagreb and British General Smith in Sarajevo. In addition, London had greater influence on Sarajevo than did Paris. In Zagreb the reverse situation applied.

It was only in Zagreb (in contrast to Sarajevo and Tuzla) that the normal chain of command remained intact and where Force Commander Janvier and, for the greater part of the July period, deputy Force Commander Ashton remained at their posts. In Zagreb staff input was channelled via Chief of Staff Kolsteren, but it was also customary for the heads of the sections of staff to speak for themselves on relevant points. The Deputy Force Commander only expressed his view when and where required. In many instances Janvier made on-the-spot decisions, partially due to the fact that the staff had to work out the decision afterwards. The consultation circuit had an open structure and it was not common for the Force Commander, the deputy Force Commander and Chief of Staff to deal with issues separately.

Only officers of the NATO alliance countries were involved in decisions concerning Close Air Support. While Zagreb sometimes questioned the quality of the officers from non-NATO countries, there were definite exceptions, such as the officers from Pakistan and Bangladesh that had been trained in the United Kingdom or well-trained officers from the Ukraine and Russia (even though they were inclined to be pro-Serbian).

The collaboration between Janvier’s military staff and Akashi’s civilian staff (consisting mostly of young diplomats and pen pushers) was good. The practical quality of the relationship was generally subject to the military-political assessment of the situation at any given time. The collaboration was particularly useful whenever it was necessary to report to New York; this served to prevent Janvier from sending separate Code Cables.[1]

The Zagreb headquarters also hosted a number of inner circles from the various countries represented in Zagreb. In total, UNPF was represented by seventy-seven nationalities, which translated in an abundance of personnel of limited actual value. All of the countries that sent military forces had to be represented (in military or civilian capacity) in the highest echelons. One third was really excellent, one third was useful and one third was superfluous according to the Dutch Chief of Staff in Zagreb, Major General A.M.W.W.M. Kolsteren. Even Janvier, who originates from a country that is not militarily integrated in NATO, routinely suggested that ‘It would have been much better if we only represented NATO staff.’[2] One consequence of that was the establishment of national lines whereby commanding officers brought Military Assistants along from their own countries. In many instances that had a negative impact on the decision-making process. The British generally prefer to deals with Britons, the French with French and so on. Another sign of the establishment of national lines was the fact that quite a few issues in Janvier’s office were dealt with in French; which created problems for officials, such as the Chief of Staff and the NATO liaison officer, even when it proved functional. In many of those instances the Dutch served as a kind of linking pin.[3]

The reasons why commanders relied so heavily on their Military Assistants, with the accompanying danger of breaching normal staff procedures, was largely due to the poor quality of the staff. The multinational character of the UN staff made the situation extremely difficult. For example, in 1994, the UNPROFOR headquarters in Sarajevo (also known by its ‘old’ name of Bosnia-Hercegovina Command) hosted more than 182 officers originating from 23 different countries. It was customary in UN operations to assign staff functions based on the size of the contingents provided by the member states. This resulted in large staffs of limited practical value, burdened with language problems. Some officers spoke almost no English, had followed no staff courses and originated from small countries where the battalions were under the direct command of the ministry and therefore had no higher staff positions. This resulted in the establishment of parallel staff structures in which only competent officers played a role, and thereby managed to hold matters together. Under the best of circumstances a UN staff was burdened with problems of language, culture, quality and education/training.

The problems were further complicated by the fact that, unlike Navies and Airforces, Land Forces are generally not accustomed to collaboration with other nations. A further complicating issue was the difference between the equipment of the various battalions, even mutually between Western nations, and their military capabilities. There was absolutely no question of collective doctrines and procedures outside the NATO countries. Moreover, many of the contingents would only follow instructions from their own capitals. Of the 20,000 troops stationed in Bosnia, UNPROFOR effectively had no more than four battalions that were well-equipped and that responded to orders from the UN headquarters with the permission of their capitals.[4]

The Force Commander in Zagreb was not the de facto commander in chief, as he routinely had to negotiate with national governments to assign specific tasks to the national troops. He was not in a position to issue orders. This resulted in a degree of national control that was exploited to a greater or lesser extent by some countries. Moreover, due to the fact that many countries sent troops to the UN under specific conditions, the national influence on troop contingents was generally a significant factor.

Despite all of the above, the Western nations in UNPROFOR were generally able to cooperate satisfactorily. The real problem arose from troop contingents from Russia, the Ukraine and other Asian countries. Generally their equipment was inferior and they were almost undeployable.[5]

Zagreb expressed a great deal of criticism of the UN management from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York. Force Commanders were constantly required to provide feedback to New York, but there was no effective General Staff in charge. The leadership of that Department was primarily politically orientated, sometimes questioned executive details in the mission, and it was not always clear exactly what New York wanted. Officials, such as Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali, his chef de bureau, Iqbal Riza and Director of Communications and Special Projects, Sashi Tharoor, were inclined, according to Chief of Staff Kolsteren in Zagreb, to make more opportunistic and politically tainted decisions, while Under Secretary-General Kofi Annan was generally inclined to adopt a more objective and realistic position.[6] This was largely due to unclear directives issued by the UN Security Council – quite often due to compromises that rarely lent themselves to unambiguous interpretation at executive level. Moreover, on the whole, the Security Council adopted a reactionary rather than a proactive orientation, whereby, based on the absence of a long-term political strategy, ad hoc basic decisions were sometimes taken, that either did not yield the desired effect or were counterproductive in the mission area. This was also why efforts by the UN headquarters in New York to provide the Force Commanders with directives were not always successful. One side effect was that the headquarters in Zagreb and Sarajevo had no clear strategy; which created massive practical problems for the commanders in the field.[7]

Zagreb had a so-called ‘theatre level command’ status. This was very important due to the fact that the problems and operations in the former Yugoslavia extended across international borders. For military, cultural and economic reasons the new neighbouring countries (the republics of the former Yugoslavia) were closely involved in each other’s domestic affairs. This compelled the UNPF to integrate public counselling, as well as diplomatic and humanitarian efforts. In addition, it was essential to maintain a centralised logistical system to maintain the 40,000 strong peace-keeping force and to keep control of the planning and contact with NATO.[8]

The extensive influence of the civilian officials in Zagreb created major problems for the military officials. Civilian officials remained in the mission zone for longer periods and were in charge of the financial management, which enhanced the scope of their influence. Their influence was further enhanced by the continuity of their positions and superior knowledge of the not-always-logical UN rules and regulations. As a consequence, the military staff was compelled to coordinate at length with the political and civilian managers. Military staff supported the notion of preparing decisions, while the final decisions would ultimately be taken by the commanders. There was also a fair amount of mutual friction; the military would accuse the civilian staff of a lack of flexibility, of being unwilling to deal with the military, of being unable to make quick decisions, and often, that they confused career decisions with strategic ones. There was also little consideration for the general cost effect; for example, the military were disturbed by the fact that civilians were well-paid and were issued UN cars down to secretarial level.

Compared to Zagreb, those relationships were inversely proportional in the significantly smaller headquarters in Sarajevo where the military section of the staff outnumbered the civilians. One disadvantage of the besieged city of Sarajevo was that UN personnel and logbook keepers fell victim to what General Smith called a ‘siege mentality’. As result, Akashi sought increased interaction between Sarajevo and Zagreb, as well as personnel rotation between the headquarters.[9] Unfortunately, his idea came too late to have significant effect.

The Sector North East Headquarters in Tuzla

While the quality differences between officers were manifest at all levels, the effect was greater on small staffs than on large ones. This was felt most strongly in the staff of Sector North East in Tuzla, which included Dutchbat. In practise, this staff was far removed from events determined at the higher levels in Sarajevo (let alone in Zagreb). The Sector Commander in Tuzla, the Norwegian Brigadier General Hagrup Haukland, had no insight into the results of discussions held by the top echelons of UNPROFOR, mainly with the VRS. Although he had contact on an almost daily basis with General Smith in Sarajevo, the latter was reluctant, for security reasons, to divulge really important information over the telephone.

In Tuzla there were no problems in the cooperation between civilian and military sections of the staff; however there were problems in areas where there were significant differences in the quality of the staff. There were 41 officers in the Sector North East staff. While this was a small contingent as such, the problem was that the effectiveness of the staff left much to be desired. The cooperative climate between the various troop-contributing nations represented in the headquarters in Tuzla was equally questionable. The cadres consisted of clans of Norwegian, Pakistani and Dutch military that were incapable of adequate mutual cooperation. The quality of the reporting from Tuzla to Sarajevo could also have been better in some areas. For example, in one instance the Sector Commander in Tuzla received a message from the Intelligence Section (in military terms, the G-2 Section) in Sarajevo to the effect that it no longer wished to receive reports from Tuzla due to the low quality of the reporting. The Netherlands too provided some examples of how training and position are not always well synchronised. One such example was of a Dutch major with a medical background that was assigned a position in the Intelligence Section.[10]

Staff problems in Tuzla had direct consequences in the days of the fall of Srebrenica. The so-called Air Operations Coordination Center in Sarajevo was manned by personnel from NATO countries with the aim of, among other things, coordinating requests for Close Air Support between the UNPROFOR battalions, the UN headquarters in Sarajevo and Zagreb, and NATO. Contact with Tuzla was coordinated via an Air Liaison Officer for the Sector North East. This Canadian official was however withdrawn one week before the fall of Srebrenica and was never replaced. The troop-contributing nations were asked for a successor, but none obliged. This not only terminated the communications with the Air Operations Coordination Center in Sarajevo, but with it the possibility of proactive actions in situations where air operations appeared desirable. Requests for Close Air Support thus went to the Operational section (in military terms, Section 3) in Tuzla. This section consisted almost entirely of Pakistanis, and when it became necessary during the attack on Srebrenica, it transpired that the Pakistanis were unfamiliar with the format of a request for Close Air Support to NATO. It is understandable that this could create discontent in Dutchbat, more so as, at midday on 11 July, the complete Pakistani section had abandoned the office for routine religious activities in the local mosque.[11]

A further contributory factor for the small contingent in Sector North East was that the fall occurred on the weekend (Saturday 8 and Sunday 9 July). At that time twenty officers out of a total staff of forty were on leave. Only eight members of the policy staff remained. At one point the local Chief of Staff and Deputy Commander, Colonel Brantz, was recorded saying to his interpreter, Nadia Skokic; ‘Nadia, imagine, I cannot find anybody - everybody is on leave or off for the weekend’.[12]

All that notwithstanding, Sector Commander Haukland in Tuzla considered the Pakistanis to be excellent officers. According to him they never disappointed, were loyal and generally compiled good reports.[13] Haukland was however not witness to the hectic days around the fall of Srebrenica – he too was on leave and only returned to Tuzla on 15 July. Brantz called him about the situation on 9 July. Brantz found Haukland to be rather laconic under the circumstance, and asked whether Brantz could resolve the situation on his own. Brantz replied in the affirmative. Brantz did however make a statement to the effect that he found it strange that commanders are not required to return to their posts when the principle of the Safe Area was violated.[14] Haukland stated there against that he had asked whether his presence was required, but that Brantz had replied to the contrary.[15]

Colonel Brantz

Due to Haukland’s absence of leave during the fall of Srebrenica, his deputy, Brantz, enjoyed substantial prominence during that period. In the days around the fall of Srebrenica, Colonel Brantz formed an important link in the chain of information provision with the The Hague concerning Dutchbat. Brantz was however more of a source than a player in that process.

Thanks to his former position as Chief of Staff of the Royal Netherlands Crisis staff, Brantz had succeeded in arranging a satellite connection - something his predecessor, Colonel Engelen, had expressed jealousy about (he only had a UN telephone that was connected via an exchange in Zagreb). This allowed Brantz to easily contact Srebrenica, Sarajevo and The Hague. On 11 July, he was on the phone all day.[16]

The contact between Brantz and the Defence Management Control Centre (DCBC) of the Dutch Ministry of Defence was a one-way contact – it was rare for the DCBC to call him. Most of the questions that did arise were posed to General Kolsteren in Zagreb or General Nicolai in Sarajevo.

Brantz was in a difficult situation. He attempted to mobilise the understaffed and moderately functional staff into a fully functioning whole, but was routinely by-passed. At the time of the fall of the enclave, Sarajevo did almost no business via the staff of the Sector North East and often dealt directly with Dutchbat. Brantz felt responsible for whatever was or was not happening via the ‘national line’; but he was never involved in it. This was one of the reasons why he made frequent calls to The Hague. He felt he was better able to get his message across to the Central Organisation of the Ministry on ‘Het Plein’ (in this instance, the Defence Crisis Control Management Centre) than to the Royal Netherlands Army (in this instance the Royal Netherlands Army Crisis staff), which, according to a source in the Centre, was also due to the confidence Brantz had in his contacts there.[17]

Brantz had access to three sources of information to establish what was happening in the enclave. The first was a staff in Tuzla with a number of Joint Commission Observers (the JCO staff). While they had no formal affiliation with the staff of Sector North East, they had their own communication with the Joint Commission Observers (JCOs) in the enclave, and they also communicated with Sarajevo. They exchanged news with the staff of Sector North East and thus formed an important source of information for Brantz.[18] The JCOs in Tuzla were rather meticulous in passing on information and often advised Brantz on the current situation. Brantz was able to listen to the communication traffic between the JCOs in the enclave and those in Tuzla from a vehicle in the staff building. He was warned by the JCOs in Tuzla whenever there was an imminent threat. Secondly, Brantz obtained information from the UNMOs in the enclave and, finally, via Dutchbat’s own lines.

Brantz endeavoured to put all the information together, but discovered that there were blank spaces between the reports. Both the interpretation of the situation and the meticulousness of reporting varied, whereby the reports from the JCOs appeared most professional due to their superior experience.[19]

The Headquarters of the Bosnia-Hercegovina Command in Sarajevo

Communications with the JCOs in Srebrenica and the local UN headquarters (Bosnia-Hercegovina Command) were also of great importance to Sarajevo for fast and accurate reporting. Lines of communication were also available between the commander of Dutchbat and the staff in Sarajevo, and between the group in the enclave responsible for guiding aircraft on their targets (the Forward Air Controllers) and the Air Operations Coordination Center in Sarajevo; although the latter was of limited importance for combat purposes.[20]

In terms of daily practise in Bosnia, the UN headquarters in Sarajevo (Bosnia-Hercegovina Command, which was formally known as ‘UNPROFOR Headquarters’ (after 1 April 1995) was of great importance. The powers of those headquarters were otherwise rather limited; for example, Zagreb (Akashi) and not Sarajevo had decision-making power with respect to summoning Close Air Support.

As Commander Bosnia-Hercegovina Command (after 1 April Commander UNPROFOR), General Rupert Smith left a clear mark on those headquarters. However, neither he was at his post during the fall of the enclave, as he had been asked by Boutros-Ghali to attend a meeting in Geneva on 8 July. After that he spent some time on the Dalmatian coast before returning to Split on the evening of 11 July. As in the case of Haukland, he too did not return because of Srebrenica. Smith had not deputised his Pakistani replacement, Shaheed, who had been based in Split as Commander of the Sarajevo Sector (one of the other two sectors apart from Sector North East), but the French officer, Major General Gobilliard.[21]

...

  



[1] Interview A.M.W.W.M. Kolsteren, 07/10/99.

[2] Interview A.M.W.W. M. Kolsteren, 07/10/99.

[3] Interview H.A. de Jonge, 27/09/99.

[4] Interview Lord Owen, 23/06/01.

[5] Interview F.H. van Kappen, 21/06/95.

[6] NIOD, Coll. Kolsteren. Chief of Staff HQ UNPF, ‘End of Tour Report Major General Ton Kolsteren’, 31/0196. Also see ‘Evaluation Report of Key UN Officials’, 26/04/96, No. OPS BLS/3651.

[7] Interview Lord Owen, 27/06/01.

[8] NIOD, Coll. Kolsteren. John Almstrom to SRSG, ‘SRSG Presentation to ICFY Steering Committee’, 14/06/95 sent by fax AMA COS UNPF-HQ to DCBC, 101600 Jul 95.

[9] NIOD, Coll. Banbury. Banbury Diary. SRSG’s Meeting 10/07/95.

[10] Interview Hagrup Haukland, 03/05/99. Also see NIOD, Coll. Kolsteren. ‘Evaluation Report on Key UN Officials’, 26/04/96, No. OPS BLS/3651.

[11] Interview M.P. Wijsbroek, 10/12/97. Wijsbroek claimed to have noted this with Major Kooij of the Netherlands Army Engineer’s Corps.

[12] Interview Nadia Skokic, 04/02/98; DCBC, 1281. Memos of meeting dated 01/11/95 regarding the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995.

[13] Interview Hagrup Haukland, 03/05/99.

[14] Interview C.L. Brantz, 11/06/99.

[15] Interview Hagrup Haukland, 03/05/99.

[16] Interview C.L. Brantz, 11/06/99.

[17] Interview C.G.J. Hilderink, 11/08/00.

[18] Interview M. Wijsbroek, 10/12/97.

[19] Interview C.L. Brantz, 11/06/99.

[20] Debriefing statement Lieutenant-Colonel J.A.C. Ruiter, 27/09/95.

[21] Interview Hagrup Haukland, 03/05/99.