TUE, 25 SEP 2001 18:14:15 GMT
America's Role in Operation Storm
AIM Zagreb, September 9, 2001
Since renowned U.S. journalist Roy Gutman published a report in Newsweek
magazine several weeks ago proving that the U.S. and its intelligence
services had actively participated in the 1995 Operation Storm, in which
the Croatian army conquered the Republic of Serb Krajina, the matter has
been in the media spotlight. The issue is more important because Gutman
is not merely dealing with facts pertaining to the war in the former
Yugoslavia, nor is his aim solely to shed light on less known details of
the recent history of the region.
He linked his article to events going on at the Hague-based
International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY),
criticizing the court for not using all available data and sources in
the trial of Croatian army general Ante Gotovina, who was indicted this
summer. Gutman said the tribunal's activities are increasingly
politically motivated, and was equally critical, even cynical, about the
U.S. He claims that U.S. intelligence, by being present in Croatia at
that time, must have registered war crimes committed during and after
the operation, and that if it had not, then no crimes had been
Gutman thus opened an almost academic debate, probably aimed at
resolving certain internal issues in the U.S., because evidence on the
crimes is more than obvious: bodies of executed Serb civilians. The
evidence has been gathered by various humanitarian organizations, and
they have certainly informed the Croatian authorities of their findings.
American officials could have easily referred Gutman to them. But they
seem to have been so taken by surprise by his article, that some of
them, although unnamed, recognized their participation in Operation
Storm, denying only that they had anything to do with the crimes
committed at the time.
The situation has now changed. Gutman's article is no longer a surprise,
and U.S. officials are again staying silent or denying everything. U.S.
Ambassador to Croatia Lawrence Rossin gave an interview to several
Croatian journalists in which he firmly denied "any participation by the
U.S. in Operation Storm." Lawrence was also unwilling to openly confirm
that the U.S. knew of preparations for the operation. Instead, he said
America was "aware of them," although his predecessor, Peter Galbraith,
openly admitted he spoke about it with Franjo Tudjman on the island of
This admission was lost somewhere along the way and Rossin now describes
U.S.-Croatian relations as "normal," placing stress on the U.S.
political engagement in the region ("Not only were we uninvolved, but
before the operation, through our diplomatic representatives, we even
exerted constant pressure on all sides -- the Croatian authorities, the
government in Belgrade, and the leaders of the so-called Serb Krajina --
to resolve all problems through negotiations, and not by force of
arms.") According to Rossin, there was no other engagement, which is far
from what everyone in Croatia knows quite well.
This is why journalists reminded the U.S. ambassador of statements by
some Croatian officials, saying that the U.S. had navigation equipment
in Sepurine military base for controlling drones.
Ambassador Rossin's answer was diplomatic: "Our general principle is not
to comment on intelligence matters," which ended the debate on this
particular issue. In other words, the U.S. will not discuss the
activities of its intelligence services in Croatia, not even, some
believe, if summoned by the ICTY to testify.
The U.S. diplomat, of course, did not say that openly, but vaguely
replied that ICTY summons, if sent, will be "considered," and that
officials will decide their "relevance." This position is quite similar
to that of the fugitive general, Ante Gotovina: having concluded that
the indictment against him is groundless and unpleasant, he decided to
escape. But the international police and judicial bodies, believing it
was not up to him to assess the "relevancy" of the indictment, several
days ago issued an international warrant for his arrest.
True, Rossin said he was not competent to speak about relations between
the U.S. and the Hague court, saying he lacked information, and that
whatever said would border on speculation.
But he was very specific when the participation of the U.S. in Operation
Storm was in question. He firmly said there was no such participation,
regardless of "individual obligations taken by individuals." Low and
behold! he has declared the U.S. engagement in the region as nothing
more than the private business of certain American individuals, making
it possible to view the statement by former ambassador Galbraith as one
such "private initiative" as well. This rash and clumsy distancing from
everything that has to do with Operation Storm, even from individual
people, must have been caused by important reasons. And these reasons
are quite clear.
As of recently the Croatian Democratic Union and other parties close to
it, as well as various veterans' associations and services, have been
trying to prove that the U.S. was an equal partner in Operation Storm,
even its chief architect. Until a while ago this was considered
heretical, because Operation Storm was supposed to be "the greatest
military victory in Croatian history," and dividing the credit with any
foreign army was out of the question. This romantic enthusiasm is now
gone. Many believe that the Croatian Democratic Union is trying to blame
America for the events of the mid-1990s in order to improve the position
of Gotovina and Ademi, the only Croatian ICTY indictees so far, but not
likely to retain that title much longer.
Many were convinced that America would respond nervously, even furiously
to the campaign launched by the Croatian Democratic Union and that some
form of retribution could not be ruled out. The latter has not happened
yet, and the U.S. ambassador has angrily denied any partnership between
his country and Croatia in 1995. He did this despite widespread belief
that the partnership actually existed, maybe because this change of
heart does not involve only Croatia and the Croatian-Serbian war of the
After the Albanian uprising in Macedonia, the entire U.S. involvement in
the region of former Yugoslavia has been place under scrutiny. The U.S.
engagement was most questionable in Croatia and, probably, in Macedonia
-- both regions where there were bilateral agreements inaccessible to
the public. Other agreements, which included the entire international
community, and which were public, such as the Dayton agreement, are less
disputed. The engagement in Yugoslavia and in Kosovo is somewhere in
between -- it was preceded by an international agreement in France, but
probably included some secret arrangements as well, which one day, like
Operation Storm, will surface.