Secret arms supplies and other covert actions
... laughed themselves silly when that answer
came', Arlefalk said.
It is clear, and Le Hardy's second report in no way detracts from this, that aircraft were
observed above Tuzla in February that landed on the Highway Strip or ejected their load
from a very low altitude. It was abundantly clear to all parties that something was going
There were even aerial photographs of crates on the Highway Strip.
Awareness of the Black Flights under the Bosnian
All in all, sufficient evidence exists that
these flights took place. However, little protest was forthcoming from the Bosnian Serbs,
and the question is why that was the case. No definite answer was obtained to this
VRS was in any case well aware of these flights. On 13 and 24 February 1995, General
Mladic sent letters to General De Lapresle in Zagreb and to General Smith in Sarajevo.
According to Mladic, aircraft had landed in Tuzla on these days, escorted by two jet
fighters, and they had delivered arms and ammunition. Mladic complained that this had
happened in front of the eyes of UNPROFOR, but they had not intervened. He accused
UNPROFOR of bias and stated that from now on he could no longer guarantee the safety of
NATO aircraft in the air space.
On 5 March 1995, Mladic again complained to General Smith about the flights.
It was also possible to deduce that the VRS
was well aware of the state of affairs from an interview with the former Minister of
Information of the Republika Srpska, Miroslav Toholj. He was minister from 1993-1996 and
asserted that the Bosnian Serb regime in Pale realized all too well that the military and
other assistance from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Malaysia and other Islamic countries
would eventually enable the ABiH to conduct a long war. Toholj asserted that Pale knew of
the flights of the C-130s - according to him not American but Turkish Hercules aircraft,
with an element of 'logistics patronage' from the United States. According to Toholj, the
arms were transported from Tuzla to Srebrenica and Zepa. The
VRS would not have dared to fire on these aircraft for fear that this would be interpreted
and presented by the media in the West as an attack on an aircraft with humanitarian
relief goods. Attempts had been made, however, to take photos of the Turkish C-130s, but
A problem with Toholj's statements is that it
is unclear whether the former minister already knew this in March 1995 or that he found
out with the passing of the years through the many publications. However, the fact that
Mladic already complained about the matter in writing at an early stage is a clear
indication that Pale already knew about the Black Flights in March 1995. Another
indication is that after the first flight the VRS immediately moved its anti-aircraft
missiles (SAMs) from Han Pijesak to a position that was the closest to Tuzla Air Base.
There are indications that the Bosnian Serbs
turned a blind eye to the Black Flights, for example in Bihac, where similar flights took
place. This siege made the situation for ABiH General Dudakovic's 5th Corps in the Bihac
enclave almost untenable. He told General Rupert Smith so via the Joint Commission
Observers. One night, the Danish General Helsų - the UNPROFOR commander in the Bihac
enclave - heard the sound of propellers on a gravel airstrip in the enclave. He recognized
the specific sound of the four propellers of the Hercules C-130, because they kept
turning. The Krajina Serbs fired a number of shells, but they all fell next to the runway,
and this while the Krajina Serbs at other times fired very accurately with their
artillery. This was, according to General Helsų, a warning along the lines of: 'we know
what you are up to, but don't go too far'. This is an indication that the only reason for
the VRS to permit the flights was that the VRS did not want the Americans against them.
Helsų wanted, like his colleagues in Tuzla, to start an investigation, but he and his
patrol were also obstructed by ABiH soldiers. In the following days it became clear that
American-manufactured arms, uniforms and helmets had arrived.
The Netherlands MIS also knew as early as
1992 of the existence of supplies transported by smaller aircraft from Cazin airfield to
the north of Bihac.
From 1992 onwards, daily helicopter flights were made into Bihac. East European pilots
were paid $ 5000 per trip by the Bosnian Army's 5th Corps. In August 1994, a large Antonov
An-26 transport aircraft, owned by a Ukrainian air charter, was shot down by the VRS and
the crew killed while flying from Croatia to Bihac.
There were also Black Flights to the besieged Muslims in the Maglaj. According to a former
SAS officer the flights were executed by C-130s and the CIA was involved. These flights
departed from a US Air Force base in Germany, like Ramstein or Rhein-Main.
However, the reliability of some Russian and East European pilots was not always that
great. In the spring of 1995 a helicopter pilot flying amongst others 150.000 Deutschmarks
into the enclave Gorazde disappeared with his cargo.
The many independent observations of UN observers who had night vision equipment were
included in Le Hardy's very first report, which was sent by means of a Code Cable from De
Lapresle to the UN headquarters in New York. It was time for damage control on the
The attempt at a cover-up
As mentioned above, Le Hardy's report covered
the Black Flights, and therefore had to be rendered 'harmless'. For this reason, the
Americans were said to have exerted pressure on Force Commander De Lapresle to withdraw
his earlier report to New York, in which he reported that, among other things, advanced
military technology had been delivered, and that the origin of the military cargo and the
cargo aircraft themselves was unknown.
A British researcher stated that this could only mean that American military experts must
also have flown to Bosnia to train the ABiH to handle this equipment. The Americans did
not want this to be revealed, and they therefore wanted De Lapresle to issue a statement
to the effect that 'no unauthorized air activity occurred at the Tuzla airfield' on 10 and
The morning briefing of South European NATO
Command (AFSOUTH) on 16 February paid attention to the flights. According to these
reports, there was no question of actual observation of Hercules aircraft (the Norwegian
observations were therefore simply denied) and the escort aircraft mentioned were involved
in Close Air Support training, according to the report. The Dutch liaison officer, Colonel
J. Beks, considered this to be a strange moment for such training. He had 'picked up' a
letter from Mladic to Smith and he found it remarkable that Mladic had already protested
on 13 February. Beks interpreted the instructions and overreaction of American officers
involved as an attempt to cover up the Special Operations activities, in the context of
arms supplies to the ABiH. According to Beks, this was not to the benefit of NATO
cohesion, and could even jeopardize the implementation of Deny Flight. Beks made the
following comparison: 'A defensive player on the football team has no trouble with
occasionally (...) letting a ball through.'
The actual cover-up started with the
'official report' of Colonel Douglas J. Richardson of the US Air Force. He spoke to
Moldestad, and made it clear to him that he had not used night vision binoculars, had not
seen a cargo aircraft, and had only heard sounds that resembled the engines of a C-130.
According to Richardson, Moldestad then started to have doubts. Richardson also made clear
to him that on that night NATO jet fighters were in the process of a Close Air Support
training mission over Tuzla, between 20.00 and 05.00 hours. According to Richardson, these
had been under UNPROFOR control. Richardson came to the conclusion that Moldestad had made
a mistake, and that he could have seen neither any NATO aircraft nor a C-130.
Unfortunately for Richardson, Moldestad's observation was at 17.45 hours, well before
20.00 hours. The question now is what was really going on.
According to the American Colonel Timothy C.
Jones, two Danish Forward Air Controllers were working with two A-6 E jet fighters, which
were exercising at low altitude over Tuzla. According to him, two F-18 jet fighters were
also flying to the south of Tuzla. Besides the two Danes, according to Jones, no one else
knew that NATO aircraft were operating in this region, which is rather unlikely: Le
Hardy's earlier report suggests that Norwegians in Tuzla also saw them. They had made
subsequent enquiries in Sarajevo, but neither had Bosnia-Hercegovina Command been informed
of Close Air Support training. Sarajevo had therefore not responded to the messages from
Jones denied furthermore that the UN
observers used night vision binoculars. This was actually incorrect: a British SAS soldier
had made an observation with such binoculars. In October 1994 the Force Commander had
already been pointed out blind spots in the No Fly Zone that were apparently inevitable.
It was decided then to issue night vision binoculars to observers in the areas around
The use of night vision binoculars was also confirmed in the Senior Staff Meeting with
Akashi on 13 February 1995.
According to Jones, neither were any visual observations made. This too conflicted with Le
Hardy's report, which stated that various people had seen the wingtip lights.
Jones pointed out further that a Jordanian
unit that was stationed to the east of the Tuzla West runway had observed nothing. This
was not so strange, because the Hercules had landed or dropped its load on the Tuzla
Highway Strip, which was approximately 10 km away from the Jordanian unit. And as Le Hardy
had already indicated in his report, it was deemed possible that a large aircraft had
landed on the Tuzla Highway Strip without nearby OPs noticing, let alone the Jordanian
unit 10 kilometres away. According to Jones, the aircraft noises could be explained
easily. This was 'Serbian airline traffic.' The flight movements and lights that had been
seen were 'consistent with the normal civilian airline traffic patterns in Serbian
airspace', according to Jones. This statement is extremely implausible: there was actually
a No Fly Zone above Bosnia, and Belgrade was far away from Tuzla. It is then illogical for
regular Serbian commercial traffic to be flying so low, at a height of 300 metres over
Tuzla. If that had been true, the ABiH could have fired at those aircraft. Jones did not
explain this, however.
The sound of the cargo aircraft that
different witnesses had heard could be explained, according to Jones, because they had
been two A-6 E jet fighters. This too is peculiar, because the noise of an aircraft with
four propellers is unmistakably different from that of a jet fighter. It was not even
necessary to be a practised observer to notice this such as the people who had seen and
heard the Hercules actually were.
Other evidence for the Black Flight was that
an UNPROFOR patrol had been fired on by the ABiH when it wanted to inspect the Tuzla
Highway Strip, but Jones apparently did not find this unusual. He concluded that 'there
was no evidence that an aircraft landed or delivered any supplies by air at the Tuzla
airfields'. This report was offered as a joint NATO/UNPROFOR investigation to the highest
NATO authority in the region, Admiral Smith, to Force Commander De Lapresle and to
Bosnia-Hercegovina Commander Rose. According to Jones, all the commanders agreed with the
conclusion: there was no evidence that on 10 and 12 February 'unauthorized air activity'
had taken place over Tuzla. An
indication that the report left much to be desired was that a senior French military
official even spoke of a forged NATO report.
However, the document was sent to the UN in New York and the Americans could be satisfied.
The response from the UN in New York
Anyone who thought that the UN Department of
Peacekeeping Operations would easily accept the reassuring reports was in for a surprise.
On 17 February, Akashi reported that there were discrepancies between the UNPROFOR and
NATO reports. On
21 February, the political adviser to Boutros-Ghali, Ghinmaya Gharekhan, drafted a secret
memo for Under-Secretary-General Annan, in which he indicated that the affair would come
before the Security Council before too long: 'For us to tell the Security Council that
there was no evidence to suggest any unauthorized air activity would be tantamount to
saying that UNPROFOR should, in effect, stop reporting any air activity.' Force Commander
De Lapresle had recently established helicopter flights from Zagreb to the Bihac, and
Gharekhan wondered rhetorically whether this would also be retracted.
Gharekhan criticized the official NATO report
and the explanations 'such as there were'. He wanted to know what that so-called regular
commercial Serbian airline traffic had been.
Two days later, Akashi told Annan that the investigation was deadlocked: he had discussed
the affair with the Force Commander and with General Smith, and the conclusion was that
the investigation would not yield any satisfactory answers. The NATO report had meanwhile
been modified somewhat to bring it more in line with the UNPROFOR findings. It now stated
that there was no 'conclusive evidence' of the flights.
It was difficult to maintain, however, that
nothing at all had happened.
The later Deputy Head of the MIS, Colonel Bokhoven, confirmed that during his time at
UNPROFOR he had also heard of the Black Flights. According to him it was clear that they
were American or Turkish aircraft.
Another Dutch officer who had dealings with the Black Flights was Brigadier J.W. Brinkman,
who was Chief of Staff at Bosnia-Hercegovina Command from September 1994 to March 1995.
Brinkman never found any evidence for the clandestine American support to the ABiH, but
neither had he ever looked for any. He did observe that within six months of the supplies
in February and March, the ABiH's appearance improved considerably: they were wearing real
uniforms and carrying better arms. Brinkman heard from local UN commanders that aircraft
of unknown origin landed in Tuzla. They were C-130s, protected by fighter planes, the
signatures of which bore a suspicious resemblance to those of NATO.
Another Dutch staff officer at Bosnia Hercegovina Command, Lieutenant Colonel De Ruiter,
had also heard that supply flights had taken place. Whether the Americans were behind them
was unclear to him, because there were no identifying markings on the aircraft. The
supplies also went via third party countries, 'but whatever, there were landings',
according to De Ruiter.
On 23 February, Annan sent a most
immediate code cable to Akashi. He referred to De Lapresle's report and to the
Moldestad's statement. The Norwegian stated in the 'joint' NATO/UNPROFOR report that he
had not seen a C-130, but only heard one. De Lapresle's earlier report, however, stated
that he definitely had seen a transport-type aircraft, and had also made an analysis of
the flight pattern. Annan wanted to know whether Moldestad had really been interviewed by
the researchers, and Annan also pointed out that the commercial airline traffic to
Belgrade usually closed after 16.00 hours. He was prepared to agree to the joint report
provided the outstanding questions and identified contradictions were resolved, and if it
could be clearly indicated that the UNPROFOR report was drawn up professionally and in
good faith in the first instance, but that new facts had emerged after a NATO
investigation that were not available at the time of the earlier investigation.
This was not the only message that reached
Akashi from New York. On 24 February he was told through his adviser, Jesudas Bell, that
UN headquarters through Shashi Tharoor was 'extremely upset' about the clandestine arms
flights reports. Meanwhile, more reports had arrived from UNPROFOR soldiers, who had seen
aircraft over Tuzla on 17, 22 and 23 February. Tharoor stated that New York was outraged
at an investigation, described as a joint NATO/UNPROFOR investigation, that contained so
many unanswered questions. If this had been a joint investigation to which UNPROFOR had
linked its name, then the Norwegian report and the commercial airline traffic in Serbian
airspace should also have been investigated. On this last matter, UNPROFOR should have
contacted the Serbian authorities through its office in Belgrade and asked them to confirm
the commercial airline traffic, according to Tharoor.
that UNPROFOR had put its name to an official investigation report that on the one hand
contradicted the UNPROFOR reports and on the other hand provided no conclusive evidence
why there were such divergent final conclusions. Tharoor felt that the document seriously
undermined the credibility of UNPROFOR and the UN secretariat. Various delegations had
already asked questions because the UNPROFOR reporting on the incidents was so
contradictory and sometimes incorrect. Adding new building blocks would only further fuel
this debate, Tharoor predicted. His preference was therefore for a separate investigation
and a supplementary NATO report, to which UNPROFOR would only attach its name if it
incorporated its earlier information: this would benefit UNPROFOR's credibility. Bell told
Akashi that General Smith was aware of this view. Meanwhile, a variety of rumours was
circulating in the press. If a request was made for comment, New York would state that the
report had been received but that a more detailed explanation had been requested.
Akashi responded several days later.
According to him, the NATO investigation team had not heard all the witnesses, because a
few of them were on leave. Moldestad was interviewed by telephone. Akashi was disappointed
with 'the lack of rigorous documentation in the NATO team's report, and its failure to
substantiate contradictions with original UNPROFOR observations'. He had decided not to
put NATO under further pressure by producing a more reliable report, but he had agreed
with the sentence 'We agree that the United Nations should not put its name to a report
that falls short of achievable standards', which represented General Smith's conclusion.
The new Force Commander, Janvier later referred back to the matter in a curious way: at
the beginning of March he told Annan that the Hercules aircraft had actually been
The consequences of the reports about the Black
The Black Flights led to tense relations between
the United States, the UN and NATO. According to SACEUR, General George Joulwan, Islamic
countries were involved in the supplies to the ABiH.
The commander of the southern NATO command, Admiral Leighton Smith, promised Janvier and
Akashi that he would resign if it should appear that American uniformed military personnel
were involved in this operation, and wanted a thorough
investigation. It had become known to him that on the day in question, 10 February, indeed
no AWAC aircraft had flown above Bosnia. E-2 jet fighters from US aircraft carriers had
taken over this task at the last moment. However, these fighters do not have the same
capabilities as AWACS. So, it is no surprise that they spotted nothing. This then raises
the question as to the nationality of the transport aircraft: Smith wanted to know if
perhaps they were Turkish aircraft. Some British officials told him later that in Gorazde
too the ABiH had been provided with new uniforms. The Bosnian Minister Toholj also claimed
that the entire affair led to tense relations within the UN. Akashi's spokesman, Williams,
had told him so. He hinted that NATO did not want UNPROFOR to reveal the secret supplies
It was not only in New York that this was a
sensitive matter. The British Foreign Secretary, Hurd, also took the matter seriously.
According to Lord Owen, he informed various embassies by telegram that the United Kingdom
certainly was not involved in a cover-up of the Black Flights. Hurd stated that the
flights were observed on 10, 12 and 23 February; meanwhile, according to Hurd, it was also
known that there had been many more flights. Hurd reported further that one of the
observers was a British officer who was at the head of the Operations Section in Sector
North East, referring to Le Hardy. Hurd referred to Jones's report and then established
that neither NATO, nor UNPROFOR had been able to produce a complete and definitive report.
He therefore deemed it possible that these clandestine flights had taken place, although
there was still no hard evidence.
According to Hurd, it had now been decided
that both the UN and NATO should end this affair. NATO had decided not to investigate the
affair further as long as no new facts appeared on the table. However, Hurd pointed out
that Moscow did want further investigation, and Paris was also urging it, because they
suspected that the United States was behind the clandestine operation, even if British
diplomats in Washington were told repeatedly that this was not the case. The US ambassador
in London made a special trip to the Foreign Office to forcefully deny this.
The Black Flights were also raised for
discussion at a summit between the US Secretary of Defense and the Ministers of Defence of
the United Kingdom, France and Germany. They discussed the situation in Bosnia from 3 to 5
March 1995 in Key West (Florida). There was a comprehensive discussion of the options of
direct support to the Bosnian government and a continuation of the UNPROFOR presence. At
the end of the meeting, the American Secretary of Defense, Perry, made a statement. He had
apparently been asked by the other ministers about the secret arms supplies to Bosnia.
Perry stated for the record that 'if any aircraft were landing at Tuzla, they were neither
US aircraft nor arranged by the US'.
This in turn raised the question of whether Perry actually knew nothing, or that he was
being rather economical with the truth.
In any case, earlier assertions in the
NATO/UNPROFOR report to the effect that 'all those involved' had been heard, were
incorrect. The British journalist Nik Gowing tracked down several Norwegian witnesses to
the Black Flights, who stated that they had never spoken with Jones or his team. They
declared in front of the camera that they had seen and heard an aircraft with propellers.
Furthermore, a Norwegian relief worker had met two Americans in plain clothes in a
warehouse in Tuzla, who were in the process of unpacking arms, apparently from the Black
Flights. A Norwegian patrol that had gone to investigate on the night in question, had
also clearly seen and heard a Hercules. Neither had the members of this patrol been
questioned. The same was true for the Norwegian sentry who was one of the first to have
heard and seen the Hercules.
Later, one of the most important Norwegian
witnesses, Moldestad, would be taken aside by three American officers. They took him to a
balcony on the fifth floor of a hotel in Zagreb, and made clear to him that if he stuck to
his account and said any more on the subject, things could get messy for him. After
reports on British television and articles in the press, journalists were also put under
pressure by the American embassy in London. They heard all manner of threats. The embassy
was said to have been acting on the instructions of the State Department.
Flights were reported into April, also by the Netherlands MIS.
The question remains, of course, whether American aircraft were actually involved in the
clandestine flights to Tuzla.
Who flew to Tuzla?
Former CIA director, Woolsey, was not aware of
the Black Flights. Of course, these took place after his departure from the CIA. If the
CIA had been involved with the flights to Tuzla, then, according to him, a written
presidential finding would have had to have been issued for such a covert operation or for
the ones that the CIA helps with.
The affair was also examined by the US Senate. The flights had been investigated at an
earlier stage by the Pentagon, as part of a NATO investigation and of an investigation for
US policymakers. After studying the Pentagon investigation report, the Senate found in
November 1996 that the investigation was scantily documented. It came to the conclusion
that no activities had taken place that pointed to supplies of arms and there was no
American involvement. The Senate was able to peruse documents of the Department of Defense
and the CIA, to conduct interviews, but concluded nonetheless that there had been 'no U.S.
role in any clandestine military airlifts'. No comment was made on who was involved, or
what actually happened.
Journalists and researchers have asked the
question whether it was not American aircraft after all that carried out the Black
Flights. The most common answer was that only one country actually qualified for these
night-time operations: the United States. The fact is that it is unlikely that the
Americans would 'blind' their AWAC aircraft for Iranian planes. The operation was said to
be have been paid for from a Pentagon Special Operations budget, with the complete assent
of the White House. Probably the most important members of Congress were informed in the
deepest of secrecy, and they were therefore 'in the loop' concerning the events.
In Tuzla itself it was impossible to
establish via interviews with Bosnian military and intelligence officials the identity of
the C-130s. It was clear from observations that not all aircraft physically landed, but
that some dropped their load from a low altitude. From a technical point of view, later
explanations that no American aircraft had 'landed' were then correct, but the question
remains as to whether absolutely no American aircraft were involved.
In Deliberate Force, Ripley describes how
three Southern Air Transport C-130s from Rhein Main airfield in Germany carried out the
flights. It is not so strange that Southern Air Transport (SAT) crops up in this account:
it was, like Civil Air Transport, Air Asia and Air America, former CIA property. These
companies were involved in many secret CIA operations. They carried out hundreds of Black
Flights around the world. It was only in the mid 1970s that these companies were sold, but
they continue to perform so-called contract work for the CIA, and the service still
exercises considerable influence on the affairs of the airline company.
However, the involvement of SAT is still not
self-evident. After all, if the CIA was not involved in the secret operations in Bosnia,
who then did use SAT? There is another reason why the involvement of Southern Air
Transport was not self-evident: the company was far too notorious because of its past. On
the discovery of these Black Flights, fingers would quickly be pointing at the CIA. Other
sources assert, according to Ripley,
that the Bosnian air force had a modest fleet of planes, consisting of a C-130 and CASA
212, Antonov AN-26 and AN-32 transport aircraft.
These aircraft were allegedly stationed in Cyprus and Slovenia and were to have operated
from Ljubljana and elsewhere.
The question remains, however, whether this
'relatively young Bosnian air force' was capable of performing such operations. Ripley is
of the opinion that the State Department and the National Security Council (NSC) were
involved in the operation, and not the CIA or DIA.
This is probably correct: it seems that after the scandals of recent years the CIA has
become more cautious with foreign covert operations. They must be covered 'by the book' by
the White House. In
addition, the director of the CIA, Woolsey, was of the opinion that clandestine operations
probably could not remain secret for long.
Others concluded that private companies, such as Tepper Aviation, or Intermountain
Aviation were involved in the Black Flights. Both companies have a CIA background.
A British General and researcher, Brendan O'Shea, also concluded that private companies
were involved here; to be precise, reservists or retired American pilots (not in uniform
and not in the active service of the American armed forces) were to have flown these
The aircraft that took part in the various
Black Flights were also seen by observers of the ECMM, the European monitoring mission. On
23 February they saw four C-130s on Split airfield. One of them was a Spanish cargo plane
that was used for supplying the Spanish battalion in Mostar, but the other two aircraft
were American C-130s. According to O'Shea, they belonged to the 37th ALS Blue Tail Flies.
The fourth plane had only a small American flag on its tail and no registration numbers,
and was painted in different colours from the other two planes. The observers noticed that
the crew were wearing green uniforms without rank or nationality markings. They were able
to continue to work undisturbed and were not hindered by the Croatian police or UNPROFOR
observers. Shortly before their departure from Split, the ECMM observers 'coincidentally'
encountered the Croatian Colonel Kresimir Cosic, President Tudjman's personal adviser, in
the departure lounge. Cosic was also the liaison with the State Department in the matter
of the activities of the military company Military Professional Resources Incorporated.
The ECMM launched its own investigation, but it yielded nothing.
The conclusion is that there are only suspicions but no hard
evidence that American aircraft carried out the Black Flights. A British researcher put a
question regarding American involvement to various sources, and most ('eyes were raised
ceiling-wards') answered him as...