Radovan Karadžić, The Big Hair, as he was so named in a less-than-affectionate manner by many factions of the United Nations (UN) mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, had risen to the top of the list of Persons Indicted for War Crimes (PIFWC [pronounced piff-wick]) in the Balkan States. This was a result, particularly, of his leading role in the massacre of some 8,000 Muslim civilians in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.
Many of the UN countries had formulated their own plans and were bolstering efforts to track and capture The Big Hair. The U.S. was no exception: we had already sent our Special Mission Units out to capture two Serbian generals high on the PIFWC list. Karadžić remained elusive and all but invisible for a good number of years.
My role in Bosnia at the time, along with my counterpart Kay-Kay, was to support the hunt effort for PIFWCs — or toads as we referred to them — with every measure of technical and human surveillance operations. The means were soundly subject to our collective creativity. Anything went, and that was the nexus of our power in the hunt for the toads.
That day was a down-day by virtue of the lack of actionable intelligence to move on. I was tweaking the optical recording configuration in our sedan. Kay-Kay was literally out at the zelenica (open-air market) shopping like some… woman! I didn’t like that she was by herself, not that I was worried about her safety; rather, if I were not there with her she would only buy healthy fruits and vegetables — I hated that!
“Get some cheese, please, Kay-Kay. Get something beside Gouda for crap’s sake lest I hurl myself into a wood chipper.”
“I’ll look, but Gouda’s all they are going to have — it’s all Gouda, very very Gouda, aha.”
A hidden camera pointing to the rear of the vehicle was fixed, so once we positioned the car to record a target for five or more hours we wouldn’t know if we had correctly framed the view we wanted until we retrieved the car and watched the tapes. I was “bore sighting” the cameras to the view out of the rear window. Once I had a solid picture of what the camera was “seeing,” I marked a “gunsight” on the back window with a grease pencil to help me aim the car at my targets, a technique that I learned from Night Stalker attack helicopter pilots.
My handheld radio crackled:
“Chik, Barco… need yooz two at the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) ASAP, over.”
“Barco, Chik… RGR TOC ASAP, break… Kay-Kay, Chik… how copy, over?”
“Chik, Kay-Kay… RGR, en route, out.”
Kay-Kay pulled up to the safe house surprisingly quickly, as was her nature. We carried the bags inside and grabbed the essentials to report to the TOC. I pissed away critical seconds rooting through the bags of groceries only to find, to my dismay, another load of groceries packed by Martha Stuart.
“Jebi ti majku! (mother-effer)” I hissed.
Kay-Kay: “What’s wrong?”
“No, no, nothing. It’s all… gouda.”
“Ok, well… ready to head to the TIC (Tactical Intelligence Center)?”
“The TIC? I think we’re needing to head to the TOC.”
“Well, TIC-TOC; time’s a-wasting, Chik!”
I would have chuckled in appreciation of her humor, but was still bent over all the healthy crap she brought from the zelenica.
Entering the TOC (not the TIC, Kay-kay) we needed the mandatory few minutes for the room to recover from the astronomically high-voltage electric shock of there being a GIRL in the room — two chicks. I recognized a Night Stalker pilot and his co in the room. From the way they were looking at me I think that they, in turn, recognized me. For there to be Night Stalkers involved meant there was going to be more important flying than usual.
Our own Intelligence Officer delivered the essential narrative indicating that the “Ace of Spades,” Radovan Karadžić and his wife Liliana wanted to turn themselves into the UN. Then he paused to watch me cringe in horror. I remained with my arms folded and returned a following nod, though inside I was indeed cringing in horror. I wanted to look at Kay-Kay for her reaction but knew she would just be reacting the way I did in these situations.
“Karadžić has agreed to a time and remote location for a vehicular encounter tomorrow afternoon.” He was pointing to the location on a map that was flat on the table where we sat. I was probably being a little too calm for him when he added the kicker:
“If it sounds too good to be true then it is: even though Big Hair and his Mrs. want to surrender, his long-time bodyguard Rado Čelenkov would very much NOT like him to surrender, and might not let him. That’s where you come in, Chik. Kay-Kay will be key to the tranquility of Liliana throughout this whole drama.”
“You have one TF-160 Blackhawk in support that will be loitering just out of audible range ready to sprint to your location when you summon it. When you have the pair in your vehicle you’ll move to this clearing (indicates on map) north of the vehicle rendezvous, and call in your helo to pick up Mr. and Mrs. Karadžić. You are free to travel by helo if you feel the situation dictates it, but you’ll need to sterilize your vehicle before departure. Initial comments?”
“We’ll sterilize our vehicle tonight. I’ll back up into the vehicle linkup site and have all four doors open when they arrive. Big Hair will sit up front with me and the Mrs. can sit in the back. I’m going to pat him down before I put him in the car and Kay-Kay will have to pat Liliana down. I’ll call the helo as soon as I roll because it will take him just as long to get to the clearing as it will take me. That way neither of us will have to wait for the other.”
Kay-kay was going full poker face on me as we had a tête-à-tête with our helo drivers:
“Chik, we plan to loiter here (indicating on map) just behind this hill mass to mask our noise; that is as close as we can get. I swear when you call us I will stand that bird up vertical on its nose and be there as fast as mechanically possible.”
There was sure no doubt about that. Clearly we were going in just the two of us so as not to present a threat to the reluctant-to-surrender Karadžić party of two. The addition of two bodyguards would make the count two of us and four of them, but with Big Hair and his wife being non-combatants, that made it two against two.
I counted (had to) Kay-Kay as a shooter. She was actually quite good behind the trigger, but certainly no pipe-hitter. She was just going to have to really come through if the situation headed to Tijuana. I quite frankly wanted no part of a lead-sling with Rado Čelenkov, but I would beat him over the head with my empty assault rifle if it came down to that; and I fancifully hoped that he would be mostly shit-faced on Šlivovic anyway.
“I’m going to park the car to block the road on the south end of the clearing and run up the road to stop any traffic coming down the road from the north. Your crew needs to beat feat to the car and help Kay-Kay escort the principal to the helo. Kay-Kay will make the call if she thinks she needs to remain on the chopper with Liliana; we’ll get her back eventually,” — BAM! — the one thing I finally said that made Kay-Kay break poker face and visibly frown at me — meh!
She’d be mad now and pout quietly for a (blissful) week. She had been like that once before when we were trying to find a backwoods route to Zvornik in the Serbian sector: Suddenly in the middle of the road was a meter-high stick with a skull on the end of it warning travellers to go no farther.
I got out to remove the spectacle; Kay-Kay got out too but stood off a bit. Lifting the stick I noted that the skull was way too heavy indicating that it was still… “full”. I stepped off of the road and used the stick to dig a hole to bury the skull.
“What-r-ya doing with the skull?” Kay-Kay asked. Spying a chunk of dirty white styrofoam trash near me I picked it up and turned to her:
“I’m doing this: here — CATCH!” and I tossed the chunk at her. She screamed, throwing her legs back and her arms forward to block the “skull”.
“You Goddamned asshole!” she shrieked and slammed the car door. That little faux pas had gifted me a solid (blissfull) week of Kay-Kay silence.
As tumult in the room settled I ran scenario after scenario in my mind, none of which I found particularly enchanting. As I mulled, our Intel Officer finally asked me what I had been waiting to hear:
“What do you need for this, Chik?” — Hallelujah!
“Rado only ever carries and AKM. I’m not going to get into a shootout behind cars with just a CAR-15; not going to respond to a stuck Chevy Silverado in a VW Beetle. I want an AK, ten magazines, 300 rds 7.62/39mm, and two LAW (Light Anti-Tank Weapon) rockets.”
“You’re not going to a shoot-out at the O.K. Corral, Chik…”
“Really? Is that really what you want me to know right now, Sir, that I’m NOT going to the O.K. Corral? This isn’t my first day at this — how about you just hire one of the cleaning ladies to knock out this mission if it’s going to be so easy?”
“Ok, that’s enough, George!”
There it was, just like my mom used to use my full real name when she was mad at me or I was in trouble. I was wearing my doubt on my sleeves. I didn’t like any part of the mission and it was affecting my temper. I felt like everyone in the room (except the Night Stalkers) was stupid and were being extra stupid in planning this stupid mission; but I was the only one who had to go in carrying water for the faction of stupidity that I was representing.
As the Intel weeny and I seized up momentarily in an optical standoff, a courier entered the room and spouted off a penciled INTSUM (Intelligence Summary) in his hand. The mission was a scrub; Big Haired Radovan Karadžić or his wife or both backed away from their vow to surrender. Just like that, it was over and the bursting firehose dwindled down to just a dribble of drops. My sigh of relief was so powerful it caused people in the room to rock back on their heels (slightly).
Driving back to our safe house I finally had to ask the gentle Kay-Kay, who had remained taciturn towards the entire concept and conduct of the scrubbed operation, what her take had been. Just short of opening my mouth she finally blurted out:
“OH MY GOD!!! I cannot believe what happened today. That mission was so insanely stupid — if we had gone you would be dead and I would be a prisoner!!”
“Jesus H. Paste, Kay-Kay… have a little faith, hon; show me some respect here. I didn’t want to do that mission either but if I went into it with your attitude it would have been doomed before it ever left Tuzla.”
“I don’t care. It was ridiculous to put us through this nightmare today!” and that was the end of that conversation — over before it even started.
Kay-Kay was cra-cra as far as I felt. Like I said before, she was not a pipe-hitter. In fact, if one of the pipe-hitters had gone off in the same negative fashion over a mission as she had that day, they would have found all of their belongings piled up outside the Unit compound back at Bragg.
For my part I was at a minimum satisfied with the effort I put into the mission despite the lack of faith I had in it. And I say in all honesty and confidence that a brother going into that situation with ten magazines and a couple of LAWs is a brother who damned-well means to fight.
Water past the bridge is what it was at that point; a done deal until the next mission. It was all Gouda, very very Gouda.
By Almighty God and with honor,