Winter in Bosnia was a special level of suck cranked up on hydraulic jacks. The snow and ice there are no colder or deeper or more slippery than anywhere else in the world: it was just maybe that the Bosnian national gloom, already resting comfortably in a notable trough, enhanced the common misery.
Vinko Pandurević was the lucky winner of the war crimes PIFWC (Persons Indicted [by the Hague] for War Crimes) lottery this winter.
Look-angles, which offered tactical convenience to the front entrance view of his alleged flat in Zvornik, were so scarce, if any. This was a major frustration.
Ah, but putting one foot outside of the box we found that the backside of his flat gave way to a security wall, large expanses of open fields and hills of evergreen woodland. Vinko Pandurević’s flat was a second-floor affair, and we wagered that the hills could give us enough altitude to get a mother-decency of a look-angle with some spirited sniper glass.
What’s more, the apartment had a covered balcony in the back. Pandurević was noted to be a major morning-coffee-and-newspaper guy — rain or shine. We sent two home-grown pipe-hitters, Speed Demon and Scissor Hands, out to collect some reconnaissance from them-thar hills!
The response gleaned was that it was a remarkably conducive layout for sniper observers.
Kay-Kay and I went snaking through the narrow cobbled streets of Tuzla in search of nets — that’s right nets for sniper teams prepping to go stalk Pandurević’s suspected flat.
There were no Yellow Pages in Tuzla. I ended up asking a taxi driver where a bloke might find nets in this town, a thing that made him frown in suspicion.
“Tell him we’re going to Dubrovnik to go fishing,” Kay-Kay suggested.
So, she was back to suggesting again? I liked it better when she was still mad and not suggesting anything to me other than to go phuq myself. I had accepted that.
“Phuq this guy; I don’t own him a story. He either knows and is going to tell us or he doesn’t know, and I’m not wasting a cover story on a cab driver.”
Winter made me grumpy geo, or so I fancied my excuse, that was for sure. Being the only one in our mix who spoke Bosnian I began to empathize with Trab, a bother back home who was by far the strongest of all the men in the squadron. This made him lament to feeling like a pack mule on every deployment:
“Trab, can you lift this and set it up here?”
“Trab, can you carry those for me?”
“Trab, pick this Goddamned engine up and put it over there?
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“Lift this, carry that — Trab? Trab?? TRAB..!!!”
To non-speakers, I was automatically a fluent, fully native speaker and they expect me to be able to handle the most complicated and obscure situations — like finding nets in a post-war city. So, we had an address to start with and were at least headed somewhere.
I began to drive on an awkward snowy rise of nearly 300 meters of straight road. I felt the vehicle slow down… and begin to slide backward. “Holy Hell!” I thought. There was potential to pick up a great deal of speed on this long straight rise we were on. I modulated the break the best I could in a hint of panic. I finally got the car to pause at a slight angle and exhaled with a grim look at Kay-Kay who appeared calm.
“Don’t even take your foot off that break; I’m going to chain the back tires!” and Kay-Kay dumped herself out of the car. She pulled snow chains from the open hatchback and flopped herself down in the snow near the back tires. I pulled the parking brake on and began to hum some songs I knew. I didn’t need to be sitting in the car with my foot on the break, oh but Kay-Kay had all the great ideas, so I just let her turn and burn.
I began to feel somewhat of an ass sitting there in the warmth and comfort of the SUV, while Kay-Kay lay prostrate in the snow like a penitent monk toiling over cold chains with her gloveless hands, but… she was the answer chick of the hour. I began to feel more and more like an ass as some of the local boys gathered at my SUV seeing Kay-kay in snow and me in the car. They looked at me like I was… an ass… or the like.
“Vrlo dobra žena!” (very good woman), I finally croaked to the local boys in an attempt to stave off some awkwardness. I earned some chuckles and nods from them and a couple even repeated it: “Da, Jako dobra žena.”
“Gdje ti je našli? (where did you find her), one guy grinned.
“Ruska mladenka iz naloga za poštu!” (Russian mail-order bride), and the gaggle erupted in laughter that was more akin to a roar than a din.
“What are you guys talking about? Kay-Kay puzzled with frozen hands.
“Fishing nets, how’s it going back there?”
“It’s just going…” she trembled, “…just don’t take your foot off that brake!”
“Yeah, yeah; I won’t.”
Kay-Kay finished to a kind golf clap from the gathering of local boys.
“They were nice,” she opined as we shuddered up the slope toward the prospect of netting.
We returned with adequate material to aid the brothers with their rural hide-sites.
Speed Demon and Scissor Hands departed on their first recon excursion that was supposed to last 24-hours. But they returned before even half of that had passed.
“Yeah, that’s right — freakin’ goat herds being driven by a herder and shepherd doggie. We were set up and watching the balcony when we started hearing this ‘clink, ding, clank-clink, ding’ sound. It was bells around the goats’ necks. They were creeping along toward us so we bugged out.
“WTF??? …ok, let me get this straight: ‘clink, ding, clank-clink, ding’??”
It was decided that they had set in a bit too close to the open field where there was still desirable grass for the goats. The remedy was to push back and up in altitude to the seclusion of the evergreen forest. That also meant more standoff from the target: a concern for the optical resolution of their scopes.
The next attempt to set in and collect lasted the entire 24 hours — though they did hear the goats’ bells meandering below them, and at times they seeming got louder. They fared well nonetheless. What’s more, they had a decent view of a male on the balcony that was of such striking resemblance to the support photos we had of Pandurević that it warranted establishing a persistent stare and collect Pattern of Life (POL) from the target.
We all rotated the surveillance duty. Kay-Kay wanted to work shift as well but she wasn’t going to unless one of the other guys volunteered to pull shift with her. I was just not anxious to subscribe to more of her remarkable propensity to never shut her cakehole and deemed her a mission risk.
“Kay-Kay…hon, you just don’t understand — those woods out there are treacherous and swarming with barbarians! The duty is astronomically difficult and dangerous!!”
“Really, what’s so difficult and dangerous about sitting on an ass, next to another ass, and watching yet a third ass?”
I shot a mental dagger at her heart.
“Hey, hey — I’ll take her,” offered Scissor Hands.
“OK! Well, you kids have fun on the objective tonight because that is far, far away from where I’ll be!”
It wasn’t the months; it was the miles, I think, that slowly transformed me into a miserably rotten human being there in Bosnia. I was pushing nine months in-country by then. My good friend Guy “Guido” Cutino had died back home and I was still in Bosnia. I was there so long the Tuzla municipal courthouse started sending me summonses to jury duty. I just tore them up.
Eventually, we were all in clear agreement that the person we were seeing on the balcony was indeed Pandurević. The push to get facial ID video or stills of him coming or going from the apartment was certainly on. In a perfect world, we could find a decent spot in that madness of parking at the front entrance to the flat.
Zvornik was across the Zone of Separation (ZOS) and well into the Serbian occupied sector of Bosnia — the most unfriendly to the United Nations. We took to running countless sorties looping through town to make a pass by his apartment looking for a parking spot to aim our cameras.
A single sortie was a full four-hour round trip. We traveled in two cars: a camera car and a pickup car that loitered nearby while the camera car made a pass by the flat. If a good spot was found, the driver took it and aimed the camera the best he could at the flat. He could then leave the car and walk to a rally point to rendezvous with the pickup car.
The day would come when an empty parking spot could be found… and it did!
(continued in part II)
By Almighty God and with honor,
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