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This article was published in the April 2005 volume of the SWJ Magazine.

Short Notice Mission: 1999 Sarajevo Balkans Summit


It was a short notice mission to protect leaders of forty nations from a variety of potential threats at the 1999 Sarajevo Balkans Summit.  A mission like this would be no easy task for any mature national security service, so an international task force from over twenty nations’ security and military services was enlisted to secure the 1999 Balkan Summit in Sarajevo.  The key component of this successful effort was the establishment of optimal cooperation between the multitude of agencies with varied capabilities in order to identify and neutralize potential threats.

At the Summit the leaders would announce far reaching economic packages and other initiatives to increase the fragile stability in a Balkan region that had been unstable for most of the decade.  Holding the Summit in Sarajevo, and publicly committing to a plan for the future would have great symbolic importance for the international community. 

However noble the intent of the Summit organizers, the leaders from Western and Eastern Europe, and members of numerous international agencies, there were factions who stood to harvest a profit from continued instability.  Like many former communist controlled countries, among its other problems, Bosnia had to deal with powerful criminal and terrorist organizations.  Despite the improvements in the security situation with the influx of several thousand NATO, Russian and other nations’ soldiers since 1995, there was still considerable internal tension among the three entities that composed Bosnia Herzegovina.  When analyzing the mission, it occurred to security planners that a well-timed and targeted terrorist attack would reap a publicity bonanza equivalent to winning a major lottery.

With only two weeks notice, the planning for this mission was rapid but detailed.  The immediate actions were to evaluate the capabilities available to conduct the mission, to identify key threats and their likelihood of occurrence and to evaluate significant areas that would require specific consideration. 

Bosnia had the advantage of the remnants of a fairly sophisticated and a professional internal security apparatus.  Add to this the availability of several thousand soldiers from eighteen nations under NATO leadership including a special force of Italian Carbinieri; and there were significant capabilities on site when planning began.  In order to augment perceived shortfalls, additional assets were brought in on short notice.  Having the resources is not enough; employing them optimally required the use of liaison officers with communications gear, maps with standardized keys to explain the operational concept, and the rehearsal of key events. 

With the heads of forty nations in attendance, there was no shortage of individuals and groups with enough perceived grievances to consider them potential attackers.  There were literally dozens of forms of potential attack: snipers, bombs of all types, surface to air missiles, chemical attacks; to name a few.  Every potential attacker and form of attack had to be rapidly analyzed.  The intelligence staff analyzed the intent of the potential attackers and the forms of potential attack considering the limitations or advantages afforded by the city and its surrounding area.  The terrain included roads with choke points that could be easily interdicted.  One narrow main street earned the name “sniper alley” during the siege of Sarajevo.  The high ground around the airport had also been the site of anti-aircraft activity during the war.  Lines of sight from certain locations dominated the area below.  Through the analysis of the terrain and integration of potential threats, the planners were able to develop several models of potential threat events, and use those models for security rehearsals.

Some rehearsals took place on a map enlarged to cover the floor of a room the size of a volleyball court.  Other rehearsals took place on site.  During the execution phase of the Summit, reporting confirmed or denied the indicators catalogued during the rehearsals.  Confirming indicators of a model can be preferable to trying to connect dots to predict an incident and queue personnel with varied amounts of training for things to observe.  A clear common understanding of both the security framework and potential threats was essential to the operations success.  Rehearsals helped build this understanding. 

Integrating the forces required the use of a flexible set of concentric bands with restricted access.  The meeting area where the heads of state would assemble was the innermost band and had the strictest access controls.  The surrounding building was the next concentric band.  The building and the meeting room were primarily the responsibility of the host nation and selected security services that controlled access and monitored activity.  The airport, hotels and the routes to the meeting site were the next bands.  Police, Carbinieri, Military Police and specially trained troops secured these areas.  The rest of the city was secured by military patrols in conjunction with local police.  Military forces patrolled key terrain in the suburbs.  Military aircraft with technical reconnaissance and precision strike capabilities patrolled the sky above the city.

Coordinating the efforts throughout these bands of security required the use of liaison personnel (with independent communications equipment) at numerous operations centers at key coordination points.  The mission used translators to bridge the language gap.  Copies of specially annotated maps of the city were provided to key participants.  These maps gave all elements a common view of the operational area.  All these measures boosted confidence of the ability of the diverse security forces to work together. 

And work together they did.  The Summit went off without the security effort distracting the world, yet it deterred or neutralized all potential threats. 

Mr. Tom Greco (LTC, USA Ret.) is the Special Assistant for Intelligence at US Army Europe.  Before retiring he had five tours as a G2 or CJ2, and is a graduate of the Army's School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS).

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