September 20, 2001

Battle in the Balkans

A week after the terrorist strikes at Manhattan and the Pentagon, the United States was still mourning and gearing up for revenge. But as all eyes and ears of the wounded Empire focused on Afghanistan, another possible field of battle waited with distinct uneasiness for the heralded crusade against terrorism to begin unfolding.

After a decade of internecine warfare over territory, occasionally with strong religious overtones, the Balkans is likely to become a battlefield again. For though this may come as news to most Westerners, the United States counted on assistance from Iran, Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda and the Saudi Arabian Wahhabi Muslim movement to the militants and self-declared governments of Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.


The litany of U.S. connections with Islamic militants during the Bosnian war (1992-95) is long and disheartening. The US actively supported the Muslim-led government of Bosnia-Herzegovina in its fight against Bosnian Serbs and Croats, even though it enlisted several thousand foreign mujahedeen. These fighters committed terrible atrocities against Serbs and Croats, none of which have ever been prosecuted. After the Dayton Peace Agreement of 1995, some of these Islamic warriors were sent home, but many remained, marrying Bosnian Muslim women and taking Bosnian citizenship. One of them, bin Laden's close associate Mehrez Aodouni, was arrested in Turkey two years ago while on his way to Chechnya with a Bosnian passport.

Furthermore, the U.S. had allowed Iran to gain influence in Bosnia and Croatia by knowingly allowing Teheran to ship weapons to both regimes in direct violation of the UN arms embargo in 1994-95. After the war, millions of American taxpayer dollars paid for new equipment and weapons for the Bosnian Muslim Army, while Iranian spies and the mujahedeen plotted to assassinate the Pope and blow up the NATO peacekeepers' HQ in Sarajevo (which was to be blamed on the Serbs).

Bosnia's postwar destitution and kleptocratic governments have contributed to the readiness of many young Muslims to join the Wahhabi movement, aggressively exported by Saudi Arabia. The Wahhabis' practice of austere Islam completely foreign to Bosnia has already destroyed many Bosnian Muslim families, as their daughters were married off in their teens and their sons joined the Jihad in Chechnya and Kosovo, many never to return. This, and more, is well-documented by the Bosnian Muslim and foreign press.


Efforts to create a Greater Albania have been less overtly Islamic than the struggle in Bosnia, mainly because the KLA in Kosovo and Macedonia focused more on the Albanians' ethnic, and less on their religious, identity. Nonetheless, both the al-Qaeda and the Wahhabis have been involved with the KLA and inside Albania proper over the past decade.

During NATO's assault in 1999, Belgrade made serious allegations that the KLA was connected to bin Laden's terrorist network and the muhajedeen movement in general, but the US was not willing to listen. Now these allegations are confirmed by none other than the CIA. More than two years after bombing Serbia on behalf of the KLA, US officials are now quoted by the Washington Times :

"Since the mid-1990s, bin Laden associates have been based in Tirana, Albania's capital, as well as in at least two other towns in the small, formerly communist nation… Islamic radicals, including supporters of bin Laden, have been supporting Albanian rebels fighting in the region, including members of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Intelligence officials have said there are reports that KLA members have been trained at bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan."


The US government has not only known about this all along, but has enlisted the terrorists as a useful weapon against the Serbs, and recently the Macedonians as well. It certainly made sense to join forces with a CIA-sponsored movement in a fight against the common enemy. With the events of September 11, however, that picture is likely to change.

Compared to the authors of September 11, Slobodan Milosevic is no threat to the United States. After his fall, Serbia and Yugoslavia have been reduced to the margins of the Balkans, impotent and obsequiously subservient to US/NATO commands. Yet the Empire's victory over Milosevic now seems largely irrelevant, even harmful – as America's allies against Milosevic in Sarajevo, Pristina and Tirana have also aided those suspected of bombing New York and Washington DC. Bitterly ironic, for sure, but the Balkans was built on irony.

Bosnia, Albania and the KLA regime in Pristina have, of course, all vowed complete loyalty and commitment to help the US fight terrorism. Problem is, terrorism and militant Islam are so rooted in their societies, they cannot get rid of it even if they honestly wanted to.


September 11 did not just shatter the illusion of America's invulnerability and result in thousands of civilian and military deaths; it also revealed a festering wound that America's interventions has inflicted on the Balkans. Now the unholy alliance between the USA, KLA, Alija Izetbegovic's regime, the mujahedeen and the al-Qaeda lies exposed to the world, stinking to high heaven. No one is paying much attention to it right now – save the CIA – but this situation is likely to change soon.

Then what?

In the Balkans, anything is possible. As soon as he finished pledging support to the US last week, NATO Secretary General George Robertson continued to back the KLA in Macedonia, insisting on a NATO military presence past the end of the sham disarmament mission late this month.

America seems determined to remain an Empire and strike back, most likely in Afghanistan, but possibly elsewhere in the Middle East. The escalating rhetoric of war makes such an outcome seem sadly inevitable. Yet how can this crusade have any effect if the "network" Secretary Powell vowed to attack remains alive and well in the Balkans? Can the Empire really fight in the Middle East while leaving the Balkans tumor behind?


Some 30,000 US troops are propping up the defunct Bosnian state and the KLA regime in Kosovo, at the same time masters and hostages of the KLA and the mujahedeen. Given the somewhat precarious manpower situation of the Imperial military, Bush The Younger will need every man and woman in uniform for his high crusade. Can he afford to keep them in the Balkans?

If the rhetoric coming out of Washington is anything to judge by, the Empire now has bigger fish to fry than aiding tin-pot dictators of the Balkans, especially those with terrorist ties, realize their chauvinist territorial ambitions. Suddenly, a partial or even complete US withdrawal from the Balkans does not seem as outlandish as it did just weeks ago.

US withdrawal would inevitably mean the collapse of the artificial edifice its interventions have created in the Balkans. Absent its pillar of Imperial support, this order will crumble like an ill-made house of cards. Nations of the Balkans would finally be able to crack down on terrorism – given the current situation, who would deny them that right? – and the peninsula might move closer to peace and true stability, one that needs not be enforced with occupying armies.

All the US needs to do is bring its troops home, where they can finally defend America – something they should have been doing in the first place.

Text-only printable version of this article

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo, and contributed to the Independent. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia and Serbian politics, many of which have been published by the Serbian Unity Congress. His exclusive column for appears every Thursday.


Past Articles

Battle in the Balkans

Intersections of Fate

Macedonia's Tragedy Masquerading as Farce

A Day to Remember

The Serbian Standoff

Macedonia's Futile Surrender

Murdering Macedonia

Rambouillet Repeated?

Empire's Willing Servants

Kostunica's Choice

Betrayal in Belgrade

The Empire Shows Its Hand

The Return of Kings

Meditations On The Edge Of The Abyss


Terms of Betrayal

Presevo – A False Victory

The Balkans: Land of Delusions

Enemies at the Gates

ICG's Blueprint for Destruction

Kosovo: Between Death and Taxes

Madness in the Mountains: Montenegro's Looming Secession

A House Divided


Empire at the Gates

Macedonian Maelstrom

Pax Americana

The Fourth Balkan War

Mayhem in Macedonia

Surreal Realm

Santayana's Curse

The Croatian Conundrum

March of the Black Eagle

Showdown in Belgrade

Out of the Shadows

With a Grain of Salt

Crusade's End

The Worst of Times

Moments of Transition

Déja Vu

The Crucible

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