restricted access 5. Death on a Balkan Mountain

From: Peacemakers

The University Press of Kentucky colophon
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5 Death on a Balkan Mountain The driver maneuvered his heavy armored personnel carrier around a slower vehicle on the rain-soaked gravel road on the side of Mount Igman. He was trying to keep up with the lighter military vehicle ahead of him carrying Holbrooke and Lieutenant General Clark to Sarajevo. The US negotiating team had broken into two groups for the overland trip to the capital of Bosnia. Holbrooke and Clark were in a military high-mobility multipurpose vehicle, or “Humvee.” The rest of the group—Joe Kruzel, Bob Frasure, Colonel Drew, Lieutenant Colonel Gerstein , and security officer Peter Hargraves—traveled separately in the more cumbersome armored personnel carrier provided by the French contingent to UNPROFOR. Mount Igman is one of several mountains dominating the horizon over Sarajevo from southwest to southeast. A narrow rock-and-gravel road curved over and around the mountain to connect the Bosnian capital with the world outside the conflict area. The road had no shoulder or guard rails and was only a single lane in some spots. Snow and rain made the route particularly treacherous. Because UNPROFOR patrolled and maintained the road, it was the only access to Sarajevo with any degree of security. Not this Saturday, August 19, 1995. The telephone woke me up at 7:30 a.m. when I was at home in northern Virginia that day. The Pentagon Operations Center was calling to inform me that my boss Joseph Kruzel and others may have been injured in an accident on the way to Sarajevo. The armored personnel carrier transporting Kruzel and others from the US team had gone off the road on Mount Igman and flipped over several times. At first, Kruzel was reported to have survived. By 10:00 that morning, I knew that Joe Kruzel was dead. Nelson Drew and Bob Frasure also were killed in the armored vehicle accident.1 The death of three respected professionals shocked official Washington and affected Holbrooke deeply. At the DOD, the loss of Joe Kruzel 26 Bosnia: Shuttle Diplomacy was a serious blow to the policy team. Someone who had become an effective player in the interagency policy process was gone. Undersecretary Slocombe was deeply upset by the loss of his friend and trusted adviser. Those who knew Joe Kruzel recognized his potential as he guided European policy in the Pentagon. He was creative, he motivated his people in a positive way, and he had a great sense of humor. I felt especially close to him because when I left the army, he had helped me span the cultural divide between colonel and civilian senior executive service policy specialist in the Washington bureaucracy. The New US Negotiating Team Walt Slocombe summoned me to his office on the day the remains of the Americans killed on Mount Igman were returned to Washington. To my surprise, a tearful undersecretary said that he and the secretary wanted me to replace Kruzel on the Holbrooke negotiating team. I was honored by the appointment. It was natural for me, as a former military officer, to step forward to fill the gap when the leader falls, and I knew the issues, the region, and DOD. What I did not have was direct experience with high-stakes diplomacy. I soon concluded that there may not have been too many candidates for the job. Some of my civilian colleagues treated me as if the appointment were a death sentence, expressing condolences in advance for taking the job. DOD’s insistence that I have an official photo and a new biography before leaving for the first mission reinforced that impression. Following the memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery on August 24, the White House issued a public announcement of the composition of the reconstituted negotiating team.2 Richard Holbrooke remained the leader of the negotiating team, and although emotionally staggered by the deaths of three original team members , he was eager to return to the negotiating process. Clark and Gerstein, who had survived the accident on Mount Igman, remained on the team. Although I did not know Clark well at the time, I discovered that he and I had grown up in Arkansas at about the same time. In the army, Clark was on a hyperfast track through the officer ranks to general. He was valedictorian of the West Point Class of 1966 and a Rhodes scholar. His army career was that of an officer on the way not just to the rank of general but to the...


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