"We could get him any time we want. But what's the point?" highly-placed military sources told the Independent yesterday.
The Dayton accord, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and a large body of public opinion abroad all demand that Radovan Karadzic be brought to trial in the Hague. But military commanders on the spot, wary of inflaming the Serb population, prefer realpolitik.
A fortnight ago Admiral Leighton Smith, the commander of the peace force in Bosnia for its first six months, said he would have been happy to have ordered his forces to grab the indicted war criminals if he had received such an orderfrom Nato's North Atlantic Council.
His orders, which may also be those of his successor, Admiral Joe Lopez, were to capture the men if I-For patrols chanced upon them. But now that Mr Karadzic has relinquished his powers as President of the Bosnian Serb mini-state, the Republika Srpska, and has said he will withdraw immediately and permanently from all political activities, I-For commanders believe there is less need for a "snatch" operation.
There are four main options for bringing him in. The option which is being pursued by Western diplomats, is to encourage the local Serbian authorities to hand him over.
The International War Crimes Tribunal wrote to the President of the UN Security Council, Alain Dejammet, last week, informing him of the international arrest warrants for Mr Karadzic and also his military colleague, General Ratko Mladic.
The Tribunal stressed that "the failure to execute the initial arrest warrants . . . was wholly due to the refusal of the Republika Srpska and the Federal republic of Yugoslavia [Serbia and Montenegro] to co-operate with the Tribunal".
Pressure on the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, who was instrumental in getting Mr Karadzic to stand down, appears to be working. Diplomatic sources yesterday said they were hopeful that now Mr Karadzic had been sidelined, other forces in Republika Srpska, or in Serbia proper, would seize him and hand him over.
The second option is to pen Mr Karadzic into the Bosnian Serb "capital" of Pale, south-east of Sarajevo. The plan is that he would be unable to move outside the town without fear of running into Nato patrols.
Admiral Smith said his troops were "fanning out" through the countryside and were patrolling in Pale itself, even though no I-For troops are based there. The effect of this has been to box Mr Karadzic and General Mladic into Pale.
That was the option the US used with the Panamanian dictator and supporter of drug traffic, General Noriega, which was successful and led to his capture.
Option three is a military assault to capture Mr Karadzic, comparable to that launched in 1993 to arrest General Mohamed Farah Aideed in Somalia. But that US operation was bungled. It resulted in crossing what General Sir Michael Rose, the former UN commander in Bosnia, called the "Mogadishu line" between peace-keeping and enforcement. Such an operation in Bosnia might have a similar outcome..
Admiral Smith said surveys carried out by his officials showed Mr Karadzic and General Mladic still enjoyed the overwhelming support of the Bosnian Serb population. So, any attempt to seize them by force might trigger opposition from local Serbs. While I-For is authorised to overpower and destroy any Bosnian Serb military opposition, it would be difficult to deal with organised protests by women and children.
Pale lies in the sector of Bosnia which is in the Italian brigade area. An Aideed-style operation might appeal to the Americans but it probably would not to the Italians.
A large-scale military attack on Pale would undoubtedly be resisted and could give rise to heavy loss of civilian life.
The fourth option would minimise the risk to bystanders. Known as the "Israeli" option, it would involve a small snatch squad of elite special forces troops, probably provided by the British SAS and US Special Forces, kidnapping Mr Karadzic and General Mladic, possibly drugging them before spiriting them out. Such an operation would be risky, however, as General Mladic and Mr Karadzic have more than half a dozen bodyguards each.
"There is of course a fifth option," an I-For military source said yesterday. "He gives himself up, says 'I am innocent and I will prove it', and takes himself off to the Hague voluntarily". But nobody believes that is very likely.Reuse content