the Spider’s Web
The Unit, its command staff and the sponsors of the State Security
have never made so much money as in the operation Spider in western
Written by Filip Svarm
WHAT HAPPENED WITH 46 MILLION DEUTSCHMARKS: Generals Manojlo Milovanovic
In mid 1993 – during the second war year in Bosnia and Herzegovina
– there were more than 300,000 inhabitants living in the region
of Bihac: the natives and the refugees from Bosnian Krajina. They
lacked absolutely everything – from electricity and fuel to food
and medicine. The region of Bihac – the largest Muslim enclave –
was surrounded from the north, west and south by Republic Serbian
Krajina, and from the east by Republic Srpska.
The very thought of another war winter drove many to desperation.
One man, however, thought there was a solution.
“Let’s make it clear, Fikret Abdic was in this region the leader
as a recognized political authority in the former Yugoslavia,” says
Atif Dudakovic, former commander of the Fifth Corps of the Bosnian
Fikret Abdic, director of a big company Agrokomerc from Velika
Kladusa, had the nickname Babo (Daddy). It wasn’t just an empty
word. Since the greatest number of the inhabitants of the Bihac
region depended on the work of Agrokomerce, Abdic exerted great
influence on the entire life of this region. Not even the arrest
due to embezzlement in mid ‘80s diminished his power: with the largest
number of votes he was elected in 1990 a member of the Presidency
of Bosnia and Herzegovina. When in the summer of 1992 the fighting
flared up, Babo came back from Sarajevo to his native Velika Kladusa
where he had limitless power.
Abdic saw an opportunity to pull out his region from the war in
mid 1993. At that time all the three nations in Bosnia and Herzegovina
– Serbs, Croats and Muslims – were mutually fighting and making
local alliances in all imaginable ways. Babo decided to join those
who he thought were winning – primarily Serbs, but Croats as well.
Before, during, and after the wars, Fikret Abdic knew everyone
in the former Yugoslavia. Did Babo first made contact with the head
of the Serbian State Security Jovica Stanisic or was it the other
way around, it is unclear… It is known, though, that Abdic’s separatism
perfectly fitted the plans of the Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic,
so Babo’s region soon found itself under the protection of Franko
Simatovic Frenki’s Unit. An especially important role in this region
belonged to Milorad Ulemek Legija, the man who will ten years later
be accused for assassination of the Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.
Feeling protected, in October 1993 Babo declared Autonomous Province
of Western Bosnia in the Bihac region, and made a separate truce
with Republic Srpska. Or, simply put, he completely broke off from
the government in Sarajevo.
Dudakovic and his Fifth Corps with its seat in Bihac remained loyal
to the president of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegovic, and
his concept of a unified country… In Sarajevo Babo was accused of
In return, Babo could rely, beside Milosevic, on the president
of Croatia Franjo Tudjman. Their common interest was to show that
not all Muslims were for the unified Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Having declared independence, Babo formed his own armed forces
– The Territorial Guard of Western Bosnia. The Fifth Corps, up to
that point a unified Muslim army in the Bihac pocket, had split
“They had a clear goal – solely the defeat of the Fifth Corps,”
Beside a political profit from Abdic, his allies reaped a financial
profit as well. Tudjman made possible for Babo to purchase oil in
Croatia, and Milosevic, for part of that oil, supplied Western Bosnia
with arms and food from Krajina. The Red Berets could not miss out
on such an opportunity: not one cistern or trailer truck left from
Babo’s state without a permission of the Unit.
“The people at check points were the Red Berets from Serbia, under
the control of the Serbian State Security,” remembers Igor Gajic,
now a journalist, at that time a member of the Republic Srpska Army.
Although he was Milosevic’s partner, Fikret Abdic was paying for
every bullet, every bomb and every sack of flour. Even though it
sounds paradoxical, the State Security and the Unit made even more
money on trade with its enemy – the Fifth Corps in Bihac. Dudakovic
had the means to pay. It was easier to transport money from Sarajevo
than food or weapons.
“Supplying is a known concept in military theory: one’s own production,
booty and delivery. This delivery is from friends – allies, but
for us it was characteristic – conditionally – from the enemies
as well,” Dudakovic says.
“For that purpose check points for trading were opened up – or,
as we called them – for smuggling,” explains Becir Sirovina, former
aid for logistics to the commander of the Bosnian Army Fifth Corps.
Dudakovic gives an example of what the smuggling looked like: “My
aid for logistics went to Glina. According to his later reports
– naturally he later had to write with whom he came into contact
– he sat into a luxury car supplied with telephones. The guy in
the car was very strange, but a convoy with flour did come to Bihac.
The person was paid fair and square. Let’s make it clear, that was
one of our ways to survive.”
The profits were astronomical, and the leading staff of the State
Security was delighted. It was like a fairy tale…
“When it gets dark – ‘Good evening – good evening? How is it going?
Today there is cooking oil and sugar. How much is it – that much’
– the end of story. ‘What do we have for tomorrow – we’ve got some
bombs, we’ve got some ammo,’ again end of story,” Gajic says.
The relationship between supply and demand was dictated by war.
During intense fighting, a sack of flour was sold for a hundred,
and a box of cookies for thirty Deutschmarks. The same applied to
weapons and ammunition.
Dudakovic remembered the prices: “Let’s say three bullets cost
one Deutschmark, so when we were being attacked, two bullets went
for a Deutschmark, and sometimes it was… I didn’t care about the
price. If the government of the canton or the region is paying,
let a bullet be a thousand Deutschmarks! I need that bullet!”
Of course, no price was high enough for the Fifth Corps when in
mid 1994 Dudakovic was taking over Velika Kladusa. The entire population
of Abdic’s Western Bosnia fled into refuge to Krajina. Nothing could
shake their faith in Babo and his command, though.
The first commander, however, was sitting in Belgrade. Since Milosevic
still counted on Babo, he moved the entire Unit with the aim to
bring him back to Velika Kladusa. The operation was called Spider,
and at its head stood Jovica Stanisic himself. The entire command
team of the Unit – from Frenki to Legija, Radojica Rajo Bozovic
and all the way down. It was the greatest action of this formation
– before and after.
Members of the Serbian Volunteer Guard could not anticipate any
of this when they lined up in the Serbian police base in Lipovacka
suma in early August 1994. The commander of this par to the Unit,
Zeljko Raznjatovic Arkan, only told them he will not personally
lead them into action in the Bihac region because he doesn’t like
Muslims, and they don’t like him either. Arkan’s aid, Legija, was
strictly business-like: all personal papers must be left behind
because the assignment is so important and complicated, the Guard
will not even wage war under its own insignia. They will use only
one emblem – the red beret.
Under Legija’s command, the Guard arrived at Petrova Gora in Krajina
chosen for the headquarters of the operation Spider. They were already
awaited there by the other half of the Unit – Frenki’s Red Berets
split into operational groups.
“My operational group of thirty people had a group of sniper shooters
and a group of scouts. All the others were infantry with bazookas…
It was a pure assault group,” says Joca, the former member of the
Arkan’s Guard was only one of those assault groups under Frenki’s
command. After Stanisic, he became the second man in the Serbian
State Security: the organization and the power of the Unit he had
modestly founded in 1991 in Golubic near Knin has grown enormously.
The Unit had terrain vehicles and cannons in its arsenal, as well
as its own aviation – helicopters MI-8 and “Gazelles. “It could
easily accomplish a large part of a task by itself,” Joca explains.
Operation Spider formally represented a joint action of the Serbian
Krajina Army under the command of General Milan Novakovic and Babo’s
National Guard. In reality, everything was in the hands of the Unit.
The troops engaged in returning Fikret Abdic to Velika Kladusa were
divided into three tactical groups: the first was under Babo’s command;
the Tactical Group was lead by Legija, under the name of Vulture,
and the Tactical Group Three was commanded by a Red Beret Colonel
Rajo Bozovic, three years later heartily greeted by Milosevic at
the celebration of the Day of the Unit in Kula.
The Unit quickly managed to bring back Babo to Velika Kladusa.
Operation Spider did not finish with the resurrection of the Autonomous
Province Western Bosnia; Babo now had to be helped to keep it alive.
In early 1995, the commander of the Republic Srpska Army, General
Ratko Mladic, sent the head of his headquarters, General Manojlo
Milovanovic, to take over the command of the operation Spider from
“I arrived there on February 12th 1995 under the order of General
Mladic. He sent a message to me that the stance of the General Council
of the Yugoslav Defense and our General Command was that I should
take over the command of the operation Spider,” says General Manojlo
Milovanovic, former head of the Republic Srpska Army headquarters.
Although they started as skirmishes, the clashes between the National
Guard and the Fifth Corps soon became very serious. In fact, the
bloodiest battles were wages between Muslims themselves. While waiting
to take over the command, Milovanovic toured the front. Milo: “I
watched those Fikret’s warriors. They fought terribly. I watched
a platoon in attack – it was God forbid. Those from the Fifth Corps
cut them in half, and Fikret’s soldiers are crawling and pushing
in front of them some building stones. They are rolling them in
front of them, their fingers are bouncing…”
Dudakovic confirms the fierceness of the inter-Muslim fighting:
“Here is a number: in combat against the Fifth Corps 1,700 members
of the Fifth Corps died, and against the Serbian Krajina Army 1,300.
An indicator that the fighting against Abdic’s forces were more
Legija and Rajo Bozovic, in this action “Vulture,” received orders
exclusively from Frenki. During the overseeing of the front, Frenki
met Milovanovic. “There was another man with Frenki, also with a
red beret and in a blue uniform… I think his name was Bozovic and
he was a colonel. We didn’t stay too long, because it was – as they
say – ‘hot.’ We only greeted each other. I asked Frenki – I have
heard about him, but I had never seen him – ‘What are you doing
here?’ He tells me: ‘Jovica Stanisic came, and I came with him’.”
Milovanovic did not become, nevertheless, the commander of the
operation Spider: “No Yugoslav Army general or officer came to that
meeting to carry out the replacement – to discharge General Novakovic
and appoint me – instead came Jovica Stanisic, the head of the Serbian
State Security. I told him: ‘Jovica, I won’t listen to your orders.
You are a policeman, not a soldier’.”
Since the Serbian forces helped by Babo could not liquidate the
Fifth Corps, the war in the Bihac region became an example of the
worst war profiteering. It was only important that it lasts. And
it lasted. Independently from the operation Spider, Milovanovic
lead the counter-attack of the Republic Srpska Army after a big
offensive of the Fifth Corps in early 1995. Heavy fighting lasted
for days in the east of the Bihac pocket.
“Their artillery was practically silent,” Milovanovic says. “They
started supplying their units in front with trailers. So, they are
out of fuel. There is no more showing off with the infantry ammo.
When a fight would start and there were shootings from both sides,
it was obvious their fire was slowly quieting down. I came to the
conclusion – and reported that to General Mladic – that the Fifth
Corps is out of ammunition.”
Dudakovic confirms the shortage in the Fifth Corps: “Ammunition!
All we were interested in was ammunition!”
And then it was turn for Milovanovic to get surprised: “All of
a sudden, Muslim mortars started shooting day and night. And I,
through the intelligence sources, get in touch with Dudakovic. I
ask him where did he get the ammunition. And he tells me: ‘Your
Serbs sold it to me!’.”
In 1994 the main logistics officer, Radoslav Kostic Kole, was killed
near Bihac. Two years later, the main base of this formation in
Serbia was named after him. It is not know to this date whether
it was the especially meritorious member or the especially pleasant
remembrance of the Unit – Operation Spider.
Since its formation, the Unit participated in the privileged criminal
deals of Milosevic’s elite. But never have its command staff and
sponsors from the State Security made so much money as in the operation
Spider on the lowest trade of human misfortune that did not end
until the break of Babo’s Western Bosnia in August 1995.
A few years later in Sarajevo, Milovanovic and Dudakovic, with
the presence of Alija Izetbegovic, summed up the war experience
from the Bihac region.
“And Alija Izetbegovic came by between two sessions,” Milovanovic
remembers. “I think Dudakovic got scared. He was embarrassed, he
blushed, and Alija walks by us and tell us: ‘It is good that war
commanders are talking.’ Dudakovic, probably to justify himself,
says: ‘Mr. President, I am explaining to the general how I defended
Bihac.’ Then Alija, in passing, replicates: ‘The hell you would
defend Bihac if I hadn’t paid 46 million Deutschmarks for it’.”
Dudakovic’s view was considerably different: “I don’t know, and
I think Alija Izetbegovic didn’t know either, how much money poured
in considering the donations from many good-intentioned people through
relatives and connections. Haris Silajdzic, at that time the prime
minister of Bosnia Herzegovina probably knows it. Maybe he knows
it, but I doubt it. And when this sum of 46 million Deutschmarks
is mentioned – I hear that for the first time.”
Secret operation Spider ended in 1995 after the fall of Krajina
during the “Storm.” Two months earlier, however, the Unit appeared
in public for the first time. The occasion was bizarre. After the
air strikes by NATO planes, Mladic’s army was arresting members
of the peace forces and tying them to all the possible targets of
Milosevic didn’t miss on the opportunity to declare himself as
a factor of peace and stability, as Americans diplomats, such as
Richard Holbrook, labeled him at the time.
He immediately sent Stanisic to Republic Srpska to free the hostages.
Since everything had to look official, the wider public saw and
heard the head of the State Security: “I am the head of the Serbian
State Security and I am here as a special envoy of President Milosevic,”
And as Stanisic’s mission had to look dangerous and tense, the
Unit – for this occasion named the Unit for anti-terrorist activities
– followed him. There was almost no one who knew anything about
these people in red berets. There were even fewer of those who could
recognize Frenki on TV – even if they had heard about him. And about
Zvezdan Jovanovic, who will shoot Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic,
one should not waste words. If Stanisic has here and there appeared
in public, the Unit again retreated into darkness in which it stayed
until October 5th 2000.
In that darkness, one branch of the Unit – Slobodan Medic Boca’s
Scorpions – participated in the liquidation of war prisoners in
Srebrenica in July of 1995. At that time more than 7000 Muslim prisoners
and civilians were killed under Mladic’s orders.
A month later, in August 1995, Milosevic finally gave up on Krajina.
It fell after only four days in operation Storm of the Croatian
Army. Unending columns of refugees from Krajina towns were pouring
into Serbia for days.
If everyone had forgotten about the people from Krajina, they didn’t
forget Arkan’s part of the Unit. Even though there was no fighting
in eastern Slavonia after 1991, Arkan made this region into his
private state, and he grew rich by smuggling deficient merchandise.
As they were arriving, the police in Serbia were arresting refugees
and sending them to Arkan’s base in Erdut.
People there were punished by having to bark like dogs, they were
tied with chains to dog houses and people had to bark like dogs,”
one arrested and recruited refugee remembers. “Once Arkan addressed
us and said: ‘Listen here.’ We all listened. ‘Does someone want
to give me a blow job?’ With those words Mr. Arkan addressed us.
We were just standing, no one dared to say a word…”
Apart from leading his Unit, Arkan tried his hand at politics as
well. Despite an exhaustive propaganda campaign, his Party of Serbian
Unity utterly failed in the elections of 1993. He had more luck
in love: Arkan’s marriage to country diva Svetlana “Ceca” Velickovic,
in the spring of 1995, was marked in tabloids as the wedding of
the century. They were not meant to enjoy their honeymoon for a
long time, though. After the fall of Krajina, a great offensive
of Muslim and Croatian troops on Republic Srpska followed in the
summer of 1995, and Stanisic sent his part of the Unit into Bosnian
Krajina. For Arkan, participation in combat was a secondary task,
and the main one – disciplining the Republic Srpska Army whose morale
was shaken. A speech by Arkan in a reserve battalion is recorded:
“All this Serbian nation here is watching you. For them you are
heroes and Serbian Obilics. And it cannot be that a hero and a Serbian
Obilic leaves like a chicken and sits by a school and doesn’t give
a fuck about the situation! Is that clear? The morale mustn’t drop
– I am tired, four months… What is four months? What if this war
lasts for fourteen years? What are we going to do then? To surrender?
Hey, we won’t surrender! This is Serbian land, holy Serbian land!
Are your tombs here? Your churches are here! You have to defend
your own land! Your hearths to defend. And I don’t want to hear
that you are tired. Because – you are not tired! Heads up everyone!
You are the Serbian army!”
As soon as he appeared in Bosnian Krajina, Arkan clashed with the
members of the Republic Srpska Army.
Sometime in the evening I received a call from a Drina Corps colonel
– Svetozar Andric,” Milovanovic says. “Frustrated and revolted,
he asks: ‘General, can someone beat Serbian officers?’ And I, not
knowing what happened, answer: ‘Yes. Muslims are beating us whenever
they get a chance.’ And he says: ‘I was beat up by Arkan!’ Where
– I ask. He says – in Prijedor. What is Arkan doing there? Andric
says: ‘I don’t know. They met me and beat me up. Arkan himself beat
Arkan wasn’t the only officer who was beaten up.
“On the territory between Sanski Most and Prijedor, he, among other
things, arrested one of the officers from my brigade…” Colonel Ostoja
Barasanin relates. “He didn’t really arrest him, but blocked his
road like a bandit, took away his vehicle and shaved the officer’s
head. Arkan mistreated this man only because he didn’t have his
Members of the Republic Srpska Army, however, were not unarmed
refugees in Erdut.
“I threatened him that we will start an armed conflict,” Barasanin
says. “I openly threatened Arkan and said: ‘If you want an armed
conflict, you will have it. I have 3,500 fighters, and you have
350, and we will see who will come out as winner, if we need this
during a Muslim and Croat general offensive.” Luckily, the conflict
never occurred, but Arkan realized he could not behave in this way.”
Finally, the command of the Republic Srpska Army requested an explanation
from Karadzic about Arkan’s behavior and, in general, about the
real reasons for his presence in Bosnian Krajina. The star of the
meetings in Banja Luka was Arkan himself, and Milovanovic spoke
in the name of the RSA: “I said: ‘According to whose orders did
you come here? How did you come here in the first place?’ Arkan
says: ‘I came according to the orders of President Karadzic.’ Karadzic
is here, sits across from me and is silent – both he and Krajisnik.
Karadzic was playing with his thumbs like a child who does something
wrong. I tell Arkan: ‘Give me that order!’ He says: ‘I have it in
the hotel.’ “Mister president, does Arkan have your order to come?’
Karadzic didn’t say neither yes nor no, he was just silent. And
then Arkan started to talk nonsense: how he is having a difficult
time, how he left at home his wife who is twenty two and who misses
him – he had married Ceca then… I say: ‘You know what. What do I
care your wife is twenty two and misses you…’ And Mladic and I had
already made a deal how to get rid of Arkan. ‘Tonight I am going
to Manjaca to drive away your little army, and General Mladic will
do the same in Kotorsko, since he has left for Han Pijesak. I want
you out of here in twenty-four hours!”
Arkan retreated before Mladic for the second time; another crises
in Republic Srpska, which has lost a large part of Bosnian Krajina
during the offensive of the Muslim and Croatian troops and NATO
air strikes, didn’t suit Stanisic. But Karadzic thanked Arkan as
he had never done before.
Still, before retreating, Arkan and his part of the Unit participated
in clashes near Sanski Most: five years later, the Hague tribunal
accused Arkan he committed worst war crimes in this very town. While
the Guard was leaving Republic Srpska, the end of the war was in
sight. In November 1995 the war will officially be over with the
Dayton agreement. The war ended by the same people that had started
After the end of the war in Croatia and Bosnia, the entire Unit
gathered in Serbia. The question what to do with these people –
trained and used to killing – was placed in front of the State Security.
As Stanisic didn’t even think about renouncing them, a moment of
triumph for Frenki ensued. His old idea could finally be realized:
both parts of the Unit – Arkan’s Guard and the Red Berets – were
definitely put together in the Spring of 1996 into an official formation
of the State Security. The full official title was: The Unit for
Special Operations of the Serbian State Security Police Department.
USO for short.
Legija was named the commander of this old/new formation. As Arkan’s
most capable operational commander, he caught the eye of Stanisic
and Frenki during the operation Spider. Legija set up the organization
USO as well. While the war was still being waged, he trained in
Slavonia a group within the Unit as a super formation. They were
called Super Tigers.
Everything he learned in the Foreign Legion, Legija applied to
Super Tigers. There was a platform for descending down ropes – the
inevitable educational material for every real commando. But also
drills and extremely harsh training. Legija paid special attention
to special effects: everyone who would watch a demo drill of the
Super Tigers was supposed to be impressed. Stanisic certainly was.
The Knin part of the Unit introduced red berets into USO, and Legija
from his Super Tigers everything else. All the fancy moves and rituals
from the Foreign Legion were exactly the same in Super Tigers and
the USO. For example, “ the Tiger’s word” recited in both of these
One day when you are wounded
And left behind on the battlefield
And when the enemy’s
Women, children and dogs come,
To tear you into pieces,
Shoot yourself in the head,
And die like a hero!