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Operation Tango - The SAS Arrest War Criminals

On July the 10th, 1997, a NATO(SFOR)-sanctioned operation was launched by the SAS in Bosnia against suspected Serbian war criminals. 'Operation Tango' would involve simultaneous swoops on suspects in and around Prijedor. The location and identities of the two suspects had been confirmed by covert surveillance (rumoured to have been carried out by 14 Company). Two 5-men SAS teams, carrying indictments issued by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, were inserted into the area by helicopter (thought to be a Chinook flown by 7 Sqn RAF). The teams moved quickly to their assigned objectives, with the aim of making simultaneous arrests, presumably to avoid the suspects from fleeing in the face of the other's detention.

Target 1 : Milan Kovacevic

Kovacevic was the mayor of Prijedor in 1992 and was suspected organizing the round up of it's Muslims for interment in the notorious camps at Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje, where many were reportedly beaten and starved to death.

At the time of his arrest, Kovacevic was the director of Prijedor hospital. At 9:30am, July 10, 1997, a team of SAS moved in. The SAS talked their way into the hospital by posing as Red Cross officials, their 9mm pistols concealed beneath their clothing. The SAS men arrested Kovacevic, who did not resist. Kovacevic was flown by US helicopter to the American base at Tuzla then was airlifted by C130 to the Hague to face trial. Kovacevic would later die in custody from a suspected heart attack.

Target 2: Simo Drljaca

Drljaca was a former police chief, suspected of orchestrating the ethnic cleansing of Prijedor's Muslim population. He was also suspected of helping other suspected war criminals by providing false documents and safe houses.

As the other SAS moved in on the hospital, another team approached Drljaca, who was part of a fishing party at Prijedor reservoir. Not prepared to go quietly, Drljaca opened fire on the SAS, lightly wounding a trooper in the leg. The SAS returned fire, hitting Drljaca multiple times, killing him. The 3 other members of the fishing party were arrested but were later released without charge.

Further Arrests

NATO forces carried out subsequent arrests of suspected war criminals. The SAS was known to be involved with at least 2 other operations. In one, a pair of SAS troopers worked with Dutch Special Forces to detain Vlatko Kupreskic and Anto Furundzija. Another such SAS operation occured inside Serbia, with the SAS coverltly snatching a suspect from his mountain hideway. (read more on Operation Ensue).

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