The interesting news today is that MPRI, one of the earliest U.S. private military contractors, albeit one that has operated strictly in a training capacity, is being sued. The suit, filed by the Genocide Victims of Krajina in Chicago Federal Court, against both MPRI and its parent company, L-3 Communications, alleges, that MPRI "trained and equipped the Croatian military for Operation Storm and designed the Operation Storm battle plan," which killed or displaced more than 200,000 Serbs in 1995, in the largest European land offensive since World War II.
The complainants demand billions of dollars in damages from MPRI, founded by former high-ranking U.S. military officers who were "downsized" at the end of the Cold War, and L-3 Communications, which bought MPRI for $40 million in 2000.
Ahh, I feel some serendipitous nostalgia coming on., I first wrote about MPRI in 1997. Back then its not so modest advertising slogan claimed MPRI to be "the greatest corporate assemblage of military expertise in the world." It provided basic training, doctrinal analysis, wargaming operations and non-military services in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Founded in 1987 by eight former U.S. senior military officers, MPRI said it only operated in areas approved by the U.S. State Department.
Although MPRI still operates in numerous countries overseas it is fairly low profile. You are more likely to hear about it in connection with its maritime, aviation, driving, and marksmanship simulators than about their work in Bosnia or Iraq.
The background to its work in Croatia is that in March 1994 the Pentagon referred the Croatian Defense Minister to MPRI. For the next few years retired Major General Richard B. Griffitts led 15 MPRI employees in training the Croatian army so that it could provide national security and meet defense needs as Croatia transitioned into a democratic society. Reportedly the Croatian government hired MPRI to advise them on how to construct a civilian-controlled army and to provide leadership skills training. The U.S. State Department only approved MPRI's activities after determining that the course did not involve tactical training or otherwise violate the 1991 U.N. Security Council arms embargo on Yugoslavia which made direct military assistance illegal.
Subsequently, in May 1996, MPRI was granted a contract to train the military forces of Bosnia. 185 MPRI personnel participated in the US-supervised "Train and Equip" program. The program's objective was to integrate and build up the Bosnian army of Muslims and Croats against the Serbs.
Although MPRI denies conducting offensive operations, the August 1995 Operation Storm which resulted in Croatia recapturing its previously Serb-held Krajina region utilized typical American operational tactics, including integrated air, artillery and infantry movements, and the use of maneuver warfighting techniques to destroy Serbian command and control networks. Many observers at the time claimed the Croatians never could have done that without the training provided by MPRI.
At the time that struck me as somewhat of a patronizing view, i.e., the pitiful, helpless, tumbling Croatians can't do anything without help from former U.S. military personnel.
A couple of months after writing the above report I wrote the script for a show on private military contractors. One of the people I interviewed was Lt. Gen. Ed Soyster (USA-Ret.), an MPRI Vice President and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
I asked hmm about the charge that the Croatians could not have retaken the Krajina without MPRI's prior training.
His response was:
INTERVIEWER: Somebody said the training provided by MPRI was helpful to Croatians in terms of their battlefield skills. Is that a correct assessment?
GEN. SHOYSTER: It is not. It is not for a couple of reasons. One, we don't teach in the battlefield skills. We do that in other places. We didn't, we didn't teach that in Croatia. That's not what we were asked to do.
And the other realization is, for the analysis, is that we went there in January of '95, began instruction in April of '95 because the rest was a course development and so forth to do that. We had one class of about 40 who had graduated in July from the, from the overall course. And the concept that one could go there, or go anywhere, no matter how brilliant your instruction may be, and turn an army around in a month, no, no serious military analyst would ever dream that anyone could do that. So it's a, we had absolutely, gave no instruction in anything strategic: strategic planning, strategic operations, operational bit. Because that's not what we were asked to do.
And as a contractor you do what the contract says. We were not licensed to do that, and the Croatians never asked us to do that. So somehow in the process, because it was a well-coordinated attack, they look for an American footprint, or fingerprint. The only people they could find were MPRI.
We were also accused of having 15 generals over there. We had 15 people over there, one general. And as you can imagine, if you're an analyst and you think you would send in 15 generals to accomplish a task, not very good analysis.
So fundamentally we taught the democracy transition assistance program, not related anything operational there. The credit goes to the Croatian army.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Can you tell us just a little bit more about the specifics of what was taught during the Croatian democracy transition assistance program?
GEN. SHOYSTER: Yes. I, I mentioned fundamentally the, that program. But it, it includes training of officers in the, in basic officer leadership skills and an understanding of where they fit into a democratic society. So we, we emphasize that. We teach general management, training management. We teach how to do planning, programming, the budgeting process, which is, which is new to them.
And also an assistance in developing a noncommissioned officer corps. As you know, the Eastern Bloc characteristically did not have a what we would term a professional noncommissioned officer corps. They had a, an officer corps highly vested down at the lowest levels, and then they brought in conscripts. They saw the Western armies, recognized the importance of our noncommissioned officers, and so we're assisting in developing that kind of professionalism and long-term growth and capability for their noncommissioned officers.
Now I am not a lawyer, but even if you choose to ignore the above, it seems to me that the case against MPRI seems weak. The complaint that was filed in court says "allege that MPRI is liable for complicity in genocide. This crime has the same specificity as genocide, the only difference being that genocide requires a specific intent to kill or destroy the target groups whereas complicity in genocide requires knowledge that the perpetrator has that specific intent."
Genocide? Hold on there a moment. Were war crimes committed? I assume they certainly were. But genocide; I think not. Reportedly, during the Operation Storm and mainly in its aftermath between 116 (Croatian Helsinki Committee) and 1200 civilians (Serb statement) were killed and between 150.000 and 250.000 Serbs left the Krajina before the operation. The difference in the numbers of murdered civilians might be explained by the fact, that the distinction between soldiers and civilians was difficult.
Part of the suit centers on the fact that back in WWII, when Croatia was a puppet state of Nazi Germany, some 600,000 Serbs and Jews were murdered in the killing fields of Jasenovac in Croatia.
The complaint states:
In 1994, when Defendant MPRI entered into negotiations with Croatia (to be amplified below), MPRI knew or reasonably should have known the open facts of the genocide at the Jasenovac Concentration Camp. MPRI knew or reasonably should have known of the intense hatred the Croats felt toward the Serbs. MPRI knew or reasonably should have known that the Croatian leaders with whom it was negotiating had been key figures in the Ustasha Party that fomented, organized and led the massacres at Jasenovac and other killing camps in Croatia during World War Two.
This seems to be arguing that MPRI was negligent in not doing historical due diligence. It implies that MPRI was a charter member of the Psychic Friends Network, and should have known what was in the hearts and minds of the Croatians in 1994.
That the Croatian acted in an unspeakably vile and inhuman manner towards Serbians and other ethnic groups back in WWII is inarguable. But to assert that Croatians still felt the same way more than 50 years later and that MPRI and L-3 were supposed to know that seems to me to be an incredibly weak argument.
MPRI's Croatian contract - officially termed the "Democracy Transition Assistance Program" was one of several in the region licensed by the State Department Office of Defense Trade Controls. Federal law requires companies who sell military goods or services abroad to register with the Office of Defense Trade Controls and obtain a license for each contract.
Furthermore, even if you accept the argument that past historical animosities bear on contemporary contracts the simple truth of the matter is that it was the U.S. government which approved the contract. MPRI can't undertake any contract overseas without first having it vetted and approved by the States Department. And, if anyone should be expected to be aware of past historical grievances it should be the diplomats at Foggy Bottom. So, if anyone should be sued it would be the State Department.