DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
July 25, 1995

WANTED: GUNFIGHTERS AND STARS FOR HIRE

Mercenaries from dozens of countries have been slipping into former Yugoslavia since that bad civil war exploded. Some of these soldiers of fortune fight for kicks, most for money and, except for the People's Mujahedeen (Islamic "freedom fighters" from Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan), few believe in the cause of the forces they've joined.

The mercenaries I saw in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia were a motley group of badnik adventurers. Most were cutthroats, thrill seekers, religious zealots or Jeffrey Dahmer clones. Civilization would be better off if most were used as alligator feed.

Recently there's been an Americanization of the rent-a-soldier business in Croatia and Bosnia. According to a CIA spook -- who would be despooked if I gave you his name -- the main advisor to Lt. Gen. Rosa, a Bosnian corps commanding general who is now defending Gorazde, is an American Army lieutenant colonel. This source says retired infantry officer James Donovan is the main reason Rosa's Bosnian force has become a competent fighting outfit.

"Donovan is teaching U.S. Army doctrine and tactics, and they're getting good," he says.

A Special Forces sergeant says he was recently asked to join a group of American retired military men to advise the Bosnian army. I got the same "Soldiers Wanted" report from a retired sergeant living near Fort Benning, Ga., and a former buck general says a retired U.S, Army lieutenant general is signing up old warriors for Bosnia from around Fort Bragg, N.C.

The Bosnians are desperate. They're trying to improve their rag-tag mob with made-in-America military expertise and are perhaps betting that the arms embargo will be lifted. Money is no problem, as their oil rich cousins from the Middle East are picking up the tab. The Saudis learned during Desert Storm that Yankees make great mercenaries, and the Saudi marching song soon became "Onward Christian Soldiers." The CIA and U.S. State Department deny there are Clinton administration-backed or -approved U.S. advisors operating in former Yugoslavia. A NATO source confirms these denials but says, "Many American retired military types are working for both the Bosnian and Croatian armies."

There's an outfit near the nation's capital called Military Professional Resources, Inc. It's made up of mostly high-ranking retired U.S. officers from all the services, who peddle their military skills worldwide. This outfit lists on its masthead eight four-star, four three-star and three two-star generals or admirals.

MPRI's Gen. Ed Soyster, U.S. Army retired, says, "We have a contract with Croatia" that is designed "to help that country's transition program from Warsaw Pact-style force to a more Western-oriented, professional military organization." Soyster adds, 'We're teaching democracy." Soldiers teaching democracy! That's like Mike Tyson teaching dating etiquette!

Soyster admits that MPRI has 15 retired guys, headed up by a two- star general, 'operating in Croatia." He wouldn't give me names. He said he was afraid his people would end up on a "Serbian hit list." Soyster says his guys were not involved in "covert military operations," as retired U.S. military personnel were during the Vietnam War. He says, "We're not doing anything clandestine over there. Our mission is simply to convert the old Eastern-style forces to a Western-style army based on democratic principles."

Soyster denied that MPRI was giving the Croats any tactical training, weapons training or combined armed training. He says such training 'would violate the U.N. weapons embargo and U.S. policy. We'd never do anything not in keeping with U.S. policy.'

It's strange that the nasty Serbs would want to ice such nice men who are just teaching liberty, equality and justice.

Most of these generals draw retirement pay about six times higher than what the average American makes in a year. A four-star general, for example, grosses about $100,000 a year. I can't figure why they need to moonlight in the killing business when we taxpayers look after them so well!

Congress should pass a law saying that military retirees who advise a foreign army will lose their pensions for life. This would eliminate a lot of high-ranking racketeers from the weapons business and, perhaps, take some of the profit out of war -- which is the only way to end it.