WASHINGTON – A retired U.S. general on Thursday said Dutch U.N. troops defending Srebrenica in the Bosnian war failed to prevent the 1995 genocide partly because their ranks included openly gay soldiers.
John Sheehan, a former NATO commander and senior Marine officer, made the remarks at a Senate hearing where he argued against President Barack Obama's plans to end a ban on allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
Sheehan said that, after the end of the Cold War, European militaries changed and concluded "there was no longer a need for an active combat capability."
This "socialization" process "included open homosexuality" and led to "a focus on peacekeeping operations because they did not believe the Germans were going to attack again or the Soviets were coming back," he said.
"The case in point that I'm referring to is when the Dutch were required to defend Srebrenica against the Serbs," he said, referring to the U.N. peacekeeping force deployed to protect Bosnian Muslim civilians.
"The battalion was understrength, poorly led, and the Serbs came into town, handcuffed the soldiers to the telephone polls, marched the Muslims off and executed them."
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, pressed him to clarify his comments about Srebrenica.
"Did the Dutch leaders tell you it (the fall of Srebrenica) was because there were gay soldiers there?" asked an incredulous Levin.
"Yes," Sheehan said and added: "They included that as part of the problem."
Sheehan, who retired from the military in 1997, said he had been told that by the former chief of staff of the Dutch army.
Levin vehemently rejected Sheehan's allegation, saying that drawing a connection between the massacre at Srebrenica and gays in the Dutch military was "totally off-target."
The failure of the Dutch UN troops to fend off an attack by Bosnian Serb forces had "nothing to do with sexual orientation" but was related to "their training and the rules of engagement," Levin said.
Nearly 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed after Serb forces captured the eastern town on July 11, 1995, in the worst massacre in Europe since World War II.
© AFP 2014