Armament and Logistics

Commentators on the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina have stressed the desperate straits in which the RBiH found itself as a result of the UN arms embargo and the closure of its ground links to the outside world by the BSA and the HVO. The Bosnian Serb army was by far the best equipped and supplied of the three warring factions, having taken over the bulk of the armament and equipment of JNA and TO forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina and enjoying the full support of Serbia and the rump Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The HVO, too, was relatively well equipped overall, particularly in Herzegovina, thanks to Croatia's support.

Although the ABiH experienced great difficulty arming and supplying its forces, by early 1993 many of its logistical problems had been overcome—to the point where, during the Muslim-Croat conflict in central Bosnia in 1993, the ABiH had a clear advantage over the HVO in arms, ammunition, and other equipment.10 For example, the ABiH in the Travnik was poorly organized and poorly equipped until after Jajce fell in October, 1992, at which point units began to receive weapons and equipment so that by June, 1993, the ABiH in the Travnik area not only outnumbered the HVO (by about eight to one), it also had four or five times as many weapons.11

In 1990, the FRY not only purchased arms from many other nations, it was one of the world's leading arms exporters to Third World countries. Yugoslavian military factories produced a full range of weapons: tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, artillery pieces, multiple-barrel rocket launchers, and mortars, as well as a wide range of other military equipment and supplies.12 Consequently, the principal source of arms, ammunition, and other military equipment for both the HVO and the ABiH was the system of arsenals and depots operated by the JNA in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Although Alija Izetbegovic allowed the JNA to disarm the existing TO forces in 1991-92, and the JNA subsequently contrived to hand over those weapons as well as the bulk of its other arms and equipment in Bosnia-Herzegovina to the Bosnian Serbs, both the HVO and ABiH were able to obtain enormous quantities of matériel by raiding or outright seizing the remaining JNA stockpiles. Indeed, during the course of 1992, several armed squabbles between the Muslims and Croats in central Bosnia arose over the distribution of that booty. Yet, for the most part, the HVO and ABiH shared the available equipment and supplies equally, just as they did the remaining weapons coming from the Bratstvo factory in Novi Travnik in December, 1992. According to one authority, of twenty-four D-30J 122-mm howitzers produced by the Bratstvo plant, the ABiH obtained twelve and the HVO obtained twelve, of which only one remained in central Bosnia; and, of eighteen M-84AB 152-mm "NORA" gun-howitzers produced by the Bratstvo facility, the ABiH obtained nine and the HVO obtained nine, of which only two remained in central Bosnia.13

Despite the UN arms embargo, both the HVO and the ABiH obtained substantial quantities of arms, ammunition, and other military supplies from abroad. Some of it was obtained on the international black market, but the Republic of Croatia also supplied considerable amounts of arms, ammunition, and other equipment items to both sides.14 Almost all of this matériel had to be funneled through Croatia, which thus controlled the types and amounts reaching the two forces in conflict in central Bosnia.15 That the Croatian government allowed any military supplies at all to pass through Croatia for the ABiH can be attributed to their belief that it would be used against the Serbs, who continued to threaten Croatia as well. In some cases, the Croatian government refused to permit the transit of arms for the ABiH. For example, in September, 1992, Croatian officials discovered and confiscated some four thousand weapons and a million rounds of ammunition aboard an Iranian aircraft in Zagreb.16 The aircraft was ostensibly delivering humanitarian supplies.

The transit of arms for the ABiH through Croatia is not consistent with the theory that Croatia planned to carry out an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Bosnian Muslims. Nor is it consistent with an alleged deal between

Croatia and Serbia to divide Bosnia-Herzegovina between them. One of the most curious aspects of the Croat-Muslim conflict in central Bosnia is the degree to which both sides communicated with each other and continued to cooperate in the common struggle against the Bosnian Serb army. Even at the height of the internal struggle in 1993, the ABiH requested, and the HVO approved, the movement of weapons and ammunition through the areas controlled by the HVO to areas threatened by the Serbs.17 Moreover, many leaders in Bosnia-Herzegovina's Muslim-led government, including President Izetbegovic himself, parked their families in the relative safety of Zagreb to avoid the wartime dangers of Sarajevo. That the Croatian government and the HVO would permit such activities is scarcely consistent with the policy of separatism, persecution, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and wanton murder, rape, and destruction charged against HVO leaders in central Bosnia.

The transfer of arms, ammunition, and other military supplies from Croatia to the HVO and ABiH, as well as the transit of war matériel purchased on the international arms market through Croatia to Bosnia-Herzegovina violated the UN arms embargo. There was also a three-way black market that dealt in armaments and civilian consumer goods within Bosnia-Herzegovina itself. Both the HVO and the ABiH obtained small but often significant amounts of weapons, ammunition, and other supplies from the BSA, and both the HVO and the ABiH also benefited from illegal black market arrangements with UNPROFOR personnel. For example, the Ukrainian UNPROFOR unit in Sarajevo did a brisk trade with the HVO in the Kiseljak area, French UNPROFOR engineers supplied the ABiH with fuel, and the Dutch/Belgian UNPROFOR transport battalion in Busovaca sold fuel to the HVO.18

Both the HVO and the ABiH internally produced some of the arms and equipment they needed. The HVO produced various types of ammunition as well as some improvised weapons such as the infamous Bébé ("Baby"): a kind of bomb launcher, the ammunition for which was manufactured from fire extinguisher canisters.19 Even refrigerators were turned into improvised mines.20 Although the ABiH controlled the principal former JNA arsenals and military production facilities in Bosnia-Herzegovina (except for the critical SPS explosives factory in Vitez), the RBiH government was slow to establish programs to maximize production for use in the defense against the BSA, preferring instead to hope that the UN arms embargo would be lifted. In his memoir, ABiH chief of staff Sefer Halilovic frequently mentioned the difficulties encountered in financing, arming, and supplying the ABiH that resulted from inadequate mobilization of resources by the Izetbegovic government, speculation by government officials charged with military supply, the lack of raw materials for internal production, and the closure of lines of communications by the BSA and HVO.21 In fact, a good deal of the ABiH's ammunition was home-produced. During the war's first year and one-half, some twenty-five thousand mortar and artillery shells and more than two hundred thousand bombs and grenade launchers were produced in Sarajevo alone. Obtaining raw materials was always a problem, and at one point the factory in Konjic, which produced infantry ammunition, was idle due to the lack of brass stock, and more than two hundred thousand artillery shells were awaiting explosive filler.22

Despite the UN embargo and other restrictions, both sides in central Bosnia had sufficient quantities of small arms and automatic weapons. The main deficiency was in artillery and mortar ammunition inasmuch as the lack of raw materials precluded any substantial internal production. Clothing and boots were also a problem for both sides, perhaps more so for the ABiH, which had significantly greater numbers of troops for which to provide.23 Former HVO intelligence officer Ivica Zeko noted that the ABiH was far more concerned with the supply of arms and ammunition than with clothing its soldiers.24

The 1993-94 edition of The Military Balance credits the HVO (throughout the RBiH) with some 50 main battle tanks (including T-34 and T-55 models) and around five hundred artillery pieces, and the ABiH with some 20 main battle tanks (including T-55 models), thirty armored personnel carriers, and "some" artillery.25 However, in central Bosnia, the ABiH appears to have had a significant advantage in armor and artillery. The ABiH III Corps had at least six tanks incorporated in the 301st Mechanized Brigade, and although there were rumors that the HVO had eight tanks in the Maglaj salient and another nine in the Kiseljak area, there appear to have been no HVO tanks in the critical Travnik-Vitez-Busovaca enclaves.26 With respect to artillery, the ABiH actually surpassed the HVO in mortars (60-mm-120-mm) and artillery (122-mm and 155-mm). The Muslim forces also had 128-mm multiple-barrel rocket launchers, although they lacked ammunition. During the fighting in April and June, 1993, the ABiH III Corps was supported by a hundred 120-mm mortars; ten 105-mm, 122-mm, and 155-mm howitzers; eight to ten antiaircraft guns; twenty-five to thirty antiaircraft machine guns; two or three tanks; and two or three ZIS 76-mm armored weapons.27 In October, 1993, the commander of HVO forces in central Bosnia assessed the relative strength of the ABiH and HVO forces in the Busovaca, Novi Travnik, Travnik, and Vitez area noting the artillery and armor holdings shown in Table 4-1.

Despite UN restrictions, both the HVO and the ABiH made limited use of helicopters for medical evacuation and resupply. United Nations Security Council Resolution 816, issued on March 31, 1993, banned flights over Bosnia-Herzegovina by all fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. This "no-fly zone" was subsequently enforced by NATO aircraft in Operation deny flight, which lasted from April 12, 1993, until December 20, 1995. However, stopping unauthorized helicopter flights was extremely difficult, and between November, 1992, and July, 1995, UN authorities recorded over fifty-seven hundred violations of the flight ban.28

For the HVO, the use of helicopters to evacuate casualties and to bring in even small quantities of medical supplies, repair parts, and other critical

Table 4-1. Comparison of HVO and ABiH Heavy Weapons Holdings


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