Comparative Manpower

The surviving public documentation for determining the comparative strength of HVO and ABiH forces in central Bosnia during the Muslim-Croat conflict between November, 1992, and March, 1994, is sparse and unreliable. Equally hard to find is documentation concerning the deployment of those forces with respect to the front lines against Bosnian Serb aggression. In late February, 1993, the European Community Monitoring Mission (ECMM) estimated the HVO's overall strength in Bosnia-

Herzegovina at some 45,000-55,000 men well-equipped with both armor and artillery.1 The ABiH forces were estimated to be only slightly larger: 50,000-60,000 men in five corps areas, to which were added an unspecified number of militia and paramilitary forces. At the same time, active Bosnian Serb forces were estimated to be some 70,000-80,000 strong, divided into six corps, and equipped with some three hundred tanks and six hundred artillery pieces, as well as short-range surface-to-surface missiles and extensive air assets that included MiG-21 fighters.

Other estimates placed the relative numbers somewhat higher. For example, military historian Edgar O'Ballance, relying on a German intelligence estimate, put the comparative numbers in November-December, 1992, at 30,000 HVO militiamen supplemented by about 40,000 mobilized policemen; around 100,000 men in the ABiH; and a Bosnian Serb army of some 90,000 "regulars" and 20,000 paramilitary troops.2 The normally reliable International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, probably working with UN and ECMM figures, estimated that the HVO had 50,000 men and the ABiH 30,000-50,000 in the 1992-93 edition of The Military Balance.3 In the 1993-94 edition, the HVO numbers remained the same (50,000 men in some thirty infantry brigades and one special forces brigade), but the ABiH figures were revised upward to some 60,000 men organized under five corps headquarters with some fifty-nine infantry brigades, four mechanized brigades, seven mountain brigades, a special forces brigade, an artillery brigade, and two air defense regiments.4 The IISS figures included only "regular" forces. The HVO Main Staff itself put the ration strength of the HVO on February 23, 1993, at 34,080 officers and men, including some 6,000 in Operative Zone Southeast Herzegovina, 8,700 in Operative Zone Northwest Herzegovina, 8,750 in Operative Zone Central Bosnia, and 10,630 in other locations.5

The ABiH's strength as reported by the IISS and various journalists and commentators may have been underestimated by a significant amount inasmuch as their primary of source of data was the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had an interest in understating the number of men under arms so as to encourage sympathy for the embattled republic. In fact, Sefer Halilovic, the ABiH commander, put his army's total military strength, including Territorial Defense and reserve forces, at about 168,500 in August, 1992, and 261,500 in January, 1993.6 According to Halilovic, the overall total remained at about 261,500 throughout 1993, but by the end of 1994 casualties, desertion, and leaves had reduced the total to about 228,368, of whom 130,050 were on the front lines, 58,089 in other designated positions, and 19,126 on leave. The remainder were sick, abroad, deserted, or absent without leave (AWOL).7

The correlation of forces with respect to manpower was somewhat less favorable to the HVO in central Bosnia. The HVO's estimates place the comparative strengths of the two forces in the spring of 1993 at 8,000-8,200 for the HVO Operative Zone Central Bosnia (OZCB) to 82,000-84,000 for the

ABiH III Corps, a ratio of more than 10:1 in favor of the ABiH.8 However, the actual disproportion was probably considerably less. In fact, the ABiH III Corps's headquarters (HQ), reported in 1997 that its authorized strength during the period November, 1992, to April, 1993, was approximately 26,182 officers and men.9 As noted above, the OZCB's ration strength was 8,750 on February 23, 1993. Using those figures, a quick calculation yields a ratio of about 3:1 in favor of the ABiH. Although the HVO was able to muster favorable force ratios on a local basis, the ABiH III Corps had a significant advantage in manpower resources throughout the Muslim-Croat conflict in central Bosnia. The III Corps area of operations was larger than that of the HVO OZCB, and some III Corps units were deployed against HVO forces in Operative Zone Northwest Herzegovina. On the other hand, troops from those units, as well as Muslim forces from the other ABiH corps areas (particularly the I, VI, and VII Corps) were frequently deployed against the HVO in central Bosnia. Nonetheless, HQ, OZCB, could still muster near equivalence with III Corps on a place-by-place basis at various times. For example, in February, 1993, HQ, OZCB, reported ratios of forces in contact in the Busovaca area as 1,500 ABiH to 1,395 HVO (1.1:1); in the Novi Travnik area as 1,800 ABiH to 1,160 HVO (1.6:1); in the Travnik area as 4,000 ABiH to 1,701 HVO (2.4:1); and in the Vitez area as 2,000 ABiH to 2,279 HVO (1:1.2).10 However, such favorable force ratios are apt to be misleading in that the reserves not in contact available to the ABiH III Corps were substantial, whereas the HVO was fully committed.

As time went on, the basic disproportion grew in favor of the Muslims as the ABiH increased in strength while the HVO forces in central Bosnia declined in number due to casualties and other losses. While the HVO was unable to find replacements, the ABiH was constantly being augmented by the influx of large numbers of Muslim refugees entering central Bosnia after having been expelled from eastern Bosnia and the Krajina by the BSA. For example, at the end of 1992, some twenty thousand Muslim refugees from the Jajce area settled in central Bosnia, providing a large number of well-motivated military-age men to fill out ABiH units and create several new, mobile brigades that could be used for offensive operations outside a given territorial home base. Despite the lack of HVO manpower throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina and particularly in central Bosnia, the Croatian Defense Council's headquarters in Mostar did not declare full mobilization until June 10, 1993.11

In light of the later Muslim-Croat conflict, a good deal of controversy has arisen as to the exact proportion of effort dedicated to the defense against the BSA applied by the HVO and the ABiH, particularly on the western front, first in the Jajce area, and after the fall of Jajce on October 30, 1992, in the Turbe-Travnik area. Croatian Defense Council authorities have charged that the Muslims refused to participate fully on the front lines against the Serbs in part because they were focused on organizing, arming, and training the forces needed to pursue their strategic plan for an offensive to clear the Bosnian Croats from central Bosnia.12 For their part, the Muslims made similar accusations against the HVO and also accused the HVO of abandoning the fight against the Serbs altogether, at Jajce and elsewhere.13 Neither the HVO's claims nor those of the ABiH are entirely correct or entirely wrong. In 1993, the greater portion of the ABiH forces in central Bosnia deployed against the BSA were stationed on the Visoko-Sarajevo front, while the HVO forces deployed against the BSA were stationed primarily on the Turbe-Travnik front.14 However, a substantial portion of the ABiH III Corps was deployed in positions surrounding the Croat enclaves in the Travnik-Novi Travnik-Vitez-Busovaca-Kiseljak area, far from the BSA's front lines. As for Muslim charges that the Croats abandoned the line against the Serbs at Jajce and elsewhere, it is true that HVO forces in Jajce in October, 1992, recognized that the town was on the verge of falling to the BSA and withdrew first. However, HVO forces on the Turbe-Travnik line did not abandon their positions to the BSA in June, 1993, as the Muslims have charged. In fact, they were attacked from the rear by the ABiH and forced to abandon their positions and flee across the front lines into the hands of the BSA.15 The actual number of troops stationed on the Travnik front by the HVO and the ABiH at any given time in 1992 and 1993 varied from day to day, and the proportion of the defense provided by each force cannot be determined with any accuracy. Brigadier Ivica Zeko, the former HQ, OZCB, intelligence officer, said that until April, 1993, the ABiH III Corps—with some 80,000 troops at its disposal—put only a minuscule number, some 1,500-1,700 men, in the lines against the BSA in the Travnik area, but added that there was not really much room on the front for many more Muslim troops.16 Meanwhile, another HVO veteran of the fighting on the Travnik front noted that by April, 1993, the HVO had one three-battalion brigade and one two-battalion brigade, a total of some 2,500-3,000 men, on line, whereas the ABiH had two local brigades (the 306th and 312th Mountain Brigades), the 1st and 17th Krajina Mountain Brigades, and elements of the 7th Muslim Motorized Brigade on the Travnik line under the control of Gen. Mehmed Alagic.17

Assuming that the ABiH brigades were manned at roughly the same level as the HVO's, the total number of Muslim soldiers in the Travnik defenses would have been at least eight thousand to ten thousand. In any event, the one thing the ABiH had plenty of was manpower, and the number of men available to the commander of the ABiH III Corps were sufficient to man the Muslim portion of the Travnik defense line while simultaneously undertaking a program for the organization, arming, and training of mobile forces for a possible offensive against the Croats in central Bosnia.

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