The ABiH Attack in the Busovaca Area

The town of Busovaca and the road junction at Kacuni were important ABiH objectives during the probing attacks in late January, 1993. Although elements of the ABiH 333d Mountain Brigade seized control of the Kacuni intersection and took up positions overlooking Busovaca from the east, they were unsuccessful in taking either the Kaonik road junction north of Busovaca or the town itself, both of which the HVO vigorously defended. In the Muslim offensive that began on April 16, Busovaca and the critical Kaonik intersection were important Muslim objectives, and the fighting in the HVO Nikola Subic Zrinski Brigade's defensive zone was intense and sustained, punctuated by sequential Muslim attacks and HVO counterattacks that flowed back and forth over the hapless villages north and east of the Vitez-Busovaca road. The more numerous ABiH aggressors gained ground and inflicted heavy casualties on the HVO defenders, but they were ultimately unsuccessful in obtaining their principal objectives.

The ABiH forces committed to the offensive in the Busovaca area in April, 1993, consisted of elements of five mountain brigades (the 302d, 303d, 305th, 309th, and 333d), the 301st Mechanized Brigade, and the 7th Muslim Motorized Brigade, supported by the 2d Antisabotage Detachment-Zenica (2d PDO-Zenica), RBiH Ministry of the Interior police, Territorial Defense troops from Rovna, Kruscica, Busovaca, Fojnica, and Kakanj, Muslim Armed Forces units, and other troops.1 In all, the attacking ABiH forces probably totaled over five thousand men.

Unlike the HVO defenders in the Vitez area, who had to defend against a Muslim attack on a broad front but from only one direction (albeit with

Vitez Busovaca

Map 3. The Busovaca Area. Map by Bill Nelson.

significant pockets in the center of Vitez and to their right and left rear), the Zrinski Brigade in Busovaca was compelled to adopt an all-around defense with significant "fronts" to the northwest, north/northeast, east/southeast, and south. The 3d Battalion, 333d Mountain Brigade, reinforced by elements of the 2d PDO-Zenica, was deployed northeast of Busovaca on a front extending from the village of Putis south across the Kaonik-Lasva road to a point just southeast of the village of Skradno.2 The battalion command post was located in Grablje. The 2d Battalion, 333d Mountain Brigade—with its command post near Bozevic—was deployed to the southeast of the 3d Battalion, extending east of the village of Krcevine to run parallel to (and north of) the Busovaca-Kiseljak road to the Kacuni intersection. The area southwest of the Kacuni intersection was occupied by the 1st Battalion, 333d Mountain Brigade with its command post co-located with the Brigade command post near Benchmark (BM) 455 just northwest of the village of Mehurici and reinforced by the 4th Company, 3d Battalion, 7th Muslim Motorized Brigade. The 1st Battalion, 333d Mountain Brigade's zone began at the Kacuni intersection and ran southwest to Prosje, then northwest to Ocehnici, and then southwest again to link up with a 180-man detachment of Muslim TO forces from Fojnica in the vicinity of BM 751. The Muslim line extended farther to the southwest in an area occupied by elements of the 305th Mountain Brigade's 1st Battalion (about 170 men), extending from a point northeast of BM 1138 and running southwest to BM 1410. To the west of Busovaca, HVO forces were opposed by an eighty-man detachment from the Rovna TO forces deployed just west of the village of Kovecevac and a small ABiH pocket just to the northwest of the village of Bare. The area directly north of Busovaca, from the village of Nadioci east to the Loncari-Jelinak-Putis area was assigned to elements of the ABiH 303d Mountain Brigade from Zenica.

The area to the rear of the 333d Mountain Brigade's 2d and 3d Battalions in the vicinity of the villages of Merdani, Dusina, and Lasva was occupied by elements of the 305th Mountain Brigade, which maintained its command post in Biljesevo near Kakanj.3 The ABiH forces in the Busovaca area were also supported by several tanks from the 301st Mechanized Brigade in Zenica. Later in the battle, elements of the 302d Motorized Brigade from Visoko were also committed in the Busovaca area.4

The HVO defenders in the Busovaca area consisted of the three battalions of the Nikola Subic Zrinski Brigade, commanded by Dusko Grubesic from a command post at "Sumarija" in Busovaca. The 3d Battalion was deployed northwest of Busovaca in the vicinity of the village of Bare, facing local Muslim forces from the Ravno and Kruscica area. The 2d Battalion, commanded by Anto Juric from a command post just south of the Kaonik intersection, was deployed north of Busovaca astride the road guarding the vital Kaonik intersection, with forward elements forming a thin screen in the Kuber area north of the intersection from the vicinity of Nadioci east to include Loncari, Jelinak, and Putis then southeast to the vicinity of BM 366

across the road from the village of Katici. The headquarters of the 1st Battalion, commanded by Anto Dusic, was located just west of the center of Busovaca and northwest of the road to the village of Kupres, and the battalion manned a line in the Kula area running southeast from the Strane area to Mejdani then just west of Solakovici south to the Busovaca-Kiseljak road in the vicinity of Krcevine. The 1st Battalion sector also included a deep salient along the Busovaca-Kiseljak road toward Kiseljak, the point of which was near Kacuni, the northern shoulder at Donja Polje, and the southern shoulder near Ocehnici.

The situation remained relatively calm in the Busovaca area in early April as the HVO and ABiH forces faced off in the area north, east, and south of the town. The Muslim roadblock at Kacuni, established on January 23, prevented direct HVO access between Busovaca and Kiseljak, but there were no major direct confrontations. On April 8-9, the commanders of the 333d Mountain and Zrinski Brigades issued a joint order addressing the plan for filling in of trenches in the area no later than April 12, and the completion of the withdrawal of outside forces by April 16 in accordance with the provisions of the January cease-fire agreement.5 On April 8, Zrinski Brigade headquarters reported a quiet night, and on April 10 the ABiH III Corps headquarters reported a generally quiet situation with "occasional provocation by HVO forces in the Busovaca municipality" as a result of the deterioration of Muslim-Croat relations in the Travnik area.6 The following day, April 11, III Corps HQ reported that on the night of April 10-11, an HVO platoon deployed on the Kula-BM 712-Mejdani line opened fire with small arms on ABiH positions on the Solakovici-Marjanov Kosa line.7 Single shots and short bursts provoked no ABiH response, and there were no casualties. An UNPROFOR patrol also reported the fall of six mortar rounds in the vicinity of the UNPROFOR checkpoint near Kacuni at 12:40 a.m. on April 11, as well as heavy small arms and machine-gun fire in the surrounding area following the mortar impact.8

On April 12, the Zrinski Brigade HQ reported a generally quiet situation in the preceding period with no significant combat activity, stable defense lines, satisfactory morale, good logistical support, and functioning communications.9 The Busovaca-Kiseljak road remained closed, and new ABiH entrenchments were observed in the Kula sector. On April 13, III Corps HQ reported that during the previous night HVO forces had provoked ABiH units in the Gornja Rovna area, but no one was hurt.10 The ECMM reported progress with filling in the trenches in the Busovaca area on April 14, and ECMM representatives met with the Croat mayor of Busovaca and the Muslim president of the War Presidency of Kacuni, who agreed to form a temporary joint municipal government.11

Despite the relative calm and apparent progress in implementing the January cease-fire agreements in the Busovaca area, there were solid indications that the Muslim forces were preparing for offensive action. On April 11, a soldier from the Zrinski Brigade's 2d Battalion reported to the Buso-

vaca Security Information Service office that while talking with one Vinko Ljubicic from Zenica he had learned that rumors were rampant in Zenica that the ABiH was prepared to sacrifice three thousand to five thousand men in order to capture territory in the vicinity of the Busovaca municipality.12 The Muslim offensive in the Busovaca area began on April 15, and for the next four days it took the form of artillery, mortar, and direct-fire attacks from a distance. There was little or no movement toward the HVO defensive lines, and thus no direct close combat. At 3:05 p.m., April 15, two HVO Zrinski Brigade soldiers were wounded in the area of Sarcevici and transported to the war hospital in Busovaca.13 At 3:30, ECMM and UNPROFOR observers reported small-arms fire in the vicinity of the Kacuni bridge, and ECMM monitors protested to the HVO headquarters in Busovaca. The HVO authorities claimed their forces were being fired upon by ABiH troops in positions overlooking the HVO checkpoint at Gavrine Kuce, a claim that was later confirmed.14 At about 5:30, HVO forces mounted a spoiling attack with small arms supported by artillery against ABiH units in the village of Putis. The ABiH casualties included two KIA and two WIA.15

The 303d Mountain Brigade's participation in the Busovaca attack provides an important indicator of Muslim intentions and the timing of the ABiH offensive. At noon on April 16, Suad Hasanovic, the brigade commander, issued his attack order based on orders received from the III Corps commander.16 The order noted that the 3d Battalion, 303d Mountain Brigade, controlled the villages of Merdani, Grablje, and Putis from a command post in Grablje and that the 2d Antisabotage Detachment of the Zenica TO forces had organized the defense in the Saracevica-Kicin area. The 303d's 2d Battalion was ordered to move from its deployment area along the Zenica-Drivusa-Janjici-Gumanic axis to occupy defensive positions on the line Saracevica (BM 957)-Kicin (BM 921) as far as BM 567. After consolidating its defenses along that line, the units were then to "mount an attack" along a primary axis of advance from Saracevica via Jelinak to Loncari; to occupy the Obla Glava-Gradina heights; and then "mount an attack" along the Saracevica-Vrela route to reach the line BM 813-Vrana Stijena-Bakije-Katici, where the battalion was then to prepare to advance on order toward the Busovaca-Vitez communication line. After occupying the defensive area between Saracevica and Kicin, elements of the 2d and 3d Companies of the 2d PDO-Zenica were to come under the control of the 2d Battalion, 303d Mountain Brigade, which would also be reinforced by the following forces: part of the brigade reconnaissance platoon; a 120-mm mortar platoon; two squads of 20-mm antiaircraft guns; a squad equipped with a 128-mm light rocket launcher; and one Maljutka (Sagger) antitank rocket. The 3d Battalion was to designate a company to act as a reserve for the attacking 2d Battalion. Following occupation of Saracevica, the 2d Battalion was also to be reinforced by one T-55 tank from the 301st Mechanized Brigade, the employment of the tank and the Maljutka antitank weapon to be controlled directly by the 303d Mountain

Brigade commander. The brigade artillery group (minus the 120-mm mortar platoon) and other brigade elements were assigned suitable supporting tasks. As shown on a captured ABiH map, the sector assigned to the 303d Mountain Brigade ran from BM 514 just northeast of the village of Ahmici east through Loncari and Jelinak to Putis.17

Two important facts need to be emphasized regarding the 303d Mountain Brigade's attack order of April 16, 1993. First, it is clearly labeled an "Order for Attack," and it indeed instructs subordinate units to carry out an attack—rather than a counterattack or a defensive action. Second, the rather lengthy and detailed order was apparently issued at noon on the sixteenth, following receipt of a III Corps order dated earlier in the day. Considering the time required to prepare and issue the III Corps order and the time required for the 303d Mountain Brigade commander to conduct his analysis of the corps order, prepare an estimate of the situation, and prepare his own implementing orders, it is highly unlikely that the 303d Brigade operation was undertaken in reaction to an HVO attack in the early morning hours. Given the known defects of ABiH staff work and communications, the 303d Brigade action had to have been planned much earlier.

At 8:15 on the morning of April 16, a British UNPROFOR patrol reported heavy fighting in the area of the Croat village of Rijeka and the Muslim village of Vranjska, where many houses were burning.18 At 5 p.m., Zrinski Brigade HQ reported that the fighting had continued during the day with a strong Muslim infantry attack launched from the Gornja Rovna and Pezici area at 5:30 a.m. on the HVO positions in the villages of Donja Rovna and Bare, to which the HVO forces responded vigorously.19 Light combat activity was also reported in the Kuber-Obla Glava area; otherwise, the defense lines around Busovaca remained quiet during the day.20 At 7:45 p.m., HQ, OZCB, issued orders for the Zrinski Brigade to reinforce the defense in the Kuber area with a minimum force of one company (120 men) of "your best prepared and most able forces."21 The Zrinski Brigade was further ordered to coordinate its actions with the Viteska Brigade and "make sure that Kuber does not fall."

The ABiH III Corps HQ reported on April 16 that the intensity of operations and the movement of HVO forces directed at the 333d Mountain Brigade had been "weak to the point of non-existence," and that in the southern sector occupied by the 333d Mountain Brigade's 1st Battalion and elements of the Busovaca TO forces, "no significant HVO forces activity has been observed."22 Elements of the 309th Mountain Brigade were also reported being introduced into the area of Sudine, and elements of the Kakanj TO forces into the area of Dusina.

The ABiH elements identified as belonging to the Muslim Armed Forces launched a strong infantry attack from the area of Dvor and Grabalje at about 5:30 a.m., April 17, on HVO forces in Kuce, Putis, and Jelinak in the Kuber-Obla Glava area.23 The Muslim attack in that area continued with artillery support throughout the day. However, at 8:30 a.m., the Zrinski

Brigade reported that Muslim forces had lost their positions on Mount Kuber and broken contact, and that ABiH forces were in control of BM 897 and Saracevici.24 At 11:25 on April 17, the Information Office of HQ, OZCB, notified International Red Cross, ECMM, and UNPROFOR authorities that Muslim extremists were killing civilians in the villages of Jelinak and Putis and throughout the Kuber area, with some sixty civilians massacred already.25 The international authorities were asked to investigate the situation and act to protect civilians. At 1:56 p.m., British UNPROFOR patrols reported that the village of Kuber was under attack by ABiH forces, and at 6:15 hours, HQ, OZCB, issued additional defensive orders for protection of the Kuber area and the vital Vitez-Busovaca road to the commanders of the Viteska and Zrinski Brigades and the 4th Military Police Battalion.26 The order, to take effect immediately, called for the formation of a defense line in the Kuber area to link forces from Vidovici via BM 514, BM 646, and Jelinak to Obla Glava in order to prevent a Muslim advance toward Kaonik and Nadioci "at all costs."

Elsewhere in the area on April 17, a general alert was sounded in the town of Busovaca at 10 a.m. as mortar shells began to land. The positions of the Zrinski Brigade's 3d Battalion in Bare and Donja Rovna were also under fire all day from ABiH positions in and around Pezici and Gornja Rovna, and the 1st Battalion's positions in Strane, Gavrine Kuce, and Podjele also received sporadic fire from Merdani. The HVO reported one KIA and nine WIA (three seriously), and morale and logistics support were deemed satisfactory.

The HVO reconnaissance elements reported late on the seventeenth that Muslim mortars were firing on the Rovna and Donja Rovna areas of the Busovaca municipality from BM 5 3 6.27 On the morning of April 18, the Zrinski Brigade commander reported a quiet night in the brigade zone of operations and described the measures taken to increase the readiness of his forces and establish the defense lines prescribed by the OZCB commander the previous day.28 During the course of the day, the ABiH liaison officer to the ECMM reported heavy fighting in the area of Pezici and Rovna.29 The Zrinski Brigade also reported continued combat activity in the Kuber and Bare-Donja Rovna region as well as in the Kula area, including an intense attack launched by Muslim forces at 5:50 p.m. that unsuccessfully attempted to break through the HVO defense lines in the areas of Polom, Vrata-Skradno, and Roske Stijene.30 Brigade headquarters also reported that an antiaircraft machine gun located in the area of Crna had fired into HVO positions in the village of Strane. All defense lines remained stable, and morale and logistics support continued to be rated satisfactory.

On April 19, even as the UNPROFOR-arranged cease-fire began to take hold in the Vitez area and the Boban-Izetbegovic agreement of April 18 became known, the fighting in the Busovaca area became even more intense. Colonel Blaskic, the OZCB commander, complained to UNPROFOR representatives that the ABiH offensive north of Busovaca centered on the villages of Kuber, Jelinak, and Kaonik contravened the cease-fire agreements.31 Zrinski Brigade HQ reported that the ABiH launched a general attack at 6:45 a.m. on Busovaca from the direction of Dvor-Putis-Gradina (BM 650) with a force of some 500 men from the 7th Muslim Brigade. Their objective was probably to take Gradina (BM 650) and seize control of the surrounding villages.32 In the Solakovici-Milavice sector, an attack was carried out by a force of approximately 450 men from the 333d and 309th Mountain Brigades in Kakanj. Finally, some 400 men from the 333d Mountain and 302d Motorized Brigades, supported by 82-mm and 120mm mortars, launched an attack from the Kapak-Prosje-Polom-Ocehnici area apparently with the aim of taking the Draga barracks and surrounding buildings. Meanwhile, ABiH forces numbering some 2,000 men from the 303d and 305th Mountain Brigades, supported by a few tanks from the 301st Mechanized Brigade, were reported to be in reserve in the Dusina-Lasva-Merdani-Grablje area, poised to move along the Kaonik-Grablje-Lasva road to take HVO positions and gain full control of the lines of communication.

Zrinski Brigade HQ also reported the deployment of the thirteen hundred HVO defenders under its command on April 19. The 1st Battalion held the line Vrata-Podjele-Strane-Gravrine Kuce-Jelinak and the line Donja Rovna-Kovacevac-Roske Stijene-Busovaca-Grad-Tisovac-Polom and was currently engaged but repelling the attacks in the Dvor-Putis-Gradina and Kapak-Polom-Ocehnici areas with some difficulty. The 2d Battalion held the line Prosje-Polje-Milavice-Donja Solakovici-Krcevine-Kula-Vrata and was currently engaged on the stretches Solakovici-Milavice and Donja Polje-Prosje. Croatian Defense Council forces had pushed the ABiH attackers back some three hundred meters in the Solakovici-Milavice area, but they could not maintain the new positions due to unfavorable terrain and were thus forced to return to their starting position. The Muslim attack on the Donja Polje-Prosje sector was successfully repelled, and the attackers withdrew to their starting positions. The Dutch/Belgian UNPROFOR transport battalion based in Busovaca confirmed the fighting and shelling in the area, and noted that an M-63 Plamen multiple-barrel rocket launcher fired numerous salvos throughout the morning from a position between the villages of Kula and Skradno.33

The battle continued on April 20 in the Polom, Roske Stijene, Putis-Gradina-Jelinak, and Bare-Donja Rovna areas. The HVO defenders repelled the Muslim attacks, but often with heavy casualties. During the course of the day, the HVO established roadblocks north and south of Busovaca to control traffic on the vital Kaonik-Kacuni road. Both the soldiers manning the HVO roadblocks and the deputy commander of the Zrinski Brigade insisted that the British UNPROFOR battalion had been involved in black market operations and the delivery of arms to Muslim villages in the Vitez area, so UNPROFOR vehicles were denied passage.34

The following day, April 21, the fighting in the Busovaca area began to subside as the Muslim offensive started to run out of steam. The battered HVO defenders sought a respite from the intense combat of the previous three days. The Dutch/Belgian UNPROFOR transport battalion based in Busovaca reported that the town remained quiet throughout the day and that, although the HVO roadblocks north and south of Busovaca remained in place, UNPROFOR vehicles were permitted to pass once the local police were informed. The two HVO checkpoints were removed altogether on April 22, but the ABiH established two additional checkpoints on the Busovaca-Kiseljak road and informed UNPROFOR patrols that no UN vehicles would be allowed to pass for the next ten to fifteen days. Lieutenant Colonel Bob Stewart, commander of the British UNPROFOR battalion, personally led a reconnaissance through the villages of Poculica, Vrhovine, Kuber, Jelinak, Loncari, and Ahmici on April 22. He observed that the Muslim soldiers he encountered were not happy about having received orders to withdraw from their forward positions in accordance with the peace plan then being put into effect.35

On April 21, the British UNPROFOR battalion conducted an assessment of the situation in the Vitez-Busovaca area and noted that the ABiH III Corps seemed to be in the dominant military position despite having suffered heavy casualties in the fighting that began on April 15-16.36 The assessment also noted that the III Corps estimate of the situation was that a continuation of the "present conflict" (that is, the Muslim offensive) would probably provoke increased HVO artillery shelling of Zenica and perhaps the intervention of HVO forces from outside central Bosnia. Thus, although the ABiH was in position to continue the attack in the Busovaca area and against a number of key Croat villages, the decision to not do so was made in order to avoid additional casualties.

On April 25, the situation in the Kuber sector remained generally quiet, and UNPROFOR forces reported that the villages of Vidovici, Ahmici, Jeli-nak, and Putis appeared to be deserted. The fighting continued unabated on the Kula front east of Busovaca, however. At around 7:30 a.m., heavy machine gun and small arms firing broke out north of the UNPROFOR transport battalion's base in Busovaca, and HVO mortar positions in the town began firing in a northerly direction, expending some 140 rounds in the course of the morning. The HVO artillery located at Mosunj north of Vitez also fired between ten and fifteen rounds into the area northeast of Kula that morning.37 At 11 a.m., the OZCB commander complained to Dutch/ Belgian UNPROFOR authorities that the Muslims had launched a large attack along the line Strane-Podjele-Kula-Donja Polje that began with the ABiH firing approximately ten mortar rounds from positions in the villages of Grablje and Merdani into the town of Busovaca at 4:30 a.m. The 9/12th Lancers ran a patrol into the area of Kula in the afternoon to investigate the HVO claims but found the village quiet other than for occasional small arms fire, although villagers reported that there had been mortar fire during the morning. At 6:37 p.m., the bridge across the Lasva River to Katici and

Merdani was reported to have been demolished.38 The Muslim attack in the Kula area petered out on the afternoon of April 25, but the following day HVO authorities in Busovaca were still concerned, and the ABiH alleged that the HVO had launched an attack on Solakovici from Kula. The same day a British UNPROFOR liaison officer visiting the headquarters of the ABiH 305th Mountain Brigade confirmed that the brigade had in fact been committed in the Busovaca area.39

The lines remained stable and there was only minor combat action in the Busovaca area on the morning of April 27, although firing and troop movements occurred throughout the day in the vicinity of the village of Kazagici and Sotnice. At 7:30 a.m., HVO forces repelled a brief attack on the town itself, and at 9:30 ABiH artillery fired from the Silos area on civilian buildings in the village of Donja Polje.40 Three 120-mm mortar rounds were fired causing great destruction but no casualties. Snipers remained active throughout the area of operations.

The Muslims mounted attacks in the Kuber and Kula sectors on April 28. The HVO responded with artillery and mortar fire as well as a tenacious ground defense. Early in the morning, the ABiH launched an attack from the area of Putis on the villages of Bakje and Jelinak as well as the Gradina feature. Dutch/Belgian UNPROFOR observers in Busovaca reported that the HVO mortar positions north of town opened fire at 6:15 a.m. and had fired some fifty rounds by 7:50, at which time small arms and heavy machine-gun fire could be heard south of the town as well.41 The ABiH launched another attack at about ten o'clock, this time from the Dusina and Solakovici areas on the HVO line from Kula down to Milavice, with heavy small-arms fire reported in the area which intensified around 2 p.m. Heavy fighting also continued in the Kazagici village area on April 28 as the ABiH retook the village from the HVO. The fighting in Kazagici on April 27-28 resulted in heavy damage to the village, where almost every house had been set afire.

The heavy fighting in the Bakje-Jelinak-Gradina area and in the Kula area continued on April 29, even as Lieutenant Colonel Stewart escorted the senior officers of both the ABiH (Sefer Halilovic) and HVO (Milivoj Petkovic) to the lines near Kula in an effort to get the cease-fire going.42 Their efforts were largely in vain, however, and the month of April ended with HVO and ABiH forces still engaged around Busovaca in the Kuber and Kula sectors. On April 30, British UNPROFOR patrols reported seeing about a hundred ABiH soldiers occupying the ruins of the village of Jelinak and a group of fifty HVO soldiers in the village of Loncari.43 Although the ABiH was able to gain some ground and inflict heavy casualties on the numerically inferior HVO defenders, the Muslim offensive in the Busovaca area had failed to achieve its principal objectives, just as had the attack in the Vitez area. The stubborn HVO defense around Busovaca denied the ABiH the prized Kaonik intersection and the town of Busovaca for the moment, but the Muslims would soon resume their offensive.

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