The ABiH Probing Attack January 1993

Even before Jajce fell, the ABiH appears to have been planning some sort of 73 offensive against the Bosnian Croats in central Bosnia. After October 29,

1992, the increasing numbers of able-bodied military-age Muslim refugees entering the region were organized, armed, and trained for offensive operations; mujahideen, ABiH soldiers, and armed refugees were infiltrated into key villages in groups of three or four men and hidden in Muslim homes or mosques; and by the end of 1992, the ABiH had positioned a number of its combat brigades in key locations throughout the Lasva, Kozica, and Lep-enica Valleys.1 In retrospect, the latter actions were particularly significant.

The first phase of the ABiH offensive plan began on January 20-21,

1993, and took the form of a probing action designed to seize key terrain and position forces for the coming main attack; to test HVO resistance and uncover HVO defensive plans and methods; and probably to test the reactions of UNPROFOR forces to an open conflict between the Muslims and Croats. This stage of the campaign, which was preceded by an ABiH III Corps attack on the town of Gornji Vakuf in an attempt to seal off the central Bosnia battlefield by closing the vital Route diamond supply route, lasted only a few days, in large part because the HVO was able to repulse the main Muslim probes and quickly force a stalemate. The ABiH subsequently drew back and reformed in preparation for the main offensive in mid-April, 1993. The ABiH planners probably viewed the UNPROFOR's lack of response as a "green light" for the planned main attack in April.

The ABiH achieved tactical surprise with its January probing operations. Brigadier Ivica Zeko, the OZCB intelligence officer at the time, said in retrospect that it is clear the Muslims were positioning their units for an offensive, but that neither he nor anyone else in the HVO had a clear indication of it before the Muslims launched their attack.2 The HVO was working with the Muslims against the Serbs, and no one was looking for Muslim perfidy. For example, the HVO headquarters in central Bosnia apparently did not target the ABiH for intelligence purposes before mid-January, 1993, although the Muslim intelligence services targeted the HVO.3 But even had the HVO known in advance of the Muslim attack, there is little that could have done in terms of repositioning its forces, which were heavily committed on the lines against the Serbs.

Despite Zeko's disclaimer, the OZCB apparently did have some indications that something was about to happen. The attack on Gornji Vakuf and fighting in the Prozor area were clear signs that a major ABiH operation was in the offing in central Bosnia, and there were probably warnings from the HVO Main Staff in Mostar. On January 16, 1993, HQ, OZCB, ordered all subordinate units to raise their combat readiness to the highest level, in-eluding the cancellation of all leaves, the collection and redistribution of weapons in private hands, the disarming and isolation of Muslim members of the HVO who disobeyed orders, and an increase in the security posture of various Croat villages in the Operative Zone.4 The HVO brigades in Zenica and Busovaca were directed to organize surveillance of the area between Zenica and the Lasva Valley, and the HVO brigade in Novi Travnik was instructed to monitor the area toward Gornji Vakuf and be prepared to act on order. The 4th Military Police Battalion was ordered to secure the HVO's military and political headquarters, control traffic, and confiscate weapons and other equipment from Muslim transports. The PPN "Vitezovi " and "Ludvig Pavlovic" were employed from January 19 on reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering missions to track the movement of ABiH units in the OZCB area of operations.5

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