The Fall of Travnik

The expected resumption of the Muslim offensive came at the end of the first week of June, when elements of eight ABiH brigades struck the HVO forces manning the defensive line against the Bosnian Serb Army in the Travnik area.21 The Muslim attack achieved tactical surprise and was completely successful, capturing the HVO positions and driving the surviving HVO soldiers and thousands of terrified Croat civilians into the hands of the Serbs, who took them prisoner.22

Tensions between Muslims and Croats had been building in the Travnik area since January. Between January and April, the ABiH packed troops into the Travnik area using buses from Zenica traveling via Guca Gora to minimize observation by the HVO. The buses allegedly were engaged in rotating Muslim troops on the front lines against the Serbs, but Croat civilians frequently reported that buses were returning empty toward Zenica. Muslim troops and mujahideen from Zenica, Mehurici, and Milize were also hidden in Muslim villages in the area or in groups of two or three in Muslim houses in Croat villages. By April, the ABiH forces in the Travnik area totaled some 8,000-10,000 men under Mehmed Alagic, commander of the ABiH III Corps's OG Bosanska-Krajina (soon to be redesignated the ABiH VII Corps). The ABiH forces in the Travnik area included the 312th Mountain Brigade (about 3,300 men; commanded by Zijad Gaber); the 17th Krajina Mountain Brigade (about 3,300 men; commanded by Fikret Cuskic); the 27th Krajina Mountain Brigade (about 2,100 men; commanded by Rasim Imamovic); the 3d Battalion, 7th Muslim Motorized Brigade (about 900 men); the 1st Battalion, 308th Mountain Brigade; elements of the 325th Mountain Brigade and of the 37th Krajina Mountain Brigade; the "El Mudzahid" Detachment of mujahideen (about 400 men); some 800 men of the RBiH Ministry of the Interior Police; and two special purpose units: "Mercici" and "Nanetovi," each with around 60-80 men.23 The town itself and the surrounding area was also packed with some 15,000 Muslim refugees, many of whom were armed.24

In early April, prior to the Muslim offensive against Vitez, Busovaca, and Kiseljak, the ABiH fed even more reinforcements into the Travnik area. For example, on April 15, an HVO checkpoint near the town stopped an ABiH convoy of three buses, six trucks, and thirteen other vehicles loaded with

Travnik Mehurici
Map 5.The Travnik-Novi Travnik Area. Map by Bill Nelson.

troops. The Muslim convoy attempted to pass through the HVO lines three times before it was finally permitted to go through to the barracks in Travnik. On June 5, immediately before the ABiH offensive against Travnik began, the Muslim forces in Travnik were reinforced by an additional eight hundred men.25

From January to April, the HVO forces manning the defense lines against the BSA in the immediate Travnik area consisted of the Travnicka Brigade, commanded by Filip Filipovic, with all three of its battalions. On April 1, a second brigade—the Frankopan Brigade—was formed under the command of Ilija Nagic, and from that point onward there were five battalions in the sector. In all, there were some twenty-five hundred to three thousand HVO soldiers on the defense lines in April, many of whom were rotated in from other areas in the Lasva-Kozica-Lepenica region.26 The HVO headquarters on the Travnik front was situated above the town of Travnik in the village of Jankovici.

On June 1, the defensive lines facing the BSA in the Travnik area were held in part by the ABiH and in part by the HVO, with the HVO holding about two-thirds of the total line.27 The responsibility for the HVO portion of the line was divided among the HVO Novi Travnik (Tomasevic Brigade, Zeljko Sabljic commanding), HVO Travnik (Travnicka Brigade, Jozo Levtar commanding), and the Frankopan Brigade (Ilija Nagic commanding).28 The Tomasevic Brigade held from "Sweetwater" (near BM 1182) southwest to BM 986 near the village of Petkovici, at which point the ABiH continued the line south toward Donja Vakuf and Bugojno. The Travnicka Brigade was responsible for the line from Sweetwater northwest to Kazici (a ground distance of about four and one-half kilometers), where the ABiH took up a short section of about two kilometers running northwest to Gi-ganic. The Travnicka Brigade took over there and continued the defensive line around the Turbe salient and then east to the vicinity of BM 1109. The Frankopan Brigade, headquartered at Dolac, took up the line at BM 1109 and extended it around the Vlasic plateau and then north to the Vlaska-gromila area (near BM 1919), where the ABiH assumed responsibility. The ABiH controlled Travnik, although the HVO maintained a headquarters and other facilities in the town. Muslim roadblocks at Han Bila and at the entry to Travnik near the mosque at a place called "Bluewater" controlled entry into the town itself.

On June 6, the commander of the British UNPROFOR battalion in the Lasva Valley met with Enver Hadzihasanovic, the ABiH III Corps commander, to discuss the growing problems in the Travnik area. Hadzihasanovic, taking a hard line, remarked that the Muslims were left little alternative but military action in what had become "an outright civil war." After the meeting, British UNPROFOR authorities reported, "the BiH were no longer prepared to restrain themselves, and were likely to take the military initiative in the Lasva Valley."29 A second meeting was scheduled for the same day with Colonel Blaskic, the OZCB commander, but Hadzihasanovic refused to attend because he thought it was "too late for negotiation." The BRITBAT intelligence analyst noted that the "Corps, judging by the attitude of its commander, seems poised for further military action having clearly rejected the concept of negotiation."30 Indeed, the ABiH was poised for further military action.

Without prior warning, Muslim troops commanded by Mehmed Alagic struck their erstwhile ally on June 6, 1993. Within seventy-two hours, the heavily outnumbered HVO forces in Travnik surrendered or were driven over the Serb lines.31 The 303d Mountain Brigade attacked via Ovnak toward Guca Gora, while the 306th Light Brigade attacked in the direction of Pokrajcici.32 The 312th Mountain Brigade, the 17th and 27th Krajina Mountain Brigades, and the 3d Battalion, 7th Muslim Motorized Brigade, launched attacks directly into the rear of the HVO units holding the front lines against the Serbs. Muslim Ministry of the Interior Police surrounded the "Star" headquarters in Travnik and isolated it. The fiercest attacks, which came on June 8, resulted in twenty-four HVO soldiers and sixty-eight Croat civilians killed.33 Unable to sustain the house-to-house fighting and unable to obtain reinforcements or resupply, the HVO forces in and around Travnik broke and fled into the Serb lines accompanied by several thousand Croat civilians. On June 10, the new overall ABiH commander, Rasim Delic, ordered his troops to halt their advance.

Having secured the town of Travnik and driven the HVO soldiers from their positions facing the Serbs, the ABiH began systematically clearing the Croat villages northeast of Travnik in order to secure their line of communications to Zenica. At 3 a.m. on June 7, the ABiH attacked elements of the Frankopan Brigade holding the villages of Grahovici, Brajkovici, Plavici, Guca Gora, and Bukovica in an attempt to seize control of the road from Zenica to Travnik. As the HVO units blocking the roads withdrew, the Croat villages fell one by one into the hands of Muslim extremists who engaged in a program of very thorough ethnic cleansing.34 By June 14, the Zenica-Travnik road via Guca Gora was firmly in ABiH hands. According to contemporary newspaper accounts, Croatian radio reported some thirty-two Croat villages had been cleansed, among which UN sources identified Brajkovici, Grahovici, Bukovica, Radojcici, and Maljine. The story of the village of Guca Gora and its famous Catholic monastery was perhaps typical. Muslim extremists, who had been hiding in nearby Muslim homes, seized the village and desecrated the church in the Franciscan monastery. They carried away the religious statuary and murdered the HVO defenders, several civilians in the monastery, and eight village guard sentinels. British UNPROFOR troops, having observed Muslim troops firing machine guns at Croat civilians fleeing into the woods, prevented an even greater tragedy by rescuing more than 180 Croats trapped in the monastery.35

Croatian radio reported more than 250 dead in the Travnik region, as well as some fifteen thousand Croatian refugees following the June 6-10 attack.36 According to one contemporary newspaper account, there was

"strong evidence of atrocities" as Muslim forces attempted to seize the back roads northeast of Travnik leading to Zenica. By June 9, some 8,000 HVO soldiers and Croat civilians had crossed into the Serb lines on the Vlasic massif, and 1,000 of the HVO soldiers were disarmed and taken by the Serbs to the "notorious Manjaca camp."37 United Nations sources reported that as of June 10, 500 Croats had been killed, thirty-eight villages had been burned, and some 30,000 displaced persons were in the Novi Bila-Vitez-Busovaca-Novi Travnik area.38 Overall, in June, July, and August, some 427 HVO soldiers and 157 Croat civilians were killed, 1,000 were wounded, 20,000 Croat civilians were displaced, fifteen hundred Croat homes and thirty-one hundred other buildings were burned, and about fifty Croat villages between Travnik and Zenica were destroyed, including Grahovcici, Donja Maljina, Guca Gora, Bikosi, Sadici, Gornja Puticevo, Rudnik, Bila, and Cupa.39

Although the Muslim forces had already launched two other major attacks since the beginning of 1993, one contemporary newspaper account noted on June 9: "The fighting reflected a possible new Muslim tactic. With attempts to regain territory from rebel Serbs failing, Muslim-led government troops appear to be trying to wrest territory from the Croats. 'I believe that a general (Muslim) offensive is under way,' said Col. Alastair Duncan, commander of British soldiers serving with the UN peacekeeping forces."40

Another contemporary newspaper account noted: "The offensive apparently was prompted by a desperate desire by Muslims for land and revenge after months of defeats by Bosnian Serbs and humiliation by Bosnian Croats. ... By capturing Travnik, Muslim-led forces moved closer to linking their strongholds of Tuzla and Zenica to the north with Muslim-controlled Konjic in the south."41

Even the ECMM was forced to admit that the ABiH had indeed undertaken a military offensive against the HVO and Bosnian Croat civilians in the Travnik and Lasva Valley areas.42

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