The HVO Intelligence Estimates

Stewart later testified that he did not expect the outbreak of a major conflict between the Muslims and Croats in the Lasva Valley.1 However, the HVO authorities, having been caught flat-footed by the ABiH probing attack in January, were not surprised. The targeting of the ABiH for intelligence purposes began soon after the January 20-21 attacks, and on March 25 Ivica Zeko, the intelligence officer at HQ, OZCB, issued an intelligence estimate that accurately forecasted the nature, direction, and objectives of the April offensive.2 A trained intelligence officer, Zeko's analysis of the situation led him to conclude that extremists in the ABiH and SDA, together with Muslim fundamentalists in the Zenica region and military experts, had "devised a plan to destroy the HVO and take control of the territory of Central Bosnia," which "might enable them to ensure living space and safety for the Muslim population" while producing fewer casualties than an offensive against the BSA."3 According to Zeko, the detailed plans for the Muslim offensive were prepared by Refik Lendo for the Bugojno-Gornji Vakuf-Novi Travnik-Vitez area; by Vehbija Karic for the Kiseljak-Fojnica-Kresevo-Kakanj-Vares area; and by persons unknown in Zenica for the Zenica-Busovaca area.

According to Zeko's estimate, the offensive would open with action by sabotage teams against HVO command posts, communications and wiretapping centers, logistics bases, and artillery positions. The ABiH would avoid a direct confrontation with HVO forces in the Tesanj-Maglaj-Zavidiovici-Novi Seher-Zepce area, where HVO troops held significant portions of the defense lines against the Serbs. However, the ABiH would seek to blockade HVO population centers, isolate HVO units, and overturn HVO civilian control through the establishment of checkpoints, the positioning of troops near critical installations, and direct attacks or sabotage operations directed against HVO command and control elements. Zeko noted that Muslim forces already surrounded the important population centers of Kiseljak, Fojnica, Kresevo, Kakanj, and Vares. However, he believed a larger conflict might be avoided by determined confrontation inasmuch as the majority of ABiH forces in the area occupied defensive lines to protect the vulnerable towns of Visoko, Breza, Olovo, Pazaric, and Tarcin from the Serbs. Due to HVO defensive preparations, Vares might be "a hard nut to crack," but the ABiH might achieve some success with selective attacks in the Kakanj, Kiseljak, and Fojnica area. For both the northern (Zepce) and eastern (Kiseljak) areas, Zenica was to be the command and control center, and any operations would be carried out by units from occupied areas then quartered in Zenica as well as MOS, "Green League," Green Berets, and Patriotic League forces.

According to Zeko, the main battles would occur in the crucial Vitez-Busovaca area and would involve direct offensive action by the ABiH along three main axes of attack: Kacuni-Busovaca-Kaonik-Vitez; Zenica-Kuber (Lasva)-Kaonik-Vitez; and Zenica-Preocica-Vitez. These attacks would be supplemented by forces attacking toward Vitez from Kruscica; from the areas of Vranjska and Poculica toward Sivrino Selo; and from the area of Han Bila through Stari Bila to cut the Travnik-Vitez road and complete the encirclement of HVO forces in the Vitez area. The main part of the ABiH forces carrying out this portion of the plan would come from Zenica, Kakanj, and Visoko. Having surrounded Vitez, the Muslim forces would then continue the attack until gaining full control of the town. In the event HVO forces were able to stall the advance on the Han Bila-Vitez axis, the attacker might divert his forces toward Gornja Gora and thereby enable the ABiH forces in Travnik to leave the town and advance toward Vitez. However, ABiH operations in the Travnik-Novi Travnik area would not take the form of a direct attack but would involve small-scale actions to control the HVO units there and keep them from intervening in the Vitez area.4 Should Busovaca and Vitez fall to the attacker, Travnik and Novi Travnik would gradually be forced to surrender. Muslim forces in the areas of Bugojno, Gornji Vakuf, and Fojnica would play an essential role in the offensive by blocking the approach routes to central Bosnia from Herzegovina and by providing manpower, equipment, and supplies for the attacking forces.

Zeko concluded his analysis by noting that the Muslim forces were already occupying the territories in question piece by piece, displacing the Croat population and taking full control, and that they would be likely to continue to do so unless "it is made clear to [them] that the initiation of clashes in broader areas with well-planned attacks in the least expected places will not be tolerated." He then went on to state: "A possible attack by the BH Army will be relentless and it is necessary to take all measures and actions to repel the attack and completely destroy the military strength wherever possible."5

On March 14, Zeljko Katava, the Nikola Subic Zrinski Brigade's intelligence officer, had also warned of a possible ABiH attack. He believed the attackers would avoid the HVO position in Cajdras by advancing through Muslim territory from Zenica via Vrazale, Dobriljeno, and Vrhovine to launch an attack from Ahmici in order to cut the Vitez-Busovaca road and then continue via Donja Rovna to link up with Muslim forces in Vranjska.6 Katava noted in an earlier (January 6, 1993) estimate that ABiH forces had already constructed a road from their positions on Mount Kuber through Vrazale to Zenica, and on April 10, a week before the Muslim offensive began, HVO intelligence officers obtained additional information that the ABiH was indeed making preparations to carry out military operations in the Lasva Valley.7

The HVO intelligence estimates were remarkably accurate in predicting the objectives, direction, and participating units of the ABiH offensive that began in mid-April, 1993. The situation remained quiet in the northern sector and around Vares, as well as in Travnik and—following a brief flare-up to pin down HVO forces and cut the road to Gornji Vakuf—Novi Travnik. The ABiH did not mount a general attack from all directions in the Kiseljak area, but again concentrated on trying to seize the critical road junction in the vicinity of Gomionica, which it had failed to do in January. Vitez, the SPS explosives factory, and the town of Busovaca were the primary ABiH objectives, and it was on them that the heaviest blows were struck. Elements of the 303d, 306th, and 325th Mountain Brigades, the 17th Krajina Mountain Brigade, and the 7th Muslim Motorized Brigade—with ABiH military police and antisabotage units (PDO)—participated in the attack in the Vitez area, while elements of the 333d Mountain Brigade attacked toward Busovaca.8 The objectives, as Zeko had predicted, were to cut the Travnik-Busovaca road at Kaonik, at Ahmici, at Stari Bila, and at the Pu-carevo turnoff to divide the Travnik-Vitez-Busovaca enclave into smaller parts and isolate the HVO units in Vitez and Busovaca; to take the SPS factory; and to clear Croat civilians from their villages in the area. At the same time, action was taken to eliminate the two HVO brigades in Zenica and to clear Croat civilians from the town and the surrounding villages.

The plan nearly succeeded: the HVO forces in Zenica were eliminated; all ground contact between the Travnik-Vitez-Busovaca enclave and the Zepce and Vares areas as well as with Herzegovina was severed; the HVO brigade in Kakanj was eliminated; the center of Vitez was held by Muslim fighters; and hundreds of Croat civilians were driven from their homes in the region. However, the ABiH failed to achieve its main objectives. This was due in large part to aggressive preemptive attacks and counteraction by the heavily outnumbered HVO forces in the Lasva-Kozica-Lepenica area. At the end of the Muslim offensive's first push, Travnik, Novi Travnik, most of Vitez, Busovaca, Kiseljak, Fojnica, and Kresevo were still under HVO control; the SPS factory remained in HVO hands; and hundreds of Muslim civilians had fled or been temporarily removed from Muslim villages in the Vitez-Busovaca-Kiseljak area, which had been the target of HVO military action to clear key terrain along the lines of communication and in its rear areas.

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