The HVO Reaction

While the ABiH was clearly the aggressor in the Muslim-Croat civil war in central Bosnia, the HVO commanders did not sit idly by waiting to be overrun by their more numerous Muslim opponents. Instead they adopted what is known in U.S. military parlance as an "active defense," that is, a defense in which the defender actively and continuously seeks to improve his defensive posture by seizing and controlling key terrain and lines of communication, degrading the enemy's offensive capabilities, and acting aggressively to spoil enemy attacks and keep the enemy off balance.22 To an observer on the ground who did not understand the overall strategic situa-tion—particularly one prone to rash judgments and broad inferences—the HVO's conduct of the active defense might well appear to have been offensive in nature. Yet, the fact is, it was largely reactive and preventive.

Thus, from an HVO perspective the strategic battle was entirely a defensive one, albeit marked by selective use of preemptive spoiling attacks (pre-ventivi), counterattacks, and other offensive actions designed to support the Croat defensive strategy by the conduct of an "active defense" rather than a purely positional defense in the Lasva-Kozica-Lepenica Valleys. Surrounded, heavily outnumbered (by as much as eight or ten to one according to some accounts), and logistically bankrupt, it would have been completely illogical for the Croats to try to mount a systematic campaign to expand the enclave or to ethnically cleanse Muslims from the Lasva Valley, much less from all of the proposed Canton 10. One former HVO officer has said that an HVO commander would have had to be "insane" to have contemplated an offensive against the Muslims given their tenuous manpower, logistics, and full deployment against the Serbs.23 They were barely able to repel the repeated Muslim attacks and were certainly too weak in numbers, arms, and ammunition to attempt a major offensive. Nevertheless, the hard-pressed HVO forces did manage to mount a number of small offensive actions to secure better defensive positions, prevent the Muslims from obtaining their objectives, and to clear their rear areas of troublesome Muslim enclaves. Generally, a clear military necessity can be shown for each of those offensive actions. More commonly, the HVO forces simply took up defensive positions and repelled a series of increasingly heavy Muslim attacks that inexorably whittled away the territory held by the HVO, inflicted casualties, and slowly asphyxiated the Bosnian Croat defenders.

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