The Impact of Political Influence

The lack of consistent political guidance from above and the strong influence of local political authorities on such matters as the selection and dismissal of commanders also weakened the command and control systems of both the HVO and the ABiH. Brigadier Marin addressed the problem directly in his testimony in the Blaskic trial before the ICTY:

By way of an example, if you wanted to appoint a brigade commander, before doing anything else, the commander of the Operative Zone had to reach agreement with the municipal authorities and to come to an agreement as to the name of the person who would be proposed. When such agreement was reached, information about that commander would be submitted through the brigade commander to the commander of the Operative Zone and further on to the highest level, the president of the Croatian Community of Herceg-Bosna. After which, when all these steps were taken, a document would be drafted on the appointment of this commander. Throughout this chain, a key role was played by the political authorities in the municipality.4

The necessity for military commanders to consider seriously the views of local political authorities can be considered normal in neonate armies and continues to exist in even highly evolved military systems. For example, a major effort was required by the U.S. government at the beginning of the twentieth century to eliminate the baleful influence of local political authorities on the militia forces of the various states, even when they were called into federal service. Even today, few decisions can be made regarding promotions or assignments of National Guard personnel without consulting the political powers of the state in question. Yet, however strong such political influence may be on personnel matters and even on national policy, it seldom extends to operational matters.

Although there was certainly dissension in the higher levels of the HZ HB government and the HVO over matters of military policy, organization, and strategy, the principal point at which political influence affected the exercise of effective command and control by HVO military leaders was at the local level. The best illustration of this problem is the case of the relief of Stjepan Tuka, commander of the 3d (Fojnica) Battalion of the Ban Josip Jelacic Brigade in April, 1993. In response to the ABiH III Corps's attack in the Busovaca and Kiseljak area, on April 18, the commander of the OZCB, Col. Tihomir Blaskic, ordered the 3d Battalion of the Jelacic Brigade to attack Muslim forces southeast and northwest of Fojnica to relieve pressure on HVO forces in the Gomionica, Sebesic, and Busovaca areas.5 At that point, the town of Fojnica was not yet under direct attack, and the Bosnian Croat political and military authorities in Fojnica were unwilling to precipitate such a conflict. The result was that Stjepan Tuka, the Fojnica Battalion commander, refused to have his forces attack as ordered, and at 11:20 a.m. on April 20, Colonel Blaskic dismissed Tuka and appointed Drago Simunic in his place, transferred the 3d Battalion to the Zrinski Brigade, and ordered it to carry out its mission forthwith.6 What ensued was essentially a mutiny. Tuka, backed by Fojnica's Bosnian Croat community, refused to give up his command or to carry out the attack as ordered. Due to the chaos attendant on the ABiH offensive, little could be done immediately by Colonel Blaskic to enforce his orders, and about a month passed before Tuka was, in fact, relieved of his command. The lesson was that, without the assent of the local civilian authorities, even the major regional commander might find it difficult to relieve a subordinate commander for cause. It was even harder for an HVO commander to relieve or otherwise discipline a subordinate who might not only be a local favorite but his cousin or brother-in-law as well.

Unlike the HVO, which appears to have had a fair degree of unanimity and cohesion in the higher echelons, the ABiH's high command was divided on basic issues of defense policy, organization, and objectives. For most of the period under consideration, Alija Izetbegovic, the president of the RBiH, was at odds with the army's chief of staff, Sefer Halilovic, over such fundamental questions as whether the RBiH ought to defend itself from Bosnian Serb aggression at all. In his memoir of the wartime period, Halilovic related his many disagreements with President Izetbegovic and outlined the division between the more or less passive and inept (if indeed not treasonous) supporters of Izetbegovic and his own enthusiastic, nationalist supporters.7 The situation was further complicated by the introduction of a fundamentalist Islamic faction, generally favored by Izetbegovic, which sought to radicalize the ABiH and thereby alienate whatever good will and cooperation there may have been among other factions and among the Bosnian Croats and Serbs who remained loyal to the central government and its program of a multiethnic state. Halilovic also inveighed in his memoir against Fikret Muslimovic, Zijad Ljevakovic, and other ideologues who sought to replace strategy with religious schools and mosques and the national army with an SDA party-controlled, ideologically oriented army.8

Izetbegovic and Halilovic also quarreled over integrating the twenty thousand well-armed and trained men of the Ministry of the Interior police reserve into the ABiH structure. In his memoir, Halilovic noted that the RBiH would have realized a much more favorable defense situation if the issue had been resolved early on, as it had been in Croatia, where the MUP was made "a pillar of the defence." After much delay and acrimonious debate, Izetbegovic finally signed a decree subordinating the MUP reserve to the ABiH General Staff, but the decision was never carried out, and, as Halilovic noted, "the well-armed members of the Interior Ministry reserve forces have never been made operational for the carrying out of combat duties . . . [although] individuals and individual Interior Ministry units . . . went to the frontlines."9

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