The Role of Outside Forces

Real or imagined, the presence in central Bosnia of armed forces from outside the country also posed significant problems for both the Operative Zone Central Bosnia commander and the commander of the ABiH III Corps. Allegations of Croatian Army (HV) intervention in central Bosnia posed a political and public relations problem, but the presence of fundamentalist Muslim mujahideen and of other foreign mercenaries and the presence of UNPROFOR troops and both United Nations and European Community monitoring teams constituted a substantial challenge to effective command and control by commanders on both sides.

The Alleged Croatian Army Intervention

Although not involving a direct command and control problem for the OZCB commander, the issue of whether or not HV forces operated in central Bosnia was of great political and legal significance. Although it is quite clear that the HVO in central Bosnia benefited directly from the logistical support provided by Croatia and may have benefited indirectly from the intervention of HV units in southern Bosnia-Herzegovina, the actual presence of HV combatants in central Bosnia remains unproved. Despite persistent rumors, the accusations of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Muslim-led government and of Muslim witnesses before the ICTY, a great deal of speculation on the part of UNPROFOR and ECMM observers, and a straightforward statement by the UN Security Council, there is, in fact, no convincing public evidence conclusively proving that the Croatian Army ever intervened in the Muslim-Croat conflict in central Bosnia. Those making such allegations generally fail to make two key distinctions: first, between the HVO/ABiH fight against the BSA and the Muslim-Croat conflict; and second, between the situation in central Bosnia and the situation elsewhere in Bosnia-Herzegovina. What may have been true in one conflict or location was not necessarily true in another.

Peacekeeping force officers and ECMM monitors were prone to see an HV soldier in every foxhole and an HV tank battalion around every curve in the road. In fact, their bases for making such assertions were ridiculously thin: secondhand reports from Muslim authorities; an encounter at the HVO headquarters in Novi Travnik with an obnoxious young major who "was alleged to be" a Croatian officer; an HVO order to report any HV officers or men in the ranks of HVO units; the wearing of HV uniforms and insignia by Bosnian Croat veterans of the war in Croatia; and the questionable judgment that "the HVO couldn't have done it on their own."35 The latter speculation was particularly specious, and is worth quoting in its entirety:

HVO forces have, during the past four months, proved capable of mounting military operations well inside the Bosnian Serb/Croat front-line with a strength and subsequent success which would have been unlikely had they been alone in their struggle.

Indeed, the HVO have been involved in sustained combat with two foes and have managed to make gains against Moslem BiH forces while still being able to resist strong, competent and persistent Serb offensives. With such an extended front-line with the Serbs and limited resources in manpower, equipment and munitions, their effort has been supreme.36

A formal accusation by the UN Secretary General was of greater moment. On February 1, 1994, UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali formally notified the Security Council that, based on UNPROFOR reports, "the Croatian Army has directly supported the HVO in terms of manpower, equipment and weapons for some time," and that the UNPROFOR estimated that, as of the date of the report, the Croatian Army had the equivalent of three brigades (some three thousand to five thousand men) of regular HV personnel in "central and southern Bosnia and Herzegovina."37 Yet, one must ask where the secretary general got his information. It could only have been from UNPROFOR observers on the ground or from Bosnia-Herzegovina's Muslim-led government, which, once conflict had broken out between Muslims and Croats, had a vested interest in blaming the situation on Croatian intervention. In any event, what constituted HV intervention? A few HVO soldiers wearing old HV uniforms and insignia, or a thousand-man HV brigade with all its authorized weapons and vehicles? The former there were aplenty; the latter existed in central Bosnia only in the imagination of some overwrought observers.

In an undated statement signed by Hadzo Efendic, the government of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina charged that the government of Croatia had "openly supported 'unlawful' actions of the HVO in Mostar and Central Bosnia" and that "reliable information" indicated that there were two units of the regular Croatian military establishment "in the Lasva region": the 114th Splitska Brigade and the 123rd Varazdinska Brigade.38 The presence of the two HV units was never confirmed, and even the ECMM acknowledged that "the many reports [of HV involvement in BiH] provided by the BiH Armija have seldom been confirmed by ECMM, UNMOs or UNPROFOR."39

On June 11, 1993, Mate Granic, the Croatian deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, stated that Croatia had no armed formations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and shortly thereafter Maj. Gen. Slobodan Praljak of the Croatian Ministry of Defense formally acknowledged that Croatia had provided logistical support to the HVO but denied HV combat forces had any direct involvement in the Muslim-Croat conflict in central Bosnia.40 Senior HVO officers in central Bosnia also consistently denied under oath that HV forces were ever present or took part in the Muslim-Croat conflict there.41 Under questioning by a member of the Trial Chamber in the Blaskic trial, even Col. Bob Stewart acknowledged that "generally BRITBAT did not believe there was any HV presence in Central Bosnia," and the UNPROFOR chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Sir Roderick Cordy-Simpson, also stated that UNPROFOR had not confirmed such reports and that he personally had never seen any HV troops in the Kiseljak area.42

The Mujahideen

The Muslim "private armies" in central Bosnia were particularly difficult for the ABiH III Corps commander to control, but the mujahideen were the principal problem. Perhaps as many as four thousand Islamic fundamentalist fighters from throughout the Muslim world flocked to Bosnia-Herzegovina on the open invitation of Alija Izetbegovic to help ensure the creation of the only fundamentalist Islamic state in Europe.43 Extremists in both religious and political orientation, the mujahideen cared little for the interests of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Muslim-led government, and even less for the commanders of the ABiH. Moreover, their combat methods tended to include the inculcation of terror as a primary aspect. Even central Bosnia's Muslim inhabitants feared the mujahideen and would have preferred to see them leave.44 As for the Bosnian Croats, they believed the mujahideen were devils incarnate.

The first mujahideen arrived in central Bosnia in mid-1992, and were integrated into the Territorial Defense structure in Travnik, with camps in the old town and in the Medresa facility.45 Subsequent increments went to separate camps in the villages of Mehurici (near Travnik), Duboka (near Novi Travnik), Ravno Rostovo (where they had a training center), Pod-brezje and Arnauti (on the outskirts of Zenica), and Podgorica (near Kiseljak).46 Several mujahideen units, such as the "Abdul Latif" Detachment in Kakanj and the "El Mujahid" Detachment, were formed and made part of the ABiH 7th Muslim Motorized Brigade.47 With their beards, Muslim skullcaps, and refusal to eat pork or drink alcohol, the mujahideen, as one wit put it, "stuck out like penguins in the desert."48 Despite their fearsome reputation, on the whole they seem to have lacked the respect of the Bosnian Muslim combatants. As one put it: "Arab man is strange man, he no eat pig and he no drink sljivovic." Nor were ABiH leaders enthralled with the presence of organized units of armed foreign fanatics over which they exercised only nominal control. Finally, almost all Bosnian Muslims—Westernized, liberated, and notorious for their lack of orthodoxy with respect to Islamic custom and ritual—were distinctly uncomfortable with the presence in their midst of a group of strict observers who made a point of proclaiming the coming of a fundamentalist Islamic state in Bosnia-Herzegovina.49

The mujahideen were supported by various Muslim countries as well as by "cultural and humanitarian" groups and private citizens in central Bosnia.50 The mujahideen assigned to the 7th Muslim Brigade received money and other support from the Islamic Center in Zenica headed by Emir Mahmut Efendija Karalic.51 Similarly, the 8th Muslim Brigade, formed in October, 1993, from the "El Mujahid" unit of the 7th Muslim Brigade, was allegedly funded by Halic Brzina, a wealthy Muslim businessman from Zenica.52 The tragic attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, and America's subsequent "war on terrorism" have revealed the connection between Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist organization and various Islamic businessmen and humanitarian organizations. Although no clear linkage has yet been established, it seems probable that al-Qaeda played a prominent role in sending the mujahideen to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992-93 and in supporting them there.53

Other Mercenaries

Aside from the mujahideen, a number of foreign mercenaries fought for both the HVO and the ABiH in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The deputy commander of the Operative Zone West Herzegovina was an ex-patriot Croat named Nicholas Glasnovic, who had been a soldier in the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Regiment, and a number of Germans and Scots also worked for the HVO.54 Lieutenant Colonel Bob Stewart, commander of the UNPROFOR unit in central Bosnia, also recorded meeting a number of British and Danish mercenaries serving with the Muslim forces in the Travnik area.55 Two British mercenaries, Ted Skinner and Derek Arnold, were shot by the mujahideen.56 Skinner, who worked with the Territorial Defense forces, was from Cheshire and had served in the New Zealand army.57 The circumstances surrounding the execution of Skinner and Arnold by the mujahideen are unclear, but it is not unlikely that they were British Special Air Service (SAS) operatives whose identity was discovered, or even just suspected.

Intervention by UNPROFOR and the ECMM

From the point of view of the commanders on both sides of the Muslim-Croat conflict in central Bosnia, the presence of UN peacekeepers and EC monitors constituted yet another factor inhibiting effective command and control. Peacekeeping troops and ECMM teams often interfered with the employment of both Muslim and Croat forces; passed on to the other side sensitive information on deployments, positions, and intentions; and provoked incidents in which lower-level commanders engaged in emotionally charged confrontations with UN and EC personnel contrary to the orders and intentions of the senior HVO and ABiH commanders. Moreover, some UNPROFOR personnel were involved in black-market and other criminal activities adding to the disruption of law and order in the region.58

As Yugoslavia began to tear itself apart in the early 1990s, Western observers became obsessed with the need to stop the near genocidal level of bloodshed and "ethnic cleansing" and to provide humanitarian relief to the victims. Western governments, equally obsessed with a policy of "stability at all costs," were unable to endure the growing instability in the former Yugoslavia and took action to stabilize the situation, even at the cost of imposing artificial and temporary solutions on the warring factions. A cease-fire and withdrawal of JNA forces was brokered in Slovenia in 1991, and in Croatia in early 1992. United Nation's Security Council Resolution 770 of August 13, 1992, called upon all member nations to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid by the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and pursuant to Security Council Resolution 776 of September 14, 1992, a separate Bosnia-Herzegovina Command (BHC) was established and UNPROFOR II forces were deployed, ostensibly for the purpose of facilitating the delivery of humanitarian relief supplies to the victims of the ongoing conflict between the Bosnian Serbs and the Muslim-Croat alliance.59 As the Bosnian Serb aggression against Sarajevo and other Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia increased in 1993, the UN Security Council designated Bihac, Tuzla, Sarajevo, Srbrenica, Zepa, and Gorazde as so-called safe zones and authorized the deployment of additional UNPROFOR troops to defend them.60 By May, 1994, UN efforts to deliver humanitarian aid in the former Yugoslavia involved over thirty-three thousand UN military troops, six hundred UN military observers, three thousand UN civilian administrators and staff, and hundreds of private aid workers.61 Of the total, some 16,300 UNPROFOR troops were in Bosnia-Herzegovina, five thousand of them in the Sarajevo area alone.62

The UNPROFOR units operating within the boundaries of the HVO Operative Zone Central Bosnia in 1992-94 included British infantry battalions stationed in Novi Bila; the Dutch/Belgian transportion battalion in Busovaca; and the UNPROFOR Bosnia-Herzegovina Command headquarters (HQ, BHC) in Kiseljak.63 Three reinforced British infantry battalions served successive six-month tours as the principal UNPROFOR force in the Lasva Valley.64 Lieutenant Colonel Stewart's 1st Battalion, 22d (Cheshire) Infantry Regiment, arrived from Germany in October, 1992, and established the British battalion (BRITBAT) base in the school at Novi Bila just off the main route through the Lasva Valley. The Cheshires deployed one company in Gornji Vakuf and the HQ and remaining three companies at Nova Bila and immediately began to use their Warrior armored vehicles to protect the humanitarian aid convoys transiting the area.65 The Cheshires were relieved in May, 1993, by the 1st Battalion, Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire, commanded by Lt. Col. Alastair Duncan.66 The Prince of Wales's Own was replaced in November, 1993, by the 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards, commanded by Lt. Col. Peter G. Williams.67

The UNPROFOR Dutch/Belgian transportion battalion at Busovaca was commanded by Lt. Col. Johannes de Boer from November, 1992, to April, 1993, and by Lt. Col. Paulus Schipper from April to November, 1993.68 The battalion had the mission of providing transportation support for UNHCR humanitarian convoys and for UNPROFOR units in central Bosnia.

The UNPROFOR forces deployed in Bosnia-Herzegovina have been criticized for their general lack of training, discipline, and suitable equipment, as well as a poorly conceived mission statement.69 Confined mainly to protecting the aid convoys, and later the UN "safe areas," UNPROFOR units were continually frustrated by restrictive rules of engagement (ROE) that prohibited them from actually intervening to prevent or stop the fighting or offenses against civilians. Even so, they established roadblocks and checkpoints, frequently interfered in on-going operations, and even fired upon Bosnian forces from time to time.70 Croatian Defense Council commanders complained bitterly of UNPROFOR bias in favor of the Muslims, charging that UNPROFOR was being deceived by the high proportion of Muslim interpreters they employed and that UNPROFOR personnel supplied arms and ammunition to the ABiH, facilitated the movement of ABiH combat forces in UNPROFOR vehicles, discriminated against the Croats in the movement of wounded soldiers and civilians to hospital, and revealed HVO plans to the ABiH.71 On the surface, however, UNPROFOR commanders in central Bosnia tried to maintain good relations with both Muslims and Croats, and they worked diligently to broker and oversee cease-fires and to reduce the level of violence in the area.

Although unarmed and fewer in number, the ECMM teams in central Bosnia were a much greater nuisance, particularly to HVO commanders, than were the UNPROFOR soldiers. The ECMM was established to oversee the cease-fire provisions of the Brioni Agreement of July 9, 1991, which ended the hostilities in Slovenia. The first group of ECMM monitors arrived in Slovenia on July 15, 1991, and the EC monitoring program was subsequently extended into Croatia and then, in late 1992, into Bosnia-Herzegovina. 72 The ECMM in the RBiH was managed from a Regional Center in Zenica with Coordinating Centers at Travnik, Tuzla, and Mostar. The actual monitoring work was done by teams composed of two monitors, usually military officers seconded to the ECMM for a six-month tour from one of the EC or Conference on Security and Confidence-Building in Europe (CSCE) countries, an interpreter, and a driver. The function of the monitoring teams was to patrol their assigned area and observe ongoing activities; maintain contact with local civil and military authorities as well as local and international aid agencies; facilitate and monitor cease-fire arrangements; investigate serious incidents and human rights violations; and encourage the improvement of relations between the warring parties. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the ECMM monitors in central Bosnia generally favored the Muslims, even to the extent of minimizing Croat charges of "ethnic cleansing" by the Muslims and accusing the HVO of using women and children to rob UN aid convoys.73 Given their known biases, the HVO did not trust ECMM monitors, and they were not well received in areas controlled by HVO commanders. As a result, there were frequent incidents in which ECMM monitors were threatened by HVO troops and denied access to certain areas. In turn, the monitors were quick to blame the HVO for any incidents that occurred.

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