The initial research objective
My initial objective was to research the documents and witness reports and by doing so try and prove that no battle was waged between the Croatian and the Canadian soldiers. My efforts to get access to sources that became public and those that are still classified has proven the complexity of the political, diplomatic, military, humanitarian and legal aspects of it. The entire case should be thoroughly studied in order to reach the truth. Therefore the initial research objective was changed to:
The wider research objective: the Medak Pocket Case Study
The attempt to research the wider context of what happened before, during and after the Medak Pocket Operation, to come as close to the truth as possible, avoiding black and white terminology, the cover-up of crimes, one-sided patriotic or emotional taking of sides – is what I was able to do.
The facts that make up the truth found in declassified source documents create a complete picture about the Medak Pocket and are the only interest of this study.
The facts that have already been proven and are available should replace “the perceived truth” about the crime and therefore unmask a hidden agenda: to harm the Croatian Army, its political leadership at the time of the events, and influence the future of Croatia. The Serbian side already heralds Savo Štrbac and “Veritas” whose documents and interpretations furnish the ICTY. These documents set a precedent for the renewal of the Republika Srpska (RSK) and ask for recent Croatian history to change, as well as the condemnation and even the dissolution of the Croatian state. One should always remember the sensitivity of the case’s investigation especially in the course of the Hague Tribunal investigator’s interests on the same subject (the indictment of Generals Bobetko and Ademi, the calling of witnesses: Generals Stipetić, Markač, Norac and Admiral Domazet – the comprehensive investigation running parallel with the ICTY and undertaken by the Croatian police). Those individuals that are in various way included in the Medak Pocket case are extra sensitive to giving their side of the story, because of the impending indictments. Therefore data gathering, witness reports and research as a whole, should be conducted with extra care.
The Overall Military and Political Situation After the Sarajevo Ceasefire Agreement
On January 3rd 1992 and the Sarajevo Ceasefire Plan45 the war in Croatia ended and the UN forces (UNPROFOR)46 deployment was agreed upon. At the very beginning of their commitment, in four UN protected zones (UNPA East, West, North and South)47 – Serbia and Montenegro, the JNA and local Serbs started another war of aggression in Bosnia and Herzegovina48, so the UN mandate was extended to the new warring zone49.
Clouded by the latest wars’ more fierce and more dangerous manner, an uncertain ceasefire was holding in Croatia. The sovereign Croatian state was slowly constituting itself, the new parliamentarian and democratic society was forming, the economy was transforming itself from a planned to a market one, the state gained its international attributes50, and renewed its economic and financial strength. At the same time Serb artillery from: Serbia proper, from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and the occupied territories of Croatia, continued to shell Croatian cities while Serb rebels evicted and/or killed the remaining Croats51 on the occupied territories. UN deployment had not prevented Serb forces from continuing to expel the non-Serb population and the continuous shelling of Croatian cities. It became clear that UNPROFOR did not have the mandate, intent or manpower to be of any efficacy; the least of which was the integration of the occupied territories back into the Croatian state. Ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs and efforts to constitute the Serb para-state were in a full swing on the occupied territories. There was two-fold development: Croatia insisted on UN mandate implementation52, the recognition of its full sovereignty and the return of all national territories under its constitutional and legal system – while rebel Serbs, fully supported by Belgrade, tried to transform the occupied territory into a “sovereign state” which would, after its unification with the Republika Srpska of Bosnia be annexed to the “mother-state of Serbia”53.
That artificial “state”, the so-called Republika Srpska Krajina (RSK) blocked the Croatian state’s critical needs – its communication with southern Croatia, water, electricity and oil supplies, the return of the refugees and the reconstruction of the country. Croatia was forced, her diplomatic efforts abiding (which at first was misunderstood and repelled by the international community)54 to undertake small-scale military operations on the Miljevac Plateau55, Maslenica56 and the Peruča dam57. While the state’s administration, diplomacy, economy, military and police were formed, and under economic pressure and an arms embargo, Croatia had with difficulties approached its goal – full sovereignty and its national territories’ liberation. Croatia was faced with Serb terror and without leniency, which during the Maslenica operation was felt by the UN forces. Serbs had forcibly entered ammunition depots and took heavy artillery that had been locked away58. Croatia had to combine diplomatic and military means and use patient and wise political and diplomatic steps to regain the confidence of the international community: the EU, UN, OESS59 and choose when it would undertake military actions. In such a way Croatia came closer to its goal. By never publicly admitting it’s strategy, which Serb rebels ironically called “a mice bite strategy,”60 Croatia made its strategic, economic, internal and external position stronger. Undertaking limited military/police actions in the so-called “Pink Zones” which the UN itself recognized as unquestionable parts of Croatia’s territory61, the areas important for communication and power supply were returned under its sovereignty. At the same time, Serb artillery and rocket threats were pushed away from Croat civilian targets, weakening the strategy of the Serbs62. Security was returned to larger cities along the coast and to Croatia’s interior which up until that time was threatened by even smaller calibre enemy artillery.
The unification of the two Serbian “states” and “armies” – the Republika Srpska army and the army of the Serbian Republic of Krajina and the constant military and logistical support from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia63 – posed a great political and military threat.
Control of Croatia’s borders and stopping rebel Serb troop reinforcements from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, was imperative for Croatia. The UNPROFOR mandate sub-divided into three separate mandates: one for Croatia, one for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and one for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia64 was also vital for Croatia. The signing of the Erdut Agreement65 and its implementation66, the vivid activities of international negotiators for the former Yugoslavia (Vance/Owen/Stoltenberg67), a number of meetings that followed in Geneva, Vienna, London, New York, Tuđman’s peace proposal on September 22nd 1993 as disclosed in the UN68 and the passing of the 871 UN Resolution in 1993 – all mark Croatia’s vivid political and diplomatic activities toward both Serb rebels, international mediators and world powers in the year of 1993. In that year, several UN Resolutions unequivocally confirmed Croatia’s sovereignty on its entire territory. In that year as well some limited but important military victories had been achieved which showed the growth and the ability of the Croatian armed forces to (combined with political means) realize Croatian national interests. The Republic of Croatia has shown decisiveness to persevere in its sovereign and democratic defence principles; principles Serb rebels and the FRY (Serbia and Montenegro) questioned.
Political and Diplomatic Efforts by the Republic of Croatia and the International Community in Order to Achieve the Peaceful Reintegration of Occupied Areas and Croatia’s Full Sovereignty on it’s Complete State Territory
What was it in the political and diplomatic arena that preceded the military/police action and what were the roles of the participants cast long before the tragic claim became unavoidable?
In this chronological review of the most important diplomatic actions taken by the UN, ICFY69, EU, the Republic of Croatia, FR Yugoslavia and the authorities of the so-called “RSK”, the moves that all the most important actors have taken are visible:
- the Republic of Croatia’s effort through peaceful means, negotiations, to reach the goals marked in UN Resolutions
- the actions of RSK leaders to, by any means, obstruct the peace process and try to achieve their parastatehood, after which they would annex it to other Serbian states (that attitude was advocated by terrorist threats and their actions – the expulsion and killing of the remaining non-Serb population)
- the UN and world power reluctance to call a “spade a spade” – to name the aggressor, the terrorism, the occupation and the crime70.
Looking into official documents, one witness notes the painstaking move made from one conference to another and the argument’s over buildings that were always disputed. We see the Serb headstrong positions and Milošević’s tactics. We discover the international community/the UN, some states, and UNPROFOR’s sympathy for the victors, the Serbs71 and antipathy for the losers. Losers being those who wanted peace to be reached and those who would achieve a settlement among two losing sides (the Muslims and the Croats)72.
The UN at first was reluctant to enter into the Yugoslav crisis and only after all sides involved agreed did they accept (UN Security Council Resolution 724 on December 14th 1991) “Vance Peace Plan”. Resolution73 727 welcomes the Croatian ceasefire agreement signed in Sarajevo on January 2nd 1992 and implemented on January 3rd. It was as soon as the February 21st 743 Resolution74 that UNPROFOR was formally established. The new Resolution stated when its deployment was set to commence. 743 Resolution75 was very important for the Republic of Croatia because of its recommendation to the General UN Assembly for Croatia to become a full member of the UN, which consequently occurred on May 22nd 1992. UN Security Council 762 Resolution76 agrees upon the “Pink Zones”77 concept as a temporary solution until Croatia’s control over that territory was re-established. The Croatian government’s repeated demands to prevent the military and logistical help the “RSK” received over the borders of the Republic of Croatia – the UNPROFOR control over international borders was established by the 769 Resolution78. That however did not prevent Serbs continuing to use those border crossings, so repeated incidents among UN and Serb military and civilian authorities occurred.
The Krajina Serbs controlling the Peruča dam (that supplied most areas of southern Croatia with electrical power) would from time to time switch off the power supply, or threaten to blow up the dam, opening the scouring tunnel and endangering the lives of thousands of people living downstream. In order to prevent such a humanitarian catastrophe, the UN instituted 779 Resolution79 wherein the Peruča dam was secured by UN forces. Co-presiding Cyrus Vance and David Owen, two key figures representing the UN and the contact group, had on the 19th and 20th of November 1992 visited four UNPA zones in Croatia. It became clear to them that the Vance Peace Plan was not implemented, and they tried to find out what could be done on the ground. Owen, in his memories “Balkan Odyssey” writes: “We visited the Maslenica Bridge, destroyed in the war, and which should be opened again so that Croatian transport and tourist vehicles, and businesses could drive down the highway towards the Dalmatian coast. We climbed the crest of the Peruča dam carefully, because it was considered that a large quantity of explosives was planted in the power station, which if Serbs were to activate would destroy the dam and flood the area. Both those questions were discussed thoroughly in Belgrade, Zagreb and Geneva, so it was useful to see how it looked on the field80”. They visited Knin and witnessed the headstrong, firm view of the Krajina Serbs. “In Knin we had a dreadful meeting with Krajina’s Serbs, who refused to accept anything but secession and who pretended they were members of an independent government with their own foreign minister. I said repeatedly, in order to make them understand, that we were in Croatia, which the UN with its semantics tried to avoid?! My definition provoked a bombastic speech about us being in an independent Serb republic.”81 At the same time, the JNA withdrew from Prevlaka, but since the FR Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) claimed that area as their own, the UN Security Council decided to form a “buffer zone” there, under the supervision of UN military observers. And then, to the amazement of many, on January 22nd 1993 the Croatian military/police Maslenica action occurred in which the Maslenica gorge, Rovanjska, Jasenice, Maslenica, Novigrad, Zemunik airfield and some strategic Velebit Mountain peaks were liberated. The international community’s fear that a simmering conflict in Croatia could break into a larger scale war had grown. Three days after the Maslenica action started, the UN Security Council reacted with its 802 Resolution82, asking for the immediate cease of the military activities and the return of the Croatian Army to the pre-Maslenica action lines. The UN Secretary General report to the UN Security Council – annexed to the 743 Resolution (1992)83 points out: “The situation became more serious. After the Croatian Maslenica operation began, Serbs have stolen heavy weapons, armed themselves and mobilized the Serb population; a considerably great number of reinforcement troops have come from all parts of the former Yugoslavia…” David Owen soon realized why Croatia had decided to undertake such a military action, in order to solve the problem of its communication between the north and south of the country. “The Croatian Government, understandably from the very start, tried to avoid the repetition of Cyprus, where a UN presence de facto cemented the island’s division, and therefore a ceasefire was never achieved... The Croatian Serbs were the factor of consolidation in disguise and the Croatian government the factor of destabilization”84. But the course of events did not stop there. After repeated Serb threats they would blow up the Peruča Dam, on January 27th 1993, the Croatian Army liberated it in a swift action. The Serbs had activated the dynamite in the power station, but fortunately they did not destroy the Dam completely. So the Dam withstood the damage and the accumulation lake’s water did not flood into the valley below. After that events at the Dam, the military and political situation became more tense again. Krajina Serbs demanded the Croatian liberated areas in Ravni Kotari be returned to them, while Croatians insisted on the implementation of UN Resolutions and the “Pink Zones” be returned under Croatian sovereignty. The conditions in the occupied territories gave them that claim, because the Serbs had through ethnic cleansing changed the ethnic makeup in the occupied parts of Croatia. They would not allow the return of Croatian refugees and instead settled these areas with Serbs coming from all parts of the former Yugoslavia. Describing that and the UN role in the peace plan implementation, Owen objectively and critically said: “The great influx of Serb refugees had brought about the violence among Serbs themselves. Their gangs engaged in ransoms and extortions, all of that happened right under the UNPROFOR CIVPOL noses…whose role as they had told us, was a passive one, watching and reporting on local police and local authorities activities, and nourishing good relations with the population as a whole. Considering the conditions prevailing in Croatia at the time, especially after the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina had begun…it was impossible to see how the UN could become anything else but a subject of scorn and a laughing matter in Croatia. The UN was not liked nor appreciated by anybody.”85
The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina worsened, so Resolution 80786 had to be voted on, by which the UN Security Council “Declares decisiveness in securing the unimpeded activities of UNPROFOR in the Republic of Croatia and other republics.” The great number of crimes happened in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and victims of the aggression demanded the court be formed in order to punish war crimes perpetrators and human rights violators. Croatia was one of the states asking for the ICTY to be established. The UN Security Council’s Resolution 808 established the ICTY – or “The International Tribunal for criminal prosecution of those persons responsible of serious international humanitarian laws violations committed since 1991 on the former Yugoslavia territories.” A very important Resolution 815, confirms the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Croatia and that the so-called “RSK” violated it and did not take it into account. “The UN confirms its decision to ensure that the sovereignty of the Republic of Croatia, territorial integrity and other republics in which UNPROFOR is deployed… the future status of UN (UNPA zones) should be decided on and those zones are the constitutive part of the Republic of Croatia’s territory.” Croatia conditioned UNPROFOR’s mandate extension, asking for more efficient pressure on rebel Serbs to accept those principals which had been agreed upon and written in official UN documents. That opinion is echoed by the UN Secretary General in his report to the UN Security Council, pending UN Security Council Resolution 815 (1993) in which the mandate of UNPROFOR in the Republic of Croatia was decided upon.
“Serbs decline to accept the reality – the Republic of Croatia’s sovereignty and negotiations about their (minority) question status; they question the ambiguous nature of UNPROFOR’s future role, the extension of its mandate, the modality of its mandate and the purpose of it…”
On the mandate’s extension, the UN Secretary General further elaborated in the 2nd point of that report: “The future of UNPROFOR in the Republic of Croatia if both factors are questioned – if both sides fail, especially the Serb side’s inability to co-operate in the political process, would make the solution of all the disputed matters possible. Despite the co-ordinator’s87 and UNPROFOR’s efforts, there is no visible progress. The UNPROFOR role is to prevent rising tension and clashes between the Serb side and the Croatian authority’s side. The end of the mandate could result in all out war in the region and prevent humanitarian aid from being delivered. The UN in the Republic of Croatia helps the situation development in Bosnia and Herzegovina, separates the Republic of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The UN Security Council therefore declines the option to withdraw from the Republic of Croatia and leaves UNPROFOR in the Republic of Croatia. That will not be satisfactory to the Republic of Croatia but according to the UN Secretary General’s assessment: the goals which the Croatian government imposes are impossible to reach without full UNPA and “Pink Zone” local Serb co-operation. We will therefore ask the Republic of Croatia for a three-month extension of the mandate. UNPROFOR has undertaken the difficult job and decisively executed it. Five-hundred UN members were wounded, 46 of them mortally, among that number 246 wounded and 25 killed in the Republic of Croatia.”
Because of the conflicting interests of world powers, the UN lacked the political will or strength to firmly engage in Croatian problem solving. In David Owen’s own words: “The UN was not able to return (Croatian) refugees home, while at the same time Serb paramilitaries have not demobilized their troops and the UN lacked the firmness to confiscate their arms by force. The stalemate position continued for the following two and a half years…”88 Even the UN Security Council chairman at the time was worried with the situation on the battleground development, in that “all-around, integrated battleground” and delivered remarks on April 21st 1993 called the “Bosnia and Herzegovina situation”. Those remarks denounce the new wave of violence, ask for a ceasefire and co-operation with UNPROFOR and the co-presider of the International Committee for the Former Yugoslavia, Lord Owen. David Owen and General Lars Wahlgren, new commanding officer of UNPROFOR, talked on April 25th regarding the ways in which to realize the suggestions of the Security Council Chairman, and how to materialize “Vance-Owen’s Peace Proposal.” In his book, Owen describes Wahlgren as a “sensible and calm Swede with great UN experience”)89. But Wahlgren would also be unable to break Serb determination, outwit Milošević’s cunning tactics, Croatian diplomatic skills, and great powers’ opposing political interests. Soon he would resign and be replaced by General Jean Cot.
Resolution 82790 established the ICTY, marking the foundation for an inquiry and consecutive punishment of those individuals who committed war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. On June 3rd 1993, Croatia’s President Tuđman sent a letter which was forwarded to the UN Security Council Secretary General. The Croatian President spoke of “the continued Serb aggression on the Republic of Croatia, now a member of the UN, about the shelling of towns and cities, the mistreatment of the non-Serb population, the participation of FR Yugoslavia citizens in the aggression on the Republic of Croatia, of the breaking down of negotiations between legitimate Croat authorities and Serb “Krajina” representatives-caused by the later, and about the referendum preparations that would annex “RSK” with the other Serbian territorial gains. Serbs refused to implement all UN Resolutions and intended to secede the part of sovereign Croatian territory that is completely unacceptable for the Republic of Croatia – according to all resulutions. UNPA’s are the Republic of Croatia’s integral parts. The dramatic situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina worsens. The Republic of Croatia asks UNPROFOR to be engaged on the internationally recognized borders between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and between Croatia and FR Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). The Republic of Croatia should not be a hostage in the Bosnia and Herzegovina situation. The Republic of Croatia will accept the UN mandate extension if the methods of applying Vance-Owen plan are clearly drawn.”
Croatia continued with its diplomatic efforts. On June 18th 1993 Croatia’s Foreign Minister Mate Granić in a letter to the UN Security Council Secretary General wrote: “The Republic of Croatia advocates the separation of the UNPROFOR mandate into three separate mandates – this apart from the mandate’s extension (on peace forces for the Republic of Croatia, for Bosnia and Herzegovina and for Macedonia) because they are three separate states, not engaged in war with one another. They do not form any political or any other union – therefore cannot be defined as a unique territory of operations. The previous mandate of the UN has ceased being opposite to the UN member states sovereignty. The existing problem of Bosnia and Herzegovina who is yet to define its states’ constitution is non-existent in Croatia; here the effective solution for the UNPA zones should be found.” The co-president of the international conference for the former Yugoslavia tried to negotiate between the opposing sides in both the Republic of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and tried to enforce a peaceful conflict solution.”
On June 28th 1993 the Geneva conference called upon leaders Milošević, Tuđman, Bulatović, Karadžić and Boban to take part. President Tuđman again wrote to the UN Security Council Secretary General. In his letter dated June 25th 1993 he tried to make the mandate extension politically useful and conceded a peaceful solution was possible and agreed on further negotiations with the Serb side. He also warned that the UN was ineffective and pointed out the consequences of such a mandate: “…I propose a month-long extension of the mandate, during which time a willingness of Serb representatives to reach an agreement with Croatian authorities should be tested. Then another three month-long mandate and finally the consequent separation of mandates would be possible. The situation is extremely difficult, some of the Croatian territory is “de facto” separated from mainland Croatia, communications are impeded, the economic situation is difficult… Serb attacks on Croatian cities continue daily, in spite the signed ceasefire agreement and UNPROFOR’s presence…”
On June 30th, the Republic of Croatia’s UN Mission Ambassador, Mario Nobilo sent a letter to the UN Secretary General in which he writes: “…I underline the proposal of UNPROFOR’s separate mandate, propose its new name (UNCRO), the civil and military section should be separated and the head of the civilian affairs in the civilian sector should be appointed.”
Resolution 84791, voted on the same day, deals with the extension of the UNPROFOR mandate until September 30th of the same year. The Resolution “…once again confirms the territorial integrity and the Republic of Croatia’s sovereignty, and takes into account the Croatian government’s position on the separate UNPROFOR mandate in the sovereign Republic of Croatia’s areas.” The Secretary General would think it over and make his decision at a later date. The Secretary General’s report to the UN Security Council pending the second paragraph of 847 UN SC Resolution (1993): “…in 847 UN Resolution dated on June 30th 1993, the three-month extension of the UN mandate has been decided upon. UN SC Secretary General has a month to monitor the peace plan and all the Resolution’s implementation, thus accepting the Croatian demand.” The presidential Security Council statement endorsed the re-opening of the Maslenica Bridge for civilian transport. The Republic of Croatia simply wanted to open the bridge and Zemunik airfield. Without the agreement and UNPROFOR’s participation in it, the situation on the ground would worsen and prevent confidence building. The UN Security Council demands that Croatia refrain from such action. According to the Erdut Agreement (on June 15th/16th 1993) the Croatian Army and police would have withdrawn their troops from the Maslenica area by June 31st , placing it under complete UNPROFOR supervision. In order to achieve the Erdut Agreement’s implementation, UNPROFOR brought 800 troops into the vicinity of the area Croats were to withdraw from. Those Croat forces did not allow for complete UN deployment in this area. On August 2nd Serb shelling sank one of the Maslenica pontoon bridges. One of the co-presidents was still of the opinion there was a possibility to continue with negotiations. He asked both sides to attend the Geneva conference, during which the elements of the original Erdut treaty would be discussed. After both parties accepted the invitation, the talks began. The Security Council Secretary General again expressed his opinion on the situation: “The questions that should be solved in Croatia have not yet been solved. Everything now depends on the present efforts to implement UN Resolutions and UN Security Council recommendations. Peace could only be achieved through goodwill and negotiations. I am seriously considering the Croatian proposal about the mandate separation. A decision has not yet been made. The proposal needs further consideration. Co-presidents under the Secretary General’s instruction, also increased their pressure on all sides. On June 31st they convened an International Conference on the former Yugoslavia in Geneva. Soon small steps to approach a peace solution were made, but it was unclear whether they were due to Serb side tactics or to the Croatian government and president’s political moves, made in order to prepare new diplomatic, political and military manoeuvring.
On July 15th and 16th 1993 the agreement regarding the Croatian forces withdrawal from areas liberated in the Maslenica operation were drafted. In Geneva the following day, July 17th, Milošević and Tuđman met. On July 23rd an addition to the July 15th/16th agreement was signed. In his letter to the Security Council presidency (dated August 29th – as a UN SC document) Boutros Boutros Ghali, for the first time mentioned war crimes in Croatia and wrote: “…The expert commission tries in their mandate’s frame to make inquiry and to analyze information about grave Geneva convention violations, and other violations of human rights committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. In order to discover and document the existence of mass graves in the UNPA zones…it is of the utmost importance the research (excavation) at the place called Ovčara, near Vukovar in UN Sector West be done.” One conference is followed by another. The London conference held on August 26th and 27th 1993 co-presided by the SC secretary general, prime minister of Great Britain, president of the EU ministry council and the leaders of the warring sides. From August 27th to August 30th the same conference continued, this time in Geneva. It feverishly tried to find a solution for achieving peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.
But the UN Mission to Croatia’s attaché letter again warned of SR Yugoslavia and RS military aid being given to the so-called RSK. “The information on Serbian troops from Serbia proper and the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina deployment in the Republic of Croatia… the manpower and military armament increase in the UNPA and “Pink Zones”… about 600 armed men (a battalion) from the “2nd Krajiški Corps of the Republika Srpska Army” had in the middle of July arrived from the Bosnia and Herzegovina territory to the area of Benkovac. Recently, another battalion joined them. At the same time a group of volunteers from Serbia, about 13 to 15,000 strong, arrived to northern Dalmatia and immediately engaged in fighting. One hundred and fifty to 200 officers and lower-rank JNA officers have been assigned duties in the so-called 15th Lika corps and in the 7th Knin corps.”92 One battalion of the Republika Srpska’s Army is deployed opposite of the Cazin krajina, one RS Army brigade is stationed in Western Slavonia, six to seven thousand men with artillery and an armoured battalion (40 tanks) from Serbia have infiltrated the UNPA and a part of Bosnia and Herzegovina is under Serb control. The militarization is stepped up in sectors North and South, which is a sign of a possible military action planned in Serbia’s political and military centres. The serious nature of the situation escalates as civilians are being evacuated in some parts of the Republic of Croatia occupied by Serbs.”
But Serbs from the so-called RSK persist in denying Croatia its sovereignty and territorial integrity. They continue their terrorist shelling of Croatian cities along the coast. On August 23rd 1993 the ancient city of Zadar’s surrounding area (the bridge and the airfield) were shelled. On August 24th Zadar’s vicinity was bombed. On August 25th eastern Slavonia, Zadar, Maslenica and Pakrac suffer the same fate. On August 26th and 27th the same cities were under attack again. The Croatian side in communicating with the UN Security Council and continues to warn them: “…the actions mentioned show the unwillingness of local Serb authorities to solve problems through peace talks, and they pose a direct threat to the Republic of Croatia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Republic of Croatia asks for the international community’s severe condemnation. It becomes obvious that the UN and UNPROFOR should take stronger and more decisive measures to implement UN Security Council Resolutions on the Republic of Croatia’s territory.” But the UN and its Secretary General were more preoccupied with the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Secretary General wrote a letter to the Security Council presidency on September 1st 1993 the co-presidents International conference for the former Yugoslavia steering committee’s report held from August 30th until September 1st in Geneva, pending the interrupted conference of August 20th: “…we have taken into consideration the Peace plan for Bosnia and Herzegovina.” It is obvious that this consideration did not bring about any results. New talks and conferences followed in London, Vienna, Geneva and the secret negotiations in Betostolen near Oslo in Norway. Then on September 8th a horrific Serbian crime occurred in the village of Kusonje. The Croatian Prime Minister Nikica Valentić reported the details in his letter to the UN Security Council Secretary General. The letter of September 8th, September 10th 1993 states: “… my government and I would like to draw your attention to the crime which was committed today in the village of Kusonje near Pakrac. There was an explosion of a planted device at a memorial day ceremony held for 18 Croatian policemen that had gone missing two years ago. Three persons were killed, eight were wounded, among them an UNPROFOR Argentinean battalion member. UNPROFOR should be held responsible for this terrorist act, for not preventing the attacks done in the UNPA zones under their protection. Therefore the Croatian government warns, if UNPROFOR continue in its current ineffective manner, our government will find the legal means to prevent such terrorist acts. This latest event has stretched our patience to the limit. Let the Serb paramilitary troops, UNPA zones, UN forces, as well as the international community know – the Republic of Croatia has been brought to the very brink of its patience and dignity. We address you and ask from you to do everything in your power to prevent such criminal acts from happening again.” The terrorist act followed a long series of shelling and diversions and the Croatian government and public opinion had clearly lost their patience. The President and the government concluded that diplomatic means were useless in bringing security to Croatia’s citizens – they did not reintegrate the occupied territories, and were useless in achieving peace with local Serb authorities.
During the early morning of September 9th, at 6:05 am, the limited military and police operation in the Medak Pocket started, and was to be finished on the same day at 13:00 hours. The UN started reporting the shelling along both sides of the frontline that morning. General Cot tried mediating a ceasefire at 11:00 hours and at exactly the same time, (according to a UN report), the Croatian Army started an offensive south of the city of Gospić and had taken the villages of Čitluk and Donje Selo. The next day, on September 10th, the Croatian Army and special police fortified their positions and repelled the Serb counteroffensive. The Serbs intensified their bombardment of civilian targets in the entire Republic of Croatia. Co-president of the IC for the former Yugoslavia, Thorvald Stoltenberg, speaking to President Tuđman proposed the Croatian Army withdraw. The UN reported that the fighting had continued. Tuđman replied that Croatia would accept a ceasefire but not a withdrawal until a comprehensive ceasefire plan was agreed upon. UNPROFOR extended Tuđman’s message to the Serb side. Cot sent his own emissaries to both sides, but Croatia’s Bobetko refused to meet General Cot’s emissary, and Serb General Novaković, Commanding Officer of the “Serbian Krajina” Army threatened to attack targets indiscriminately in all of Croatia if the Croatian Army did not withdraw. UNPROFOR reported that the Croatian Army attacked Medak and the area south of Čitluk. The Croatian recapture of Njegovan was confirmed, and Serb refugees marched towards the town of Gračac. At 19:40, the town of Sisak was shelled and Croatian planes bombed Serb rocket launching positions. UNPROFOR mediated with both sides while the situation worsened. The conflict had spread to sectors North and South, to the “Pink Zones” and to the surrounding areas. These were the fiercest battles waged since the Croatian Army’s January 22nd Maslenica offensive
September 11th – the intensity of the battles increased – artillery exchanges followed in Baljak, Medak, Gospić, Mali Alan and Obrovac.
September 12th – The Republic of Croatia at President Tuđman’s order unilaterally proclaimed a ceasefire, starting at 12:00 hours. The Republic of Croatia demanded the UN should implement its own Resolutions. In the evening of that same day, UNPROFOR’s spokeswoman Shannon Boyd issued a press release: “The UN is trying to achieve a ceasefire and Croatian Army withdrawal.” Following a meeting with General Bobetko, General Cot said he would report to the UN Secretary General tomorrow (September 13th) about the situation. The Serb side declined to negotiate while the Croatian Army offensive actions were in the full swing.
September 13th – a verbal ceasefire agreement is reached.
September 14th – In a personal statement, the UN Secretary General demands the Croatian Army withdraw to the September 9th position.
September 15th – the ceasefire agreement was signed by Generals Novaković and Stipetić.
September 16th – at 12:00 hours the beginning of the agreements implementation – UNPROFOR started deploying in the demilitarized zone and Croatian Army withdrew.
September 17th – at 18:00 hours, the Croatian Army has withdrawn to the pre
September 9th position (before the Medak Pocket Operation started), the first killed were found and catalogued, the first destroyed houses and slaughtered cattle registered.
September 19th – General Cot visited the Medak Pocket. UN Spokeswoman quotes his statement of having seen a “scorched earth”.
September 20th – a meeting takes place aboard the British aircraft carrier “Invincible” somewhere in the Adriatic Sea – all political leaders are present – the participants of the war in the former Yugoslavia. A few days later the Croatian and “Krajina” side agree upon secret negotiations to be held in Norway. To the organizer’s surprise Serb representatives make this information public during TV interviews. That form of acquired international legitimacy suited the Serb side. They did not burden themselves with possible meeting failures and wanted to be recognized as an equal partner. This is why Owen blames the failure of the talks on the Croatian side, because the “Croat Army’s forces killed Serbs in the Medak Pocket. The UN fairly extensively documented the serious human right violations done in the Medak Pocket, which inflicted great damage on the Republic of Croatia.”93 Even President Tuđman’s peace initiative, which Croatia proposed to the UN, was referred to Owen as “a manoeuvre by which the world’s public opinion should be swayed away from recently discovered crimes.”
At the end of September, UNPROFOR’s mandate expired, vivid consultations followed and a consensus tried to be reached at the UN itself. In the days that followed: September 30th, October 1st and 4th, three Resolutions were voted on. Resolution 869, regarded a 24-hour mandate extension. Resolution 870 enforced UNPROFOR security because its new mandate was put under chapter 7 of the UN Charter concerning “peace enforcing”. Finally the third, Resolution 871, UNPROFOR’s mandate had been separated on Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia and three subordinate HQ’s were established under one central command. This marked a great Croatian diplomatic success. Croatia, although being under severe accusations especially after the UNPROFOR SITREPORT from October 7th 1993 about the Medak Pocket94, had unequivocally, even in the eyes of UN, become a sovereign country.
The diplomatic efforts and negotiations continued. From October 28th to November 31st 1993 Stoltenberg met with Presidents Tuđman and Milošević in Zagreb and Belgrade. David Owen met Croatian Defence Minister Gojko Šušak in London on October 11th. On October 29th EU Foreign Ministers in Geneva met with Presidents Milošević, Tuđman, Bulatović and Izetbegović and later with leaders Karadžić and Boban in Geneva as well. On December 31st , co-presidents of the IC for the former Yugoslavia again met with the conflict’s protagonists. The following day, they all met with EU ministers and co-presidents in Brussels. The international community’s efforts would bare some deceptive and temporary fruit – the peace process for Croatia would result in a general ceasefire agreement and the Zagreb treaty in 1994. But for the Serb side, that would only mean one more tactical manoeuvre to appease the international community and make it believe that the Serbs were ready to co-operate. They had no real intent to return under the Croatian state’s sovereignty. The so-called “RSK” only wished for a quick unification with “RS” and with FR Yugoslavia to take place. The solution that Croatia would take at some future date, all the diplomatic efforts and successes aside, was again a military one. In the spring and summer of 1995, the Republic of Croatia will in the span of only a few days use the military and police action “Bljesak” and “Oluja” to solve all the problems the UN and the IC have not been able to solve for years.
The Political and Military Situation Before the Medak Pocket Operation
After the sudden - and for the Krajina Serbs, their army, UNPROFOR and the international community - unexpected success of the Croatian Army and police in executing the occupied area liberation of the Maslenica Operation, a change in the military and political leadership of the so-called “Republika Srpska Krajina” (RSK) behaviour was expected. The Croatian leadership was of the opinion that after the Krajina action, politicians would be more prone to negotiate and they would accept the relevant UN documents. All of these documents unequivocally recognized Croatian sovereignty over the occupied areas and asked for their peaceful return under the Croatian constitutional and legal system. The desperate Serb resistance during the Rovanjska, Mali Alan, Tulove Grede, Velika and Mala Bobija, Maslenica, Novigrad, Kašić and Zemunik battles, their fierce counter-attack when the reinforcement troops arrived from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina95 – this counter-attack was for the first time prevented by the Croatian Army’s “vertical manoeuvre”96, its soldiers and officers combat readiness and bravery – that Serb resistance has shown that the force and the Serbian army’s morale, though cracked, was still high and their perseverance on their “independence” and “parastatehood” was still abiding.
The Krajina Serbs attributed their defeat in the Maslenica Operation to “UN treason”97, to surprise, and to their own relaxed attitude. The Serb military leadership claimed their defeat had been caused by a number of unfortunate coincidences.98 In order to somehow calm down the Krajina Serbs revolt: military commanders claim to have prevented a large scale Croat offensive, that the military balance still held in their favour, and that Croatian military forces did not pose any danger to the existence of the RSK.99 FR Yugoslavia still provided them with significant financial and military aid. Military hardware, ammunition, fuel and people still crossed over Bosnian and Croatian borders without any impediment.
The Yugoslav Army and Serbs living in Croatia and Bosnia considered the whole area to be one, “large integrated battlefield”100, which in the near future should become an all-Serbian state.
Arrogance and disrespect of diplomatic rules were the Serb politicians’ guidelines. After breaking off with the rest of Krajina’s politicians, Goran Hadžić101, self-proclaimed president of “RSK state” came to Geneva without an invitation. Krajina’s politicians took sides of their preference, Hadžić chose his to be Baranja and Vukovar, the remnants of the JNA and ex-military cadre. It was an easy way out for him, because eastern Slavonia bordered with FR Yugoslavia (Serbia) and actually became its integral part at a time. Serbian politicians from western Slavonia tried to secretly negotiate with the Croatian government, but were discovered and punished102. The hardest line was taken by the “Knin stream” politicians, who were geographically the most far removed from Belgrade and the political power’s centre - Slobodan Milošević, from where the principal moves in Serb politics were made. Knin politicians therefore acted independently. After the June 1993 Erdut Agreement in Vienna103 a ceasefire between the Croatian Army and the Krajina paramilitary should have been signed. But instead of signing, the rebel Krajina Serbs issued an ultimatum, asking for the Croatian Army’s withdrawal from areas liberated during the Maslenica military and police action. The agreement endorsed by the international community consequently had not been signed, Krajina Serbs stubbornly demanded their parastate be recognized. It was again clear that the dispute should be solved with arms.
The situation in the area after the Maslenica action started to slowly change, the Krajina Serb’s morale was low, especially after the pontoon bridge over the Maslenica gorge was constructed. The calls for a general mobilization were issued daily, deserters were punished and some of them had escaped to Belgrade. Rumors were spread about oil being stolen, for which Goran Hadžić was blamed. Corruption was in full swing. Money had been stolen and it was said that Knin politicians deposited it in Belgrade’s banks. Soldier’s wages were months late. The value of the “Krajina Dinar” fell dramatically, and there were constant shortages of basic food necessities and fuel.104 In order to boost morale, which had fallen after the Maslenica Operation, several groups of volunteers came from Serbia proper. One of these was “Captain Dragan”105 – who, in Bruška near Benkovac established the commando training centre for the so-called “Knindža’s.”106 All the volunteers and promises of further aid were just a pretence. The RSK belief was that should a danger arise, FR Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav Army was ready to help. That firm faith was the guarantor of the RSK’s existence. The majority of Krajina Serbs were not aware that Milošević’s politics has changed. This change was caused by pressure from greater powers and imposed sanction. Milošević’s politics shifted to a more realistic goal – the lifting of sanctions imposed on FR Yugoslavia and the creation of a Republika Srpska in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina. Without their knowledge, Serbs in Croatia were left to fend for themselves.
War Operations in Lika 1991 – 1993
The JNA and Rebel Serb Army’s Military Organization
During July, August and into mid-September 1991 Serb rebel forces occupied areas of Lika where the Serb population were a majority. According to previously drawn JNA plans107, its counter-intelligence service (SSNO) – the state security service (continued to be called KOS)108, had armed and started to organize rebel units (Territorial defence, partisan brigades, paramilitary and Četnik units) in the 13th Rijeka corps, whose territorial command the Lika area fell under. The rebel attacks on Croatian police patrols, control taking in municipalities and cities – spread from Knin to Korenica, Gračac, Lovinac, Sveti Rok, Medak and Gospić.109 Threatening rumours were spread among the general population. This being part of a special psychological war which JNA experts had studied at British colleges for special warfare.110 So fear and panic had preceded any army advancement. Terrorist shelling, psychological warfare, targeted massacres of Croatian civilians in Lovinac, Sv. Rok, and Široka Kula, had forced the rest of the Croatian population in Krajina to flee to Gospić, Otočac, Perušić, Lički Osik or other safer parts of Croatia. The best example of this was the difficult exodus of the Lovinac villagers over the massive Velebit mountains, to the security of Croatia’s coastline.
The Croatian Military and Police Forces Organization
At the beginning of September 1991 in Gospić and Otočac three battalions of the 118th brigade of the National Guard Union as well as the Ministry of Interior police forces were deployed. Their units were poorly armed with light infantry weaponry and a few mortars at their disposal.
Military plans and Military Operations development
It was clear by their August and September military operations that Serb rebels and the JNA tried to take control of the Gospić - Karlobag and Gospić - Perušić - Otočac roads, in order to encircle the town of Gospić. They also tried to interrupt the Otočac - Brinje and Josipdol - Ogulin route. If successful, they would have managed to cut Zagreb from Senj and Split, and eventually would have reached Rijeka to join General Čad’s troops111 - the 13th JNA corps, still stationed there.
But the National Guard Union (ZNG) and Ministry of Interior police forces fortified their defence lines preventing the enemy’s further advancement to the fictitious Karlovac - Karlobag line, the future “Greater Serbian” frontier – which was the strategic objective of the rebel Serbs. The Croatian’s shortage of weapons was still an acute problem, and the only way for them to arm was to break into the JNA army depots and barracks in Lika. The decision was made, and on September 14th 1991 the operation of overtaking JNA army barracks in Gospić, Kaniža and Perušić was taken, which successfully finished with Serbs handing in the radar station on Panos over to Croats on September 22nd. At that point, the JNA started to crumble. Many young conscripts had fled barracks and with the help of the Croatians returned to their homes in Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. What was left of the JNA was professional officers and lower-ranking staff, as well as local mobilized Serb conscripts. The Croatian National Guard Union and the Ministry of Interior forces had, in spite of the resistance, captured all JNA installations and seized greater quantities of small and heavy arms. The enemy tried to unblock their surrounded forces, but failed to do so. During the Gospić action a JNA general was taken prisoner112 and later exchanged for Croatian prisoners. After arming themselves with heavy weaponry – tanks, APC’s and cannons, the ZNG and police were able to engage in more limited operations to liberate the occupied territory. One such action was the attack on the village of Divoselo. On November 16th 1991113 Croatian forces broke Serb defence lines and entered Divoselo. But after receiving the order to withdraw, they returned to Gospić. That action, taken in a village that was a partisan-Četnik symbol, that before 1991 determined all of the Lika region’s development, had a hard-hitting psychological effect on the Serb side. In a similar action taken on Divoselo on October 3rd 1991 the leader of the “Beli Orlovi”, the Belgrade paramilitary Serb volunteer unit, Đorđe Božović - Giška114 was killed. It was yet another heavy blow for the rebel Serbs. At the beginning of November in the Lika area, the Croatian 111th and 128th brigade came from Rijeka. With those enforcements a military balance was achieved. Serb forces answered with heavy artillery attacks which for the citizens of Gospić, Perušić and Otočac became a daily routine.
On January 3rd 1992 the Sarajevo Ceasefire Plan was implemented, but Gospić, Stari Lički Osik, Perušić and Otočac still underwent artillery bombardments. On occasion they were also under the enemy’s infantry attacks. The occupied region of Lika bordered Mala Kapela in the north, and the Velebit Ridge in the south. After the RSK started to “govern it”, the non-Serb population was ethnically cleansed - expelled or killed. The crimes committed on the Croat population continued even during the UNPROFOR mandate. Such was the one committed in Podlapača as revenge for the Medak Pocket’s defeat. Lika had been, from the Partisan and Četnik movement during World War ll, the strategically important area for the realization of expansionist Serb aspirations. In 1991 it became the “Krajina spine”, the link between Banija and Kordun, with the central points of the parastate being Gračac and Knin surrounding areas. Lika also bordered and had a foothold in Serb areas in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina. The radical Serb indoctrination, which in Yugoslavia was masked by Communism and Yugoslavism, was especially strong in Lika. One should remember that Serb rebel units from Lika had moved first. The first larger clash with Croatian special police forces happened at the Plitvice Lakes resort on May 1st 1991 in Lika, when the first Croatian defender, Josip Jović was killed.
Military Strategic Position
In Otočac’s surrounding area, the Serb rebels occupied dominant hills and kept roads on the Otočac -Josipdol and Otočac - Gospić routes under fire. Near Lički Osik, the communication route of Gospić -Perušić was under their direct fire. Gospić had been and had remained the political and strategic centre for the entire region of Lika. For Croats to lose Gospić would mean losing Lika. Gospić was held by the Croats while Serb forces held a semi-circle position around them. Serbs held the surrounding dominant positions and had the Gospić - Karlobag communication line under their direct control. Although Croatian forces held most of the Velebit Mountain positions as far as the Mali Alan passage – the possible advancement and manoeuvre to that area was under Serb control. The Serbs shelled Gospić and its surrounding roads from Barlet, Medak, Divoselo and Debela Glava. They threatened to overrun Gospić and cut off all communication to it. The consequent capture of the Velebit Mountain positions looked imminent. If Serb forces had reached the Croatian coastline, and had succeeded in cutting the country’s north from its south regions, Croatia would have been in a catastrophic position.
The Enemy’s Military and Political Situation
Serb political dissension continued while the rift between the army and the police widened. Civilians as well as the army experienced the greater shortages of fuel and food. The RSK Army’s great problem was their lack of manpower. They thought that the lack of soldiers could be replaced by heavy weaponry and by Serb volunteers coming from other Serb-held areas. Or if danger would arise the assumption was that Yugoslav Army troops would come to assist. Thanks to the ineffectiveness of UN forces, the influx of Serb volunteers was not completely blocked. The limited number of Krajina Serb soldiers had to engage along a very long frontline. The long duration of battle readiness had tired and unmotivated these men. They behaved much like the population of the Krajina had before; they lived in their homes, worked their fields, and at the sign of an emergency, took their rifles and went into battle positions. The difference between civilians and soldiers therefore disappeared; they all wore uniforms or elements from uniforms and they carried arms.
After Maslenica, at the Yugoslav Army’s HQ in Belgrade, “the real threat strategy”115 was conceived and published – the artillery and rocket barrage on the Republic of Croatia’s strategic objects. Serbs believed that this strategy would stop further Croatian Army attacks, and compensate for the Serb shortage in manpower. Using heavy artillery, the air force and surface-to-surface missiles combined with small-scale terrorist attacks, the Serbs intention was to create an overpowering effect and for their forces to achieve constant battle readiness and alertness.
Before the Medak Operation Serbs executed several terrorist attacks – they massacred two Croatian special police members in the Velebit Mountains. While a Serb reconnaissance and commando unit was set on the Divoselo area to Potklisa and the Gospić - Karlobag road. From enemy documents seized after the Oluja Operation it became clear that they planned on capturing Podklisa in order to control the route vital to Gospić’s survival. A second document mentioned by General Markač revealed the Serb plan to commence an attack on Gospić from the same area (Divoselo)116 just fifteen minutes before the Croatian Medak Pocket action on September 9th 1993. Confiscated Serbian Krajina Army documents confirm General Markač’s claims as reported in the press. The Serbian Krajina Army HQ wanted to pre-empt the intended Croatian Army attack, which was visible in light of the build-up and regrouping of Croatian Army forces. The 9th mobile brigade HQ commanding officer, Colonel Jovo Kordić. commanded an additional Serb force reconnaissance mission. On August 26th 1993 he stated that: “…Based on tactical and other available data, observation, reconnaissance, and data furnished to us by the 15th corps command, it is evident that the Ustaša forces are reinforcing the front on the Kraljičina Vrata - Mali Golić and Dušica - Visočica line. They firmly hold the Velebit ridge positions and are endangering the positions of our 1st and 2nd mobile brigade. In order to secure the brigade’s left flank and to fully monitor the status and Ustaša forces deployment on the Visočica - Mali Alan line, and their further intentions, I have decided (Colonel Jovo Kordić – author’s note) to order additional forceful reconnaissance on the lines…117 It was obvious that the data about: “the increased activity of Ustaša forces on the northwest slopes of the Velebit Mountains, whose objective it was to cut our brigade defence area on the Visočica - Čitluk -Ornice line,” which members of the Serb Krajina Army gathered during intense reconnaissance, asked for greater alertnes. So on September 3rd 1993, Colonel Kordić “ordered full battle readiness in the 2nd mobile brigade, LAD PVO, MPOAD, HAD and TČ units.”118
Since the gathered information became more grave, Colonel Kordić wrote “…Ustaša forces are in control of military objects on the slopes of the Velebit Mountains. They are building a road on the Duler-Alanak - Delukino Vrelo route. Their objective is to cut our brigade’s defence line at Visočica - Lički čitluk - Ornice.” He then issues the command: “a part of the 9th Mobile Brigade force has a task to, on September 9th 1993 perform a forceful reconnaissance in the region Mokra pećina - t.p. 665 - Velika kosa and reach the Kosa - Dujmovača -t.p. 618 - Bukova glava - Jelovac line.” This important document will be discussed further, but at this point it is important to note that the actual order for battle readiness was given on “September 9th 1993 at 08:00 hours”.
The Croatian Army and Ministry of the Interior Forces Organization and Countermeasures
The 9th Mobile Guard Brigade “Vukovi” Formation
The 9th Mobile Guard brigade was formed as the 6th Guard Brigade on November 1st 1992 from elements of the 118th and 133rd Brigade. Their achievements include the defence of Lika and stopping rebel Serbs and the JNA advancement into “Croatia’s backbone”. In January 1993 the Brigade was renamed and became the 9th Mobile Brigade, known as “Lički Vukovi” (Lika’s wolves) or for short “Vukovi” (wolves). The Brigade took part in the Maslenica action. It successfully mastered the difficult mountain terrain on the Rovanjska - Jasenice - Tulove Grede line. General Bobetko especially praised its armoured division. On the HQ’s commander order, the Brigade returned to Lika and defended the frontline from Gospić to Otočac. Engaging the enemy on a daily basis the 9th Brigade prepared to undertake the most difficult war efforts. Such an effort would be the September 9th 1993 operation – pushing off imminent danger from Gospić and neutralizing the most important Četniks’ centre in Divoselo – a village symbolizing the radical Serb movement in the heart of Croatia.
The Croatian Ministry of the Interior Special Police
The Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia special police was constituted as an antiterrorist unit, but because of the spreading of the war it soon became a much larger and more respectable force. Its members were well trained, armed and motivated. On Lika’s battlefield they held the Velebit Mountains, prevented enemy advancement over the Mali Alan pass to Zadar and Karlobag. The commander of the special police, General Mladen Markač’s HQ was on the Viševica peak. In the Maslenica action they liberated Tulove Grede. The Croatian special police unit blocked the Mali Alan pass and took Velika and Mala Bobija. These experienced units knew the difficult mountain area terrain and their enemy well.
The Reconnaissance and Commando Group Actions (ID-Groups)
The Croatian army and special police forces situated on the Velebit Mountains tried through their reconnaissance and commando groups’ incursions to identify the enemy’s weak points and to divert their attention from real locations of a Croatian attack. They also suffered some losses inflicted by the Serb commando units. During July and August, Serbian Krajina Army reconnaissance commando units undertook five major attacks. On July 7th near Bilaj at the Ornice - Jasikovac area, on July 22nd on the road connecting Otočac and Jovići, and attacks on August 30th and 31st. The most significant attack was the ambush and killing of two Croatian special police members on the Velebit Mountains. This was the trigger, General Bobetko writes, for starting the Medak Pocket operation. The capture and killing of Croatian special police members was part of a planned attack and forceful reconnaissance mission commanded by Serb Colonel Kordić (the command for additional forceful reconnaissance given on August 26th 1993 and the actual order for full battle readiness given on September 3rd 1993). On September 4th the Serbian Krajina Army commando group, accompanied by artillery, attacked the special police unit on Debela Glava - the prominent mountain t.p. on Velebit from which there was a complete overview of the river Lika valley from Gospić and Medak. Later that area was called the Medak Pocket. Two Croatian policemen were killed and massacred, while three policemen were wounded. After that date, the Croatian Army main staff HQ gave warning about a possible Serb commando attack on Croatian positions along the Velebit Mountains. According to a Serbian POW and confiscated commanding order dated September 8th 1993, major forceful reconnaissance and battle operations were planned to be executed on September 9th 1993 at 08:00 hours. After Croatian President Tuđman, persuaded by General Bobetko’s arguments, sanctioned the action, another operation was taken to distract the enemy’s attention from the real target. It was the attack on the village of Urije near Novi Lički Osik on September 6th 1993 that served as a diversion in which the reconnaissance and commando elements of the Croatian 9th Mobile Brigade destroyed an enemy checkpoint. The Croatian Army was certain that the enemy forces were led to believe, (Serb documents say otherwise), that the target of a full-scale Croatian attack would be the ammunition factory “Marko Orešković” in Novi Lički Osik and did not, (so the Croatian Army assessed), discover the Croatian preparations for Divoselo, Čitluk and Počitelj. That Croatian assessment was faulty, because according to the commands given by the commanding officer of the 9th Serb Mobile Brigade, Colonel Kordić, it was obvious that Serbs were quite aware of the Croatian special police forces buildup on the Velebit Mountains, and the threat of cutting the “Pocket” on the Visočica - Lički Čitluk - Ornice line. Both sides therefore had at the same time engaged in preparation for a military action. The Croatian side was to undertake a smaller scale action in order to take better tactical positions and push off the enemy from Gospić. The Serb side wanted to take control of the Velebit Mountains, to secure the Medak - Gračac road in order to prevent the second end of the pincer movement to close (the first one was secured after Croatian success at the Maslenica operation) that from Lika and the Velebit Mountains threatened Gračac, Obrovac, Benkovac and Knin. And, not the least, the Serbs wanted to politically and militarily humiliate Croatia for daring to attempt a decisive military action like Maslenica.
Ordre de Bataille – Battle Plan
In his book, General Janko Bobetko119 described his visit to the Velebit Mountains and Lika in 1992: “…I visited Velebit and saw two things. Lika and the Lika area were left entirely to Colonel Norac with one slightly reinforced battalion and one incomplete infantry battalion. Heavy weapons had been transported to Rijeka. The demobilization created confusion and left him (Norac) without any armaments.”120 The General also visited special Croatian Ministry of the Interior police units under General Markač’s command. He, on the wide and impenetrable mountain area, had 400 to 500 experienced men at his disposal that had been stationed there since the late autumn of 1991. In order to fight in Tulove Grede, along the heights and rocks, Mali Alan pass, Vaganj vrh and Visočica121, one would have to be an alpine climber. In order to survive the harsh winters, one would have to have the endurance of a highly motivated warrior. Those units clashed with an enemy that knew the mountain terrain well, using their forefathers (Četnik – Partisan) previous war experiences122. They were merciless and had the advantage in heavy weaponry, were protected by mine “necklaces” planted in minefields, and had already gained operational and strategic depth in the battlefield. They had occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina/RS territories, and the FR Yugoslavia. With the strategic backup in Republika Srpska and with the Yugoslav Army, they enjoyed the international community’s sympathy. On Visočica, General Bobetko said to Markač: “God himself has put you up here, because if we lose Velebit, we will lose half of Croatia.”123 The two generals agreed upon reinforcements being sent there, fresh troops, winter clothes, armaments and ammunition. General Bobetko advised Markač “to keep control over some outposts at all costs; this being the guarantor of a future (Medak) operation.”124 It was necessary to send reinforcements to this area, having soldiers who had previously fought and were used to that kind of warfare. For the limited action to unblock Gospić and to secure control of the Velebit Mountains, General Bobetko, together with special police units, needed to retain the experienced 9th Mobile Brigade. The valour of that Brigade was well-known following the Maslenica action. There the first attacks on Tulove Grede, Velika and Mala Bobija125, and Obrovac126 had not been successfully executed, so General Bobetko had relieved the acting 9th Mobile Brigade commander of his duties and had appointed Mirko Norac127 instead. Norac and his “Vukovi”128 started rolling from Gospić at a moment’s notice. They crossed the almost impenetrable terrain, had broken the enemy’s defence lines, had come to within arms length of Obrovac and had threatened Gračac. The 9th Mobile Brigade was needed back in Lika and Bobetko ordered it to return.
“From the front defence lines of Lički Osik129 the enemy has shelled the Gospić - Perušić130 main road. It was only a question of when our defence lines would break at their weakest link. Gospić was the political and strategic centre of Lika’s. To win or lose Lika was a to be or not to be question for Croatia. Gospić was half encircled. They broke through our defence lines. The remaining population was living in impossible conditions in cellars. As far as their psychological state and patience was concerned - they were at the end of their strength. The aggressor could cut off the Gospić communication link from the other side (Divoselo) and could commence attacking operations that would put all in an unfavourable position. Since the fall of Gospić would result in Croatia being divided in two. Due to international circumstances and a manpower shortage, no larger action could have been undertaken. But certain measures could have been prepared: first, it was necessary to win the battle for Velebit, prevent further attacks on Gospić, repel enemy forces from their positions, and create a favourable situation in the surrounding Gospić and Gračac areas.”131 General Bobetko assigned the Gospić command HQ to prepare several variations on how to solve these problems. His preconditions were: “the shortest span of the action’s duration – no longer than four hours in all – and a maximum effect.132” In General Bobetko’s opinion “Commander Norac and his HQ chief had conscientiously taken and executed that task, together with the special police whose role was as important; for those units together with the 9th Mobile Brigade had to win that battle.”133 “Whoever controls Debela Glava controls Velebit” – concluded the General and ordered that part of the operation to be carried out by the Croatian Ministry of the Interior special police forces134. General Bobetko had, according to his book, “Personally informed the Commander in Chief135 of such a limited action undertaking. He told the Commander in Chief, “We have to repel the enemy forces from Gospić and win the battle for Velebit.” After President Tuđman agreed to it and approved the action’s plan, General Bobetko decided that: “The majority of the force, the 9th Mobile Guard Brigade (250 men plus two tank platoons), after all preparatory measures, should spearhead a sudden attack and break the enemy lines in Medak, Lički Čitluk, Or(a)nice, in order to encircle the enemy forces in the Divoselo region.”
His decision formulated in the command: “After reaching the Cindrino brdo – Rogića most – Kolonište (Kolarište)136 line, to continue the offensive on the Ključ – Lički Čitluk – Počitelj line in order to reach the Pijevčeva Draga – Drljići – Pavice – Njegovani137 (Dolovi–Begluk)138 line, and after that establish defensive positions139 (thus linking with Croatian Ministry of Interior forces, 550 men strong, deployed on the Međeđak – Čitluk line)140. Special assignment were given to each unit: “The main forces of the 9th Mobile Brigade – had to attack fiercely using armoured vehicles and infantry, to surprise and to throw the enemy off its defence lines, in order to reach the river Lika. The Ministry of Defense forces were to: mount and take dominant trigonal points on Kamenjuša t.p. 601, Pšeničište t.p. 721, Debela Glava t.p. 762, to engage surrounded enemy forces, not to allow their regrouping and a breakthrough, they were to take the enemy stronghold on 570 metre high Memedovo brdo141 (take the plateau Kamenjuša)142, (part of Croatian forces were to be ready to pursue and advance towards s. Papuče, thus preventing the organized withdrawal of the enemy)143. “One 111th reserve battalion was deployed in the Klanac – Pazarište area. It was of the utmost importance to take Debela Glava, the enemy’s main strategic point. In an organized ambush, special police forces had to take that point to establish an observation post to keep track of the attacks’ progression. The consequent military operation was executed following guidelines to the letter. Under the ferocity of the attack, the enemy had to withdraw, and the majority of its forces retreated to Debela Glava. The operation developed in the exact manner it had been planned. The enemy did not have the slightest idea that his tempo and decisions had already been predicted by the plan itself”144, (not to allow the enemy regrupement and attempted breakthrough from the encirclement towards Dragaši-Potkonjaci-Jovići-Lički Čitluk, after achieving this objective main forces were to destroy encircled enemy forces).145
The Ministry of Interior special police forces task was: “To attack with 500 men the Kruškovača t.p. 616, Lički Čitluk line – after taking the villages of Kugići, Pjevač and reaching the Rogića line; to advance to Pšenište t.p. 721, Debela Glava t.p. 782 and Veliki Bešlinac t.p. 708; to engage enemy forces in the encirclement and prevent the enemy from pulling out in smaller groups over the forested Velebit slopes.” General Bobetko, and other military analysts, praised the artillery performance. The skillful artillery achievements could be attributed to two ex-JNA artillery experts – Brigadier Ademi and Major Ceku. “The artillery support was secured from both lines of engagement. The operation was finished in four hours. The entire enemy battalion was dispersed. Some of the enemy soldiers managed to pull out, some surrendered, women and children have been released.” The General’s claim was confirmed by other sources, including Serbian ones. Therefore Cot and Thornberry’s statements, claiming everything that moved was killed, were not true. The UN reported civilians having escaped to Gračac. This was confirmed by Canadian sources as well. Canadian soldier witness reports also confirmed the General’s statement about Medak being exposed to a heavy artillery barrage. Medak was an important junction where the Serb HQ was stationed. It has been heavily bombarded. The Serb tank company was there. “The Medak pocket operation had strong political and military effectiveness. What was achieved by it? The battle for Velebit was won. This was a strategic issue.146 The General also wrote about the necessary experience acquired in that operation by the young Croatian army. He pointed out the armour and infantry manoeuvres and their synchronized actions. Some military experts had had not expected this type of an operation from an army they considered “Balkan.” They had preconceived ideas, old prejudices, which made them underestimate the army that successfully and swiftly defeated a theoretically better Serb military force (which was considered to be the fourth strongest European military power). “We achieved the manoeuvre expertise of armoured forces and infantry. There were some losses. The enemy was militarily overwhelmed and was completely surprised. Exemplary was the tactical use and factors of time, area and targets in which various units synchronized their actions. Great political pressure followed and the President of the Republic forbade our further advancement. We could have continued to Gračac. We could also have eliminated Medak. We had to leave certain areas and concede them to UNPROFOR. These alleged Croatian crimes would have served them (UNPROFOR) as the main accusations to impose sanction on Croatia, or make the aggressor equal to its victim. For me, the Medak Pocket operation was a brilliant one – our objectives had been reached, our losses were minimal.”147
The Croatian Forces Organization and Deployment
From documents at our disposal we reconstructed the battle plan:
On September 7th 1993, under orders from the deputy HQ chief for Gospić, Rahim Ademi, the SECTOR 1 (S-1) was formed.
Sector 1 Composition
- 9th Mobile Guard Brigade
- Gospić Homeguard Battalion
- Lovinac Homeguard Battalion
- The 111th Brigade Unit (one company strong)
- Croatian police special forces unit (approx. 550 men strong)
Sector 1 Chain of Command
- Commanding Officer Colonel Mirko Norac
- 2nd in command Major Zvonko Brajković
- Croatian police forces Co-ordinator Colonel Željko Sačić
- Colonel Milan Čanić Assistant Commander for logistics
- Major Frane Tomičić Assistant Commander for political affairs
- Major Stanislav Linić intelligence operative
- Major Agim Ceku Artillery Commander
- Bogdan Čelić, police operations’ officer
In order to keep track of the fore coming action, on September 9th at 06:00 hours the operational centre at district command post Gospić was established, which functional up until September 18th at 08:00 hours.
Deployment of Forces (up to the Operation’s start)
- Homeguard Brigade Lovinac on Plantaža-Vukelići-Kekići-Krpani-Dubrave-Medovača-Sr.Glava line
- The 9th guard mobile brigade’s fifth mechanized company on Kr.Glavi-San-Begluk line
- The 9th guard mobile brigade’s fifth mechanized company on Brdo-Dukovci-Jelina line
- Homeguard brigade Gospić on Ornice-Jasikovac-Podklisa line
- Support – anti-tank cannons MT-12
- Reserve: one 9th mobile brigade tank company in Bilaj area
- Main attack force decided to be the 9th guard mobile brigade with addition of 30 percent infantry
- Mobile company had only two platoons, out of two tank companies one was complete
- Missile and cannon division was completed with 70 percent armour, part of its crew mobilized, one 120mm mortar unit added
Anti-tank and rocket cannon division – only 25 percent active duty members, the rest reserve with no prior combat experience; the rest of units partially equipped in armour and personnel
The relation of forces – figure, page 22.
The Power and Forces Relation
||450 (number includes one territorial defence militia company in Sitnik-Njegovani- Medak area)
|Armors for anti-armored battle
The Forces Assignments
The 9th guard mobile brigade: one mobile tank battalion, five tanks strong, and two infantry armoured vehicles, from the Oranice-Štale position spearheaded the Ornice-Čitluk line, after destroying enemy forces in Čitluk and Krajinovići, to consolidate that position. In the next phase they had to take the Miščevići-Pavlice-Drljići-Bobići line, to destroy the enemy in the Uzelac area, to establish defence lines, and to be ready to repel the enemy’s counterattack and advance to Počitelj.
The 2nd mobile tank battalion enforced with two tanks and an infantry armoured vehicle would start attacking from the Jasikovci to Jasikovac-Poljari-Ćurini-Potkonjaci line with a mission to destroy enemy forces on the Poljari-Ćurini-Potkonjaci-Dragaši line. Their next move was to organize the Dukovci defence line and repel any enemy counterattack.
The 3rd mobile tank battalion enforced with two tanks and one infantry armoured vehicle, 60 soldiers strong, from the Gospić homeguard brigade, were to start from the Podklisa-Vedro polje and attack on the Vedro polje-Radakovići-Vujinovići-Strunići-Divoselo line in order to take control over the Radakovići-Vujinovići-Strunići area. Part of its force was to take Kamenjuša, and the other part to take action on the left flank of the 2nd mobile tank battalion. It is a brigade’s reserve.
Armoured mobile battalion to engage in the defence of the Mihaljevci-Dukovci-Begluk area in order to repel the possible counterattack from Medak and prevent an enemy surge.
The logistic company was to defend the San-Metinac line, to prevent an enemy surge and counterattack.
Reconnaissance company to infiltrate the Rogići village, to destroy the enemy and to organize a circular defence line in order to close the Počitelj-Lički Čitluk communication and to deter the enemy from counterattacking the 1st mobile tank battalion during the first stages of the action.
The Lovinac homeguard battalion to engage in defensive operations on the Medovača-Dubrave-Krpani-Kekići-Vukelići-Plantaža line to prevent the enemy’s attack from the Barlet area, and therefore advert the threat to the left flank of the 9th mobile brigade.
The Gospić homeguard battalion controls the battlefield on the Vedro polje-Popova Kosa line and prevents the enemy’s advance towards the city.
111th brigade to engage in the defence of the Srednja glava-Krajnja glava-Ornice-Štale line, to prevent an enemy advancement.
The Gospić commanding area HQ’s reconnaissance company to take Memedovo brdo (t.p. 570) the enemy stronghold in Došeni hamlet, to destroy enemy defence lines and to prevent their advancement to Lički Ribnik.
The Croatian Ministry of the Interior Special Police148
Parts of its forces were to take the dominant positions of Pšeničište (t.p. 721), Debela glava (t.p. 782), Veliki Beštinac (t.p. 708).
- Two 105 millimetre Howitzers;
- The mobile multiple 102 millimetre rocket launcher platoon;
- The 130 millimetre cannon unit;
- Four 120 millimetre mortar platoons.
- Battle deployment:
- One 105 millimetre Howitzer in the Lipa area;
- Two 105 millimetre Howitzers in the Jasikovac area;
- One 130 millimetre cannon unit (three cannons) in Vaganac, one cannon in San;
- Mobile 122 millimetre rocket launcher platoon in the Kolakovica area;
- The 1st mortar launcher platoon in the Rosulje area;
- 2nd mortar launcher platoon in Jasikovac;
- 3rd mortar launcher platoon in Kolar.
- ARTILLERY PREPARATIONS were to start at 6:00 hours and last 5 minutes with one ammunition round.
- The s. Raičević centre – 130 millimetre cannon;
- Udbina airfield – 130 millimetre cannon;
- Raičević junction – the mobile multiple rocket launcher platoon;
- The resistance point in s. Budići – 120 millimetre mortar launcher platoon;
- HQ of the 9th mobile brigade in Medak – 130 millimetre cannon;
- Mortar launcher unit in s. Pjevač area – 1 platoon 120 millimetre mortar launchers;
- Mortar launcher unit in s. Jovići – 2nd 120 millimetre mortar launcher platoon.
The “RSK” Army’s Armament
The 15th Lika Corps
Formed at the end of 1992 on the so-called 3rd Operative “Lika” group foundations – i.e. JNA that combined the Yugoslav Army and territorial guard militia formations in the Lika area. The Corps task was to defend the central, temporarily occupied Lika region, and to prevent the Croatian Army’s advance on Ogulin-Plaški, Otočac-Vrhovine-Titova Korenica, Lički Osik-Bunić-Titova Korenica, Gospić-Medak-Gračac lines. The 15th Lika corps command post was in Titova Korenica, field command post (HQ) in Udbina, logistic base in Knin, heavy artillery depot in Pađeni and Strmica, and fuel depots in Lička Kaldrma.
- 170th brigade in Plaški;
- 50th brigade in Vrhovine;
- Tactical group “Bunić”;
- 9th mobile tank brigade in Gračac;
- Light 103rd brigade in Donji Lapac;
- 105th air force brigade in Udbina;
- Military police battalion;
- 15th battalion for electronic countermeasures, reconnaissance and anti-tank force;
Serb Forces Strength
- Approximately 7 to 8,000 soldiers strong;
- 60 – 70 tanks;
- 30 – 40 armoured transporters;
- Approximately 60 heavy artillery pieces and other armour.
Light brigades had 1300 – 1500 soldiers, ten tanks, twelve cannons and five APC’s. Armoured mobile brigades like the 9th from Gračac and 50th from Vrhovine were 2000 – 2500 soldiers strong, had 26 tanks, 18 cannons and 13 APC’s.
Due to the geopolitical situation at the moment, the enemy counted on the 2nd Krajina corps of the Republika Srpska army, the Yugoslav Army’s help, and on volunteer reinforcements. In January and February 1993 there was a larger number, approx. 4,300 volunteers present in the “RSK” area.149
Operational “RSK” Army Deployment
- The 9th mobile brigade deployed in the wider Gospić region on Ostrvica-Begluk-Kamena glava line (t.p. 1222) and in Klanac (t.p. 692) – Mali Alan (t.p. 1044) depth, with its HQ in Gračac;
- Two battalions enforced by two tank companies and cannon backup on the Gospić-Medak-Gračac operations-tactical line;
- The 1st battalion (of the 2/9th mobile brigade) with HQ in s. Poljari; to defend the wider Mali Alan area, to secure the forces flanks in Sv. Rok;
- The 2nd battalion – responsibility zone s. Jovići-Lički Čitluk-Bobići, Duliba (t.p. 889) depth, HQ in Raičevići;
- The 3rd battalion – responsibility zone Njegovani in Lički Ribnik-Medak road range (the plantation), was 150 soldiers strong. Reinforcements to the 9th mobile brigade on September 6th 1993 at the area of Divoselo came as two infantry battalions of the 103rd Lapac light infantry brigade. Apart from those forces on September 3rd came members of the reconnaissance commando unit and rear guard unit of the 103rd Lapac light infantry brigade (about 90 men strong)150. According to the account of one Serb prisoner on September 9th 1993 here were 200 soldiers stationed in Divoselo. In Čitluk there were 70 locals reinforced by the village of Počitelj;
- In the wider Divoselo-Medak observation posts are able to become resistance points;
- Crni vrh (t.p. 737) controlling the Velebit Mountain slopes;
- Kamenjuša (t.p. 601) controlling the Lički Novi-Podklisa-Vedro Polje area;
- Debela Glavica (t.p. 752) controlling the Ornica area;
- V. Beštinovac (t.p. 708) controlling the area between the Počiteljica and Lika rivers;
- Memedovo Brdo (t.p. 571) controlling the Dukovci-Begluk line;
- S. Vitasi (Sitnik wider area) controlling the foot of the Velebit Mountains;
- T.p. 586 (Northeast of a UN checkpoint on the Lički Ribnik-Medak road) controlling the wider Begluk area towards the Plantation.
THE TANK BATTALION DEPLOYMENT:
- The 1st tank platoon in the wider Njegovani area (Lički Ribnik-Počitelj road);
- The 2nd and 3rd tank platoons deployed on the Polje wider area (Ljubojevići-Žuto Brdo in range of Lički Ribnik-Medak road);
- The “Borbena vatrena grupa” (combat firing team) consisted of two 120 millimetre mortar platoons and one 82 millimetre platoon deployed on the Divoselo region; one 120 millimetre mortar platoon on the Donja Glavica area (crew in Jovići);
- One 82 millimetre mortar platoon on Kamenjuša (t.p. 601);
- The 2nd platoon not specifically located, but noticed to operate from V. Kraj region; Praga151 (2/30 millimetre) noticed engaging from the Donja Glavica region;
- The enemy has strengthened its anti-aircraft guns and anti-aircraft systems.
- CANNONS SUPPORT – one 122 millimetre Howitzer unit on Crno vrelo (t.p. 693) at the foot of Velebit, south of Papuča;
- ANTI-ARMOURED DEFENSE: anti-tank weaponry was part of the 2/9th mobile brigade.
- Russian anti-tank M-42 cannons, 76 millimetre;
- One artillery piece in range of the Lički Ribnik-Medak road (t.p. 586);
- One artillery piece in Rogići (t.p. 567);
- One artillery piece in the Ivankovići hamlet;
- One T-12 100 millimetre anti-tank gun under the Plantation;
- At least ten Russian anti-tank missile system POLK 9 K11 in range of the Lički Ribnik-Medak and Lički Ribnik-Počitelj roads;
- One 120 millimetre multiple rocket launcher type “Plamen” operating from Papuče village.
- Expected air support from helicopters on the Udbina airfield:
- Four “Gazela” helicopters – light helicopter, French made, built under license in Mostar’s “Soko” factory;
- Two MI-8 Russian transport helicopters;
- Four “Gazela” helicopters enhanced with “Gama” guided missiles;
- Two “Jastreb” airplanes, light jet fighters, also built in Mostar for the Yugoslav Army Air force.
- THE COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEM: was mostly operational.
- LOGISTIC SUPPORT: Fresh troops were brought in through the Kruškovac-Medak-Počitelj-Divoselo line.
During the conflict in the control are of the 9th mobile brigade, the enemy fortified himself extremely well, built a large number of mock artillery positions and obstructed the first lines of their defence with minefields.
BATTLE READINESS AND MORALE:
The high alert of battle readiness was maintained; in terms of limited fresh troop rotation, this has led to saturation, fatigue and a drop in morale, which has increased the frequency of desertions and ignoring the calls to mobilization. To maintain control of the situation, the Serbian high command manned the advance points with various extremist volunteer and mercenary groups arriving from Bosnia and Herzegovina and FR Yugoslavia. Around 80 troops from the 103rd light brigade from Donji Lapac were stationed in the wider Divoselo area.
SERB ASSESSMENTS OF THE POSSIBLE ATTACK ON THE MEDAK POCKET AND THE SERB KRAJINA ARMY PREPARATIONS
At the beginning of 1993, the Serb Krajina Army’s 2nd mobile battalion of the 9th mobile brigade HQ issued an order to defend the Medak Pocket perimeter152. The plan for how to defend the area consisted of a persistent defence, stopping the Croatian Army advance at the Medak-Sitnik line. The counterattack was to be executed on the Divoselo-Brušane line. The Serb forces were supposed to rely on “well fortified geographic objects and populated areas”. This idea of a defence was possibly one of the reasons why the houses and barns were destroyed during the military operation in September 1993. In June the Serb level of battle readiness was raised because of the fear of a possible Croatian attack. At the end of July 9th mobile brigade HQ issued an order to fortify Divoselo. The dissipation was visible. Higher command reproached the battalion HQ because of its lack of efficiency and its not carrying out orders. Therefore it was ordered that the HQ should ensure that the chain of command is obeyed and to undertake all the necessary measures for the successful defence of the area. More people should be brought in and the defence line should be backed by three 76mm B-1 cannons153. The importance that was given to the defence of Divoselo was best illustrated by the constant presence of the commander or the second in command at the 2nd mobile brigade HQ. Also because two-thirds of the soldiers were located at the perimeter. The demands for anti-armour weaponry were constant. It was obvious that the Serbian command was aware of the vulnerability of the “Pocket” and in 1993 tried to enhance and improve the defence positions.
Bataille de Medak – The Medak Pocket Operation
Initial Actions on the Battlefield – Commando Raids of Both Belligerent Sides
Prior to the Medak Pocket Operation, the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence intelligence services reported that “…there was a military build-up and grouping of military forces in the arena… According to intelligence and surveillance of the Ministry of Interior and Croatian Army reports: the area (Medak) was controlled by approximately 250 enemy soldiers. Of these, 100 were mobilized troops coming from the area of Gračac and Lapac, and mercenaries from Romania (two busloads of them changed shifts on Mondays). These were deployed along the highest peaks and the most strategically important points. They were shelling Gospić on a daily basis.”154
The attack on Croatian special police stationed on the Velebit Mountains:155 on September 4th 1993 two policemen were killed and three were wounded.
September 6th – the 9th mobile brigade commenced an attack on Urije near Novi Lički Osik – the diversion done to divert attention from the real attack target;
Medak Pocket Operation – Chronology
On September 7th 1993 the 9th mobile brigade’s commander Colonel Mirko Norac gave a warning attack order and on the same day analyzed the future operation together with his HQ’s unit commanders.
September 8th – preparations and reconnaissance missions were done and units were given their assignments; the brigade commander, Colonel Mirko Norac, met that evening with commanders of battalions and individual companies to give them the updated warning order. Commanders reported on their preparations and the final details of the operation were updated. On the same day and on the basis of intelligence reports, district command post Gospić ordered immediate maximum battle readiness.
Under the cover of darkness during the night of September 8th - 9th night, forces were brought to the area from which they would start their advance and take their battle positions (200 – 300 meters away from the enemy line).
Before midnight on September 8th- tanks and armoured carriers with “labudica” carry-alls were brought to their starting position; the anti-tank armoured vehicles were positioned and infantry units secured passes through minefields.
September 9th 1993 at 04:00 hours – the sector’s district command post HQ in Bila received reports that units were ready to start the attack. The data differs about the exact time the actual order to attack was given:
- At 05:38 hours, according to the Ministry of Defence liaison office stationed with the UN/EU in Gospić the Serb artillery attack commenced, to which Croatian forces strongly responded;
- At 05:56 hours, according to minutes of the Serb Army main staff HQ, on September 15th 1993 some combatants of the 103rd Lika brigade pulled through the “Ustaša encirclement”;
- At 05:58 hours, a hand-written report was signed by Serb Colonel Šuput and sent to the 9th mobile brigade HQ, 18,50 and 70 PBR157;
- At 06:00 hours, according to the Ministry of Defence and ICTY indictment of General Bobetko;
- At 06:00 hours with no artillery preparation as reported on September 8th 1993, from the Divoselo, Čitluk and Počitelj area;
- At 06:05 hours, according to General Bobetko’s book “Sve Moje Bitke” and to Canadian sources.
Various sources data varies regarding the duration of the action:
- Four (4) hours – cites General Janko Bobetko;
- .Five (5) hours – cites “Globus HQ”;
- Two (2) days – cites the ICTY indictment;
- Four (4) days – cite Canadian sources;
- Seven (7) days – cite Serb sources (General Sekulić).
The Action’s Development
THE FIRST ATTACK’S STAGE:
September 9th 1993.
- The artillery forces commenced firing on their designated targets; the barrage lasted for five minutes. The enemy has soon returned artillery fire that wounded six members of the Homeguard battalion, deployed on the Rizvanuša-Lički Novi line. The artillery attack was diverted to the city of Gospić. The Croatian artillery initially hit the Serb Krajina Army 2nd battalion of the 9th mobile brigade HQ, and the Serb communication centre in Medak, which caused great havoc in the command chain and communication with the rest of the Serb units;
- The T-12 unit situated on the artillery position in Lički Novi had deployed earlier, because it had been spotted crossing Serb lines, and was consequently subjected to fire from the Serb Kamenjuša position. That target was immediately destroyed;
.According to confiscated documents, parts of the Serb 9th mobile brigade were deployed immediately after the Croatian artillery fire started in Počitelj and Čitluk. They left their positions and abandoned armour and ammunition in Počitelj, which was later taken by Croatian forces.
- Up to 08:30 hours the 1/9th and 2/9th guard mobile brigade158 took the closer designated target with no troops killed and three wounded soldiers; one tank was destroyed;
- The 3/9th guard mobile brigade forces encountered slightly stronger resistance on the Kamenjuša position, which slowed their pace. The Gospić homeguard battalion combat readiness had not been satisfactory, which enabled the Serb enemy forces to regroup. The brigade was slightly shaken because of the first casualties;
- The 3/9th guard mobile brigade in advancing to its immediate designated target had two soldiers killed, five wounded, one tank damaged and two ambulances destroyed;
- The reconnaissance company, manned partly by foreign nationals volunteers (“foreign mercenaries?!”) advanced to the Rogići station, had been detected and temporarily stopped. But the 3/9th guard mobile brigade fulfilled its immediate task and the reconnaissance company advanced with only one soldier wounded;
- The Croatian special police forces had to sneak behind heavily mined enemy lines – causing several soldiers to be wounded159. These difficulties slowed down the tempo of the attack. The linking up with the 9th guard mobile brigade had also not been done at the designated time; and the encirclement of the enemy forces was not quick and effective enough which enabled the enemy’s stronger resistance to the 9th guard mobile brigade.160 This caused one part of the enemy forces to break through the encirclement into the forested slopes of the Velebit Mountains.161 This is important data because it denies the accepted preconception that all three villages’ inhabitants were missing (killed or that their bodies had been hidden). Such a claim is still repeated by some Serbian and Canadian authors.162 The conclusion is clear: one part of the population (children and the elderly) had already been evacuated before the military action started, others had left the theatre of operations escaping to the south, while some had passed through the Velebit Mountains and had reached Gračac163 - like the Lapac light brigade soldiers.
Some were taken prisoners, and some were escorted by Croatian Government forces to their relatives living in Zagreb, Rijeka or Pula. The accounts of the members of the Serb 103rd Lapac brigade164 prove that Serb resistance was strong and that the Croatian Army “had targeted house by house with tank cannons; after which they started a cleansing operation using armour and infantry.”
General Norac’s forces (the 9th guard mobile brigade) reached their start position. Its dismounted infantry backed by two tank platoons reinforced with artillery carried out the attack, spearheading Or(a)nice165-Lički Čitluk. After taking the Or(a)nice-Čitluk road and Rajčevići hamlet, they reached the Cindrino Brdo-Rogića most line and linked up with forces of the Ministry of the Interior, which have been deployed on the Medak-Lički Čitluk166 line.
Authour Ozren Žunec in his book does a short synopsis of the Medak Pocket operation: “…it was a relatively small scale operation correcting the Gospić frontline… during the short attack some homesteads south of Gospić were taken and Croatian forces took better positions on the Velebit Mountains”.167 “Serb lines quickly crumbled and they retreated together with the civilian population. During the swift operation Serbs had been fighting a withdrawal, trying to hold onto each house, which had been a paramilitary operation post. Therefore it was possible that some women, members of military logistics, had been in the military combat zone and had been killed, either in crossfire or from hand grenades.168 “…During the night three women, serving as terrorist guides who tried to escape through the Medak Pocket’s difficult terrain, had been shot at close range, according to Croatia’s deputy Prime Minister Dr. Kostović.169 Ljilja Jelača and two Četniks encountered Croatian forces, activated a hand grenade and killed all three of them.”170 In his book: “Velikorspska najezda i obrana Hrvatske”171 Božidar Javorović writes about the Medak Pocket Operation as a preparatory move to stop the attacks on the city of Gospić and its surrounding area, which had lasted for 738 days. “Politically, psychologically and as far as security was concerned, the situation had become more difficult. The Četnik authorities did not want to start serious negotiation. It was necessary to drag them away and to show the rebel Serbs that Croatia would not endlessly put up with their insurgence and the occupation of parts of the county. The Croatian 9th guard brigade acted like a hammer while the special mountain police forces from the south, had the role of an anvil. The Serb forces were surprised by this attack and were neither in number, nor in armour, nor organization, matched to the forces of the Croatian army. In this action there was a lot of destruction and death. This was due primarily because the Četniks defended themselves from inside houses. Almost every house was a firing point. Therefore, killed with the soldiers were civilians who stayed with them.172”
THE ATTACK’S SECOND STAGE:
As the Croatian offensive advanced, the resistance of the Serb forces to the 3/9th guard mobile brigade at Strunići grew stronger. Parts of the 9th guard mobile brigade tried to secure their flanks, advanced and kept the theatre under control. Up to 12:00 hours parts of the 1/9th and 2/9th guard mobile brigade had taken their next designated position and linked up with the Croatian special police units that had destroying the retreating enemy. 3/9th managed to break the enemy’s resistance and capture Strunići.
THE ACTION’S CONCLUSION:
At 13:05 hours the Sector HQ received reports about the mission being accomplished; the Begluk-Drljići-Pjevčeva Draga line was established, the engineer units of the brigade started to build bunkers. The remnant Serb units, who tried a breakthrough from the encirclement were still being engaged in smaller firefights. The enemy re-deployed its forces in order to counter-attack and to free those left in the encirclement. The Serb counterattack was repelled with artillery fire and the attained line was defended. The Croatian Army and police forces were ordered to hold their positions. “They regrouped in order to continue the attack to the Lički Čitluk-Počitelj line, where they had to maintain, (prevent – authour’s note) the enemy forces advancement from the Divoselo encirclement, in order to reach Pavići-Njegovani-Zaselak towards Memedovo brdo-Dolovi-Begluk. And after taking the tactically adequate positions, they had to fortify the defence lines. The 9th guard mobile brigade had to execute a lightning pincer advance, no matter what decisive action the enemy undertook in the semi-encirclement. An armoured battalion had reached the Lika River and cut off the enemy forces that decided to leave their position and retreat to Debela Glava, where a Croatian police ambush was already waiting for them.”173 The Serbs were swiftly defeated. They withdrew together with civilians. The planned action ended the same day. Occasional fighting continued for a couple of days, ending in front of Medak, a small town 20 kilometres south of Gospić. In Medak general panic started, soldiers left their positions and fellow Serb troops shot some deserters.174
September 10th 1993.
The enemy Serb forces brought reinforcements175 and consolidated the Sitnik-Njegovani-Memedovo brdo line, trying to regroup for the counterattack in order to retake Lički Čitluk and Divoselo.176 The whole frontline in Croatia, from Dalmatia to Karlovac had reignited. Serbs started shelling a large number of Croatian cities. (“Real threat strategy”) – there were dozens of dead in Karlovac, ground-to-ground missiles were fired on a Zagreb suburb. A couple of days after the operation finished, Serbs handed over a list of some thirty or so targets that would be attacked if the Croats did not retreat or if they continued to attack the “RSK”.177 The weather conditions were worsening. It was raining and it grew cold. On the Velebit Mountain slopes, Croatian special forces were fighting exhaustion and night attacks. While on guard, two Captains, J. G. and S. P. were ambushed and killed. Croatian forces took cover under limestone shelters and scraps. They were constantly under a rocket barrage fired by Serb multiple rocket launchers positioned in Medak. A larger group of Serb soldiers, policemen and civilians were still encircled in the Divoselo area. The data about their numbers differ. One-hundred and fifty-seven according to one Croatian intelligence source. The other mentions about 100. While a third intelligence report mentions as many as 300. During the night of September 10th and 11th and during the day of September 11th about 90 soldiers and villagers safely pulled out of the Divoselo encirclement. According to Serb sources, up to September 12th 79 soldiers and 26 civilians pulled out of the encirclement. “On September 12th 1993, up to 12:00 hours from the encirclement in the village of Divoselo, 49 members of the 103rd Lapac light brigade from Donji Lapac that held their positions pulled out, and the 40 remaining are unaccounted for.”178
September 11th 1993.
Surrounded enemy Serb forces backed up by their cannons and tried in smaller groups to charge through the Vukasi-Vitasi-Bobići line, but were repelled. At 05:00 hours the Serbian Krajina Army used the artillery preparation and attacked the new front in order to enable those encircled to pull out. The counterattack was repelled and a larger number of Serb soldiers and civilians were discovered west of the village of Drljići (the Croatian Ministry of Interior special police zone of operations). The group was destroyed in the morning hours: 12 Serb soldiers were killed, two soldiers and two civilians were taken prisoner. In the afternoon, around 15:00 hours, one Jastreb J-21 dropped two bombs on the Ornica area. At 17:00 hours, the same plane took a reconnaissance mission over the same area. Serb sources reported the counterattack and reaching the Vuksani-Njegovani line. But that only marked the approach to the line Croatian forces have taken on September 9th. That day on the Velebit Mountains, during a Serb artillery attack, eight Croatian policemen were wounded. In the vicinity of Gospić, three civilians were wounded. In response to this, the Croatian Army’s artillery attacked Korenica and Udbina.
September 12th 1993.
The Serb side stabilized its lines, brought reinforcements, engineers dug trenches, and from time to time they tried to move their defences. Croatian forces repelled several attempted offensives. There were no large-scale engagements in “clearing” the liberated area. The remnant enemy groups were neutralized. Brigadier Ademi commanded, (according to the orders of General Bobetko and approved by President Tuđman), that during the next 48 hours the artillery fire on major cities should cease, even if the enemy would engage in that way.
September 13th 1993.
A verbal ceasefire agreement was reached. In Gospić, one person was killed and eleven were wounded. The Serbs used artillery and fired on positions of the Croatian 9th mobile brigade. The Serb offensive on Brda was repelled, but three Croatian soldiers were wounded. The Croatian Army used 120mm mortars to target the Serb 82mm mortar platoon and Croatian tanks targeted enemy positions in Ljubojevići and Sitnik. The Serb airplane “Jastreb,” that flew over and attacked Croatian army positions, was fired upon with anti-aircraft guns and an S-2M rocket.
September 14th 1993.
The UNSC appealed for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of Croatian forces. Three persons were wounded in Gospić. The members of the Croatian 9th mobile brigade answered Serb provocations with infantry arms. Police special forces repelled two attacks on the Drljići village.
September 15th 1993.
A ceasefire agreement and pre-September 9th lines withdrawal agreement was signed. The Serb signatory was Major-General Mile Novaković, and the Croatian signatory was Major-General Petar Stipetić.The agreement stated the ceasefire should commence at 12:00 hours on September 15th 1993, when control was to be taken over by UNPROFOR. The withdrawal time was 24 hours. The Croatian side asked for another 24-hour extension and a final withdrawal was agreed upon for 18:00 hours on September 17th 1993.
September 15th/16th 1993.
During the action a confrontation between Croatian soldiers and the Canadian UNPROFOR contingent occurred, killing some soldiers, (the details of the events are embargoed).179
September 16th 1993.
At 22:00 hours, the second in command at Gospić HQ (Brigadier Ademi – authour’s note), held a meeting with UNPROFOR in the district command post at Gospić, after an agreement between the Croatian army HQ and UNPROFOR was reached. At 22:40 Ademi commanded a complete ceasefire and ordered the Croatian Army and police force withdrawal. This caused discontent within the ranks of the Croatian Army. According to one Croatian army report, “The order to withdraw had a negative impact on soldiers so many of them reacted in an impermissible way.” Nonetheless, the order was carried out up to the evening of September 17th 1993. Then members of the Canadian (and French – author’s remark) UNPROFOR battalion entered the wider area of Divoselo.180
During the Action’s imminent aftermath, bodies were uncovered. Without any investigation they were deemed to be victims of Croatian war crimes. Strong reaction, pressure and threats came from the international community.181 Great Britain and France threatened air strikes from the aircraft carriers “Invincible” and “Foch,” situated somewhere in Adriatic waters close to the Croatian coast.29 Croatian Army reports listed a few minor incidents due to the arrogant behaviour of UNPROFOR forces and a breach in the previously arranged agreement. On one such occasion, mentioned by Canadian sources, the Croatian side used a tank to underline that Canadians breached the agreement. The Canadians later used that incident to enforce their thesis about engaging the Croatian Army, although a firing engagement never happened. Canadian troops condemned Croatian resistance to their arrogant behaviour; their display of their “supreme rights” in a sovereign country. To Canadian troops it seemed natural to forcibly enter the area in which they could have entered only after a complete sensitive military agreement was accepted. On another occasion, UN APC’s had forcibly passed through a Croatian police checkpoint. One APC hit a mine and three Canadians were slightly wounded, transferred to the Gospić hospital, where they received medical treatment, and later returned to their unit. Because of the undefined demarcation line, the tension built up and incidents continued to happen between Croatian soldiers and police on the one side and Canadians on the other.
The Action’s Croatian Interpretation; Croatian Sources
Though there have been many “professional” discussions, memoirs and military history articles written, there are only a few in-depth homeland war analyses, and even fewer are those dealing with specific chapters of the war. The Medak Pocket Operation therefore has not had a professional evaluation done yet. The repulsion towards it prevailed soon after the initial euphoria followed the successful liberation of temporarily occupied territories. The world and domestic public opinion were immediately furnished with data about war crimes committed during the operation. UNPROFOR, UNCIVPOL, foreign, especially Serb but also Croat media, started cataloguing the numbers of people slaughtered, buildings destroyed, animals killed: all of which General Cot referred to as “the scorched earth”. Therefore very little space was left for documents and eyewitness accounts to be inserted and published in order to complete the Action’s framework, and pull aside the curtain concealing the truth. Later, the reluctance even to speak about such “ill-reputed” military operations became the reason that the history’s “hot potato” was not touched. And when the Hague’s ICTY came into the picture with its indictments, the Medak Pocket Operation was avoided as one would avoid a contagious disease. The events were being connected with crimes and threatened to become historically inaccurate and permanently referred to in a negative light.
Therefore, one had to analyze the Medak Pocket operation. The Operation was scrutinised within the Croatian Army ranks and at the Croatian Army’s military academy; but those analyses were protected as military secrets and were unknown to the public. Recently some of these documents have been released and some were used in this case study. General Janko Bobetko speaks about the Medak Pocket Operation in his book. He dedicates a whole chapter to it. He is of the opinion that it was “a brilliantly executed operation” which together with his HQ, he planned, led and victoriously ended. In his book, Croatian General Martin Špegelj183 does not write about the Medak Pocket Operation, dealing mostly with Croatia’s early stages of the war. He defends his decision to attack JNA barracks, eventhough President Tuđman considered it to be a strategic JNA trap. In his book “Rat u Hrvatskoj,”184 Ozren Žunec writes half a page about the Medak Pocket Operation. Domazet’s “Hrvatska i veliko ratište” mentions the “Pocket”185 among other Croatian Army offensives that preceded the “Bljesak” and “Oluja” actions. The majority of Croatian military analysts, historians and journalists, agree that the Medak Pocket Operation was the fourth most successful Croatian Army’s action. The first being the Miljevac plateau, the second Maslenica and the third the Peruča Dam, that led to the final liberation and reintegration of the occupied Croatian territories. Though small in its range, that operation confirmed that previous limited actions and victories were not taken indiscriminately, and that Croatian military power development was a process that could not be stopped. Whatever we call it: “the mice bites strategy” or “the pinching of the salient Serb parastate areas in Croatia” – that strategy proved viable, and led to the final success. As main HQ commander General Janko Bobetko writes in his book, the strategic reasons for undertaking that operation were confirmed: “the Velebit Mountains were the key factor to Croatia’s defence – whoever controls the Velebit Mountains, controls half of Croatia.”186 From that strategic conclusion, General Bobetko came to the idea of the necessity to undertake a military operation with attacks spearhead towards Divoselo, Počitelj and Lički Čitluk, in order to straighten the Lika defence line and push off the threat imposed on Gospić’s187 civilians. By then taking the key heights on the Velebit Mountain and preventing a Serb offensive towards the Adriatic sea, the cities of Karlobag and Zadar; they would stop the Serb army from cutting Croatia in half. Croatian tactical and operational goals were decided upon – the danger to block communication was eliminated, Gospić was secured, the enemy forces were repelled from “the Pocket”, and pushed to Medak itself, and the force of Serb artillery attacks on Lika’s cities was diminished. Now the situation became quite the opposite – it was the Croatian Army now who posed a threat to Medak, Gračac, Ljubovo, Udbina and Korenica. It threatened to cut off the Dalmatian part of the “RSK”, which actually happened in the “Oluja.”188 “Before the Lički Osik operation was undertaken, the vicinity of Gospić Serbs have been able to fire on the Gospić-Perušić main communication indiscriminately. Our positions were shot at, Gospić was semi-circled and the enemy had its outposts on domineering positions. Our psychological status and our patience were coming to an end, the enemy could have started their offensives whenever it suited them. If measures were not taken (if there was no Medak Pocket operation – author’s note) Gospić, would have been completely destroyed.”189 After hearing what the reasons were to take on such an action, the Army’s Commander in Chief, President Franjo Tuđman: “agreed on it, but asked that it should be quickly and efficiently executed, because a strong reaction from the international community was possible.”190
The battle was fought between Croatian and Serb forces, the Croatian Army and police won, and the Canadians and French were mere observers. Medak was about to fall, in front of it, the commander of the Serb tank company Lt.Colonel Savić was killed. Therefore it was not just a clash “between Croats armed to their teeth against barehanded Serb women and the elderly:” This was the theatre of swift but fierce fighting in which soldiers from both sides were killed. On the Serb side, those were members of: the 103rd Lapac light brigade, members of the 9th Gračac brigade, volunteers from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia,191 as well as local territorial defence members, which was evidenced by documents found on them. On the Croatian side, members of the “Vukovi”, special police, and Lika homeguard brigade members were killed. “The enemy had been completely surprised and overwhelmed militarily;” said general Bobetko about the Medak Pocket Operation.” A large organized political noise was raised. Pressure was exerted on the President, the Government, and on me personally, to stop the Operation, because had we been able to advance further to Gračac, Medak would also have been taken. The President absolutely forbid us to, apart from the area taken, move even one step further.”192
During and after the Action, the UN, IC, UNPROFOR, foreign press and Croatian Opposition pressure followed. Cedric Thornberry, the UN civil representative forwarded the political, and General Cot the military, requests from the UN Security Council. They mediated between the two sides. No sooner did the fierce Serb artillery and rocket attacks on Croatian cities along the coast and in the interior take place did the Croatian side insist upon UNPROFOR taking control of the liberated area – and a ceasefire agreement was reached. Croatia accepted the agreement on withdrawal from the liberated territory, which “for each army is a tragic fact in itself. I had to make an unpopular decision, I had to organize a retreat. I ordered Domazet and Stipetić193 to go and explain it to the troops, to make them comprehend state politics and to ask them not to “create any problems .”Because a man who had lost everything, whose every possession had been burned, once he had taken a village, you could not just say to him: “You have to retreat now, if you please.” How could I explain such a thing to him?”194
General Bobetko indirectly admits that difficulties arose when the order to withdraw was given. The soldiers obviously “created some problems.” They were reluctant to obey, they voiced their dissatisfaction with the order that annulled their sacrifice and their fallen friends. An additional effort had to be made and some persuasion take place to make the retreat order be obeyed and to consequently realize the withdrawal. It was that dissatisfaction that possibly caused unlawful criminal acts, crimes that happened mainly when Croatian troops were retreating.
“We held our positions under control so UNPROFOR would not let the Četniks through. But UNPROFOR did not deter them. The Četniks continued entering Divoselo. But they stood no chance because their main force was defeated. From then on, special police forces dominated the Velebit Mountains.”195 General Bobetko, who with a certain dose of vanity, (allowable perhaps to the general of the winning side that initiated and with his HQ planned the action), judged it as a “brilliant” one and writes: “All our objectives were fulfilled, our losses were minimal (Croatian casualties – authour’s note) and a foundation to liberate Croatia was laid. For me, Medak Pocket is one of the brilliant operations, one enemy battalion was completely defeated.” (Davor Butković in Globus quotes Serb sources as saying: “…up to this moment we traced 107 members of the Gračac brigade who were alive”196). “The main tasks were accomplished, our casualties were minimal, the foundation was laid for the future liberation of Croatia during the “Oluja”. If that Action was not successful, we would have lost Gospić (the strategic Serb target), and by that we would have lost the Velebit Mountains. Those who know how to judge such an event would understand that in such a case, our position would have been completely different.”197
I am of the opinion that this evaluation is the right one, no matter what price the Republic of Croatia would have paid, or will have to pay198. The Medak Pocket Operation showed where the limit of one sovereign state’s patience was; the Medak Pocket Operation also showed statesmanship, wisdom and military ability with which such situations should be dealt with.199 The crimes that were committed afterwards were awful, and have to be punished, but they are the consequence of an imposed war of aggression, and they were done in breach of self-defence. However these acts were not in any sense a premeditated political or premeditated criminal act.
And finally, General Bobetko estimated the UN force commander General Cot, with whom he had often met during those days: “Judging by Cot’s reactions, one could not but conclude they were very surprised by the Croatian Army’s swiftness and expediency.”200 Bobetko is partly right, UNPROFOR had been surprised because of its own assessment of the Croatian Army’s strength, which for quite a long time was based on statistics, foreign intelligence, JNA data, outside apparel (uniforms, discipline, armament). The military behaviour of Serb officers and soldiers, their apparel, training, discipline, weaponry, strength, the victories of the JNA and Serb armies in fights up until that time gave them the advantage over the newly-formed Croatian Army.201 The Serbians had a well-organized army, that had secured great territorial gains and it was not too long before the other two belligerent sides, the Croats and Muslims/Bosnians were forced to sign peace- the peace of the losing sides. Croats were (like the Bosnians) a group of wild, untidy and unconvincing soldiers.202 Therefore the question: how could “such an army” suddenly start counting its victories. Therefore UNPROFOR wished to punish it. General Cot didn’t hide the fact that he liked the Serbs. He often went visiting Serb General Novaković in Knin. He felt his moment of decision, firmness and glory had come. He would impose a peace, he would be that strong arbitrator able to decide,203 and not the weak, unconvincing mediator and an aide to help achieve peace and assure that UN decisions were implemented on the ground. He was not impressed by the Croatian Army’s efficiency. When speaking with General Bobetko he did not chose his words – at the time he thought Croats were stalling (that was Cot’s understanding). We were asking for more time in order to withdraw all the Croatian troops (Bobetko’s attitude) and all of that happened before the first bodies killed in the Medak Pocket were found204. General Cot wanted to be the protagonist who would decide how to deal with the new crisis. He was on the ground and not some high-ranking UN bureaucrat – they were sitting in New York and Zagreb. He flew to Knin, Gračac, Medak and immediately knew who the aggressor and the guilty party was.205
General Cot demanded Lt. Colonel Calvin be decisive and assert pressure, even to “bluff” the Croatians, which according to Calvin, could prove to be a serious mistake.206 That decisive military attitude, with which Cot wanted to push civilians out of the UN leadership, led to a direct conflict with UN Security Council General Secretary Boutros Boutros Ghali, who at the beginning of 1994 relieved General Cot of his duties.207 General Cot has, with “hardened” Canadians and “his” French troops wanted to show and teach the Croats a lesson for having dared to start “an aggression” against so-called “RSK”. He was not interested in the fact that the Croats actually undertook a limited action in order to protect Croat civilians from terrorist shelling. Cot asked the UN Secretary General’s permission to use air force – the “double key” in decision-making and the command for air strikes be passed directly to the UN military commander. When Ghali refused, Cot threatened to start “lobbying those governments who had their troops in the field and that he would communicate directly with the Security Council.208 Because of this unseen rejection of civilians in the UN, Cot had been relieved of his duties.
Ten years ago, the international community was not that resolute in judging terrorism. During the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the policy of leniency towards Serbian President Milošević and the Serbs prevailed; their attacks were not considered to be terrorist ones and they were not called criminal acts. The Croatian action had been defined as an aggression, as an attack on a UN protected area, and the Serb entity, which strongly declined all UN and Croatian efforts to achieve a peaceful solution, most often used artillery to attack unprotected Croat civilians. Therefore some individual attitudes that General Cot and UNPROFOR are to be blamed for the death of a couple of hundred Croatian citizens which were killed in Croatia during their mandate are not unusual.209 During the last ten years, a consciousness about the nature of terrorism has developed, and the need for pre-emptive strikes to prevent terrorist attacks, aggression and genocide has risen. The 2002 Pulitzer Prize authour, Samantha Power, has dedicated a lengthy book to this problem.210 She has proven that blunders, especially those in American politics, the terrible consequences of reacting too late in the case of genocide. Several countries, the United States primarily since the September 11th aftermath, tried to prevent terrorist attacks at their roots, in places where they were conceived like training camps. What else was the Croatian armed forces intervention in the Medak Pocket, but a pre-emptive strike to prevent continued terrorism? The fierce, unrelentless and unpunished shelling of Gospić and other cities and towns in Lika lasted for two years. Did Croatia not, after all unsuccessful negotiations, have the right to intervene, to repel the danger, to show its decisiveness? Everything that happened after that, all authors agree that incidents/crimes happened after the military operation had ended, and after the decision to retreat had been made, therefore the legitimacy of the action itself could not be questioned.211 The linkage which many foreign analyst tries to make between the command to start the action and the crimes themselves can hardly be proven. General Bobetko admits “the stupidities” that happened212, but these “stupidities” are far from being planned crimes.
“Military Globus HQ”213 carefully followed the Action, and after it was finished soon made its professional analysis: “The Croatian Army’s action lasted for five (5) hours; two (2) Serb tanks were captured (that data differs from the Ministry of Defence data which states that one tank was taken), 105 millimetre Howitzer, 10 recoilless guns, 10 heavy machineguns, and an enormous amount of small arms and ammunition was taken.” According to the quantity of armour taken, one could approximate the number of soldiers who manned that heavy weaponry and sophisticated technical devices. It was not possible that they were manned by elderly Serbs and women. At least one hundred soldiers trained in the former JNA were needed in order to put those confiscated weapons to use. How many more soldiers there manned the tank company in Medak, the cannons, mortars and anti-aircraft guns? The numbers UNPROFOR mentioned in their report are obviously incorrect. The Serb data about Serbs being killed during the “Ustaša aggression” in the Medak Pocket revealed that the majority of those killed were of the right age for recruitment.214 The “Globus Military HQ” also added that “700 Četniks were forced to flee” (sic!)215 (According to Croatian military and police intelligence, in the “Pocket” there were approximately: 400 soldiers/military personnel – 80 to 100 of them were members of the 103rd Lapac light brigade, 80 were volunteers from Romania” – among the captured not one of them is mentioned, there were some other volunteers (persons from Glamoč and Teslić) killed. Brigadier Krpina speaks of at least 30 percent of Serb volunteers, among them there are almost certainly some villagers, members of the territorial defence, and finally there were civilians. “Globus Military HQ” might have exaggerated the number of enemy soldiers, but does the exact assessment of the Croatian victory’s strategic consequences – the Ličko polje area and the situation in the Velebit Mountains changed – “after the Croatian forces took the Velebit Mountains, the majority of Serb Army forces in Dalmatia could easily be encircled, and the rebel Serbs couldn’t manoeuvre freely over the Ličko polje anymore – the Serb garrisons in Medak and Gračac could be seen by the Croatian Army like in the palm of one’s hand. The Operation surprised not only Serb terrorists but UNPROFOR, whose forces had a wide intelligence network at their disposal, spread from both sides of the demarcation line.”216 That assessment about the UNPROFOR intelligence service network was not exact. UN intelligence reports forecasted that area should be very quiet in the period ahead – but others, the British, mentioned by General Wahlgren, (“The English had in the former Yugoslavia an intelligence network dating back to World War 2- the direct intelligence is handed to co-president of the peace conference Lord Owen personally”),217 were more accurate. Why would SAS members be in Medak if they did not expect anything to happen?! The “Globus Military HQ” concludes: “On a tactical level, the Croatian Army showed it could make the right assessment of its own force, the force of the enemy, it could plan the action and execute it with precision.”218
“What was achieved by this action?” – the “Globus Military HQ” asks: “The effective answer was given to the rebel Serbs frequent terrorist attacks (on Pakrac, Sivac, Nemetin, Gospić, Kusonje), the places where (immediately before the Operation started – author’s note) 11 members of the Croatian Army and police had been killed – were vindicated. Seven hundred Četniks ran in disarray, 60 of them were liquidated and ten rebels were captured. The Croatian Army now controlled the Medak-Lovinac-Gračac road. Taking into consideration the previous operations done in the Dalmatian area, (Maslenica, Peruča), this was the other end of the pincer movement which the Croatian Army was closing around the Maslenica bridge, the most critical point for Croatia. (The first end of the pincer movement went through Ličko polje towards Gospić, and the other from Šibenik towards Knin – author’s note).219
Croatian weekly “Nacional” journalist Robert Bajruši, after speaking with Milo Kosović the Gospić homeguard battalion commander, describes the battalion’s engagement in attack that spearheaded to Divoselo, Počitelj and Čitluk: “The battalion commenced the attack but the Četniks waited for us, intercepted us with heavy artillery fire, and we had to, in order to pull our wounded out, retreat to our starting positions.”220 This was why the 9th brigade slowed its advancements pace, and why the encirclement (ideated by General Bobetko, Ademi and Norac) was not completed in time and an escape route for Serbs to cross the Velebit Mountain woods and move to Gračac was formed. Later too, in the “Bljesak” and “Oluja” Operations, the Croatian Army and police deliberately kept such corridors open for Serb civilians and their army to pull out. Kosović says he realized: “We wouldn’t be successful using only small arms. So I ordered a heavy artillery attack on the enemy, after which we commenced our advancement. We broke through the Serb defence this time. They started running away. It was three or four hours from when the action started that we took our designated targets.”221 It is possible that among those fleeing were the 107 men from the Lapac light brigade that were later found in Gračac. The fleeing Serb soldiers arrived to Medak where fellow Serbs laid harsh blame for their cowardice in the battle.222 “When we reached our task designated by Mirko Norac we stopped. Unlike the 9th brigade, our battalion did not have a single man killed. During the second day of the Action I got an order from Mirko Norac to re-deploy towards Medak because we expected Serbs would use that place to start their counter-attack. We dug in near the Kriva Rijeka, expecting a counter-attack, and instead, two kilometres away two UN armoured personnel carriers appeared and took that position.”223 From this account it is unclear whether Kosanović’s soldiers attacked Medak at all. On that day, September 10th, It is unclear whether the Croatian Army attacked Medak as UN sources reported. During the first day of the Action, the “Vukovi” reached “the first houses at Medak,” then retreated. This second day of the Action the UN reported that “Serb refugees started walking towards Gračac” and therefore they were unable to counterattack as Kosanović and his homeguard battalion expected them to do. What is important in the Kosanović report is that instead of the Serbs counter-attacking, two UNPROFOR APC’s appeared in front of the Croats. This means that on September 10th the Canadians deployed in Kriva Rijeka in front of the Serb lines, or mingled with the Serbs as they had stated, protecting them, and positioning themselves in front of the “aggressor” – the Croats. All of this was done prior to any negotiation or agreement being reached.
Brigadier General Bo Pellnas immediately rushed to Knin, to talk to Serbs General Novaković; he conveyed their ultimatum and demands back to Ademi in Gospić. Where was the UN’s neutrality there? They considered their neutrality to be the equal treatment of terrorists and their “parastate” with the legal army of a sovereign state, and the latter’s legal defence of civilians to be an aggressive act. Kosanović underlines: “Back in 1991, on one such occasion we tried to take Divoselo, but because of the peace talks we had to withdraw. Back then a couple of houses were destroyed.”224 Houses in Divoselo were also destroyed in an action undertaken a couple of months prior to the Medak Pocket Operation in 1993, when local homeguard troops backed by a mechanized platoon from Gospić took and partly burned the village. The damage inflicted and the aremd persons(soldiers and civilians) killed in that action could have been later mistakenly added by UNPROFOR and UNCIVPOL to the total number of killed in the later operation.225
When that data is added to the ICTY depositions of Brigadiers’ Krpina and Merčep, would the number of destroyed houses for what Croatian Generals stand indicted for be subtracted by at least a few? Will we be able to put some order in the given data and make some sense out of them?
“What is the truth about the Medak Pocket?” a journalist asked Brigadier and Ministry of Defence Police Department Commissioner Drago Krpina at a press conference in Gospić. During that press conference Brigadier Krpina at first tried to justify the action by explaining the facts that preceded it. “Up until September 9th we noticed enemy forces bringing in terrorist reinforcements from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. We had intelligence about the enemy terrorist commando attacks against Croatia being prepared. These attacks already happened – in August and in the first couple of days of September 11 Croatian soldiers and policemen were killed. In the first days of September, Gospić was under constant artillery fire. On September 9th the fiercest attack happened which as a consequence had the Croatian army counterattack.”226 Brigadier Krpina’s claims were proven by the numbers killed on both sides. Members of the 9th guard mobile brigade: Siniša (Cvjetko) Rosuljaš-Oluja was killed on July 30th 1993 on the Begluk position near Ribnik; Ivica Jakovac was killed on June 6th 1993 on Medovača along with Damir Habijanac.227 There were also 2 special police members killed on the Velebit Mountains. The data from the enemy side states that Miloš Đuro Rajčević, member of the 2/9th Gračac mobile brigade was killed on September 7th in the Divoselo, Medak area by a Croatian homeguard sniper.228 If the Serbs had not resisted, as claimed in the UNPROFOR report later to become an official UN and ICTY document and ICTY basis for the indictments of Generals Bobetko and Ademi, how could there have been victims on the Croatian side?! Drago Krpina claims the opposite, “In the Medak Pocket, the Serbs put up fierce resistance. Ten Croatian soldiers and 22 civilians were killed during the Medak Pocket liberation. This further proves that the Croatian police paid a heavy price for that action.229 Krpina has tried to answer the accusations of destroying and burning houses with credibility stating: “The Serb houses were military fortifications, so they were destroyed during the September 9th action. Some of these houses were destroyed back in 1991.” This statement is corroborated by Mile Kosović, “And the destruction continued in the exchange of artillery fire.” Krpina claimed: “Some of the houses were destroyed by terrorists themselves, the rest were destroyed later, perhaps on purpose. The iron beds found within houses were proof of their military use.” This case study’s writer has himself seen one such house during the “Oluja” Operation in a village above Sunja, close to abandoned Serb positions. The first floor was covered with wooden bunks where soldiers slept while the cellar was an ammunitions and explosives depot. It was set up like an army barracks.
The Croatian Army handed in 52 terrorist corpses.230 “Various documents were found on. A war diary with artillery co-ordinates to shell Gospić were found on Stevo Uzelac”231 “The Croatian army took 10 terrorists prisoners. Twenty people were hiding in the bushes (they were alive and unhurt and were brought to UNPROFOR). “Fourteen more people were found and were escorted from the area and transported to Senj, where they were sent to relatives in Rijeka, Pula and Zagreb.”232
We can calculate the Operation’s data based on General Bobetko’s data. “The whole battalion was wiped out.” A battalion in organized armies is 400 to 500 soldiers strong (three platoons, a logistics unit and command). In the army/police like the RSK had, the battalion was half that size. The Croatian army and police assess the entire enemy force in the Medak Pocket to be 400 men/soldiers strong.
“Globus Military HQ” says 700 Serb soldiers ran in disarray, 60 of them were killed and 10 were captured”. Krpina states that 52 were killed, 10 captured, and 20 or so people were hiding in the woods and surrendered. None of them were hurt. Fourteen civilians were found in the area and were left to freely join their relatives. “Globus” quotes Serbian sources citing about 107 soldiers saved from the Gračac brigade.In former French OP in Medak wrere sheltered 15 Serbs (Canadian source). In all, 70 or 96 soldiers and civilians were killed or captured out of 200/400/700 soldiers and civilians in the area before the Operation started. Of these, at least 107 were safely returned to Gračac. The UN also points out that on September 10th the retreat of civilians to Gračac was noted. It was also known that children had been evacuated earlier. The difference in numbers appears in Canadian sources as well. Numbers differ in the foreign, Croatian press, Sava Štrbac’s data and the ICTY indictments. They also differ in “Veritas” and the official Serb register. The Serbs were prone to such inconsistencies in facts, making it is easier to accuse the Croatian side for disappearances and crimes. The weekly magazine “Arena”233 did in-depth research on the numbers game played. Reporters discovered people listed as dead in the ICTY Gotovina indictment, to be alive and living in Serbia or in the Republika Srpska.
The battalion in disarray made 400 men, if there was 700 in all minus 60 killed and 10 taken prisoner, it would have equalled 630 men. According to Krpina, the numbers killed and captured was 96, plus 107 soldiers saved. The question remains, are there still any living persons listed as dead? The numbers differ. We will try to prove if some of the living were listed as dead in the Medak Pocket Operation in the Crime and its Victims chapter of this case study.
Even if proven, it would not make us less shocked by the killing of innocent victims and the consequent manipulation of their numbers. To trace the perpetrators of these crimes is not the aim of this study. This is to be done by investigators, prosecutors and the courts. The effort to establish a precise number of those killed, wounded and those that survived is the goal one should try and reach. Only then can one reach the truthful account of the Operation’s tragic civilian victims.
Two months after the Operation, when the second anniversary of the 9th brigade was celebrated, the magazine “Hrvatski Vojnik” carried a short article explaining the events that took place: “Gospić had taken the brunt of the Četnik’s rage because of the Croatian soldiers successes at Maslenica and the Velebit Mountains. UNPROFOR was powerless. In some instances it covered up Četnik terrorist crimes. The worst provocations came from Divoselo, Čitluk and Počitelj. The Četnik artillery mercilessly pounded the innocent civilian population. The quick and successful operation followed – villages were liberated and the terrorists were defeated. The “Vukovi” showed how they fought for Croatian freedom.”234
Meeting with department commanders of the main staff HQ, General Bobetko summarized the Operation’s development: “The Lika situation had been solved in a fortunate and organized manner. The team that went to the area to organize our forces orderly retreat did it extremely well.”235 The General would in 2002, deny that part of his statement and accused the co-ordination staff (General Stipetić and Admiral Domazet), of “escaping” to Zagreb before their job was finished. Both of the mentioned officers denied such accusations publicly and when they were summoned to give witness reports to the ICTY.236 Sources mention a report that Admiral Domazet handed to President Tuđman on another occasion. He admits he gave that report to the Croatian army HQ ( now it is at the ICTY’s disposal). In the report Domazet allegedly allowed “the possibility that during the withdrawal operations, crimes were committed.”237 Without having the document at our disposal we cannot either confirm or deny the existence of such a claim. General Bobetko further informed his staff: “We have remained on the dominant points, which gave us the operative advantage. I ordered our forces to stay in a strong formation. There was a danger the Četniks would not enter the UNPROFOR controlled area, but the UN should not have allowed such incursions.”238 The Četniks did enter the area and engaged Croatian forces even after September 17th at 18:00 hours when the Croatian Army and Ministry of the Interior special police withdrew to their designated positions.239 Not only did they sneak in during the night, but they also used to squeeze in between Canadian and Croatian lines to shoot at Croatian positions in full daylight.240 The misunderstanding with the Canadians continued. Canadians entered the area in a wider depth than agreed upon, bulldozed Croatian positions and ltcol Calvin did not attend the meetings where such problems were being solved. The tactics of the pressure and a bluff, promoted by General Cot, and put into practice by Calvin continued.
“At last night’s military council meeting a government body led by Šarinić and Croatian army representative General Stipetić was formed. The task of the body was to contact UNPROFOR forces.”241 It was unusual for General Bobetko to appoint General Stipetić to such a position, especially when nine years later he said Stipetić had run away from the mission. The only excuse for General Bobetko’s statement was that water had passed under that bridge.
“In general, the staff and the commanding area of Gospić was fortified, the tasks had been accomplished. There had been some errors committed after the mission was accomplished, some burning was committed after the command to withdraw was given.242 General Bobetko admits “errors…burning after the command to withdraw was given.” He repeated the same comments at a VONS243 meeting. According to the commander of the chief staff HQ given to the operative army brass, it was clear that some soldiers/policemen had committed some “errors”, not in accordance with the decision to withdraw command and against their commanding officers’ will. This was done against the plan and against their commanders’ knowledge. It seems logical that these “errors” were done by some, because of their bitterness in being forced to withdraw and because of the fear that Serbs might return out of a blind revenge. There was only a small possibility that an order was given to commit such crimes as the ICTY indictment explicitly states. The Croatian government reacted to those unlawful acts and criminal acts committed by Croatian citizens wearing army or police uniforms. Soon some commanders were relieved of their duties. The second in command of the Gospić commanding area, General Ademi and Mile Kosović, the Gospić homeguard battalion commander were relieved of their duties.244 Access to the Gospić area by MP members sent by Defence Minister Šušak to investigate the possible criminal acts that had been done by Croatian soldiers during and after the Medak Pocket Operation was initially prevented.245 A report was written and handed to the Minister at the beginning of October. The report states that after interviewing Brigadier Ademi it was concluded the battle with the armed enemy was waged and there were no criminal acts committed. The report also stated that the inquiry will continue in order to discover all the relevant facts and possible perpetrators of such acts would be apprehended. SIS department members were not included in either the planning nor in the Action’s execution or control.246 After UNPROFOR entered the demilitarized arena, Croatian civil and military police were prevented any further access. Why any further measures were not taken – the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators – was to be decided by a court. According to the Croatian army HQ situation report, (on the basis of the district command post Gospić data), the main objective of the Operation was accomplished. The enemy that had been deployed on the Gospić-Medak-Gračac perimeter was now holding an unfavourable position. This would allow some future Croatian forces the possibility to deploy in a better operational and tactical position. The possibility of Serb enemy attacks on Gospić were averted. Apart from undoubted military and tactical gains, Croatia had, according to Croatian military analyst assessments, suffered political and propaganda damage. It had to return a liberated area (one should underline – under the UN’s protection). “RSK” was given the possibility to again call Croatia an aggressor (sic!). At his HQ meeting, General Bobetko concluded his analysis: “The anti-aircraft defence in Lika failed. This is where one should look for reasons that led to the uncompleted mission. I warned that Četniks would take retaliatory measures, and that in the frame of the command post we should organize ambushes to prevent any surprise.”247 On several occasions the Četniks had tried, but never with such strength and determination as before the Medak Pocket Operation, to retake that area.
Is the Croatian military sources claim that Serbian forces were preparing the attack on Gospić and cutting off the Gospić-Karlobag communication, thus taking the Velebit Mountains and cutting Croatia in half valid? Is the claim that the Medak Pocket Operation was an operation imposed on Croatia correct? From confiscated Serbian documents it is visible that their forces reconnaissance incursions were executed and the Velebit Mountains were under constant Serb military command control. The constant Serb efforts to fortify Divoselo and the Medak Pocket defence are well documented, the volunteer reinforcements influx is proven, as well as Serb appeals to strengthen that important part of “RSK”. By taking into account the complete military, political and geostrategic position of the “RSK,” that suffered a drastic change with the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina gaining momentum, and because of the moral and psychological downfall of that parastate, it was obvious that the “RSK” did not have the necessary force to execute the planned action of cutting Croatia in half.
Would it therefore be possible to say that Croatia and her army invented the reasons to attack Medak Pocket? No matter what negative consequences the Operation bore (the breaches of war and the alleged war crimes), I am of the opinion that the military/police operation in the Medak Pocket was a legitimate one. Such was also the conclusion of the Croatian Supreme Constitutional Court. It was part of a military and political strategy, led by Croatia, in order for it to reach its full sovereignty. Sovereignty was not merely “served to Croatia on a platter” by the unwilling international community or rebel Croatian Serbs backed by the SR Yugoslavia and Slobodan Milošević. Only the strong would know how to take what was rightfully theirs.
Canadian Interpretation – Canadian Sources
“The Second Battalion of the Princess Patricia Light Infantry/Battle group was being commended..( )..for a heroic and professional mission during the Medak Pocket Operation in the former Yugoslavia in September 1993. In extreme peril and facing enemy artillery, small arms and heavy machinegun fire, as well as antitank and antipersonnel mines, members of the 2.PPCLI Battle group held their ground and drove the Croatian forces back. The exemplary actions of the battle group caused the Croatian Army to cease their ongoing tactics of “ethnic cleansing” in the Sector (South – author’s remark), without question saving many innocent civilian lives.” That is the quote from the citation the 2.PPCLI’s Lt. Colonel Jim Calvin and a few hundred present soldiers, protagonists of the Medak Pocket events, were awarded by the Governor General of Canada and the Canadian military forces Commander in Chief, Ms. Adrienne Clarkson, on December 1st 2002 in Winnipeg, Canada. That citation proves how to impose a historical “truth.” Croats attacked Canadian peacekeepers; a battle between them was waged, the Croats were defeated and forced to withdraw, and after their committed war crimes they became a nation with a tarnished reputation in the eyes of Canadians and the rest of the world. Was that really the historical truth? Or was that an adapted, new truth, in which the Canadian Army was embellishing something that did not take place and the Croatian Army, state and its people were condemned for actions they did not do perpetrate. Is that somewhat late citation awarded as a cover for the ugly incidents Canadian forces had been involved with in Somalia? Does that citation help the Canadian Army reclaim the position and privileges it had in Canadian society? Is the citation intended to boost the Army’s morale and effectiveness in a time that brings many uncertainties with it – even a proposal for the Canadian Army’s radical reform and a new approach to Canada’ involvement in the world’s peacekeeping, which has been Canada’s pride? I do not think that the Canadian Army, Canadians, or Canada are to be blamed for criminal acts in Somalia. In Somalia, the brunt of guilt should be put on specific Canadians involved, and they should be punished. The same should apply to guilty Croatian individuals in the Medak Pocket Operation. Much like Canadian soldiers in Somalia, the evidence needs to be examined, guilt proven and punishments should be passed without changing the events of history.
After a thorough investigation of the facts about the events of the Medak Pocket some half-truths could be revealed.
Point one - the citation the Governor General and Chief of Defence awarded to Canadian forces for the mission accomplished in the former Yugoslavia. At the end of 2002 the Defence Chief disclosed the name of state as Yugoslavia, in order to denote the place of the mission. According to international law, UNPROFOR was a UN protection force with an initial mandate applied to Yugoslavia. However, in September 1993, Yugoslavia did not exist anymore. In its place, were the five states that had been formed; the last one tried to carry on with the name – the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It was not a UN member state. The four states created from the former Yugoslavia were all UN member states. If the unfortunate war had not been waged, the four states, apart from sharing the same neighbouring area, would not have any connection with the state that by that time had already changed its name and constitution.248 Therefore, in the citation, a much more adequate name to use would have been Croatia, where the Operations had taken place. When the citation was awarded, Croatia had already been a UN member state, a sovereign state, for ten years. In 1993, (one year after international, including Canadian recognition), one fourth of Croatia’s territory had still been occupied by the aggressor (Serbia, Montenegro and Serb rebels). The aggressor had been organized, armed, and sent to occupy Croatia by that same former Yugoslavia. Today – twelve years after Croatia acquired its sovereignty, many a respectable historian and a journalist, state facts already known to us. One of these writers is the 2002 Pulitzer prize authour Samantha Power. When writing about the Belgrade strategy towards Croatia during that period, Power calls it “the HYENA” strategy. This means “hyena”( the aggressor)” refrains from its most aggressive actions when international condemnation or pressure is at its strongest. As soon as this ceases, the hyena continues nibbling its prey. “249 The UN mandate was approved as long as the formal Yugoslav state existed.
Point two - The Canadian Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief never mentioned the name of the state that agreed on receiving help from the peacekeepers, in order to achieve those objectives – the full sovereignty and liberation of its territory. The citation never mentions Croatia as a country in which the heroic deeds of Canadian soldiers took place, but names its army, the Croatian army – sic – “ill reputed” because of its “constant ethnic cleansing”. It also mentions the enemy, or, “Croatian artillery, heavy machineguns and minefields” which to uninformed Canadians would suggest that the enemies of Canada were the Croats and their “notorious” army. While describing the difficulties Canadian soldiers overcame in that unnamed country, whose army is called “Croatian”, the Canadian Commander-in-Chief hasn’t chosen the overstatements like “tanks, charges, heavy artillery fire”250, but all the same she speaks of attacks being repelled and positions that were kept under Croatian Army pressure, the later aim being, the citation suggests, to defeat Canadian soldiers.
Point three - The motive. Why did Croats make such an effort to overwhelm the Canadians? Did the Croatian forces try to overrun and defeat the Canadians (and French) and therefore start another war with Canada, France and the UN in general? That is hardly likely, when one knows that at that time (1993) Croatia was under adverse circumstances. It underwent constant attacks from its occupied territory, international community pressures (UN, EU), mistrust, and was considered equally at fault as the RSK. This meant an open undermining of Croatian sovereignty. Serbs were tacitly recognized, their right to form a state within a state and a future RSK secession from the Republic of Croatia was permitted, if that meant an achievement of peace in the former Yugoslavia. No, Croats were not up to opening a new front to wage a war with powerful forces such as Canada or France or with the UN. It is clear that one’s army on one’s territory would defend its sovereignty, but even UNPROFOR had sometimes behaved like an occupying force and not a UN protection force.
Point four - Croats were prepared to hold the ceasefire agreement. By forming buffer zones in the Medak Pocket they were up to reaching a compromise: allowing UNPROFOR to control the Croatian territory, because they knew that was the way to obtain their goal. The uncertainty and the slow pace of the path was reluctantly accepted by Croatian soldiers who were being killed or wounded in that area.251
Point five - The Croats mistrusted the UN forces because until that time, their behaviour proved to be questionable. UNPROFOR has often shown sympathy for the Serbs, who were skilled in manipulating it. Under UNPROFOR’s watch, the Serbs tried to regain their lost territory.252 The Croats experienced that during the Maslenica Bridge Operation. Even UNPROFOR was afraid of a Serb military action – a counterattack – as was quoted by the Sector South UN Commander’s assessment given on September 16th 1993.253
Point six - The Canadians were in a rush to implement the Medak Pocket agreement because it was imperative that the international agency, UN peace forces retain a degree of credibility – and because they had proven many times to be inefficient.254 There were several more reasons UNPROFOR, especially CANBAT, had wanted the situation in the field to change and to impose the agreement without the Croatian side accepting it, all of that not within the designated time frame.255 On the ground the Canadians had tried to change what had previously been agreed upon between the UN and the Croatian side. General Cot and the Canadians had not been satisfied with such limitations, they considered the civilian bureaucracy governing the UN ineffective – the soldiers would do things better. That dissatisfaction (cost General Cot his position as the UN Forces Commander) and transformed itself in the impatience and their own specific rules of engagement explanation. The stiff position UNPROFOR took versus Croatia and its Army led to tensions, which were easily turned into firefights, gun and heavy machinegun fire.256 On one side the Canadians intermingled with the Serbs, while on the other side, there were the Croats. In their reports, the Canadians allowed for the possibility that the Croatians were correct in that the Croats could have mistakenly considered Serb provocations as Canadian ones, who fired from their positions and consequently returned fire.257 The night conditions could favour this, because in the dark most combatants are highly sensitive. In most armies in the world these types of fire exchanges would be called “scuffles”, “small scale incidents”, “small ceasefire violations” – but the Canadians turned them into a large-scale battle.258 This is how the non-existent battle259 took place. “Canada’s largest scale conflict since the Korean war”. Canada made that battle public and celebrated its outcome no sooner than the year 2002 (for reasons already explained), and the consequences of it are still felt in Croatia. (Canada’s frigid relations towards Croatia and a very strict visa regime imposed are a result)260 Emotional reactions of the Canadian soldiers, after finding and seeing people killed in the Medak Pocket perimeter are understandable, but it seems those emotions have clouded the soldiers witnessing of the events. The Canadian foot patrols were engaged in “hunting Croatians down”.261 What they went through had, after the fact, formed what they actually experienced. This was later given as the excuse for the “decisive”, “strong” and even arrogant Lt.Colonel Calvin and the Canadians’ behaviour, before facing death and destroyed buildings. Canadians wanted to force their way in the liberated areas of Divoselo, Počitelj and Čitluk, earlier than agreed upon, only because they had “a hunch ethnic cleansing was in progress”262, and they expected “those bastards Croats”263 were up to some evil. They wanted to start a “peace imposing” mission, a humanitarian action, to save innocent civilian victims,264 although UNPROFOR had never decisively answered to the crimes committed by the other side. An example of this is the terrorist sabotage on the Kusonja victims September 8th 1993 day of remembrance – a day before the Medak Pocket operation started.
I do not question the existence of victims (and war crimes) in the Medak Pocket. They were committed by those irresponsible individuals who should have already been punished. About alleged crimes, (they are alleged until proven otherwise in a tribunal), the inquiry is ongoing. They are also alleged because there was never any identification of the victims to differentiate who were civilians and who were military victims of war. Like granny “Danica,” being glorified by Serb writer Momo Kapor.265 This granny had often been viewed on Krajina TV programs. She was a Serb heroine. A few days prior to the Medak Pocket Operation, Kapor described her in a Belgrade newspaper as manning the heavy machinegun and threatening the Croats. The old woman Danica had been killed in the action. She later became a civilian victim and proof for the committed Croatian war crime. In the official data on Serb victims killed in the RSK up until “Oluja”, not a single person killed or missing in the Medak Operation had the exact location or the manner of death attached to his or her name. Their deaths are only listed as “killed during the Ustaša aggression”. Why was such data concealed by the Serb military? In order for all killed to become civilian victims? In order to make the non-uniformed believe that in their ranks some military order prevailed; that no old men and women took part in fighting, or to make believe that in the Medak Pocket there were only 400 poorly armed territorial defence members, therefore civilians fighting.
So the data speaks about those killed in fighting on both sides, the pile of used confiscated arms, and facts about combat units. The crimes did happen. It is necessary to be exact in how many there were, who committed them, whether they were commanded, done out of the criminal whim or out of revenge. The indictments266 of General Janko Bobetko and Rahim Ademi, speak of the commanding responsibilities. The investigators have questioned Generals Markač, Stipetić, Norac, Admiral Domazet, and are looking for the perpetrators. It is only a question of time when the real culprits will be discovered. The subject of this study does not deal with why this was not done any sooner, and who the culprits are, this is for the ICTY in the Hague or relevant Croatian courts to decide.
Lt.Colonel Calvin has for years since the Medak Pocket Operation been active in achieving the citation for his troops. He gave interviews, lobbied, attended the Canadian Parliament sessions. In his thank you speech to MP’s for the Governor General citation, Jim Calvin said: “…the citation is less than to citate that the battle never happened…”267 And so, the citation for something that did not happen, for the battle, for the “intended, planned Croatian Army attack on CANBAT”, “for the intended purpose of Canadian soldiers to be killed and forced to retreat, their intended defeat and surrender” has become the main proof that the battle did exist, and that it “really happened”. A lovely logical turn of words that served to soothe Canadian internal political problems and served its main purpose – to re-establish trust in the Canadian Armed Forces and to assure greater financial aid to its retired soldiers.268
Canada and UN Peacekeeping MISSIONS
Canada has a long peacekeeping tradition. The first mission was during the Korean war in Kapyong battle where 60 or so Canadians were killed. That same battalion had been deployed 40 years later in the Medak Pocket, under the code name CANBAT 1 / ROTO 2 / OPERATION HARMONY.269 The first Canadian contingent of the UN force peace mission in the former Yugoslavia – UNPROFOR – had been moved to Croatia from Germany. It consisted of a basic unit – 1st battalion “Le Royal 22e Regiment”, then the 3rd battalion “The Royal Canadian regiment”, and one engineer platoon (pioneers) of the First combat engineer regiment stationed in Lahr, Germany. Engineers were a must for an area filled with landmines (eastern Slavonia), where the Canadian contingent was stationed at first. Canadian “blue helmets” were deployed in Vukovar, later in Sarajevo, Visoko, Goražde and Srebrenica. In Croatia they were deployed in Sector West and South. The UN has required armoured transporter M-113’s, that completely mechanized the regiment, to be exchanged for trucks, for “blue helmets” to look as peaceful as possible. Brigadier General Clive Addy declined that request (advised by General Lewis MacKenzie) which later would prove to be a great advantage.”270 Lee A. Windsor analyzed the CANBAT organization: “...70 percent of soldiers in infantry companies were reservists, seven out of twelve platoon leaders came from the reserve, soldiers were prepared for deployment according to squadrons and platoons – that was enough for reconnaissance missions on observation posts, and for the role of peacekeeping, but nobody had the faintest idea that those platoons would have to join and later form the battalion to engage in a battle.”271 2.PPCLI in the “Operation Harmony” were responsible for the UNPA Sector West, situated in Croatia’s north-west corner. There, Lt. Colonel Calvin and his soldiers had among the belligerent sides, but also among friendly UN troops, acquired respect for being honest, but hard soldiers.272
They had armoured personnel carrier M-113, like those of the American armoured cavalry. On the transporter a steel turret was added to protect the gunner who manned the Browning .50 caliber (12,7 millimetre) machinegun. Rifle companies were armed with medium machineguns C-6 (7.62 mm calibre) and man portable antitank weapons, 84 millimetre “Carl Gustav”. Infantry units carried C-7 machineguns and C-9 (5.56 mm) light machineguns. The firepower of the infantry company was supported by heavy armour – 81 millimetre mortars and TOW missile launchers, mounted on armoured carrier’s M-113 turrets. Canada was the first UN member to deploy such firepower in 1992 in Croatia. After first arriving, the Canadians executed a military exercise in Sector West, primarily to show the Croats they were decisive in repelling any attack on UNPA zones. Five months later the 2.PPCLI/Combat group had become the most efficient and esteemed UNPROFOR unit. This is why General Cot had chosen it for the Sector South mission.273 The armour on personnel carriers could protect Canadian soldiers in Sarajevo, Goražde, Srebrenica, as well as in the Medak Pocket, and TOW antitank missiles would garner respect from all the belligerents. The 2.PPCLI Combat group consisted of 875 soldiers, sergeants and officers. Four hundred soldiers were reservists. The full name of the battalion under the auspices of Princess Patricia was the Second Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry or for short, the 2.PPCLI, or militarily even shorter the “Patricias”. Under the Canadian Army code name “Operation Harmony” from April to September 1993 they formed a part of UNPROFOR for the former Yugoslavia. After the Erdut Agreement in June 1993 in which the two sides – the legitimate Croatian side and the self-proclaimed Serb rebel side agreed on separating their forces – the Canadian battle group under Lt. Colonel Jim Calvin’s command and two motorized French infantry platoons started their deployment in Sector South in order “to prevent further Croat advancement, to oversee their retreat and to make a “buffer zone” under UN control.”274 From the quote in which Lt. Colonel Calvin claims that “this (Medak Pocket Operation) was a unique action, similar to an offensive” it is possible to comprehend how he assessed the situation in the field and CANBAT’s position. He obviously did not understand the political role peacekeepers had in Croatia275 and underlined its military character instead. Lt. Colonel Calvin thought as a soldier would, he wanted to prevail in the “offensive”, impose on his enemy, attack it, defeat it, and if possible – to militarily excel.. The war between the Croatian Army and the rebel Serbs - who were helped by volunteers and professional soldiers from the Yugoslav Army and the “Republika Srpska” Army - Lt. Colonel Calvin considered to be a conflict in which the Canadians were not deployed to separate the belligerents, but were to fight against one side, the side that undermined the shaky peace – and at that moment that side was the Croatian Army. “…We have found ourselves literally as participants of a small war and we were fighting for our lives… the battle group held its position and after three days of negotiations it repelled the Croatian forces and prevented the “ethnic cleansing” of that area to continue.”276
The Canadian opposition, antipathy, even hostility against one side came as no surprise, because from earlier experiences in eastern and western Slavonia, the mistrust and lack of respect the Croats and Croatian Army had received was visible. Expressions like “fucking Croatia” and “bastards” used by Canadian soldiers were relevant to the Croats and to clashes Canadians had with Croats in Garešnica, Daruvar and later in Bosnia and Herzegovina. To illustrate this point: the part of the Ministry of Defence liaison office with the UN and EU (in the Short Analysis of the UNPROFOR engagement plan realization) under the title “UNPROFOR members misconduct” – on August 2nd/3rd 1992 members of CANBAT tore down and destroyed the flag of the Republic of Croatia; on August 4th 1992 two members of UNPROFOR belonging to the same unit had under the influence of alcohol tried to steal an official Ministry of the Interior vehicle; on September 20th 1992 at 13:00 hours in “Papiga” bar in Pakrac Canadian members of UNPROFOR started a fight with civilians; on the same day at 14:10 hours the members of CANBAT returned to the bar seeking revenge. They cocked their weapons and tried to take prisoner a reserve member of the Croatian police; on September 20th 1992 at 17:15 hours at a checkpoint, Canadians stopped civilian Josip Stvara, beat him, gagged him and locked him in a UNPROFOR bunker. The use of force and capture had taken place out of the UNPA perimeters; on September 22nd 1992 at 21:45 in Pakrac, two Canadians, slightly drunk, had insulted civilians and offered dollars to the girls calling them whores; on September 22nd at 23:00 hours in Pakrac, Canadians beat up Croatian citizen Robert Osterman a reserve policeman. The preconceptions with which Canadians first came to keep the peace – the negative ones about the Croats, “German allies”, and the positive ones about the Serbs “pro-Commonwealth - allies in two wars,” defined the relationship with the country they found themselves in.277
Applying the Agreement
“During the Medak Pocket Operation, heavy shelling occurred along the line, particularly in our area. We counted in one six-hour period about one thousand rounds of artillery on Donje Biljane and the company HQ area. They (Croats) used multiple rocket launchers, 120 mm mortars, 105 mm guns and lots of rockets. They used to use MRL’s against Benkovac a lot and the shelling was going both ways too. Somewhere around the middle of September we got word from General Cot, the force commander of UNPROFOR, to be prepared to go back and take over this area by force if necessary…”278 Describing the battle in which Canadians found themselves (as the third party, in which as opposed to the French in the Maslenica Operation, they didn’t have to remain neutral), this participant suggests that the Canadians were under a direct attack (as if they were a part of the Serb forces). It is to be understood from one of the Canadian reservists’ statements also, who obviously didn’t understand what was happening around him, or he has just repeated his superior’s opinion. “We were sent there to stop an offensive operation, to repel the assailants and to create a “buffer zone”. We were intercepted by the heavy machinegun fire and mortar shells, and that lasted for 36 (sic!) hours. “The peacekeepers” were forced to answer with firepower.” The reserve soldier Marc Lundie brags that “when the battle ended the Croats officially reported 27 of their soldiers killed during the battle with the Canadian army (other sources quote that number as even higher – more than 100 Croats were wounded or killed) while some Canadians had shrapnel wounds.”279 In that glorification, the praise of overpowering force of the Canadian armour, the bravery of Canadian soldiers and leadership is obvious; the much stronger Croatian enemy was made to retreat. If one would be more cynical, one would discover in that reservist’s account his military machismo, his aversion toward one nation, and perhaps hatred against soldiers whom Canadians had eliminated in large numbers. In Bosnia and Herzegovina Canadians called Muslims, they did not like “wogs” while Croats, Lt.Colonel Jim Calvin he remarked in the book “Chances for peace.” we did not like.”280 It is possible Canadian soldiers were pleased that such a large number of Croat soldiers had been killed. Croats, who were guilty of a crime, were therefore worthy of such a punishment.
“At 12:00 noon (September 15th 1993) approximately 250 Canadian and 500 French soldiers started rolling in between Serb and Croat forces near the city of Medak. Croats opened a hale out of 20 millimetre anti-aircraft guns, mortars and machineguns.” The rest of the day (September 15th), during the night and next morning (September 16th) Canadians engaged in 20 separate fights using infantry arms…the Croats retreated with 30 dead in the morning of September 16th…Canadians heard the burst of gunfire. Fires were visible across the valley (coming from Serb villages) behind Croatian lines. They were sure that the Croats were killing Serb civilians and armoured transporters platoon under Major Dan Drew’s command had rolled towards the burning villages. The heavily armed Croat company stopped the Canadian column…and there was a 90-minute long tense pause (“Mexican standoff”)281. Such a dramatic description could suggest to the reader that the Canadian soldiers, like the knights in white armour, like the blue blouse cavalry from Westerns, without being given the command, at their own initiative, rushed to help Serb soldiers and civilians in the Medak quagmire, while the role of the “bad guys”, Indians, not organized and volatile fighters was given to the Croatian army. But that moment did not look as in the Canadian reservist’s disposition. The Canadians moved as it was agreed upon (the agreement being discussed on various diplomatic, political and military levels for a couple of days). When they were stopped in front of Croat positions – one might speculate why – because the Croats were not informed, because the order to let Canadians through did not come in time, because of the 24-hour extension of a withdrawal, stalling. According to seized Serb documents, the Serb side also agreed in order not to disrupt the UN agreement. Lt. Colonel Jim Calvin had organized a press conference for some foreign TV correspondents and a couple of Serb journalists in front of the Croatian barrier. He immediately accused Croats of stalling in order to be able to finish “ethnic cleansing” of the occupied area. “A Croatian General who was quick to grasp the political danger”, let the Canadians through the blockade into the Medak Pocket. In Lički Čitluk, the Canadians and French found 16 bodies, 312 houses and farm buildings destroyed, and 130 livestock killed. In a nearby field a 70-year old woman’s body was found, as well as burned remnants of girls in their teens.”282 Several witness accounts given by higher-ranking Canadian officers that held high commanding posts in the UN mission, described the events before they faced the consequences of the battle. Therefore Lt. Colonel Jim Calvin’s need to describe the events in such a picturesque and dramatic manner is understandable. “…The 2.PPCLI soldiers were overpowered three to one, they boldly faced tanks and artillery, and against all odds they succeeded in repelling the Croats. The Canadians had one soldier killed and four wounded.”283 This dramatic description of the battle gives Calvin and his unit a greater role than it played. General Lewis MacKenzie states that “in the morning of September 9th Canadians came under heavy Croat artillery fire. On 2.PPCLI positions more than 500 shells were fired.”284 MacKenzie does not differentiate between the Canadian and the Serb positions. They were positioned together on the opposite side, and shelling directed at these positions had the Canadians considering it to be an attack directed at them. From the book “Tested Mettle” it is clear that the Canadians were in Medak, that their position was near the Serb HQ, and that the primary shelling from the Croatian side was the HQ and that important road junction. The Canadian Lieutenant would, during that morning of September 9th re-deploy part of his platoon at a new position, in a new building, further away from the Serb positions. That was an indirect admission that the Canadians had chosen an unfavourable position and became a Croat artillery target. Part of the blame should be put on the previously stationed French contingent. The French had been using the building in the vicinity of the Serb HQ, in the cellar they had a nice quantity of original French wine cases.285 It is understandable that many witnesses, describing the events, overlooked their own mistakes. An example of this is the exact date when the ceasefire agreement was signed. If the agreement was signed on September 13th as stated by General MacKenzie, then the impatience of Canadians to enter the area Croats had to leave on September 14th and 15th should be understandable. Croatian President Tuđman had on September 12th already ordered a unilateral 24-hour ceasefire, for September 13th. All sides verbally agreed to a ceasefire and for talks to commence. On September 15th the agreement was signed. The agreement’s exact timetable was set – how it would proceed, at what time, its plan and schedule was set. Various sources bring different data on how long the firefights between the Canadians and Croatians lasted – from three or four days, 36 hours, 16 hours or 15 hours. The evaluation about the number of shells fired differs – several thousand, a thousand, five hundred. The data about the type of weapons Croats used in their attack also differs– heavy artillery, tanks, multiple rocket launchers. The number of combatants is also at odds – 2500 Croatian soldiers, the entire 9th guard brigade. By magnifying the danger, Canadians obviously wanted to embellish the drama that did not exist. From UNPROFOR documents it was noted that “the Croats showed co-operation and posed no obstacle to the agreement’s implementation”286
After Swedish General Wahlgren’s departure from the UN forces command position (because of his disagreement with international powers meddling in peacekeeping in the former Yugoslavia)287, French Army General Jean Cot took command. This was an indirect rebuke that Wahlgren’s reproach of the powers who had large contingents of peacekeepers in the former Yugoslavia (France and Great Britain) for having separate politics in guiding political events accordingly – had been justified. The Serbs had fiercely accused the French behaviour during the Maslenica Operation; there were some conflicts about taking heavy artillery from the depots secured by the “double key”. That French “blue helmets” passive attitude (the French had an hour before the attack been informed about it by the Croats) was the Serb reasoning for their defeat. The French, traditional Serb allies, socialized, drank and played football matches, with them up until the Maslenica Operation. The Canadians accepted the Serb arguments for being defeated in the Maslenica Operation, and they used the same argument for the Medak Pocket defeat. The weak, unarmed Serbs, had been prevented by the French to arm themselves; therefore hundreds of them had been killed during an unequal fight with the Croats.288 It was now Cot’s time to give the French and UNPROFOR back it’s credibility. Now was the time to enforce the international community’s plans about Bosnia and Herzegovina (the VOPP289) and to achieve an agreement in Croatia. UNPROFOR was to retain its credibility and show Cot’s personal ability and efficiency. As soon as the Medak Pocket crisis started, Cot used all his energy to stop the armed conflict and return to the “status quo ante” the pre-existing state, and to achieve the return of the Serbs to their land. General Cot had personally come to the Canadian Battle group HQ290 to remind Lt. Colonel Calvin of the “blue helmets” right to return fire if in danger291. “During the early hours of the afternoon of September 15th UN forces started moving to their positions from the position of the Croatian 9th mobile brigade a sporadic rifle fire was opened. When the armoured column continued to move, they were met with a real cannonade (?!). The Croatian Army would not allow them through. The battle raged during the next 15 hours292. Canadians were using old Serb trenches near the Lički Čitluk village. They entered in order to stand in between the two sides, and the 9th mobile brigade was stationed less than 100 metres away. Some soldiers first hand accounts, as quoted by authours describing the event (“Tested Mettle”, “Chances for Peace”), were filled with the event’s excitement. The reports of battles being waged are contradicted by the nature of the firefights. The “baptism by fire”, “the soldiers initiation”, “soldiers’ bragging”, the excitement of experience re-lived (the experience of live ammunition fire or the experience of the battle being waged between the Croats and the Serbs) where Canadians were by-standers – is to be recognized in their overstatements. It is difficult therefore, to conclude from these “soldiers’ accounts” that a real battle had been waged in which the Croats undertook several offensives, used 20 millimetre cannons, larger calibre guns and mortars, with which they plowed Canadian positions (Rod Dearing, 7th platoon)293. “Tracer fire lit the sky” or “Scott LeBlanc woke with the start, then himself cocked his C-9, fired short bursts at the base of the tracer arching over his trench…which made the Croats flee…” (?!)294. This account comes from someone who puts on a brave face, it does not speak of a witnessed event. It comes from someone who would humiliate his adversary, paints the events in black and white, makes his judgement who the courageous and who the cowardly side was (“…cocked his C-9…fired a short burst” versus “Croats who started fleeing”). Only by bragging, could that “scuffle” turn into a fierce, dramatic battle in which “everything depended on Canadian courage and military capability. Even an anonymous officer of the Yugoslav Army admitted, “…this was not a conflict according to Western standards.” He could not refrain from adding that: “in terms of the Yugoslav wars, it represented extraordinarily large fighting…”295 As evidence, he listed the number of Croatian soldiers being killed as between 20 and 50. The data itself makes us conclude he referred to the Croat and the Serb forces conflict. According to official Croatian data which the Canadian and Serb side would question, 10 Croatian soldiers were killed, which is half of the lesser number listed. According to the Serb officer’s characterization of the ferocity of the conflict, it had not applied to the alleged Canadian/Croatian clash, but to the fight of the Croats against the Serbs. The only trustworthy Serb source, General Milisav Sekulić of the Srpska Krajina Army, does not play the numbers game. He considered them untrustworthy, but that does not prevent him from demonizing the Croats and accusing them of the crime of genocide.
In “the Canadian Military history: from 1945 to present – Peacekeeping: Yugoslavia” the explanation of the Medak Pocket events is put into a wider context in which the battles between the Croatian and Serb forces have taken place. The Canadian – Croatian clash in that interpretation is even longer in terms of time period - “…Croatian forces attacked Canadian soldiers for four days…” It is unclear when the period of four days started, before September 16th/17th or after. If it includes the period after the Canadian and French “blue helmets” were deployed, then those 4 days include the incidents that happened after the Croatian Army withdrew and the UN took control over the area. Incidents when UNPROFOR entered the minefields and there were warning night shootings, were interpreted as a new Croatian attack on UN forces. It is visible from UNPROFOR press releases dated September 19th and September 26th, about Canadian and French soldiers being wounded in a minefield in front of Croatian positions. In those releases, without inquiry proof, the Croats stand accused of shooting and not allowing help to the wounded Canadian and French soldiers296.
After General Bobetko’s letter, in which he denied such accusations, General Cot apologized. But the notoriety of “the bad Croats” in future Canadian history books persisted. If the four days of warfare applied to the period before September 15th, from September 9th to 12th, it really had been a period of the fiercest fighting – but fighting between Croatian and Serbian forces. Apart from being in the way, or exposed to indirect artillery fire, Canadians dug themselves in, militarily protected themselves as any professional army would do. During those first four days of fighting they did not have any seriously wounded soldiers. UNPROFOR documents do not prove that the Canadian forces had been directly attacked by the Croats. The Canadians themselves, admit their positions were too close to Serb ones, allowing their soldiers to intermingle. Serb mortars and machinegun nests were some 297 metres away from Canadian trenches and the Canadians asked the Serbs to refrain from firing on Croat positions50. In the UNPROFOR SITREPORT of September 15th 1993, there is a note about undertaking an attack on the UN forces: “…Two incursions or assaults against UN personnel… both the Croats and Serbs fired. Small arms fire at CANBAT forward positions. Fire was returned and the aggressors stopped their fire. No more casualties…” Canadian official military history continues with mentioning that 875 soldiers – 375 from 2.PPCLI and the reservists – 385 militia soldiers and 165 from other regular forces mounted a general attack in order to take control of the “buffer zone” (zone of separation). Although the first objective was realized without a single shot being fired, what followed was the tense standoff between Croatian tanks and TOW armed Canadian APC’s298. It is understandable that a military historian would often use such expressions as “the general assault” or “to take control of” in order to present the military position as a serious one, and to make the role of the Canadian forces more prominent. But in the very next sentence it states that the first objective was accomplished without a single bullet being fired. The tense standoff followed, but firearms were obviously not used. There was pressure, the writer of the chronicle does not deny that Croatian soldiers were reluctant to accept the fact they had to retreat, but they did not use their artillery nor their tanks. In several instances soldiers mention the “new tanks Croats were given by the Germans” (sic).299 The question arises, why haven’t the Croats used them during the artillery barrage against the Canadians? They had not been used and it would have been easy to use tanks in order to drive the UN peacekeeping forces out of the area. “The Croats threatened to use antitank missiles” or the “Croats avoided using new tanks for fear of them being damaged” aren’t sufficient reasons preventing the Croat forces from using all the armaments they had at their disposal, if they truly wanted to attain the goal Canadians claimed Croatians had wanted to achieve – to make the UN forces flee and consequently defeat them. Historians have stated that in that first phase of the Operation, not a single bullet was fired. Where and when had the battle between the Croatians and Canadians taken place then? Not during the first four days, as writers claim, because in that time frame Croatian and Serb forces were belligerent. Many historians, journalists and politicians write about the events that Canadian military history hushed up. Sean M. Maloney had, in his analysis: “Canadian national values and national security policy/policy options” been more direct in naming the Canadian adversary at that time, and who was to be punished for it. He writes: “…in the Balkans the Croatians surely remembered us, because of our readiness to, in the Medak Pocket in 1993, use force against them… the Canadian flag flapping over our soldiers shoulders must have discouraged them…” Member of Parliament Ms. Bonnie Korzeniowski taking part in the Parliamentary debate in Manitoba repeats what she had read in the Canadian press, or officially attained from the Canadian military brass: “…Canadian peacekeepers were ordered on September 15th 1993 to make a “buffer zone”… when they were taking their positions between the two belligerent sides they came under Croatian fire. The battle lasted for fifteen hours…they eventually forced the attacking Croat forces to surrender…”300 The MP assigns one of the belligerents to be the aggressor which should be forced to surrender. The MP does not question how you could force a legitimate military power on its sovereign territory to surrender. Hasn’t the force which in this case “forced the Croats to surrender” on their own territory also been an aggressor? Was it not also helping the aggressor Serb forces? Or was the Croatian attack on Serb terrorists in the “Pink Zone” - which by all relevant UN Resolutions was a part of the Republic of Croatia, and at a time when Serbs realized their greatest territorial gains in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina- not been the disruption of peace and an aggression itself? Forcing the Croats to accept the status quo meant the acceptance and legitimization of RSK or a Greater Serbia. The question remains whose interests would be served by “making the Croat forces surrender?” These were surely not Croatian interests. It’s interests had been legitimate, supported by every UN Resolution, and by the international community’s assurances. When the citation for the Medak Pocket battle was met by the Croatian press immediate negative reactions followed.301 The Canadian press tried to deny Croat claims at once. “…The Croat weekly writes that the battle at the Medak Pocket in 1993, known to be Canada’s largest scale conflict since the Korean War – was a myth.”302 The strongest Canadian argument was the numbers killed: “…27 to 31 Croats had been killed in it, and only four Canadians were wounded.” The already quoted official Croatian figures stated that ten Croatian soldiers were killed.303 The Rijeka Hospital pathology report304 found there were no wounds on the dead which were caused by 5.56mm NATO calibre bullets. (This was the same calibre used by the Canadian soldiers).
After the September 15th Canadian advancement commenced and after the Croats fired a few warning shots, the Canadian attached the largest possible UN flags on their APC antennas, and took care that their white painted vehicles came out and were visible. The Canadian and French had started their advancement which was followed by: “Croat rounds of gunfire… the battle lasted for 15 hours with fire exchanges lasting from five minutes to one hour at the longest, after which the Croatians finally surrendered. Only then the Canadian troops agreed on a ceasefire with the Croatian army.”305 Such an interpretation of the events at the Medak Pocket painted a excellent picture about what the Canadian Army had done. The Canadian Army imposed a peace in Croatia (which was broken by the Croats), the Canadian Army forced the Croatian Army to surrender and negotiated a ceasefire with the Croatian military, and not with Croatian politicians. Uninformed persons might think that Croatia in 1993 was a military dictatorship, when such important issues were decided by its soldiers. Part of the Medak Pocket misunderstanding is derived from the procedure known to all democratic countries – but unknown to many on the ground – politicians would negotiate the conditions for a ceasefire, and demilitarization of the area, and the military would execute what was agreed upon. In the situation where the army had to comply to a 24-hour gridlock, the timeframe in which to pull out, the command was sometimes too late to reach all the units in time. This was quoted by UNPROFOR; in the last minute details of the agreement discussed at the Gospić meeting that finished at 22:30 hours on September 15th 1993. There was some Croat resistance to accept the agreement on retreating and pulling forces out. This was admitted in both Croatian and Canadian sources. “It is hard to give up the ground you have just taken over at a price…”306
It is important to point out that the Croatian Army did not attack but warn the Canadians, it did not surrender, but retreated to their designated positions in an orderly manner. The soldiers might not have been prepared to retreat in such a quick manner – because of their bitter disappointment. There were some rounds shot on the Gospić HQ building, verbal threats were uttered to General Stipetić and Admiral Domazet, the high brass from Zagreb who had come to oversee the retreat307, but that dissatisfaction cannot be compared to the panic, the anarchy and the armed conflict among Serbs themselves that have taken place in Medak during the night of September 9th. The Serbs fired on each other. One Serb used a rifle grenade on his fellow fighters, after which Serb soldiers attacked Canadians in the buildings they were positioned in.308 The Lapac Brigade left its positions in disarray, the Serb authorities arrested and allegedly executed some of these deserters by firing squad or by hanging. The data about court-martial executions was furnished by Brigadier Krpina, but we could not find mention of this from Serb General Sekulić.309 This information was mentioned by Jurendić in an interview given to the daily “Jutarnji List.” The attack on the 2nd mobile brigade HQ is also mentioned in the “RSK” special commissions report to the Serbian Krajina Army HQ. The disciplinary measures were taken to get the paramilitary (Četniks) in line.
The Croatian demand for a 24-hour extension of the Croatian forces retreat had been agreed upon. The new withdrawal date was moved from September 16th to September 17th at 18:00 hours.310 Lt. Colonel Bryan Bailey, who commanded a company of more than 100 soldiers in the Medak Pocket used more plausible terms when he spoke about the Croatian Army. This might have been to underline the bravery of the Canadians. Lt. Colonel Bailey pointed out: “We went up against a modern, well-equipped force and were successful…”311 He is more objective than others when describing the military operation that took place between Serb and Croat forces. (I repeat that in that operation, the Canadians were by-standers). “On September 9th, after the artillery shelling, a pincer-like movement commenced in which the Croats encompassed the Serb defenders, throwing them off their heights, while in the valley Croatian tank columns soon took four Serb villages.”312 The new data about Canadian – Croatian clashes during the next three days followed. According to an account, this happened on September 10th, 11th and 12th. This data is not even mentioned in Croatian and UN documents, and is also non-existent in Serb sources. In these documents what is mentioned is: the mass bombardment along the entire frontline, the mobilization of Serb forces, the regrouping of the RSK Army, heavy artillery from the “Pocket” towards Knin313, the air force and rocket attacks.314 Not a word is said about the Croatian clashes with Canadian forces. It is clear why the Croats would not dare to take such a venture – they feared UN retaliatory measures, international community pressure and accusations. But why did the “blue helmets” not report such a fictional story, which would suit them well? Or did such an attack never happen, or the authour just embellished his story. Documents warn about Serb forces regrouping, about an imminent Serb counteroffensive. The only documented fire from Croatian positions on CANBAT positions was on September 16th at 22:15 hours, and it soon ceased. At 23:45 everything was quiet in that area (Medak Pocket – authour’s remark).315
Serb sources mention Croatian forces in firefights with UNPROFOR without any detailled evidence. In his book authour Ozren Žunec mentions the confrontation between Croatian and Canadian forces. He claims that data on the Medak Pocket losses were embargoed316 - such a claim is mentioned nowhere else.
“During the next three days, in order to fulfill their protective mandate, 2.PPCLI Canadian soldiers had engaged in large number of fire exchanges with the Croatian special police… the 2.PPCLI commander had without unnecessary emotion made the Croatian commander withdraw his forces. Before pulling out, the Croats slaughtered all the remaining Serbs.”317 Calvin and Cot did not make the Croats withdraw. The Croats withdrew because of UN Security Council pressure and the guarantee given to Croatia that the Serbs would not return to the liberated area under UNPROFOR control. The risky stake in the Operation were all the trumps were played out as Cot said: “the imperative return of UNPROFOR’s credibility if the Medak Pocket mission was accomplished”. He relied mostly on the possibility that his (Calvin’s) troops might have to forcibly oust the Croat forces, and Calvin was awed by the magnitude of responsibility that had just been thrust upon his shoulders. For Croatia, the guarantee Serbs would not be back meant a success and gaining time in which it could slowly regroup its military and economic strength to prepare for the final rebel Serbs defeat. A military conflict was imminent. It was not only foreseen by UN representatives who advocated the Serb local officials and the Republic of Croatia’s government to be treated equally when negotiating. They believed that peace would prevail with the Serbs. To the Croats, the historical experience clearly spoke of Serbs believing only in the argument of arms. It was no sooner than in 1995 that the official policy of the U.S., Great Britain and France came to the same conclusion. Today, the Croatian warnings from the early 1990s are confirmed by Slobodan Milošević’s trial in the Hague – more than ten years later.318
In the Canadian parliament, Lt. Colonel Jim Calvin described how his battalion, reinforced with two French armoured infantry companies, had forced the Croatian Army to agree to a ceasefire. “The conflict appeared when a Croatian renegade general defied the withdrawal agreement achieved by politicians in Zagreb and tried to “face down” the Canadians and the UN.” Calvin involved himself at that point into interpreting Croatian politicians and their military relationship. Something he was not familiar with. There were no “renegades” there, and no one rebelled against the political decisions from Zagreb. Though the situation was tense, the Defense Minister and the Chief-of-Staff, did everything in their power to make the agreement work. There were some dissatisfied soldiers. That dissatisfaction probably served as the motive for some wrongful acts committed during the retreat. But there was no rebellion. Calvin and his soldiers “endured the heavy bombardment and mortar fire they had been subject to and managed to pass through minefields. When the Croats finally retreated, they left a scorched earth behind them.“319 The Canadian Minister of Defence was impressed by Calvin’s deposition. In his response to Calvin’s address to Parliament and while addressing the Medak Pocket veterans the Minister promised: “One of underlying messages of this is to understand the courage they provide, to make sure they get the kind of support they need from us, here, in the political world, in everything, from questions of payment to make sure they have a life with dignity.”320 What has become clear is that Calvin may have wanted to achieve – better veteran soldier status, better pensions and higher danger pay for Canadian soldiers. But isn’t it any government’s duty to take care of those who give their life and health in order to defend their society’s values? Was Croatia and the fabrication of what happened there only a tool serving to achieve higher pensions, better healthcare and life insurance for Canadian soldiers, while in peacekeeping missions around the world, something that has been denied to them by the Canadian government and its politicians? This could be concluded from a statement given by an anonymous witness working with the Croatian Ministry of Defence. He claims that the Canadian Ambassador asked that reparations be paid to Canadian soldiers who became ill after returning from Croatia.321 He added that after the reparation payment was refused the Ambassador then “threatened “Croatia would suffer serious consequences. Some could argue that those consequences are the Visa regime with questionnaires listing questions to those of military age, asking detailed information what they did during the Homeland war (which each sovereign state would consider a military secret). Those consequences could also be viewed as cold diplomatic relations between Canada and Croatia. Whether this is true or not, Canadian soldiers have their Medak Pocket case capitalized in the public eye, and their government has agreed to back their danger pay.322 Calvin received a firm promise from the Minister: “We should give a clear message for future behaviour towards soldiers and their families, especially when their wages and danger pay for stressful conditions they were deployed in, are concerned.”323 A journalist reporting from the Canadian parliament had taken various pieces of a puzzle and tried to complete a picture to comprehend what really took place in Croatia – that a fierce battle had taken place but between the Serb and the Croat forces. “The battle they had waged” (not the battle between Croatians and Canadians, but between Serbs and Croatians) “had lasted for three days. Serbs and Croats brought military reinforcements and tanks. The Croats had advanced and thus pushed forward the new frontline.”324 “On September 14th, Lt. Colonel Calvin had received a command to enforce the agreement by entering “the killing zone” in-between the two belligerent sides.”325 The journalist further explains why the Canadian commander had shown so much impatience while encountering his Croatian counterpart. He had not attended the meetings where the exact demarcation line between Canadian and Croatian forces had been decided. He ordered his bulldozers forcing back the Croatian positions. He accused the Croats of attacking the wounded French and Canadian soldiers in a minefield.326 Calvin found the excuse for his demeanour towards the Croats regarding crimes they had allegedly committed. “He had not liked them.” His superior Cot ordered him to be extremely decisive and strong. The peace was to be enforced this time. Not only was UN credibility at stake, but also the political interests of France and Great Britain, which were represented by both contingents in the Medak Pocket. These two countries threatened enforcement of their interests with air strikes from their aircraft carriers in the Adriatic Sea. Was that the reason for a British SAS member found in a Medak Bunker – to laser-guide aircrafts to Croatian positions if such an air strike would occur? To General Cot this was a known fact. Lt. Colonel Calvin knew he could count on air strike support in case an eventual open conflict with the Croats occurred. This had been the reason for his arrogant and hard behaviour. Behind that decisiveness stood General Cot’s military vanity. He wanted to show those bureaucrats in New York that their reluctance and lenience served to the Croats advantage and therefore disrupted already achieved Serb territorial gains and the peace offered by the Vance-Owen Peace Plan. Because of the misunderstandings and his avoidance to contact the UN, because of his conflict with the UN Security Council Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali, Cot was forced to step down.327 He was replaced by French General de La Presle.328 The UN forces commander French General Jean Cot said to Calvin that “the UN with its constant retreat had achieved nothing but minor failures (whenever someone opens fire, we’d retreat). This time it is very important to have a successful outcome and to impose will… (Cot) brought the unpleasant news about the possibility the Croatian forces in Medak were probably not aware of the political settlement in Zagreb.”329 Calvin was worried: “You can imagine what that meant for us. We had to cross Serb lines and advance to another belligerent side which didn’t yet know that its high command had ordered them to relinquish their positions, taken at a price during fierce battle.”330
Quite the opposite of Calvin’s surmising about Croatian lower-ranking officers not being informed about their higher command’s decisions was occurring. The Chief of Staff, General Bobetko had, in order to make the withdrawal agreement workable, sent to Gospić General Stipetić, the Zagreb commanding area commander, Admiral Domazet, the Croatian army main staff’s intelligence department chief, and liaison officer with the UN Colonel Pleština. Defence Minister Gojko Šušak had, after the Commander in Chief ordered an investigation of the Medak Pocket events, sent military police there. In Zagreb, they were aware of how serious the situation was – international community pressure, the Serb threats and Serb shelling of a large number of cities. Croatian soldiers were dissatisfied because they had to retreat, the strategic position of Gospić and Lika was left in a risky position. It was all highly-sensitive before the UN 871 Resolution was expected, which Croatia demanded for the unequivocal sovereignty of the Republic of Croatia over its entire state territory. All the responsible levels of command were engaged in order to avoid any misunderstanding with the UN, but also the return of Serb forces to the liberated area and subsequent peaceful withdrawal followed, and UNPROFOR was allowed to control the area. An Ottawa Citizen journalist found in “the ROE (Rules of Engagement) valid for the former Yugoslavia, the right to use fire when under threat.” According to his description “…the armed conflict (between Croats and Canadians) lasted for 15 hours. That evening Lt. Colonel Calvin asked for a meeting with the Croat commander and passed the “no-man’s land” on foot. After a lengthy, tense meeting, they agreed to a ceasefire. Croats promised to withdraw from the problem area until noon.”331 “Although they had seen smoke and heard detonations behind the Croat lines, the Canadians kept to their part of the agreement. They moved at 12:00 hours exactly, but were met with the heavily armed Croatian company. The road was mined and Croatian soldiers had tank reinforcements.”332 The journalist again described the situation in which Lt. Colonel Calvin held his press conference and accused Croatian commanders of “ethnic cleansing” and for being responsible for crimes committed in the Medak Pocket. He had not seen those crimes yet, but reacted on a hunch. For such decisiveness, Lt. Colonel Calvin was awarded the “Meritorious service cross” and 2.PPCLI General Cot’s citation, one of three in all given during a long peacekeeping mission in the former Yugoslavia.333 In “The Sunday (Toronto) Star”334 the most important parts of Scott Taylor/Brian Nolan’s book “Tested Mettle” were re-told, in which a detailed description of Canadian peacekeepers from Somalia, Cambodia, Nigeria, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina was given. The authours of this book use those peacekeeping missions to analyse and fiercely criticize the Canadian military establishment, which had led some of these missions (because of some high ranking commanders’ and politicians’ goals, ambitions and vanity) almost to the brink of disaster. In the last chapter of their book, the authours propose a radical re-organization of the Canadian Army in the new millennium. We were on our part mostly interested in the chapter of the dealing with the Medak Pocket analysis. Here are some of the accents from the review the book received in “The Sunday (Toronto) Star”: “On September 9th 1993 the Croatian artillery bombardment rolled into the Medak Pocket like a wave of thunder. All along a 25 kilometre valley, geysers of earth and flames shot skyward. Lieutenant Tyrone Greene (2.PPCLI) was just heading out of the door on his way to the morning orders group, when he observed a shell explode about 5 kilometres away. He thought he had best report the shot to Gračac HQ and turned to go back inside. At that instant a 152mm mortar round impacted just 20 metres behind him.” Again an overstatement. In the Croatian Army’s amour there were (and still are) only 152mm Howitzers, but that calibre was not used by the Croatian side during that action. The Croatians used 105mm Howitzers, and 130mm cannons. It is possible that Lt. Green had mistaken the 120mm shell for a mortar grenade, because in the very next sentence he speaks of the “mortar battery”. The overstatement prone Canadians would make some more mistakes with the facts. “Seconds later Green knew this wasn’t just a couple of stray rounds, when the rest of the Croat mortar battery opened fire in earnest. Green’s platoon was to become witnesses to the devastating barrage of the Serb forces.”335 In the battalion command post in Gračac, Lt. Colonel Calvin didn’t exactly know what was happening. As the day passed, Calvin was more and more under the UN New York officials’ pressure; they asked what was the exact assessment of the situation that was obviously worsening. Using an APC, he reached Lt. Green and ordered “they needed to establish an observation post quickly to keep track of the battle’s progression. For the next three days the men of Green’s platoon were relied upon as the sole eyes and ears of the international community. Despite the dangers, it was imperative that they hold (do not leave – authour’s remark) the ground.”336 Calvin had, on Cot’s initiative, firmly decided that his battle group would not leave the battleground, would not retreat like the French had done during the Maslenica Operations. However, the pressure exerted on the young, inexperienced Canadian reserve soldiers, the stressful artillery barrage on Serb positions, though the barrage was not directed at them(Canadians), and the discipline of some lower ranking officers’ ambitions were so strong that some soldiers, after re-deployment and while preparing to return to Canada, tried to “poison” their overzealous warrant officer Matt Stopford. The inquiry about several discipline breaches, later led by an independent Canadian Ministry of Defence commission, dedicated the majority of its report to that attempted poisoning.337 The commission concluded that Medak had been a stressful experience, influencing soldier’s health (PTSP), it had questioned the core of the military discipline and the Canadian Army’s Code (of behaviour), which put the individual soldier’s security after the objective (accomplishing the mission first, and soldiers’ security second). It was concluded that in future, Canadian soldiers’ security should come first in Canadian military doctrine.
“Although they weren’t immediately aware of it, this shift in the fire plan heralded the next phase of the Croat attack. Atop the ridges, Croat Special Forces and dismounted infantry launched a lightning pincer advance, rolling up the surprised Serb pickets in a series of deadly, one-sided firefights. The Croatian armoured columns then commenced their advance down the valley.”338 The Croatian and the Canadian interpretation of that event differ; for Croats the attack to take their designated area had finished soon after midday (13:05 hours), while Canadian onlookers noticed the Croat attack later in the afternoon. According to Croatian sources, the action commenced in the morning of September 9th – the pincer movement and planned taking of three villages. It is unclear why the Canadians reported that action took place by the end of the day, at dusk. Somebody was seeing dusk in the morning, someone was reporting and making incorrect notes for reasons yet to be established. However, in the CANBAT situation report (SITREP) such data is listed, in the Croatian liaison with the UN officer’s documents that “Canadian” observation is non-existent. “Lt. Col. Calvin was constantly calling Green for updates on the fluid situation, as New York and Zagreb, tried to plot the political ramifications of the offensive. Throughout the morning, Green had regularly sent back his reports – only to have his position immediately shelled by the Croat mortars. It dawned on the young Lieutenant, that Croats were using their radio-direction finding equipment to zero in on his broadcast. Obviously, they had mistaken his signals from those of the Serbian brigade HQ (which was, in fact, using land-line field telephones to communicate messages). From that point on, Greene used his radio only in emergencies and tried to switch locations to do so.”339
On the evening on September 11th “the tide of battle was shifting and there was a major Serbian counter-attack underway.” For the next 72 hours, the Serbs and Croats fought a pitched battle – the three days that were mentioned in the earlier Canadian interpretation, in “Tested Mettle” are correct in calling it the battle between the Croat and the Serb forces.340 The “gaggle” of soldiers and fleeing citizens along the main Medak road were soon replaced by the determined Serb reinforcement troops pushing forward into the “Pocket”. Buses, tanks, and even armoured train cars were rushing into the region from all over the “Krajina”. The reinforcements had not come from the Croatian “Krajina” only, but from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the SR Yugoslavia as well. In the “Pocket” itself there were volunteers from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.341 In other instances, Canadian soldiers witnessed an enormous amount of the most advanced generation of tanks and modern armour Serb forces were armed with. Some M-84 Serb tanks that were close to the Canadian positions had occasionally opened fire. “The next 72 hours (three days, September 12th, 13th and 14th – authours note) the Serbs fought a pitched battle. The counter-thrust was successful in blunting the Croat offensive, and both sides began digging in along their new frontlines.”342 Here the Croatian intentions and plans were misjudged. The Croats stopped on the line already taken up to 13:00 hours on September 9th. On September 10th they were only defending those lines. (Sources: Bobetko, Ministry of Defence archives, “Globus Military HQ”, UN liaison office dated September 10th). The offensive did not last until September 14th, but there was a Serb counteroffensive in which the Serbs tried regaining their lost positions in three villages. The Maslenica experience taught them that if they were not successful in it they could start counting the moments of the beginning of an end of the “RSK.” The Canadians seemed to show constant sympathy of the Serbian side, “backing the Serbs”, the “understanding” for blows they had received and a wish for the Serbs to succeed in returning “their land” (Serb territory). In the Maslenica Operation, one could sense this sympathy, but in the Medak Pocket these feeling were quite obvious. The one-sided nature was visible in the behaviour of UNPROFOR’s military officers. For them the former JNA officers were real soldiers, as opposed to inexperienced Croatian Army officers. General Cot often met Serb General Novaković. The last time he visited when leaving the UNPROFOR commander’s post, he allegedly received a Serb citation. In the beginning of the Medak Pocket crisis, Cot sent Novaković his special emissary. Later he had talks with him in Knin (as he talked to Bobetko in Zagreb, after Bobetko had refused to receive Cot’s emissary, considering him a lower rank). In this way Cot treated as equals the “paramilitary” Serb commander and the Head of the Main Staff of a sovereign state’s army. He sent his emissary to Gospić. In several instances Calvin refused to talk to the Croatian side. “He didn’t like Croats”, but he had to communicate with them professionally. His troops sympathies were with the Serb side. The Serb assessment about whether or not their counterattack did not succeed consequences, and they did not regain their lost territory, had been proven. In recently published RSK Army documents, and in General Milisav Sekulić book, we learn that soon after the Medak Pocket Operation the Serbs started training a civilian population evacuation. In 1993 they became aware that militarily they stood no chance against the Croatian Army and state’s growing power.343 They trained and prepared an evacuation from the Krajina territory that was put into practice in the summer of 1995, during the Croatian military/police action “Oluja”. Proof of this is found in documents confiscated after “Oluja”344.
As the military situation of September 14th became stable, the UN put pressure on the belligerent sides to agree to a ceasefire. The foreign press demanded the Croatian “attackers” retreat to their pre-September 9th lines. In order to increase the pressure, in the afternoon of September 14th the Serbs launched a Soviet missile Frog/Luna on one of Zagreb’s suburbs. A larger calibre rocket fell in the field in the suburb causing no grave damage, but the Croatians had decided to make a swift pull-out of the Medak valley. “The buffer zone” formed should have been taken by UN forces345. French General Jean Cot, the Sector South commander (also incorrect data, General Cot was the UN forces commander – commander of all UN military in the region) knew that for the ceasefire agreement to hold depended on a quick deployment of a strong military force. Therefore, he decided to oversee the operation himself, without mediation from Sector South’s HQ. This is possibly what led the authour to conclude that Cot was Commander of the Sector South forces. Lt. Col. Calvin and his (2.PPCLI) battalion were ready to move within 24 hours. In order to reinforce his two infantry companies (Charlie and Delta) already positioned in front of the Medak Pocket, Calvin was to be joined by two French armoured infantry companies. One of them was under the command of General Cot’s son.
Imposing the Ceasefire – Calvin’s Plan
“The Croatian verbal agreement of September 13th 1993 led the written Medak Pocket withdrawal Agreement on September 15th. The Canadian Battle group had the task of making sure all sides honoured the agreement. Up to that moment 2.PPCLI played a passive role.” Many already quoted Canadian sources conclude quite the opposite - that the Battle group had played an important role, even before the implementation of the agreement. “That soon changed… on September 15th, two hours after the planned 12:00 noon “H hour”, Lt. Green gave the order for his APC’s to advance into the “killing zone”. Throughout the previous night they had been briefed in detail on their objectives. That morning they had mounted their APC’s and moved forward through the Serbian positions to the frontline. As they rolled slowly forward, Green’s men realized just how close the Serbs had been to losing the town of Medak itself. The battle debris and bodies indicated that at one point the Croats had even managed to establish foothold in the northern most buildings, before being beaten back.”346
In his book, “Professionalism under fire: Canadian implementation of the Medak Pocket agreement,” Lee A. Windsor explains the plan’s elements and the Canadian battle group’s role in the implementation of that agreement. “On September 14th 1993 at 16:30 Lt. Col. Calvin held the orders group meeting with subordinate and warrant officers in order to explain the plan of the future operation. The new withdrawal agreement should be implemented in four stages. The first stage was to start on September 15th 1993 by 2.PPCLI “Charlie company” and one by the French company taking Serb forward front positions. In the second stage, the “Charlie company” under the vigilant eye of one anti-armoured platoon would establish the crossing point on the “no-man’s land” between the belligerent sides, on the main tarmac road along the valley floor. Third stage: “Delta company” and the second French company FREBAT 3 will advance up the road through the secured crossing point until they take the Croat forward front positions. The Recce Platoon of the 2.PPCLI and the battalion’s tactical HQ will follow “Delta company”. The fourth (and final) stage would be overseeing the Croatian forces take their pre-September 9th positions. After that, the separation of forces would be done and the new demilitarized zone would be established.347 The Patricia, Alpha and Bravo companies that just arrived from Sector West would during the operation reinforce the rest of the CANBAT 1 area of responsibility. Canadians had to manage without 81mm mortars. As the battalion was to return home at the beginning of October, mortars had already been sent back to Canada.348 What would have happened if the Canadians had their mortars at their disposal? They might have probably used them and this would provoke a conflict with Croatian forces. This would pull Croatia into a large-scale conflict with the UN/international community, further punishing the country for the break-up of Yugoslavia. A few hours before the Medak Operation started (the morning of September 15th), General Cot personally flew into the Medal area in order to speak with Lt. Col. Calvin. Cot took command himself: “…the future events were too serious to allow any disruption in the chain of command or misunderstanding about what was going on. The mission was clear and the stage in the area was set.”349 They went over planned details. Calvin’s plan was for a broad, two-axis advance push up the valley. The Canadian company would provide the left-hand column, and the French Army was to match their progress on the right. “Lt. Green’s 9th platoon was the central unit of C Company with the 7th platoon on the right and 8th platoon on the left. The plan was for Major Drew’s D company to follow up Charlie’s advance. They would then take up positions to prevent any subsequent Serbian advances.”350 The Croatian forces, according to that plan, had to withdraw to their old September 8th positions, and Serb forces were to stay on their present ones, in front of them the Battle group was to be positioned. “On the afternoon on September 15th 1993 Leblanc was projecting a C-9 light machinegun as A platoon advanced toward the little village of Čitluk. Well off on their right flank they heard the developing firefight between Green’s men and the Croat defenders. Leblanc’s section, under the command of Sgt. Rod Dearing had just reached a low hedgerow when platoon commander Cpt. Dan MacKillop signaled for them to halt. MacKillop had heard Green’s situation report on the company radio net, and he spotted the Croat rifle pits about 200 metres to his front. Word was passed for them to start digging in. Fire team partners took turns shovelling a shell scrap, one digging while the other remained in a position to provide cover fire. Leblanc was pumped up, the adrenaline flowing as the sound of gunfire continued to erupt across the Medak valley floor.”351
“It was obvious the Croats did not intend to let the Canadians in. Charlie company and the front FREBAT 1 company were stopped on the first suitable defence lines, mostly along the former Serb fighting line. During the next 15 hours the Croats used small arms to fire on Canadian and French forces.” It is important to add that at that moment, UN soldiers were intermingled with Serb soldiers, who on their part kept shooting on the Croats ahead. How could Croatian soldiers distinguish between UNPROFOR and Serb soldiers? And when the unnerved peacekeepers joined the shooting – it was even more difficult to make such a difference. ”From all the arms used by the Croats against the advancing UN forces, only the deadly T-72’s known to be in the vicinity were not in sight. The Croatian officers may have known the TOW anti-armoured rocket’s quality and did not want their precious new vehicles damaged.”352 It was too weak of a reason to prevent the Croats from using their tanks in such a serious fight. The anti-armour systems used by the Serbs (and JNA) – for instance Osa, Maljutka or Fagot – were equally mighty weapons as the Canadian ones. That did not discourage and prevent the “Vukovi” from using tanks in the Medak Pocket. No, the TOW rockets would not make them refrain from using their superior armour. The range of the tank cannon surpassed the range of a TOW projectile and if Croatian tanks crews wanted to engage in a duel with the Canadian armour, the Canadians would probably be closer to losing such a battle. By all accounts it looked as if the Croats did not have the intentions attributed to them by Canadian analysts – to attack and cause the UN forces such casualties, forcing them to flee the Medak Pocket. They only wanted to be sure that the Agreement would be implemented to the letter – and that Serb forces hiding behind Canadian and French troops would not return. The Croats did not consider fire-fights to be as serious as the conflict they had with the Serbs during which they had used their tanks and had lost one of them. “MacKillop yelled to Dearing that combat engineers were on the way with heavy equipment to assist with the trench-digging. A Croat machinegun burst cut short MacKillop’s comments. Dearing immediately took cover behind his APC and started pumping rounds back at the next hedgerow. The big burly sergeant had an air of confidence as he plied his trade and his example was infectious. Young Scot Leblanc switched his C-9 fire selector to automatic and let loose a long withering burst toward the Croat muzzle flashes.”353 With such an uncontrolled and emotional reaction a Sergeant, a professional soldier, in the Medak Pocket started the duel between Canadian and Croatian. If that Sergeant had not returned fire that would have made other combat soldiers refrain “from his infectious example”. Canadian soldiers in their accounts claim that the Croats had merely answered the Serb provocations. As the Serb positions were close by. Answering a provocation, a warning shot, a near miss or an irresponsible shot from a Croat marksman - a barrage of fire was the Canadian answer. As if Canadians could hardly wait, or was it already decided by the more liberal ROE interpretation to shoot when shot at? Had they only waited for such a provocation from the Croatian side or did an order from General Cot precede to impose UNPROFOR’s credibility and create respect by force? The show of force in that complicated situation could be called the lack of real military professionalism and effectiveness. And would not the fire in an organized army be opened only after the superior officer’s command? From the description above it seemed that soldiers had opened fire by their own will or according to their own judgement. Return fire in organized armies was not just opened at one’s own will. Had CANBAT not become equal to the Croatian and the Serb side, which they had considered to be those governed by anarchy and lack of discipline? It was probable that Cot and Calvin gave their soldiers a “carte blanche” to open fire and respond decisively when fired upon. Even that would have been better than if the firefight started at one’s will. The Canadian firing was caused by earlier Serb provocations. From documents it is clear that the Canadians had asked the Serbs to withdraw and to refrain from provoking the Croats.354 The Serbs have done that with reluctance. “At dusk Major Dan Drew shouted for warrant officer Matt Stopford to prepare a section of soldiers. Calvin had just received a phone call from the local Croatian general and it appeared the Colonel wanted to negotiate a UN forces passage through no-man’s land. It was agreed they leave a protection party at the Croatian lines. Calvin had returned to his battalion HQ while Stopford set up a duty roster for his six soldiers by his two APC’s which were right in the middle of the road.”355 What follows is Stopford’s dramatic description of the events in the night that followed, and the witnessing of an attempt to poison a warrant officer because of his aggressive leadership style. The Croatians, according to him, had immediately moved into firing positions around the Canadian detachment. At almost point blank range they set-up heavy machine guns and Russian made anti-tank missiles. He was worried about the situation as he could see distant flashes of tracer fire being exchanged in Čitluk between Sgt. Dearing’s men and the Croat forces. But more troubling for him was the activity of Croat troops to his immediate front. “They appeared to be some form of a special forces unit, unlike anything he had seen thus far in the Balkans. Well-equipped with a wide range of modern weaponry, these guys were all young, fit and extremely intense. The men Stopford was observing were part of the new regular force of the Croatian Army – equipped and trained by US advisors.”356 Stopford was impressed by these “new Croatian soldiers.” At the same time he was angry at them for not being an organized bunch of parasoldiers and freelancers. Now they were equal to the Serb military, even better, because they had beaten the Serbs. And Canadians should have been aware of them, as the Croatians were trained by American military advisors. They knew how to “engage in modern warfare”. These Croatians did not focus their attention on the Canadian soldiers. In the valley muffled explosions could be heard. From the cluster of buildings just to his front Stopford heard a scream, punctuated by a burst of gunfire. A moment of silence was followed by laughter. Seconds later a nearby explosion shook the ground and a farmhouse burst into flames. “A couple of minutes later” one of the Croats “came out of the house and wobbling drunkenly approached Stopford with a pair of blood-soaked panties on his head. For an instant, Stopford wanted to kill the Croat so badly but could not bring himself to commit the act. Then he raced back to his APC and radioed HQ. In a voice cracking with emotion, he explained that Croats had begun an “ethnic cleansing” of the Medak Pocket.” “You’ve got to move now!” he shouted. “They are killing people! We cannot wait!”357 “Calvin didn’t need Stopford’s report in order to understand what was going on. Fires were visible across the whole valley. He radioed the news to the UN HQ in Zagreb and requested permission to advance immediately. He was ordered to remain at the location. The official order was for the peacekeepers to gather as much evidence as possible for use at a future war crimes tribunal.”358
At 12:00 noon on September 16th Major Drew’s D Company began to roll forward to the designated crossing site. “The long line of white APC’s bristled with rifles and machineguns as the infantry sections rode topside with the cargo hatches open. Big blue UN flags fluttered from the radio antennas. For the tired, embattled soldiers of C Company the impressive armoured column was a welcome site. However, the Croat defenders were not so easily impressed. Their Special Forces Company concluded their extra-curricular activities and took up fire positions to block the main road. Somehow, the Croatian General’s agreement had not been passed along to his forward troops. The Croat company commander was adamant that any attempt to cross his lines would be resisted with all available force.”359 From the transcripts of tape-recorded talks the Croatian and Canadian officers held, (Calvin was present as well as UNMO chief Lt. Colonel Nielsen), it was clear that UNPROFOR and military observers had exerted pressure in order to have the Canadians pass the crossing site as soon as possible. The Croatian soldiers had refused to let the armoured column through until their commander, Major Zlatko Rogulj showed up. He demanded Calvin’s Canadian and French soldiers turn the muzzles of their guns towards the Serb positions; otherwise he would not let the column through. His demand was based on the international war conventions and procedures “ gun muzzle of a tank approaching in peace should be turned backwards!“
The tense conversation was led with only one purpose – for UNPROFOR to prevent the return of the Serb forces.360 Calvin promised he would turn his guns from the Croats towards the Serbs when he takes over the entire area. Rogulj was not persuaded. He repeated his request several times. He felt that the Canadians had to turn their weapons towards the Serbs and show their decision to deter any Serb attempts at dishonouring the agreement. An UNPROFOR member could hardly grasp the importance of such a demand. The UN force never understood the true nature of the Croat-Serb relationship, nor the reasons for their mutual mistrust. The historical experience full of deceit and broken promises had forced the Croatian Army to demand that the smallest details be observed when the retreat and re-deployment of forces was concerned.361 Not a single promise or a single word would be as good as a gesture showing that UNPROFOR (the Canadians) would not be lenient towards the Serbs and hostile towards Croats. When Calvin finally agreed to the Croatian demand, there were no further difficulties in the Agreement’s implementation. This was confirmed by SITREPORT’s that stated “the Croats have stalled”, but the “Croatian constructive and truthful approach” was also pointed out. But Canadians in their reports pointed out that villages were “systematically and thoroughly destroyed, buildings that still stood were flattened and livestock was slaughtered.”362 First they “discovered seven human corpses they handed over to local Serb authorities. Three Serb soldiers were found alive, and were handed over to the Serb military, while more than an estimated 100 soldiers had been cut off and could be expected to arrive in a couple of days.”363
It was raining all night (September 16th/17th) while some Canadian UN soldiers left in no-man’s land waited for either the Serb or Croat counterattack. On the drizzly morning of September 17th UNCIVPOL teams finally arrived “to probe the smouldering ruins. Rotting corpses were catalogued and then turned over to UNPROFOR soldiers for burial. The emotional impact on Canadian soldiers was horrific. They saw a number of decomposed bodies, while the previous night they had helplessly stood by and listened to them die. However, news of the Croatian casualties inflicted by Canadian peacekeepers boosted the Battle group’s morale. Officially the Croats listed 27 of their soldiers as having been killed. Unofficially that number was 30 dead and over 100 wounded. Canadians had only four wounded and not a soldier killed.”364 During the days that followed, a take over of the area continued. Problems emerged however with setting the demarcation lines. The Canadians first bulldozed Croatian barricades, and then admitted their mistake later. Fifteen Croatian soldiers, who found themselves within the demilitarized zone perimeter, were disarmed. The re-supplying of Croatian soldiers on the Kamenjuša ridge was prevented. Two more incidents happened when Canadian and French soldiers were wounded in minefield incidents, which, with a little restraint and professionalism could have been avoided. General Bobetko warned General Cot of minefields set by the Serbs, but this warning was not taken seriously. Cot had wanted to use the confusion about the wounded soldiers against the Croats and had accused them of shooting at the UN forces again.365 The Croats by then had been guilty of everything. Calvin would not attend the meetings with the Croatian side where technical problems would have been resolved. He stalled and humiliated Croatian officers. Finally on September 22nd in Gospić, the demarcation line was agreed upon and the borders of UNPROFOR’s demilitarized zone were set. Both sides considered the situation to be tense. The Canadians, because of the Croatian offensive and the destruction committed during it, the Croatians because of the Canadian arrogance. At one particular moment the situation grew so tense that the Ministry of Defence liaison office for UN/EU in a report signed by Colonel Pleština suggested to the Croatian President and the Defence Minister to ask the UN for Calvin to be relieved of his duties.366 But Lt. Col. Jim Calvin and his Battle group would by the end of September finish their 6-month mandate, and were to leave Croatia. Thanks to politicians, diplomats, and military efforts, the situation had calmed down.
The intention to accuse and demonize Croatia and its army, because of the events in the Medak Pocket had become blatant. When “The CANBAT 1 Final Report on the Medak Pocket Operation”367 and the “Memorandum” signed by Colonel Maisonneuve368 were handed in, they were immediately published in order to become public knowledge. The events generally called “The Medak Pocket Operation” thereafter became a crime and nobody tried to explain the causes, reasons and the real magnitude of it. In the Report’s conclusion, Lt. Col. Calvin recommended the experience taken from the Medak Pocket to be studied in a future UN limited Operation undertaking.
High-ranking bureaucrats in the Canadian Ministry of Defence in Ottawa could not make the political assessment of that Operation’s result. There was no point in attracting media attention to a situation which, because of Canadian soldiers active involvement in somebody else’s war, could easily be turned against them. The elections were coming and the ex-Minister of Defence Kim Campbell was now a candidate for the Prime Minister’s position. ”So Medak was left only to memories – no publicity, no finger pointing, no official reports. Except for the Canadian soldiers who were the protagonists, “Canada’s largest scale conflict since the Korean War” – had not occurred at all.”369
The renewed interest in the Medak Pocket Operation and Canada’s role in it was initiated by reporter David Pugliese, the parliamentary commission for national defence, and a military veterans debate in April 1998. During the debate, apart from Calvin, the floor heard other participants from the Medak Pocket event requesting more money and benefits for the troops that had taken part in that action. Finally, these were granted to the troops on December 1st 2002.
Foreign Intelligence Members in Croatia, their Role and Intelligence Assessments
As all other member states of the UN peace force had, so too did the Canadians have their intelligence services on the ground. These were used to assess “the enemy” and the situation in the area. UNPROFOR also gathered relevant information from its field units in co-ordination with: UN military observers (UNMO), EU Military Observers (EUMO), the UN and its civil police (UNCIVPOL), UNHCR, and other non-government or government organizations, which were situated on the Republic of Croatia’s territory, and co-operated with the UN, via embassies and their staff. All these organizations had either openly or secretly engaged in information gathering in Croatia. Each country that had its contingent stationed in the Republic of Croatia or in Bosnia and Herzegovina had, independently from the UN, collected its own intelligence for their military or governments’ behalf, in order to define their policies towards the Republic of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and to promote their particular interests. The most secretive intelligence and special operations were done by special secret teams. One of these, the SAS,370 was attached to the Canadian troops in the Medak Pocket. They shared a bunker with Lt.Green.371 The traces of foreign intelligence services’ work, no matter what their cover for secrecy was, could be seen in that “large theatre of operations” and were confirmed by various sources.372 The SAS has been operational in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Its role was important in preserving the Goražde enclave. They had been positioned in Srebrenica and Sarajevo. They were under their ex-commander Sir Michael Rose’s special protection and engagement orders. “While the shoot-and-scoot counter-terrorism tactics of these elite soldiers struck fear in the warring Bosnian factions, they also escalated the scale of the conflict and prompted retaliation against the UN. Since the standard line units lacked the training and mobile flexibility of the special forces teams, their more vulnerable and static troops were the most likely to pay the price.”373 General Rose, during the Croats and Bosnian government fiercest conflicts, road blockades, Serbian threats and hostage takings had tried to create such a situation in which he could legitimately use NATO air strikes as a demonstration of the UN’s firmer attitude towards peacekeeping in Bosnia. After the Russian representative in Sarajevo, Viktor Andrejev agreed, “I (Rose)decided it would be best to air strike the Croats and not the Serbs.”127 In explaining the reasons why air strikes would better be used on the Croats and not the Serbs, Rose’s British slant towards the Serbs was revealed. The partiality instead of impartiality was to be a renowned UN peacekeeper characteristic. “The Croatians were not that important to us, and if they reacted to air strikes by closing their roads, they would not be able to persevere in it for long, because of the numerous Croats in the Lašva valley depending on UN help.”128 Rose not only spoke of Croats with contempt: “Croats are scavengers376” but mentioning the air strikes to punish Croats he wanted to give Serbs a message of what would happen to them if they continued to endanger UN troops. Where was the logic in this? Rose would not threaten the Serbs but fiercely strike the Croats instead.377 The indications about foreign intelligence services, their special role in cases like Ahmići, Mostar’s old bridge and even Srebrenica, had been so obvious that a special case study or an analysis should be dedicated to them alone. SAS and SBS (Special Boat Services) were not the only services to be present on the former Yugoslav territories. The spectacular action of saving F-16 pilot O’Grady whose plane went down in Bosnia and Herzegovina, his search and rescue operation was done by a special American marines unit, stationed on the aircraft carrier in the Adriatic. Canadians also, based on the SAS model, had their special unit – JTF – Joint Task Force – which was commanded by Lt. Colonel David Moore. Based on his Bosnia and Herzegovina UN experience had recommended it for service in Yugoslavia. The Canadian HQ Chief had agreed and JTF’s who had been trained for abductions, and hostage taking situations,378 had provided security for the Canadian Defence Minister’s visit to Srebrenica. Many a country secret services’ task was to make their countries interests in the former Yugoslavia realized, to get their players in the game of war. Apart from all possible legal ways, they used the cover of various humanitarian organizations. In 1992, 1993 and 1994 these multiplied. Another means of undercover intelligence work, data gathering and trying to affect the course of events so that they best served their countries interests, or that events developed in a manner that suited those willing to pay for such a service abundantly, was using “dogs of war” or foreign mercenaries. In the period of 1991 and 1992 many came to fight within the ranks of all the belligerent armies. Their role was important in the Medak Pocket Operation, because the majority of volunteers from SR Yugoslavia, Republika Srpska and other countries fought in the RSK Army. While some mercenaries did fight on the Croatian side. Such were the Dutch, who manned the 9th Croatian guard brigade’s reconnaissance company. Their commander Johannes Tilder van Basten had in 1994 under suspicious circumstances been captured by the Krajina Serbs, questioned, and under suspicious circumstances been killed. His videotaped accounts have become ICTY evidence for most of the indicted Croat soldiers regarding crimes committed in the Medak Pocket. Although he accused his fellow fighters, foreign volunteers and mercenaries, not a single one of these had been arrested and taken to the Hague. And the majority of these soldiers live in the immediate vicinity of the ICTY and are within the Tribunal’s reach. Why have none of these soldiers been indicted for crimes van Basten had accused them of? Perhaps they were sent to Croatia to execute special tasks and to report directly to their powerful employers, who now protected them. It is possible they had created the events and directed them under their employers’ directives? Or had they since become protected witnesses in exchange for their immunity from the ICTY trials? The mercenary circumstances in the Medak Pocket Operation will be dealt with later. What did SAS members do in the Medak Pocket? They were not the constitutive part of the legal UN forces there. If they did anything it was done to serve their country and its interests. The evidence about the presence of secret service members and special forces being deployed on Croatian and Bosnian and Herzegovinan territories have yet been disclosed. At this point in time, because of the SAS’ code of silence, these facts are still unrevealed.379
The Canadian intelligence assessments show that the Croats would probably try to straighten their frontline in order for the operational command in Gospić (command post Gospić) to be out of Serb artillery reach. The Serb artillery had been positioned along the Medak Pocket valley floor. Canadians assessed that the Croats also could try to open a corridor to the Dalmatian coast and thus avert the public’s interest from Zagreb’s domestic political conflicts. On the other hand, UN intelligence reported that Sector South, where the Canadians were deployed “should be very quiet over the next few days.”380 According to their military intelligence’s assessment, the Lika “Vukovi” Brigade was well armed with tanks and artillery. That armour included East German T-72 and older models of Warsaw Pact tanks as well.381 The analysis done after the action caused intelligence analysts to believe that the “Croatian troops were equipped with all the necessary armaments for a modern mechanized army, but used that military power in a primitive way. Artillery had made a simple barrage curtain, while the infantry and armour advanced without co-ordination. While the Croat forces advanced the light infantry had been active in the surrounding southern hills in order to close the Medak Pocket from the opposite direction. The Serb defence organized in an even worse manner, crumbling under the rough but successful Croatian advance.”382 “If the Croatians had expected their barrage of Serb positions to make the UN flee - they were wrong.” (This was the correct definition and characterization of the Croatian target – “the barrage on Serb positions” – which for most of the Canadians meant a direct assault on their positions, or the reason for Canadian involvement in the battle.) “In two days, Serb reinforcements from the former Yugoslavia came to the Medak Pocket and succeeded in stopping the Croatian advance.” (This was the admission of the Yugoslav Army and the army of the Bosnian Serbs.) (The later had already finished because the goals of the Croatian offensive had already been reached.) “But not before the 10 kilometre long and 5 kilometre wide “Pocket” was cut-off and the conflict line strengthened some 3000 metres northwest from Medak. The battle raged for another two days, hanging in a bitter balance, until the Serb artillery started pounding Karlovac and an earth-to-earth missile had been launched on Zagreb…”383 “This was not a battle, at least not by Western army standards, where an enemy position was attacked by fire and manoeuvre. There were no infantry attacks or tank advancements in order to gain ground held by the UN forces.”384
The military analyst Lee A. Windsor only confirmed what should have been clear to any informed professional analyst – there was no frontal conflict, no direct attack of Canadians by the Croats. The Croatian Army did not want to push the Canadians away, nor keep the ground they were pulling out from and where Canadians were to be deployed. But in the very next sentence the authour found the real reason for such a move: “The frontal attack was not the way in which the war in the Balkans was waged.” How could Croatian forces “reach their planned goals – in a 10 km long, 5 km wide pocket” if they did not advance quickly? “The infantry battles in the former Yugoslavia were waged in such a manner that both sides would use maximum firepower to make the adversary’s positions unbearable.”385 That claim could be true in the case of the former JNA and Serb rebel forces strategies. They applied the Red Army’s military doctrine of “masirovka” – a massive artillery barrage and then direct attack of infantry/armed forces. From the beginning, Croatia started to use NATO tactics. Being the weaker party in the war, as far as its manpower and technical equipment was concerned, the heaviest burden of the first years of the conflict was carried out by its police and army “special units”. At the beginning of the war in Croatia there were many commando units. Everybody wanted to be a member of a special unit. In contrast to the JNA’s experiences and teachings, such units had stood up to the fourth most powerful army in Europe. They endured massive artillery barrages, air strikes, and stopped the advancement of the Yugoslav Army’s armed forces. The best example of this was Vukovar’s resistance. “As soon as the position became too dangerous to hold because it was exposed to direct and constant fire, it was abandoned.”386 That conclusion was incorrect. On the Croatian side able officers like artillery specialists and x-JNA officers, Brigadier Ademi and Major Ceku rarely commanded the artillery. Their precise artillery marksmanship saved the Croatian cities of Šibenik and Gospić. On the JNA side, General Perišić’s heavy artillery attacks had been destroying the cities of Zadar and Mostar. The artillery, especially heavy 120mm mortars, was rarely operated by an able territorial defence or JNA reserve officer. The majority of these officers used artillery for terrorist – special purposes – to generate panic among the civilian population in Croatian cities. Artillery fire was rarely effective.387 “Each move that included forces being exposed in an open (field) is to be avoided.”388 In the case of the Croatian operation in the Medak Pocket, the opposite was true. The lightning co-ordinated manoeuvre of the artillery and the infantry was in the open. The Serb defence lines were broken in several places. The fighting was fierce. The Croats were killed during their offensive taken on the Serb fortified positions.389 The Serb tank company commander was killed on the outskirts of Medak. “In that area there was an enormous amount of weaponry,” (mostly in the hands of the JNA and rebel Serbs; even during the Medak Pocket Operation when the Croatian Army finally managed to get some armour itself). “But there were no professional soldiers, especially trained ones.” (Canadian soldiers speak of well-equipped young and disciplined Croatian soldiers trained by American military advisors and “armed by Germany”390). Lee A. Windsor cannot avoid old stereotypes of dividing Europe on “Axis” – Germany and its satellites and the “Allies” – allied forces, like they had been divided during World War ll. This had been the basis for many similar foreign preconceptions. He continued that “such a waged war could have been the legacy of Tito’s guerrilla military doctrine.” This is an incorrrect conclusion as well. Even during the later stages of the war, especially after the Serbs were defeated in “Oluja” and when their guerrilla resistance was expected – such wider “partisan” activity in Croatia and during later battles in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia did not happen. They were not used by JNA and territorial defence units who were supposed to follow the Partisan method of fighting. World War ll Partisan guerrillas had influenced JNA military doctrine. The author writes: “which had formed the core of the old JNA cadre and was taught to the lower ranking officers; later active in ranks of both belligerent sides.” Fortunately, the old cadre officers and lower ranking commanders did not impose these characteristics to the new Croatian Army; instead they initiated it with courage and decisiveness, shown later by primarily non-professional Croat soldiers. (There were some rare exceptions of some JNA or foreign army professionals in the ranks of the Croatian Army). Characteristics of the new Croatian Army were also seen in how they fought against the old JNA schematic military doctrine. The Croatian Army won because it fought in a different manner than the JNA. The Croatian Army had been learning from Western armies and used their experiences in practice. The experience of some Croats who had served in professional Western armies, and later with the help of some Western army instructors (i.e. MPRI) helped a lot. However Windsor concluded, on the basis of such evidence, the battle had happened.391 His main argument is that the Balkans definition of battle is the exchange of fire. Under such a definition, the firefight between the Croats and the Canadian and French soldiers really was a battle.145 Windsor’s argument, when the “Balkans definition” is exempt, leads us to conclude that there was no battle, that the two sides only exchanged fire, had a skirmish. The Croats had been afraid that the Serbs would advance behind the Canadian and French soldiers. These fears were not unfounded. There were still some Serbs surrounding Divoselo and on the Velebit Mountains. The Serbs had done such things later. Their commando units entered into the Medak Pocket, behind the inexperienced Canadian soldiers’ backs and fired on Croat positions.393 The Canadians, especially young and inexperienced reservists, like all soldiers in an unknown, tense and dangerous night situation would have been firing on anything that moved. I witnessed such a skirmish in the battlefield. It happened often when units would change shifts and new soldiers would come and take positions. To the newcomer, who had not mastered the area, any noise, shadow, movement or a flicker of light looked like imminent danger, and he would act instinctively, by opening fire.394 “It appeared to Sgt. Dearing that this kind of battle was waged in the village of Lički Čitluk. According to the Canadian soldiers there, the heaviest artillery fire came from less than 150 metres away.” In one instance, Croat mortars and 20mm automatic guns started firing on Canadian trenches. On several occasions the Croatian infantry tried to pass around Dearing’s group, but each time they were repelled by gunfire and the “Starlight” (night vision equipped) machinegun fire. Regardless of how this action stood in comparison with other larger conflicts, the Canadians had in their history, for the Charlie company shooters – this was the war (sic.)395 Had reserve soldiers been less professional? Or did all frightened soldiers react in the same inexperienced way? “Zero” losses on the Canadian side as opposed to dozens of dead and 100 wounded Croatian soldiers who, judging by the Canadians themselves, were well-trained and intense fighters? Where were the Canadian losses in that battle? We already know that some Canadian soldiers were wounded during the first day of the action – on September 9th. There were more wounded in a minefield on September 19th. But the only person killed was Captain Decoste in a road accident.396 During the 15 or 16 hour long battle on the night of September 15th/16th 1993, not a single Canadian soldier was wounded. It is true that Canadians were protected in their trenches. They held defensive positions. How was it that mortars, cannon projectiles or 20mm anti-aircraft guns, wounded not a single man? If that was the truth, that “several consecutive Croatian offensives were launched” or that “the Croats were to surmount Canadian positions” – the non-existence of casualties on the Canadian side is even harder to believe. If between 26 and 50 Croatian soldiers had been killed and more than 100 were wounded, it is quite impossible that not one Canadian soldier was either killed or wounded. Either the battle was not fierce enough, or somebody is not telling the truth. “On the right flank the French company had more luck. Each of its mechanized platoons had one VAB infantry vehicle with a 20mm gun in its armoured turret. When they answered the enemy fire using that mighty and precise weapon, the Croatian forces were less ready to fire back. The firefights went on for most of the following night and morning.”397
“During the night Colonel Jom “Mike” Maisonneuve, UNPROFOR’s chief operative officer, arrived from Zagreb in order to force the Croats to negotiate. Maisonneuve, Calvin and an older UN military observer (Lt. Col. Nielsen) had driven down the main road to talk to the local Croat commander. After a heated discussion Ademi agreed not to interrupt the 2nd operational stage and allowed the Canadians to secure the crossing point that night (September 15th/16th 1993). Operations stage 3 would commence the following day at 12:00 noon sharp, when D company would pass through the crossing point and reach the Croatian trenches.398 “The Patricias woke up on the morning of September 16th to see a horrific picture…smoke…burned houses…special police had not finished with the “ethnic cleansing”. Lt. Col. Calvin and Col. Maisonneuve asked to meet General Ademi again. Unfortunately, with only four companies deployed and without any tank and artillery support, Calvin’s forces didn’t stand a chance to engage the entire Croatian 9th armoured brigade. Even if the Canadians had the force to engage in a full frontal attack – it would have been in breach of the UNPROFOR mandate.” Windsor did not exclude the possibility of an all-out attack on the Croats because of the assumed “ethnic cleansing” in the area Canadians were to be deployed, but he was aware of the consequences. “To return fire in self-defence is one thing, but to start an all-out attack is another. Canadians could do little more but to sit and wait for 12 noon.”399 The Canadians were constantly wishing for an offensive action to start, during which they would quickly and forcefully throw the Croats out of their held positions and punish them for the evil deeds they were about to commit. The Croatian military action was legitimate. The area liberated a “Pink Zone” – which by all relevant UN decisions should have been integrated into Croatia’s territory. Croatia’s fight against terrorism and the protection of her civilian population was legitimate. To the international community, especially those states with their troops on the ground, it was difficult to admit that Croatia had the legal right to bring the so-called RSK under local administration and recognize Croatia’s sovereignty. Even before the accusations of alleged crimes, in those international community circles, including Canada’s, the antipathy towards the Croatians was visible. The Croats were the guilty party, they were the disruptive factor, the ally of their ancient (German) enemy. The right of a sovereign state, to solve internal problems with all legal measure, even if that meant using military and police force to fight terrorism, and after it to peacefully solve the minority Serb problem – was constantly questioned. It might have also been caused by the wishful thinking of many that an independent national Croatian state crumble and return to its’ previous status before the former Yugoslavia fell apart? The majority of analysts find excuses for CANBAT’s tough attitude and express empathy for them not being able to start an all-out attack on the Croatians. But they had to obey Zagreb’s UN command – sit and wait.400 The hard stand before the accusations of alleged crimes is later excused by crimes committed after the military action and withdrawal.
The Agreement’s Next Implementation Phase
“The D company had moved according to the timetable (12:00 hours), with a couple of TOW vehicles accompanying it. As soon as they moved, they encountered a Croatian road blockade. On the left side of the road there was a deadly heavy T-72 tank, a gift from Germany” (sic).401 Here too the Canadian analyst could not avoid the old preconception about (the bad) Germany who was helping her old war ally. The tank in question was probably a T-72 or even a T-84, a Yugoslav improved version of the basic Soviet model, a good quality tank the Croats had already sold to Kuwait to be used in “Desert Storm”. The Croatian factory “Đuro Đaković” had mastered its fabrication and some of the T-84’s the Croats had captured during their previous fighting against the JNA. “On the right side, two anti-tank guns and a large number of anti-armour rocket types called Sagger402 were aimed at the Canadian column. The Croatian infantry company, protected by an improvised mine chain, had manned the barricade. Weapons on both sides were ready for action. During the show of force, well-trained and disciplined Canadian soldiers kept cool heads while the Croats became less and less sure of themselves.”403 Such a psychological assessment speaks of the analyst’s partiality. He observed his soldiers with awe, and underestimated the force of “the enemy” who became weaker and their morale lower. The only rationale for giving the Croatian soldiers such a general psychological profile is propaganda.
The war crimes in the former Yugoslav wars had taught us that those criminal, murderous acts had been committed by special paramilitary forces or units (as in the case of Vukovar and Srebrenica) or groups of criminals.
“Lt. Col. Calvin had a heated argument with Croatia’s high ranking officer Brigadier General Mezić. It was Mezić who stalled in order to give the special police enough time to cover the evidence of “ethnic cleansing”. D company moved in at 13:30. Calvin’s inspired idea, (to summon the improvised press conference in the middle of the road – authour’s remark), did not prevent ethnic cleansing…but had enabled the “blue helmets” to enter three villages before all the traces of the Croatian crimes were destroyed.”404 Later, the CANBAT Battle group had (un)fortunately been stopped by higher ranking UN officials who insisted the exact timetable to enter the “Pocket” be observed.” On September 17th UNPROFOR soldiers had access to the entire area. They found 16 bodies. Later a mass grave was discovered with 50 bodies in it.” This data was never confirmed. Ten years later in Obradović Varoš, ten corpses were discovered. “The Medak Pocket had provided the world with the first proof that Serbia was not the only perpetrator of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.“405
When all the pieces had been put into the puzzle, it seemed that this was the objective most analysts tried to reach. The decisiveness with which the Canadian peacekeepers wanted to fulfill the UN mission, their aversion of the Croats, their shock caused by crimes and their wish to prevent them by force before they happened, became even more clear and hid the motives of the Canadian Army’s actions. It’s goal was to make Croatia equal to Serbia, to balance both parties’ blame, to make both countries shoulder the political responsibility for the war. It’s purpose was to clear the international community’s conscience, to acquit it of the co-responsibility for crimes, (during the peacekeeping mission in Croatia in the UNPA zones 600 people had been killed by Serbs paramilitary and official armed forces)), and the international community’s ineffectiveness in dealing with the wars in the former Yugoslavia406. This was underlined by the leniency Canadians had shown to the weak Serbs and their Krajina while under attack, the antipathy towards the Croats, “we didn’t like them”, who were aggressors on their own land. Many an interpretation of the Medak Pocket events, not only Canadian ones, reveal a bias when referring to some “sources” and the “impressions of some witnesses”. Analysts have jeopardized the truth. By fabricating the events, they question the right of freedom and existence of a people in whose country UN soldiers were stationed. By magnifying and dramatizing the situation, by demonizing only one side, such an analyst creates a myth, a virtual and false painting of the events that took place in the Medak Pocket. In that way he rearranges not only Croatian but also their (military) history.407
“The Canadian action in Medak had reinstated some respect for the UN forces, which they had lost in Maslenica.” By the end of September, Canadian officer Colonel George Oehring took over the command of Sector South and felt the consequences of Medak best. He witnessed that the credibility of UNPROFOR was returned, the talks between the belligerent sides resumed, and led to an unofficial ceasefire in November (1993) This lead to a wider, official ceasefire on Christmas and to a very comprehensive, bilateral general ceasefire agreement signed on March 29th 1994,408 also known as the Zagreb agreement. “We (Canadians) were in September of 1993 (before the action) hated by everybody. They threw stones at me and threatened me before I left for Zadar to meet the Croatian commander (General Ante Gotovina – authour’s note). Medak changed all this. The Serbs had, up to the moment of my departure, a year later, spontaneously been mentioning Canadian courage and honesty shown at Medak, while the Croats, reluctantly at the beginning but later with more readiness, started to respect Canadians in Sector South.409” Oehring concludes: “The community of international peacekeepers, in 1993, had not yet been ready to take decisive steps as were taken in Kosovo.” This kind of balancing of Serb guilt of genocide committed in Kosovo with the guilt of military/police actions in Croatia implied that the Croats had committed genocide on the Serbs in 1993 and should have been punished. How? Was the international community to hit Zagreb with air strikes, its planes bombarding Croatia and its army? Was it to defeat Croatia in an infantry battle, force it to surrender and occupy it with peace forces? Should they have punished Croatia by annulling its membership in the UN, by taking away its international recognition and placing it under a protectorate? With minimal knowledge of the nature of the conflicts in Croata, it is ludicrous to so equalize Croatia and Serbia. The Serbs had ethnically cleansed Kosovo of its’ Albanian population. In their own country, the Croats had tried, after peaceful measures had failed, to prevent Serb terrorists from attacking civilian targets. The Serbs had refused to return under the legislative Republic of Croatia’s constitution. The Serbs had in that obstruction and refusal of Croatian sovereignty been greatly helped by political games and the international community’s interests, which up to Kosovo helped Milošević and the Serb policy of hegemony.410
“The Medak Pocket Operation had happened at the beginning of the UN peacekeeping transitional period. The Canadian Battle group had great firepower, and had shown it’s readiness to use it. However, many other UNPROFOR contingents were totally unprepared as far as their equipment, training and political will was concerned, to involve themselves in such an action the Canadians had involved themselves at Medak.”411 Lee A. Windsor’s professional analysis ends in a way that best suits the Canadian military and political establishment – praising its military forces. “They have in spite of scandals in Somalia, Cambodia and Croatia,” (the full report about “Operation Harmony” and 2.PPCLI speaks about an attempt to poison warrant officer Matt Stopford, soldiers involved in brawls allegedly exposed to radiation, involved in an attempted rebellion, their incompetent military commanders are mentioned – Minister of Defence and Canadian chief of the main staff army HQ), “remained to be the serious generator of security and promoter of Canada’s foreign policy. The organization able to produce soldiers who will under ever-changing conditions such as Medak, show efficacy and not collapse as easily as someone would think.”412 In the conclusion of Windsor’s study, one can clearly see what the purpose of remembering the Medak Pocket Operation was – to rebuild the damaged confidence of the Canadian Army, due to a number of its commanding officers’ misjudgements, scandals and mistakes, it had been at it’s lowest point, and nearing its own “collapse”. Citations to heroism and professionalism shown were to restore some of that old Canadian Army’s glory and the trust people had in it. But why at the expense of the Croatians? I will conclude this review of the Canadian Medak Pocket interpretation with two Canadian reporters accounts. “Thirty C company soldiers were positioned in a two-storey concrete building in Medak, the city held by the Serbs. The UN was afraid 400 Serbs in four unprotected villages in the Medak Pocket would be slaughtered.” The Croatian assessment of the number of Serb soldiers deployed in the Medak Pocket was the same: 400 soldiers. Where were the civilians and how many were there? The civilians in Divoselo, Počitelj, and Lički Čitluk had been organized into a territorial defence. They continued to live on their land but at the sound of an alarm they would take arms and go to war. These villages had obviously been protected by a reserve force in Medak, a tank company, and 80 to 100 soldiers of the 103rd Lapac light brigade deployed there. “During the next five days, the Medak Pocket was attacked by more than 2500 Croatian soldiers (the number is overestimated) and helped by tanks, rocket launchers and artillery. The Serbs had finally stopped the Croat forces’ advance on September 12th.”413 “At noon on September 15th 1993, about 250 Canadian and 500 French soldiers engaged the Croatians in 20 separate firefights, using light arms. The Croats retreated with about 30 of their soldiers killed. The Canadians and the French had one killed and four soldiers wounded. The medal for bravery was awarded to a Canadian soldier for saving his French colleague from a minefield.”414
A Summary of the Peace Imposing Operation in Accord With The Medak Pocket Agreement
August 6th 1993 – the Canadian Battle group HQ in Camp Polum near Daruvar in Sector West was abandoned. By the end of July, Lt. Col. Calvin had transferred two companies in Sector South, and the rest of 2.PPCLI forces followed.415 C company, (recce group), took the old French positions in Medak, situated in an old schoolhouse, only 200 meters away from the Serb HQ (sic). After the first artillery preparation, Sgt. Green found a new building some 100 metres away and ordered Sgt. Tronholm’s units to move into it. The evening of September 9th an incident took place involving some drunken Serb soldiers, who during a scuffle between two of their own units, fired a grenade at each other. Later they fired at Canadian soldiers and the Canadian soldiers answered.416 The Croatian offensive started with the advancing of the 2.PPCLI through the Serb occupied area from Gračac to Medak. On the morning of September 9th, the Canadians were under heavy Croat barrage fire. The Canadian position received about 500 shells. At 06:05 hours the Croatian artillery preparation started (“Tested Mettle”). Medak was their prime target. The Serb HQ was situated in it and it was also the transport junction. The Canadian battalion HQ (CANBAT – Calvin) had been situated in Gračac. The fierce battle between the Croats and the Serbs lasted for the next three days (“The Ottawa Citizen”). On the evening of September 11th the tide of the battle turned. The large Serb counteroffensive was on the way. For the next 72 hours the adversaries were fighting a pitched battle. The ceasefire and the withdrawal agreement were signed on September 15th. On September 13th only a verbal agreement had been reached that preceded the agreement’s signing.
On September 14th the military situation in the area stabilized. In the afternoon, the Serbs launched a Luna rocket (known as a “Frog” by NATO) on a Zagreb suburb. Lt. Col. Calvin received an order to enforce the agreement regarding UNPROFOR entering the zone between the belligerents. At 16:30 he held a meeting with his subordinate officers in order to explain their future operation. The plan consisted of four stages: Stage one – On September 15th take the Serb forward front positions; Stage two – establish crossing points in no-man’s land; Stage three – the Canadians and French were to advance along the road and take the forward front Croatian positions; Stage four – to oversee the Croat forces withdrawal to their pre-September 9th positions and form the demilitarized zone.
On September 15th General Cot flew to the area of Medak and spoke with Lt. Col. Calvin. The Canadians and the French started entering the zone between the Croats and the Serbs. At 14:00 hours, the Canadians entered the war zone, where they were stopped by the Croats. At dusk, Colonel Maisonneuve, Lt. Col. Nielsen and Lt. Col. Calvin held talks with Brigadier Ademi in Gospić’s command post HQ.
On September 15th and 16th the Canadians engaged the Croats in 20 separate firefights. The battle lasted for 15 hours (according to General MacKenzie), 16 hours (according to Lt. Col. Calvin in an address to the Canadian Parliament). Canadians were situated in the old Serb trenches near Lički Čitluk, opposite the Croatian 9th mobile guard brigade. The Croats “at several times charged Canadian positions.” Canadians admitted that the causes could be Serb shooting at the Croats behind the Canadians’ backs. Early in the morning of September 16th the Croats engaged the Canadians for the last time. They withdrew with 30 dead. (sic) (The UNPROFOR report dated September 16th 1993 – at 22:15 stated the Croatian Army engaged the Canadian battalion who returned fire – the only official UNPROFOR report I could acquire417) On the morning of September 16th the Canadians saw gunfire and smoke behind the Croatian lines.
At noon on September 16th (phase three), the Canadians advanced, but the heavily armed Croatian company stopped them with T-72 tanks. Lt. Col. Calvin had a heated discussion with Brigadier Mezić. The tense break lasted for 90 minutes, which the Canadians started entering the Medak Pocket, where they found the first killed.
On September 17th at 18:00 hours the Croatian forces withdrew to their agreed positions.
On September 18th a new misunderstanding about the demarcation line, a new meeting and new drawing of maps followed. The Canadians reported being threatened by armed Croatian soldiers.
On September 19th a mine incident occurred, (Shannon Boyd, UNPROFOR spokesperson’s statement, accused the Croats because of alleged firing on the “blue helmets”).
Canadian soldiers hit a mine and disarmed a group of Croatian soldiers in the demilitarized zone. General Cot protested to the Croatian side because the peacekeepers were attacked. Misunderstandings concerning maps and demarcations between the Croatian and the Canadian side continued. Croatian soldiers were cut-off at Kamenjuša and were not allowed to be re-supplied.
On September 22nd the final agreement on the demarcation lines and borders of the UN “buffer zone” was reached.
On September 26th a new incident arises regarding mines and Croatian soldiers allegedly shooting Canadian and French soldiers. There is a mutual exchange of serious accusations between General Cot and General Bobetko.
On October 3rd General Cot sends a letter to General Bobetko about mounting tensions and efforts to reach a lasting peace.
On October 4th General Bobetko replies.
On October 7th 1993 CANBAT 1 (UNPROFOR’s) final REPORT on the Medak Pocket Operation – destruction, carnage, slaughter and burning – “scorched earth” and “ethnic cleansing” are underlined.
Medak Pocket – Serbian Interpretation
The Croatian Army’s main staff commander General Bobetko’s book “Sve moje bitke” is a key to understanding the military aspect of the Medak Pocket Operation from the Croatian side. While the Serb point of view is discussed in the book “Knin je pao u Beogradu”418 written by Krajina Serb Army Major General Milisav Sekulić.419 In the analysis of the plan and assessment of the so-called Krajina Army, General Sekulić points out all the nonsense which the military planners and leaderships were taking into account. “There was an absurd expectation that the Croatian Army, together with the Croatian Defence Council, military forces in Germany, Italy, Hungary and other countries would attack the RSK”. The military command of the Krajina Serb Army had entangled itself into a fictitious “what if” analysis. They had constantly relied on the Republika Srpska and Yugoslav armies for help and did not develop a military force. General Sekulić had realistically assessed that “Croatia (even in 1993) had on its part, chosen a military option, because it judged that without it, it could not return the RSK (Republika Srpska Krajina) into its constitution. In order to make such an option viable, Croatia had made its priority to build its military force. Such an option had been grossly underestimated by the Serbian side.”420 As the economic and political situation in the RSK became more difficult, the morale dissipation of the RSK and its army continued. “Since March 1993, the RSK army units dissatisfaction grew; especially within the soldiers ranks. The burden was becoming heavier, and the injustices done more visible.”421 Soldiers were dissatisfied: “because of the military and civilian government’s inactivity to fight the black market and crime; deserters that walked the streets of Knin and were black marketers themselves. They demanded they be supplied with adequate garments.”422 The situation was like this immediately prior to the “attack on the Medak Pocket and Divoselo”. For the commander of the Lika corps, Colonel Milan Šuput such an attack was not a surprise. There was much intelligence, reconnaissance and other military data that recorded the regrouping and concentration of Croatian forces on Velebit and the possibility of endangering and cutting the Medak Pocket from the position of Velebit. The assessment of the Serbian Krajina Army was quite the opposite from the operations development. Instead of the Croatian Army and police engaging in cutting the “Pocket” from Velebit towards the north, (the Visočica-Čitluk-Ornice line, mentioned in some Serbian Krajina Army documents423), the Croatian attack spearheaded towards Velebit. The Serbian Army command had detailed information from Divoselo. Colonel Šuput learned that such an action was possible on August 15th 1993 from a letter that “citizens and fighters in Divoselo had sent him. Divoselo had been exposed to grave Ustaša provocations since the beginning of the war, it had been fiercely shelled and the Croatian commando incursions were regular. One third of Divoselo was under Ustaša control; therefore 20 citizens had already been killed.”424 The letter stated that Divoselo was defended by 20 villagers deployed along the 20 kilometre line. “They asked Colonel Šuput to send a military commission, in order to verify what the situation in the area was.” The important data in that letter was the statement that “from 400 pre-war households, only fifteen now remain.”425 The majority of villagers had already left Divoselo before the Medak Operation started. General Sekulić analyzed the situation in the Croatian and the Serb armies, including all the stages of the Medak Pocket Operation and the consequences it had for the so-called Srpska Krajina Army and the RSK itself.
The Croatian Army Deployment and Objectives
By the end of August and the beginning of September, the tensions were especially visible, the regrouping and armed confrontations happened on the Kapela mountain region.UNPROFOR and the Serb Krajina Army forecast a fierce Croatian attack on that area. UNPROFOR warned Croatia of its fears that some major incidents were possible in the Ogulin and Plaški areas. On the Dalmatian area of operation, especially north of Zadar and Biograd, artillery duels had become more regular and incidents like the one on September 7th 1993 in Mirlovića Polje occurred. As mentioned in confiscated Serb documents – the Serbian Krajina Army noticed the Croatian preparations on the Velebit Mountains. Sekulić stated the following about the Medak Pocket Operation: “The forces main impact was done by the 9th mobile guard brigade, special police and Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Croatia forces. The attack was spearheaded along the Oranice-Lički Čitluk and Medak-Lički Čitluk-Počitelj; along the Kruškovača-trigonal point t.p. 616-Lički Čitluk lines. The frontline of their attack stretched from Divoselo to Medak. The Lika corps units were unprepared426 but not surprised by it, as it was already mentioned in the letter from the “Divoselo villagers.” According to seized Srpska Krajina Army documents, a planned Serbian attack on Croat forces had to take place on the same day, before the actual Croatian attack on Divoselo, Počitelj and Čitluk started. General Sekulić concluded: “UNPROFOR was put before an accomplished fact, the step by step wiping off of the RSK from the face of the earth. It was more than obvious that the JNA did not react to that provocation, making its reputation in the eyes of the RSK even more negative.”427
The Military Action’s Development
The day before the operation started, on September 8th, Serbian Krajina Army HQ notified its sub-commanding units about: the Croatian Army’s intense activity in Dalmatia (in the area where the Serbian Krajina Army 7th Dalmatian corps was deployed); and about Croatian attacks on the Serb 70th infantry brigade positions Plaški-Ogulin area). On the Velebit Mountains, reconnaissance patrols clashed and the Serb reconnaissance commando unit forcefully assaulted Visočica.428 “The Croatian Army attack was enforced by an artillery barrage on Teslingrad, Ljubovo, Kozjan, Gračac, Udbina, Vrhovina and Korenica. The 9th brigade forces (the Serb Gračac brigade) were to lose Čitluk first. Then a part of that brigade was cut-off in Divoselo. In an attempt to break through from the encirclement in Divoselo, the tank company commander, Lt. Col. Mirko Savić, was killed.”429 The Serb Krajina Army HQ reported that at 05:50, the Croatian artillery attack started. (Still more data about when the actual attacks began). The HQ reported that at 9:30, Croatian forces attacked the positions of the 50th and 70th 15 corps brigades, as well as the cities of Gračac, Udbina, Korenica and Vrhovine. The Serb 9th mobile brigade HQ reported on “the fiercest battle yet in Divoselo and Čitluk. Croats had taken Čitluk and surrounded the Serb unit and a 120mm mortar platoon in Divoselo where the battle was still in progress.”430 The Serb military command had assessed that the Croatian Army’s advance had been stopped on the Visoko Brdo-Ivančevići-Sitnik-Boleđi line. That assessment was made after the planned Croatian action had already been completed. At about 16:00 hours, part of the surrounded Serb forces tried to break through the encirclement using the Mali Kraj-Kruškovača-Bukova Glava direction.
After a few hours from the start of the attack, the main Serb Army HQ reacted. They ordered the Corps commanders to assume full troop battle readiness and prepare to “engage the targets along the line of contact and the depth of the enemy’s territory. The Lika corps command was ordered to re-group their forces, stabilize the defence line, and secure the left flank from the Velebit Mountains side. The report from Čitluk said that 30 children and the elderly were evacuated and safely moved to Udbina.”431
The Lika Corps Battle Deployment
- th Gračac brigade;
- 18th brigade was at its initial positions;
- 50th brigade did not leave its positions at all;
- 70th brigade (parts) were deployed on the Kapela heights;
- The Lapac brigade was on its positions.
The Croatian Army provocation, on the part of the quoted brigades (Lika corps HQ), was “wrongly assessed.” The Lika corps command “had not linked that attack with the Croatian Army and police special unit activities in the Velebit Mountain area. They had not evaluated the force of the 2nd battalion of the 9th (Gračac) brigade properly, had enforced the defence with the Lapac brigade and the police unit, and not attacked the Croat forces instead, had misjudged how critical the situation was, and had expected reinforcements to come to Lika – all of this led to defeat. More care was given to defend what was not under attack, then to what was “a burning issue.” The deblockade of the 2nd battalion in Divoselo was not attempted. Reinforcements waited for the deblockade to start.”432 “The Srpska Krajina Army main staff HQ discussed the R-65 division deployment (on September 10th 1993 – authour’s note) in order to retaliate for the mass bombardment of cities and other populated places in the RSK territory. Without any success, they tried to bring a reinforcement battalion from Vukovar. They refused to come and openly defied the Serb Krajina Army main staff HQ decision. That day the action to deploy volunteers from the SR Yugoslavia started again.”433 The Serb Krajina Army command made an assessment that the Croatian Army had unsuccessfully continued its offensive on Medak while the Croatian Army was actually digging foxholes and its artillery had been keeping Serb forces at a distance. The Serb Army command made a further misjudgement about the Croatian Army widening its front towards Maslenica, Zemunik, trying to take the Sveti Rok-Medak-Gospić communication line and trying to capture Teslingrad. The Serb army HQ pointed out the necessary securing of the Velebit Mountains. There was no manpower. Assistance from the Serb 11th corps (from Vukovar) was requested in vain. Reconnaissance missions at Divoselo were done. The options for pulling out the encircled Serbs and a counteroffensive were considered.434
“On September 11th one part of the 9th (Gračac) brigade, counterattacked and reached the Memedovo Brdo-River Lika-Vitasi line. This counterattack enabled 60 encircled combatants to pull out.
On September 12th the Serbs were still of the opinion that the Croatian Army would extend its front into the RSK. So the Serb Army executed artillery attacks on many targets in the depth of Croatia’s territory (in accordance with a “real threat strategy”).
On September 13th the mobilization of the Lapac brigade was in motion. The Croatian positions on the Sitnik-Uzelci-Lički Čitluk line were attacked in order to free the encircled Serb forces in Divoselo.
On September 14th the discipline started to crumble (they were leaving the front positions – authour’s note) within the Lapac mobilized brigade, but the corps command and main staff HQ would not react to that.”435
The commander of the Srpska Krajina Army main staff HQ: “keeping in mind the special importance of the Velebit Mountains,” orders the Lika corps commander to “form a mountaineering group which would execute military actions in order to master the Velebit Mountain ridges.” On the very same day UNPROFOR asked for permission to enter the Divoselo-Čitluk area. The Serbian Krajina Army main staff HQ commander immediately ordered that “from 12:00 to 19:30 hours, UNPROFOR forces should be allowed to pass through the occupied territories. UNPROFOR’s entrance into Divoselo marks the sanctioning of the occupation of Divoselo and Čitluk. With UNPROFOR present on September 16th the Croatian Army started destroying houses in villages reclaimed in Lika. On the demarcation line there was already a French battalion watching how the houses were pulled down and looted. UNPROFOR’s presence will, among other things, stop our forces from engaging the enemy in the occupied area.”436
In his overview of the Operation, General Sekulić does not mention Croatian forces engaging UNPROFOR. He only stated the passive and tacit UN forces permission given to Croats to do whatever they wished. His position in the Serbian Krajina Army’s main staff HQ allowed him access to all reports. Why has he forgotten them and not mentioned such data? Others have used this information. The Prime Minister of the so-called RSK, Bjegović; foreign press, especially Serb press used it to further accuse Croatia and its armed forces. Sekulić does not sympathize with Croats. He is a fervent Serb nationalist and does not spare Croatia when mentioning it’s presumed guilt. But why the silence about the Croatian – Canadian battle? He would not be so quiet if it had really happened. Why does he not mention the battle? Probably because he considers it to be one of those unimportant, small-scale firefights, which were frequent, and happened every night along the frontline between the Croatian and Serbian side. In his book “Knin je pao u Beogradu” he does not mention any Canadian – Croatian battle, but he does speaks of Serbian defeat, panic, fear, and Serb soldiers desertions. “During the Medak Pocket fighting, the Lapac brigade had left its positions and returned to Donji Lapac… the Lika corps commander would issue an order to prevent desertions… three platoon commanders and one battalion commander were relieved of their duties. Three soldiers were punished with two to six month long prison sentences.”437
Conclusions About the Croatian Army’s Attack and the Medak Pocket Occupation
From the events in the Medak Pocket, General Sekulić concludes that “long-term consequences, unquestionable and disastrous repurcussions followed: the Serb Krajina Army had been surprised, and had lost the Divoselo, Čitluk and Počitelj villages. The Croatian Army’s action had all the characteristics of genocide. The villages taken were burned in accordance with “scorched earth” tactics. The Croats handed over 71 corpses, among them 28 civilians (10 were women). Among those listed as missing were 14 civilians (4 of which were women). UNPROFOR did not do a thing to prevent the attack on the Medak Pocket and the consequent genocide over the civilians. Only General Jean Cot would defend his own honour, by accusing the Croatian Army of genocide.”438 “The poor effects of RSK’s defence were due to no co-ordinated action between the Serb Krajina Army, Army of the Republika Srpska and Yugoslav Army. In the end, no one had taken responsibility for that defeat and tragedy. The commanders of the 9th brigade and the Lika corps, the Serbian Krajina Army’s main staff HQ all kept their duties…”439 In an operation analysis,, General Sekulić confirms his basic thesis that the Medak Pocket fell in 1993, as Knin did in 1995, because of the disbelief by RSK politicians, military officers and the population, that other Serbian armies would come to their aid. He also points out the RSK’s irresponsibility, the lack of morale and lack of perspective. “The RSK’s top officials did not seem to grasp the situation’s core. The Serb Krajina Army was more able to face Croatia at the very moment of its formation, than in any later period. As time progressed, the ability of the Srpska Krajina Army had weakened, and that of the Croatian Army became greater.”440
The “RSK” government, the representatives of the Serbian Army HQ and the presidents of the Serb municipalities met in Plitvice on October 2nd 1993 in order to discuss the losses at Divoselo. The commission was formed with the task of analyzing all the facts linked to that significant RSK defeat.441 Already on September 18th 1993, (pending the Serb Krajina Army commanders’ order given on September 16th), the following report was made which confirms that “the brigade battalion and lower commands and combatants had already been informed about the organization, strength and possible variation of enemy build-up and its targets. All levels of the command received combat documentation, orders and general line documents.”442 The Serb Krajina Army denied the thesis about a “sudden attack”, about Serb forces being unprepared, about weak Serb forces and lack of armour.” On the contrary – three Serb combat groups had been formed that had been ordered to continue the forceful reconnaissance missions and the provocation of Croatian forces. That was proven by the fact that “on the day the attack was carried out, the brigade commandant had ordered the forceful recon and combat missions towards the Velebit Mountains to take Bukova Glava (t.p. 671) and Jelovac.” The actual order for battle readiness had been issued at 08:00 hours on September 9th 1993. In order for the Serb forces to deploy on the Velebit Mountains, the mine line (114 mines) had been removed in the Čitluk brigade’s area of responsibility. In the village of Medak,, one battle group of the 3rd mobile brigade had been given orders to engage in the forceful reconnaissance… therefore the maximum alert and readiness for the battle had been ordered.” The order was issued on September 3rd 1993.” The Croatian Army and police had been subject to sudden attacks.
Is the claim of the small number of Serb defence forces in that area valid? “During the attack the 2nd mobile brigade and its reinforcements list 541 combatants. At the perimeter there were 500 combatants (in the annex of the Serb commission report… “to prevent surprises, the Divoselo defence line had been strengthened. In comparison with the previous period, Divoselo had the greatest number of soldiers.“443 The defence region had been solidly fortified, and the anti-armour and anti-aircraft defence had been well organized.”444
What was the reason for the Serb defeat? The commission concluded that it was caused by the “inadequate commanding skills of the battalion commander, Reserve 1st Class Captain Dušan Preradović, and the Čitluk unit commander Branko Krajnović, and the evacuation of the Čitluk unit soldiers’ families and their possessions.”445 “Army conscripts of the 2nd mobile brigade had lived in their houses and worked their fields which had kept them away from their defence duties and their combat positions.”446 The commission assessed that “in combat activity, according to the available data, 60 individuals were killed, eight were captured and an unknown number were listed as missing.”447 One should note the commission’s objectivity. It’s members professionally analyzed many elements, they reproached the Serbian Krajina Army’s lack of professional commanding officers, it’s paramilitary organization, desertions, the territorial military organization and the troops unsteady morale. The commission’s report is not written in ideological/nationalistic terms. It does not use terms like genocide, ustaša and criminal characterizations when depicting the Croatian Army and police. It speaks only of “destroying and burning the infrastructure of the Divoselo, Čitluk and parts of the village of Počitelj. It refers to the favourable situation and the Croatian choice of attacking, targets, time and manoeuvres. By spearheading the attack, the Croatian forces secured a favourable balance of forces, strong artillery backup, securing a tactical advantage and realized the planned objective of the attack. The attack was carried out by professional units.”448 On October 15th he RSK parliament would also form a parliamentary commission that reported on the September 8th (sic) 1993 events in the Divoselo, Čitluk and Počitelj area. That commission would find the reasons for the development of events as: “inadequate command, senior officers leaving the front, not enough discipline, alcoholism. It reproached the 9th brigade command for not allowing 1000 combatants to assist in helping the soldiers and civilians caught in the encirclement. It confirmed the minefield in the Brine-Kruškovača region was cleared and that mortars were turned towards the Velebit Mountains, to protect the Ornice-Poljari area (to backup the forceful recon – authour’s remark). Therefore the defence on that line was weakened.”449 The conclusion of the parliamentary commission was the request to relieve duties of all the key figures in the RSK – its president, the main staff HQ commander, the commanders of the corps and brigades. The blow the Croatian Army and police action caused was much stronger. It had shaken the already weak RSK structure, which the international community and UNPROFOR tried to protect and preserve.
Other Serb analysts, especially journalists, would analyze the Medak Pocket and all those concerned with it. “This month Serb forces were taken by surprise in the so-called Medak Pocket in Lika. The Croatian Army wiped off 11 Serb villages and hamlets, more than 100 Serb soldiers and civilians were killed. An indecisive counteraction and resolute protests tried to cover up the defeat. Top RSK officials tried to find an alibi in the behaviour of UNPROFOR. They never came to the area or to Knin. (Goran Hadžić and Mile Paspalj). UNPROFOR arrived only after evil had already taken place. Or they ran away (i.e. at Maslenica) leaving the combatants to fight. A day after the Croatian aggression struck Medak General Cot did not look worried. A couple of days later when he visited the burned villages, he said he could not find any traces of life.” On September 25th 1993, this is how Banja Luka’s TV program “Serb Krajina Chronicle” summarized Serb public opinion concerning the action that took place two weeks before. Apart from “the surprise and the shock”, “indecisive actions and decisive protests/press releases”, were used by Serbs during the war only when they were defeated in the battlefield. The accusations had started. Krajina politicians were accused of being afraid to face their people. UNPROFOR was accused of “running away” (as in Maslenica), or “did not show up at all, letting the combatants fight”! The Serb side linked the Medak Pocket events with World War ll: like “a continuation of the Croatian criminal policy that had happened during that time.” “During the advance, the Croatian Army had looted, burned, destroyed houses, killed and massacred soldiers and policemen. From the city of Gospić death was sown like it had been during the 1941 – 1945 fascist tyranny. The current war was the continuation of World War ll and the result of a Croatian violation of history.”450 “Divoselo was again a crime scene like in 1941, when only 907 Serbs were killed in Divoselo.451 “Today, when the outnumbered and surprised Serb side relied on UNPROFOR’s protection - the aggressor was able to quickly overrun the region.“452 “The defence lines were in disarray and the civilian population was left to the mercy of the Ustaša.” Proof of this complete disarray is shown by the “postponed date of the so-called RSK Parliament session. A complete report of the events in the surrounding Gračac villages on September 9th had not yet been completed. It was necessary to establish how the defence was before the Croatian aggression, the consequences of it, as well as the number of victims and material losses.”453 The Serb military organization sometimes fell apart. The panicked flee from Medak, the armed scuffles (the evening of September 9th in Medak), desertions on the defence lines, the disintegrating Lapac brigade, was followed by punishment of those guilty for the defeat. Serb politicians blamed for treason were arrested – like the arrest of David Rastović, the vice-president, and Rade Čubrilo, member of the Serb Democratic Party’s main board. They were allegedly linked to the “Croatian aggression” on Divoselo.454 To the international media, a message was sent about the Croatian Army and police’s new “aggression” on the Serb state of RSK as proof that co-existence with the Croats was impossible, and how the RSK had been established to protect the Serbs from Croatian abuse.455 The Serbian Krajina Army threats followed. After that they attacked along the entire frontline and behind it – cities along the Croatian coast and strong economic and communication centres like Sisak, Karlovac, Kutina and Ogulin were shelled or rocketed. The reinforcements from Krajina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and SR Yugoslavia were quickly summoned. The Serbs were afraid of the continuous Croatian Army and police advancement towards Medak and Gračac. They feared Croats taking the Ljubovo pass which would allow them to descend to Udbina and the Krajina Serbs airbase. This would result in a threat against Korenica and eventually the large city of Knin. Special pressure was exerted on the UN. Threats were made that the war would spread to all the UNPA zones, the Serbs would retaliate for Croatian “aggression” and would therefore undermine the entire peace plan. UNPROFOR had soon accepted the Serb interpretation of the Republic of Croatia as the “aggressor” on the RSK, “a state of equal status.” The UN and the international community were seriously worried because of the worsening of the military situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Now the threat of all-out war was spreading to the entire territory of the new states – the republics of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The aggressor – Croatia – should therefore be stopped and punished.
On the basis of situation reports sent from the field to Zagreb and New York, and after learning a lesson at Maslenica, the UN Security Council and its Secretary General started exerting pressure on the Croatian political and military leadership to withdraw its forces from the three liberated villages surrounding areas. During the first day of the Operation, the UNPROFOR commander, General Cot, conveyed the Serb protests and his ceasefire propositions to the Croatian side. This was done on September 9th at 09:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 15:00 and 17:00 hours. The next day, Cot sent his special emissary to the Srpska Krajina Army’s main staff HQ chief, General Novaković. A journalist with the daily newspaper “Borba” wrote an article in the September 11th/12th issue entitled: “Spaljen Čitluk i Divoselo.” In it he writes: “The commander of the Serb Krajina Army, via an UNPROFOR emissary, sent an ultimatum to Croatia: “By 13:00 hours, if UNPROFOR does not enter Divoselo, the Serb Krajina Army will start shelling military targets in the Republic of Croatia.” On September 13th, Belgrade TV reported on “the newest aggression on the RSK which lasted for a fifth successive day.” Đorđe Bjegović, the Krajina government’s Prime Minister sent a letter to the UN Secretary General.” In the same TV program UN forces were accused of “an UNPROFOR platoon in the area of aggression that did nothing to protect the Serbian people, but instead ran further into the RSK territory.” The accusations could not be proven. UNPROFOR’s sources, the Croatian side, or foreign press reports did not report this. The Canadians did not run away, they stayed on their positions where they had arrived the day before – on September 8th in Medak. The reporter continues: “because of this, negotiations via UNPROFOR were frozen, and the UNPROFOR representatives were forbidden to move into the war zone.” “The RSK main staff HQ stated that in the Lika area fierce attacks by the Croatian forces continued, although President Tuđman ordered a ceasefire. The Croatian forces regrouped and brought reinforcements. According to updated reports, one Serb soldier and one woman were killed. The Serb forces managed to stop the Croatian Army and establish the defence line on the Lika battlefield.”456 There were no reports or access to the lost territory. A retreat occurred and troops ran away. This kind of reporting could have been war propaganda – to make the number of victims smaller and the enemy’s larger. The data about one soldier and one woman being killed served such a function. On September 12th and 13th the Serb side still kept the military option open, believing that by launching a counterattack it would defeat the Croatian Army and regain it’s lost positions. The data about “own losses” was not published, because it could further damage the soldiers’ morale. “Serb propaganda had been telling us about one killed and five wounded until 52 corpses were handed over.”457 It is unusual that on September 9th and 10th, the Serbs did not know about the numbers yet killed. The Canadians reported on those killed in front of Medak upon advancing in front of Serb lines.458 The Canadian witness accounts speak about “people being killed there.” The situation changed when UNPROFOR entered the area between the Croatian and Serb forces. Suddenly the Serb interpretation of the Medak Pocket events changed. The handing over of 52 Serb soldiers and civilian bodies marked that turning point. Suddenly the fabricatoin about the Croatian – Canadian battle appeared, the UN protection forces were engaged, “on whom each attack was punishable.” This became more for Croatian guilt to be established. Not only had they been guilty of crimes committed over the Serbs, but they dared to attack the UN as well. They should be punished – they should be charged with war crimes and genocide. Their state should be taken away.459 Serb actions could be justified and finally their desire to form an independent Serb state within the state of Croatia could be realized.
This study does not question the existence of crimes committed in the Medak Pocket. It tries to reveal manipulations of those crimes for political gains. At the ICTY in the Hague, the accused Slobodan Milošević, while cross-examining a protected Croatian witness asked him: how come all Croatian war crimes are so well evidenced, witnesses called and cross-examined, material sent to the Hague, while Serb crimes are not even documented? Interesting question? Were the Croats not able to hide their “ill deeds”? By posing such a question, Milošević suggests Serb crimes did not exist in the measures they are attributed to the Serbs. And the Croats, because of evidence were far greater villains than the Serbs. If a realistic assessment does exist (i.e one by the CIA’s) in which 90 percent of all crimes in former Yugoslavia were committed by the Serb Army or Serb paramilitary. The latest discoveries reveal the subsequent continuation of hiding the bodies of war victims, in which the JNA, the Yugoslav Army, police and state government took part. We learn more about the tacit understanding of UN forces, who knew about these facts but did not intervene. Rare are the anonymous tips when Serbs themselves would reveal the locations of mass graves in which Croats, Bosnians or Albanians were buried. Serb officials continued to hide these mass graves at places where they liquidated and buried their adversaries after World War ll ended. The system of co-ordinated state politics in hiding is opposed by sporadicism, non-systematical, accidental, individualism, anarchy, crimes committed out of blind revenge or hatred, own endangered life, and fright for the biological existence of one’s own nation, and not one individual. I’m not excluding the pathology, sadism or enjoyment in the suffering of others, but in percentage, equal is the number of such cases bordering the human normality in all societies and in all armies, therefore in the Croatian or in the Serbian army. There is a big imbalance of those systematic crimes committed by groups or individuals on the Serb side, and such committed by all the other sides. What is indicative is the systematicizm in which the Serb side deals with this dark side of the war. It is best illustrated by “Veritas” organization, initiated and led by an ex judge Savo Štrbac, who was in 1991 the JNA Knin corps military prosecutor. In so-called RSK he was the head of the Office for killed and disappeared persons. After his parastate crumbled, he left for Belgrade, and with the SR Yugoslavia’s official full backing he founded the NGO, gathering all the data about the Serb victims of wars in former Yugoslavia. This, primarily humanitarian work, was often misused for political purposes, even for the crimes cover-ups. Savo Štrbac has after only ten days passed since the Medak Pocket operation was undertaken, gathered documents and materials; he made a film460 and has shown it to the Belgrade foreign press. Without any serious investigation or any proof, he has immediately accused Croatia for crimes and genocide. Only after the victims’ bodies were handed over (on September 18th on the Šajnerica pass in Otočac) did the Serb side spoke of a forceful, battle-ready entrance of the UNPROFOR into the area – “the UNPROFOR members, after engaging in a direct battle entered that area.”461 That new meaning given to the firefights and scuffles when UNPROFOR has been taking over the area has more and more backed the credibility of the general accusation about the Croatian and Croatia’s guilt and their inborn genocide behavior. The Serbs have “forgotten” their previous accusations of the UNPROFOR’s “running off from the battlefield” and their “leaving the Serbs at Croatian army’s mercy.” Now Serbs and UNPROFOR have taken the same side, and together they blamed the Croatians for everything that has happened in the Medak Pocket, even for that that didn’t happen at all – as the Croatian battle waged against UNPROFOR. “Croatian army hasn’t fulfilled its promise of its forces to withdraw from Počitelj, Čitluk and Divoselo, and for UNPROFOR to be deployed in (those) named areas. The Croatian army has thus defied the UNSC demand and continued their battle operations462. “Members of the CANBAT have today started entering villages Počitelj, Čitluk and Divoselo. UNPROFOR’s CANBAT commander has said that his soldiers have been subjected to the sniper fire for 90 minutes while taking their positions. When they have put up the UN flag the fire became more intense. Unofficial sources report that yesterday the UNPROFOR members, when entering those villages, had three of their soldiers wounded.”463 The Serb journalists use and misuse the unconfirmed informations in order to make the tensions against the Croats mount. The news about Croatian shooting at the UN flag, about three wounded Canadian soldiers, should have suggested that the Croats attacked “blue helmets” on purpose, and did not refrain from anything (not even from attacking the UN). The news wasn’t true of course, it could have referred on the wounded in the minefield only, but it was accepted as newsworthy by the foreign press and international community’s members. “The report from Knin states that in the village of Medak, area some ten kilometers from the occupied villages, since yesterday the strong UNPROFOR forces have been deployed, and are ready to, after the Croatian forces withdraw, enter Čitluk… Apart from not retreating yet, the Croat forces on the Lika battlefield do not respect the agreed ceasefire, they, Croatian forces opened a fierce artillery and infantry fire on RSK’s civilians and soldiers. The Serbian army command has protested to UNPROFOR and its Sector South.”464 The so-called RSK’s Prime Minister Đorđe Bjegović too on September 16th 1993 states that “…Croatian forces have engaged UNPROFOR”, forgetting to mention that the Serb forces were “intermingled” with the Canadians and sometimes only 50 meters away from them, and behind Canadians back opened fire on Croatians in order for Croats to think they are fighting two armies – the Serb one and the Canadian – French one. For TV Banja Luka on September 21st 1993 a member of CANBAT has confirmed during an interview that “two companies, 250 soldiers of the Canadian and French battalion in the Medak Pocket area have been the target of the Croatian fierce fire from infantry armor and were forced to fire back. The peace force has made an ultimatum to the Croatian forces to withdraw to the lines agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement signed on September 15th, which they did, but only in the late hours of that day. Today (September 21st) at 15:30 the Croatian forces have shelled Gračac… 15 grenades of a great destructive force fell…”465 TV Beograd reports that UNPROFOR commander General Cot has visited the area of the Medak Pocket. “He confirmed that the area is under UNPROFOR control, but didn’t find any signs of life in couple of villages he passed by… the destruction was complete, done on purpose and systematical… the majority of it was done when UNPROFOR was still deploying.” The Zagreb Voice of America’s correspondent pointed out that “the Croatian forces have planned to kill Serb civilians in the vicinity of Gospić.”466 Đorđe Bjegović knows for sure that “52 persons were massacred, most of them were civili