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Written 08.12.2009. 11:44
Even as the situation in central Bosnia deteriorated in late January and early February, 1994, UNPROFOR and ECMM monitors began to receive an increased number of reports that the Croatian Army was intervening in the Muslim-Croat conflict in Herzegovina. Convoys and troop movements from Tomislavgrad toward Prozor and the Gornji Vakuf area were reported, and the ABiH claimed-incorrectly-that some ten thousand Croatian soldiers in seven or eight HV brigades were in the central Bosnia area. However, Croatian official Jadranko Prlic conceded only that a few former HV soldiers were there: some twenty-six hundred "volunteers" born in Bosnia- Herzegovina who had returned to defend "their country."

As the Croatian Army's involvement in Herzegovina became increasingly obvious, the UN Security Council considered sanctions against Croatia. Then, despite a year of often intense conflict between the Muslims and Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the United States succeeded in bringing off something of a diplomatic coup by getting both sides to the conference table, forcing them to agree to stop the fighting and once more cooperate in their common defense against the Serbs. This was accomplished by showing a bit of carrot as well as the Security Council stick as the United States offered Croatia economic aid in return for the withdrawal of its forces and assistance in bringing about a Muslim-Croat cease-fire in Bosnia- Herzegovina. The combination was effective, and the cease-fire agreed upon in Washington went into effect on February 25, 1994, thus ending the Muslim-Croat civil war. A new Muslim-Croat federation was formed that subsequently entered into a defense pact with Croatia against the Bosnian Serbs and their Serbian/Yugoslav allies.

Although the fundamental issues dividing Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats were not resolved, the Washington agreements did end the fighting and allow the Muslim-Croat alliance to concentrate on fending off the principal aggressor in the region, the Bosnian Serbs. Indeed, the ABiH was able to mount an offensive against the BSA in north-central Bosnia the same month that the Muslim-Croat alliance was renewed. However, as Sir Martin Garrod noted: "There is still basic mistrust of the Muslims by the Croats, particularly in Hercegovina, who will not forget that it was they with, they say, just a small contribution from the Muslims who 'liberated' Mostar from the Serbs, armed the BiH to fight with the HVO against the Serbs and welcomed the Muslim DPs into Mostar and Hercegovina-only to be 'stabbed in the back' by the Muslims when they attacked them."1

Badgered during the Kordic-Cerkez trial by Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice to reveal who had coordinated the events in Vitez on April 16, 1993, Maj. Zeljko Sajevic, the former operations officer of the Viteska Brigade, responded, "If you are referring to the attack which took place on the 16th of April, in the morning, then you have to look for that coordinator amongst the ranks of the BH army, because they were the attackers."2 Indeed, as Major Sajevic so succinctly pointed out, the Croatian population of Bosnia-Herzegovina and their defense forces, the HVO, were not the aggressors in the Muslim-Croat civil war in central Bosnia between November, 1992, and March, 1994. While certainly suspicious and wary of their Muslim neighbors, the Bosnian Croats did not plan or execute a systematic campaign of dispossession and extermination against their half-hearted allies in the fight against the Bosnian Serbs. Focused on and fully committed to the defense of Bosnia-Herzegovina against the Bosnian Serb Army, the HVO was genuinely surprised by the planned offensive mounted by the ABiH and its radical auxiliaries against the Croat positions in central Bosnia that began in January, 1993. Consequently, the HVO was forced to react to protect the key military industrial facilities within the Croat enclaves, the vital lines of communications to the outside, and simply to preserve Croat enclaves intact and protect their inhabitants. Heavily outnumbered and outgunned, the HVO adopted a classic "active defense" and proceeded at great cost to defend its homes, production facilities, and people. Despite successful counteroffensives to clear key terrain and open internal lines of communication, as time went on, the HVO was increasingly subjected to the attrition of men and material even as its Muslim opponents grew stronger and pressed harder. Only the Washington agreements of February, 1994, saved the Bosnian Croats from decimation and expulsion from the territory in central Bosnia remaining under their control.

Contrary to the assertions of the Muslim-led government of Bosnia-Herzegovina, various Muslim participants, journalists, and some UNPROFOR, ECMM, and nongovernmental organization observers, the HVO, surrounded and heavily outnumbered, had neither the means nor the opportunity to engage in a planned program to attack, dispossess, and expel Muslims from the areas in which they lived. Nor did it have sufficient motive for such an improbable campaign. As Maj. Gen. Filip Filipovic noted, the HVO had its "hands full with the defense against the Army of Republika Srpska."3 It did, however, have the means, the motive, and the necessity to defend itself-which it did, vigorously and often at the risk of being mistaken for the aggressor by observers with only an imperfect knowledge of the local situation and a distorted view of the bigger picture. In central Bosnia, what one saw was not always what it seemed to be at the time.

Whatever the larger conflict involving the Bosnian Serbs may have been, the conflict between the Muslims and the Croats in central Bosnia was clearly a civil war. Although considerable confusion was created by the wearing of Croatian Army insignia by Bosnian Croat veterans of the war between Croatia and the Serbs/JNA and by the Croatian Anny's intervention in Herzegovina during the waning days of the conflict, no Croatian Army units were introduced into central Bosnia nor, as far as can be determined, were there ever any official advisers, staff officers, or the like from the HV serving with the HVO in the OZCB area of operations. The only foreign combatants introduced into central Bosnia were the radical mujahideen from various Muslim countries invited in by Alija Izetbegovic's government.

Indeed, the available evidence, taken as a whole, clearly shows that the forces of the Muslim-led government of Bosnia-Herzegovina were the aggressors in the Muslim-Croat civil war of November, 1992-March, 1994. Only the ABiH had the means, the motive, and the opportunity required to carry out a comprehensive campaign against the Croatian community in central Bosnia. At one level, the ABiH's aggressive actions can be seen as a legitimate effort by the central government in Sarajevo to control its national territory, to suppress separatist groups, and to secure vital industrial facilities and lines of communication. Insofar as the Muslim offensive adhered to those goals and utilized straightforward military means, it can be argued that its aims and methods were lawful and legitimate, the counter-claims for legitimacy of the HVO notwithstanding. However, by their own admission, the ABiH leaders, particularly those in the III Corps area, were extremists who followed a conscious policy of aggression against the Bosnian Croats while accusing the HVO of the very crimes they themselves were committing. In any event, whether by policy decision or by inability to prevent it, the ABiH allied itself with radical Muslim factions and units raised internally as well as groups of ideologically radical Muslim fighters from abroad (the mujahideen) who the ABiH could not or would not control, and whose aims and objectives were far more sinister than credulous journalists and restricted international observers could see.

Civil wars are seldom neat and clean, and the Muslim-Croat war in central Bosnia between November, 1992, and March, 1994, was no exception. In the heat of ethnic and ideological passion and in the fog of battle many things were done by both sides that cannot be condoned under the laws of land warfare agreed upon by the majority of the world's governments. Soldiers of both the ABiH and the HVO committed murder, rape, wanton destruction, and pillage, as well as unlawfully detaining and torturing people in the course of otherwise legitimate military operations. Yet such atrocities often were the result of private quarrels and animosities having nothing whatsoever to do with the "official" opposition of the two parties.4 Indeed, the impact of criminal elements-including black-marketeers and traditional bandits, as well as individuals seeking private vengeance-has yet to be fully assessed. Thus, what might appear superficially to have been a war crime committed by the armed forces of one party on the civilian adherents of the other party may actually turn out to have been the result of a vendetta, or a criminal squabble over the division of spoils or spheres of influence. Such certainly appears to be the case with the massacre at Stupni Do, and in large part explains the frequent holdup and extortion of humanitarian aid convoys traversing the central Bosnia area.

The aims and objectives of the more radical elements of the ABiH and their mujahideen auxiliaries clearly encompassed the elimination of the Roman Catholic Croats from central Bosnia and the settlement of Muslim refugees in their place, the expropriation of Croat property, the establishment of a fundamentalist Muslim state in Europe, and even the ritual murder of both HVO soldiers and Bosnian Croat civilians. By their failure to control those radical elements, or even to condemn them publicly, the Muslim political and military leaders of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina bear a heavy guilt that, with only a few exceptions, they have yet to be called upon to expiate before the international community of nations. 5

Questions of guilt and responsibility for aggression and war crimes aside, from a strictly military point of view, the Muslim-Croat civil war in central Bosnia offers four important insights for contemporary political and military leaders. First, the Muslim-Croat conflict epitomizes the Clausewitzian dictum that "war is the continuation of policy by other means." The goals sought by both sides in the conflict were ultimately political in nature, having to do with the shape of the newly independent Republic of Bosnia- Herzegovina and who was to rule what part of it. When political solutions to the central questions were not forthcoming, the Bosnian Muslims and Croats resorted to force as a means of deciding them. Yet, in the end they were forced to return to political means to resolve what had become an intolerable conflict that threatened to destroy the new republic. At that point, the Muslims and Croats stood Clausewitz on his head, making politics the continuation of war by other means. The formation of the fragile Muslim-Croat Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina did nothing to resolve the key issues over which the two sides were fighting. Since February, 1994, the conflict has only changed form. Political maneuvering, war crimes charges, and the character assassination of opposition leaders have replaced combat actions as both sides continue to seek their goals.

The Muslim-Croat conflict also highlights the continuing importance of logistical factors in the conduct of modern war. The conflict in large measure arose from the attempt to secure industrial facilities of military importance and the lines of communication in central Bosnia. Moreover, severe logistical limitations-shortages of arms, ammunition, and other supplies, and the embargo on such goods imposed by the United Nations-affected both the ABiH and the HVO and dictated many of their strategic and tactical decisions. Indeed, few recent armed conflicts have reflected so clearly the central importance of controlling the means of military production and distribution and the impact of logistical considerations on war making.

The conflict also reiterated the destructiveness of modern warfare, even when conducted in a limited space by relatively small and poorly armed forces without access to airpower or the latest high-technology weapons. In 1994, the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated that some 150,000 to two hundred thousand persons were killed and an equal number wounded in the three-way conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina between and 1992 and 1994. The number of homes, businesses, public buildings, and the other parts of the nation's infrastructure destroyed was enormous, and the UN high commissioner for refugees estimated that at the beginning of 1994, there were some 4.3 million people in Bosnia-Herzegovina who required relief services, 3.5 million of whom were classified as refugees or displaced persons.

Finally, the Muslim-Croat civil war in central Bosnia epitomizes a new ear a type of warfare characteristic of the last quarter of the twentieth century and the probable dominant form of armed conflict in the world for the foreseeable future: the intrastate conflict between religious and ethnic groups, seeking to control a given territorial space. This new form of war resembles traditional tribal warfare or the nationalist struggles of the nineteenth century rather than the ideologically inspired "wars of national liberation" and other forms of Cold War conflict common between 1945 and 1985. The goals emergence of religious/ethnic-based civil war leading to the fragmentation of post-World War II nation states and their former colonies poses substantial problems for the United States and the democratic nations of Europe and Asia. This new form of conflict requires a complete rethinking of national strategy, means, and methods. Above all, it calls into question the viability of the prevailing doctrine of "stability above all." The strategy of maintaining stability at all costs has been shown to be ineffective at best, and often counterproductive in dealing with conflicts such as those precipitated by the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Rather than seeking to maintain stability at all costs, Western leaders must devise effective methods for controlling change and directing aspirations for national, religious, and ethnic solidarity in positive rather than negative directions. As political analysts and military planners in the West search for solutions to such fundamental questions, they would do well to examine in depth the complex causes and conduct of the Muslim-Croat civil war in central Bosnia in 1992-94.


1 Garrod to HQ, ECMM, Apr. 18, 1993, para. 31, KC D119/1.
2 Sajevic, Kordic-Cerkez trial testimony, July 27, 2000.
3 Filipovic, Kordic-Cerkez trial testimony, July 27, 2000.
4 Helsinki Watch, War Crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina, 2:7 "Most of the abuses attributable to Bosnian Croatian and Muslim forces are perpetrated by individuals and do not appear to be part of a premeditated plan of the Bosnian government or the authorities of the self-proclaimed ‘Community of Herceg-Bosna.’"
5 To date, the ICTY has indicted only four senior ABiH officials (Sefer Halilovic, Enver Hadzihasanovic, Mehmed Alagic, and Amir Kubura), and the offenses for which they have been indicted are relatively minor and restricted in scope. No Muslim political leaders have been indicted.

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