by Jim Bartlett, Editor-in-Chief
Part 1 · The Terrain
Part 2 · Why the War?
Part 3 · The Armies
Part 4 · Land Mines
The indigenous military forces of the former Yugoslavia are a mixed and confusing lot. They range from local farmers with hunting rifles to highly-trained and motivated special operations types and professional officers schooled in Europe. Among them, you will find unstable and unpredictable fanatics capable of almost anything. You could encounter friendly, arms-bearing villagers whose only concerns lie in the protection of their communities. They are soldiers, in the truest sense of the word, but there are also opportunistic brigands who will kill you for your car.
This eclectic mix does not include the war psychosis victims, disgruntled zealots, sociopathic loners, drunkards, and intoxicated teens out for cheap thrills. Any of these may take it upon themselves, at any given time, to engage whomever they might deem hostile. They may employ any number of weapons at their disposal including rifles, rockets, grenades, mortars, recoiless rifles and improvised munitions. All are in pleantiful supply and readily available. Aside from the fringe elements, there are a number of larger, mainstream formations that have existing command structures and official recognition of varying degrees.
On the Croatian side, there is the regular Croatian Army, the Hrvatski Vonjic (HV) the Croatian National Gaurd (ZNG-RH) and the Bosnian Croat Defense Council (or HVO). Also present, though politically defunct, is the ultra-nationalist Croatian Rights Council (HOS). They have outspoken affiliations with the facist Ustasha movement of WWII, and can usually be recognized by their preference for wearing black uniforms.
On the Serb side there is the Jugoslav National Army (JNA), the official army of Serbia/Yugoslavia. In Bosnia itself, there is the now de-militarized Bosnian Serb Army (BSA) under General Ratko Mladic. Mixed in with the BSA are a number of semi-autonomous units from Montenegro and Serbia proper known as Chetnicks, a throwback to the World War I era of the Serbian monarchy. The most notorious of these Chetnick units is the "Tigers," under a fierce and brutal leader who goes by the name "Arkan."
The army of the official government of Bosnia-Hercegovina is the Army of Bosnia and Hercegovina (the Armija BiH, or BiH for short). Mixed in with this force are a number of foreign Muslim fundamentalists from the Middle East and Asia who tend to run in packs. Also included is a 200-strong (or so) active duty unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard who have alledgedly been operating as instructors for the BiH. These elements warrant special attention and caution because of their radical Islamic tendancies.
How They Operate
Discipline and stability within the armiesrange from professional to brigand. The HV and main force BiH are the most stable as professional soldiers. The HOS, HVO, Chetnicks, and Mujahadeen (foreign Muslims, now reported to be out of the country except for those who married Bosnian women) simply border on being loose cannons. Their weapons range from private hunting pieces and WWII German bolt-action Mausers to SAM-7 surface-to-air missles and M-84 main battle tanks. There are also vintage WWII vehicles and weapons in great numbers. They came to Yugoslavia in the Korean War era when the U.S. began supplying president Josip Tito with tons of surplus American hardware because he, and his government, gave Russia's Joseph Stalin the short shrift.
In a sense, that's when Yugoslavia became a bastard nation, caught between superpowers who had little respect or concern for the ethnic pressure-cooker that would come back to haunt them in the 1990s. Today, the Former Yugoslavia is a melting pot of exotic weaponry. Expect to find every concievable sort, from improvised to state-of-the-art.
The BSA is also very loyal to its commander, General Ratko Mladic, far more so than their self-proclaimed leader Radovan Karadzic and other political figures in the parliament. Mladic is a most interesting military figure. More than any other figure in the area, he commands full respect and obedience from his men. Like General Robert E. Lee's troops, Mladic's men have an almost mystical regard for him. He has shared the dangers of the front with them and is as professional a soldier as they come. He prefers their company and has publicly aired his disdain for the Serbian political Aparatnik more than once. His leadership handed the polititians of the Bosnian Serb Republic some 70% of Bosnia's territory, and it was infighting among the same polititians that lost most of it.
Mladic is probably the best general of the Bosnian war in a purely scientific sense. World War I-style assaults into fortified killing zones are not his style. He leaves that work to his artillery. He is never out of uniform and among his main force troops there is the same discipline.
No "Batman gear" here. It's rifle, magazines, grenades, standard fatigues and a good pair of boots the hallmarks the main force BSA soldier. He is a no-nonsense trooper who has watched his friends die, and he himself is not afraid to die when properly led. But Mladic's failure to control the paramilitaries, the ethnic cleansing and the atrocities that followed will undoubtedly return to haunt him should he stand trial in the Hauge for war crimes. Mladic led from the front and looked after his men.
How They See the World
One trait shared by all sides is a complete distrust of outsiders. All are cooperative and civil when things are played their way, but Balkan military units can also become obstructive, and even dangerous, when things don't sit to their liking. Another common trait is their panache for blaming everyone else but themselves for their troubles. This is especially true of the Bosnian Serbs who still believe, for the most part, that they are defending Europe and the West from another invasion by Ottoman Turks.
They feel betrayed that they are "misunderstood" by those they believe they are protecting. "Don't you understand that the Muslims want to set up an Islamic state in the heart of Europe?" is their common complaint, evidenced by their general type casting of all Muslims as "Turks."
The Role of UNPROFOR
The tendency by all the armies of the Balkans to view the outside world as aggressors or accomplices has also been a driving force behind the problems faced by United Nations Peacekeepers. Because of misguided and unrealistic mandates by the civilian beaurocracy at the head of the UN mission, soldiers of the United Nations Protective Force (UNPROFOR) have taken more than their share of grief.
They have also proven themselves invaluable for delivering food and medicine that has kept hundreds of thousands of people alive. Instant checkpoints, random sniping, mortar attacks and landmines were the daily lot of the UN trooper serving in the uglier zones of operation. For those in calm areas, bone-numbing boredom was the enemy.
For all the complaints against them, the soldiers of the UNPROFOR performed admirably when faced with people who acted like spoiled, violent eight-year-olds. Their performance in this tough environment is unmatched. Constantly accused of this, that and the other, UNPROFOR troops somehow kept humanatarian aid flowing.
Many times they were caught in offensives, expulsions, black market scams and shifts in political winds over which they had no control. Through all of this, the UNPROFOR line grunts played the roles of soldier, diplomat, mediator and constible all in one.
Since these extracurricular subjects are not taught at Aldershot, Ft. Leonard Wood or any other basic training institute, it is to their infinite credit that anything positive was accomplished in the Balkans during their tour. Though they receive little thanks, thousands owe their lives to the young men and women of the UN forces who clearly would have prefered to have been somewhere else.
US Air Force The U.S. Air Force in Bosnia
Air Force Radio News From Brooks Air Force Base, RealAudio
Air Force TV News Ninety-second QuickTime movies from Bosnia
America's Army The US Army Home Page
America's Army in Bosnia The US Army in Bosnia
Marine Link The United States Marine Corps
NATO Official World Wide Web page
NATO Handbook NATO's WWW and Gopher Site
NATO Gallery IFOR Photo Gallery
US Department of Defense The Pentagon's BosniaLINK
US Department of Defense BosniaLINK Photos
US Navy Navy Public Affairs Library
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