Operation Storm

From Academic Kids

In the summer 1995, Croatia carried out a large scale military operation called Oluja -- Storm -- the objective of which was to reclaim areas of Croatia held by rebel Serb forces. The operation officially lasted four days and effectively eliminated the wartime "Republika Srpska Krajina".

Contents

Origins

After the final cease-fire of 1992, the Croatian army regrouped and entrenched. After Operation Medak pocket in September 1993, when they overran a small area in the mountainous region of Lika but caused an international incident in their retreat, they eventually started pursuing successful military advances against the Krajina Serbs.

The encroaching of the Serbian-held territory in Croatia and western Bosnia had begun in the mid 1994, with a series of dogged campaigns of the Croatian Army (HV) and Croatian Defense Council (HVO, in Bosnia and Herzegovina). NATO airstrikes in the area west of Brčko were, in effect, insignificant.

The incursion of Milošević's forces west of the Drina river was bound to collapse due to overtaxing the endurance capacity of his people when confronted with an organized and sustained ground troops' offensive. Exhausted by sanctions and overstretched, Serbian forces couldn't cover the majority of the front line, and their military defeat was only a matter of time.

Following an agreement with the Croatian government in November 1994, The Pentagon contracted Military Professional Resources, Inc (MPRI) to cooperate with the Croatian military, especially with regards to commissioned officers' training, modernization of information technology and integration of military with civil economy. On May 1st the following year, Croatia started "Operation Flash" in which they reclaimed a larger area in western Slavonia in just a few days.

Timeline

A few months later, "Operation Storm" was in the making. In order to surround Knin, the capital of rebel Serbs in Croatia, HVO and HV first captured the crucial cities of Glamoč and Bosansko Grahovo in western Bosnia in the summer of 1995.

Operation Storm begun in the early morning of August 4th. The Croatian 4th and 7th Guards Brigades broke through the lines of already demoralized Serb forces, advanced quickly and took over Knin and most of the Dalmatian hinterland on August 5th.

By August 6th, the 1st Guards Brigade penetrated Krajina territory near Slunj (north of Plitvice) and reached the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, where they met with Bosniak forces of the enclave of western Bosnia. The only strong resistance was met in the town of Glina (south of Sisak).

On the evening of August 7th the operation was declared over, as most of the border with Bosnia was controlled by the Croats. The few remaining divisions of the Serbian army peacefully surrendered over the course of the next several days.

On August 11th, the Croatian Ministry of healthcare published its records of casualties on the Croatian side: 174 dead and 1430 wounded.

Aftermath

In the days immediately following the military invasion, the Croatian Army rounded up all the male population (capable of bearing arms) in Knin and elsewhere and interned it at large buildings. They were kept there for about a week before they were released to their homes. After that, many of those people packed whatever they could and went on the road together with their families.

In the following month (August), the army retreated from the area, but was not immediately replaced with an adequate amount of police forces. Assorted murders and other unexplained deaths happened, which inspired fear in the people who had remained. Subsequently, most of them left for Serbia as well.

There are also reports of war crimes committed during the operation, and even one report of shelling of a refugee column on the Glina-Dvor road at the end of August 1995. The Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights recorded 715 grave sites by November 1995. Veritas, a Serbian organization that collects information about the conflict, compiled a list of 1542 Serbian casualties of the operation in 1997.

Almost the entire Serb population of the area fled during and after "Storm". Some Croatian sources cite around 90,000 civilians and up to 50,000 soldiers. Some Serbian sources cite a total of 250,000. The ICTY prosecution estimates 150,000 - 200,000.

The Croatian courts and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia have both investigated the conduct of Croat army personnel and other individuals during this and related operations.

The records of the Ministry of Justice indicate that the state prosecutors filed around 3,000 lawsuits against a total of 811 people following "Storm", and convicted dozens of men to jail sentences (up to 20 years according to Croatian law).

The prosecutors of the ICTY indicted several high-ranked officers, like generals Ante Gotovina and former chief of staff Janko Bobetko, for personal and command responsibility in alleged breaches of the Geneva Conventions. The charges related to the Medak pocket include planned mass murder as part of the operation; in "Flash" and "Storm" it's murders and destruction in the aftermath of each operation.

Controversy

So far, the legitimacy of Operation Storm has not been questioned by any institution, although many think that crime prosecutions make it implicitly dubious. Only one of the more than ten Croatian generals who led the operation has been indicted by the ICTY: Ante Gotovina. The future relations between Croatia and the international community depend, to a great extent, on the handling of these indictments by the Hague prosecution and the Croatian government.

Operation Storm has resurfaced as a political controversy in Croatian media in September and October 2004. Namely, a few newspapers had published various versions of the late president Franjo Tuđman's transcripts, ie. taped conversation conducted among the Croatian supreme military command in the eve of the Operation Storm. The problem is that no single published version is officially corroborated as authentic.

However, some matters which are contained in all variants are interesting enough:

  • it seems that ICTY has intended to use these transcripts to show that Tuđman and his close collaborators planned ethnic cleansing of Serbs who occupied parts of Croatia, i.e. the self-proclaimed Krajina. The keywords that ICTY appears to base these claims on are Tuđman's contention which translates sometimes like: "... we shall strike them so fiercely that they'll disappear". However — the next sentence in the same transcript makes it is obvious that he spoke about the Serbs' Army, so that planned "ethnic cleansing" accusation cannot stand on this
  • the transcripts cover ca. 7-9 A4 pages, and present a very good example of professional planning of a complex military operation. Among other "salacious" things, they uncover that:
    • the US reluctantly agreed to the Operation Storm, but did not take any part both in planning and execution, which is evident from Tuđman's sarcastic remarks aimed at Bosnian and Croat Serbs' military prowess, as well as short-sightedness of American foreign policy
    • the EU nations were against the operation, and that they, generally, greatly overestimated Serbs's ability to fight
    • the Croatian leadership was ready to wage defensive war in Eastern Slavonia in the case of aggression from Serbia proper
    • the Hague indictee general Ante Gotovina has a huge amount of exculpatory evidence from these transcripts

Should they prove to be authentic, as far as the major points are concerned, they present the case for clean and brilliant military operation that decisively defeated the Serbian expansion of the 90ies and paved the way to the Dayton peace agreement.

Battle figures

According to a Croatian source[1] (http://www.kakarigi.net/croatia/news/dossier/eng/komentar.html):

Croatian forces and allies

Croatian army:

  • 200,000 strong
    • 80,000 soldiers in brigades, 70,000 in home guard regiments (domobranske pukovnije)
    • 2nd echelon, 50,000
    • 3rd echelon, 25 brigades
  • 350 tanks
  • 3000 heavy artillery pieces
  • 45-50 rocket launchers
  • 18 MiG-21 "Fishbed" fighter jets (20 more used for spare parts)
  • 38 Mi-8 "Hip" attack helicopters
  • 12 Mi-24D "Hind" attack helicopters

Armija BiH:

  • 5th Corps

USA/NATO:

Limited tactical air support provided by US, Dutch & French warplanes under the aegis of the concurrent "Operation Deny Flight" (begun 1993.) A year and a half before "Storm," Croat forces had received valuable assistance in attending workshops on military budgets, real-time processing information and non-commissioned officers training, organized by US defense contracting firm, Military Professional Resources, Inc. (MPRI.) and a specialist team from French Foreign Legion.

Serbian forces and allies

Serbian Krajina army

  • 50,000 strong
    • 10,000 1st echelon
    • 20,000 2nd echelon
    • 20,000 3rd echelon
  • 200 tanks
  • 350 heavy artillery pieces
  • 20-25 rocket launchers

Forces of Fikret Abdić from Western Bosnia

  • 10,000 strong (?)

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