Operation Mistral 2

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This article is about a military offensive in the Bosnian War. For Croatian Army Operation Maestral of August 1995, see Operation Storm#Operation Maestral.
Operation Maestral 2
Part of the Bosnian War

Objectives of the Operation Maestral 2 (Red pog.svg) on the map of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Date 8–15 September 1995
Location Western Bosnia and Herzegovina
Result Croatian Army and Croatian Defence Council victory
Belligerents
Croatia Croatian Army
Croatian Defence Council
Republika Srpska Army of Republika Srpska
Commanders and leaders
Croatia Ante Gotovina
Željko Glasnović
Croatia Ante Kotromanović
Croatia Mladen Fuzul
Republika Srpska Radivoje Tomanić
Republika Srpska Momir Zec
Strength
6 Guards brigades
3 reserve brigades
6 Home Guard regiments
2 Guards battalions
1 motorised brigade
5 infantry brigades
1 armoured battalion
Casualties and losses
74 killed
226 wounded
Unknown
Serb civilian deaths:
655 civilians killed and 40,000–125,000 displaced (Serb claim)
20,000 civilians displaced (UN claim)

Operation Mistral 2, officially codenamed Operation Maestral 2, was a Croatian Army (Hrvatska vojska – HV) and Croatian Defence Council (Hrvatsko vijeće obrane – HVO) offensive in western Bosnia and Herzegovina on 8–15 September 1995 as part of the Bosnian War. Its objective was to create a security buffer between Croatia and positions held by the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska (Vojska Republike Srpske – VRS) and to put the largest Bosnian Serb city, Banja Luka, in jeopardy by capturing the towns of Jajce, Šipovo and Drvar. The combined HV and HVO forces were under the overall command of HV Major General Ante Gotovina.

The operation commenced during a NATO air campaign against the VRS codenamed Operation Deliberate Force, targeting VRS air defences, artillery positions and storage facilities largely in the area of Sarajevo, but also elsewhere in the country. Days after commencement of the offensive, the VRS positions to the right and to the left of the HV and the HVO advance were also attacked by the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Armija Republike Bosne i Hercegovine – ARBiH) in Operation Sana. The offensive achieved its objectives and set the stage for further advances of the HV, HVO and ARBiH towards Banja Luka, contributing to the resolution of the war.

The offensive, together with Operation Sana, caused controversy among military analysts regarding the issue of whether NATO airstrikes or the two ground offensives contributed more towards the resolution of the Bosnian War, and to what extent ARBiH, HVO and HV advances were helped by, or conversely the VRS hampered by, NATO bombing.

Background[edit]

As the Yugoslav People's Army (Jugoslovenska narodna armija – JNA) withdrew from Croatia following the acceptance and start of implementation of the Vance plan, it was reorganised into a new Bosnian Serb army and later renamed the Army of Republika Srpska (Vojska Republike Srpske – VRS). This reorganisation followed the declaration of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 9 January 1992, ahead of the referendum on the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina that took place between 29 February and 1 March 1992. This declaration would later be cited by the Bosnian Serbs as a pretext for the Bosnian War.[1] Bosnian Serbs began fortifying the capital, Sarajevo, and other areas on 1 March. On the following day, the first fatalities of the war were recorded in Sarajevo and Doboj. In the final days of March, Bosnian Serb forces bombarded Bosanski Brod with artillery, drawing a border crossing by the Croatian Army (Hrvatska vojska – HV) 108th Brigade in response.[2] On 4 April, Serb artillery began shelling Sarajevo.[3]

The JNA and the VRS in Bosnia and Herzegovina faced the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Armija Republike Bosne i Hercegovine – ARBiH) and the Croatian Defence Council (Hrvatsko vijeće obrane – HVO), reporting to the Bosniak-dominated central government and the Bosnian Croat leadership respectively, as well as the HV, which occasionally supported HVO operations.[2] In late April, the VRS was able to deploy 200,000 troops, hundreds of tanks, armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and artillery pieces. The HVO and the Croatian Defence Forces (Hrvatske obrambene snage – HOS) could field approximately 25,000 soldiers and a handful of heavy weapons, while the ARBiH was largely unprepared with nearly 100,000 troops, small arms for less than a half of their number and virtually no heavy weapons.[4] Arming of the various forces was hampered by a United Nations (UN) arms embargo introduced in September 1991.[5] By mid-May 1992, the VRS controlled approximately 60 percent of Bosnia and Herzegovina,[6] which was extended to about 70 percent of the country by the end of the year.[7]

Prelude[edit]

By 1995, the ARBiH and the HVO became better-organised militaries employing comparably large numbers of artillery pieces and good defensive fortifications. In consequence, the VRS was not capable of smashing the defences even where its forces employed sound military tactics, for instance in the Battle of Orašje in May and June 1995.[8] After recapture of the bulk of the Republic of Serb Krajina (the Croatian Serb-controlled areas of Croatia) in Operation Storm in August 1995, the HV shifted its focus to the western Bosnia and Herzegovina. The shift was motivated by a desire to create a security zone along the Croatian border, establish Croatia as a regional power and gain favours with the West by forcing an end to the Bosnian War. The government of Bosnia and Herzegovina welcomed the move as it contributed to their goal of a complete capture of western Bosnia and the city of Banja Luka—the largest city in the Bosnian Serb-held territory.[9]

In the final days of August 1995, NATO launched Operation Deliberate Force—a series of airstrikes against the VRS. The move was in response to the second Markale massacre of 28 August, which came on the heels of the Srebrenica massacre.[10] The airstrikes began on 30 August, initially targeting the VRS's air defences, and striking targets near Sarajevo. The campaign was briefly suspended on 1 September[11] and its scope was expanded to target artillery and storage facilities around the city.[12] The bombing resumed on 5 September, and its scope extended to VRS air defences near Banja Luka by 9 September as NATO nearly exhausted its list of targets near Sarajevo. On 13 September, the Bosnian Serbs accepted NATO's demand for the establishment of an exclusion zone around Sarajevo and the campaign ceased.[13]

Order of battle[edit]

As the NATO bombing generally targeted VRS around Sarajevo, western Bosnia remained relatively calm following Operation Storm, except for probing attacks launched by the VRS, HVO or ARBiH near Bihać, Drvar and Glamoč. At the time the HV, HVO and ARBiH were planning a joint offensive in the region.[13] The main portion of the offensive was codenamed Operation Maestral (Croatian name for maestro wind),[14] or more accurately Operation Maestral 2. The combined HV and HVO operation, planned within a month,[15] had capture of the towns of Jajce, Šipovo and Drvar, and putting Banja Luka in jeopardy, as its objectives. Major General Ante Gotovina was placed in command of the combined HV and HVO forces earmarked for the offensive.[14]

The forces were deployed in three groups. The Operational Group (OG) North, tasked with advance to Šipovo and Jajce, consisted of 11,000 troops and included the best units available to Gotovina—the 4th Guards and the 7th Guards Brigades, the 1st Croatian Guards Brigade (1. hrvatski gardijski zdrug – 1st HGZ) of the HV and three HVO guards brigades. The rest of the force organised as OG West and OG South consisted of five HV Home Guard regiments and three reserve infantry brigades. The two groups were tasked with pinning down the VRS 2nd Krajina Corps troops in the vicinity of Drvar and possibly advance towards the town until the OG North completes its task and turns back to capture Drvar. The Gotovina's forces were deployed between ARBiH 5th Corps on their left, and 7th Corps on their right. The ARBiH was tasked with advancing on the flanks of the HV and the HVO, in a separate but coordinated offensive Operation Sana.[14][16]

The VRS had in the area the 2nd Krajina Corps, commanded by Major General Radivoje Tomanić, and the 30th Infantry Division of the 1st Krajina Corps, commanded by Major General Momir Zec. Tomanić, who set up his headquarters in Drvar, was in the overall command in western Bosnia. Tomanić and Zec commanded a combined force of approximately 22,000 troops. However, they considered the ARBiH to be a greater threat in the area and only deployed between 5,000 and 6,000 troops directly against the HV, in one motorised and six infantry or light infantry brigades fielded along the frontline and one brigade in reserve.[14]

Timeline[edit]

Map of battles in western Bosnia in September–October 1995; Operation Maestral 2 is depicted in the lower left of the map

First stage: 8–11 September[edit]

The first stage of the offensive was planned to smash VRS defences extending across mountains north of Glamoč, guarding southern approaches to Šipovo and Jajce.[14] The attack was launched in the morning of 8 September. The 7th and the 4th Guards Brigades spearheaded the attack, striking towards the Mlinište Pass and the Jastrebnjak Hill respectively.[22] The first line of VRS defences was breached by 10:00, which allowed the 1st HGZ to advance through the 4th Guards Brigade and outflank the Mount Vitorog and particularly strong defences there. The 1st HGZ was quickly reinforced by the 60th Guards Battalion and the special police in attacks against the VRS positions on Vitorog. The farthest advance achieved on the initial day of the offensive was achieved by the 4th Guards Brigade, which advanced 5 kilometres (3.1 miles). The 7th Guards Brigade and the 1st HGZ advanced considerably less, while the supporting efforts of the OG South and the OG West launched that day against Drvar made little progress.[20]

On 9 September, the HV and the HVO captured the bulk of the principal VRS defences from the 3rd Serbian and 7th Motorised Brigades, achieving a key breakthrough. The 1st HGZ pushed back the VRS from the Vitorog, the 7th Guards Brigade advanced 8 kilometres (5.0 miles), capturing the Mlinište Pass, while the 4th Guards Brigade secured the Jastrebnjak Hill. The next day, the HV and the HVO advance was mere 2 kilometres (1.2 miles), as the VRS deployed a battalion of M-84 tanks detached from the 1st Armoured Brigade. Nonetheless, the HV and the HVO had completed the objectives of the first stage of the offensive.[20] That day, on the 7th Corps of the ARBiH launched its attack to the right of the HV and the HVO. It engaged the VRS positions tenaciously defending Donji Vakuf.[23]

On 11 September, the OG North was resting, while the 4th Guards and the 7th Guards Brigades were pulled to reserve. They were replaced with the 1st and the 2nd Guards Brigades of the HVO as the spearhead of the OG North. A probing attack by the 2nd Guards Brigade achieved some gain along the rim of the Kupres Plateau, towards Jajce. The OGs South and West made another effort to capture Drvar, but were beaten back by the VRS infantry supported by artillery and M-87 Orkan fire.[20]

Second stage: 12–13 September[edit]

The second stage of the offensive kicked off on 12 September. The objective of the stage were capture of Šipovo and Jajce by the OG North after it has successfully breached the VRS defences north of Glamoč. As the 7th Motorised Brigade of the VRS was forced to pull back from positions near Vitorog to defend Šipovo the HV and the HVO rapid advance did not allow the VRS to consolidate a defensive line. The HV deployed three Mil Mi-24 sorties against the VRS armour and artillery that day, and the HVO 1st Guards Brigade was able to reach Šipovo and capture the town. Its advance was also supported by the 1st HGZ, which advanced to outflank the VRS near Šipovo,[20] as well as the 60th Guards Battalion, the General Staff Reconnaissance Sabotage Company,[24] heavy artillery and multiple rocket launchers. As the VRS positions around Šipovo began to give way, the 2nd Guards Brigade advanced against Jajce, arriving to within 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) south of the town by the end of the day.[20] Its advance was supported by the 22nd Sabotage Detachment and the special police.[25]

On 13 September, as the 2nd Guards Brigade was approaching Jajce, the VRS pulled out of Donji Vakuf to avoid being surrounded, leaving the town for the ARBiH to take. The 5th Corps of the ARBiH, on the left flank of the Operation Maestral 2, finally began moving its forces against the 2nd Krajina Corps, moving south from Bihać towards Bosanski Petrovac.[23] The HV 81st Guards Battalion was inserted into the operation to support the HVO exploitation force, when it proceeded towards Mrkonjić Grad and clashed with the 7th Motorised Brigade defending the town.[19] By the end of the day the 2nd Guards Brigade reached Jajce.[20] Civilian population of Jajce was evacuated when the town's loss appeared imminent.[26] The 2nd Guards Brigade entered the deserted town,[27] reversing the town's loss to the VRS in the Operation Vrbas '92, nearly three years earlier on.[20] The capture prevented the 7th Corps of the ARBiH from advancing any further as its frontline towards the VRS all but disappeared. In consequence, the 7th Corps detached a substantial part of its force and sent them as reinforcements to the 5th Corps.[23]

Third stage: 14–15 September[edit]

The third stage of the operation centered on capture of Drvar, the secondary objective of the offensive.[20] VRS defences around the town held until 14 September, when Gotovina detached a reinforced battalion from the 7th Guards Brigade held in the reserve of the OG North and deployed it against VRS in Drvar. Upon addition of the HV reinforcements to a renewed push by the OGs West and South, and the ARBiH 5th Corps rapidly moved against Bosanski Petrovac and threatened to isolate Drvar, the VRS pulled out of the town.[20]

The ARBiH 5th Corps captured Kulen Vakuf on 14 September, and Bosanski Petrovac the next day. It linked up with the HV at the Oštrelj Pass, 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) southeast of the town on the road to Drvar.[23] The link-up was not smooth, as the contact caused a friendly fire incident and casualties.[28]

Aftermath[edit]

Areas captured in September–October 1995
  by HV and HVO, and   by ARBiH

The combined HV and HVO force achieved penetration of the VRS defences by up to 30 kilometres (19 miles) capturing 2,500 square kilometres (970 square miles),[20] and confirming an increased level of skill of the HV planners.[15] More significantly, Operation Maestral 2, as well as Operation Sana, were crucial in applying pressure on Bosnian Serbs as the first in a string of offensives shortly before the Bosnian War was concluded, setting the stage for further HV and HVO advances in the Operation Southern Move.[29] A Central Intelligence Agency analysis comparing the effect of Operation Deliberate Force on one hand and Operations Maestral 2 and Sana on the other had on the VRS noted that the NATO campaign did not degrade VRS combat capability as much as one might think—because the airstrikes were never primarily directed at field-deployed units, rather they targeted the command and control infrastructure. The analysis notes that, while the NATO degraded VRS capabilities, the final offensives by the HV, HVO and the ARBiH did the most damage.[30] The analysis further concludes that those offensives were responsible, rather than the NATO bombardment, for bringing the Bosnian Serbs to negotiations and the war to its end.[31] However, author Robert C. Owen argues that the HV would not have advanced as rapidly as it did had NATO not intervened and hampered the VRS defence denying it long-range communications.[32]

Operation Maestral 2, along with near-concurrent Operation Sana, created a large number of refugees from the areas previously controlled by the VRS. Their number is variously reported and the estimates range from 655 killed civilians and 125,000 refugees, reported by the Radio Televizija Republike Srpske in 2010,[33] to approximately 40,000 refugees reported in 1995—both by Bosnian Serb sources. The latter figure was reported to encompass the entire contemporary populations of the towns of Jajce, Šipovo, Mrkonjić Grad and Donji Vakuf fleeing or being evacuated.[34] At the time, the UN spokesman in Sarajevo estimated the number of refugees at 20,000.[26] The refugees fled to VRS-controlled areas around Brčko and Banja Luka,[27] adding to the 50,000 refugees who were sheltered in the city since Operation Storm.[35]

During the Trial of Gotovina et al before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Reynaud Theunens compared Operations Maestral 2 and Storm in the capacity of an expert witness of the prosecution. Theunens pointed out that security of civilian property and infrastructure was much greater in the aftermath of Operation Maestral 2, as Gotovina issued much more strict orders in that respect, establishing companies specifically tasked with security and imposing a curfew in Jajce.[36] The HV and the HVO sustained the loss of 74 killed and 226 wounded in the operation.[37]

In 2007, Croatian authorities received information that the commanding officer of the 7th Guards Brigade, Brigadier Ivan Korade, had ordered the killing of VRS prisoners of war during the offensive.[38] Charges of war crimes were brought against seven soldiers of the brigade, specifying that they executed Korade's orders to kill one VRS prisoner and one unknown man in the village of Halapić near Glamoč, and four VRS prisoners in the village of Mlinište. Five defendants were convicted and the remaining two acquitted in October 2011. Two of them were sentenced to six years in prison, one of them to five years and the remaining two to two years' imprisonment.[39] Korade was not tried, as he committed suicide after a standoff with police officers who sought to apprehend him in relation to a quadruple murder committed in late March 2008.[40]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Ramet 2006, p. 382.
  2. ^ a b Ramet 2006, p. 427.
  3. ^ Ramet 2006, p. 428.
  4. ^ CIA 2002, pp. 143–144.
  5. ^ Bellamy 10 October 1992.
  6. ^ Burns 12 May 1992.
  7. ^ Ramet 1995, pp. 407–408.
  8. ^ CIA 2002, p. 299.
  9. ^ CIA 2002, pp. 376–377.
  10. ^ CIA 2002, p. 377.
  11. ^ CIA 2002, p. 378.
  12. ^ Ripley 1999, p. 133.
  13. ^ a b CIA 2002, p. 379.
  14. ^ a b c d e f CIA 2002, p. 380.
  15. ^ a b Ripley 1999, p. 200.
  16. ^ Toal & Dahlman 2011, p. 133.
  17. ^ CIA 2002, p. 418, n. 643.
  18. ^ CIA 2002, p. 418, n. 644.
  19. ^ a b CIA 2002, p. 419, n. 662.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k CIA 2002, p. 381.
  21. ^ CIA 2002, p. 418, n. 649.
  22. ^ CIA 2002, pp. 380–381.
  23. ^ a b c d CIA 2002, p. 382.
  24. ^ CIA 2002, p. 419, n. 659.
  25. ^ CIA 2002, p. 419, n. 660.
  26. ^ a b O'Connor 14 September 1995.
  27. ^ a b Toal & Dahlman 2011, p. 134.
  28. ^ O'Shea 2012, p. 170.
  29. ^ CIA 2002, p. 391.
  30. ^ CIA 2002, p. 395.
  31. ^ CIA 2002, p. 396.
  32. ^ Owen 2010, p. 219.
  33. ^ RTRS 4 August 2010.
  34. ^ Beelman 13 September 1995.
  35. ^ Kennedy 14 September 1995.
  36. ^ Slobodna Dalmacija 24 November 2008.
  37. ^ Tuđman 15 January 1996.
  38. ^ Toma 3 April 2008.
  39. ^ CPNVHR 11 February 2014.
  40. ^ NBC News 3 April 2008.

References[edit]

Books
News reports
Other sources

Coordinates: 44°20′34″N 17°16′06″E / 44.342827°N 17.268268°E / 44.342827; 17.268268