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(E) Review by V M Raguz of "The Muslim-Croat War"
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  10/27/2003 | History | Unrated
(E) Review by V M Raguz of "The Muslim-Croat War"

 

Review of "The Muslim-Croat Civil War in Central
Bosnia: A Military History, 1992-1994,"

Association for Croatian Studies Bulletin, Fall 2003, Issue 41

Can the Shrader Book Help Blaskic and Others

Review of "The Muslim-Croat Civil War in Central
Bosnia: A Military History, 1992-1994," Charles R.
Shrader, Texas A&M University Press, College Station,
2003.

By V.M. Raguz

At a time when sexed-up reports and Paris advocacy for
the Islamic world are commonplace concepts, Charles R.
Shrader's book about the Muslim-Croat conflict in
Bosnia may be extremely well timed. Even though the
book was written much before the recent Iraq crisis,
his conclusions suggest that both notions, however
recent, are applicable in explaining this highly
controversial war-within-a-war that took place a
decade ago in Europe's own back yard.

Formerly a US Army logistics officer, Shrader is now a
noted military historian and instructor at the US
military academies. In this book he works mainly from
the International Criminal Tribunal (ICTY) trial
transcripts in Blaskic, Kordic, and other central
Bosnia cases, and concludes quite explicitly that
anyone who knows anything about military issues (and
evidence) could never surmise that Croats initiated
the conflict in central Bosnia. Moreover, there was no
grand scheme to ethnically cleanse the Muslims from
the area, as the ICTY incorrectly found. Quite the
contrary, says Shrader.

He makes a case that Sarajevo made an early strategic
decision, in Fall 1992, to fight the Croats because
they were weaker than the Serbs; because it wanted to
resettle the Muslim refugees from eastern Bosnia and
Posavina into the Lasva Valley; and, because it wanted
to seize the military production facilities under
Croat control in Busovaca, Vitez and Novi Travnik.

Gen. Sefer Halilovic, the first Army of Bosnia and
Herzegovina (ABiH) chief operations officer wrote
along the same lines in his book the "Cunning
Strategy". ("Lukava Strategija," S. Halilovic,
Marsal, Sarajevo, 1997.) The key element of that
strategy was to seize military plants in Gorazde,
Konjic, Bugojno, and Novi Travnik. The last three
were under the control of the Croatian Defense Council
(HVO).

To add, what is striking in the Halilovic book is the
underlining theme that the Croats were, from the
outset, as dangerous to the future of the BiH state as
were the Serbs, and thus, equally a target. Tellingly,
as Belgrade-trained officer, he often referred to the
Croats with derogatory term Ustashe. Halilovic also
wrote about close relations between Izetbegovic
associates and Milosevic envoys throughout 1992-93,
including discussions about territorial swaps and the
division of BiH between the two.

Similarly, a senior Muslim official told this reviewer
in Spring 1993 that the Muslims would not seek
negotiations with the Croats because the thinking in
Sarajevo was that they can be defeated. The going
logic was, he said, that the Croats were much weaker
than the Serbs; that Croatia would not help them much
because it had its own problems; that BiH Croats are
settled in the most economically viable parts of the
country, in the Lasva and Neretva valleys; that they
control the access to the sea; and, that eventually,
there will be a big war between Serbia and Croatia,
where the HVO would be forced to retreat south, and to
the flanks, to help the Croatian Army (HV) around
Dubrovnik in the east and Knin in the west, thus
making it even easier for the Muslims to push
southward.

Back in December 1992, at the Extraordinary Session of
the Organization of Islamic Conference in Jeddah,
Saudi Arabia, this reviewer participated in a meeting
between the Croatian Foreign Minister Zdenko Skrabalo
and Alija Izetbegovic, where Skrabalo appealed to
Izetbegovic to accept Franjo Tudjman's offer to form
joint military headquarters, either in Zagreb or
Bugojno, and take on the Serb extremists together.
Skrabalo brought with him the Zagreb Mufti Sefko
Omerbasic, who argued that the Tudjman offer was
genuine, and consistent with Zagreb's assistance in
arming of the ABiH. But Izetbegovic refused, saying
that such an alliance would further antagonize the
Serbs. However, it is more likely that Izetbegovic
said no because the Halilovic strategy was already
well in place.

Shrader says that in January 1993, the ABiH carried
out what he calls in military jargon a probing attack,
to gauge the HVO defenses, and in April 1993, the
first major attack. The Croats were largely surprised
by the probing attack, but not by the main attack.
After January 1993 they began gathering intelligence
on the ABiH, and rightly anticipated that the main
attack would come on April 15th. Central Bosnia HVO
commander Tihomir Blaskic prepared and practiced, what
Shrader calls "active defense," a common NATO
pre-emptive tactic. This first ABiH operation to
fragment the Lasva Valley into isolated pockets
failed, but was repeated two more times in the Fall.
He adds that the Lasva Valley would have been
overtaken if it were not for the early 1994 Washington
Accords, as the Croats were substantially
under-manned, under-gunned, and completely encircled.

The situation of the Croat community in central Bosnia
is likened to the misfortune of the French Union camp
at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Like the French troops that
were in great tactical and numerical disadvantage
sitting in the Nam Yum valley against Vietminh
soldiers on the surrounding hills, the Croat community
was squeezed into an even smaller area in the lowlands
of Lasva valley against the Muslim forces on the
mountainside. Unlike the Union troops, the Croats
managed to survive until the Washington Accords due to
Blaskic's active defense strategy.

Shrader writes that there is not slightest of evidence
that HV troops or advisers operated in central
Bosnia. He does add in a footnote that there is
evidence of HV troops in the Gornji Vakuf area, to the
south, in Dec 1993-Jan 1994, but that they were not
active in the fighting in central Bosnia. In February
1994, the Security Council used the reports about
these troop movements as evidence of Croatia's
interference in BiH.

The massing of HV troops in Gornji Vakuf in December
1993 is consistent with other reports that the troops
were moved in because Zagreb feared that Lasva Valley
would fall, and wanted to manage the resultant refugee
flows that would have destabilized Dalmatia, as well
as to prevent further ABiH advances south that could
have isolated Dubrovnik once again.

Shrader relies extensively on UNPROFOR and the
European Community Monitoring Mission (ECMM) reports
on the events in Lasva Valley, and concludes that
UNPROFOR was largely balanced in its reporting. It
became better after being initially surprised by the
developments in central Bosnia. But he goes on and
says that ECMM monitors were consistently
misinterpreting events to the detriment of Croats and
downplaying atrocities against the Croats (which
appear to have been more numerous and widespread).

In the "Sources" section at the end of the book he
goes on and points a finger at the French head of the
ECMM, Jean-Pierre Thebault, as the reason for such
ECMM reporting. Shrader speculates that Thebault was
acting under national instructions, consistent with
the Paris policy to advocate Arab interests in the
West. To add to this point of view, Shrader notes
that ECMM reporting improved once Sir Martin Garrod
took over the mission in October 1993.

Another reason for Thebault's biased reporting may
have been the EC plan for BiH at the time, which
looked to assign 33% of BiH territory to the
Muslim-majority republic. The EC lead negotiator Lord
Owen wanted to achieve this percentage by assigning
the largest part of the Lasva Valley to the
Muslim-majority republic. As a Brussels civil servant,
Thebault would have understood his role as needing to
craft his reports to advance the policy goals of the
negotiators, i.e., to support the ABiH offensive. In
turn, Sir Martin would have been motivated to change
the reporting direction when Brussels and Lord Owen
began pressuring the Muslim side to accept the
three-republic Owen-Stoltenberg plan in Fall 1993,
after the Croats accepted it in the Summer.

Taking cue from the Iraq crisis, one simply cannot
overlook the concept of sexing up. But Thebault
clearly went to the extreme. In fact, he was not
sexing up, but perverting down. As a result, the
mainstream view of this conflict is so convoluted and
yet, as such, embedded in stone. Thus, it compelled
the Blaskic defense to, in effect, accept the main
premise of the ICTY Prosecution about the Croat grand
scheme to ethnically cleanse the Muslims, and argue
naively that Blaskic, despite being the chief military
officer in the area, was innocent because he
personally did not partake in such a campaign.

Thus, in some way, the book comes too late for the
central Bosnia cases at the ICTY, but its outstanding
research and current concepts in international
relations, might make it a powerful document in the
future. It is the first work on this conflict in any
language. Blaskic and others just may be able to
introduce it eventually as new evidence in national
courts in the countries where they will be serving
their unjust sentences.

The author was Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to
the E.U. and NATO in 1998-2000. He occasionally
comments on Balkan affairs in the Wall Street Journal
Europe and other media.

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