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Operation Medak pocket

From Academic Kids

Operation Medak Pocket (Croatian: Medački džep) was a military operation undertaken by the Croatian army between September 9September 17, 1993 in which the small area around the village of Medak in the south-central Lika region of Croatia, then under the control of the rebel Republic of Serbian Krajina, was invaded by Croatian forces. The successful attempt to halt this action by a group of Canadian and French peacekeepers was the largest battle involving Canadian troops since the Korean War.

The pocket - or salient, to use the military term - was surrounded from three sides by the Croatian army forces prior to the operation. The offensive began on the morning of September 9 with heavy shelling, after which the 9th Guards Brigade, the 118th Home Guard Regiment, and the Special Police Units of the Ministry of the Interior entered the pocket, with an estimated combined force of over 2,500 soldiers. The Croatians were largely armed with Eastern Bloc materiel including T-72 tanks, as well as large numbers of artillery pieces and an array of small arms.

In response to the Croatian offensive the United Nations command decided that intervention was necessary. The 875 troops of the Second Battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry were ordered to move into the region accompanied by two French mechanized units. They were instructed to wedge themselves between the Serb and Croatian forces.

Canadian forces had been engaged for peacekeeping in the former Yugoslavia since 1992. The Princess Pats in particular had engaged in several small operations in an attempt to reduce fighting. For the most part in the Yugoslavian wars the appearance of United Nations forces had convinced local armies to cease operations in the area. However, just recently there had been some dramatic failures by the UN to ensure the safety of those in the United Nations Protected Areas. Concerned that the UN advance could be resisted the Princess Pats were fully armed and travelling in M-113 APCs. They carried a mix of C-6 medium machine guns, C-7 automatic rifles, C-9 light machine guns, and 84 mm Carl Gustav anti-tank rockets. The attached Heavy Weapons Support Company brought 81mm mortars and specially fitted APC armed with anti-tank guided missiles. They were the best armed of the UN forces in Yugoslavia, and it was for that reason that the French commander of the region selected them. About half of the Princess Pats were reservists.

The Croatian forces, largely on the initiative of the local commanders who were out of contact with their central command, decided to oppose the Canadians. Quickly upon arrival the Canadian forces began constructing a fortified position. This was met with an artillery barrage from the Croatian forces consisting of over five hundred shells. The barrage was only sporadic, and the Canadians successfully used breaks in the shelling to repair and reinforce their positions. In the end only four Canadians were wounded by the attack.

At about the same time as the Canadians arrived, Serb reinforcements from around the area moved into the region, halting the Croatian advance. The Croatians were left in control of much of the Medak pocket, an area mostly populated by Serbs.

The UN forces, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel James Calvin were determined to see the Croatians move back to their cease-fire line. The goal was to remove the Croatians, and block the return of the Serb forces so that the region could become a UN supervised safe haven.

On September 15 the UN forces resumed their advance, taking control of vacated Serb positions. When approaching the Croatian lines the forces took some small arms fire. The UN forces retreated and advanced attaching large UN flags to their vehicles and ensuring the Croatians could see their white paint. This brought no decrease in fire from the Croatians, as the Canadian and French forces advanced the Croatians opened up with RPGs and anti-aircraft guns.

The UN forces then dug in their positions and returned fire. As night fell the Croatians attempted several flanking operations as the Canadians used sniper rifles with night vision scopes to block these moves. The French responded to Croatian heavy weapons by locating them and responding with 22mm machine gun fire. This destroyed few of them, but the swift and potent response convince the Croatians to only use their strongest weapons sporadically. They did not use their most powerful weapons, however. The T-72 tanks were far more potent than anything the peacekeepers had, and could have made short work of the UN APCs, but the Croatians were concerned about escalating the conflict. They also had very few of the tanks and the anti-tank rockets and potential airstrikes of the peacekeepers could easily have destroyed some of them.

After the day and night of fighting the Croatian Army had suffered 27 fatalities compared to no injuries by the UN forces. The Croatians, realizing they would not get the UN forces to retreat began negotiations and agreed to retreat at noon September 16.

When dawn arrived the UN forces observed that the Croatians had used the delay to set fire to the predominantly Serb villages in the pocket and evict their inhabitants. While the Canadian and French forces were angered by the scenes they observed at a distance, they were forced to wait for the Croatian retreat. They had neither the orders nor the weaponry to launch a full blown offensive against the Croatian lines.

The Croatians deliberately slowed their withdrawal, delaying the UN advance at each checkpoint and roadblock. After the Croatian withdrawal, the Canadians found that (in the words of an official Canadian study on the incident) "each and every building in the Medak Pocket had been leveled to the ground", in a total of eleven villages and hamlets. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) later established that an estimated 164 homes and 148 barns and outbuildings were pillaged and subsequently destroyed during the cease-fire before the withdrawal.

In addition to that, the United Nations observers determined that 29 Serb civilians had been killed in addition to 59 other casualties. The ICTY cites at least 38 civilian casualties: 21 executed and 17 injured, and two executed Serbian POWs. It is suspected that there were more killed, but their bodies were eradicated by the Croatians.

The Medak Pocket affair was widely publicized, caused an international outcry and badly dented Croatia's international reputation. However, the Canadian government, concerned about not harming Canada's reputation for neutrality in the Balkans suppressed all news of the Canadian participation in the fighting. It did not come to general knowledge in Canada until 1996. The Canadian Forces were also concerned that Canadians killing Croatians would be seen as similar to the Somalia Affair, that was raging at the time.

The highest Croatian commander in charge of the sector was General Janko Bobetko. He was indicted for war crimes by the ICTY in 2001 but died before the case could be heard. The wider area was under the jurisdiction of the Gospić Military District, commanded at the time by Brigadier Rahim Ademi. He was also indicted by the ICTY and was transferred there in 2001, but has not yet come to trial.

The operation itself was carried out under the command of General Mirko Norac. Norac and two lower ranked officers, Tihomir Orešković and Stjepan Grandić were indicted for war crimes by the Croatian authorities also committed in the Gospić region but prior to this operation. Tried at the District Court in Rijeka in March 2003, Norac was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Orešković received 15 years and Grandić 10 years. Norac was later indicted at the ICTY in July 2004 for tortures and killing of civilians as well as property plundering and destruction in this particular operation.

The region itself is still largely abandoned.

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