Serbo-Croatian War / Homeland War - Operation Storm
In August 1995, the Croatian army launched a full-scale invasion to recover all of the Serb-held areas in Krajina. After a four-year-long Serbian occupation of nearly one third of the Croatian territory, at dawn on the 4th of August came time for the military police operation Oluja (Storm). "Operation Storm" bore the stamp of the minds that had orchestrated "Desert Storm." After the initial actions of the Croatian Air Force and the destruction of enemy communication systems and the artillery preparation that were in accordance with military goals, the Croatian forces launched the operation simultaneously in 30 directions on a 700 kilometre-long front-line. Guard Brigades, supported by the Ministry of the Interior’s special police and the Croatian Guard’s Corps as well as home and reserve units executed the impact force on the main points.
The main points of attack were Dinara and Velebit towards Knin. In Operation Summer 95 the conditions were created for the 4th and 7th Guard Brigades to set off from the top of Dinara towards Knin. On the other side of Velebit over Saint Rok, MUP’s Special Unit domineeringly infiltrated towards Knin. The 1st Croatian Guard Corps entered deep into enemy territory with helicopters.
The 1st Guard Brigade advanced further up north of the Kapela area over Slunj and Rakovica on one side and Korenica and Plitvice on the other in order to merge with Bosnia and Herzegovina’s 5th Corps. Occupying Ljubovo and neutralizing enemy air bases in Udbina was the 9th Guard Brigade’s task. The Banija area was surrounded in a few directions. The 2nd Guard Brigade was the driving force in the direction of Petrinje, where the enemy showed fierce resistance, as well as towards Glina. The 3rd and 5th units of the Guard’s Brigade at that time were ready to head towards Eastern Croatia in case of an eventual enemy move.
During the first day of the operation, units of the Croatian army penetrated five to fifteen kilometeres, and enemy strongholds were surrounded or semi surrounded. On the second day of the operation eighty percent of the planned combat tasks had already been accomplished. Most of the occupied Croatian cities were once again free, Kostajnica, Petrinja, Glina, Slunj, Gracac, Obrovac, Drniš celebrated... The royal Croatian city of Knin, that represented the symbol of the enemy rebellion, also celebrated.
With the liberation of Knin, the center of the enemy rebellion in Croatia, came the most important strategic-political and military objective of not only Operation Storm but of the Homeland War. Only a few days later, on the northern part of the enemy lines, the 21st Kordun Corps was forced to sign surrender. In only 84 hours of the military-police operation Oluja, in which almost 200 thousand Croatian soldiers participated and where over 10,000 square kilometres of occupied territory was freed, the Croatian army achieved all of its objectives.
Some 200,000 Serbs fled to Serb-held areas of Bosnia or to Serbia, as Croatian troops quickly reclaimed rebel strongholds such as Knin, and other cities. In under a week, Croatia claimed triumph in its battle to recover Krajina. Croatia's victories in Krajina and Bosnia helped generate momentum toward peace talks for the Muslim republic, with the foreign ministers of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia (representing the Bosnian Serbs) agreeing to the underlying principles for an arrangement by September.
During that period however, by some accounts Croatian soldiers continued a campaign of terror through Krajina, burning and looting property and engaging in mass killings of ethnic Serbs. There was concern over the control of private military actors following contentious incidents such as the role of the company MPRI in Croatian ethnic cleansing.
After the government launched military offensives on three rebel Serb-held zones in May and August and recovered the territory, UNHCR estimated that approximately one hundred eighty thousand Serb refugees fled into Serb-controlled Bosnia and Serbia/Montenegro during the two campaigns. The most flagrant human rights violations during 1995 in Croatia were committed during and after these operations. Abuses also continued in rebel Serb-held areas. Tens of thousands of expelled Croat and Muslim refugees continued to arrive from Serbia and Bosnia during 1995. The Ministry of the Interior oversaw the police while the Ministry of Defense Oversaw the armed forces (HV). Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the professional security forces. However, official personnel from each service were responsible for significant abuses committed in the reclaimed territories.
Although reportedly ordered to stay away from civilian targets, government forces were responsible for the indiscriminate deaths of many civilians and UN personnel during both actions. The government later claimed that 188 Serbs had been killed during the May action, of which 54 deaths were civilian. After the August attack, the government announced that 116 Serbs and 42 croat civilians had been killed, as well as 402 "RSK" soldiers and 211 HV troops. UNCRO estimates of these figures were higher. During Operation Flash, the UN reported 30 civilian corpses near the village of novi varos. Eyewitness reported soldiers shooting at fleeing refugees. On August 8 near Dvor, Croatian air force sorties fired on a refugee column fleeing into Bosnia. The government claimed that the Serbs were moving tanks and other heavy equipment in the same column.
The bulk of violent abuses occurred in the reconquered regions, after the military and the police operations. The government failed to establish adequate civil authority to control vengeful renegade arsonists, looters, and murderers who operated with impunity in the reclaimed areas months after the offensives had ended. It sought to legalize and institutionalize the population changes resulting from these offensives, rather than welcome back Serb refugees.
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