The invasion of Serbian Krajina
by Greg Elich
In early August 1995, the Croatian invasion of Serbian
Krajina precipitated the worst refugee crisis of the
Yugoslav civil war. Within days, more than two hundred
thousand Serbs, virtually the entire population of
Krajina, fled their homes, and 14,000 Serbian civilians
lost them lives. According to a UN official "Almost the
only people remaining were the dead and the dying." The
Clinton administration's support for the invasion was an
important factor in creating this nightmare.
The previous month, Secretary of State Warren
Christopher and German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel met
with Croatian diplomat Miomir Zuzul in London. During
this meeting, Christopher gave his approval for Croatian
military action against Serbs in Bosnia and Krajina. Two
days later, the U.S. ambassador to Croatia, Peter
Galbraith, also approved Croatia's invasion plan. Stipe
Mesic, a prominent Croatian politician, stated that
Croatian President Franjo Tudjman "received the go-ahead
from the United States. Tudjman can do only what the
Americans allow him to do. Krajina is the reward for
having accepted, under Washington's pressure, the
federation between Croats and Muslims in Bosnia."
Croatian assembly deputy Mate Mestrovic also claimed
that the "United States gave us the green light to do
whatever had to be done." (1)
As Croatian troops launched their assault on August 4,
U.S. NATO aircraft destroyed Serbian radar and
anti-aircraft defenses. American EA-6B electronic
warfare aircraft patrolled the air in support of the
invasion. Krajina foreign affairs advisor Slobodan
Jarcevic stated that NATO "completely led and
coordinated the entire Croat offensive by first
destroying radar and anti-aircraft batteries. What NATO
did most for the Croatian Army was to jam communications
between [Serb] military commands...." (2)
Following the elimination of Serbian anti-aircraft
defenses, Croatian planes carried out extensive attacks
on Serbian towns and positions. The roads were clogged
with refugees, and Croatian aircraft bombed and strafed
refugee columns. Serbian refugees passing through the
town of Sisak were met by a mob of Croatian extremists,
who hurled rocks and concrete at them. A UN spokesman
said, "The windows of almost every vehicle were smashed
and almost every person was bleeding from being hit by
some object." Serbian refugees were pulled from their
vehicles and beaten. As fleeing Serbian civilians poured
into Bosnia, a Red Cross representative in Banja Luka
said, "I've never seen anything like it. People are
arriving at a terrifying rate." Bosnian Muslim troops
crossed the border and cut off Serbian escape routes.
Trapped refugees were massacred as they were pounded by
Croatian and Muslim artillery. Nearly 1,700 refugees
simply vanished. While Croatian and Muslim troops burned
Serbian villages, President Clinton expressed his
understanding for the invasion, and Christopher said
events "could work to our advantage." (3)
The Croatian rampage through the region left a trail of
devastation. Croatian special police units, operating
under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, systematically
looted abandoned Serbian villages. Everything of value -
cars, stereos, televisions, furniture, farm animals -
was plundered, and homes set afire. (4) A confidential
European Union report stated that 73 percent of Serbian
homes were destroyed. (5) Troops of the Croatian army
also took part, and pro-Nazi graffiti could be seen on
the walls of several burnt-out Serb buildings.(6)
Massacres continued for several weeks after the fall of
Krajina, and UN patrols discovered numerous fresh
unmarked graves and bodies of murdered civilians. (7)
The European Union report states, "Evidence of
atrocities, an average of six corpses per day, continues
to emerge. The corpses, some fresh, some decomposed, are
mainly of old men. Many have been shot in the back of
the head or had throats slit, others have been
mutilated... Serb lands continue to be torched and
Following a visit in the region a member of the Zagreb
Helsinki Committee reported, "Virtually all Serb
villages had been destroyed.... In a village near Knin,
eleven bodies were found, some of them were massacred in
such a way that it was not easy to see whether the body
was male or female." (9)
UN spokesman Chris Gunness noted that UN personnel
continued to discover bodies, many of whom had been
decapitated. (10) British journalist Robert Fisk
reported the murder of elderly Serbs, many of whom were
burned alive in their homes. He adds, "At Golubic, UN
officers have found the decomposing remains of five
people... the head of one of the victims was found 150
feet from his body. Another UN team, meanwhile is
investigating the killing of a man and a woman in the
same area after villagers described how the man's ears
and nose had been mutilated." (11)
After the fall of Krajina, Croatian chief of staff
General Zvonimir Cervenko characterized Serbs as
"medieval shepherds, troglodytes, destroyers of anything
the culture of man has created." During a triumphalist
train journey through Croatia and Krajina, Tudjman spoke
at each railway station. To great applause, he
announced, "There can be no return to the past, to the
times when [Serbs] were spreading cancer in the heart of
Croatia, a cancer that was destroying the Croatian
national being." He then went on to speak of the
"ignominious disappearance" of the Serbs from Krajina
"so it is as if they have never lived here... They
didn't even have time to take with them their filthy
money or their filthy underwear!" American ambassador
Peter Galbraith dismissed claims that Croatia had
engaged in "ethnic cleansing," since he defined this
term as something Serbs do. (12)
U.S. representatives blocked Russian attempts to pass a
UN Security Council resolution condemning the invasion.
According to Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic,
American officials gave advice on the conduct of the
operation, and European and military experts and
humanitarian aid workers reported shipments of U.S
weapons to Croatia over the two months preceding the
invasion. A French mercenary also witnessed the arrival
of American and German weapons at a Croatian port,
adding, "The best of the Croats' armaments were German-
and American-made." The U.S. "directly or indirectly,"
says French intelligence analyst Pierre Hassner,
"rearmed the Croats." Analysts at Jane's Information
Group say that Croatian troops were seen wearing
American uniforms and carrying U S. communications
The invasion of Krajina was preceded by a thorough CIA
and DIA analysis of the region. (14) According to Balkan
specialist Ivo Banac, this "tactical and intelligence
support" was furnished to the Croatian Army at the
beginning of its offensive. (15)
In November 1994, the United States and Croatia signed a
military agreement. Immediately afterward, U.S.
intelligence agents set up an operations center on the
Adriatic island of Brac, from which reconnaissance
aircraft were launched. Two months earlier, the Pentagon
contracted Military Professional Resources, Inc (MPRI)
to train the Croatian military.(16) According to a
Croatian officer, MPRI advisors "lecture us on tactics
and big war operations on the level of brigades, which
is why we needed them for Operation Storm when we took
the Krajina." Croatian sources claim that U.S. satellite
intelligence was furnished to the Croatian military.
(17) Following the invasion of Krajina, the U.S.
rewarded Croatia with an agreement "broadening existing
cooperation" between MPRI and the Croatian military.
(18) U.S. advisors assisted in the reorganization of the
Croatian Army. Referring to this reorganization in an
interview with the newspaper Vecernji List, Croatian
General Tihomir Blaskic said, "We are building the
foundations of our organization on the traditions of the
Croatian home guard" - pro-Nazi troops in World War II.
It is worth examining the nature of what one UN official
terms "America's newest ally." During World War II,
Croatia was a Nazi puppet state in which the Croatian
fascist Ustashe murdered as many as one million Serbs,
Jews, and Roman (Gypsies). Disturbing signs emerged with
the election of Franjo Tudjman to the Croatian
presidency in 1990 Tudjman said, "I am glad my wife is
neither Serb nor Jew," and wrote that accounts of the
Holocaust were "exaggerated" and "one-sided." (20)
Much of Tudjman's financial backing was provided by
Ustashe ?migr?s and several Ustashe war criminals were
invited to attend the first convention of Tudjman's
political party, the Croatian Democratic Union. (21)
Tudjman presented a medal to a former Ustashe commander
living in Argentina, Ivo Rojnica. After Rojnica was
quoted as saying, "Everything I did in 1941 I would do
again," international pressure prevented Tudjman from
appointing him to the post of ambassador to Argentina.
When former Ustashe official Vinko Nikolic returned to
Croatia, Tudjman appointed him to a seat in parliament.
Upon former Ustashe officer Mate Sarlija's return to
Croatia, he was personally welcomed at the airport by
Defense Minister Gojko Susak, and subsequently given the
post of general in the Croatian Army. (22) On November
4, 1996, thirteen former Ustashe officers were presented
with medals and ranks in the Croatian Army. (23)
Croatia adopted a new currency in 1994, the kuna, the
same name as that used by the Ustashe state, and the new
Croatian flag is a near-duplicate of the Ustashe flag.
Streets and buildings have been renamed for Ustashe
official Mile Budak, who signed the regime's
anti-Semitic laws, and more than three thousand
anti-fascist monuments have been demolished. In an open
letter, the Croatian Jewish community protested the
rehabilitation of the Ustashe state. In April 1994, the
Croatian government demanded the removal of all
"non-white" UN troops from its territory, claiming that
"only first-world troops" understood Croatia's
On Croatian television in April 1996, Tudjman called for
the return of the remains of Ante Pavelic, the leader of
the Croatian pro-Nazi puppet state "After all, both
reconciliation and recognition should be granted to
those who deserve it," Tudjman said, adding, "We should
recognize that Pavelic's ideas about the Croatian state
were positive," but that Pavelic's only mistake was the
murder of a few of his colleagues and nationalist
allies. (25) Three months later, Tudjman said of the
Serbs driven from Croatia "The fact that 90 percent of
them left is their own problem... Naturally we are not
going to allow them all to return." During the same
speech, Tudjman referred to the pro-Nazi state as "a
positive thing." (26)
During its violent secession from Yugoslavia in 1991,
Croatia expelled more than three hundred thousand Serbs,
and Serbs were eliminated from ten towns and 183
villages. (27) In 1993, Helsinki Watch reported: "Since
1991 the Croatian authorities have blown up or razed ten
thousand houses mostly of Serbs, but also houses of
Croats. In some cases, they dynamited homes with the
families inside." Thousands of Serbs have been evicted
from their homes. Croatian human-rights activist Ivan
Zvonimir Cicak says beatings, plundering, and arrests
were the usual eviction methods. (28)
Tomislav Mercep, until recently the advisor to the
Interior minister and a member of Parliament, is a
death-squad leader. Mercep's death squad murdered 2,500
Serbs in western Slavonia in 1991 and 1992, actions
Mercep defends as "heroic deeds." (29) Death squad
officer Miro Bajramovic's spectacular confession
revealed details: "Nights were worst for [our
prisoners]... burning prisoners with a flame, pouring
vinegar over their wounds mostly on genitalia and on the
eyes. Then there is that little induction field phone,
you plug a Serb onto that... The most painful is to
stick little pins under the nails and to connect to the
three phase current; nothing remains of a man but
ashes... After all, we knew they would all be killed, so
it did not matter if we hurt him more today or
"Mercep knew everything," Bajramovic claimed. "He told
us several times: 'Tonight you have to clean all these
shits.' By this he meant all the prisoners should be
Sadly, the Clinton administration's embrace of Croatia
follows a history of support for fascists when it suits
American geopolitical interests: Chile's Augusto
Pinochet, Indonesia's Suharto, Paraguay's Aifredo
Stroessner, and a host of others. The consequences of
this policy for the people affected have been
1) "Weekly: U.S. Gave Zagreb 'Green Light,' " Tanjug
(Belgrade), 26 July 1995. "In Croatia, U.S. Took
Calculated Risk," Stephen Engelberg, New York Times News
Service, 12 August 1995. "Cleansing the West's Dirty
War," Joan Phillips, Living Marxism (London), September
1995. "Who Has Given the Go-Ahead?," interview with
Stipe Mesic, Panorama (Milan), 8 August 1995. "The
United States Gave Us the Green Light," interview with
Mate Mestrovic, by Chantal de Rudder, Le Nouvel
Observateur (Paris), 10 August 1995.
(2) "International Inaction in Croatia Will Complicate
Bosnian War," George Jahn, Associated Press, 7 August
1995. "NATO Destroyed Krajina Missile Systems," Bosnian
Serb News Agency (SRNA) (Belgrade), 6 August 1995.
"Abandoned People Must Flee," interview with Slobodan
Jarcevic by Cvijeta Arsenic, Oslobodjenje
(SarajevoóBosnian Serb), 23 August 1995."Cleansing the
West's Dirty War," Joan Phillips, op. cit.
(3) "Huge Refugee Exodus Runs Into Shelling, Shooting,
Air Attacks," George Jahn, Associated Press, 8 August
1995. "Croat Planes Shell Refugees," Tanjug, 8 August
1995. "SRNA Review of Daily News," SRNA, 8 August 1995.
"Cleansing the West's Dirty War," Joan Phillips, op.
cit. "Refugees Trapped by Croat Shelling," Robert Fox
and Tim Judah, Electronic Telegraph (London) (Online), 8
August 1995. "Croat Mob Attacks Nuns in Fleeing Convoy,"
Patrick Bishop, Electronic Telegraph, 11 August 1995.
"Over 1,000 Serbs Missing in Krajina," Tanjug, 28
January 1997. "Croat Grip Is Tightened as 100,000 Flee,"
Tim Butcher, Electronic Telegraph, 7 August 1995.
(4) "UN Says Croatians Loot, Use Peacekeepers as
Shields," Associated Press, 6 August 1995. "Helsinki
Committee Reports on Krajina Operations," Hartmut
Fiedler, Oesterreich Eins Radio Network, 21 August 1995.
"EU Observers Accuse Croatia of Breaches of Law,"
Tanjug, 27 October 1995. "UN: Croatians Systematically
Burned Serb Homes," Tanjug, 14 August 1995. "Croats
Slaughter Elderly by the Dozen," Robert Fisk, The
Independent (London), 10 September 1995. "Croats Plunder
Their Way through Krajina," Mon Vanderostyne, De
Standard (Groot Bijgaarden, The Netherlands), 9 August
1995. "UN Says Croats Loot Serb Villages in Krajina,"
Agence France-Presse, 17 August 1995. "EU Report Accuses
Croatia of Atrocities Against Rebel Serbs," Julian
Borger, The Guardian (Manchester), 30 September 1995.
"Krajina 'Torched State,' " SRNA, 21 August 1995. "What
Was Once Home to 300 Families Is Now a Graveyard," Sarah
Helm, The Independent, 24 August 1995. "Helsinki
Committee Chronicles Human Rights Abuses," Tanjug, 28
August 1995. "Memorandum on the Ethnic Cleansing of and
Genocide Against the Serb People of Croatia and
Krajina," Yugoslav Survey, third quarter, 1995.
(5) "Krajina Bears Signs of Croat Ethnic Cleansing,"
Randolph Ryan, Boston Globe, 8 October 1995. "UN
Official Confirms Croatian Crimes in Krajina," Tanjug,
13 October 1995.
(6)"Krajina Bears Signs of Croat Ethnic Cleansing,"
Randolph Ryan, op.cit
(7) "Croats Burn and Kill with a Vengeance," Robert
Fisk, The Independent, 4 September 1995. "Croats Leave
Bloody Trail of Serbian Dead," Tracy Wilkinson, Los
Angeles Times, 9n October 1995. "Reports Say Croatia
Uses Killing, Arson," John Pomfret, Washington Post, 30
September 1995. "UN Asks for Inquiry into Krajina
Killings," Reuters, 18 August 1995. "EU Observers Accuse
Croatia of Breaches of Law," op. cit. "UN Finds Evidence
of Mass Killings in Croatia," Reuters, 2 October 1995.
"Croats Slaughter Elderly by the Dozen," Robert Fisk,
op. cit. "EU Report Accuses Croatia of Atrocities
Against Rebel Serbs," Julian Borger, op.cit. "UN:
Executions, Possible Mass Graves in Krajina," Agence
France-Presse, 18 August 1995. "Helsinki Committee
Chronicles Human Rights Abuses," op cit. "Evidence
Emerging of Crimes Against Krajina Serbs," Tanjug, 30
August 1995. "Croats Accused of Atrocities," Associated
Press, 29 September 1995.
(8) "Croats Burn and Kill With a Vengeance," Robert
Fisk, op.cit."EU Report Accuses Croatia of Atrocities
Against Rebel Serbs, " Julian Borger, op. cit. report
broadcast, RTBF-1 Television Network (Brussels), 20
August 1995. "Memorandum on the Ethnic Cleansing of and
Genocide Against the Serb People of Croatia and
Krajina," Yugoslav Survey, third quarter, 1995.
(9) "Krajina Operation: Helsinki Committee Member
Describes Atrocities in Krajina," BBC Summary of World
Broadcasts, 25 August 1995.
(10) "UN Asks for Inquiry into Krajina Killings,"
op.cit. "UN Finds Evidence of Mass Killings in Croatia,"
op. cit. "UN: Executions, Possible Mass Graves in
Krajina," op. cit.
(11) "Croats Slaughter Elderly by the Dozen," Robert
Fisk, op. cit.(12) "Croats Ready for a Fresh Offense
Against Serbs," Patrick Bishop, Electronic Telegraph, 16
August 1995. addresses by Franjo Tudjman, Radio Croatia
Network, 26 August 1995. "U.S. Says Croatia is Not
Guilty of Ethnic Cleansing," Patrick Moore, Open Media
Research Institute, 10 August 1995.
(13) "Croatian Minister Says U.S. Gave Advice on
Offensive," Jasmina Kuzmanovic, Associated Press, 5
August 1995. "Croatia Takes Effective Control of What's
Left of Bosnia," San Francisco Chronicle, 11 August
(14) "NATO in Dubrovnik," Vladimir Jovanovic, Monitor
(Podgorica, Yugoslavia), 23 June 1995.
(15) "AP Report on U.S. Peace Strategy," Associated
Press, 13 November 1995.
(16) "AP Report on U.S. Peace Strategy," Associated
Press, op cit." U.S. Troops Operate in Croatia,"
Associated Press, 3 February
(17) "Invisible U.S. Army Defeats Serbs," Charlotte
Eagar, The Observer (London), 5November 1995.
(18) "Military Cooperation Agreement Signed with U.S."
HTV Television (Zagreb) 13 October 1995.
(19) "We Can Prevent Any Serbian Maneuver," interview
with Tihomir Blaskic, by Jozo Pavkovic, Vecernji List
(Zagreb), 11 March 1995.
(20) "Croatian Leader's Invitation to Holocaust Museum
Sparks Anger and Shock," Diana Jean Schemo, New York
Times News Service, 21 April 1993.
(21) "Croatia, at a Key Strategic Crossroad, Builds
Militarily and Geographically," Defense and Foreign
Affairs Strategic Policy (London), 31 January 1993. "Who
is Franjo Tudjman?" Narodna Armija (Belgrade), 1 March
(22) "Criticism of Tudjman Award to Ustashe," Foreign
Broadcast Information Service Media Note (Media
Summary), 27 January 1995. "Nationalism Turns Sour in
Croatia," New York Times News Service, 13 November 1993.
"Plan to Honour Ustashe Killers Outrages Minorities in
Croatia," Ian Traynor, The Guardian, 18 October 1993.
"Trpimir for an Executioner and a Victim," Mirko
Mirkovic, Feral Tribune (Split, Croatia), 20 February
1995. "Croatian General Former Ustashe," Tanjug, 26
(23) "Croatia Grants Awards to Nazi-Era War Veterans,"
Reuters, 7 November 1996.
(24) "New Croatian Money Anathema to Serbs," John
Pomfret, Washington Post, 31 May 1994. "Plan to Honour
Ustashe Killers Outrages Minorities in Croatia," Ian
Traynor, op.cit. "Pro-Nazi Legacy Lingers for Croatia,"
Stephen Kinzer, New York Times News Service, 30 October
1993. "Monument to Anti-Fascism Desecrated in Croatia,"
Tanjug, February 1995. "Another Anti-Fascist Monument
Blown Up in Croatia," Tanjug, 11 April 1995. "Croatia,
Symbols of Crimes," Miodrag Dundjerovic, Tanjug, 1 June
1994. "Croatia Adopts New Currency Recalling Fascist
Era," Reuters, 9 May 1994. "Hiding Genocide," Gregory
Copley, Defense and Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 31
December 1992. "Croatia is Rehabilitating Ustashism and
the Independent State of Croatia," Politika (Belgrade),
12 February 1993. "Tudjman Calls for All-White Peace
Force in Croatia," Eve Ann Prentice, The Times (London),
11 April 1995. "Croatia to Seek Expulsion of Non-White
U.N. Troops," Tanjug, 10 April 1995.
(25) Interview with Franjo Tudjman, HTV Television
(Zagreb), 22 April 1996.
(26) Address by Franjo Tudjman to the Croatian World
Congress in Brioni, Radio Croatia Network (Zagreb), 6
(27) "Croatian Towns, Villages Cleansed of Serbs,"
Tanjug, 26 January 1993. "Savovic: Croatia Expelled
300,000 Serb," Tanjug, 5 November1993 "Serb Party
Official: 350,000 Serbs Driven Out." Tanjug, 26 August
(28) "Croatian Police Tactics Cited," Associated Press,
3 October 1994. "Helsinki Committee Chair: Collective
Vendetta Against Croatia's Serbs," Tanjug, 7 may 1994.
"Protests Prevent Latest Wave of Croatian Apartment
Evictions," Radio Free Europe, 12 July 1994. "Croatian
Human Rights Activist: Zagreb Backs Human Rights
Violations," Tanjug, 28 September 1994. "Rights Groups
Report Abuses by Croatia," David Binder, New York Times
News Service, 7 December 1993.
(29) "Interior Minister Aide Accused of War Crimes," ZDF
Television Network (Mainz), 17 May 1994. "Slovene Daily
Says Croatian Leaders Keep Quiet About Massacre of
Serbs," Tanjug, 14 January 1994. "Croatian Paper Calls
Mass Killings of Serbs a National Disgrace," Tanjug, 12
July 1994. "Zagreb Knows About Mass Killings of Serbs,"
Tanjug, 23 July 1994. "Dossier: Pakracka Poljana," Feral
Tribune (Split, Croatia), 1 September 1997. "Death Camps
and Mass Graves in Western Slavonia: Marino Selo and
Pakracka Poljana," dossier prepared by Serbian Council,
(30) "Miro Bajramovic's Confession," Feral Tribune
(Split, Croatia), 1 September 1997. "Croatian's
Confession Describes Torture and Killing on Vast Scale,"
Chris Hedges, New York Times, 5 September 1997.
This study is based on a paper presented in book "NATO
in the Balkans" (ISBN 0-9656916-2-4), pages 131 - 140.