The Medak Massacre: Canada's trial by fire
By SCOTT TAYLOR and BRIAN NOLAN,
THE SUNDAY (TORONTO) SUN,
November 1, 2021
Untold story of this nation's largest military action since Korean War
During Canada's UN peacekeeping stint in the Balkans, prior to taking a more aggressive role with NATO, some 100 soldiers became casualties, and were often put in impossible situations - taken hostage, mined, fired at, resented, threatened - all the while with imprecise orders on whether they could, couldn't or shouldn't fight back.
Perhaps the closest the Canadians came to war, or battle, was in the Croatian invasion of the Medak Pocket in the Serb-held Krajian area of Croatia in the fall of 1993. Yet, for political reasons, virtually no publicity was given to the Canadians' trial by fire.
Here, in the first of three excerpts of a starling new book focusing on Canada's UN peacekeeping in the 1990s, is the little-known story of Canada's role in the battle of the Medak Pocket.
The book, Tested Mettle, published by Esprit de Corps books, is by Scott Taylor and Brian Nolan whose previous book, Tarnished Brass, was a national bestseller.
At 6:05 a.m., on Sept. 9, 1993, the Croatian artillery bombardment rolled into the Medak Pocket like a wave of thunder. All along the 25- km valley geysers of earth and flame shot skyward. Lieutenant Tyrone Greene of the 2 PPCLI (Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry) was heading out the door on his way to the morning order's group when he observed a shell explode about 5 km away. He turned to go back inside to report the shot when a 152-mm mortar round impacted behind him and threw the big officer flat.
Seconds later, the rest of the Croat mortar battery opened fire in earnest.
Greene's platoon was to witness firsthand a devastating barrage that would crumble Serb defenses. From the outset, the town of Medak was the primary target for the Croat gunners. It was the Serb headquarters and a vital transportation hub.
Back at battalion headquarters in Gracac, LCol. Jim Calvin anxiously wondered what was happening north in the Medak Pocket. He could feel the ground shake and saw the plumes of smoke.
As the day progressed, Calvin was pressured by his anxious UN commanders in New York to provide them with a clear assessment of the deteriorating situation. He went forward in his APC to liaise with Lt. Greene and ordered the subaltern to set up an observation post to keep track of the battle. For the next three days, the men of Greene's Nine Platoon were the sole eyes and ears of the international community. It was essential that they hold their ground.
That evening, there was a significant shift in the Croat bombardment. The change in the fire plan signified the next phase of the Croat attack: Atop the ridgeline, Croat special forces and dismounted infantry launched a lightning pincer advance, rolling up the surprised Serb pickets in a series of deadly, one-sided firefights. Croatian armour columns then rolled down the valley.
Calvin was constantly calling Lt. Greene for updates as the UN Headquarters tried to plot out the political ramifications of the offensive. Every time Greene radioed in his reports, his position was immediately bombed by Croat mortars. It dawned on the young lieutenant that the Croats were using their radio "direction finding" equipment to zero in on his broadcasts, apparently mistaking his signals for those of the Serbians (who were, in fact, using land-line field telephones to communicate messages).
From then on, Greene only used the radio in emergencies, and tried to switch locations when he did so.
By the evening of Sept. 11, the tide of the battle began shifting as a major Serbian counter-attack was mounting. The gaggle of wounded soldiers and fleeing refugees along the main road in Medak was replaced by determined Serb reinforcements pushing forward into the pocket.
Buses, tanks and even armoured trains began pouring into the region from all over the Krajina. For the next 72 hours, the Serbs and Croats fought a pitched battle. The counter-thrust blunted the Croat offensive and both sides began digging in along their new front lines.
With the combat situation temporarily stalemated on Sept. 14, the UN began to press the warring sides for a ceasefire. International pressure was for the Croatians - clearly the aggressors in this instance - to pull back to the Sept. 9 ceasefire lines. To help force the issue, the Serbs soon demonstrated their resolve to escalate the strategic stakes. On the afternoon of Sept. 14. They launched a Soviet-built Frog missile at the suburbs of the Croatian capital of Zagreb. The heavy-calibre tactical rocket plunged harmlessly into a field, but Croatians quickly agreed to remove their troops from the Medak valley. The "buffer zone" created as the Croats withdrew was to be occupied by UN peacekeepers.
French General Jean Cot, the UN commander in Sector South, knew that for the ceasefire to take hold, oeacekeepers would have to be deployed, quickly and in as much strength as could be mustered. LCol. Jim Calvin and his Patricias were ordered to prepare to advance within the next 24 hours. To reinforce his two rifle companies (Charlie and Delta) which were already in the Medak Pocket, Calvin was to receive two companies of well-equipped mechanized infantry from the French army.
Calvin was uneasy that he might have to forcibly oust the Croat forces. The magnitude of this possibility weighed heavily on him.
At 2 p.m. the next day, Lt. Greene gave the order for his APCs to advance into the killing zone. As they moved forward, the troops could see how close the Serbs had been to losing the town of Medak itself. Battle debris and bodies indicated that the Croats had even established a foothold in the northernmost buildings before being beaten back.
Calvin's plan was for a two-pronged push up the valley. The Canadian companies would provide the left-hand column and the French army the right. Greene's Nine Platoon was the centre of Charlie Company's formation, with Seven Platoon right and Eight Platoon on the far left. Major Dan Drew's Delta Company would follow Charlie's advance and take up position to prevent any subsequent Serbian advances.
On the afternoon of Sept. 15, 1993, Private Scott Leblanc, an artillery reservist from Nova Scotia, was humping a C-9 light machine gun, as Eight Platoon advanced toward the little village of Sitlik. Off to their right flank, they heard the developing fire fight between Greene's men and the Croat defenders. Leblanc's section, commanded by Sgt. Rod Dearing, had just reached a low hedgerow when Capt. Dan McKillop signaled them to halt. McKillop had heard Greene's situation report on the company radio net and had spotted the Croat rifle pits about 200 metres to their front. The troops began digging in. Fire- team partners took turns shoveling. Leblanc was pumped up as gunfire continued to erupt across the Medak Valley floor and crept ominously closer.
Capt. McKillop yelled to Sgt. Dearing that combat engineers were on the way with heavy equipment to assist with the trench digging. A Croat machine-gun burst cut short McKillop's comments. Dearing took cover behind his APC and started pumping rounds back at the opposite hedgerow. The burly sergeant radiated; his example was infectious. Young Leblanc switched his C-9 to automatic and loosed a long, withering burst toward the Croat muzzle flashes.
At dusk, with the firefights still raging across the valley, Maj. Drew shouted for Warranr Officer Matt Stopford to prepare a section of soldiers. Calvin had received a telephone call from the local Croatian commander, who seemed to want to negotiate a peaceful UN passage of no-man's-land.
The meeting was heated, with Calvin matching his Croat host's bluster and rhetoric. It was agreed that Stopford's and Drew's protection party would remain at the Croatian lines to ensure that the main battle group would cross without incident the next day. Calvin returned to his headquarters while Stopford set up a duty roster for his six soldiers and two APCs deployed in the middle of the road.
Almost immediately the Croats began moving into fire positions around the Canadian detachment. At point blank range, they set up heavy machine guns and Russian-made anti-tank missiles. "I guess we're not going anywhere for a while," quipped Stopford.
Throughout the long night, Stopford remained uneasy about his situation. He could see tracer fire being exchanged between Sgt. Dearing's men and the Croat forces in the village of Sitlik. Despite the intensity of that combat, he was more concerned about the activity of the Croat troops to his immediate front. They appeared to be a special forces unit, unlike anything he'd seen thus far in the Balkans. Well equipped, with an assortment of modern weaponry, these guys were all young, fit and extremely intense. The men Stopford was observing were part of the new Croatian army - equipped and trained by U.S. "advisers."
These Croats were unconcerned by the Canadian presence. Muffled explosions could be heard up the valley and occasional single shots rang out. From a cluster of buildings just to his front, Stopford heard sudden screams, punctuated by a burst of gunfire. A moment of silence followed by raucous laughter.
Moments later, a nearby explosion shook the ground and a farm building burst into flames. Stopford raced back to his APC and radioed headquarters. His voice cracking with emotion, Stopford said the Croats had begun "ethnic cleansing" of the Medak Pocket. "You've got to move now, " he yelled. "They're killing people. We can't wait..."
Four kilometers to the rear, LCol. Calvin didn't need Stopford's report to understand what was happening. Fires were visible everywhere in the valley. He radioed UN headquarters in Zagreb and requested permission to advance immediately. He was ordered to remain in location and gather evidence for use at a future war crime trial.
Stopford was furious. Leaving his APC, he walked towards the Croat position, where the little village was burning furiously. Gunshots still echoed, along with drunken laughter.
A drunken Croat soldier emerged from a building and staggered toward Stopford. A girl could be heard screaming inside the house. Draped on the drunken soldier's head was a pair of blood-soaked panties.
The Canadian stepped forward, chambered a round in his rifle and flicked off the safety catch. Shaking with horror and rage, Stopford wanted to kill the Croat so badly he could taste it. The Croat smiled, threw down his assault rifle and held up his hands - empty now except for the undergarment. To shoot him would be cold-blooded murder. Stopford couldn't do it. As he walked slowly back to his carrier, he could hear the drunken rapist laughing.
As the sun rose over the horizon. It revealed a Medak Valley engulfed in smoke and flames. As the frustrated soldiers of 2PPCLI waited for the order to move forward into the pocket, shots and screams still rang out as the ethnic cleansing continued.
Sharp at noon, Major Drew's Delta Company began to roll forward. The long line of white UN APCs bristled with rifles and machine-guns as infantry rode topside with the cargo hatches open. For the weary, embattled soldiers of Charlie Company, the armoured column with large, blue UN flags fluttering from the radio antenna was a welcoming sight.
However, the Croat defenders weren't impressed. Their special forces company that had deployed behind Stopford's detachment concluded their extra-curricular activities and took up fire positions to block the main road. Somehow the Croatian general's agreement had not been passed along to his forward troops. The Croat company commander was adamant that any attempt to cross his lines would be resisted with "all available force."
Calvin played his one trump card to avoid a slaughter.
About 20 members of the international press had tagged along, anxious to see the Medak battleground. Calvin called an informal press conference at the head of the column and loudly accused the Croats of trying to hide war crimes against the Serb inhabitants.
The Croats started withdrawing back to their old lines, taking with them whatever loot they hadn't destroyed. All livestock had been killed and houses torched.
French reconnaissance troops and the Canadian command element pushed up the valley and soon began to find bodies of Serb civilians, some already decomposing, others freshly slaughtered. In one village, Calvin saw the bodies of two young girls who had been repeatedly raped, tied t ochairs and then set on fire.
Rain fell steadily through the night as those few soldiers who had deployed into no-man's-land waited for a possible counter-attack from either Serbs or Croats. Finally, on the drizzly morning of Sept. 17, teams of UN civilian police arrived to probe the smouldering ruins for murder victims.
Rotting corpses lying out in the open were catalogued, then turned over to the peacekeepers for burial.
The emotional effect on the Canadians was incalculable. They had seen the decomposed bodies and lived with the putrid stench of death, and had helplessly listened to people dying and being killed.
However, as details of the casualties inflicted on the Croat forces by the Canadian "peacekeepers" became known, morale was roused. Officially, the Croats admitted to 27 of their soldiers being killed or wounded by the UN troops in the Medak. Unofficially, the tally was pegged at 30 dead and over 100 wounded.
HERE'S AND INVESTIGATION:
It was the most severe action Canadian troops had been involved in since the Korean War. Yet they had sustained only four wounded and no one killed.
Senior defence bureaucrats back in Ottawa had no way of predicting the outcome of the engagement in terms of political fallout. To them, there was no point in calling media attention to a situation that might easily backfire. Besides, a general election was underway in Canada with former defence minister Kim Campbell now the prime minister. So Medak was relegated to the memory hole - no publicity, no recriminations, no official record. Except for those soldiers involved, Canada's most lively military action since the Korean War simply never happened.
The Medak Pocket Operation comprises the military operations of the Republic of Croatia (Croat), United Nations Protection Force (UN or UNPROFOR) and, to a lesser extent, the «Republic of Serbian Krajina» (Serb) forces near Medak, Croatia, in September 1993.
Sadly, it is only a typical example of how war is, and apparently always has been, waged in the Balkans.
It is especially amenable to legal study for a variety of reasons. The operation was confined in both time and geography. The units involved were limited in number. UNPROFOR reported on the operation in a particularly detailed and helpful manner. UN forces anticipated law of war violations and gathered much relevant information during the operation. Lastly, it was a recent event so evidence and witnesses were still available.
The operation took place just north of the town of Medak and just outside the United Nations Protected Area designated as Sector South. Medak is about 150 kilometres south-west of Zagreb.
Before 9 September 1993, the Medak Pocket was a collection of small rural villages and hamlets forming a finger of Serb- controlled land jutting into Croat territory.
On 9 September, at about 6:00 a.m., Croat forces attacked the Pocket. An artillery, mortar and/or tank fire barrage preceded an infantry and tank advance. Croats attacked from the north-east and quickly killed or routed the few Serb defenders. Overrunning the Serb defences, the Croat forces soon captured Divoselo (Strunici), Citluk (Licki), Donje Selo, and the surrounding villages. By 10 September, the Croatian army was in charge of the area.
The rationale for the Croat attack is impossible to determine with certainty. Speculation includes: a rehearsal by the Croats for a larger operation, a test of their forces by the Croats, retaliation by the Croats for Serb shelling of Gospic, a desire by the Croats to straighten their front, or simply a Croat desire to seize territory.
Evidence of events during the Medak Pocket Operation emerges from various witnesses' experiences. The following is an extremely summarized version of their experiences.
Captain "1" was in command of the Serb forces in the Divo Selo area. In the face of the Croat attack, he ordered his soldiers to withdraw. This they did along with many local civilians. Over the next days, this mixed group made its way by foot to Serb territory. During the escape, an unidentified Serb soldier escaping with the group told the Captain that Croat soldiers had spared him. Indeed, the Croats told the unidentified soldier to escape when they could easily have killed or captured him.
"2" was a soldier in the Serb army on 9 September. Upon the Captain's orders, he withdrew in the face of the Croat attack. During his escape to Serb territory, he saw the Croats burn houses and steal livestock. He came across a body. Someone had either badly mutilated it after death or had tortured the victim before death. During his escape, he entered Citluk to try to find food. There he came within 10 to 15 metres of a group of Croat soldiers. He heard instructions translated into German for some soldiers. The apparent commander said in Croatian: «Those houses are Serbian houses and you can do anything you wish.»
"3" was a Serb soldier on the front line at the beginning of the Croat attack. He retreated with his comrades but became separated from them. He came across a female body with an eye, an ear, and all right-hand fingers cut off. "3" saw Croat soldiers setting fire to houses and stealing sheep.
Three other Serb soldiers all fled the Croat attack. They all report that the only Croat activity they saw was legitimate «soldier against soldier» combat.
"4", a resident of "A", was in the local Serb militia. He fled the Croat attack and immediately returned to his home. There he saw his elderly sister-in-law dead. A search of the scene after UNPROFOR took control of the area revealed only some clothing. She was wearing this clothing when "4" saw her dead body. During "4's" escape to Serb territory, he saw Croat soldiers killing sheep belonging to local civilians and stealing five or six tractors owned by the local populace.
"5", a resident of "A", was also a member of the Serb militia. On 9 September, he was on the front line. Upon the attack he fled, returned to his home, and warned his family to flee. While he was in hiding, before he reached safety, he saw his tractor being stolen by the Croats. Croat soldiers wounded him during his escape.
Two persons, "6" and "7", witnessed the murder of an 83 year- old blind woman.
"6" was a resident of "B". He left his home at the beginning of the Croat attack. Upon leaving, he saw the victim and a younger unidentified woman outside her home, from about 200 metres away. About 20 unidentified Croat soldiers came up to the victim's house and ordered the younger woman away. Then, the soldiers gunned down the victim. After this, "6" fled to the forest with relatives, where he eventually joined a mixed group of Serb military and civilians. They walked to safety.
"7", a resident of "A", was hiding in the woods also near the victim's house. From the woods, she saw 10 unidentified Croat soldiers approach the victim, who was standing alone outside her home, and simply kill her.
"8" was a resident of "B". During the early morning of 9 September, he tried to evacuate two wounded Serb soldiers in his private vehicle. Croat forces ambushed the vehicle, their gunfire hitting all three vehicle occupants. "8" believed the gunfire killed both of his passengers. "8" escaped and hid in bushes approximately 20 metres from the ambush site. Ten to 15 unidentified soldiers approached the vehicle, dragged the two dead Serb soldiers out, placed the bodies near a building and set the building on fire. In "8's"; original statement, he said one of his passengers was alive when taken from the vehicle by the Croats. He also said that they placed both the wounded soldier and the body of the other dead soldier in the building before setting it afire. The correction of the original statement was not placed in all versions of the various reports compiled by UN organizations.
"9", a resident of "A", fled the initial attack with her family. When shortly thereafter she returned to her house to get shoes, she was shot and wounded by unidentified Croat soldiers. She heard the soldier's conversation from 300 to 500 metres away. The conversation showed that the Croats deliberately targeted her as a civilian. One soldier objected to shooting at her with, «No, it's a woman»; the other replied, «It does not matter».
"10" resided in "A". During the 9 September attack, she was in her home. "10" son fled the house at the start of the attack. He took his rifle with him. No one has seen him since, and he is presumed to be dead. An unidentified Croat soldier saw her through a window then threw a grenade into her house. The subsequent explosion wounded her. The same soldier entered the house and fired into the room in which she lay. This gunfire did not hit her. Wounded but still in her house, "10" observed two Croat vehicles pull up disguised as UN vehicles (i.e. white with «UN» lettering). These vehicles carried Croat military forces. She heard instructions, translated between German and Croatian, to slaughter everything and leave nothing. She saw Croats killing her sheep and pigs. During her escape, she also saw Croats killing domestic animals, burning houses and stealing roof tiles. She eventually made her way to safety.
"11" lived between "B" and "A". He and his family escaped to the woods at the beginning of the attack. He fled with his rifle. From hiding, he returned to his house on 10 September. There he found all his possessions destroyed, his animals mostly dead or injured and his house burning. During the several days it took "11" to reach safety, he was shot at several times and eventually wounded. A neighbour accompanied "11" during most of the time.
"12", a resident of "B", also fled during the attack carrying his rifle. On 10 September, while still in the area, Croat soldiers discovered him and a friend. The Croats arrested both and ordered them to turn over their weapons. A Croat soldier then used his rifle to hit "12". "12" fled with the Croats trying unsuccessfully to shoot him. His friend apparently did not escape, not having been seen since. He spent the next several days hiding in various houses and in the forest in the area. During this time, he discovered Croats had taken the furniture and animals from his house. "12" observed the Croats stealing sheep, cows, and horses belonging to others. He was shot at by Croats twice and wounded in the leg on the second occasion.
"13", a resident of "A", fled the 9 September Croat attack. During his escape, he saw civilian Croats stealing cattle, including his own cows and calves.
"14" a resident of "A", escaped from her house on 9 September. During the several days she spent in the woods before she made her way to safety in Medak, she saw Croat soldiers burning houses and throwing grenades into houses. Other Croats fired upon her while she was walking to Medak.
"15" lived in "C". She entered the Pocket on 26 September to look for her sheep. While searching, she came across the body of a dead female, whose fingers were cut off.
Many witnesses report joining up with groups of fleeing Serb soldiers or mixed groups of fleeing Serb civilians and Serb soldiers.
Many male civilian residents of the area carried or fled with their rifles.
There are many witnesses available who, while not seeing any illegal activity by Croatian forces, can establish the general non-damaged nature of the area prior to the attack and the non- military use of most of the civilian houses.
Within several days of their attack, Croatian authorities showed a willingness to withdraw to their 8 September positions. Serb artillery attacks on Karlovac and a Serb missile attack on Zagreb may have prompted this willingness.
Negotiations took place, and the parties eventually agreed that the Croats would withdraw to their 8 September positions, and UN forces would occupy the territory vacated by the Croats. UN forces consisted of Canbat I, the Canadian battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. It was augmented by two companies of infantry from two separate French battalions. The Croat withdrawal and insertion of UN forces started on 15 September and were originally to be completed by 6:00 p.m., 16 September.
During the evening of 15 September, UN and Croat authorities held a meeting to iron out the implementing details of the original agreement.
As the UN forces began to deploy into the Pocket on 16 September, they could hear tens of explosions and see new smoke rising from Croat-controlled territory. There were no Serb forces in those areas nor had there been for many days. Such explosions and smoke had not been seen before 15 September. They also heard small arms fire from the same area. There are many witnesses to this including nearly all Canbat I personnel, UNMOs, UNCIVPOLs, UN civilian personnel, UN and Canadian Forces public affairs personnel and news reporters. All suspected that the Croats were engaged in ethnic cleansing of the Pocket before turning it over to the UN.
During the morning of 16 September, several more meetings took place between Croat and UN authorities. As a result, the time by which UN forces were to complete the takeover of territory evacuated by the Croats was delayed 24 hours until 17 September.
At noon, 16 September, Croat forces prevented Canbat I soldiers from crossing into the Pocket. This was a violation of the agreement. UN public affairs video and radio, plus Reuters news agency, videotaped this delay. Additionally, there were numerous witnesses to this delay. UN personnel felt the delay was a deliberate tactic used by the Croats to give them more time to complete their ethnic cleansing of the Pocket. UNPROFOR pressed the Croats, and after a delay of about two hours, they allowed UN forces to enter the Pocket.
The explosions and smoke from fresh fires continued to be evident from Croat-controlled parts of the Pocket throughout the Croat withdrawal. Again, there are many witnesses to this, including all UN personnel involved in the operation.
As UN forces entered the Pocket, they found every building burning or demolished. There were hundreds of such buildings in the several villages and hamlets, none of which were habitable. Special sweep teams assessed and recorded damage, searched for survivors and collected bodies. The teams included UNPROFOR medical officers, UNCIVPOLs, and soldiers.
On 16 September, in the Medak Pocket, "16" saw the crest of the Croat Ninth Mechanized Brigade (Ninth) on several Croat army trucks. He also saw the crest of the Croat 111th Home Defence (HD) Brigade (111th) on a Croat army truck.
"17" noted Croat soldiers with the shoulder flashes of the Ninth Brigade. On 16 September, he saw Croat police of the Special Police in the Medak area. He witnessed the explosions and fires that preceded the Croat withdrawal. He also saw the complete destruction throughout the Medak Pocket.
"18" heard the explosions and saw the fires within Croat- controlled territory on 16 September. He questioned a Croat liaison officer about these. The Croat officer replied that maybe the Croats were destroying their own homes in the area. "18" also observed that the Croat troops within the territory did not react to the explosions as they would to incoming artillery. He witnessed the total destruction and devastation throughout the area. He saw no house undemolished and took photographs of the damage.
Also on 16 September, "19" saw about 15 Croat Special Police at Drjlei in the Pocket. These Special Police appeared fresh, probably having recently arrived in the area.
During a 16 September meeting held at 10:00 a.m. an UNPROFOR officer specifically asked a Croatian officer to stop the explosions and fires in Croat-controlled territory. The Croatian officer clearly ordered to ensure his troops stopped those actions.
Two more representations to the same effect were made to the Croats that day. The Croats said that Croat soldiers were firing into the houses, but that Croat forces were causing the explosions by detonating mines to make the area safe.
On 17 September, after personally viewing the destruction in the Pocket, an UNPROFOR officer expressed his disappointment at this devastation to Croat officers. The Croats offered no explanation, but said they would again warn their troops.
Also on 17 September, during a dispute between UN forces and the Croatian Army on the exact proper location of their respective forces, an UNPROFOR officer met a Croatian officer in the Pocket. The Croatian officer had a map and was plainly in charge of the Croat forces. The map had been obviously and crudely altered, and it no longer represented the earlier agreed upon placement of various forces.
On 19 September, Croatian and UNPROFOR officers met and discussed the exact boundaries of the UN zone of responsibility in the Pocket.
On that same date, an UNPROFOR officer met Croatian officers. During this meeting, a Croatian officer threatened to have his Croat forces fire on UN forces, if he did not receive the cooperation he wanted.
On 22 September, a meeting was held to finalize the agreed upon positions of Croat and UN forces in the Medak Pocket. A Croatian officer signed a map depicting the agreed relative positions.
The Medak Pocket area falls within the area of responsibility of the Croat OZ Gospic. Croat units involved were largely from OZ Gospic. Some Special Police Forces from OZ Split were seen during the operation, but their role seemed to be secondary.
The nominal OZ Gospic Commander was a particular Croatian officer. However, during the relevant prelude to the attack and the attack itself, he was not in command due to his absence on leave and to illness. The actual OZ Commander was another officer.
The major Croat unit involved in the attack was the Ninth Mechanized Brigade (Ninth), which is unofficially called the «Wolves». It had been designated the 6th Mechanized Brigade until about July 1993. The Ninth was directly responsible to OZ Gospic. Graffiti left on the walls of buildings in the Pocket by Croat forces included the «Ninth» and «Wolves».
The 111th also participated in the attack. Miscellaneous other Croat army units formed a minor part of the attacking forces.
The UN Military Information (MI) Branch (at UNPROFOR headquarters and elsewhere) compiles orders of battle (orbats) for all the protagonists in the former Yugoslavia.
UNPROFOR units sweep teams recovered 18 bodies in the Pocket in the immediate aftermath of the operation. Croat authorities turned over another 64 bodies they said they recovered in the Medak Pocket. These bodies were all given to the Serb authorities. Of all the bodies recovered, 59 (71 per cent) were probably those of soldiers and 23 (29 per cent) those of civilians. Among other factors complicating the determination of military status is that many civilians wear items of military clothing and many local military wear items of civilian clothing.
Serb authorities have identified most of the bodies. There are no reported witnesses to the deaths of any of the bodies identified.
Medical officers examined many of the 18 bodies recovered by UNPROFOR. The preliminary field examinations and the circumstances in which the bodies were found revealed:
Some suspicious circumstances, e.g., two badly burned bodies were found in a concrete chicken coop that could have been used as a jail, spent casings found near bodies, one body tied up, etc.;
Some bodies had injuries that might have occurred before death, e.g., broken legs, a broken neck, a smashed face;
Some evidence of either pre-death torture or post-death mutilation, e.g., missing ears, eyes or fingers; and
A perhaps higher portion of head and close range wounds than might be expected.
These examinations led a medical officer to place the times of death from 24 to over 96 hours before discovery of the bodies, with six having died after 14 September.
Serbian authorities had a doctor conduct an examination of the bodies turned over to them by the Croats and UNPROFOR. Only one full autopsy was done. UNCIVPOL describes the rest of the examinations as «cursory». After this, Serb authorities quickly turned over the bodies to relatives for burial.
The Serb authorities prepared a postmortem report and gave it to Major Holland. He passed it on to Dr. Robert Kirschner, an experienced pathologist with the independent group, Physicians for Human Rights. Dr. Kirschner's report states that regarding the bodies recovered by UNPROFOR, «there is insufficient evidence to document an execution style slaying». Of those bodies turned over to the Serbs by the Croats, «I could find no evidence to suggest a pattern of extra-judicial executions». His opinions regarding both groups cannot exclude some murders and admit some suspicious circumstances, but in summary the evidence is ambiguous.
Dr. Kirschner's further verbal opinion was that the earlier preliminary field examinations and those conducted by a Serbian doctor are not reliable. This unreliability results from the necessarily rudimentary conditions of the field examinations, e.g., the bodies could not be washed, no x-ray equipment was available, etc. Additionally, the medical personnel involved understandably lacked forensic experience.
The Croats claimed in an 11 October statement to the UN in Geneva that they did not violate the laws of war during the Medak battle. They specifically cited the cases of two elderly but apparently still feisty women killed during the attack. They said one was killed while operating anti-aircraft artillery and another blew herself up with a grenade to avoid capture.
Most Canbat I personnel entering the Pocket witnessed the total destruction involved. Many buildings were still on fire on 16 September. There may be others with equal experiences. A Canbat I photographer took 1,400 photographs recording the destruction and the 18 recovered bodies. Much of this activity was video recorded by Canbat I personnel.
Besides the destruction of buildings, all witnesses saw that most livestock was killed and most personal property, including vehicles and farm equipment, was destroyed. They noted that haystacks were set on fire, and wells were polluted. Croatian forces had discarded hundreds of surgical gloves throughout the area.
Canbat I personnel think the bulk of the destruction in the Pocket was done on 16 September.
The Canbat I reports state that firewood and other incendiary materials were seen being brought into the area by the Croats. Unfortunately, the report does not identify the specific witnesses to this.
UN civilian employees and UNCIVPOLs also witnessed the same destruction. A UNCIVPOL team member made sketches of most buildings and detailed damage assessments of over 100 representative buildings. These assessments confirm the total devastation in the Pocket.
The Canadian War Crimes Investigation Team (WCIT) visited the area from 27 to 31 October and on 10 November 1993. The WCIT consisted of Major Holland and Master Corporal T. McComb, both of the Canadian Forces. The team was accompanied by Dr. Kirschner. The team took video and still photographs, interviewed some witnesses and gathered further materials and reports. The team also obtained the 1,400 photographs taken by the Canbat I photographer and arranged and conducted the videotaped assessment by Major S. Laplante (a combat engineer in the Canadian Forces serving as UNPA Sector South Engineer) and Chief Warrant Officer Bastid (an explosive ordinance disposal expert in the French Army serving with UNPROFOR HQ Zagreb) of the damage to civilian buildings.
The examinations of the buildings by Major Laplante and Chief Warrant Officer Bastid reveal that the buildings were either set on fire and/or demolished by charges set inside the buildings. Artillery did not cause the damage nor did tank fire, mortar shells, rocket propelled grenades, nor aerial bombardment. Canbat I personnel believed that antitank mines were used to demolish those buildings not burned. However, neither of the above witnesses could be that certain of the type of explosives used.
Croat authorities say that the widespread destruction in the Medak Pocket was necessitated by the Serbs using the civilian homes for barracks and the storage of ammunition. What evidence there is of military use of the civilian accommodation is ambiguous or point to its military use by Croat forces. The type of garbage (Croat cigarettes, newspapers, etc.) and the direction the builders pointed the defensive positions (towards Serb controlled areas, etc.) support usage by Croat forces.