Part III
The fall of Srebrenica

Chapter 5
The period from 25 May 1995 to 6 July 1995


11. VRS plans for the attack on Srebrenica

The two concluding sections of this chapter discuss the developments of the plans for starting an attack on the enclave by the VRS. In this it will be demonstrated that these plans were created at a very late stage and in a short time. Even if the idea of reducing the size of the enclave had existed since March, as described above, there was no question of months of preparation for this operation: the preparation was a matter of days. Neither was it the intention at the start of the attack to occupy the enclave in its entirety; this decision was taken only on 9 July, a few days after the start of the attack, which will be covered in the following chapter.

Attention will also be given to which signs could have alerted Dutchbat and the 28th Division to a possible attack. For a more extensive study into the signs at higher military and political levels, please refer to the separate Appendix to this report: Intelligence and the war in Bosnia 1992 - 1995 - The role of the intelligence services.

The military-technical planning of the attack

The first signs that the VRS was about to start an action at Srebrenica consisted of the arrival of a group of staff officers from the Drina Corps in the Bratunac Brigade area to the north of the enclave. This group was led by the Chief of Staff of the Drina Corps, Major General Radislav Krstic; and after 13 July he became Commander of the entire Drina Corps. With the arrival of this group, the planning of what would become known as operation 'Krivaja 95' started.[1]

On 2 July, this resulted in an operational plan issued by the Drina Corps. The objective of 'Kravija 95' was to separate the enclaves Zepa and Srebrenica from each other as rapidly as possible, to reduce their size to their urban areas, and to create the conditions for their elimination. This should be achieved with a surprise attack. Units around the enclave were ordered to conduct an active defence, while separate attack units were to reduce the size of the enclaves.

The plan for Srebrenica involved two directions of attack. The main axis ran from the south east of the enclave, from Zeleni Jadar to Srebrenica. Two secondary axes ran from the Derventa in the west via Suceska to Srebrenica, with an intermediate axis from the Podravno area to Vijogor (see map in this section). An advance on these secondary axes proved to be unnecessary, and the associated units remained passive until 11 July.[2]

A battalion of the Zvornik Brigade was given the task of monitoring the high ground and the southern access to Srebrenica via Bukova Glava (near OP-F in the southeast), Pusmulici and Bojna (likewise the southeast of the enclave). A combat group (of battalion strength) of the 2nd Romanija Brigade was allocated a parallel and somewhat more western advance route starting in Jasenova and via Bujakovic and the area near Orahovica to Stupine, with which the western access to Srebrenica could be controlled. A combat group (likewise of battalion strength) with a platoon of tanks of the Birac Brigade was given as line of departure the area around Podravno and an advance route via the Alibegovac hill to the Bajramovici area to close the accesses to Srebrenica to the west of the Romanija Brigade at Stupine.

In addition to the Zvornik Brigade, the following three units had to carry out the attack: the Bratunac Brigade, the Milici Brigade, and the Skelani battalion.

The Bratunac Brigade's task was to attack the ABiH from the already occupied positions on the heights of Predola (near OP-Q), Divljakinja, Crni Guber and Olevine. The Bratunac Brigade subsequently had to occupy the Gradac height (between Srebrenica and Potocari) to prevent the ABiH reserves being brought in from Potocari to Srebrenica.

The Milici Brigade had to break through the lines with a company from the south to take the Kak peak and then to proceed to the north to control the road at Staroglavice. The Milici Brigade units had to perform diversionary actions to tie up the ABiH to the west of the enclave including at Jaglici (OP-M), Ravni Buljin, Osoje (former OP-B), Podgaj and Zedanjsko (OP-C).

The Skelani battalion was given the role of Corps reserve. This battalion was to advance through behind the other units to Osredak in the heart of the enclave. The artillery was to be positioned around Pribecevac, to prepare to fire on military targets. An introductory bombardment was also planned. Should NATO aircraft be deployed in support of UNPROFOR, they must be attacked. The security organs of the Drina Corps and the military police were intended to pick up and guard prisoners of war. The orders indicated that: 'In dealing with prisoners or war and the civilian population, behave in every way in accordance with the Geneva Conventions'.[3]

On 2 July, the Drina Corps issued a warning order to the various brigades of the Corps to prepare the troops. In this, the Bratunac Brigade was responsible for the eastern and northern sector around the enclave, the Milici Brigade for the western sector, and the Skelani battalion for the southern sector. The Bratunac and Milici Brigade and the Skelani battalion had received some reinforcement after the call up of reservists in mid June, but in spite of this these units were too poorly equipped, too predominantly manned by older reservists and too little trained to take part in an attack.

The 1st Zvornik Infantry Brigade and the 1st and 5th Podrinje Light Infantry Brigade were ordered each to prepare a lightly armed battalion. The 1st Birac Infantry Brigade, the 2nd Romanija Motorized Brigade and the 1st Vlasenica Light Infantry Brigade must each prepare a reinforced company as part of a battalion or for independent assignments. In addition, the 5th Mixed Artillery Regiment was to supply the weapons for the support of the operation.[4]

These smaller units were placed in a tactical group. Such a formation of temporary units into a tactical group, and adjustment of the command structure for operations in a specific area, was not unusual in the VRS. Neither was it unusual for the VRS to select the best and youngest units to be able to carry out an attack. The older conscripts who manned the trenches - and often got involved in all manner of trading with the other party - were deemed unfit for that work.

The newly formed tactical group came under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Vinko Pandurevic, the Commander of the Zvornik Brigade. This brigade also supplied a platoon of tanks and motorized (in military terms: self-propelled) artillery. It was the movement of these units that had been observed on 5 July by Dutchbat and UNHCR.

The deputy commander of the new unit was Captain 1st Class Milan Jolovic, alias 'Legenda', who also commanded the Podrinje detachment, better known as the 'Drina Wolves': they were experienced, well equipped and well trained groups who would lead an attack.

Other secondary units were the 65th Protection Regiment (Diversants) and the 10th Sabotage Detachment. The 65th Diversants were stationed in Han Pijesak to guard the military installations there and on the Veliki Zep peak. It was one of the strongest military units of the VRS and was normally directly under the orders of the General Staff. Its Commander was Lieutenant Colonel Milomir Savcic. The 10th Sabotage Detachment consisted of two platoons from Vlasenica and Bijeljina and was under the command of Lieutenant Milorad Pelemis. This unit was used for sabotage actions and was directly under the Drina Corps. A battalion of Military Police, under the command of Major Zoran Malinic, came from Nova Kasaba.

Units of the police, who belonged to the Ministry of the Interior, were also made available to the VRS; after declaring a state of siege or a state of war, provisions for this measure had been carried over from the old Yugoslavia. Such units could be classified as Municipal Police and Special Police. The first were organized along military lines and were responsible for law enforcement and security in their area. These units could be deployed by military commanders for operations agreed in advance. The units came from Vlasenica, Milici, Bratunac, Skelani, Visegrad and Rogatica. Within their own structure, these paramilitary units came under the control of the regional Centar Sluzbe Bezbednost (the security service) in Zvornik. Its head there was Dragomir Vasic, and his deputy was Mane Duric. A unit of Special Police under police Lieutenant Colonel Ljubisa Borovcanin, later operated in Potocari. It was not unusual for battalions of the Special Police to take part in hostilities.[5]

The composition of the battalions and reinforced companies was to be complete on the same day that this order was given, 2 July; plans to be worked out by the fighting units had to be complete on 3 July. The preparations for offensive operations were to be complete on 4 July, and the transfer of the designated units to the operational area on 5 July. On 3 and 4 July, Drina Corps Commander General Milenko Zivanovic and a group of commanding officers were on the advance command post of the Bratunac Brigade in Pribicevac, which had a view of Srebrenica. In the afternoon of 4 July the advance command post of the Drina Corps at the same place opened. The expectation of the VRS was that the ABiH would defend the enclave by force, and that it would be supported in this by UNPROFOR.[6] A supplementary order was concerned with air defence: the VRS assumed that NATO air power would be called in for assistance.[7] On 6 July at 02.00 hours radio communication should be established. The idea was for the operation to be complete within three to five days.[8]

In addition, in support of the operations at Srebrenica, all units of the Drina Corps would be instructed to go from defence to attack, and to perform offensive actions along the entire front up to and including Kladanj and Olovo. The attacks on Srebrenica and Zepa therefore also led to fighting at Tuzla, Zvornik, Kladanj, Vlasenica, Olovo and Sokolac. According to General Krstic, the VRS managed to beat off the ABiH counter-moves in these areas, so that the troops at Srebrenica and Zepa could carry out their duties unhindered. Because the reporting concentrated on Srebrenica, such hostilities and those at Zepa were hardly mentioned in reports, however.[9]

On 5 July, General Zivanovic reported to the General Staff that all units of his Corps had completed their preparations. He reiterated the order: an offensive operation against Srebrenica with the objective of separating Srebrenica and Zepa and reducing the size of Srebrenica to an area in agreement with the original demilitarized zone of April 1993.

To prevent units from Zepa attacking the VRS from behind, Zivanovic asked the General Staff to ensure that the 65th Diversants attacked Zepa early on 6 July. The 1st and 5th Podrinje Brigade had already been given such an order.[10] These units destined for Zepa were told by way of an explanation of their objective that a corridor between the two enclaves had been established for the exchange of goods, and that from the enclave various terrorist sabotage groups penetrated deep inside Bosnian-Serb territory, so that the VRS was constantly suffering losses and damage.[11] In this, not only was a link made with Karadzic's strategic directive of March 1995 to separate Srebrenica and Zepa, but also with the ABiH sorties from Srebrenica.

The military tactics behind the attack

The striking feature of the operation plan is that it was created in a very short time. Neither was there much time for the preparation. Nevertheless, the gathering together of battalions and companies from different brigades, placing these in ad hoc structures under unfamiliar staffs, and the movement of these units, entailed the necessary coordination problems.

Nearly all effort was oriented to the southern part of the enclave, which was consistent with the order: to separate Srebrenica and Zepa. It was also the least risky direction of attack of the three possibilities: from Derventa in the west, from Bratunac in the north, or from Zeleni Jader in the south. Advancing from Derventa meant that the longest route to the town of Srebrenica would have to be used, which furthermore went through difficult terrain, and where there were no metalled roads. The route from Bratunac was the most direct, but had the disadvantage that it emerged directly on the Dutchbat compound in Potocari. This route had furthermore fairly open terrain, which could entail the use of heavy equipment in the event of a timely discovery by the Bosnian Muslims, and also involved the risk of losses. The southern part of the enclave was relatively poorly defended, and offered the shortest route to the town via reasonably covered terrain.

The plan had no provisions to stop a wholesale flight of the population to the north, to Bratunac or from there to Yugoslav area: there was no mention of closing the enclave in a northerly direction. The one company of the Bosnian Serbs that was designated to occupy the high ground at Gradac, which dominated the road between Srebrenica and Potocari, would only have been able to reach that point, after the capture of intermediate objectives, only after some considerable time.

The VRS therefore also made it none too difficult for the men to break out to the north for their later journey to Tuzla, although this breakout was not expected. There were no instructions that this was a deliberate tactic or that a corridor had been opened deliberately.

Another striking feature was that UNPROFOR was non-existant air as far as the VRS was concerned. The operation plan took absolutely no account of the presence of Dutchbat. The VRS possibly expected that UNPROFOR would remain neutral. At least the VRS had made no provisions to isolate the Dutchbat compounds. On the VRS maps for the operation, neither the compounds nor the OPs were drawn in. Account was only taken of the deployment of NATO aircraft or Airmobile units.

The strength with which the VRS carried out the attack is not accurately known. The three units that were around the enclave had a total of 1700 men in June 1995. These units had tanks, eighteen field artillery pieces and a number of MRLS rocket launchers. The VRS supplied reinforcements of 2000 to 3000 men, including special troops that did not belong to the Drina Corps. The attack itself would be carried out with 1500-1700 men.[12]

The West was only aware that special troops had been involved in the attack after the event. Then too, only the existence of the 10th Sabotage Detachment was clear, with a strength of one hundred to two hundred men.

Moreover, a detachment of Greek volunteers formed part of the Drina Corps. There were possibly also two to three hundred Arkan Tigers involved, who were under the control of the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A Médecins Sans Frontières worker was certain that she saw Arkan together with Mladic after the fall in Srebrenica. Mladic had taken the opportunity to ask Arkan if he wanted to introduce himself to Médecins Sans Frontières. Unlike in 1992, however, she saw no actions of Arkan Tigers.[13]

The objective of the operation was therefore not the capture of the Safe Area Srebrenica, but a reduction of its size, as well as cutting the link with Zepa. The operation was consistent with the directive issued by Karadzic in early March 1995 as described above. From a military standpoint, this directive was hardly clear, however: it did not indicate precisely which military objective was to be achieved, and went no further than to state that an intolerable situation must be created for the population, and that the enclave must be made smaller.

In Mladic's view, the Safe Area comprised an area no larger than 4.5 by 1 kilometre around the town. He would not respect an area any larger. The packing together of 35,000 people in such a small area could indeed create an intolerable situation for the population. Although not one directive said what was to happen to the population in such circumstances, it was apparently intended to lead to the displacement of the population through the malicious organization of a humanitarian catastrophe. In this, UNPROFOR would be obliged to take charge, and not the Bosnian Serbs. It was to turn out otherwise.[14]

  



[1] ICTY (IT-98-33) OTP Ex. 403/a, Butler Report, p. 6 and 15.

[2] ICTY (IT-98-33) OTP Ex. 428/a. Command of the Drina Corps to Commands of 1Zpbr, 1Bpbr, 2Rmtbr, 1Brlpbr, 1Mlpbr, Map, 02/07/95, No. 04/156-2.

[3] ICTY (IT-98-33) OTP Ex. 428/a. Command of the Drina Corps to Commands of 1Zpbr, 1Bpbr, 2Rmtbr, 1Brlpbr, 1Mlpbr, Map, 02/07/95, No. 04/156-2. See also ICTY (IT-98-33) D 160/a, Radinovic Report, para 3.8.

[4] ICTY (IT-98-33) OTP Ex. 403/a, Butler Report, p. 6 and 15; ICTY (IT-98-33) OTP Ex.427/a. Drina Corps Command (Major General Milenko Zivanovic) to Commands 1ZPBR, 1BPBR, 2RMTBR, 1VLPBR, 1PLPBR, 5PLPBR, 1BRLPBR, 1MLPBR, 5MAP, Skelani SPB, 2/07/95, No. 01/04-156-1.

[5] ICTY (IT-98-33) OTP Ex. 429/a. 1 Zvornik pbr to the Command: Chief of Security, 2/07/95, No. 01-244. ICTY (IT-98-33) OTP Ex. 403/a, Butler Report, p. 11-15.

[6] ICTY (IT-98-33) OTP Ex.427/a.Drina Corps Command (Major General Milenko Zivanovic) to Commands 1Zpbr, 1Bpbr, 2Rmtbr, 1Vlpbr, 1Plpbr, 5Plpbr, 1Brlpbr, 1Mlpbr, 5Map, Skelani SPB, 02/07/95, No. 01/04-156-1.

[7] ICTY (IT-98-33) OTP Ex. 403/a, Butler Report, p.16, para 3.8.

[8] ICTY (IT-98-33) OTP Ex. 428/a. Command of the Drina Corps to Commands of 1Zpbr, 1Bpbr, 2Rmtbr, 1Brlpbr, 1Mlpbr, Map, 02/07/95, No. 04/156-2. See also ICTY (IT-98-33) D 160/a, Radinovic Report, para 3.8.

[9] ICTY (IT-98-33) OTP Ex. 744/a.Vuk Kovacevic in an interview Major General Radislav Krstic in Drinski, November 1995, p. 7-9.

[10] ICTY (IT-98-33) D76/a. Drina Corps Forward Command Post to General Staff VRS, 05/07/95, No. 04/156-4-1.

[11] ICTY (IT-98-33) D96/a. Command of Drina Corps to Commands of 1st and 5th Podrinje Light Infantry Brigade, 05/07/95, No. 04/156-4.

[12] Interview Zoran Petrovic-Pirocanac, 31/03/98 and 02/04/98.

[13] Interview Emira Selimovic, 21/10/98.

[14] UNGE, UNPROFOR, Box 215, File BHC95 7 Mar-14 Mar 95. Meeting Gen Smith and Gen Mladic 7 March 1995, Ref 8594. BHC FWD to DOKL. 091100A Mar 95. Outgoing fax No. 122/95. UN Confi. See also part IV. See also ICTY, (IT-98-33), Dannatt Report, OTP Ex. 385/a, para 38-41.