The United States gave Croatia advice on how to conduct its massive assault on rebel Serbs, and gave tacit approval for the operation, Croatia’s foreign minister indicated Saturday.
The offensive, which captured the rebels’ self-proclaimed capital, grew out of Croatia’s thrust into western Bosnia, which it said was intended to protect the U.N. “safe area” of Bihac.
The United States signed a military cooperation agreement with Croatia in November, and a company staffed by recently retired U.S. military officers has been advising Croatia on military organization.
“The Americans understood our operation in Bosnia and our concerns for Bihac,” Foreign Minister Mate Granic told The Associated Press, speaking in English.
Granic didn’t give details of the U.S. contribution, but Ambassador Peter Galbraith attended the July 22 meeting where Croatian and Bosnian leaders agreed to military cooperation in the Bihac area.
“Naturally, they gave some very strong suggestions regarding the (Serb) civilians, U.N. peacekeepers in Croatia and … regarding the quantity (size) of the operation.”
“They did not give a green light, but they understood our concerns to help Bihac,” Granic said.
The thousands of Croatian army troops who poured into western Bosnia focused their attack far south of Bihac, making stunning gains against the rebel Serbs and winning positions that let them shell Knin, the Serb stronghold in Croatia.
The tacit U.S. approval for the strike was clear in Washington’s reaction to the Croatian offensive.
While most European countries condemned the assault, President Clinton said it could help pressure the Bosnian Serbs to seek a peaceful settlement, ABC News reported.
The American influence on Croatia has grown steadily, and last November the United States signed a military cooperation agreement with the Croatian Defense Ministry.
Around the same time, an American company, Military Professional Resources Inc., signed a long-term contract with Croatia to help “democratize” its armed forces and reorganize its officer corps.