British Armed Forces In UN Protection Force
by Major Roger D. Marshall BEM1, Intelligence Corps, United Kingdom
The views expressed in this article are those of the
author and should not to be regarded as official United Kingdom
Agreed to on 13 August 1992, U.N.
Security Resolution 770 called on member nations to take all
necessary measures to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid
to Bosnia-Herzegovina. The United Nations High Commission for
Refugees (UNHCR) was to coordinate this humanitarian aid.
Headquarters Bosnia-Herzegovina Command (BHC) was set up to
implement this mission by protecting the UNHCR aid convoys. The BHC
was the predecessor of the United Nations Protection Force
In October 1992, the British force (BRITFOR) deployed in the form
of a brigade staff, infantry battalion, logistics battalion,
reconnaissance squadron, and an engineer squadron. Royal Navy Sea
Kings provided helicopter support. With a headquarters (HQ) and
logistics base at Split on the Croatian Coast interestingly in an
abandoned former Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) Signals Intelligence
Training Facility and other units deployed throughout central
Bosnia, the task of escorting UNHCR convoys began. In January 1993,
Lance Corporal Edwards became the first British fatality, the
victim of a sniper attack.
During 1993, these escorts continued with differing levels of
success usually depending on local compliance. A humanitarian
convoy headed for Muslim areas was invariably halted if it had to
pass through Bosnian Serb areas. The big advantage that BRITFOR had
over other U.N. contingents was our deployment of the Warrior
infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) and armoured reconnaissance. This
enabled more effective "escorts," and meant that, when fired upon,
we could return fire with some impunity. (Many colloquialisms came
out of the U.N. acronyms; the deployed battalions were normally
referred to by their country of origin for instance, SPABAT from
Spain. The BRITBAT soon became known as "SHOOTBAT" by the other
In January 1994, Lieutenant General Sir Michael Rose was appointed
of Commander, BHC, and has been credited with leading the United
Nations' effort to take a more robust stand. This included a subtle
change in the mandate to creating the correct atmosphere for
effective delivery of humanitarian aid. This was embellished by the
implementation of civil affairs projects designed to improve the
infrastructure and help rebuild the country.
In February 1994, a suspected Bosnian Serb Army (BSA) mortar round
killed 66 civilians in a Sarajevo market place, triggering the
removal of BSA heavy weapons and the formation of a total exclusion
zone around the city. After heavy fighting between Croats and
Muslims in central Bosnia, a ceasefire was finally coordinated and
a Muslim-Croat Federation established. However, the turbulence
continued. While wishing to be seen as having robust response
capabilities, the UNPROFOR rules of engagement were not robust. The
local joke was along the lines of "if you make a wrong move, I will
speak to my colonel who will ask the general to ask our national
defence minister to ask the prime minister to ask the rest of the
U.N. to order me to open fire, so be warned."
This situation continued through 1994 with more negative than
positive issues coming to the fore. The reality was that two of the
warring factions (the Bosnian Croats and the Bosnian Muslims)
continued with their ceasefire, while humanitarian conditions
continued to improve, resolution of human rights issues proceeded,
and the UNPROFOR continued to achieve its mission wherever
conceivably possible. In 1995, the international resolve moved more
and more against the Bosnian Serbs, despite the ethnic cleansing of
Serbs from Krajina by the Croats. The major problem that confronted
the BHC commander, now Lieutenant General Rupert Smith, was still
having to go through the U.N. to get combat air support. After a
number of operational "challenges" in this area, the situation
slowly resolved itself and the use of combat air support was
delegated to the military commander. Also in 1995, we witnessed the
eventual defeat of the Army of the Republic of Serbian Krajina
(ARSK), which prompted large scale refugee movement into
Bosnia-Herzegovina. Additionally, the BSA, augmented by the ARSK,
changed its name to Vojska Republike Srpska. Then, the belligerents
implemented the Dayton Peace Accord. The accord did not come about
in isolation, but in fact was only possible due to the patience and
perseverance of the UNPROFOR's laying the groundwork for this
agreement along with other diplomatic efforts.
So What Did We Learn?
Well, what did we, the Brits, learn from all this? Certainly the
fact that British troops have gained from demanding operational
environments elsewhere and that soldiers under stressful conditions
learn very important lessons which were put to effective use in
Bosnia-Herzegovina and will continue to be with the Implementation
Force (IFOR). Soldiers must be well trained and equipped to do the
job. Some of the more specific lessons learned are as follows:
Intelligence Manpower. All of a sudden, the requirement for
military intelligence personnel went down to battalion level and
requirements elsewhere increased. Operating constraints existed due
to the U.N. abhorrence of "intelligence," hence the setting up of
"milinfo" sections. (This has been somewhat resolved as long as the
intelligence is gathered to enhance the mission.)
Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB). We discovered
that some aspects of IPB were especially useful. The following are
some IPB-related observations:
Security. What happens when a piece of your equipment is
confiscated and parts of it may be classified?
Counterintelligence personnel cannot perform all their functions
unless they are given the flexibility to operate in civilian attire
when necessary. The commander must have the confidence in them to
do this. You do not have to be "special" to perform many liaison
tasks link this with an intelligence background and you can fulfill
the requirement much more effectively.
Debriefing. We gained enormous value from debriefing anyone who
was available and willing. They provided mostly low-level
information gathered recently in the region. This was particularly
useful when building up the database of personalities used for
future dealings and negotiations.
Situation Awareness and Information Reporting. Even the "mail
run" might pass that faction reinforcement convoy traveling
otherwise unseen. Everyone must know the importance of reporting
and how to do it. Memory joggers and acronyms were taught at every
- Population really is key terrain! When separating the
Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims in Central Bosnia, local issues
could often be resolved with prior knowledge of historical
perspectives and emotive locations such as former battle sites,
burial sites, religious sites, homes of local leaders, key
locations for economic and other reasons, and the list goes on.
When trying to split formally linked communities, everyone has
their idea of who owns what.
- The lines of communications overlay with data provided
from terrain and weather analysis and engineer intelligence,
provided the convoy commander with invaluable information. It
allowed for those normally unforeseen difficulties and prompted the
forward basing of engineer plant equipment on one main supply
- "Personalities" really does become a 10th order of battle
factor and not just a "miscellaneous" element of the IPB. When
faced with a military commander on one side who was a former JNA
commander (disciplined, trained, etc.), and a local "hood" turned
military commander on the other, this information becomes
- Courses of Action really do multiply with Serbs, Croats,
Bosnians, Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats, Mujahideen, and even U.N.
Allies with their own third party interests. They all have
potentially conflicting hostilities with us and everyone else.
Language. When faced with the problem of linguistic skills and
having only limited resources within the Army, the obvious answer
is to use locally employed interpreters. (It was useful to use Army
linguists to monitor what they were actually saying.) Also, as the
aid convoys crossed ethnic and military boundaries, these
interpreters became an issue and were sometimes detained. Even the
discretion of our own military linguists was sometimes in doubt if
their languages were their "mother tongues,"!
An understanding of cross-cultural issues is essential, not of just
the local population but also of your Allies. For example, to a
Bulgarian a nod of the head means no and a shake yes. Why is the
Battle of Kosovo so emotive? After all they lost, did they not? A
basic knowledge of the language, if only to say "hello" or "thank
you" or sometimes more importantly "stop" or "halt" is also very
useful and conveys a message.
- OVERWHELM. Ordnance, vehicle type, electronics,
recognition features, when, how many, equipment seen, location,
- WHAT. Wheels, hull, armament, turret.
- BBWT. Barrel, Baffle, Wheels, Trail.
In conclusion, many of the contingents involved in the UNPROFOR
provided the backbone for the present peace accord. Without the
efforts of the UNPROFOR and Operation GRAPPLE, the present mission
would be peace enforcement and not peace implementation. The main
problem for UNPROFOR was that old question of "objective" and the
inevitable "mission creep" when they are not clearly defined. The
perception of the outside world was that the UNPROFOR mission was
peacemaking, -keeping, and -enforcement along with providing
humanitarian aid. These missions do not mix in one force. One can
move from impartiality to partisanship, but returning to the
previous state is nigh impossible.
I agree with former Deputy Force Commander Major General J. A.
MacInnis who feels that United Nations credibility has two
principal components: capability and conduct. Under the heading of
capability comes combat effectiveness, equipment, and toughness.
Conduct includes restraint, discipline, firmness, consistency,
cultural sensitivity, rule of law, and impartiality.
Major Marshall, British Army Intelligence Corps, is
currently the British Exchange Officer at the U.S. Army
Intelligence Center, Fort Huachuca, Arizona. With 14 years enlisted
time and 7 years as an officer, he has had experience Readers can
contact Major Marshall at (520) 533-6557, DSN 821-6557, and via
E-mail at 103732. [email protected]