Operation GRAPPLE:

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 assessments. 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 (UNPROFOR).

Operation GRAPPLE

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 U.N. contingents!)
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 level:
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.


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]