Balkan Strategic Studies

December 31, 1992

Croatia’s New Armed Forces: From Creation, Straight into Operation

Complete details of the battle order of the new Armed Forces of Croatia are not yet known. Indeed, the complete connection between the official Armed Forces and the various paramilitary units in Croatia and the Croatian areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina is also not clear. However, the Armed Forces of Croatia were fully functioning and equipped when the state came into being as an independent state in 1990.

There are now 40,000 Croatian Army troops (as opposed to militia or Bosnian Croatian forces) stationed outside the State of Croatia. These troops, all deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina in defiance of United Nations edicts on the presence of foreign (none-UN) forces in that country, comprise 10 to 12 brigades, at least 60 main battle tanks, and 80 heavy artillery pieces. The infantry units are heavily equipped with man-portable systems, including US General Dynamics Stinger surface-to-air missiles, Armbrust anti-tank rockets and Euromissile Milan anti-tank guided weapons. The Western systems were obtained against the ban on arms transfers to the region; mostly from Germany, or with German help.

The Croatian Armed Forces exceed 170,000 men, mostly in the appr. 77 Army brigades. Croatia has an available man-power pool of 1.888-million men between 15 and 49 years of age, with 43,000 more reaching military age each year. A small number of patrol vessels remained in Croatia; they were under repair when the Federal Navy withdrew to Montenegrin ports in Yugoslavia. Croatia inherited ship-building and repair facilities on the Dalmatian coast. The JNA Air Force withdrew entirely into the new borders of Yugoslavia after Croatian independence, leaving only airfield infrastructure. Croatia has, subsequently acquired at least two squadrons of MiG-21 combat aircraft and other military aircraft. Two main military airfields, one on Krk island, the other at the port city of Pula, have been closed to UN observers, but Defense & Foreign Affairs learned that these airfields accept daily flights bringing foreign mercenary troops to join Croats and Muslims in Bosnia. The military airfield at Zagreb also brings in such flights. Even during the peace process, on the night of December 29-30, 1992, 10 flight loads of troops came into Krk and Pula.

Part of the Croatian rationale for attacking garrisons of the JNA which had been stationed in Croatia at the time of independence was to seize weapons stockpiles before the JNA could withdraw.

Pres. Franjo Tudjman, a former general in the old JNA, actively participated in planning Croatia's new military policies and strategies as did Martin Spergelj, the first Interior Minister, also a former JNA general.