How Bangladesh Was ‘Accused’ and Blockaded by Joining the Bosnian War

 Most of us know about the war in Bosnia.

How Bangladesh Was ‘Accused’ and Blockaded by Joining the Bosnian War

It was the world's first major military conflict since the fall of the Soviet Union. While the battle has been mired in the genocide of Bosnian Muslims throughout, it was at its root a dirty geopolitical game. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Balkan wars were a manifestation of the multifaceted efforts by the Western Axis to gain access to the former Soviet empire's Balkan peninsula.

While the involvement in Bosnia is surprising, Bangladesh was not only involved, but for a time the invading Serb military, and even the Western media, suspected that Bangladesh, despite carrying the UN flag, was aiding Bosnian forces against the Serbs because of its religious proximity to a town that had been occupied for three years by Serbs. The blockade has been disrupted! For this, the Bangladesh contingent of 1,200 soldiers had to be stuck in a siege of almost ten weeks under heavy shelling and suffering from a severe shortage of supplies and equipment!

In fact, NATO countries had been acting as peacekeepers to a limited extent since the beginning of the Bosnian war. However, by 1993, as the war intensified, NATO countries began to withdraw from Bosnia. Then America started trying to send UN peacekeepers from Muslim countries to Bosnia to take advantage of religious sentiments. In 1993, Bangladesh was preparing to send a contingent to Bosnia in such a context. Some officers of the Bangladesh Army also visited Bosnia on a reconnaissance mission.

But sending troops from a third Muslim country to Bosnia was not so simple. The European countries themselves were not willing to see the presence of the army of another Muslim country in the Muslim-dominated lands of the Balkans. There does not seem to have been any real reason behind this other than historical fear. Bangladesh could not send troops to Bosnia as an initial constraint. The battalion, prepared for Bosnia, was later sent to Kuwait.

When the situation in Bosnia worsened in the middle of 1994, without raising any proposal in the UN Security Council, an initiative was taken to send troops from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Malaysia. Bangladesh was asked to prepare a mechanized infantry battalion with just 45 days' notice.

APC is the main component of mechanized infantry. In 1994, Bangladesh did not have as many APC owners as it does today. Also, the Bangladeshi soldiers did not have the experience of fighting in the harsh and humid winters of the Balkans.  To overcome this problem, logistics, winter clothing, and weapons were provided from a former East German army warehouse in Slovakia during the Soviet era.

Bangladeshi contingent first entered Bosnia in early September 1994. This contingent consisted of one infantry battalion and each workshop, logistics support, and medical and signal detachments. A contingent of 1,200 men led by Colonel Salim Akhtar was placed on this. 

The city of Bihac, which has faced a Serbian siege since 1992, is in charge of security. Bihac is basically a small Muslim enclave surrounded by Christians. Here the Bosnians were naturally pressed, and the Serbs besieged. A few days ago there was a French battalion in Bihac, that no longer wanted to stay there. After they withdrew, it was decided to hand over the responsibility of the Bangladesh Army to Bihach, battered by war and siege. The situation suddenly changed with the arrival of Bangladeshi forces. After a three-year siege, Bosnian forces launched a fierce attack on the Serbs in the third week of September. The Serbs were defeated in this attack. Not only did the Bosnians seize a number of Serb lands around Bihac, but they also took possession of the weapons left behind by the fleeing Serbs in the face of their fierce attacks.

After this incident, the Serb forces assumed that the newly arrived forces from Bangladesh, all of whom were Muslims, were behind the disaster. Even Western observers appointed by the United Nations at this time began to suspect that the presence of the Bangladesh Army had helped Bosnian forces attack the Serbs and drive them out. Western media also started spreading negative news against the Bangladesh contingent at that time, said Force Commander Brigadier Salim Akhtar, now retired. 

However, after the disaster, the new target of the Serb forces was the Bangladeshi contingent. The Serbs first imposed a severe siege on the Bangladeshis. Even the delivery of food and logistics by helicopter was blocked. Meanwhile, in December 1994, when the Serbs attacked the Bangladeshi army with anti-tank missiles, a soldier named Ismail was martyred and three more soldiers were injured.

Meanwhile, the siege and attack on Bangladeshi troops in Bihac have caused extreme concern in Bangladesh. Round-the-clock communication with the army headquarters in Dhaka and necessary briefings of the blockaded Bangladeshi force commanders continued. Even protests were organized on the streets demanding the quick rescue of Bangladeshi forces. 

At that time Brigadier Fazlur Rahman was the Director of the Operations and Planning Department of the Armed Forces. He is in constant touch with Colonel Salim Akhtar as well as the US and Saudi military attachés in Dhaka. Through America and Saudi Arabia, through NATO and OIC, Bangladesh started trying to free the Bangladeshi soldiers from the blockade.

AP reports on the process, with video footage:-

The Bangladeshi soldiers set an example of superior courage and tenacity in the siege of almost two and a half months. Overwhelmed by food and logistics shortages, they were not allowing the Serbs to press down on them. Once a young captain led his APC team to take up positions near Bosnian positions, the Serbs launched a fierce attack. But still, the Bangladeshi captain did not leave his position. Usually, a mercenary mission doesn't have that kind of tenacity. 

The siege ended with an hour of NATO airstrikes. NATO initially proposed a massive air strike, but instead of indiscriminate bombing in Bihac, on the proposal of Bangladesh, NATO carried out an air strike targeting Serb positions only. This saved the Muslim population of Bihac and the Bosnian soldiers from unnecessary bloodshed. At the same time, the air attack destroyed the morale of the invading Serbs. That ensured the end of the four-year Serb siege of Bihac after a few months.

Then, like so many things to be proud of, Bangladesh's role in the final days of the Bihac siege was lost in the fray.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post