On 16 September 1993, the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (2 PPCLI) launched an assault to reoccupy the Krajina area of Croatia. This assault marked the first time a Canadian battalion had mounted such an operation since the Korean War, some 40 years before. The action taken was a United Nations-directed operation to restore the ceasefire line in Croatia. The line had been broken after Croatian military units launched an advance into the Krajina enclave to dislodge and ethnically cleanse the Serb population that had lived in the region for hundreds of years. The 2 PPCLI battle group formed for this operation included two mechanized infantry companies from the French army.(1)
In the days preceding the reoccupation action, elements of the battalion were involved in an intense defensive battle. Canadian peacekeepers were subjected to artillery bombardment and came under attack with rifle and machine gun fire from Croatian forces. In one instance, 2 PPCLI soldiers had to defend their positions by returning fire all night long. Several Canadians were wounded in these defensive battles, but no fatalities were suffered. The Croatian authorities later admitted to some 27 fatalities in this action.
The implementation of the Medak Pocket agreement between the United Nations command and the Croatian authorities on 17 September was carried out without a shot having to be fired. The Croatians stalled the implementation of the ceasefire agreement for some two hours, and an intense standoff ensued between Croatian tanks and Canadian anti-tank M113 carriers with their TOW missiles. The Canadian battalion commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Calvin, eventually called forward a large body of international journalists and pointed out to them that the Croatian army commander was not holding up his end of the agreement. The appearance of the journalists had the desired effect, and the Croats allowed 2 PPCLI columns to enter the zone. What they saw there explained the reason for the delay: the desire of the Croats to completely lay waste to the Serb habitations and sanitize the area of any evidence of their ethnic cleansing. By aggressively pushing the reoccupation operation, 2 PPCLI was able to gather ample evidence of the atrocities that had taken place. This phase of 2 PPCLI's Krajina involvement did not result in any Canadian wounded, but the scenes of wanton destruction and abject cruelty inflicted on the Serb population, scenes such as an old woman tied to a chair and her house set on fire, left indelible emotional scars on the soldiers that will never leave them.
Canadians learned about these events only several years after they happened -- Canadian journalists were seldom present to report the saga of Canadian soldiers in the Balkan civil wars of this period.(2) Moreover, government public affairs agencies did not inform Canadians about events in theatre unless asked by the media. Even then, the information these agencies provided seemed, in some instances, deliberately misleading. The most unfortunate consequence of this lack of public awareness is that it made the efforts of soldiers struggling to come to grips with the emotional damage (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD) acquired from these battles even more difficult. Seemingly, they were all alone, as Canadians were generally unaware of what they had endured and achieved.(3) The Peacekeeping Memorial in Ottawa gave some needed recognition. On the other hand, a recent $10 bill dedicated to peacekeepers only reinforced this feeling of isolation. It depicts an unarmed Canadian soldier -- devoid of weapon, steel helmet, or webbing -- and thus reinforces the public impression that peacekeepers do their work without having to resort to force and without being subjected to force themselves.
During the same period, the British press ran a pool system that had a reporter permanently deployed with each battle group in the Balkans.
For a more detailed account of the seemingly deliberate effort to limit public knowledge of Canadian peacekeeping operations in this period, see Scott Taylor and Brian Nolan, Tested Mettle: Canada's Peacekeepers at War (Ottawa: Esprit de Corps Books, 1998).
Lee Windsor, "Professionalism under Fire: Canadian Implementation of the Medak Pocket Agreement, Croatia 1993," Canadian Military History 9:3 (2000). Available online at http://cda-cdai.ca/library/medakpocket2.htm.