Operation “MEDAK POCKET”

On 9 September 1993, Croatian forces launched Operation “MEDAK POCKET” which forced the rebel Serbian Army of Krajina to withdraw a few kilometers from Gospić and significantly reduced the military pressure on the Croatian town.

The Medak pocket is a 20-30 square kilometre area of land that includes the Lika River valley between Gospić and the village of Medak. Rebel Serbs temporarily occupied the territory from which they launched systematic artillery barrages and guerilla attacks that greatly disrupted everyday life in the town and its immediate vicinity. In small groups, the enemy launched short, well-prepared surprise raids supported by artillery strikes that tormented the entire area around Gospić.

The severity of the attacks intensified in late August and early September, so much so that on 4 September 1993 rebel Serbs with artillery support attacked a special unit of the Ministry of the Interior on Debela Glava, a prominent elevation on Velebit mountain from which the towns of Divoselo, Čitluk, Počitelj and numerous other hamlets in the Medak pocket could be monitored. In that assault, enemy forces killed and massacred two members of the special police of the Ministry of the Interior (MI) of the Republic of Croatia and wounded three.

It was a clear sign that the enemy was intent on crossing Velebit and establishing a border for its parastate along the Virovitica – Karlovac – Karlobag axis. For that reason, operation “POCKET 93” was initiated in the early morning hours of 9 September, a joint undertaking between the forces of the Special Police of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia under the command of Mladen Markač and the 9th Guard Brigade of the Croatian Army (CA) led by Mirko Norac.

Map of operation MEDAK POCKET (blue – Croatian forces, red – Serbian forces)

As the entire area was contaminated with landmines and the terrain itself made the advance of the Special Forces of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia very difficult, the attack was much slower than anticipated and the planned merger of the MI forces with the 9th Guard Brigade of the CA was delayed. Enemy forces skillfully took advantage of this fact by retreating towards the wooded sections of Velebit. Despite all difficulties, members of the special police successfully cut through enemy territory and merged with the 9th Guard “Wolves” Brigade and local units to bring the Medak Pocket area under the control of Croatian forces.

After Croatian forces surrounded the Medak pocket, the rebel Serb army responded with its strategy to shell Croatian cities and the entire battlefield with long-range Orkan and Luna missile systems. Of the many Croatian cities that were targeted, Karlovac suffered the greatest destruction.

Despite numerous attempts, the rebel Serb army failed to regain the territory retaken by the Croats. Under strong international pressure, a ceasefire agreement was signed on 15 September between Croatian General Petar Stipetić and Serbian Krajina Army General Mile Novaković in which Croatian forces handed over control of the Medak Pocket area to the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR).

From a military point of view, Operation “MEDAK POCKET” was extremely important because it relieved the threat to the town of Gospić and brought a measure of security to its inhabitants who endured constant attacks by rebel Serbs. However, it created unwanted political consequences as the international community accused Croatia of committing war crimes against the Serb population. In 2008, the Zagreb County Court sentenced General Mirko Norac to 7 years in prison for command responsibility over the troops involved.

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TV Kalendar. Croatian Radio-television. author Tomislav Šulj, editor Vladimir Brnardić, September 9, 2013

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