Briton Vows ‘Merry Hell’ Against Attackers

The Washington Post
November 7, 1992

VITEZ, Bosnia – Where others have failed, Lt. Col. Robert Stewart believes he can succeed.

Freshly arrived in central Bosnia, Stewart and his 800-strong British military detachment are supposed to escort U.N. relief shipments for refugees and trapped civilians. If aid trucks are attacked, Stewart said, his soldiers will shoot back with their 30mm cannons, and possibly toss food and medical parcels into their armored personnel carriers and barrel through the hostile fire.

“We’re here to do something, not to sit back and say, ‘It’s a bit risky, we won’t do it,'” said the sandy-haired colonel. He vowed to “raise merry hell” with the commanders of any attacking militiamen.

But as other Western military commanders have learned in the rugged and militia-crowded hills of Bosnia — intentions are one thing, results are something else.

The hundreds of thousands of hungry and cold refugees in central Bosnia are usually glad to get free food and blankets, but they and their political leaders insist that the U.N. humanitarian effort is inadequate and amounts to a band-aid that does more to soothe the West’s conscience than cover Bosnia’s gaping wound. Stewart, who says his goal is to “give hope to people who don’t have it,” may have embarked on an impossible mission.

With winter weather approaching and Serb militia forces trapping legions of Bosnians, U.N. officials are admitting openly that Muslims and Croats face huge casualties over the next few months. The United Nations does not have enough trucks, enough military escorts or enough firepower to stem the worsening tide.

In central Bosnia, the British will have 45 Warrior fighting vehicles, which are like quick-moving tanks. The soldiers have the best gear, including night-vision scopes on their assault rifles and top-of-the-line communications equipment.

They can blow past lightly armed roadblocks, but they probably are not much of a match for the gunners in the hills. Serb militiamen have mortars, howitzers, machine guns and anti-tank mines.

At his headquarters in Vitez, Stewart oozed fresh optimism and believed that the harsh winter weather, rather than hostile fire, will probably be his worst enemy. The experience of other U.N. commanders has shown that he will be lucky if that is true.

Author: Peter Maass

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. In 1983, after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, I went to Brussels as a copy editor for The Wall Street Journal/Europe. I left the Journal in 1985 to write for The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, covering NATO and the European Union. In 1987 I moved to Seoul, South Korea, where I wrote primarily for The Washington Post. After three years in Asia I moved to Budapest to cover Eastern Europe and the Balkans. I spent most of 1992 and 1993 covering the war in Bosnia for the Post.