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Civilian Casualties from British Military: The Bosnia and Herzegovina Intervention

This section provides a detailed account of recorded civilian casualties that resulted from the British military’s involvement in the Bosnia and Herzegovina intervention.

When did this conflict occur?

16th July, 1992^ – Present*

^ – The NATO intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina began with the commencement of Operation Maritime Monitor in July of 1992, but the international offensive air campaign against Bosnian Serb forces, Operation Deliberate Force, only began on the 30th of August, 1995. [1]

* – Though Operation Deliberate Force ended on September 20th, 1995, British forces remain engaged in Bosnia and Herzegovina through the presence of seconded personnel serving under the European Union Force Bosnia and Herzegovina, also known as Operation Althea. [2]

What is the background to this conflict?

The origins of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina is inextricably tied to the Republic of Yugoslavia’s collapse following the death of President Josip Broz Tito’s in 1980. Calls for increased autonomy within the republic’s six states – Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia – culminated in the invasion of Slovenia and Croatia in 1991 by the Serb-dominated Yugoslav military. When Bosnia, a multiethnic state composed of Serbs, Croats, and Muslim Bosniaks, formally declared independence on the 3rd of March, 1992, Bosnian Serb military forces mobilised to secure ethnic territory. [3] The ensuing conflict, which lasted three years, also saw the first genocide in Europe since the end of the Second World War. [4] A United Nations peacekeeping force, UNPROFOR, worked to deliver humanitarian aid and establish safe areas protected by UN Resolution 836 allowing the use of force to defend these sites from hostile incursions; however, political hesitancy in addition to the use of captured peacekeepers as hostages by Bosnian Serbs prevented UNPROFOR from effectively halting military assaults against safe areas. This culminated in the July 1995 massacre in the UN designated safe area at Srebrenica in which more than 8000 Muslim Bosniaks were killed by Bosnian Serb forces. [5] NATO leaders responded by announcing a combined air effort, Operation Deliberate Force, to undermine the military capacity of the Bosnian Serb Army, the VRS. Executed over the course of three weeks, Operation Deliberate Force succeeded in largely crippling the VRS, and political negotiations between Serbian, Croat, and Bosniak leaders ensued. [6] Following the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in December of 1995, the NATO-led Implementation Force arrived in Bosnia to prevent a resurgence of hostilities, prior to being replaced by the Stabilisation Force one year later. This force remained in place until 2004, when the present-day European Union Force Bosnia and Herzegovina, known today as Operation Althea, was formed.

What role did British military forces play?

British military forces have been involved in Bosnia and Herzegovina since the initial phases of the conflict in 1992. In July of 1992, British maritime patrol aircraft joined air and naval assets from other NATO states in Operation Maritime Monitor to enforce sanctions imposed under UN Resolutions 713 and 757. Replaced in November by the more assertive Operation Maritime Guard, Royal Navy destroyers worked alongside NATO surface vessels to interdict vessels operating in the international waters around Yugoslavia and verify their cargo. [7] On the ground, British forces participated in UNPROFOR since 1992, with the initial contribution centred on 1st Battalion, the Cheshire Regiment and 9th/12th Lancers; though subsequently reinforced, British troops were among the 350 UNPROFOR personnel taken hostage by the VRS during the latter’s June 1995 attack on the UN safe area in Gorazde. [8] Elements of UK special operations forces, notably drawn from the 22nd Special Air Service, also served in Bosnia, and were tasked with collecting human intelligence and identifying targets for NATO aircraft operating in support of UNPROFOR. [9] Following the Dayton Peace Accords of 1995, members of 22 SAS also participated in the hunt for PIFWCs, persons indicted for war crimes, alongside US, French, and Dutch special operations personnel. [10] Finally, the Royal Air Force played a key role in the NATO air campaign, particularly following the start of Operation Deliberate Force in August of 1995. Restrictive rules of engagement were largely lifted, and Harrier and Tornado aircraft targeted Bosnian Serb troop concentrations, key command, control, and communication nodes, as well as infrastructure needed for the movement of personnel and equipment. [11] Though liaison officers remain present in today’s EU-led Operation Althea, the UK contingent was officially stood down in December of 2020, marking an end to the 16-year British commitment in Bosnia and Herzegovina since the transfer of responsibility from the NATO-led Stabilisation Force in 2004 [12]

Can a figure of civilian deaths due to British military action be determined?

No, a total number of civilian deaths due to British military action cannot be determined. In contrast, a confirmed total of 59 British military personnel died in the conflict as of 2019. [13]

Are there any trends or incidents of note?

The overwhelming majority of civilian casualties stemming from the intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina resulted from the NATO aerial offensive against Bosnian Serb forces. Galvanised by the Srebrenica Massacre in July of 1995, in addition to the killing of 37 civilians in Sarajevo’s Markale marketplace by Serbian mortar fire, NATO leaders elected an aggressive campaign of precision air strikes aimed at eliminating the VRS’ military capabilities. [14] Operation Deliberate Force soon followed, as NATO planners scrambled to identify suitable targets. Though rules of engagement governing the use of offensive air power had been significantly loosened, NATO battle plans adopted strike lists separated into three categories, with Option Three strikes against dual-use military and civilian infrastructure remaining highly sensitive. [15]
Non-combatant fatalities stemming from Operation Deliberate Force have not been precisely tallied but are estimated to be between 27 and 30 or roughly one civilian death for every 30 to 40 munitions dropped. [16] Nonetheless, owing to the highly integrated nature of the NATO air campaign, which saw aircraft and joint terminal attack controllers from the US, UK, and France operating in close conjunction with one another, it is impossible to attribute a specific number of these fatalities to unilateral action by the Royal Air Force.   


[1] Operation MARITIME MONITOR, Government of Canada, 2018,

[2] Bosnia and Herzegovina: Peacekeeping Operations, UK Parliament, 2021,

[3] The Breakup of Yugoslavia, 1990–1992, Department of State Office of the Historian, 2017,

[4] Radovanovic, Radul, “25 years on: A look at Europe’s only post-WWII genocide,” AP, 2020,

[5] DiCaprio, Lisa, “The Betrayal of Srebrenica: The Ten-Year Commemoration,” The Public Historian 31, no. 3 (2009): 78.

[6] Beale, Michael O., “Operation Deliberate Force,” in Bombs over Bosnia: The Role of Airpower in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Montgomery: Air University Press, 1997): 31. 

[7] Operation MARITIME GUARD, Government of Canada, 2018,

[8] Bosnia, National Army Museum, 2017,

[9] Findlay, Michael L. Special Forces Integration With Multinational Division-North in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Leavenworth: United States Army Command and General Staff College, 1998): 21-22.

[10] Modigs, Ronny. Special Forces Capabilities of the European Union Military Forces (Leavenworth: United States Army Command and General Staff College, 2003): 67.

[11] Harpum, Steve, “BOSNIA 1992-1995 – A CASE STUDY IN THE DENIAL OF THE ADVANTAGE CONFERRED BY AIR SUPERIORITY,” Royal Air Force Historical Society Journal 24 (2001): 17-20.

[12] Flanagan, Mark, “United Kingdom ends contribution to EU Mission,” European Union Force in BiH: Operation Althea, 2020,

[13] Bosnia, National Army Museum.

[14] Schinella, Anthony M. Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2019): 16.

[15] Schinella, Bombs Without Boots, 31.

[16] Owen, Robert C., “Operation Deliberate Force: A Case Study on Humanitarian Constraints in Aerospace Warfare,” Projects at Harvard, 2001,