Sunday, November 16, 2003

Oba dva! Oba su pala!!

JNA J-1 Jastreb In the early days of the balkan conflict, there was an atmosphere of hopelessness among Croatians who were seeing their dreams of independance dashed by a Serbian leadership that was prepared to use the full might of the JNA (Yugoslav People's Army) to grab as much Croatian territory as possible and perhaps prevent the breakup of Yugoslavia altogether. Lightly armed Croatian militia on the front lines were being decimated by aerial and armored assaults on their positions, and towns and villages fell to JNA advances on a daily basis. It was hard and brutal fighting, and victories against Serbian attacks were rare. Morale , both of the public and militia, was very low.

On September 21, 1991, two JNA J-1 Jastreb light strike fighters were shot down over the Dalmatian town of Šibenik in the space of a few seconds. Hundreds of people watched it happen, and to top it off, a TV journalist caught the whole event on videotape. The first Jastreb that went down was hit by a shoulder-launched SAM, and seconds later the second plane was caught by AAA fire and went down in flames. A Croatian soldier standing close to the cameraman could be heard joyfully shouting the now famous words: "Oba dva! Oba su pala!" ("Both of them! Both of them fell!").

BlackHawk(s) down with a vengeance?Croatian TV wasted no time in broadcasting the footage on Croatian television, and the whole country watched in amazement. The effect on morale was electrifying, especially since JNA overflights and aerial bombing were much reduced afterwards. As TV Zagreb showed the incredible footage over and over again, the myth of Serbian military invincibility was smashed. There was even a pop song made called "Oba Dva!".

I am reminded of the events over Šibenik from so many years ago because today the Iraqi resistance achieved a similar double-whammy against occupation aircraft, with two US army Blackhawk choppers downed over Mosul. A dozen Americans were reportedly killed. I imagine that though this engagement was not caught on tape, the event will nonetheless evoke similar emotions among Iraqis to what was seen in Croatia 12 years ago.

These kinds of victories are what make resistance fighters tick; when the invincibility of the enemy is refuted, the will of soldiers to fight becomes stronger, even though they may be hopelessly outgunned. During my own war days I had a platoon leader who in dealing with defeatists and doubters coined a simple but relevant and powerful phrase: "Nobody is bulletproof".