Defence Minister Damir Krsticevic on Sunday issued a message on the occasion of Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day, Croatian Veterans Day and the 24th anniversary of Operation Storm, noting that today Croatians celebrate peace and freedom.
"Operation Storm is a symbol of unity and heroism and is the crown of all Homeland War victories. The key to the victory in the Homeland War were people, courageous Croatian defenders who showed Croatian unity and strength," Krsticevic said in his message, expressing special gratitude to the families of deceased defenders and defenders killed or gone missing in the war.
"The Croatian Army, just like Homeland War defenders, is ready to respond strongly to any threat or danger and is the main guarantor of security," the minister said.
Croatia marking 24th anniversary of Operation Storm
The combined military and police operation Storm was launched on 4 August 1995 and it liberated areas in northern Dalmatia, Lika, Banovina and Kordun that had been controlled by Croatian Serb rebels for four years.
In only 84 hours, Croatian forces, with about 200,000 people, liberated slightly less than 10,500 kilometres of territory, almost one-fifth of the country, which helped put an end to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and enabled the peaceful reintegration of the Croatian Danube region.
The operation was launched at 5 am on August 4 along the line running from Bosansko Grahovo in the south to Jasenovac in the east, the front line being more than 630 kilometres long.
The operation culminated on August 5, when members of the Croatian Army's 4th and 7th Guard Brigades liberated Knin, until then the stronghold of rebel Croatian Serb forces.
In the following days, Croatian forces took control of the state border and launched a mop-up operation in the liberated areas. At 6 pm on August 6, then Defence Minister Gojko Susak declared the end of Operation Storm.
With Operation Storm, Croatian forces enabled the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina to lift the siege of the northwestern town of Bihac, thus helping prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and crime like the Srebrenica genocide.
The Homeland War Memorial and Documentation Centre says that 196 Croatian soldiers were killed, at least 1,100 were wounded and 15 went missing in the operation, while losses among Serb forces were "several times bigger."
The centre also notes that in the period after the operation "crimes of revenge and murder for gain were committed against individual Serbs, as was the burning of Serb houses".
According to a report by the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, 667 civilians were killed during and after Operation Storm.