On 1 July 1992, Canada Day, Canadians watched as the world press reported on the actions of the 1st Battalion, Le Royal 22e Régiment. It had launched two columns of armoured vehicles carrying soldiers from Croatia into Bosnia. The regiment's mission was to secure Sarajevo airport and thus allow relief supplies to reach the population of a city besieged by civil war.
The battalion, which was really a composite unit with about 40 per cent of its soldiers coming from the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, had arrived in Croatia in early April. As it began the task of protecting the Serb minority population in the Krajina area of southeastern Croatia, the smouldering civil strife between the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim), Croatian, and Serb populations of Bosnia-Herzegovina erupted into outright civil war. The world press broadcast stories on the plight of Sarajevo on a daily basis, and the United Nations (UN) Command in Yugoslavia decided that an effort should be made to relieve the situation. The Canadian battalion, which came fully equipped from its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bases in southwest Germany, was the only one equipped to do the job.
The fact that the Canadian peacekeepers were able to execute this mission was the result of some fortuitous, and courageous, planning by Canadian commanders. The United Nations had asked Canada to equip the battalion with trucks instead of its own M113 armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and National Defence Headquarters seemed to be prepared to follow the UN line. However, Brigadier-General Clive Addy, commander of Canada's NATO brigade group in Germany, acting on advice from Brigadier-General Lewis Mackenzie with the UN mission to Yugoslavia, refused. They were convinced that this would be a very dangerous peacekeeping mission and that Canada's soldiers would need the armoured protection and firepower that their APCs offered. They even directed the battalion to include heavy weapons APCs equipped with 81mm mortars and the TOW heavy anti-tank missiles.
As the battalion moved towards Sarajevo, it was stalled at various Serb checkpoints along the way. The fact that the Canadian soldiers were able to bluster their way through these checkpoints and reach Sarajevo was, in good part, due to the firepower potential of the TOW APCs. Addy and Mackenzie's stubborn stand was justified, and, indeed, the UN would simply not have been able to carry out this mission had they not "stuck to their guns." Their action was also one of commanders ensuring that their soldiers have the tools to do their job properly and with minimum risk.
The airport had been scheduled to receive shipments of humanitarian relief supplies on 2 July, but the process of clearing mines and explosives delayed the opening of the facility for 72 hours. Canadian soldiers remained in the Sarajevo area until relieved by French and Ukrainian peacekeeping troops at the end of July. Fifteen Canadian soldiers were wounded in the brief four-week stay in Sarajevo, but no fatalities occurred. Harrowing incidents, however, characterized the Canadian soldiers' stay in Sarajevo; they frequently returned fire. Snipers often targeted Canada's soldiers and Canadian sniper teams were therefore very active in engaging them. The TOW M113s, with their superb high-power optical sights, did invaluable work spotting snipers and passing target information to Canadian sniper teams.
The Canadian intervention in Yugoslavia helped define a new style of peacekeeping. Heavily armed troops mounted in APCs, sometimes even supported by tanks, have become the norm, and very few UN peacekeeping operations are now carried out with just lightly armed bodies of soldiers.