On 25 June 1991, Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia declared their independence from Yugoslavia. While the borders of Croatia and Slovenia closely approximated the distribution of Croats and Slovenes in northern Yugoslavia, the territorial claims made by Bosnia included large areas with a Serbian population. Despite the questionable validity of Bosnia's territorial claims, both the United Nations (UN) and the United States supported Bosnia.
Within a year, savage fighting broke out among the ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia. Slovenia quickly achieved independence. A short "Mexican standoff" between Slovenian forces and the Yugoslav National Army garrison ended with the Yugoslavs withdrawing. Afterwards, the Slovenes were able to settle down and focus on joining the prosperity of mainstream western European life. Croatia and Bosnia were a different matter. Croats attempted to dislodge the Serbian population of the Krajina area of Croatia. Serbian forces moved into Bosnia in support of the Bosnian Serbs and attempted to regain lands claimed by Bosnia. The ultimate goal of these forces was to annex Bosnian Serb areas to Serbia.
The UN established a Protection Force (UNPROFOR) that began deploying into Croatia in February 1992. A Canadian battalion, the 1st Battalion, Le Royal 22e Régiment (1 R22eR), really a composite battalion with about 40 per cent of the unit coming from the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, started deploying from their bases in Lahr and Baden-Solingen, Germany, on 24 March. The regiment was fully established in Croatia on 13 April 1992. The UN wanted Canada to bring trucks as transport and thus possess only one company mounted in M113 armoured personnel carriers. Brigadier-General Clive Addy, commander of Canada's NATO army brigade group, in consultation with Brigadier-General Lewis Mackenzie at the UN headquarters in Zagreb, declined this request. Addy told the UN that the Canadian unit would come with the basic vehicle it was familiar with, the M113s. The decision to send the unit "as is" was a fortunate one. Early in the operation, a UN contingent was sent to try to relieve Sarajevo and 1 R22eR Battle Group was the only unit at the UN's disposal equipped to do the job.
The 1st Combat Engineer Regiment based in Lahr provided a squadron of some 200 sappers. From the time of this deployment to the present day, the engineers have been tasked even more heavily than the infantry. The engineers have participated in mine clearing/education teams in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the late 1980s, the Gulf War and the mine clearing operations that occurred after the conflict, and the continuing saga in the Balkans where mines were used indiscriminately (and in violation of the Geneva Conventions) throughout.
By November 1992, the Canadian contingent had expanded to include a second battalion battle group based on the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment from Gagetown with a squadron of the 12e Régiment Blindé du Canada with their Cougar armoured cars armed with a 76mm gun. This new contingent was intended for escort duties for convoys into Bosnia. From this time on until the end of the UNPROFOR mandate in late 1995, Canada maintained two battalion-size battle groups in Yugoslavia, one protecting the Serb minority in the Krajina area of Croatia, the other in Bosnia. Virtually every Canadian infantry battalion rotated through Bosnia and/or Croatia. One battalion, 1 R22eR, did three tours. Canada's armoured regiments, The Lord Strathcona's Horse, Royal Canadian Dragoons, and the 12e Régiment Blindé du Canada, also did at least one tour.
UNPROFOR completed its mission in 1996. The Croatians overran the Serb enclave in the Krajina in 1995 and expelled the Serb population that had been there for centuries. The three ethnic mini-states in Bosnia have settled down to an uneasy truce within the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.