Capt Scott MacGregor
First published in
SFOR Informer#164, August 1, 2003
Approximately six kilometres west of the town of Bihac
exists the mysterious Zeljava airfield complex. It cannot
be seen from the main road, nor can you see the labyrinth
of subterranean offices, hangers and storage areas that exist
inside Mount Gola, which dominates the BIHAC skyline. However,
the complex becomes very apparent once you drive North past
Bihac through the town of Vedro Polje, along the East Side
of Mount Gola. An inspection team from Multinational Brigade
Northwest went to investigate.
Bihac - It is obvious there is something strange and haunting
about the surrounding area. Airstrips suddenly appear and
a system of connecting roads cut into the side of Mount Gola.
The Zeljava Airfield was an old JNA Airforce base that used
to keep about 80 MIG 21s. The blast casements were designed
to fit a single vertical stabilizer aircraft. There are four
tunnels that are burrowed into the mountainside, which exit
onto a quick response runway and this runway is paralleled
by two smaller runways, all of which are cratered, and in
Six Billion Dollars
The actual complex stretches over the Bosnian and Croatian
border via Highway 5. It houses several de-commissioned military
installations and two border crossing sites. The Zeljava Airfield
Complex extends through Mount Gola to the Summit where a Canadian
RRB detachment exists today. The connecting tunnel from the
ground level to the summit has collapsed, but it was used
prior to the war. The airfield was built between 1960 and
1970; it took 10 years to complete at a cost of 6 billion
American dollars. Once operational, the airfield was manned
by about 1500 troops inside the mountain and up to 5000, including
the garrison serving to protect the airfield. "It is
like being on a James Bond set" commented Cpl Yeves Gemus.
The complex saw an incredible amount of fighting from 1992-1995.
Ex-Airforce pilots from the Zeljava Airfield formed the Airborne
Unit Bihac (not paratroopers) in August 1992 and proved proving
to be an elite infantry force in the area, as well as an Airforce.
Locals state that a member of this elite unit earned the "Golden
Lily", a sort of Bosnian Victoria Cross.
One does not have to look far to see war scars and debris,
a central tunnel entrance has had its solid concrete blast
casement completely blown off, the interior of the tunnels
are littered with debris and are overgrown with vegetation.
Large chucks of twisted metal lay hundreds of meters from
the tunnel entrances and the mountainside is scarred from
indirect fire. Old maps indicate the complexity that exists
inside but mine hazards prevent any further exploration.
Extreme caution must be used if you are visiting the Zeljava
Airfield Complex. The local Police and the CPA use the area
to train canines with the use of actual landmines due to the
enormous amounts of mines that exist within the complex area.
In November 2000, a Federation Airforce Major suffered a mine
strike and died of injuries sustained by the explosion of
a PROM-2 anti-personnel mine after searching for mushrooms.
The Zeljava Airfield is truly amazing and a must see if you
are in Bihac. Just do not get too close for your own safety.