Kosovo SITREP IV
June 6, 2000
Discussion Thread: #s 355, 356, 357
CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION (CODEL) REPORT Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and Al Santoli Kosovo & Macedonia April 24 -28, 2000.
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Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, accompanied by his special assistant, Al Santoli, conducted a CODEL on behalf of the House International Relations Committee to the Balkan region from April 24 through 28, 2000. The Codel investigated national security issues, including the living and operational conditions of U.S. military forces in Kosovo, human rights and religious freedom issues, and political developments in the Balkans. The Codel met with American military leaders and diplomatic representatives, and with political, ethnic and religious leaders in Macedonia and Kosovo.
Kosovo is a textbook case of peace keeping gone awry. The United Nations performance was repeatedly described as "near catastrophic," because of both institutional incompetence and obstruction and lack of cooperation by the rival ethnic communities. Inter-ethnic violence continues on a widespread basis, at once systematic and fueled by the spontaneous emotion of vengeance.
There is also the potential of attack by Milosevic's Serbian forces, politically supported by Russia and China. U.S. soldiers, who are being taken from conventional war-fighting units, are being tasked to conduct counter-insurgency [mostly against the Albanian KLA] and to conduct criminal investigations and develop some semblance of civil society - jobs they were not trained to perform.
There has been a misconception in the media that the U.S. Zone of Kosovo is calm and peaceful. That is totally untrue, as the area has 60 miles of border with Serbia, and the largest Serbian population left in Kosovo. During the and 30 have been wounded. The remaining Serb civilians are under continual threat of violence by their Albanian neighbors. Violence has escalated near Pec, in the Western Zone, including KLA mortars exploding near an Italian military base, as a warning that the U.N. plan to begin returning Kosovar Serb refugees to Kosovo will be violently opposed by Albanians. [The Washington Post and Associated Press report that during the last week of May, five Serb villagers, including a 4 year-old boy and 67 year-old woman were murdered by Albanians in drive-by shooting attacks in the American Zone.]
As the Albanians inch closer to self-rule, in what is still legally a province of Serbia under U.N. protection, the violence among competing Albanian factions grows. For example, politicians loyal to non-violent Kosovar Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova have been targeted for assassination by KLA elements. And violent Albanian groups fight among themselves with grenades and land-mines over abandoned Kosovar Serb property.
None of the Albanian ethnic and political violence and criminal actions excuses the past human rights violations against Albanians by Slobodon Milosevic's Serbian forces. However, even if Milosevic is replaced as the leader of Serbia, there is no guarantee that the Serbs will surrender claims to what they consider their spiritual heartland in Kosovo.
A major problem in instituting a credible government is that the international community has not specified whether the Kosovars will be able to vote for independence from Serbia. The United Nations is not qualified or able to be the civil lawmaking body and de facto government of Kosovo. Economic development and outside investment is paralyzed because of the complete lack of laws, courts and other arbitration systems.
The longer U.S. forces remain, in the midst of irreconcilable ethnic hostility, the greater chance American soldiers will become targets—spontaneously or purposely—by all sides. The U.S. Army combat brigades rotated in Kosovo are also on call for crisis intervention in the Middle East, where conventional warfare skills are required. Needless to say, the 7 month tours of police action in Kosovo seriously undermine our soldiers' ability to fight, survive and win a conventional war.
The Codel traveled via U.S. Army helicopter and armored convoy in Kosovo, visiting with the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division Headquarters at Camp Bondsteel, in southeast Kosovo, to villages where US peacekeeping troops are on patrol duty and to the remote Checkpoint 65 in the Presevo Valley on the Serbia border where Kosovo Albanian militants have been conducting raids into Serbia. In addition, in Kosovo's capitol, Pristina, the delegation met with Kosovar Albanian and Serb political and religious leaders.
At the US Army Brigade Headquarters at Camp Bondsteel, the delegation was briefed by Task Force Commander Brigadier General Ricardo Sanchez and his staff.
After touring the segregated Serb-Albanian town of Gijilane, the delegation had lunch with US soldiers at Camp Monteith. At the Christian monastery in Bracanica, outside of Pristina, the Codel met with Serbian religious and social leaders including Bishop Artemije, Father Sava and Dr. Rana Trajovik. In Pristina, the delegation met with the elected non-violent Kosovar Albanian "shadow government" leader Ibrahim Rugova at his home; visited KLA political leader Hashim Thaci at his downtown headquarters; met with KLA Major General Ramush Haradinaj, now leader of the New Alliance political party, at his headquarters; met with economist Muhamet Mustafa, Director of Reinvest, at the US diplomatic compound; had a working dinner with U.S. diplomat Jock Covey and the KFOR Deputy Commander Major General Ken Bowra [U.S. Army Special Forces]; and visited Kosovo's Muslim leader Rexhep Boja at the Islamic Community of Kosovo Center.
U.S. Peacekeeping Forces:
Flying into the U.S. military headquarters base Camp Bondsteel, on a grassy plateau in southeast Kosovo near the borders of Serbia and Macedonia, one is struck by the Cam Ranh Bay [circa 1966] massive construction of wooden buildings other military facilities over a square mile area. The large amount of construction gives the impression that U.S. policy makers are planning a long-term engagement.
The 6,500 U.S soldiers of the Army's 1st Infantry "Big Red One" Division share this "Multi-National Brigade (East) military region of Kosovo with some 900 Russian and 1,500 international soldiers from other countries, including
Poland, Greece, Ukraine, Italy and the United Arab Emirates. The Germany-based 1st Infantry Division rotates brigades on 7 month tours, alternating with the brigades of the U.S. 1st Armored Division. The regular army units are supplemented by U.S. National Guard and Reserve soldiers, who serve in civil affairs and in support roles to combat units. The Russians and other peacekeeping forces have separate base facilities in other areas of the region, whose main cities are Urosevac and Gnjilane. The Zone includes a 60 mile border with Serbia.
Because of the "near catastrophic failure" of U.N. performance, U.S. soldiers are running Kosovo's civic functions. The KLA is conducting "ethnic cleansing" of the Serb population. An inordinate amount of pressure to conduct counter-insurgency, criminal investigating and "nation-building" is placed on the soldiers. Inter-ethnic tensions between Albanians and Serbs are dangerously high. In addition, there are incidents of sabotage, assassinations and political infighting among Albanian factions. Kosovo Albanian paramilitary units are active, and continue to recruit and train for raids into Serbia. The United Nations has been woefully remiss in providing adequate numbers of international police and a governmental infrastructure.
The U.S. soldiers the delegation met with appeared to be focused and dedicated while doing their best to cope in a complex civil environment. It is extremely difficult for the Americans to physically differentiate between Serbs and Albanians. The 40,000 Serb civilians in the area are segregated into ghettos and are constantly under threat of violence. The U.S. patrols that the Codel visited had as primarily responsibilities guarding churches from being destroyed and guarding Serb schoolchildren and grandmothers going to market from being attacked by their Albanian neighbors. In other communities, inside the U.S. Zone and in the city of Mitrovica in the French Zone, U.S. soldiers have been attacked by Serb villagers with rocks and sticks while trying to conduct weapons searches or apprehend a suspected thief.
During the first nine months of peacekeeping, in the U.S. Zone there have been 616 acts of hostile fire. One American Special Forces soldier has been killed in action. Another 30 soldiers were injured. Of these casualties, 19 occurred in an April 19 incident at Sevce village, where a crowd of 800 to 1,000 Serb civilians surrounded and attacked a U.S. unit with stones and sticks. [Women and children were up front with sticks, with men in the rear throwing stones.] The latest trend is inter-Albanian violence using anti-tank mines to blow up houses or stores. In many cases, these are buildings that have been abandoned by Serbs that are being fought over by rival Albanian factions.
U.S. soldiers are now doing weapons confiscation operations. But the Albanians replace the weapons within days through smuggling networks. On April 14, 2000 Albanians were caught smuggling a truckload of anti-tank weapons in the Zone.
In private discussions with soldiers, there was almost unanimous sentiment, similar to recent testimony by U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, that American war fighters are being tasked to do a job that they haven't been trained for -- to conduct complex police duties and to be social arbiters - instead of training for their primary mission which is to be prepared to win in conventional warfare. They are also conducting counter-insurgency against Albanian guerilla units. As one U.S. officer said, "The mission started out as peacekeeping, but has switched to counter-insurgency."
These European-based units are also on call for rapid reaction to conventional conflicts in the Middle East or if Milosevic's army should launch an attack on Montenegro or Kosovo. The lack of combat training is especially harmful to the armored battalions, which require regular training to cope with the speed and lethality of a mechanized battlefield.
The KLA and the Kosovo Protection Corps:
The Muslim guerillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army [KLA] were supposedly disbanded under United Nations supervision. The KLA was never a fully cohesive organization. As a guerilla force, it's units were often comprised of villagers, neighbors and clans, with regional commanders similar to warlords. The U.N. is in the process of attempting to train an indigenous police called the Kosovo Protection Corps [KPC], comprised of mostly former KLA, which is intended to be the civil security force in Kosovo within one to two years. This Corps is not supposed to be an armed force. However, the KLA still considers itself to be an army. In addition, there are local Kosovar Albanian paramilitary units, such as in the Presevo Valley, who are actively recruiting, training and conducting raids into territory controlled by the Serbian government.
The KLA operate in small village bands that come together for attack operations that involve 300 to 500 militants. The Albanian commander in Presevo Valley said "It is our historic and patriotic duty to help Albanian brothers in Serbia." Their strategy is to initiate attacks into Serbia, in order to coerce U.S. soldiers to react across the border into Serbia to free their Albanian brothers.
The KLA and KPC are comprised of both honorable and dishonorable personnel. Some known "troublemakers" have been permitted to join the KPC, with the idea of U.N. officials being able to "watch" them. This policy is dubious, at best. Albanians and Serbs both have "codes of silence," which makes police work and crime solving by U.S. forces and other peacekeepers nearly impossible. However, both groups quickly point their fingers at their rival ethnic neighbors.
The KLA conducts illegal policing operations, illegal taxing, insurgent operations and trans-national crime. On the other hand, Serbs are also involved in trans-national crime, and some Serb militia units-some defending against ethnic cleansing by Albanians and others loyal to Milosevic -- are present in the area.
United Nations Role:
The United Nations' performance in Kosovo has been repeatedly described as "near catastrophic," especially in the U.S. Zone of operations. Even though the U.N. is paying its police $100,000 tax-free per year, they are under 40 percent recruitment of the planned force.
Another key failure has been the lack of functioning inter-ethnic councils to resolve disputes and to plan for civil society. The U.N. has largely failed in reconstruction of communities destroyed in the war. Construction being done by Albanians is mostly funded with remittances sent by their relatives overseas.
U.N.-organized voter registration for local elections supposedly began on April 19. Serbs will not register to vote until the 200,000 to 300,000 who were forced by violence into Serbia return to their home areas.
Civilian officials and diplomats told the Codel that the UNMIC local director does not have adequate guidance from the UNMIC central leadership. The U.N.'s failure in Kosovo is not merely a problem of dollars but of guidance.
On the other hand, U.N. officials would say that they are facing resistance and obstruction by the KLA and a lack of cooperation from the Serbs because of the influence of Belgrade. In addition, there is no consensus - bordering on stagnation --among Western European nations and restrained cynicism by Greece and Russia on how to resolve the Kosovo quagmire.
Macedonia, which has a Serbian [Spinney comment: also Bulgarian] and Albanian population, peacefully separated from Yugoslavia while avoiding the violence that has plagued other areas of the Balkans. The country has experienced ethnic tensions but its relatively fragile democratic government, based in Skopje, has thus far averted outright hostilities. The mountainous under-developed nation serves as the rear-logistics base of operations for the international KFOR multinational peacekeeping forces stationed in Kosovo.
In Skopje, the delegation interviewed and held discussions with the US Embassy team, led by Ambassador Einek and Defense Attaché Col. Robert. In addition, the Codel visited Macedonia President Boris Trajkovski and his advisors; Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and his national security staff; had a working dinner with Foreign Minister Alexander Dimitrov Macedonia; and a lengthy discussion on inter-ethnic relations with Macedonia's Albanian political leader Arben Xhafferi.
All Macedonian officials expressed concern about ongoing lawlessness and inter-ethnic violence in Kosovo and Albania, and the potential of the instability spreading into Macedonia, which has a substantial ethnic Albanian population. Also, in parts of Greece, Albanians are the majority. For instance, President Boris Travkovski stated that Macedonians fear that extremist Albanians have power in Kosovo and that criminal organizations are rampant. As a result, Macedonia cannot promote an independent Kosovo, which could destabilize the region. There is also fear of a "Greater Albania" movement in the region, that would incorporate parts of Macedonia, in a lawless undemocratic regime. There is a fear that KLA leader Hashim Thaci, a favorite of the Clinton Administration, would be "a disaster" as Kosovo's leader. [Spinney comment: Thaci has family connections in Tetovo, the main Albanian city in Macedonia.]
The Milosevic regime in Serbia poses a threat by not recognizing Macedonia's border or Macedonia's branch of the Christian Orthodox Church. Macedonia would not be able to independently withstand aggression by its neighbors. Macedonia's army has fewer than 3,000 professional soldiers, and 6,000 conscripts, 2 helicopters, 2 airplanes and a small number of old Bulgarian tanks. The threat of aggression by Serbia will remain, even if Milosevic is overthrown because of the authoritarian culture of the Slavs.
Macedonia has embarked on an open-market economy, but has had scant success in attracting foreign investment. Its neighbor Greece has been the only serious outside investor. Although Macedonia took a political risk by politically recognizing Taiwan over the People's Republic of China, investment by Taiwanese has been disappointingly minimal. There are practically no private American investors. The most visible success story has been a USAID program to provide micro-enterprise grants to entrepreneurs.
These grants have been instrumental in creating jobs and profitable storefront businesses, such as bakeries and yogurt factories.
The Codel and an in-depth discussion with Mr. Arben Xaferri, a member of Parliament, who is the leading Albanian politician in Macedonia. Xaferri, president of the Democratic Party of Albanians, is widely recognized as the leading moderating figure in maintaining the unity of Macedonia. Xaferri concurred with Macedonian government that ethnic relations in Macedonia are historically antagonistic. Macedonians, Serbs and Albanian Muslims are all xenophobic. He said that Islam is authoritarian, patriarchical and the society is divided into clans. There are Albanians in Macedonia who advocate for a separate state. Xaferri believes the solution to peace in Macedonia and the rest of the Balkans is developing a Western democratic system and culture.
Macedonia has the opportunity to be a model of how Muslims and Orthodox Christians can live together peacefully. Macedonians, however, are very Orthodox in their identity. This causes Albanians to identify more firmly with Islam, causing conflict. A real democratic state could open the door for cultural diversity. "We need spiritual reconciliation before technological development," he said. The region needs help from established democracies to create local democratic systems. The Albanians and Serbs are already using technology for negative purposes, such as the internet war among hackers from both ethnic groups.
Regional stability and Kosovo:
Macedonian officials expressed the hope that a democratic Macedonia would be incorporated as part of the European Union and NATO. The Codel repeatedly heard the wish that American troops would, "remain in Kosovo for 50 years."
Part of the reason is because the Europeans have never acted with a unified position on the Balkans. They are described as, "15 brothers with 15 different opinions." For peace, the native Serb and Roma [Gypsy] population must also have a secure place in Kosovo.
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