Kosovo SITREP – A Rough Week for Battalion XX

May 18, 2000

Comment: #355

Discussion Thread:  #352


[1] Email from Officer X in Battalion XX, "Kosovo SITREP," 17 May 2000.  Attached.

In Comment #352, I raised the issue posed by the anarchy, violence, and criminality in Kosovo to pose the question: Should America change its policy in the Balkans? I analyzed this question by critiquing the Secretary of State’s argument for ‘staying course’ as presented in her Op-Ed in the New York Times on 28 Mar 2000.

As a practical matter, I said this question boils down to a decision to keep troops in Kosovo for a very long time — recall, I showed estimates by informed observers ranging from 5 to 55 years.

The attached SITREP is an unclassified email now circulating widely in Army channels and on Capital Hill. It was prepared by an Army officer struggling to ‘stay the course’ in Kosovo. The SITREP covers his battalion’s activities for the seven days from 4 May thru 10 May 2000.

On the one hand, the information below presents a picture of our soldiers that should be a source of pride to all Americans, for it shows how our troops cope with the non-peaceful problems in a "Peacekeeping" mission (perhaps Violence Suppression is a more accurate title for this mission). On the other hand, Officer X gives us a concrete feel for what America may be in for should our troops remain in Kosovo for 5 to 55 years.



Sir, It has been a rough week for the Battalion XX’ers.

The ethnic violence continues to increase. Currently, the Battalion XX AO is the most active in Kosovo. As a result, we are getting a lot of "attention" from COMKFOR, Task Force Falcon, and civilian officials from Pristina.

We have had almost two weeks of continuous activity. As expected, most of the activity is at night. Morale is high, but the Task Force is tired.

The trouble during the past week began in Vitina.

On 4 May, a Serbian home was bombed. The building had two female occupants and a child (the male family member was in Serbia). The occupants suffered minor injuries, but the home is not safe to live in.

The next night [May 5], an unoccupied Serbian home in Vitina was burned. Naturally, the tension in all of the Serb communities was high.

On 6 May, a 67 year old Serb man was murdered in Klokot while he was fishing (shot at close range with two rounds in the back). Cobra Battery found the body. When the Klokot Serbs found out, they began to riot. They began attacking Albanian cars passing through the town. They smashed vehicle windows with bricks, pulled the occupants out of the cars, and beat them. Soldiers responded quickly, and were able to save the lives of many Albanians.

As reinforcements were sent north into Klokot, a column of wounded and bloody Albanians (including women and children) were moving south towards Vitina. Ten cars were damaged (two of them burned) and 13 Albanians were treated by Battalion XX medics and transported to a local clinic. After negotiating with the Serb leaders, the riots ended around 2300 hours. By midnight, the Battalion XX’ers had removed all Serb obstacles from the road (burning cars, tires, and wood).

On 7 May, the situation deteriorated further. In Vitina, an Albanian man fired an AK-47 at a Serbian family while they were sitting in their yard. The attack was probably in retaliation for the attack on the Albanians in Klokot yesterday. The gunmen emptied a 30-round magazine at the family. All of the family members were hit (a man, woman, and two little girls). Thankfully, none of the individuals were killed, although all of them suffered serious wounds. The most serious injuries were to the little girls. In the confusion after the attack, Serbs evacuated one of the victims to Gjilane. One was taken to a hospital in Vitina, and two of the victims were brought to the TOC. The battalion doctor and medic worked on the patients until a MEDEVAC helicopter evacuated them to Camp Bondsteel.

Later that evening, an explosion destroyed a Serbian home in the town of Vrbovac. The home was unoccupied, however, the owners had recently returned from Serbia and were repairing the home for future occupation. Within minutes of the explosion a crowd of about 70 angry Serb males gathered and became hostile towards KFOR. Someone in the crowd attempted to grab the platoon leader's weapon. He shoved the man back and the Battalion XX’ers locked and loaded their weapons as the crowd surged forward. The crowd grabbed the Albanian interpreter, but the soldiers reacted quickly to prevent him from being injured. After tense negotiations, the crowd dispersed back into the town.

The next day [8 May], the Serbians decided to block the roads in Klokot to prevent the Albanians from going to work at a bottling plant and health facility. When the Albanians showed up for work, the Serbs moved to attack them. Soldiers from Cobra Battery moved to interdict them and protect the Albanians. The Serbs and the Albanians began throwing rocks at each other, with the Battalion XX’ers caught in the middle. The squad leader ordered his squad to lock and load, called for the QRF, and fired warning shots to regain control of the situation. The word quickly spread through the Albanian communities of the situation in Klokot. Soon, the worst case scenario began to develop: Albanians from all of the surrounding towns began to mobilize to march on Klokot. 300 Albanians attempted to march from Pozaranje in the west, but were stopped by the UAE company attached to the Battalion XX’ers. Warning shots were fired. About 100 Albanians marched on Klokot from Zitinje in the north. They were stopped by Battalion XX’ers and MPs. Approximately 150 Albanians marched on Klokot from Radivoiche in the east. They were stopped by Delta Company and another group of MPs. The largest group of Albanians (600-700) attempted to march on Klokot from Vitina in the south. This group was stopped by Hardrock soldiers, riot police, and MP dogs.

Our efforts were greatly assisted by the Kiowas and Apaches flying overhead. We always had early warning of where the Albanians were massing and what direction they were headed because of the good work done by the aviators. Because we had control of the interior lines, we were able to shift forces around the sector all day to counter the different crowds. It was a long and exhausting day. I was extremely proud of the young Battalion XX’ers on the ground. Most of them spent the entire day, moving from location to location, to confront angry crowds. Through it all, they maintained their discipline and stood their ground.

At approximately 2000 hours, after long negotiations with Serbian and Albanian leaders, the Albanian workers in Klokot were able to go to work. Early the next morning [9 May], an unoccupied Serb home north of Klokot was destroyed by a bomb.

On 10 May, the violence erupted again. An unoccupied Serb home north of Grncar was destroyed by a bomb. Bulldog soldiers responded within minutes and were immediately attacked by approximately 75 angry Serbs. The Serbs were throwing rocks and climbing onto the vehicles. Warning shots were fired. One soldier on the vehicle was grabbed by Serbs, but another soldier swung the .50 cal around, knocking the Serbs off of the vehicle. A helicopter appeared on the scene and created an excellent dust cloud for the squad to withdraw. Another squad of soldiers that were responding to the call for help from the previous squad, also met an angry crowd of Serbians. The Serbs were throwing rocks, punching, and wielding sticks. The Battalion XX’ers responded by shoving the crowd back and butt-stroking civilians with their weapons. Warning shots were fired (The first three rounds in the magazine need to be tracer ammunition. It can be seen by the crowd and has a greater effect). During the pause, the squad leader directed the M203 gunners to load non-lethal munitions and tossed a CS grenade. The CS instantly dispersed the crowd and enabled the squad to link up with other forces.

While this was going on, another group of Serbs attacked the soldiers at the Vrbovac church. There was only two soldiers at the church because the rest of the squad moved from the church to assist other soldiers involved in a confrontation down the road. The soldiers were behind the wall of the church in the guard tower. Other forces were rushing to link up with the two soldiers, but for a short period of time, they defended their position by themselves.

Once again, a helicopter appeared on the scene and assisted the soldiers by kicking up a lot of dust and obscuring the vision of the Serbians. Another CS grenade was used in the defense of the church, dispersing the crowd until reinforcements arrived. In the end, three Battalion XX’ers were injured, however, only one was evacuated to the Battalion Aid Station. The soldier received a small wound to his face that required four stitches to close up. One set of NVDs were damaged on the face of a soldier by a rock. Pepper spray would have been useful in the encounters. The face shields and CS grenades were very helpful in preventing further injuries to US soldiers.

In hindsight, it appears that the entire event might have been staged by the Serbs, including the bombing of the abandoned home. I cannot go into the evidence/justification in this unclassified e-mail. Suffice it to say, the Serbs knew we had intended to occupy the abandoned house that night with an OP. The squad that was suppose to occupy the position was late. If our assessment and TF Falcon's assessment is correct, the Serbs were attempting to kill American soldiers, blame the Albanians, and change the rules of the game. Last night, another Serbian home was burned in Klokot. A crowd of about 30 males gathered, but did not become violent. Surprisingly, they were all sober. So far today, it has been quiet. The Task Force is resting, and preparing for another eventful night.

Well, sir, that is all of the news from Kosovo. It is going to be a long, hot summer. Rest assured that the Battalion XX’ers are up to the task. We are learning some tough lessons, but we are getting better at this business everyday. Take care.

End Kosovo SITREP


That Congress allowed our country to be maneuvered into this kind of commitment without a definitive vote is not exactly what the Framers of the Constitution had in mind when they were producing their Miracle in Philadelphia.

Chuck Spinney

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