On the walls along the dim hallways of the Kosovo Protection Corps headquarters
hang rows of pictures that tell the story of the KPC’s missions since
its inception three years ago. Seeking to put behind a murky past, the Corps—a
civilian agency consisting largely of former Albanian guerrilla fighters—hopes
to become a real national army.
For now, the KPC is helping with the reconstruction of the villages destroyed
during the 1999 ethnic war between the Serbs and the Albanians, respond to fires,
floods and acid spills. The organization has cleared 185,000 meters worth of
minefields and offered support after last year’s earthquake in the town
However, eventually gaining international credibility as a professional military
force is important to the KPC, which is designed to be primarily a disaster-relief,
first-responder organization. In the words of Lt. Gen. Agim Çeku, the
organization’s commander, the KPC wants to become the “national
guard of Kosovo.”
A province of what is now Serbia and Montenegro, Kosovo has been under the
governance of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK),
and NATO protection since the 11-week NATO bombing of Serbia ended in the summer
“Right now, we have to find a [way to see] how Kosovo people can play
a role in their own security,” Çeku told National Defense in an
interview at his Pristina headquarters. “We don’t want only to enjoy
the security, we want to offer the security also.”
“We need to encourage the international community to accept the debate,”
he says, sitting in a conference room, surrounded by a few of his top aides.
Kosovo Liberation Army
The vast majority of the KPC members are former Albanian guerrilla fighters
from the Kosovo Liberation Army, who fought the Serbian forces before NATO’s
intervention in 1999.
The end of the war over Kosovo marked the beginning of the guerrilla army’s
transformation. On June 21, 1999, Hashim Thaci, as the commander-in-chief of
the KLA, signed an “Undertaking of Demilitarization and Transformation,”
under which the KLA would cease to exist as a military organization beginning
September 20, 1999. On that date, KFOR (NATO’s Kosovo Force) confirmed
that the demilitarization was complete, the International Crisis Group wrote
in a report entitled “What Happened to the KLA?” published in March
However, Thaci’s policy on the transformation of the KLA, as he publicly
expressed during that summer, was that the guerrilla group would divide into
three components, the report said. Part would become a new political party,
another would join the new Kosovo Police Service, and the third would become
a new, armed force, not quite a new army, but an embryo of one, usually likened
to the U.S. National Guard, according to ICG.
While KLA members formed the political party and some entered the Kosovo Police
Service, KFOR and the UN created the mostly unarmed Kosovo Protection Corps.
It was a way to offer a compromise between their mandate to demilitarize Kosovo
and the KLA leaders’ determination to maintain some sort of standing force.
The KPC is tasked and trained to be a multi-disciplinary, multi-ethnic, indigenous
civil agency that will be able to respond to disasters affecting the population
and territory of Kosovo. The Corps has to conduct search and rescue operations,
assist in rebuilding the infrastructure and provide support to the United Nations.
It is also tasked with de-mining the whole territory of Kosovo.
In January 2000, according to Çeku, the agency officially started training
as the Kosovo Protection Corps. Currently, the KPC has 5,052 members, of which
2,000 are reservists.
The organization is said to be modeled after the French Sécurité
Civile. KFOR and the UN said that by no means is it supposed to be simply a
continuation of the KLA under a new name, with harmless tasks.
The International Organization for Migration conducts and oversees the training
for new KPC members. IOM was tasked to run the training program for 4,000 members
in areas such as civil education and human rights, search and rescue, first
aid and emergency operations, but also administrative skills, decision-making,
logistics, communications and public relations.
Çeku said that the KLA agreed to its new missions, as a form of compromise.
“We accept,” he said. “We have been asked by the international
community to do so. That is the main reason.” He explained that, because
Kosovo and the former KLA wanted and needed the international support, they
did not want to risk any kind of confrontation by refusing to demilitarize.
But Çeku holds on to the idea of turning the KPC into Kosovo’s
national guard. “We decided that we are going to transform the KLA into
the KPC, but it also has to be mentioned that in due course we will be the army...as
a part of the political process in the independent Kosovo.”
His biggest challenge is encouraging KFOR to think about this option, he said.
“I have written to KFOR. They say that right now is not the right time,”
he said. “But I think that there isn’t lots of time, because we
have to do this while the international community and UNMIK is here. They can
guide. They can limit the control, supervise and make sure that we are building
a force based on Western standards, Western values with strong partners and
allies in the region.”
However, it all comes down to the ultimate status of Kosovo, he explained,
an issue that the international community, even to this day, is wary of approaching.
Çeku’s notion of a national guard is based on the assumption that
Kosovo will be independent, a goal for which he and his KLA compatriots have
been fighting from the beginning.
At the same time, the international community is torn between the concept of
independence and the option of leaving Kosovo as a part of Serbia and Montenegro,
but with complete autonomy.
Critics of the KPC
Critics, for years, have derided the KPC as the KLA in disguise. Its members
have been accused of corruption and engaging organized crime, acting without
regard for any kind of authority.
Circulating within the UN are rumors that the KLA uses the KPC as a shield
for continuing to train with military weapons. According to Çeku, the
agency still has about 2,000 weapons, mostly small arms used for protection.
“We are not doing military training, except that we are using military
material, because it is a lot easier to go to the military folks here to get
manuals and to transfer them,” Çeku said. “We are not allowed
to do it [military training], and we are not doing it.”
The IOM official stance is that the KPC members are to be trained as first
responders, and that it is not aware of any kind of weapons training, according
to Tamara Osorio, an IOM spokesperson. “They receive some training from
KFOR, but I am not sure that they train with weapons,” she told National
Çeku admitted that they preserved a military organization. “[We
kept] the uniforms and the ranks, the camps, the drills and the discipline.
And we have some weapons. We are looking, thinking and acting like an army,
but the operations that we are doing are not military operations,” he
Nevertheless, some disagree with that view. “Because they are treated
as a civilian emergency force, it bolsters the idea that it’s just an
act until they can become an army,” said a UN official who asked for anonymity.
“Because they are not an Army, they do not get formal training.”
The Albanian title of the KPC-Trupat Mbrojtëse të Kosovës (TMK)—has
also raised suspicion about their intent to actually be considered a defense
organization. According to the ICG report, the ambiguity of that phrase has
two possible interpretations: it can mean “protection” but it also
“The international community insists on the English name, but the KLA
leaders have been able to play in the ambiguity to claim that the KPC is a defense
corps,” said the ICG report. The direct translation of TMK is “Troops
of the Kosovo Defense Force.” Some KLA members joke that it stands for
“Masters of Kosovo,” the BBC reported a couple years ago.
KPC is split into six regional task groups, each with its own commander. In
many towns, uniformed KPC members circulate looking and acting just as they
did when they were KLA. The KPC red-black shoulder patch looks very much like
the old KLA one, now outlawed.
Despite all criticism, Çeku said, Kosovars view the KPC/TMK as their
army. “They believe that we are the future army, and for them, we are
the future defense force,” Çeku stressed. However, he emphasized
that the KPC gladly accepted its disaster relief role. “We show our commitment
to assist the people of Kosovo,” Çeku said.
Col. Mustaf Gashi, the commander of the KPC’s simulation center, described
it as a good mission. “Everybody is sacrificing and hoping for the best,”
Both Çeku and Gashi conceded that the former guerrilla fighters made
some efforts to adjust from a military force to a civilian agency. “It
is a little bit hard,” Gashi said. He picked up his cell phone and said:
“I love this telephone, and if I lose it, I will miss it, but I will learn
to live without it.”
A salary of 174 Euros a month is not what keeps him in the organization, said
Gashi. It is not enough to support his wife, three children and his widowed
mother. His father was killed by the Serbs, he said.
“I am here for a reason. I sacrificed myself, and I hope for the better
future.” He said that as long as KFOR is present in Kosovo, there will
be no need for another force. “Not for the moment,” anyway.
Also fuelling the controversy around the KPC is that several members—former
KLA fighters—have been indicted for war crimes during the war in 1999.
Even though Western officials handpicked him, Çeku himself garnered
intense scrutiny when the international war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia
in The Hague began investigating him. The court dug into alleged ethnic cleansing
committed in Krajina, a Serb-populated region of Croatia, between 1993 and 1995.
Çeku is a former brigadier in the Croatian Army and emerged as the KLA
commander in the summer of 1999. He was suspected of involvement in the organization
of an assault on three villages in the Krajina region that killed inhabitants
and razed the villages.
Çeku was born in Pec, in western Kosovo, and joined the Yugoslav National
Army as a teenager. Based on his performance, he was admitted to the military
academy. He subsequently joined the Croatian Army as an officer. He was awarded
several medals by then-Croatian president Franjo Tudjman.
American diplomats who have been supportive of the KPC, however, suggested
that any indictment of Çeku would most likely be sealed and kept out
of the public domain, according to an October 10, 1999 report in the London
Training and Simulation
Most of the money poured into KPC training comes from the U. S. government,
a strong supporter of the civilian agency, said Çeku. The IOM manages
the training funds. But neither Çeku nor Osorio, the IOM spokesperson,
would disclose how much money the KPC spends on training.
Whatever that sum is, it seems “enough,” said Çeku, “because
we are not suffering from [lack of] support in training.”
The KPC members train in four areas. “First of all, it is leadership
development and skills,” he explained. “Second is collective training
and third is individual training—basic individual training—and then
special skills based on the job of each member of KPC.”
Individual training is about the “internal rules of the KPC,” Çeku
said. Special skills include map reading and navigation. Collective training
deals with major emergencies, like an earthquake, or a fire.
Generally, a good portion of the training is conducted in simulations. Gashi
explained that the unit relies on three types of simulations: scripted, table
top and computer-driven.
“We do not have a digital terrain of Kosovo, because it is not approved,
since we are not a state yet, but we take something similar [landscape] to Kosovo
and we build up the coordinates,” Gashi said.
Tents are used to represent the emergency operations room, the planning room
and the situational room. On the other side is another tent that houses the
units that have to go into action.
The students then execute the mission on the computer and evaluate their performance
in the after-action review room. The scenarios usually are prepared well in
advance, based on the commander’s request and recommendations.
“We have set four goals with training,” said Çeku. One is
self-sufficiency. The second is standardization. “Because we are supported
by KFOR from different nations with different policy and different procedures,
we find that a difficulty. We have to ...come up with the KPC doctrine or KPC
standard operations procedures,” he explained. The third is targeted training,
“to train every member of every unit,” he said. The last one is
“That is the reason why, a few months ago, we created the training and
doctrine command to centralize this training. And [now] the training and doctrine
command is executing all the training for the KPC,” he stressed. The Corps
also is working on a training program for reserve forces.
Çeku said he also wants to recruit more minorities. Even though membership
is open to all residents, including the Serbs, only three Serbs have so far
joined the KPC, according to Çeku. “It is difficult to recruit
minorities, because we have failed to establish dialog with local Serbs here.”
“Also, they are very suspicious of the KPC. They think the KPC is still
the KLA and a threat to them. We have very good information that Serbs would
like to join, but there is still no set policy to join the KPC and the international
community has to fight with the Serbian leaders and invite Serbs to join the
Nevertheless, the criteria to join the KPC will become more stringent this
“At the beginning there were no strict criteria to join the KPC, it was
just for the KLA, and in KPC all of them are former KLA,” said Çeku.
“After a few years, now we are in the position to set up the regulations,
and we will start the selection process to identify the vacant posts.”
He said that new candidates would have to undergo physical, medical and intelligence
“It is not easy to join the KPC. The standards will be much higher than
they have been so far. We want to become a very professional organization,”
While the organization has enough money to train potential members, it lacks
the funding to buy new equipment, he said. “We have mostly engineering
equipment, [for] transportation, logistics, search and rescue and fire fighting.
... But it is not enough for everybody.”
In 2000, the European Union donated 5 million Euros worth of equipment, he
said. Because they are short on equipment, “We are not able yet to conduct
some of the projects,” he noted. “We are able to participate in
small projects to help people, but we [can’t] adopt our own project.”
Despite the lack of modern hardware, Çeku said he believes that KPC
will be self-sufficient by 2004. The training that they are receiving will be
instrumental once the KPC becomes a national guard, Çeku said. In a sense,
he explained, “we are preparing for that as well, because there are a
lot of skills that we are learning today that are transferable.”
“We are exercising discipline, we have ranks, we have structure and so
all these types of things are very similar to any uniformed organization and
that is how we are preparing,” he said. “[What] we are doing, we
are doing together with the international community.”
Çeku wants to build an army based on the U.S. National Guard model,
in part, because of the type of missions the KPC already is training to do in
disaster relief. All it needs to do is expand to security operations, he said.
His ideal army will be “big enough to do this job, but small enough not
to affect others.” It would participate in “peacekeeping support
in NATO operations within NATO structures,” he said. “We are not
thinking about a conscript army, [it will be] all professional and mobile. Whatever
it is doing, it is doing with its neighbors and with NATO.”
The KPC has not gone as far as identifying potential enemies. “We aren’t
seeing any of our neighbors as an enemy,” he said. “We are seeing
enemies perhaps world terrorists.” The tasks he foresees are disaster
relief, internal stability, security and preventing inter-ethnic violence. “So
we have to create the force to respond to these issues,” he added.
Çeku said he wants to expand the KPC to about 6,000 members, including
the reserves. “It is not up to me how many people we need to recruit.
It is decided by the government. We have a parliament,” that can make
those decisions, he said. “For disaster relief missions we have plenty
of people, but we need all these people, because we have a long-term goal.”