The winding village roads teem with old cars covered in the grime of winter.
The familiar dark green NATO trucks and white and blue-inscribed United Nations
vehicles dart in and out of the traffic. Amid the ruins of burnt houses, new
red brick is emerging. In shanties, villagers sell pirated CDs, and some offer
to wash or fix cars.
This is the reality of Kosovo, the small, war-ridden province of what is now
Serbia and Montenegro, which three years ago turned into an exploding powder
keg in Western Europe’s backyard.
Some of the bloodstains are drying out and the region has started healing its
wounds from the ethnic war between the Serbians and Albanians, despite the occasional
mine, or grenade, going off. Weapons smuggled to and from Macedonia and organized
crime also are part of the daily life in Kosovo today.
Homegrown agencies, such as the Kosovo Police Service and the Kosovo Protection
Corps, are starting to bud as Kosovar society is moving to reconstruct and in
many ways shed the culture of a past riddled with intolerance.
The progress is visible to those who have been there from the start. After
an 11-week NATO bombing campaign in 1999, Kosovo has been under the governance
of the interim United Nations administration and the protection of NATO’s
Kosovo Force, or KFOR. The United States contributes at least 3,000 troops.
Much of what they are doing these days is civilian in nature. Local agencies
are expected, one day, to take over their jobs. But that will not happen for
at least another five years, if not 10, according to insiders. Many observers
say that Kosovo is a 30-year problem, “not a piece of equipment you can
just mend,” in the words of a British officer.
NATO’s multi-national brigades have split their responsibility to cover
all geographic regions of the province, monitoring illegal border passing, the
smuggling of illegal goods and weapons, and making sure that villagers are safe.
Much of their work boils down to patrols.
Most soldiers deployed in the multi-national brigades don’t think years
ahead, but focus on the task in hand.
For Sgt. Daniel James and his Explosive Ordnance Disposal team from the U.S.
Army’s 702nd Ordnance Battalion at Camp Bondsteel, being deployed means
being on call 24 hours a day. They gear up anytime a mine, or anything that
may be an explosive, is found either by KFOR or the locals.
“First you see if there isn’t any metal, then you get down, and
you start probing, clear with the mine detector up to two feet, you get down,
you clear any grass or whatever, and you start probing with the probe,”
James says. “You clear out a certain distance and you come back with the
mine detector and you do it all over again.”
This process takes a long time. “To do a meter, you are looking at an
hour,” he says. Teams of two rotate every 20 minutes.
“Whenever you are doing mines, you want to swap out, just because it
is so tedious and it takes so long, and you start getting a little complacent,”
he says. “Every time you hit metal you need to probe it. You got to figure
out if it is just tracing holes in the ground, if it is a piece of brass left-
over from a tool someone dropped 10 years ago... You don’t know. You got
to check it out.”
Since NATO troops have been deployed to Kosovo, they have found all types of
mines in the fields, James says.
Most mines are either anti-tank or anti-vehicle, which are the bigger ones,
and anti-personnel, James says. “Within anti-personnel mines, you have
what is called fragmentation mines, or bounding mines.” Those are made
out of TNT and trip-wire, which breaks the contents into shrapnel. Most of the
bombs found were of Yugoslav military make. Some are regular demolition blocks.
“They are made out of TNT. They screw in a fuze, and now you have an anti-personnel
mine,” he says.
As far as anti-tank mines go, “we have been pulling out a lot of TMA3,”
says Sgt. Brad Grimes. The TMA3 has four fuzes. “It’s just a big
blast, a big chunk of explosives.”
The mine has plastic coating. When Kosovo farmers would find them in their
fields, they “would pull the fuzes out of them, and would cut them in
wedges and use the explosives to blow stumps,” Grimes says. “They
really should not do it.”
With winter settling into the province, mines do not surface as easily. “That
may change as the weather changes, because the farmers will go out and plow
their fields and replant,” Grimes says. He also notes that while these
farmers could find mines that could have been planted years ago, they also can
find mines that could have been recently dropped onto the field.
The Multi-national Brigade East, with the United States in command, has had
its hands full with a village called Klokot, not far from Camp Bondsteel, the
main U.S. base.
“It is a really good mix of Albanian and Serbian people, and they do
not like each other,” James says. “The Albanians are really trying
to push the Serbians out of there, and there’s a lot of trouble.”
The village has seen its share of tragedy. Two U.S. Army soldiers were injured
in a series of explosions that destroyed several houses in July. A local woman
was killed from a mine explosion in October, says James.
He recounts the story of a Serbian farmer who owns land right in the middle
of a track of fields that belong to Albanians. The farmer found rows of pumpkins
in his field, marked “mines.”
“They called us to go and clear it, and there was no mine there,”
James says. “[The Albanians] have been trying to make him sell his land
and were saying that if he doesn’t, they were going to mine his field.”
The violence goes beyond planting mines. “Something that we are dealing
with right now are grenades. People throw them at each other,” says Grimes.
“People throw them at homes.”
The EOD troops fondly talk about a Serbian Kosovo Police Service officer, on
an all-Albanian force, who despite all odds against him makes it to work every
day. “He has had grenades outside his house, booby traps. On the bridge
that he crosses to go to work every day, they put trip wires. I think it happened
10 times. And he still goes to work every day.”
Many people stash their grenades away, Staff Sgt. Scott Cornelison says. M-52
and M-75 hand grenades were found in empty homes, he says. “I have found
them in shipping containers, underneath rocks.”
EOD units work hard to communicate the dangers of grenades, especially to children,
he says. “We tell them, ‘if you see something like unexploded ordnance,
don’t get near it. Tell your parents, make sure your parents get out there
and let nobody else into the area and call the police,’” he notes.
People often fear retribution, if they notify the police. NATO has instituted
an amnesty program to address that problem.
The soldiers from the Polish-Ukrainian battalion, which also is part of MNB(E)
spend endless hours on the Kosovo roads stopping cars and checking them for
illegal goods or weapons.
They also spend mind-numbing days and nights guarding the deserted Orthodox
church in Kacanik, a village that now has mainly a Muslim Albanian population.
They guard the church in case it may be attacked by the Albanian population,
who would much rather not see the Serbian minority return to their village,
the soldiers say.
“Personally, I think that KFOR is everything here in Kosovo,” says
Lt. Col. Wojciech Marchwica. “I know that we have a lot of other organizations,
but everyone in Kosovo, if they have any problem is going mainly to KFOR, not
to the UN,” he added. That happens because KFOR has been effective in
solving problems, he says.
Marchwica is the commander of the Polish-Ukrainian battalion, which reports
to the U.S. Army as part of the Multi-national Brigade East. The battalion was
stood up in 1997 and is made up of Polish and Ukrainian soldiers, as well as
Lithuanians. Marchwica calls it “the biggest battalion in Kosovo.”
The battalion was created to help smooth out historically tense relationships
among the countries. “We are in uniform, and we are the only good example
of cooperation between nations,” he says in his makeshift conference trailer
that reminiscences some of the comforts of home.
Ukranian Sgt. Gregori Troynar says that without this mission he would have
never gotten to know the Kosovo people and begin to understand them. At least
half of the missions they are tasked to do, such as securing a convoy, are far
different from what they would do in their home countries. He says that their
presence in the region automatically lowers the criminal activity.
“When we meet with local people, the leaders are glad that Polish soldiers
are here, because they take many weapons away,” says Lt. Peter Cichon,
from the Polish Army. “This mission is very important. We have been here
since 1999. ... The situation is stabilized, the region is rebuilding. Kosovar
people will rule themselves.”
Marchwica is not as optimistic. In his opinion, “this mission will be
long, long ... I think 10 years.”
Kosovo Police Service
As the local law enforcement agency, the Kosovo Police Service, is training
to eventually take over much of what KFOR does in Kosovo nowadays.
The UN has the mandate to build the Kosovo police force. When the UN police
arrived in June 1999, all they had were white Toyotas and their suitcases, says
Barry Fletcher, the spokesperson for the Kosovo Police Service.
Their first task was to create UNMIK (UN mission in Kosovo) police and, it
took about “nine months before we had enough officers to do effective
normal patrolling,” Fletcher says. “At the same time, we had the
mandate of creating a local police force to replace the Serbian authorities
that were exiting, and that local police force is the Kosovo Police Service.”
The KPS was established in September 1999, but the first police academy class
did not start until December of that year. “That first police academy
class got only seven weeks of training. And that actually translated to about
three weeks,” says Fletcher. “They were basically shown how to put
on the uniforms and how to fire their pistols, and a few other things, and then
put them on the street.”
But, he says, the KPS progressed quite rapidly. “From zero officers on
December 1, 1999, working for the KPS three years ago, there are now 5,200,”
says Fletcher. Their assignments also become more intricate, starting with traffic
enforcement, the evolving to murder investigations, financial fraud and smuggling.
“The only thing we are still not using them for are investigations into
organized crime,” says Fletcher. “This is a closed society, and
we do not believe that it is practical at this time for KPS officers to investigate
significant organized crime in Kosovo. It will be years before that is possible.
To put it bluntly, they would just be killed.”
The KPS are organized and trained similarly to police forces in North America,
Fletcher explains. “It is not a coincidence. The Justice Department is
paying the bulk of the finding for the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation
in Europe] police school, and they are using the model of the Justice Department’s
The weapons training is based on American standards. “That is why you
see them with American-style equipment, the only exception to that are the uniforms,
which are from the Danish police. Denmark donated all initial sets of uniforms,”
The KPS will be a national police force. Kosovo will be divided into regions
and within those regions, there will be police stations.
The UN has started turning over to the KPS some of the 34 police stations in
Kosovo. Those stations still remain under international supervision.
According to Fletcher, the KPS will be the primary law enforcement authority
in Kosovo by July 2005. International officers still will provide advice and
oversight, says Fletcher.
Others predict it may take while longer for the KPS officers to take over.
“It’s going to take at least seven years...because it takes a long
time to get experience,” says Joe Casey, a U.S. Civil Police (Civpol)
officer, working at the KPS station in Gjilan.
He estimates that the KPS would need about 8,000 officers to compensate for
the normal attrition. The active force should stay at around 6,000, he explains.
While the indigenous police force has been improving at a rapid pace, Kosovars
have challenged its authority, says Fletcher.
“We have a cultural problem here...This is a clan-based, medieval culture
that they come from,” he says. “Our biggest problem here is overcoming
the cultural leftovers from the times of oppression, overcoming hatred and instilling
in the KPS officers this idea of rule of law, as opposed to the idea of rule
by village head-man. If you are a big man, you are above the law in their society.”
Having only existed as a force for a few years, the KPS officers have not developed
a corporate culture, as there would be in an American police force, for them
to blend into, Fletcher explains.
For example, he says, officers have difficulty knowing how to enforce the law
fairly, regardless of who may be violating it. “We have got to change
their culture, so that they can enforce the law equally and impartially, not
just enforce it against people who do not have any power.”
Nevertheless, the KPS is not ready to take over law enforcement by itself and
absorb all the KFOR missions. Organized crime and corruption will be sore issues
for a long time.
“There are elements of society that ... can pose a significant threat
to the law enforcement authorities in Kosovo, without the back-up KFOR would
provide,” Fletcher says. “It’s too soon to say that all KFOR
will be able to go home and the police force will take over.”
Fletcher’s own prognosis is that this would be a decade-long process
even if KFOR were to cut down significantly in numbers.
British Maj. Graham Dunlop, the spokesperson for the Multi-national Brigade
Center, in charge of the capital Pristina region, says that Kosovo has developed
a “dependency on the international community.” But he notes that
“soldiers are approachable and accessible to the public. [The military]
encourages the public to approach them with problems, which allows us to help
more and to participate in the community.”
Black Hawk Pilots
U.S. forces, for the most part, are resigned to the fact that the Kosovo mission
is civilian in nature. “You are using the military to subsidize the police
action,” says Lt. Col. Sam Ford, the commander of Task Force Dragon at
Camp Bondsteel. Many of his men are seasoned Black Hawk pilots who have been
in the heart of armed conflict. This transitional period in Kosovo leaves them
with little to do.
“Frankly, we are not doing what we are used to,” says CW-5 Bob
Witter. Most of the Black Hawk flights in Kosovo are VIP flights.
Aviation is mostly a show of force, according to the pilots. The task force
has dedicated two helicopters for a quick reaction force in case of emergencies,
mostly landmine explosions and fires. They also fly over to other American camps,
Montieth and Rock, to drop off supplies and the mail, or into villages to drop
“We are transitioning from a peace enforcing, peacekeeping mission now
to a civil authority,” says Ford. “It is more of a police-type action,
so, therefore, the procedures need to adapt to that.”
Army officials are spending time studying specific trends, such as the weapons
black market, organized crime or identifying the leaders of a community.
“So what we have to do is track the intelligence and see if there is
a trend. Based on that, we can set up an area that can be searched,” Ford
First Lt. Noah Kantor says that every U.S. Army unit deployed to Kosovo, “perhaps
with the exception of Civil Affairs and PSYOPS (Psychological Operations) are
doing jobs that they weren’t originally trained for.”
However, “a lot of training went into this,” Maj. Jim Cutting chimes
Much of what Task Force Dragon does involves medical evacuation training. “We
invited all of the other nations’ medical assets and we compared them
all in one location,” Cutting says. “It may sound stupid, but German
Medevac is not the same as ours.”
U.S. crews found that the British stretcher is two inches too big for the Black
Hawk, says Witter.
“We did this exercise where the French litter fit [into the Black Hawk]
and then the next day they showed up with another one that did not fit,”
One problem, despite all the training, is that many of the European militaries
do not stay deployed as long as the U.S. forces. While the U.S. Army is deployed
for six months at a time, other units stay for three, for example.
“Those that we are working with right now, they may change in one or
two months,” says Witter. “The standards never stay the same. It’s
always working with new people.”
Working within an international environment can be perplexing, says Cutting.
Operations “involve NATO. It involves [just] KFOR. It involves U.S. forces
solely, the State Department. It is not as clear-cut as some of the projects
you are doing in military school, where you are given a mission and you have
a boss, and only one boss. ... It’s not like you have several bosses,
and they all have several bosses, and some of them work for each other. [Chain
of command] can be very confusing.”
He noted that this situation does not necessarily affect the quality of the
operation, but the planning gets more complicated.
Nevertheless, Cutting notes that working with other nations is “nothing
to be blind-sided by.”
“If it is a language barrier, there are interpreters, and if it is an
operational difference, [it is no different than when] you have problems working
within your own brigade back in the states,” he adds.
Several pilots speaking with National Defense concede that the Kosovo deployment
may have eroded some of their combat skills. Referring to the possibility of
war with Iraq, where his unit could possibly be called up, Witter says that
they would be ready to fight, with the proper brush-up training. “The
things that in the past we were trying to do, for the most part, we are not
able to do here.”
“But people remember,” he admits, “so it would not take long
to get in that mindset and mode.”
Ford explains that the task force constantly assesses the readiness level of
the troops. “We’ll say that it is going to take us these many days
to train back up for high-intensity conflict.”
U.S. forces generally are able to “shift from peacekeeping to high intensity
conflict,” Witter notes. “A lot of the nations that are here now,
they won’t be participating [in a war against Iraq].”
While troops and pilots must adjust to a peacekeeping environment, aircraft
maintainers get to do the same kind of work as they would do in any location.
According to Ford, the Kosovo deployment has a higher priority in terms of parts
delivery. The readiness level stays at 83-87 percent, above the Army average.
“These guys are doing what they were trained in the Army to do,”
In Kosovo, wear and tear to the equipment comes from sudden changes in weather.
“The temperature goes from warm to cold and back, and that affects the
aircraft,” says Sgt. 1st Class Steven Burros. The weather affects electronic
gear, he says. Seals come off, and sometimes there are hydraulic oil leaks.