U.S. Forces Help Police Kosovo
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 10, 1999 "We are the only police around," the American sector commander in Kosovo told Pentagon reporters Aug. 5.
Army Brig. Gen. John Craddock, Task Force Falcon commander, briefed the reporters by telephone. About 16 U.N. officials are in the American sector preparing the way for U.N. police, he said, but U.S. troops are serving as police in the absence of a U.N. police force or trained, local police forces.
Craddock said about 5,800 American soldiers are now in Kosovo, and about 200 American aviators, based in Macedonia, fly daily into the southern Yugoslav province. American troops work with about 2,100 Greek, Polish and Russian forces also assigned to the U.S. sector.
The task force is sized and equipped to take on the police role, according to the commander. "These combat soldiers are trained to do a lot," he said. "They are very agile and adept at quick reaction. [They have] the ability to move from Point A to Point B when something comes up hot or we get an indication there's trouble." Military police are doing a superb job, the general added, working long hours, seven days a week.
The troops are equipped with tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and armored Humvees, as well as Black Hawk and Apache helicopters, Craddock said. Apache gun cameras, he noted, provide proof of illegal checkpoints and other activities.
"That's pretty powerful stuff when you meet with the leaders of either the Serb community or the [KLA], and you tell them, 'Don't do it,' and they plead ignorance," he said.
The international security force has had a calming effect on the sector and is keeping violence from getting out of hand, Craddock said. Still, he estimates, there are 12 to 15 homicides a week and four to five arson cases a day. Arson generally involves vacant houses, Craddock said.
"Some of them are second torchings. In talking to the soldiers out there on the streets,... every day, they tell me that a house that's burned will continue to be burned until the chimney falls. That is the yardstick [for measuring] when the house is destroyed."
Assaults, robberies and other crimes are widespread. "There are some acts of revenge in terms of hand grenades, some ordnance that is thrown, homemade bombs, things like that," the commander said. "We find quite often stolen cars now are starting to be reported because we've established military police stations where the citizens can come in and report these problems."
The task force has positioned troops based on the incidence of crime and intimidation, Craddock said. The Serbs "want to feel safe, so that means presence," he said. "We've got to be out there where they are."
Craddock added more criminal investigators to the force to deal with the violence, and "that's paying dividends," he said. Investigators are starting to link information that has resulted in several arrests. Military investigators have solved a few kidnappings and raided unlawful detention centers where Albanians were holding Serbs illegally.
Military officials are focused on mixed Serb-Albanian areas where violence continues to erupt. In areas where Serb residents have fled and only Albanians remain, the situation has quieted down considerably, Craddock reported. There are still daily, random burnings of houses vacated by the Serbs, however. Fires are set by teen-agers "with malicious intent," or by returning Albanian refugees venting their desire for revenge.
In mixed areas, small numbers of Serbs continue to depart each day. In Vitina, for example, a town which is about 70 percent Albanian and 30 percent Serb, a large number of Serbs fled recently after tensions erupted into gunfire, Craddock said. "We repeatedly went in and stationed soldiers there to stop that, but the Serbs said the intimidation factor was too great. They left."
In this case, however, the Serbs did not go to Serbia, he noted. They went to an all-Serbian town only a few kilometers away from their original homes. "In many cases, the Serbs are not leaving the province; they are moving to a more secure location in Serb-only villages and towns," he said.
Albanian villages surround a Serb enclave of about 7,000 people within the American sector, Craddock said. Another area within the sector, the Vitina-Gnijlane-Kamenica Valley, has the highest concentration of Serbs remaining in the province.
"Because we have the largest concentration of Serbs in the province, we are doing a lot of different things to extend that security blanket out among more communities," he said. Task force officials are also working to convince the Serbs that they need to work with the NATO-led forces and that staying in Kosovo is in the best interests of all concerned.
A peaceful future in the province will be assured through "small first steps," Craddock said. If both sides stop shooting and start talking, the "life ahead's going to be better than the lives they've had."
In the meantime, the general concluded, "We haven't won this thing, but we are making progress."
Craddock is slated to leave Kosovo in mid-August to become commander of the 7th Army Training Center at Grafenwoehr, Germany. His scheduled successor is Army Brig. Gen. Craig Peterson, currently 1st Armored Division chief of staff at Bad Kreuznach, Germany.