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NATO Chief Says More Police Vital in Kosovo

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2000 – In the absence of enough international police, U.S. and allied forces in Kosovo are involved in a dangerous, stressful mission, according to NATO's top military commander in Europe.

More police are vital to restoring stability in the war- torn province, said U.S. Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark.

Clark, who also commands U.S. Forces Europe, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee in early February. He told committee members much has been achieved since the June 10 end of the air campaign.

"Serb forces -- military and paramilitary police -- are out. The refugees are home. NATO is in." The general stressed, however, that more police forces are urgently needed. Despite the military's progress in restoring stability, he said, civil implementation has been slow. As a result, he said, "criminal activities and violence remain constant challenges."

Clark highlighted some of the violence that 44,000 peacekeepers, including about 5,800 Americans, have faced since NATO's Kosovo Force deployed into the war torn province. During the first six months, 615 incidents of hostile fire, 15 mortar or recoilless rifle attacks, 20 altercations with unruly crowds, 129 grenade attacks and 58 mine strikes occurred in the area where U.S. troops serve.

KFOR troops also have to contend with more than 600 known minefields with nearly 36,000 mines laid by Yugoslav military forces, and another 136 fields laid by unknown sources with an unknown number of mines. So far, Clark said, KFOR has destroyed about 1,500 mines and more than 5,600 unexploded ordnance. In the U.S. sector, a mine killed one soldier and two others have received minor injuries during hostile action.

Clark attributes the risks involved in this mission to the politics of the situation and the endemic underlying violence. "We need to get our soldiers out of this mission as rapidly as possible to reduce their exposure," he said.

In some cases, U.S. service members are doing things they're really not trained or qualified to do, he said. "They're doing it because no one else can do it. And, by and large, they're doing it quite well. But still, we need to move them out of this as rapidly as possible."

The situation calls for more police to maintain law and order, he said. The United Nations has called for 6,000 police in Kosovo, Clark said, but to date, less than 2,000 are currently deployed.

Due to an international shortage of police officers, countries contributing forces to the mission are having trouble recruiting police. While hundreds of police continue arriving in Kosovo, hundreds of others continue to leave. He said they're dissatisfied with the difficult working environment. "It wasn't what they signed up for," he said.

"What we have seen that really works is the commitment of forces like the French Gendarmerie, the Italian Carabinieri and the Spanish Guardia Civil," Clark said. This is because these are essentially deployable military units trained in civilian police skills. Clark called on the European community to commit resources to build a support structure addressing the need for police in peacekeeping operations.

It will be some time before local police are ready to assume law enforcement duties in Kosovo, Clark added. So far 176 students have graduated from a police training school set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Another 178 students are slated to graduate in mid-February. "So we're a long way to go on the civilian police side from where we need to be," the general told committee members.

In the meantime, U.S. troops and others assigned to Multinational Brigade East, conduct patrols and provide security 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 48 checkpoints and 62 key facilities. U.S. service members in Kosovo are extremely busy and are doing a great job, according to the commander.

Commenting on U.S service members deployed in both Bosnia and Kosovo, Clark told the Congress members: "They're doing a brilliant job there. They're doing everything that's asked of them. They're doing it with imagination and courage and determination, and I think all Americans can by very, very proud of the work of these young men and women."

Although U.S. Army officials are investigating incidents in Vitina of alleged improper conduct by U.S. service members, Clark said, the Kosovar people continue their support for the allied peacekeepers. Army officials are investigating complaints that Albanians claim American soldiers used excessive force in dealing with local residents in Vitina. Army Staff Sgt. Frank J. Ronghi has been charged with the Jan. 13 rape and murder of an 11-year-old Albanian girl there.

"If improper actions or crimes were committed, we will take necessary steps to hold those individuals accountable," Clark said.

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