(Note: the general comments are provided by telephone from Task Force Falcon headquarter from Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo.)
Mr. Bacon: General, I think you're well known by voice, if not by face at least to the group in the press room. Probably the best thing for you is to start out with a brief assessment of how things are going. You've got a week left in your mission, I know. You've had a very busy time over there. Why don't you give the group here of about 30 people a sense of how things are going, and then we'll throw it open to questions.
General Craddock: As you understand and obviously see, the mission continues. From my perspective it's going well, pretty much according to plan, maybe a bit ahead of plan. Maybe better in some areas than others. I'll discuss those shortly.
Right now on the ground about [there are] 5,800 U.S. troops here in Kosovo. If you add in the aviation element that's still in Macedonia but flying up here daily, they will stay there until we prepare the airfield capability here, then we've got a little over 6,000 U.S. troops daily operating in Kosovo. Added to that, around 2,100 multinational troops -- that's the Greeks, the Poles and the Russians. So a robust force, indeed, at this time.
As I've stated previously, again in the American area of operations there are two distinct areas that subtend our overall boundaries. The first is the north/south set and that runs from Macedonia up through Kacanik, through Urosavac, then goes up the plain to the boundary with the British area and the Pristina area. That area now is predominantly Albanian. Maybe only 100 or so Serbs are left in that area. It has been, for all intents and purposes, both during the war and immediately afterwards, and with the few left when we arrived, purged of Serbs in that area.
Set that aside. The next set we have runs from that area up to the northeast, and that's the Vitina-Gnjilane-Kamenica Valley and that is still an Albanian/Serb area. At this time, based upon the fact that in the other parts of the province of Kosovo many of the Serbs have left, in this part of Kosovo not as many have left, and that has resulted in the highest concentration of Serbs remaining located here in this area.
Additionally, there is one more Serb enclave, and that is in the town of Strpce which is far to the southwest, bordering up against the German area. That is a Serb enclave of about 7,000 surrounded by Albanian villages.
So those are in the southwest extreme of our area and the northeast are Serb/Albanian, and then in the middle is north/south, purely an Albanian demographic.
Trends at this time are mixed. Again, because the north/south valley is all Albanian, that has quieted down considerably. There are still random house burnings of those houses that were vacated by the Serbs, and daily we find that those are being set on fire. Sometimes we find by teenagers, and that's just malicious intent; and other times it's a revenge act by refugees who are back and want to get back at the Serbs, and the only way is to torch the house that's already been vacated.
In the Gnjilane Valley, the Vitina area, there are Serbs departing. There are small numbers every day. In one of the towns, Vitina, day before yesterday, a large number of Serbs left because it is an ethnically mixed town, about 70 percent Albanian, 30 percent Serb. Since we have been there there have been tensions (that) erupted into gunfire. We repeatedly went in and stationed soldiers there to stop that, but the Serbs said the intimidation factor was too great. They left. They did not, however, leave the province. They did not go to Serbia. They moved to another town that is an all-Serbian town and they are located there only a few kilometers away from their original homes. So in many cases the Serbs are not leaving the province; they are moving to a more secure location in Serb-only villages and towns.
With regard to the crime that's ongoing, there is indeed a lot of crime here. Assaults, robberies. There are some acts of revenge in terms of hand grenades, some ordnance that is thrown, homemade bombs, things like that. 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.
So the trend there is probably settled at this time. It's still higher than we'd like up in the Albanian/Serb area. Sometimes it's hard to tell routine crime from acts of revenge. Down in the predominantly Albanian areas the crime rate is reduced considerably.
With regard to the UCK and the undertaking, again, that continues on. The UCK is generally compliant with the provisions of the undertaking. We do find occasional UCK soldiers who have violated the agreements by wearing their uniform outside of the assembly areas or who take part in some act of criminal intent. They're detained and arrested. But by and large the UCK appears to, in the general sense, be complying with the undertaking.
The weapons turn-in has progressed smoothly. We are now consolidating those weapons. We are jointly controlling those and inventorying those with the UCK so that is all on track. We have the Russian forces now, totally one battalion, about 725 soldiers, in the northeast corner of our area. They are occupying now. They are out on missions. There has been some reaction, as you can imagine, from the Albanians in that they don't want them there. They believe there will be a special linkage between the Russians and the Serbs. But we have again brought them in very deliberately. We have turned that area over from U.S. forces very deliberately. And we are still conducting joint patrolling and joint missions with them. We have a military police station in the town of Kamenica so that when persons are detained for breaking the law or violating the undertaking by the Russians, they bring those persons to our military police station, then we do the paperwork and transport them to Camp Bondsteel for detention.
We also have U.S. forces on border screening missions. So there indeed is a joint effort there in the Kamenica Area. It is not strictly a Russian area. Just as throughout the U.S. area of responsibility, whether they be Greeks or Poles, we cross over into the different assigned areas quite often, and it is indeed a multinational operation.
That's a quick overview. I'd be ready to take any questions at this time.
Q: Jamie McIntyre from CNN. General, what more can the Kosovo force do to staunch this exodus of Serbs? Are you essentially powerless because of the intimidation that the Serbs feel?
General Craddock: Well, no, I don't think we're powerless at all. Like I say, because we now have the largest concentration of Serbs in the province, we are doing a lot of different things in order to extend that security blanket, if you will, out among more communities. And also convince the Serbs that they need to work with us and it's in their best interest and the best interests of all concerned if they stay here.
We're doing a few things. One is we are looking at the incident rate of crime, the incident rate of intimidation, and we are then realigning the location of our forces based upon that so we've done some internal shifting.
We've also looked at security. If you talk to the Serbs -- which for example yesterday I met with two different groups, a total of about six hours of meetings with them -- the first thing they want is they want security. They want to feel safe. Understand? So that means presence. We've got to be out there where they are. We're doing that, by and large.
It's the mixed communities where the problem occurs now. That's where the intimidation factor is. That's where the threats are occurring, the violence, trying to get those mixed communities, get the Serbs to move out so then they become all Albanian. That's where our focus is now. So we're working through that.
The second thing they want is they want freedom of movement to move [from] wherever they are to the markets to medical facilities. Invariably based upon the network of villages here and the roads, they will have to go through an Albanian town, predominantly Albanian or all Albanian town, village, enclave, whatever. That's where the problem exists in that their right to free, unimpeded passage can be obstructed by intermittent roadblocks, intermittent checkpoints, things like that. So we're increasing our aerial surveillance to preclude that so that when we see that we can move ground forces there immediately. Or even when they see us in the air then they break up that road block, they break up that checkpoint, and that keeps the traffic flowing. So that helps also.
Another thing we've started to do is we publish over the local radio here -- we work along with the radio station in the towns -- we are publishing what we are doing with regards to law and order. We publish who's arrested -- not by name, but the number of arrests and what for, every day. So that everyone out there who is listening understands here's the things we're finding and here are what we're doing about it.
We have increased our investigative capability here with more criminal investigators. That's paying dividends because we are now starting to link together different bits of information, evidence, if you will, and going out. We've made several arrests recently for those who have committed violent crimes by doing the investigative work. It's starting to come together. We publish that. We go back and tell the people here's what's happened. We have solved a few kidnappings recently. We have raided a few ...I guess they are unlawful detention centers, if you will. The Albanians are holding people illegally (we call it) kidnapping, and we've been able to get information and go in and release Serbs from those detention centers.
So there are a lot of little things, and it's these little things that we then have got to turn back and make sure the Serbs understand -- here's what we're doing. It is hard to do. It's tough work. It's difficult and complex, but it's starting to work. We believe the situation is better now than it was a week ago, or a few days ago, because here in just the last 72 hours [we] have started to modify some of our techniques and procedures.
Q: Two quick follow-ups, General, if I may. It sounds a little bit like you're doing police work. I thought that wasn't part of your mission. Maybe you can clarify it.
And a second follow-up, do you have enough troops to effectively protect the Serbs, or do you need more?
General Craddock: The answer to the first. Yes, it is police work, absolutely, because the United Nations international police force is not here. I have 16 UN international policemen in the United States area right now, and they are administrators, preparing the way for those who will follow, but we don't expect them for some time yet. So in the absence of those police, in the absence of an indigenous police force that has yet to be established and trained, we are the only police around. So absolutely correct. We are a police force to a great extent right now.
Do we have enough forces? Yeah, I think we do. If you take a look at the forces that we have, our capability, the flexibility we have and some technology that helps us out, yes, I think we are fine in terms of the numbers.
The key here is not to put a U.S. soldier in front of every Serb house because that won't last forever. Sooner or later that soldier goes away. There won't be enough police to do that. Then the issue returns. What about security?
The key here is to figure out the cycle of violence, to figure out how it comes about, where the next point it's going to occur -- what town, what village -- then get there first and intercede. Block that cycle. So we thwart their ability to move in, establish the intimidation, the violence, the threats, and we break that off, then the residents will feel more secure. They'll stick it out.
They don't want to leave. It takes, eventually what we've seen a recurring cycle of different steps that escalate. Ultimately then there's a murder or two which is the convincing factor, and then the people band together and leave. If we can, and we are, getting in that cycle now, preventing that from getting to that stage, then those folks who are doing this go somewhere else and we've got to be there ahead of them. So that's our intent right now.
Mr. Bacon: Jim?
Q: General, how many shootings or how many killings are there on an average day? How many arsons are there on an average day? And I presume that it's your belief that there are fewer with your presence than there would be without it.
General Craddock: I absolutely believe that. I can't quantify it because obviously we don't want to leave to figure it out. But I know that we have a calming effect here, and we have a security presence that indeed keeps this from getting out of hand.
An average day, probably two homicides per day. I guess on a week then that's anywhere from 12 to 15. In terms of arsons, that has reduced greatly. The house burnings are down. We have not had any businesses. We are now surveilling all Serb churches, though we have not had any of the churches burned recently. We had one earlier. We've not had anything happen now for about 10 days.
I think the arsons are down probably to four or five a day. Today we had one, which is a low number. We normally have four or five. They are always vacant houses. Some of them are second torchings. In talking to the soldiers out on the street that are out there 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. Then they will stop the burning of that house and go somewhere else.
Mr. Bacon: Bill?
Q: Bill Matthews from Army Times.
You mentioned doing investigations and a lot of police work. Are you using MPs or military investigators? Or are you training ordinary soldiers to do police work? How is that working out?
General Craddock: We're using MPs and criminal investigation division guys, CID guys. Trained investigators. The soldiers are out there, they're the ones, they're the beat cops. They're walking the beat. They're the ones providing the presence. They're the ones that make the apprehension when it's a smoking gun situation. But then when they find the crime that's been committed -- the homicide, the looting, the kidnapping is reported -- they turn that over after making their statements of what they know to the investigators, who then take it from there.
Mr. Bacon: Jim again?
Q: Jim Randle here at the Voice of America. You say you have a sufficient number of troops. Do you have the right kind of troops? It sounds like you could use more police, perhaps you could use more special forces. You have a largely conventional force. Is it the right... Do you have the right kind of soldiers?
General Craddock: Yeah, I think so. These combat soldiers are trained to do a lot, and they are very agile and adept at quick reaction. So the ability to move from Point A to B when something comes up hot or we get an indication there's trouble, they do that very well.
In addition to the tanks and the Bradleys that we have, we have a lot of up-armored HMMWV's. We have Black Hawk helicopters. We can move quick reaction forces. So from that perspective, yes. We're in pretty good shape.
MPs, always valuable. They're doing great work over here. They're doing a lot of long hours, seven days a week. Just superb.
I have a considerable number of special operations forces. I don't want to say any more about that, but also very capable, very credible, and they also are doing an exceptional job.
The aviation assets, again, as I've said previously, the Apache with that gun camera in the nose is able to do a lot of great work. When you fly that thing in a given area and you send them to different locations where we have reports of unauthorized checkpoints, and he can get that on his camera, then we've got that as proof that these things are happening. That's pretty powerful stuff when you meet with the leaders of either the Serb community or the UCK. And you tell them don't do it, and if they plead ignorance, you just show them, here's what I'm talking about. That's very good stuff.
So I think the mix is about right. And I will tell you that the Greek battalion is a mech infantry battalion. They're very mobile. They can put a lot or soldiers out and do a very good job of reacting. The Polish battalion is superb -- very well trained, very disciplined, and they're 750 strong, so that's a big unit with a lot of capability in their area also. The Russians are here, again with about 725, and also a very capable unit.
I think the mix is even about right. We task organize, we look at where the hot spots are, then we tailor the forces and put the strengths on the ground to match that. So I'm pretty comfortable with that right now.
Mr. Bacon: Steve Inskeep?
Q: General, Steve Inskeep from National Public Radio.
What level of organization are you finding in these revenge attacks? Are they always just individuals or mob violence kinds of things? Or do you occasionally find there is some kind of leadership or planning or organization involved?
General Craddock: Both. I would tell you there are occasions where it appears there is a refugee that is Albanian who has returned to find the home gone- everything they had in life gone, or they find part of the house left, but all the goods are gone. Then they discover some of the family property is in the homes of Serbs; whether or not these Serbs took it or not is irrelevant. They could have been dropped off by retreating VJ or MUP. The fact is then they want to take the law into their own hands, and they do. So we've found that.
We've also found occasions where it appears that it was organized. It appears there were groups, both Serb and Albanian, who had an intent and a plan and then they set out and they actually executed that plan -- poor choice of words -- but they actually conducted that plan and they went out to kill someone and that's exactly what they did.
So we have seen both. I think that the former is attributable to the fact that it seems like everybody's got a gun here. When you reach, I guess, a rage emotion level and you've got a gun, odds are you're going to use it. At least here, it's kind of the culture. If you get the guns out of the hands of the people, then maybe they would not get to that level and not feel that bold. But the latter is an actual intent. It's an organized effort. And indeed, that is occurring here, especially in the Albanian/Serb demographical areas.
Q: Do you find organized groups that last over time that commit multiple killings and have lasted awhile?
General Craddock: Well we think we've got that. In my judgment, my assessment is that we've got a splinter group, a rogue element, a criminal element that's out there that is organized and they are moving from town to town or from place to place. If they know of or hear of or have in their own experience Serbs and/or Albanians -- it works both ways -- who they think have committed atrocities or done something in the war crimes arena during the conflict, then they will work a plan and they will go after and exact retribution.
Mr. Bacon: Steve Komarow.
Q: General, Steve Komarow, USA Today.
To follow up on that last question, is any of this stuff being directed from central leadership? I know that publicly we're hearing the UCK saying about the right things, but are you discovering that there are leaders who are privately encouraging the driving out of the Serbs?
General Craddock: No. I have not found that to be the case. I have asked my counterpart UCK zone commanders point blank, where they stand on this. What is your view, what do you feel about the Serbs staying? Both tell me they want the Serbs to stay, but it's conditional. The condition is that the Serbs should stay, and those who have no blood on their hands are welcome to stay and will not be harmed. So that's kind of where they're coming down.
Now what is put out in private, I can't attest to and I won't speculate on that. But I think there is an organized element. Right now I don't know exactly where it is. It's out there somewhere. It is somewhat effective. But you combine that with the individual retribution from person on person, you combine that with just this lawless element that's out there, and a lot of it, as best we can tell, is just for kicks. It's young people who have nothing else to do, there are no jobs. There's nowhere to work. They have guns, they have ammunition, and they have cars right now. They just drive around. We've had a rash of drive-by shootings for what appears to be no apparent reason. The victims just don't tie into any stereotype of any type of soldier or former policeman. They're old people, 70-year-old Serbs who just happen to be walking on the street. You tie those three together and that's where this rash of lawlessness and crime and crimes of violence is coming from. But I cannot say and would not say, I just don't know and I don't believe, that there's any guidance from any organized military organization to execute this type of a strategy.
Q: What do they say when they run across somebody that they think does have blood on their hands? What is the UCK saying in that situation? Are they promising that they will not use vigilante justice or encourage that?
General Craddock: They say nothing. They will not talk either way about that, other than they will put it in a positive context. As long as they did not participate, then they have nothing to fear. That is all you will get.
Q: General, I'm Carl Osgood from Executive Intelligence Review.
There have been allegations that the UCK has been involved in organized crime, drug trafficking and those sorts of activities. Do you have any information of that kind?
General Craddock: No, I have no information or evidence of that. I've heard the allegations. I have not seen any proof of that here where we are. We know that traditionally this area over the past years, before the conflict, has been a smuggling route, the route comes through from the east and goes right through our area then towards Europe. We've known that. That's documented. Everyone's aware of that. But we have not seen that. So it may be that it's too early to see that or the routes have shifted during the time that the bombing was ongoing and it was too risky to use those old routes. What was then does not appear to be what the case is now, and we just have not seen any evidence of that.
Mr. Bacon: Bill?
Q: Yes. Bill Eicher, General.
I was just going to ask, what are the people doing? Are they putting their homes back together? Rebuilding? Are they doing farming? What is the employment of those who have something to do?
General Craddock: A good question. This is a tough one. There's a couple of things, three things, I would say.
First of all, you've got the municipal workers. The towns, the villages, the people that provided the utilities, the civil functioning, things like that. They are still working by and large right now, but they're working without pay and they have expressed great concern that they are going to have to have some wage, some minimum wage to keep them on the job until such time as a proper, civil administrator is appointed by the United Nation Mission in Kosovo and some wage agreement is made. Otherwise they'll leave here shortly and go off and earn a wage to sustain the family.
With regard to the factories and the plants, they are slowly now starting to assess the damage, starting to assess what's going to be required to get some of these back open, starting to assess the capital that's going to be needed. We have several around here in our area that are now looking at when they can reopen. We've had a couple of small plants actually open up and start work. But again, an uncertain power grid is here today, then tomorrow the power may be off. So there's no certainty there, and every day is a new adventure with regard to whether or not the production is going to go that day. Several bakeries have opened up, so that's good news. That's obviously very beneficial for the people. A water bottling plant just opened up. It's affected by the power grid, but it's now working reliably about three days a week.
With regard to the farmers, the wheat right now -- this is a large wheat growing area and also corn. But the wheat is ready. Harvest is in process now. It will probably last another three or four days.
A couple of factors here. One was security. As you know, the Gracko murders were out in the harvest of a wheat field. We've had farmers here murdered out in the fields while they were working the harvest. So the rank and file, both Albanians and Serbs, were very scared and did not feel there was adequate security to let them get out into the fields.
In order for them to gather the wheat in and turn it into the mill and make some money for the winter, in order to have enough flour for the bakeries to keep baking, we've called a lot of these farmers together and told them if they would work together we would put our patrols out there to provide a level of security.
There's no fuel here. The sanctions are still in. The only fuel really going right now is either black market fuel which you see in small plastic containers along the roadside There are a few gas stations that have opened up but they're largely in larger areas. So we've been able to provide the farmers fuel for their tractors and combines so they can get out there and they can get the harvest in. It's about 80 percent done.
We were concerned that the Serb farmers who take the wheat into the mill might not get a fair deal by the Albanian mill operators. That's not the case. All they're looking for is quality and they're paying the same price to any farmer that brings it in, based on the quality and quantity of what he's got. So that's worked out pretty well.
I will tell you quite truthfully, we didn't get the Serbs and the Albanians working together in the same fields, but we got them in adjacent fields close by, and they both benefitted from the mutual security that we put out there. So that's been a bit of a success story. We'll have to work on that, expanding that, and keep doing that for the corn that will be harvested here shortly. Then we've got to sow the winter wheat crop the first of October, so that will also be another opportunity to try to get these folks together and work together for a common cause.
Mr. Bacon: Jamie?
Q: Jamie McIntyre again from CNN.
The inability of the NATO force to stop Serbs from fleeing Kosovo, at least so far, has been cited by many as a sign that the peacekeeping mission is failing. Your reaction to that.
General Craddock: We want them to stay, obviously. Any time they leave we've got to go back and figure out what it is we didn't do right. I think there's a definite stabilizing influence. A lot of the Albanians I talk to say they need the Serbs here because they have skills that the Albanians don't -- management, professional skills that over the past eight or nine years were used.
So do I think this thing's failing? No, I don't think so. There are still upwards of 50,000 Serbs here. It doesn't mean that they're going to be accepted in Serbia, that there will be a job for them there. We have already seen those who left some time ago from some villages return. They came back and went to Serb-only villages and towns as opposed to the mixed for security purposes, because they realized there was nothing there in Serbia and the problems here were... The difference was security. They have no jobs, no opportunities. At least here they knew the lay of the land, they knew people, and there was a possibility they could network and integrate and have a little easier time.
So I'm not sure that this exodus is a permanent thing and I'm not sure that what we've got here isn't temporary. Let's let this die down a little bit. Then we'll also be back, just like the Albanian refugees came back. So from that perspective, I think we've still got to wait and see.
I think that maybe we're at the bow wave or we've reached the high water mark, in terms of this exodus. Like I say, we now have the highest concentration here in the U.S. area. They've left in most of the other areas. They have not left in the numbers here. We're working hard to keep them here. We've established a lot of lines of communication and we're doing a lot of work out here in these villages every day and doing some unique and innovative things to ensure that we've got security where we think it is adequate to keep them from leaving.
So no, I'm not ready to make that judgment. I think the jury's still out. I think we're making progress in keeping them here because we haven't seen the big numbers. We're seeing little numbers here and there, but when you see 300 of them that are going to leave a village and when they get to the border, there are only about 50 and the rest have dropped off with friends, relatives in other towns. Then that's just a dislocation. That is not an exodus.
Mr. Bacon: Last question.
Q: Sir, this is Kim Burger with Inside the Army.
What about Serbs and Albanians living together in the same towns? Is that ever going to be a reality? Is the Army encouraging that at this point?
General Craddock: We're absolutely encouraging that. We don't expect these people to like each other. We just want them to coexist, and they have done that in this area for a long time. And if you go out there, and I spent about 2.5 hours yesterday walking through the streets of one town -- that was a mixed town that had a lot of destruction -- there's a lot of hatred there now. At night, shots will ring out and explosions will occur because one side's trying to intimidate the other one. I talked to both Serbs and I talked to Albanians, and they all tell me, you know, this time last year, six months ago, we talked to each other. We were neighbors. We had no problems. As a matter of fact one Serb told me that when her neighbor left, an Albanian, they said here, keep the cows for us, we'll get them when we come back. They came back and they gave the cows back. Now at night they're shooting across the wall. It's not so much to hurt each other. It's to intimidate and cause the other one to do something.
They both admit they lived together peacefully, they talked to each other and they were friends. They shared experiences, they shared life together in the past. This war came in. There were atrocities committed by outsiders. Now that's over, but there are still influences left from that. There are still outsiders they believe are causing these problems. So is there hope? You bet there's hope. What we have to do is convince them that they've got to get back to where they were before.
They've got to understand that the future is going to be assured with small first steps. If they stop shooting and start talking, think about the jobs, think about a roof over their head, an education for their children which maybe they haven't had over the last few years if they're Albanian, that there are possibilities that the life ahead's going to be better than the life they've had. That's the theme that we're working all the time.
If there's a future here, it's in the children. And a lot of what you see and a lot of the way that children accept you or reject you, is merely what they hear at home. We're seeing now even in the Serb children, where before they were very reticent, very guarded, now they're starting to be more friendly. So that's an indicator that, again, we haven't won this thing but we're making progress.
Mr. Bacon: General, thank you very much again. We appreciate it. I think this is the third or fourth time you've done this, maybe the fifth time. It's been terrific. Good luck in your next assignment. Thanks.
General Craddock: Thank you very much, Ken. I appreciate it.