Larger Kosovo Force Takes to Field
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 25, 1999 The NATO-led international security force now operating in Kosovo, is destined to be somewhat larger than NATO originally planned.
NATO's initial plans called 45,000 to 48,000 troops. When NATO called for KFOR peacekeepers, the 19-member alliance got more than it asked for. Member and non-member nations offered to contribute a total of about 55,000. About 3,600 Russian soldiers are also slated to take part in Operation Joint Guard. The United States plans to deploy 7,000 service members to the peacekeeping operation.
KFOR first entered Kosovo June 11. So far, about 30,000 troops have deployed into the southern Yugoslav province. NATO has asked contributing nations to speed up deployments. Tension exists between Serbs in the region and returning Kosovar Albanians. Pentagon officials estimate more than 285,000 refugees have returned to Kosovo despite the risk of land mines and lack of shelter.
"Several governments have conveyed to NATO that they will adjust deployment and accelerate the arrival of these troops," U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark said June 24 in Pristina, Kosovo's principal city and the site of NATO's Joint Guardian headquarters. Clark, supreme allied commander Europe, heads the NATO-led peace mission. British Army Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Jackson is the field commander.
KFOR's role is to reestablish law and order and create a secure environment so that Kosovar Albanian refugees can return home safely, NATO Secretary General Javiar Solana said at a June 24 in a Pristina press conference. KFOR's presence will allow social and economic reconstruction to begin and help international investigators look into war crimes and atrocities.
KFOR is the only security force needed in Kosovo, Solana stressed, now that Yugoslav forces have withdrawn and the Kosovo Liberation Army has agreed to demilitarize, he said.
After meeting with Kosovo Serb and ethnic Albanian leaders, Solana said he had urged both sides to put aside ethnic hatred and work together for reconciliation. "Peace cannot be built on looking to the past and on revenge," Solana said. "It can only be built on justice and looking to the future."
Solana said NATO will begin the organized return of refugees in early July. KFOR troops and workers from humanitarian aid organizations will provide transportation, convoy security, food and water. They will also set up transit stations enroute. Solana urged refugees to stay where they are until KFOR can guarantee a safe return. "A little patience will have its reward in a safer and organized return home," he said.
At present, about 4,000 American service members are deployed in the U.S. sector in Kosovo, along with a Greek battalion of about 500. A Polish parachute battalion is due to arrive soon, according to Pentagon officials. More American troops are slated to arrive from U.S. European Command in the days ahead.
Army Brig. Gen. John Craddock, heads the American contingent named Task Force Falcon. He told Pentagon reporters June 24 via telephone that his initial focus has been on dispersing soldiers and Marines in towns and villages to establish a strong presence and provide a calming effect. People in Kosovo are scared and unsure of the situation, the commander said. "Many have come to us with concerns [that] their houses are either booby-trapped or there are mines on their property," he said.
As U.S. forces move beyond main roads into the countryside, Craddock said, they are encountering more remnants of the conflict -- buried anti-personnel mines with trip wires, booby-trapped areas where forces were garrisoned and discarded mines tossed along roadsides by retreating troops. Serb forces have provided detailed maps of those areas along Kosovo's borders that are heavily mined, the general added.
Even though the fighting has stopped, U.S. forces still run into a "rogue element" that doesn't know about the military technical agreement or refuses to abide by the agreement, Craddock said. "We still continue to find illegal checkpoints that we have to challenge," he said. "We have to disarm those people that are [manning] those checkpoints and we have to tear them down."
American troops came under fire twice in late June. In the most serious incident June 23, Serb snipers opened fire on Marines manning a roadblock in the village of Zegra, south of the Marine headquarters in Gnjilane. Marines killed one sniper and wounded two others. None of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit service members were hurt in the incident. About 48 hours earlier, snipers fired on 82nd Airborne Division soldiers near the U.S. sector headquarters in Urosevac. U.S. soldiers were able to detain two men.
Craddock said KFOR's job is to establish conditions so both sides in the conflict can meet the terms of the military technical agreement. "We didn't make the rules -- they did," he said. "We're just here to make sure them follow them."