Admiral Quigley: Good afternoon one and all. We have with us this afternoon on an audio feed Brigadier General John Craddock who is the Commander of Joint Task Force Falcon. He has spoken to at least many of you here before.
As I mentioned, this is an audio feed at the moment, but for your future planning, for all the television types, we are in the process of running fiberoptic cable into the press briefing room which should be available later in the summer. So at some future time, I don't know when yet, but we ought to have briefings, such as this one, with General Craddock in a video format as well.
Since this is audio only, if you will please be so kind, I will just give you a nod here from the podium. Would you please state your name and the news organization that you represent so that General Craddock can understand who he's talking to.
The microphones that will be carrying your voice are those that you see up in the overhead here. They're quite sensitive, and they can also adjust the sensitivity level from the control booth. So with a quick movement of the slide they'll catch Charlie's question as opposed to one from Dan or what have you.
I think General Craddock will have a very brief opening statement and then throw the floor up to questions.
General Craddock, can you hear us?
General Craddock: Yes, Craig. Loud and clear.
Admiral Quigley: All right. Over to you, sir.
General Craddock: First, just if I could, I'll open up with an overview of the general situation, where the forces are and what our status is today.
As I'm sure you are aware, the 26th MEU has withdrawn from the American area of operations. They began the change over with the elements of the 1st Infantry Division out of Germany on about the 5th of July. That process lasted about five days. We call that a "right seat ride" where we bring in the new unit and they pair up with the outgoing unit They patrol together, operate together so that the new unit gains situational awareness. It's a very effective technique. It allows the new unit then to quickly grasp the general area of operations, the nuances, the peculiarities of the situation and provides a good change over.
The 26th MEU then began the withdrawal and completed that by nightfall on the 11th of July. They are reconfiguring in Macedonia and soon will head for the reembarkation upon the ship off the coast of Greece. So that turnover went exceedingly well.
The 18th Airborne Infantry Battalion from Poland came in at just about the same time. They are occupying an area formerly occupied by U.S. forces, the 2nd Battalion 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment from Fort Benning. We have put them in the Kacanik area down near the border with Macedonia. Again, that change over was a right seat ride, approximately five days, and the Polish battalion now has assumed their duties in that area. They have control of that specific area and the area to the west which is the opstina, an opstina being a county, of Strpce. So they are in place and they are operating at this time.
Total force number right now in our area is about 6,500. That will vary a few hundred, probably go up a few hundred, and then we should stabilize right around 7,000 for now.
So what we have on the ground right now is the Polish battalion in the southwest; U.S. forces in the town of Urosevac; and east towards Vitina, up towards Gnjilane and we occupy the Gnjilane and Kamenica Opstinas. We have the Greek battalion to the west of Urosevac, the town along the main line of supply, the main supply route, and they have an area to the west along the foothills, the mountain foothills, and then to the south of the town of Urosevac. They share a common opstina boundary with the Polish battalion.
Up in the Kamenica area to the northeast, again, U.S. forces--the 1st Infantry Division forces out of Germany. There is at this time an advance party for the Russian Battalion here--one company, approximately 80 personnel. We have U.S. forces there with them, and they are at this time in not quite yet a right seat ride, but we are coexisting in that area until the Russian main body comes in in a few days. Then we will start the change over, the right seat ride, that will take several days to complete.
I think that's a lay-down of the overview of the forces. In terms of operations, again, first priority force protection and the establishment of a safe and secure environment. Since last we talked I would tell you that the situation is better. The amount of lawlessness, the amount of violations of good order, law and order is down, but it is still not to the point we want it. There are still far too many instances of houses being burned, vacant houses, throughout the entire area and instances of random shooting. So we are working hard to clamp down on that. We now have a full military police battalion in the area and that has been very beneficial in providing that policing function that they are highly trained for.
We have opened several, I believe at this time four, I guess it's five today, five U.S. police stations collocated with information operations offices where information is provided to all the residents. It's collocated with a military police desk sergeant, if you will, so there is access to the military police if the residents have a problem, any resident, Serb or Albanian. They can come in, provide that information, and then we will go investigate or go fix or correct whatever the problem is that could be occurring out in any of the small towns or neighborhoods in these areas.
So we've still got some work to do, but again the safe and secure environment here today on D+31 or K+22, K being the day the undertaking was signed with the UCK. I think that we're farther ahead than I thought we'd be, but we've still got a ways to go.
Turning to the humanitarian aid and the civic administration and reconstruction. Humanitarian aid--we are now finding that by and large with all the refugees practically now have returned. There are some isolated cases where food or water is in short supply and we work closely with the UNHCR to alleviate that as soon as we find out. So we have a reasonably good line of communication, an ability to surge quickly to answer the need for humanitarian support from the returned refugees.
The civic administration, civic functioning starting to come back on line. It needs support, it needs help. It is not capable of sustained operation. Most communities now have at least 12 hours of water turned on a day. Electricity is still in a brown-out mode, there is not full power anywhere. And there are spot shortfalls of different requirements for fuel for buses, for example, refuse removal in some of the towns. We're having to provide assistance or work through the various IOs and NGOs to get that done.
The last component of that civic administration is an assessment of all the towns in our area, and that's several hundred that have enough of a population to need some kind of a civic service. So we can determine what each town's status is with regard to those type of utilities and services, and where the priority lies for immediate work with the United Nations missions in Kosovo and their various organizations, or if it's humanitarian, UNHCR.
That's probably a quick and dirty overview and I'd be prepared for any questions at this time.
Q: General, Charlie Aldinger with Reuters. Just a couple of logistics questions, if I may.
How many Poles and Greeks do you have? How many Russians will you have? And have you had any protests over the Russian presence, and are you concerned about that?
General Craddock: Okay, Poles and Greeks first. We've got about 750 Polish soldiers here from their airborne infantry battalion, an excellent battalion, well equipped. We've got about 550 Greek soldiers here from the 501st Mechanized Battalion, they have M-113s. Again, good unit, well equipped, very disciplined. So they're in excess of those numbers.
Right now we have, as I said, about 80 Russians, an advance company is in. We expect about 500 total with the first battalion that's coming in. Right now we are planning on one battalion.
Do we expect protests?
We've already had some. Quite frankly, the Kosovar Albanians up in that region--I won't say there is a great protest against it, but there have been non-violent peaceful demonstrations. Obviously, there's concern there with the perceived relationship between the Russians and the Serbs.
We have, again, soldiers in that area and I have a liaison element that is with the advance Russian force and will be with the main body when they arrive. So I would tell you that we are watching that carefully, but I am not worried about that situation at this time.
Q: Do you plan on keeping liaisons there? Do you plan on keeping an American troop presence in that region?
General Craddock: Absolutely. We'll have the liaison with that element all the time. We're using pretty much the Bosnia model in terms of how we'll communicate and liaise and operate. There will be representatives from the Russian element here at my headquarters. Not on my staff, but representatives here. So I think that we will by providing communication links and having the robust liaison party there, have good communications back and forth with them.
Q: Will American forces be there?
We plan to conduct joint patrolling as much as possible. I have talked with the Russian commander of the forces here in Kosovo, and suggested that that would be a good plan to follow. He seemed agreeable, agreed at that point said we'd need to do that and we could develop the details on that once the battalion arrived.
So, yes, we think we will have the opportunity to have U.S. forces there, and potentially Russian forces patrol with us in other areas.
Q: General, it's Bill Eicher. I wanted to ask about the Serbs. I understand you haven't that many in your area, but are they still there? What proportion have they left? Can you protect them, or is that your job to protect them from reprisals? It already talks about--I got in here late, but that's basically what I want to know.
General Craddock: With regard to the Serbs, we have actually quite a few in our area. Down in the southwest there's a community in the Strpce Opstina, the town of Strpce, which is a town of about 7,000, mostly Serbs. So that is a Serbian enclave at this time. In the middle of the area, most of the Serbs have left. In the large town of Urosevac only a few hundred remain and the rest have left. That happened before we got here, while we were moving in, and many of the remainder moved out then immediately upon our occupation of the area.
As you move in through the area to the northeast, up in towards the Gnjilane area, actually that area before the war had the second highest concentration of Serbs in Kosovo, and we believe probably how has the second if not maybe a coequal concentration with the Mitrovica area up in the French area of operation. So we indeed have quite a few Serbs in the area.
Do we afford them protection?
Absolutely. KFOR is there to provide a safe and secure environment and we do not discriminate. Everybody has the right to live their life without being endangered from others and that's what were trying to do. So whenever we find any situation, when someone is endangered, due to lawlessness or criminal act, then we'll intervene to be sure that doesn't happen.
I would tell you that the Serb enclaves by and large are more withdrawn than the Albanians. You move through a Serb town or village. They don't come out and welcome you like the Albanians do. They are not as friendly. But where we have made the distinct effort, and we do that, to go in and provide them with information. We go in with military police, our soldiers, and try to talk to them and explain we're there to protect everyone, we're there to help everyone if we have to, and if they need it. We've sent medical, what we call MEDCAP, medical capability, and a DENTCAP, dental capability. Move it out, ask if anyone is sick or anyone needs medical attention, they take advantage of that. So where you try to make an overt effort as much as you can, they will open up. But generally speaking, I'm sure it's a result of the war and other things, the NATO bombing. They are reticent and they are concerned, obviously, given the percentages and the demographics about their safety.
But again, if a Serb family calls and needs help, we're there. If a Serb wants protection for movement from one place to another then we will do what we have to to escort them. It's a matter of trying to do what is fair for all, and to ensure there is freedom of movement regardless of who is moving throughout the area of operation.
Q: Steve Komarrow with USA Today. We keep getting reports of firefights in and around U.S. troops. What do you attribute this continuing violence to? Is there any resentment from the KLA towards the U.S. presence, especially with the Russians teaming up with us?
General Craddock: That's a pretty tough question. Let me think what I can say about this.
There was a period for about eight or nine days at the beginning of July where we had no instances of U.S. soldiers coming under fire. Recently that's changed. We had a couple of events in the town of Gnjilane. We had one near the town of Vitina night before last, and last night in the town of Urosevac where U.S. forces were fired on.
I don't think that that is any type of a coordinated effort. I have talked to both the UCK zone commanders today and told them I was concerned about this and wanted to know what they knew about it. They believe, and I tend to agree, that what we have here is some lawless elements that are either UCK rogue splinter elements or were never UCK, maybe UCK wanabees, or just a bad lot out there -- Albanian, Kosovar Albanian. Whatever the case may be, they've got weapons.
We are pretty active. We are out and about day and night on the beat, if you will, on the street, just trying to make sure that we keep the peace. And I think that we are moving into areas where we're threatening their livelihood, and what we are doing is we're drawing that fire.
If I had to, based on what I know at this time--if I had to venture to say what's causing that, I think the first thing is that we're not holed up in the precinct house and we're not holed up in the base camp. Our guys are out there doing their job and doing it very well. I think that's the first reason that, at times, we'll draw fire.
For example, night before last a patrol was moving a little after midnight through a small town outside of Vitina and received fire. One gunshot. They immediately deployed, [and] did not return fire. They looked to see what was going on. They found a Serb, an elderly Serb man, 65 years old, standing in a doorway with a rifle. So they went up, disarmed him, and they wanted to know what happened. Why did you shoot at us? He said he saw people walking by his house and he thought it was UCK, and he's a Serb so he wanted to make sure he scared them away.
So there's a case of mistaken identity, obviously, but you combine that with someone else that is maybe trying to do some looting and walk in it or someone who is preparing to do some harm to someone else and we intervene. That's where we draw the fire.
Q: General, Jim Mannion. AFP.
Right from the beginning there was some concern that there might be some Serb stay-behind forces. Are you seeing any evidence of that?
General Craddock: It's hard to say. We are hearing indications of that also, but again, it's either anecdotal or we don't have any corroborating evidence. But there is from a variety of sources, information that tells us that that is the case. But not in any great numbers and not widespread. So we're collecting all of that, we're corroborating that. We have some plans to do what we need to do to confirm or deny that that's the case, and if it's confirmed then we'll act appropriately. But I will tell you it does not appear to be widespread. It appears that there may be some paramilitary stay-behind. Again, we're working through that making sure we have the information we need to act appropriately.
Q: General, Otto Kreisher. Copley News Service.
What's the landmine situation in your zone? We haven't heard any reports recently of either civilians or military contact with landmines. Are you all pretty clear, or are you still stumbling on landmines?
General Craddock: There are not nearly as many mine strikes in our area, probably because we've traveled more of the area, as have the local refugees returning, and they've found them because they're aware now. There were several people during a period there that stepped on them and were either killed or lost limbs. So I think that word has spread.
We are still finding--today I had four reports of landmines or unexploded evidence -- new today, Not found before. So the threat is still there. The mines, by and large, are still there. We are only, again, taking care of them, blow them in place if we need right of way and freedom of movement or there's a humanitarian need for a local family or something like that. We find these, we're marking these, and they will then be taken care of once the demining program begins. The mines we're finding more every day. So the answer to your question is, our maps, plots of the mine problem here continues to grow.
Q: General, Rick Thompkins with the German Press Agency.
Can you tell me about the level of Albanian on Serb violence and what system, if any, has now been set up for adjudicating the cases of anyone who has to be detained by the forces?
General Craddock: I think probably most of the cases that we find, the violence that is out there right now, based on the numbers of people, is Albanian on Serb. We find that in our detention facility the percentage there is about, it reflects the percentage out in the community which if you're in Urosevac is almost probably 98 percent, and if you're up in Gnjilane, it's probably 70 percent Albanian to Serb. So our detention facility reflects the same phenomenon.
With regard to detentions. When we catch or find someone committing an unlawful act, we will detain them. They are brought back here to Camp Bondsteel where I have detention facility that can hold up to 80 personnel. We take statements from all concerned with regard to whatever that act was, that alleged crime. Within 48 hours I have a staff judge advocate officer who holds a hearing to determine whether or not there is enough evidence to detain that individual. What we do--if there is, I sign a detainment order.
Recently, there has been a magistrate system organized by UNMIK, UN Mission in Kosovo, consisting of nine essentially magistrates. They are local judges and magistrates and they are now working under the UNMIK banner. They are right now on a traveling circuit. They move through these multinational brigade areas because we all have detention facilities. They will come out, and they've done this twice and they'll come out again tomorrow for the third time. They review each case. They review the evidence, the documentary evidence that was used to make the decision on detaining or not, and they will either confirm or deny the case. They will approve our finding or they will overrule it.
To date they have approved all of our findings for detention and they have agreed that these individuals should be detained until such time as a judicial system, a court system is established.
Along those lines they have released some of those folks on their own recognizance, recognizing it may be weeks or months before that judiciary is in place ready to make that docket. So they didn't think the seriousness of the crime was such and the individual was not a flight risk, so they're released on recognizance.
So I think that system right now is working well. We feel comfortable with it and we now have a reasonably good process to get that magistrate system in here on a routine basis. To that end, even if I detain someone based on the evidence, they are not held much longer than a week if the magistrates would decide to release them.
Q: How many people do we have in detention now, sir?
General Craddock: We have 22 here in detention and there are four others that are being detained at hospitals based upon the injuries or wounds received.
Q: Elizabeth Becker with the New York Times.
Do you have already, in your sector, a civilian counterpart, at your level, who you're working with on the civilian aspects?
General Craddock: Yes. The UN Mission in Kosovo is assigned in the civil administration area. There are four pillars under UNMIK. The pillar of civil administration they have assigned an individual by the name of Fisher who is a temporary hire. He'll be leaving in a couple of weeks and we will get a replacement. So he is located in Gnjilane. And anything we need to do with civil administration we will coordinate through him. He is now starting to bring the organizations in that will support his efforts in that functional area.
Q: If I may follow, has a police system been set up beyond the U.S. military police and who will be a part of it? Particularly in the local level. Is KLA going to be part of the police system?
General Craddock: Let me detail the general overview of the police system.
First of all, there is a UN police commissioner now. He just came on board. He's from Denmark. I have a police liaison here with me now and he's from Canada, so that is beginning to work.
We have approximately 37, as of yesterday, international policemen on the ground who will be a part of the international police force. I think the end state there is upwards of 3,500 to 4,000 when all are sourced. So that international police force will come in. It will be organized as--the majority will be empowered with executive policing functions which means they will carry weapons and they will enforce all police functions. Then there will be a part which will be administrative. There will be a part of that number which will be special police. Then a part of that number will be border police.
So the first component coming in there is the international police force.
With regard to a local police force, that will be called the Kosovo Police System, I believe, KPS. What that will do--there will be, and they went out yesterday, application forms distributed throughout the province with some information on prerequisites and background, and anyone who feels they're qualified will apply. Those applications will be reviewed and vetted down to some manageable number. Interviews will be conducted by the UN Police Commissioner and those he requests to support him on the interviews. Then they will pick candidates for a police academy. That academy will teach its first class beginning sometime in August. The first course will have about 160 students. That will be the pilot course. They will proof the program of instruction, make sure it's adequate. It's about a six week program. At the end, those folks graduate and move out into the villages and towns of Kosovo.
Subsequent courses will probably increase to 350, 400, even as many as 500 students.
As the police graduate after the six week course and go out to their job, there is a follow-on education component where they will be required to attend mandatory training sessions and classes for the next year. The thought here is the six weeks plus the mandatory once-a-week class training session will give them a thorough rounding out and some on-the-job experience so they will be fully capable then of conducting police activities, and the international police force at that time would be withdrawn.
Q: General, I'm Carl Osgood with the Executive Intelligence Review.
I understand that you have or will have certain engineering capabilities deployed with you. Can you tell us number one, what those capabilities will be and what they'll be doing in support of the troops? And secondly, is there any perspective that these engineering capabilities will be deployed in the rehabilitation of the civilian infrastructure?
General Craddock: Okay. A three part question. First, what have we got?
In the way of combat engineers, we have one combat engineer battalion, and essentially they do engineering support tasks for the maneuver battalion. There's a company assigned, attached to each one of those maneuver battalions and they support that. So that's generally the tactical engineer support role.
Additionally, we have several, a robust construction capability. We have both horizontal and vertical engineer construction battalions. We've got a CV battalion here that does a lot of vertical construction work, and we've got Army engineer battalions here, construction battalions who have the equipment and capability to do a lot of horizontal construction road building and building of hard stands to put buildings or helicopter roads or things like that down. Right now both of those battalions are on the ground and working. They are working to construct our base camps, where we will live here in Kosovo.
In addition we have two construction, engineer construction companies that will be deployed from the continental United States. I believe one from Fort Lewis and one from Fort Riley. And they bring again a very robust construction capability to assist in the construction of these base camps. So when all is said and done there will be about three construction battalions.
We also have in that construction arena a contractor, Brown & Root, that will provide construction capability also--both horizontal and vertical. Then we'll have our top end engineers who will support the units out on the patrols and the movement in the countryside.
With regard to whether our engineers support any civic reconstruction, we do that on an emergency basis now. We're not looking at any long-term plan to do that. We believe that will be done by the international organization, and the non-governmentals that will work with UNMIK. Again, the notion there is whenever you can reinvest locally in the community, the economy will prosper much more than using military engineers.
Q: General Craddock, this is Admiral Quigley again. I want to be sensitive to your timeframe. How are you doing for time?
General Craddock: How about one more, then I've got to go to another meeting.
Q: Hi, this is Ann Gearan with the Associated Press.
General, given the variety of threats, some of which you've outlined here facing U.S. troops, are you at all surprised that there haven't been casualties so far?
General Craddock: Quite frankly, yes. I was most concerned about the mines, unexploded ordnance. I think we've done a credible job in mine awareness training and our soldiers are aware of that, [and] are very careful. But every time I say that, I have to do something superstitious like knock on wood or cross my fingers or something, but I think the soldiers, in terms of situational awareness, that's the whole key. They're very aware, they're alert, they're vigilant. We continually talk about never let our guard down. Always be alert. We operate in a wingman concept. Never a single vehicle out there. There are at least two vehicles, two people in each vehicle everywhere we go. That's very difficult sometimes when you're trying to find a second vehicle, but that's the law, that's the way we do business.
In the towns when the soldiers are out on patrol we operate in squad-size elements. There's never a soldier by himself. Never [a] soldier out of sight, out of earshot, of another soldier. When we patrol, it's always a squad-sized element. So I think that goes a long way with the force detection.
They're doing a great job and we just want to keep them safe.
Press: Thank you.
Admiral Quigley: General Craddock, thank you very much for taking the time to join us today.
General Craddock: My pleasure. Thank you.