The Common Enemy

NATO's war against the Albanians in Kosovo (Kosovars)

By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

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Written: March, 2001

"I have the honour to inform you, that on the 25th instant, being in the latitude 29, N. longitude 29 30, W. we fell in with, and, after an action of an hour and a half, captured his Britannic Majesty's ship MACEDONIAN ... Subjoined is a list of the killed and wounded on both sides. Our loss, compared with that of the enemy, will appear small ... The MACEDONIAN lost her mizen-mast, fore and main-top-masts and main yard, and was much cut up in her hull. The damage sustained by this ship was not such as to render her return into port necessary, and had I not deemed it important that we should see our prize in, should have continued our cruise. Killed 5, Wounded 7 - 1 since dead, 12 MACEDONIAN Killed 36, Wounded 68, 104."
John Brannan, ed. Official Letters of the Military and Naval Officers of the United States During the War with Great Britain in the Years 1812, 13, 14, & 15 With Some Additional Letters and Documents Elucidating the History of that Period. (Washington: 1823), pp. 87-88.

They are here, the future common enemy, helmeted and uniformed, shielded in their APCs and brandishing rifles and machine guns. The common enemy to be is KFOR and, by implication, NATO. It is flanked by Serbs triumphantly invited to repossess the now defunct security zone (one is tempted to ask "so, what was this idiotic war all about"?). Besieged by the radicalized remnants of the KLA and by a disdainful Macedonian populace - these less than elite units constitute prime targets.

In "NATO's Next War" - an article published June 14, 1999 - I wrote this:

"The real, protracted, war is about to start. NATO and the international peacekeeping force against an unholy - and, until recently, improbable - alliance. Milosevic (or post-Milosevic Serbia) and the KLA against the occupying forces. It is going to be ferocious. It is going to be bloody. And it is going to be a Somali nightmare.

Why should the KLA and Serbia collaborate against NATO (I use NATO here as shorthand for 'The International Peacekeeping Force - KFOR')?

Serbia - because it wants to regain its lost sovereignty over at least the northern part of Kosovo. Because it virulently hates, wholeheartedly detests, voluptuously despises NATO, the 'Nazi aggressor' of yestermonth. Serbia has no natural allies left, not even Russia which prostituted its geopolitical favours for substantial IMF funding. Its only remaining natural ally is the KLA.

The KLA stands to lose everything as a result of the latest bout of peacemaking. It is supposed to be 'decommissioned' IRA-style, disarmed ('demilitarized' in the diplomatic argot) and effectively disbanded. The KLA's political clout rested on its ever-growing arsenal and body of volunteers. Yet volunteers have a strange habit of going back whence they came once a conflict is over. And the weapons are to be surrendered. Devoid of these two pillars of political might - Thaci may find himself unemployed, a former self-declared Prime Minister of a shadow government in Albanian exile. Rugova has the coffers, filled to the brim with tens of millions of US dollars and DM raised from the Albanian diaspora world-wide. Money talks, KLA walks. Bad for the KLA. Having tasted power, having met cher Albright on a regular basis, having conversed with Tony Blair and Robertson and even Clinton via expensive high tech gadgets - Thaci is not likely to compromise on a second rate appointment in a Rugova led administration.

And the bad news is that he doesn't have to. Bolstered by a short-sighted and panicky NATO, the KLA post-bellum is not what it used to be ante-bellum. It is well equipped. It is well-financed. Its ranks have swelled. It has been transformed from an agglomeration of desperadoes - to a military guerilla force to be reckoned with. Even the Serbs found that out at a dear price."

Hence, the mysteriously emergent Albanian "National Army of Liberation" on Macedonia's border with Kosovo. In another article, "The Army of Liberation", published on June 5, 2000 , I described the dynamics that fostered the current anti-Macedonian insurgency. The KLA is trying to revive its sagging fortunes by provoking a new regional crisis - this time in the western part of pliable Macedonia and in collaboration with Albanians inside Macedonia. It is all about power, smuggling routes, the drug trade and the huge infusions of Western aid - a gang warfare compounded by years of mistreatment and mutual animosity. I wrote:

"Albanians and Serbs have more in common than they care to admit. Scattered among various political entities, both nations came up with a grandiose game plan - Milosevic's 'Great Serbia' and the KLA's 'Great Albania'. The idea, in both cases, was to create an ethnically homogeneous state by shifting existing borders, incorporating hitherto excluded parts of the nation and excluding hitherto included minorities. Whereas Milosevic had at his disposal the might of the Yugoslav army (or, so he thought) - the Albanians had only impoverished and decomposing Albania to back them. Still, the emotional bond that formed, fostered by a common vision and shared hope - is intact. Albanian flags fly over Albanian municipalities in Kosovo and in Macedonia.

The possession of weapons and self-government have always been emblematic of the anticipated statehood of Kosovo. Being disarmed and deprived of self-governance was, to the Albanians, a humiliating and enraging experience, evocative of earlier, Serb-inflicted, injuries. Moreover, it was indicative of the perplexed muddle the West is mired in - officially, Kosovo is part of Yugoslavia. But it is also occupied by foreign forces and has its own customs, currency, bank licensing, entry visas and other insignia of sovereignty (shortly, even an internet domain, KO).

This quandary is a typically anodyne European compromise which is bound to ferment into atrabilious discourse and worse. The Kosovars - understandably - will never accept Serb sovereignty or even Serb propinquity willingly. Ignoring the inevitable, tergiversating and equivocating have too often characterized the policies of the Big Powers - the kind of behaviour that turned the Balkan into the morass that it is today.

It is, therefore, inconceivable that the KLA has disbanded and disarmed or transformed itself into the ill-conceived and ill-defined 'Kosovo Protection Corps' (headed by former KLA commander and decorated Croat Lieutenant General, Agim Ceku and charged with fire fighting, rescue missions and the like). Thousands of KLA members found jobs (or scholarships, or seed money) through the International Organization for Migration (IOM). But, in all likelihood, the KLA still maintains clandestine arms depots (intermittently raided by KFOR), strewn throughout Kosovo and beyond. Its chain of command, organizational structure, directorates, operational and assembly zones and general staff are all viable. I have no doubt - though little proof - that it still trains and prepares for war. It would be mad not to in this state of utter mayhem. The emergence of the 'Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac' (all towns beyond Kosovo's borders, in Serbia, but with an Albanian majority) is a harbinger. Its soldiers even wear badges in the red, black and yellow KLA colours. The enemies are numerous: the Serbs (should Kosovo ever be returned to them), NATO and KFOR (should they be charged with the task of reintegrating Serbia), perhaps more moderate Albanians with lesser national zeal or Serb-collaborators (like Zemail Mustafi, the Albanian vice president of the Bujanovac branch of President Slobodan Milosevic's ruling Socialist Party, who was assassinated three months ago). Moreover, the very borders of Kosovo are in dispute. The territory known to its inhabitants as 'Eastern Kosovo' now comprises 70,000 Albanians, captives in a hostile Serbia. Yet, 'Eastern Kosovo' was never part of the administrative province of Kosovo. The war is far from over.

In the meantime, life is gradually returning to normal in Kosovo itself. Former KLA fighters engage in all manner of odd jobs - from shovelling snow in winter to burning bushes in summer. Even the impossible Joint Administrative Council (Serbs, Albanians and peacekeepers) with its 19 departments, convenes from time to time. The periodic resignation of the overweening Bernard Kouchner aside, things are going well. A bank has been established, another one is on its way. Electricity is being gradually restored and so are medical services and internet connections. Downtown Pristina is reconstructed by Albanians from Switzerland.

Such normalization can prove lethal to an organization like the KLA, founded on strife and crisis as it is. If it does not transform itself into a political organization in a convincing manner - it might lose its members to the more alluring pastures of statecraft. The local and general elections so laboriously (and expensively) organized in Kosovo are the KLA's first real chance at transformation. It failed at its initial effort to establish a government (together with Qosaj's Democratic Union Movement, an umbrella organization of parties in opposition to Rugova and with Hashim Thaci as its Prime Minister). Overruled by UNMIK (United Nations Mission In Kosovo), opposed by Berisha's Democratic Party, recognized only by Albania and the main Albanian party in Macedonia and bereft of finances, it was unable to imbue structure with content and provide the public goods a government is all about. The KLA was so starved for cash that it was unable even to pay the salaries of its own personnel. Many criminals caught in the act claimed to be KLA members in dire financial straits. Ineptitude and insolvency led to a dramatic resurgence in the popularity of the hitherto discarded Rugova. The KLA then failed to infiltrate existing structures of governance erected by the West (like the Executive Council) - or to duplicate them. Thaci's quest to become deputy-Kouchner was brusquely rebuffed. The ballot box seems now to be the KLA's only exit strategy. The risk is that electoral loss will lead to alienation and thuggery if not to outright criminality. It is a fine balancing act between the virtuous ideals of democracy and the harsh constraints of real politik..."

NATO and KFOR face the unenviable dilemma of clashing with Albanian nationalists in Kosovo - or, through abstention, aiding and abetting in the disintegration of Macedonia. KFOR cannot be seen to be suppressing the very population whose well-being it ostensibly was hastily assembled to secure. Moreover, KFOR is no match to a genuine and well equipped Albanian guerilla movement. Its soldiers will be slaughtered as were the far more superior and knowledgeable Serb fighters. Taking this inferiority and reluctance into account, KFOR's best policy is to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to exploding mines and the occasional casualty. The Macedonians are not likely to sit idle while their country is being torn apart. Hot pursuits into Kosovar territory are not an outlandish proposition. Sooner or later, NATO/KFOR and the Macedonian ARM will cross machine gun fire. The Americans are likely to fold with the first body bag - which would leave militarily-strapped Europe in a deep lurch indeed.

One should also not ignore the rumblings from Bosnia. The Dayton Accord is falling apart, as well it deserves. The HDZ Croats all but declared independence. The West fires elected politicians in a ferocious pace. Croatia is unlikely to intervene unless something real bad happens. But a civil war in Bosnia is not out of the question. Add this to the growing American isolationism and you can begin to understand why I wrote this immediately after the Serb October Revolution and Kostunica's ascent to power in my article "The Fifth Horseman", published on December 4, 2001:

"The plot thickens by the day. The inevitable is unfolding in Kosovo. Raffish Albanian extremists enjoin the Serb police forces and military at the southern fringes of Serbia. The latter's Pavlovian violent response is sure to escalate the conflict. The West helplessly reprimands the very armed and rambunctious demons it has unleashed, mortified at their audacity - to no avail. A spate of murders of Albanian moderates inside the nascent Kosovar state is likely to effectively annul the results of the mock local elections in October. The region - and Western Macedonia with it - is down a slippery path. With its hordes of bloated bureaucrats, mountebank bankers and coxcomb politicians, the West copes with the self-inflicted Augean task of sorting out the Balkan by making extempore vacuous promises combined with empty harrumphs. Neither its carrot of wheedling persiflage nor its stick of turgid impotence are credible. When fighting breaks, the eroded and inept forces that pass for sedentary NATO will find themselves the targets of villain and rescued alike, the common enemy of the wily and indomitable denizens of these blood drenched plains."

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