- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2001

CAMP BONDSTEEL, Yugoslavia Two years into their mission in Kosovo, U.S. forces have made a significant strategic shift, launching foot patrols in the mountains to cut supply lines to ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia and preserve the fragile peace in Kosovo.
While U.S. troops have mounted foot patrols throughout their deployment, the key difference is that U.S. forces since last month have been operating under specific orders to increase surveillance and interdictions along the rugged mountain border.
"There is no way to shut the border completely and there are many places [Albanian rebels] can get supplies from other than the Kosovo border," Col. Anthony Tata, deputy commander of the U.S. forces in Kosovo, said in an interview Tuesday outlining the new operation. "But it is obvious based on the quantity of equipment we have received that we have had an impact."
Since sending out the first patrols on June 7, U.S. forces based in Kosovo have intercepted and seized a convoy of five rebel SUVs and four mule trains all laden with arms, food, clothing and medical supplies, and all making their way to reinforce rebel lines in neighboring Macedonia.
They also have secured at least five caches of weapons hidden under brush, and detained 124 rebels.
So far, the rebels have not fought back, Col. Tata said. One soldier, however, lost a foot last week when he stepped on a land mine.
NATO command in Pristina ordered the mission shift in June following a NATO-brokered peace that calmed fighting between ethnic Albanian guerrillas and Serbian troops in the Presovo valley in neighboring Serbia, which borders the U.S. sector in Kosovo.
That success freed resources to launch the intensified patrols under the command of American Brig. Gen. William C. David at the same moment that the rebel Albanian insurgency in Macedonia intensified, Col. Tata said.
The rebels are battling in northern Macedonia, near the Kosovo border, in what they say is a campaign for greater rights for that country's ethnic Albanian minority. The Macedonian government says the rebels are separatists trying to carve out an ethnic Albanian region.
"Gen. David's intent here is important. He wants to show resolve in assisting [Macedonia] by disrupting logistical and recruiting operations in our sector that are supported by the National Liberation Army," as the Macedonian rebel force is known, Col. Tata said.
The U.S. mission to maintain security in Kosovo remains the primary goal, he said, adding: "The movement and the smuggling is disruptive to the safe and secure environment in Kosovo."
One particularly productive night in the Sar mountains, four U.S. infantry soldiers seized rebel Albanian SUVs maneuvering a muddy, mountaintop goat track toward the Macedonian border, blocking the lead vehicle in a ravine.
The impressive take on June 8 was a blow to the rebels' resupply efforts. It included rifles, machine guns, ammunition drums and mortar components, as well as uniforms, boots, bottled water, cans of food, bags of flour, medical supplies and 50,000 German marks worth about $25,000 which Col. Tata believes was the rebel payroll.
"This was a dangerous mission. Every rebel in these vehicles had a loaded weapon and there were 11 that they saw," Col. Tata said. The four soldiers captured six rebels without resistance, and the others fled.
Helicopters moved in immediately to secure the area and prevent the rebels from regrouping and trying to retake the supplies. Ground forces followed, helping with the detainees and removing seized equipment.
That was the first success. A day earlier, patrols found four cases of mortar ammunition hidden beneath a deadfall. Rather than securing the arms, they placed the cache under surveillance. On June 9, U.S. soldiers captured four rebels returning for the weapons.
Battalion commanders then turned their focus to mule trains spotted in the mountains near the border intercepting four in one weekend. The seizure included 10 rocket-propelled grenades, 16 cases of 12.7 ammunition, 23 cases of explosives, 103 82mm mortar rounds and 23 boxes of fuses, along with cans of chicken, bags of bread and brand-new boots.
The interdictions so far have focused on a radius of several miles where reconnaissance teams identified a heavily traveled network of foot paths.
"They have been operating in this area for a long time," Col. Tata said. "They have a very good information network. Everybody seems to be connected. The shepherd will report to the woodcutter that the U.S. forces are here. So you have to be somewhat crafty about how you develop your patrol plans."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide