- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2000

The Army yesterday released a report documenting a pattern of abusive behavior toward Kosovar civilians by nine members of the storied 82nd Airborne Division during peacekeeping operations in the last two years.

The voluminous report also indicts the Army itself. The investigation found that the 3rd Battalion of the 504th Parachute Regiment received little training in the intricacies of keeping the peace in a chaotic land even after the aggressive combat unit was picked to enter Kosovo in September 1999.

Once in the town of Vitina, the soldiers became, in effect, law enforcement officers, wedged between minority Serbs and some violent Kosovar Albanians bent on revenge.

The report said the battalion commander exceeded his authority by trying to disband dissident movements. It accused his soldiers of head-butting demonstrators, beating criminal suspects, fondling women and intimidating civilian pedestrians.

The Army said yesterday that five enlisted members of the battalion's A Company were disciplined. Four battalion officers were also punished. None faces court-martial.

The investigation was ordered by Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, after an A Company staff sergeant was charged with raping and murdering a Kosovar Albanian girl in January.

The investigative report, submitted by Col. John W. Morgan III, said both the battalion and company commanders favored Serbian citizens over the majority ethnic Albanian population.

The report also criticized the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Michael D. Ellerbe, for failing to take seriously numerous reports that his men were mistreating civilians.

It also said Col. Ellerbe exceeded his authority by trying to wipe out organized Kosovar resistance. The commander "created a setting that allowed an opportunity for subordinate officers, noncommissioned soldiers and enlisted soldiers to step over the line of acceptable conduct," it said.

The report concluded:

"Unit members violated the limits and terms of their military assignments by intimidating, interrogating, abusing and beating Albanians and by traveling outside of their physically assigned sector to conduct some of these activities," the report states. "The facts reveal several incidents of soldier misconduct towards females, including inappropriate touching, grabbing of breasts and buttocks and the perception of Kosovar females of improper searches conducted by soldiers."

In one incident, the report describes how 1st Lt. John S. Serafini, an A Company platoon leader, and Sgt. Adam B. Gitlin mistreated an ethnic Albanian suspected of a grenade attack on a Serbian bar.

The suspect claimed Sgt. Gitlin beat him during a hostile interrogation. "1st Lt. Serafini attempted to stick his sheath knife with a six-inch long blade into the wall," the report says. "… When 1st Lt. Serafini was unsuccessful in sticking the knife in the wall, he repeatedly stuck the knife into a table."

In another incident, Lt. Serafini unloaded his revolver, walked back into a room and held it to the back of the head of a suspect. "Do you want to die?" he asked.

The battalion entered Kosovo last September shortly after NATO bombing forced Serbian troops to vacate the province. The 800-soldier unit completed the tour in March.

The Army released a statement yesterday saying Gen. Shinseki has directed Gen. John W. Hendrix, who heads Army Forces Command, to review the Morgan report and take corrective action.

"The incidents detailed in this report of investigation are not in keeping with the Army's core values and should never have occurred," the Army said. "Even though this behavior appears to have been limited to a small number of soldiers, Army leaders at all levels must remain vigilant to ensure this behavior or the conditions that might foster this type of behavior do not reoccur."

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, who is visiting countries in Asia, expressed "grave concern" over the report.

Col. Morgan made special note of the fact the battalion received little instruction in the dicey mission of peacekeeping.

"As a result, the [battalion] experienced difficulties tempering their combat mentality for adapting and transitioning to the Kosovo [mission]," Col. Morgan concluded. "In [this] environment, the unit's overly aggressive tendencies were manifested in practices such as the unit slogan, 'shoot 'em in the face' and their standard operating procedure of pointing the M-4 carbine weapon system with the attached maglight in the face of local nationals in order to illuminate their faces."

Robert Maginnis, a retired Army infantry officer and a military analyst at the Family Research Council, said the service is so stretched by overseas deployments it lacks the funds for adequate training.

"If they're not going to take the time and expend the resources to properly train these young men to perform these extraordinary difficult tasks, then we need to re-evaluate whether these peace enforcements are truly in our national interest," Mr. Maginnis said. "You can't take 18- and 19-year-olds and throw them in the middle of a foreign country in absolute chaos and expect them to be a perfect saint. They don't have the training."

The investigation began after an A Company soldier, Staff Sgt. Frank J. Ronghi, was charged with raping and murdering an 11-year-old Kosovar Albanian girl in Vitina in January. Ronghi was convicted at court-martial and sentenced to life in prison. He was not one of the nine soldiers disciplined separately for mistreating civilians.

The report accuses Ronghi of roughing up Albanian Kosovars. It said he had repeated sexual relations with a woman nicknamed "Yugoslavia."

Maj. Gary Tallman, a 82nd Airborne spokesman, said the five enlisted soldiers were reduced in rank, fined and given extra duty. An officer also received nonjudicial punishment, but was not demoted, he said.

Three officers received administrative punishment in the form of written reprimands from Lt. Gen. Dan K. McNeill at a time when he was 82nd Airborne commander. Gen. McNeill is now a corps commander. Reprimands typically end an officer's career since they limit any chance for promotion.

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