Who really won?
Upstaged by Russia, NATO now faces the thankless task of
By Romesh Ratnesar
June 14, 1999
Web posted at: 12:00 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT)
When the end of the most lopsided 78-day war in history finally
came, the champagne was for the losers. In Belgrade last
Wednesday night, thousands of young Serbs unburdened themselves
in the city's Republic Square, dangling out the windows of their
cars, blaring the horns and chanting "Serbia! Serbia!" They lit
red magnesium flares and launched fireworks into the night sky.
"I feel great," said Olivera Todorovic, 22. "It's a wonderful
feeling to live again in peace."
Elsewhere the celebrations were fleeting. Bill Clinton openly
declared "victory" in a nationally televised address Thursday
night, followed by a triumphal tour Friday of Whiteman Air Force
Base, home to the lethal B-2 bombers that emerged as the
technological heroes of the war. But that evening, faces at the
White House turned ashen. Commanders of Russian troops in Bosnia,
evidently worried about the fate of Kosovar Serbs, had rumbled
into Pristina, Kosovo's capital, despite an earlier understanding
that they would not enter until agreement had been reached with
NATO on command of the peacekeepers. On Saturday, Russian Foreign
Minister Igor Ivanov apologized and said the troops would
withdraw, but as the day wore on, they stayed put, effectively in
charge of the airport.
The 200 Russian troops were no threat to the allied forces, but
their bizarre deployment set off worries about whether Russian
President Boris Yeltsin was in control of his own military, or
whether he had sanctioned the early troop movement as a
concession to hard-line generals dismayed by Russia's lack of
influence in Kosovo. Publicly, however, U.S. officials tried to
put the best spin on the situation. "We would like them to
participate [in the peacekeeping mission]," said Defense
Secretary William Cohen. "Whether they arrive a few hours earlier
or later really is not a significant factor."
From the start of the conflict, the U.S. and its allies knew that
after the bombing stopped, they would assume the responsibility
for keeping peace in Kosovo; that it would require thousands of
troops on the ground to prevent flare-ups between stray armed
Serbian civilians and the Kosovo Liberation Army (K.L.A.); and
that the mission would be long and costly. But all that was
supposed to get going after a few days of air strikes--not after
three months, during which the Serbs reduced Kosovo to a
wasteland and turned more than 800,000 Kosovars into refugees.
The Administration's price tag for patrolling and rehabilitating
Kosovo will run into billions of dollars. But given that there
are 400,000 displaced persons within Kosovo, things may be even
worse. "We are all waiting with some trepidation," said U.S.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, "about what happens when
we actually get into Kosovo."
Enforcing the peace
Last week's deal sets the stage for a lengthy NATO occupation of
BY DAY 11: All Serbian troops and police will be out of Kosovo.
Yugoslav government will turn over land-mine maps, and the first
peacekeeping troops will be in place
BY DAY 30: The Kosovo Force will divide the province, clear mines
and repair roads and bridges. Relief supplies will be rushed in
to feed Kosovar refugees
BY DAY 90: The U.N. will set up a provisional administration.
Western aid agencies will ship in food, lumber to rebuild homes
and seeds for fall crops
BY DAY 180: The U.N. will incorporate Kosovars into its
provisional administration, while ethnic Albanians hold local
elections and form committees to run their villages
THE GOAL: It may take years, but eventually KFOR will secure and
rebuild Kosovo--which maintains its autonomy within Yugoslavia.
Then U.S. troops can depart
The wait won't be long. Serbian troops jammed the roads leading
out of Kosovo late last week, waving their arms and firing guns
out of armored vehicles. While the Russians were first into
Pristina, the Serbian departure was quickly followed by the
arrival of the British and the French, who came early Saturday to
begin the work of establishing a NATO foothold. In the Kosovar
village of Urosevac, ethnic Albanians showered NATO forces with
flowers. One man said it was the first time in 10 weeks that he
had emerged from his basement hiding place. The U.S. has pledged
a contingent of 7,000 soldiers to the Kosovo Force (KFOR); the
soldiers and marines will man the southeastern corner of the
province. European officials believe that Kosovo may have the
world's highest concentration of buried mines. The first wave of
KFOR troops will have to defuse them before the refugees can
drive their tractors and cars back in.
Though the Serbs have promised to be out of Kosovo in 11 days,
allied officials say it could take much longer. Some are worried
that bands of departing Serbs will desert their military units
and haul off after the returning Albanians. "It is not safe yet
[for them] to go back in," said Joint Chiefs Chairman Hugh
Shelton. It is still unclear how the refugees will react to the
cease-fire. Many will have to be persuaded to go home. Says Sanha
Rusihti, an ethnic Albanian living in a camp in Macedonia: "I'm
scared of going in, even if NATO soldiers escort me by the hand."
But others are eager to return. Says Shkurte Gashi, 42, a refugee
from western Kosovo: "I want to go back as soon as possible
because I have nine members of my family there, and I want to
find out what happened to them."
Relief officials say Kosovars in the refugee camps will probably
dispatch "pioneer groups" to survey the damage wrought by the
war. It is not an encouraging picture. At least half the houses
in Kosovo have been razed. There are no viable livestock or
crops. Simply feeding the internally displaced Kosovars will
require shipments of 1,000 tons of food daily. Because Serbian
authorities destroyed most of the ethnic Albanians' personal
records, KFOR and the U.N.'s civilian administrators will face
the nightmarish task of sorting out those who have legal claims
to land and property. The U.S. hopes to organize and oversee
committees of local Kosovars to help U.N. officials coordinate
the rebuilding of infrastructure, schools and clinics. But
international-aid workers and peacekeepers will have to compete
with the K.L.A., which will want to reassert control over
villages as the Serbs pull out.
It is a contest the peacekeepers have little chance of winning.
Many trauma-racked refugees, still wary of Serbian aggression,
are sure to look to the K.L.A. for protection. The peace pact
calls for the "demilitarization" of the K.L.A.--but not for its
disarming. So the rebels will keep their small arms, the tools of
choice for guerrilla fighters. Meanwhile, the U.N. will shoulder
the heavy burden of setting up a Kosovar police force. Its first
challenge will be to stamp out the K.L.A.'s revolutionary zeal.
Albright labored to assure the 200,000 Serbs in Kosovo that the
K.L.A. had pledged not to do them harm, but it was apparent that
most Serbs did not believe her. As Serbian military buses and
tanks trundled out, their convoys were punctuated by cars packed
with nervous civilians.
The dwindling of the Serbian presence in Kosovo will add to the
ethnic-Albanian clamor for independence. The Rambouillet
agreement that Milosevic rejected in March specifically provided
for a referendum on Kosovar independence. The deal signed last
week does not.
The U.S. military's stay in Kosovo won't be short. In Bosnia,
American troops have had some success enforcing the peace. They
have separated warring Muslims and Serbs and stemmed any
outbreaks of violence. But they have failed to return scores of
refugees to their former homes. And while the number of U.S.
troops there has dropped from 20,000 to 6,000 since 1995, the
predicted length of their deployment has ballooned from 12 months
to indefinite. Pentagon officials are girding themselves for more
of the same in Kosovo. "We're here for the long haul," says an
Army planner. "Like decades."
But that may be O.K., at least in some rooms of the Pentagon,
where Iraq and now Kosovo are seen as victories. In fact, some
American military planners believe that limited, troubleshooting
missions like the one waged over Kosovo are a model for future
engagements. The U.S. may not be able to wipe trouble off the
map, the thinking goes, but it can contain it, as it has done in
Iraq and now Serbia. Yet the tendency of the U.S. to fight
low-intensity wars that stop short of winning unconditional
surrender--and that leave tyrants like Saddam Hussein and
Milosevic in power--has inspired public doubts. The peace deal had
barely been inked last week when 155 members of Congress voted
for a measure that would cut off funding for the Kosovo mission
after Sept. 30. The bill was shelved only after Clinton sent a
letter to the Hill promising to seek congressional approval for a
The White House pressed ahead with the effort to chalk this up in
the win column for the U.S. "Do you think," grumbled White House
spokesman Joe Lockhart, "that on the day the Gulf War ended,
[CNN] had a segment titled 'At What Price Peace?'" Maybe not. But
victory seems too simple a word for this complex and tragic
region. As they envisioned returning to their ruined homes and to
the arduous process of rebuilding their lives, few Kosovars felt
that they had tasted real victory over the Serbs. At least not
yet. Bekim Sabedini, a 27-year-old farmer from eastern Kosovo,
explained his intentions toward his Serbian neighbors: "At best,
I will not speak to them. At better, I will do what they did to
--Reported by Douglas Waller with Albright, Jay Branegan
and Mark Thompson/ Washington, Anthee Carassava/Blace, Gillian
Sandford/Pristina and William Dowell/U.N.
MORE TIME STORIES:
Cover Date: June 21, 1999