Sunday, February 24, 2008

Who are teh good guys?

Kosovo’s recent unilateral declaration of independence and the response from the Serbs, Russians, the US and most of Europe has got me looking back at my time in Croatia in 1992-1993 and Kosovo in 1999.
When I went to Croatia in September of 1992 the MSM were telling us that the Serbs were the bad guys and were focusing on the destruction of Sarevjho. Although the war began in Slovenia (only lasting 10 days) and then had really taken off in Croatia it seemed like once again I headed to a no-name conflict. Sure enough when I arrived I found that the Serbs had been driven out and that the small remaining Serb population was being slowly but surely eradicated by revengeful Croats eager to make up for years of Serb dominance.
The wildest few days of my 7 months in Croatia came in March 1993 when we were ordered to move rapidly to a city well outside our normal area of operations as the Nepalese Army didn’t have the resources to deal with the problem. The problem being that the Croatian Army’s entire armored corps of some 100 tanks was on the march and ready to take this Serb dominated town and in the process completely destroy the largest concentration of Serbs left in Croatia. Since the UN was neutral we were ordered to dig in and stop the Croatian offensive by force if necessary. I was a fire controller and thus should have had both artillery and mortar assets at my call but instead I had four 81 mm mortar tubes that didn’t have any high explosive ammunition (it was a peacekeeping mission so the powers that be didn’t think HE would be required), instead I had smoke and illumination.
Within 15 minutes of receiving our detailed orders to deploy and dig in for the potential fight I was summoned back to the combat team commanders vehicle along with all the other commanders to find out that our orders were on hold and instead we were heading to a nearby bridge to stop the Serbs from breaking into the Cantonment sites were their weapons were being stored as part of the UN sponsored peace agreement. It was an amazing turn of events in mere minutes we went from defending the Serbs to preparing to attack the Serbs before returning to defend them. Even funnier, while we were on route I was asked to prepare a fire plan to ensure we could get across the bridge. When I radioed back that my intention was to drop illumination rounds on the ground in hopes of scaring the Serbs I was met by radio silence, finally after what seemed like an hour the commander gave me a simple and resigned “understood do your best’. As it turned out our presence and assurances that we were here to stop the Croats was enough and they returned to their homes and we returned to our defensive positions to dig in and await the next showdown. Thankfully I was able to keep my illumination tactics secret for a little while longer.
Amazingly when we first rolled into town we were greeted with cheers and waves but as time went on and the local Serbs realized that we weren’t going to attack and destroy the Croats if they didn’t attack us first we were then subjected to snowball attacks (frozen snowballs filled with rocks) and were given the “you’re number one salute”. It was hard as a young man to make sense of what we were doing, who were the good guys who were the bad guys and why was I freezing my butt off to do this. At the end of my tour I had to attend a mandatory operational stress debriefing and when asked what I thought of the mission I said “what mission, we had numerous missions with numerous contradictory goals, the Croats are cruel and evil and they love to lie and screw us around…the Serbs are mean, mainly drunk, can’t believe they lost and are difficult to negotiate with but at the end of the day once they agree to do something it happens”. So I came home not really giving a crap about either side and mainly with the opinion of too hell with them…feel free to kill each other as long as you want. It’s a sad way to think about your fellow human beings but I didn’t see much humanity over there.
In Kosovo the story was pretty similar in that we were told by the MSM and the military briefers that we were saving the Muslim Kosovars (nobody used the word Albanian that I can remember until we got there) from the evil Serbs who were once again trying to impose their will on a former Yugoslavia province against their will. I suppose in this case it was closer to the truth in that in 1990 Slobodan Milosevic had in fact revoked the provinces special autonomy granted under Tito in 1974 and had immediately taken away many basics rights like having a bank account. Many local managers and supervisors were replaced with Serbs that either didn’t have the experience or qualifications to what they were employed to do. After the wars in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia Mr. Milosevic also used Kosovo as a dumping ground for displaced Serbs granting them land and property previously owned by Kosovars which certainly didn’t make him any friends.
As the wars turned against the Serbs they increasingly focused on what they had left and insuring Kosovo would become a fully integrated Serb province which it had never been. In the mid-nineties the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA to the media) UCK (Ushtria Clinimtare e Kosoves)to us on the ground was formed. At first it was a protest movement but soon followed in the path of the IRA conducting hit and run operations against the police to gather more weapons, against banks to get funds and finally bombing government offices to get attention and attention they got. Having been defeated in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia the Serb army turned its full attention to Kosovo in 1998 and came down on them like a hammer. As the KLA withdrew as rapidly as it could the Serb Army burned and looted it’s way south. Finally in March 1999 the West stung by its late entry into the Balkans and by its failure to act in Rwanda decided that it wasn’t going to wait for a UN Security council resolution (Russia the Serbs greatest allie wasn’t going to let a resolution pass) and began a NATO led bombing campaign to drive the Serb Army out of Kosovo. The bombing campaign like most bombing campaigns even in modern times can only accomplish so much and after taking down every bridge and government building in Serbia it was time for a ground invasion which is where I came in.
Once again the realities on the ground weren’t exactly as described. We were expecting devout Muslims but we got heavy drinking, pork eating versions. Unlike Croatia the Kosovars were ready to work and couldn’t wait to rebuild. We also discovered that the brave KLA was anything but spending most of the real war in the mountains drinking and hoping the Serbs would go away. They were ready to take on the police but certainly not the army, however with NATO in place they came out of the dark and were ready to carry out the same reprisals we saw in Croatia, stopping them became our full time task. Once again as my tour came to an end I attended mandatory stress debriefing and once again I couldn’t for the life of me decide who the bad guys or good guys were. The Serbs definitely set the stage for rebellion but the KLA were nothing but drunken thugs who did nothing for the people other than provoke a massive response from the Serb Army and then ran away to let their fellow citizens suffer the consequences.
Now that I see that Kosovo has once again spit in the face of the Serbs by not having a referendum and then hid behind NATO, the EU and US while the Serbs responded just as expected with violence I can’t really decide who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.
I can’ t figure out why the Serbs don’t yet seem to understand that they’ve fallen again and again into the same trap of being provoked, responding in a stereo type manner, and then being confused and hurt when the world lines up against them but at the same time I wonder how it is that majority of the world has again fallen for Hashim Thaci (formerly the leader of the KLA political wing) and his KLA thugs who were more interested in acting like the mafia and smuggling cars, weapons, drugs and women after NATO fought for their independence instead of helping those people that they’d abandoned in the first place.
Should we recognize them now…I suppose we have no choice, we’ve gone to war for them, we’ve bleed for them and if we don’t follow through they’ll again bleed for those who promised to liberate them. First the KLA made that promise then we did now we’ll live up to our promise while the KLA in Thaci will govern them.
The fallout from this will only serve to further isolate Russia from the West, mind you even without this provocation Russia is once again attempting to become a super power and to rival the West but a bigger problem will be that we’ve clearly shown the fragile nature of the EU. No matter how hard they try they have different agenda’s, different goals and rarely speak with one united voice. Europe is not as united as we believe and the Kosovo declaration is a great example of why this is so.
As we’ve talked increasingly about globalization and integrated economies we splintered even more as a planet creating dozens of new countries in the past 20 years. It’s an odd contradiction.

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