Balkans: September 4, 2003


: NATO's "Dynamic Response" is annual training event for augmenting troops already present on the ground in the Balkans with "over-the-horizon forces" at short notice. Like a miniature copy of the old Cold War era "REFORGER" exercises, the units included light and airborne infantry, amphibious, air mobile, armor, artillery and air attack. 

Units arrive by air and by land routes and are integrated into SFOR and KFOR's command and control structures as three components: SFOR and KFOR's tactical highly mobile, rapid reserve forces, the Operational Reserve Force (ORF) and the Strategic Reserve Force (SRF). Both the ORF and the SRF can muster up to 6,500 mission-ready troops to deploy at short notice. 

KFOR Spokesman Wing Commander Chris Thompson noted that this rehearsal has been planned almost a year in advance and has nothing to do with recent events in Kosovo." The first incarnation of "Dynamic Response" was held in 1997 and each subsequent mission has focused on a different part of the Balkans.

Yet the violence that makes NATO keep such trump cards handy continues. Late on August 31, a hand grenade was tossed into a shop in an ethnically mixed village in eastern Kosovo, killing one Serb man and injuring four others. On August 13, someone opened fire with machine guns on some teenagers cooling off in the Bistrica River. One was killed and four wounded, near the western Kosovo village of Gorazdevac. On August 11, a 43-year-old Serb was shot in the face while fishing near the village of Skulevo and died. A Serb family of three was axed and clubbed to death on June 4 in their home in the village of Obilic, their bodies then set on fire. 

There are also problems across the border in Macedonia, where ethnic Albanian civilians have fled from the village Vaksince (about 20 km northeast of the capital Skopje). This was instigated by police searches for Avdil Jakupi, an ethnic Albanian rebel leader suspected of abducting two Macedonians (including a police officer). 

Jakupi's Albanian National Army (ANA, an independence-seeking, ethnic Albanian rebel group) took responsibility for several armed attacks in Macedonia, Kosovo and southern Serbia in the past year. 

While it's obvious that these killings in Kosovo are race-based, the authorities cannot classify them yet as ethnically motivated, since they haven't arrested suspects or determined motives for many of the recent attacks. The local Serbs are blaming the Albanians and claiming that international troops aren't doing enough to protect them, meaning that they're left as prisoners trapped on their own farms. However, local Albanians are unconvinced that their ethnic kin would execute such atrocities and some claim that Serbs might be the perpetrators, in the hopes of establishing a case for being ruled again by Belgrade or for having their own Serb state within Kosovo (not unlike some of the arrangements made in the Soviet Union's old southern republics). 

As many have pointed out, Belgrade benefits whenever Kosovo (or Bosnia or Macedonia) appears violent and chaotic. With enough chaos, the world media will trumpet the impression that both the UN and Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership are failing to stabilize the province. What the means for the US forces in the region is open to speculation, although it could indicate a shift in the future to a greater NATO/EU presence. The August 24 edition of the New York Times noted that the Pentagon was assessing how to pare down its commitments in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Sinai. - Adam Geibel




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