Kosovo Liberation Army

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The KLA insignia

The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA or UK; Albanian: Ushtria lirimtare e Kosovs) was an Albanian guerrilla group which operated in Kosovo during the late 1990s and played an important part in the Kosovo War of 1999.

Contents

History

Emergence of the KLA (1992-1996)

The name "Kosovo Liberation Army" first came to light in the Republic of Macedonia in 1992, used by ethnic Albanian radicals seeking autonomy or independence from that state. In 1995, isolated attacks on Serbian police were carried out by unnamed parties, though it was not until February 1996 that the name "Kosovo Liberation Army" was used for the first time following a series of attacks against police stations and individual policemen in western Kosovo.

Although it was widely believed that Kosovo was ripe for an armed uprising, many observers initially doubted the existence of the KLA and attributed the attacks – which killed Albanians and Serbs alike – to Serbian agents provocateurs. However, it soon became clear that the KLA was genuine. The Serbian authorities denounced it as a terrorist organization and increased its security forces in the region. This may, however, have had the counterproductive effect of boosting the credibility of the embryonic KLA among the Kosovo Albanian population.

Guerilla war to Kosovo War (1997-1999)

The KLA grew considerably in size between 1997-1999. It carried out numerous attacks on police in Kosovo, and set up roadblocks in the countryside. By May 1998 it effectively controlled a quarter of the province, centered on the region of Drenica, its stronghold being around the village of Donji Prekaz.

The Serbian government was uncertain about what to do; the Ministry of the Interior (MUP) simply stopped patrolling large areas of Kosovo, while the Yugoslav Army (VJ) often ignored KLA activity. The "shadow government" of the moderate Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova also faced a dilemma, unwilling to endorse the KLA's violent tactics but wary of losing support to the radicals. Its situation was worsened by the assassination by the KLA of a number of moderate Albanians opposed to its activities. The KLA's indiscriminate tactics led to the U.S. State Department adding it to its list of terrorist organisations.

The size of the KLA at this point was extremely uncertain. Its spokesman Jakup Krasniqi claimed 30,000 men under arms, while others estimated numbers of up to 50,000 (although these were likely exaggerations). The Serbs, by contrast, claimed that the KLA comprised only a few hundred radicals. However many there really were, it was certainly apparent that the KLA was military weak. Its fighters were equipped with small arms such as AK-47 assault rifles and a few RPG-7 anti-tank weapons, but this was no match for the heavy weapons of the Serbian security forces.

This disparity became clear in the summer of 1998, when the Serbian government decided to act following a botched KLA attempt to seize the town of Orahovac. The state security forces launched an offensive against the KLA, crushed most of its organization, regained control over most of the province (save for a pocket around the border town of Junik) and pushed the remaining KLA fighters into Albania. The Serbian offensive was accompanied by an indiscriminate use of force against Kosovo Albanian villages suspected of harbouring KLA rebels, forcing over 100,000 people to flee their homes and prompting an outcry from the European powers.

The KLA responded by reorganising itself with a central command structure and training organisation. It established a General Staff (Shtabi i Pergjithshem) of between 16-20 members and divided Kosovo into seven military operational zones, commanded semi-independently by local commanders operating under pseudonyms. The KLA also established a political arm, the Drejtoria Politike, led by the prominent Kosovo separatist activist Hashim Thaci. It created training camps and bases in the safe haven of north-eastern Albania, even establishing its own military academy (the Akademia e Ardhshme Ushtarake) where ethnic Albanian former Yugoslav Army officers trained new recruits. According to Serbian accounts, the primary KLA training camps in Albania were Labinot, near Tirana, Tropoj, Kuks and Bajram Curri near the Yugoslav-Albanian border.

The bloody results of the Serbian offensive were publicised throughout Europe and attracted an unprecedented response from the Albanian emigr community. Thousands of young emigr Albanians left their jobs and made their way to the training camps in such large numbers that the KLA was initially unable to cope. KLA fundraising was equally successful, raising millions of dollars for the guerrilla army and permitting it to buy considerable amounts of weapons on the black market. Numerous allegations have been made that the KLA was financed by organized crime, specifically drug smuggling through Former Yugoslavia. Europol reportedly tied the KLA to criminal syndicates in Albania, Turkey and the European Union, and Ralf Mutschke of Interpol reported that the KLA had received financing both from the Afghan heroin trade and from Al-Qaeda [1] (http://www.house.gov/judiciary/muts1213.htm). Slobodan Milosevic, during his trial, repeated the allegation that the KLA was affiliated with Al-Qaeda, based on FBI testimony [2] (http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/01121850.htm) that Osama bin Laden had operated through groups in Albania [3] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/1862515.stm).

Ironically, many of the KLA's weapons reportedly came from the Kosovo Serbs – the Serbian government had issued thousands of rifles to their compatriots in Kosovo, but many ended up being sold to the Albanians. The KLA continued to rely principally on small arms but expanded its arsenal to include SA-7 and Stinger shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles as well as light artillery such as mortars.

The Albanian government disclaimed any support for the KLA but did not close the border with Kosovo or the camps. It was probably not in a position to do so in any case, as the north-east of the country was in a state of anarchy at the time. In Kosovo, the KLA learned from its earlier mistakes, avoiding concentrating its strength in villages (so presenting the Serbs with easy targets) and instead mounting hit-and-run attacks from the hills and forests of western Kosovo. KLA fighters attacked Serbian military and civilian targets alike, while Serbian forces retaliated with overwhelming and often indiscriminate force which resulted in mass killings such as the Racak incident in January 1999. The violence prompted more refugees to flee and increased the pressure on Western powers to intervene.

The Kosovo War and aftermath (1999-)

Full-scale war broke out in Kosovo in March 1999. The Serbian and Yugoslav forces launched a ferocious offensive against the KLA and the Albanian population in general, deporting or displacing most of the Albanian population of Kosovo in an apparent attempt to "ethnically cleanse" the province.

The KLA initially suffered heavy losses and was driven back into Albania, with only a few thousand fighters remaining in Kosovo itself. Its commander, Sylejman Selimi, a political appointee with no formal military training, was removed in May 1999 and replaced with Agim Ceku, a former Croatian Army brigadier-general.

Although it had little direct military impact on the much stronger Serbian forces, the KLA did play one vital role in the war – after Ceku's appointment, it began to take a much more aggressive stance by attacking security force units and forcing them into the open, where NATO aircraft were able to attack them.

When the war ended, NATO and Serbian leaders agreed to a peace settlement that would see Kosovo governed by the United Nations with the KLA being disarmed. The KLA was, however, not a signatory to the peace accords. NATO sought to overcome its envisaged displeasure with a promise to establish a 3,000-strong Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC, TMK in Albanian) drawn from KLA ranks and charged with disaster response capability, search and rescue, assistance with de-mining, providing humanitarian assistance, and helping to rebuild infrastructure and communities.

This did not prove wholly successful, as many ex-KLA members resented losing their role as the army of Kosovo. For some time after the end of the war, numerous Serbs and some moderate Albanians were murdered, their killings blamed on KLA members. Members of the KPC were implicated in Kosovo's lucrative black market, racketeering, smuggling and drug trade. It was widely reported that ex-KLA fighters had established extensive criminal networks within Kosovo [4] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/699175.stm), and organised crime remains a major problem within the province.

Ex-KLA members also made efforts to spread insurgency into neighboring regions. A new guerrilla group called the Liberation Army of Preševo, Medveđa and Bujanovac, consisting of KLA veterans, began operating in the Preševo region of southern Serbia in 2000-2001. In the Republic of Macedonia, a new organization also named UK (this time standing for "National Liberation Army" in Albanian) took up arms against the Slav-dominated government.

The KLA legacy remains powerful within Kosovo. Its former members still play a major role in Kosovar politics; its former political head Hashim Thaci is now the leader of the Democratic Party of Kosova, one of the province's leading political parties.

References

  • "KLA Action Fuelled NATO Victory", Jane's Defence Weekly, 16 June 1999
  • "The KLA: Braced to Defend and Control", Jane's Intelligence Review, 1 April 1999
  • "Kosovo's Ceasefire Crumbles As Serb Military Retaliates", Jane's Intelligence Review, 1 February 1999
  • "Another Balkan Bloodbath? Part Two", Jane's Intelligence Review, 1 March 1998
  • "Albanians Attack Serb Targets", Jane's Defence Weekly, 4 September 1996
  • FAS Inteligence Resource Program on KLA (http://www.fas.org/irp/world/para/kla.htm)
  • Albanian Terrorism and Organised Crime in Kosovo-Metohija (White Book) (http://www.srbija.sr.gov.yu/kosovo-metohija/?id=8925)

See also

de:UK sr:Ослободилачка војска Косова

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