By Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Burger II, 11th Public Affairs DetachmentJune 10, 2014
CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo (June 10, 2014) -- It's another typical day on Camp Bondsteel. Besides the occasional Army officer rushing to attend a meeting or the roving military police patrolman, it's mostly quiet. It's a contrasting scene for those who were here when the Kosovo conflict first occurred back in 1999.
June 10 marks the 15th anniversary of the rapid deployment of Operation Joint Guardian, the multinational security force mandated by the U.N. Security Council, and a select few can still recall what life was like in Kosovo more than a decade ago.
Before the conflict, Kosovo was an autonomous province of Serbia and contained a mixed population with an ethnic Albanian majority. In 1989, Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, altered the status of the region, removing its autonomy and bringing it under Belgrade, Serbia's control.
In 1998, open conflict between Serbians and Kosovo Albanians resulted in the deaths of over 1,500 Albanians and forced 400,000 people from their homes. The international community became concerned about Milosevic's disregard for diplomatic efforts aimed at peacefully resolving the crisis.
On June 12, 1998, the North Atlantic Council assessed possible measures that NATO might take with regard to the developing Kosovo crisis. On October 13, 1998, the council authorized the use of air strikes; however at the last moment, Milosevic agreed to further diplomatic initiatives and the air strikes were called off. The U.N. Security Council created Resolution 1199, which called for a cease-fire by both parties to the conflict. In support of the resolution, limits were set on the number of Serbian forces in Kosovo and their scope of operations.
In addition, another Security Council resolution, UNSCR 1203, endorsed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to establish a "Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM)" that would observe compliance on the ground, and mandate that NATO establish an aerial surveillance mission.
Despite these steps, in 1999 the situation in Kosovo flared up again.
Renewed international efforts were formulated to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. NATO supported and reinforced international efforts by agreeing, January 30, 1999, to use air strikes if required, and by issuing a warning to both sides in the conflict.
On March 18 of that year, Serbian forces breached compliance with the October agreement by moving extra troops and tanks into the region. Tens of thousands of people began to flee their homes in the face of this systematic offensive. The KVM withdrew from the region, having faced obstruction from Serbian forces to the point that they could no longer fulfill their tasks.
Nominated by former President Bill Clinton to be a special envoy to the Balkans, Richard Holbrooke flew to Belgrade in a final attempt to persuade Milosevic to stop attacks on the Kosovar Albanians, or face imminent NATO air strikes. Milosevic refused to comply, and five days later, the order was given to commence air strikes.
Besim Hyseni, a U.S. Army translator for the Multinational Battle Group-East's Forward Command Post, was a civilian who was living in Kosovo's capital city when NATO intervened.
"Before [Kosovo Forces] came, the situation was very difficult. I was in Pristina when the airstrikes started. I was hiding in the city for a month," Hyseni said. "After a month, my family and I left on a refugee train to Macedonia. There, I worked in the camp as a driver and interpreter for CARE International."
On the evening of June 9th, NATO and Yugoslav army commanders signed a Military-Technical Agreement that began the full withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo. As agreed in the MTA, the deployment of the security force -- Kosovo Force - was synchronized with the departure of Serb security forces from Kosovo.
After an air campaign lasting 77 days, NATO Secretary General, Javier Solana, announced, June 10, that he had instructed U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, to suspend temporarily NATO's air operations against Yugoslavia.
The Security Council passed Resolution 1244, welcoming the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's acceptance on a political solution to the Kosovo crisis, including an immediate end to violence and a rapid withdrawal of its military, police and paramilitary forces.
The first elements of KFOR entered Kosovo, June 12, 1999. Eight days later, the Serbian withdrawal was complete and Kosovo Force was well established. Following confirmation that Serbian security forces had vacated Kosovo, the NATO Secretary General announced he had formally terminated the air campaign.
While this was going on, Hyseni was offered a chance to come back home and make a difference.
"Contractors from KFOR came to the camp to recruit translators for them, so I volunteered and got the job. We came back here from Camp Able Sentry in Macedonia to Camp Bondsteel," Hyseni said. "I was very proud to help my people and to help the U.S Army, and was happy to come back to come to our homeland and work with KFOR."
At its full strength, KFOR comprised nearly 50,000 personnel. It was a multinational force under unified command and control with substantial NATO participation.
Dan O'Brien, Interim Director of Security, Plans and Operations for Area Support Team Balkans was a squad leader for the Army's 92nd Military Police Company during rotation 1B. Stationed at nearby Camp Montieth, O'Brien's role was far different than the role of the MPs here today.
"When we arrived, we were initially the law enforcement for Kosovo. They were still introducing the Kosovo Police into the system. We actually went out and did law enforcement for the entire country," O'Brien said.
"In those days, KFOR was the only institution. We used to work 15 hours a day. It was hard work, but we were joyful to help our people," Hyseni added.
Maj. Aaron Francis, deputy chief of Multinational Battle Group-East's Joint Implementation Commission, said combat units here had different tasks during his time at Camp Bondsteel during rotation 2B as an assistant operations officer for 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment.
"Our posture was a lot different then. There was still a significant amount of violence going on in Kosovo and in the [Administrative Boundary Line] valley. We did a lot of illumination missions, called peace enforcement back then," Francis said.
Life on the bases was also at a higher tempo, Francis added, with constant 12-hour shifts, and over crowded living facilities.
"From my understanding, Bondsteel was the biggest deployed base at the time. We had a north, mid and south towns. We lived six captains to a room," Francis continued.
Although KFOR's peacekeeping mission is now widely viewed as positive, back then many Soldiers were apprehensive about interacting with the people.
"We really didn't know what to expect. For the most part, the Kosovars treated us like saviors, but mostly we kept our distance, unlike now, since we figured out how to go out and engage the populace," Francis said.
For the next 15 years, Kosovo Force would provide protection and stability to the region, allowing Kosovo to grow and prosper. Hyseni said that for more than a decade, the key mission has remained the same.
"[KFOR] is here to provide a safe and secure environment, regardless of ethnic background," Hyseni said.