Publications Issue List Vote Analysis Main Page
March 31, 1999
The Kosovo Liberation Army: Does Clinton Policy Support Group with Terror, Drug Ties?
From ‘Terrorists’ to ‘Partners’
On March 24, 1999, NATO initiated air attacks on Yugoslavia (a federation of two republics, Serbia and Montenegro) in order to impose a peace agreement in the Serbian province of Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority. The Clinton Administration has not formally withdrawn its standing insistence that Belgrade sign the peace agreement, which would entail the deployment in Kosovo of some 28,000 NATO ground troops — including 4,000 Americans — to police the settlement. But in recent days the Clinton public line has shifted to a demand that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic halt the offensive he has launched in Kosovo, which has led to a growing humanitarian crisis in the region, before there can be a stop to the bombing campaign.
One week into the bombing campaign, there is widespread discussion of options for further actions. One option includes forging a closer relationship between the United States and a controversial group, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a group which has been cited in unofficial reports for alleged ties to drug cartels and Islamic terrorist organizations. This paper will examine those allegations in the context of the currently unfolding air campaign.
Results of Week One
The air assault is a product of a Clinton policy, which for months has been directed toward intervention in Kosovo, in either the form of the use of air power or of the introduction of a peacekeeping ground force — or of air power followed by a ground force. [For details on the turbulent history of Kosovo and of the direction of Clinton policy leading to the current air campaign, see: RPC's "Senate to Vote Today on Preventing Funding of Military Operations in Kosovo: Airstrikes Likely This Week," 3/23/99; "Bombing, or Ground Troops -- or Both: Clinton Kosovo Intervention Appears Imminent," 2/22/99; and "Bosnia II: The Clinton Administration Sets Course for NATO Intervention in Kosovo," 8/12/98.] Just hours before the first bombs fell, the Senate voted 58 to 41 (with 38 Republicans voting in the negative) to authorize air and missile strikes against Yugoslavia (S. Con. Res. 21). The Senate then approved by voice vote a second resolution expressing support for members of the U.S. Armed Forces engaged in military operations against Yugoslavia (S. Res. 74).
Prior to the air campaign, the stated goal of Clinton policy, as noted above, was Belgrade’s acceptance of the peace agreement signed by the Kosovo Albanian delegation (which included representatives of the KLA) on March 17. Now, more than a week into the air campaign, that goal appears even more elusive as the NATO attack has rallied Serbian resistance to what they see as an unjustified foreign aggression.
Since the NATO bombing campaign began, Serbian security forces also have intensified an offensive in Kosovo that began as the airstrikes appeared inevitable. According to numerous media reports, tens of thousands of Albanians are fleeing the Serb army, and police forces and paramilitary groups that, based on credible allegations, are committing widespread atrocities, including summary executions, burnings of Albanian villages, and assassination of human rights activists and community leaders. Allied officials have denounced the apparently deliberate forced exodus of Albanian civilians as ethnic cleansing and even genocide. But according to some refugee accounts, the NATO bombing is also a factor in the exodus: “[M]ost residents of the provincial capital say they are leaving of their own accord and are not being forced out at gunpoint, as residents of several western cities and villages in Kosovo say has been happening to them. . . . Pristina residents who made it to Macedonia said their city is still largely intact, despite the targeting of ethnic Albanian businesses by Serbian gangs and several direct hits from NATO air strikes in the city center” ["Cause of Kosovar Exodus from Pristina Disputed: Serbs Are Forcing Exit, Some Claim; Others Go on Own," Washington Times, 3/31/99].
At the same time, the Clinton Administration, consistent with its track record on Kosovo, has ignored credible but unconfirmed evidence from sources not connected to Milosevic’s Serbian government that the NATO campaign has resulted in far more civilian damage than has been acknowledged.
Making Things Worse?
……… ‘We condemn very strongly terrorist actions in Kosovo. The UCK is, without any questions, a terrorist group,’ Gelbard said.” [Agence France Presse, 2/23/98]
Mr. Gelbard’s remarks came just before a KLA attack on a Serbian police station led to a retaliation that left dozens of Albanians dead, leading in turn to a rapid escalation of the cycle of violence. Responding to criticism that his earlier remarks might have been seen as Washington’s “green light” to Belgrade that a crack-down on the KLA would be acceptable, Mr. Gelbard offered to clarify to the House Committee on International Relations:
“Questioned by lawmakers today on whether he still considered the group a terrorist organization, Mr. Gelbard said that while it has committed ‘terrorist acts,’ it has ‘not been classified legally by the U.S. Government as a terrorist organization.’ ” [New York Times, 3/13/98]
The situation in Kosovo has since been transformed: what were once sporadic cases of KLA attacks and often heavy-handed and indiscriminate Serbian responses has now become a full-scale guerrilla war. That development appeared to be a vindication of what may have been the KLA’s strategy of escalating the level of violence to the point where outside intervention would become a distinct possibility. Given the military imbalance, there is reason to believe the KLA — which is now calling for the introduction of NATO ground troops into Kosovo [Associated Press, 3/27/99] — may have always expected to achieve its goals less because of the group’s own prospects for military success than because of a hoped-for outside intervention: As one fighter put it, “We hope that NATO will intervene, like it did in Bosnia, to save us” ["Both Sides in the Kosovo Conflict Seem Determined to Ignore Reality," New York Times, 6/22/98].
…………..Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia: The Clinton Administration concealed its active cooperation with the Iranians for arms shipments to the Muslim fundamentalist regime of Alija Izetbegovic in Bosnia in violation of the United Nations arms embargo on the former Yugoslavia. [For details on the Clinton Administration's active connivance with the Iranians, see RPC's "Clinton-Approved Iranian Arms Transfers Help Turn Bosnia into Militant Islamic Base," 1/16/97.] This track record undermines the Clinton Administration’s insistence that Russia, as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, is obligated to observe the same embargo with respect to Serbia [as stated by State Department spokesman James Rubin, daily briefing, March 24, 1999].
Eradication of the Serbs in Krajina: The Clinton Administration has stalled efforts to investigate what has been called the “biggest ethnic cleansing” of the Balkan wars, one which the Clinton Administration may itself have helped to facilitate:
“Investigators at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague have concluded that the Croatian Army carried out summary executions, indiscriminate shelling of civilian populations and ‘ethnic cleansing’ during a 1995 assault that was a turning point in the Balkan wars, according to tribunal documents. The investigators have recommended that three Croatian generals be indicted, and an American official said this week that the indictments could come within a few weeks. . . . Any indictment of Croatian Army generals could prove politically troublesome for the Clinton Administration, which has a delicate relationship with Croatia, an American ally in preserving the peace in Bosnia with a poor human rights record. The August 1995 Croatian offensive, which drove some 100,000 Serbs from a large swath of Croatia over four days, was carried out with the tacit blessing of the United States by a Croatian Army that had been schooled in part by a group of retired American military officers. Questions still remain about the full extent of United States involvement. In the course of the three-year investigation into the assault, the United States has failed to provide critical evidence requested by the tribunal, according to tribunal documents and officials, adding to suspicion among some there that Washington is uneasy about the investigation. Two senior Canadian military officers, for example, who were in Croatia during the offensive, testified that the assault, in which some 3,000 shells rained down on the city of Knin over 48 hours, was indiscriminate and targeted civilians. . . . A section of the tribunal’s 150-page report is headed: ‘The Indictment. Operation Storm, A Prima Facie Case.’: ‘During the course of the military offensive, the Croatian armed forces and special police committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law, including but not limited to, shelling of Knin and other cities,’ the report says. ‘During, and in the 100 days following the military offensive, at least 150 Serb civilians were summarily executed, and many hundreds disappeared.’ The crimes also included looting and burning, the report says.” ["War Crimes Panel Finds Croat Troops 'Cleansed' the Serbs," New York Times, 3/21/99]
………..Reports on KLA Drug and Criminal Links
Elements informally known as the “Albanian mafia,” composed largely of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, have for several years been a feature of the criminal underworld in a number of cities in Europe and North America; they have been particularly prominent in the trade in illegal narcotics. [See, for example,"The Albanian Cartel: Filling the Crime Void," Jane's Intelligence Review, November 1995.] The cities where the Albanian cartels are located are also fertile ground for fundraising for support of the Albanian cause in Kosovo. [See, for example, "Albanians in Exile Send Millions of Dollars to Support the KLA," BBC, 3/12/99.]
The reported link between drug activities and arms purchases for anti-Serb Albanian forces in Kosovo predates the formation of the KLA, and indeed, may be seen as a key resource that allowed the KLA to establish itself as a force in the first place:
“Narcotics smuggling has become a prime source of financing for civil wars already under way – or rapidly brewing — in southern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, according to a report issued here this week. The report, by the Paris-based Observatoire Geopolitique des Drogues, or Geopolitical Observatory of Drugs, identifies belligerents in the former Yugoslav republics and Turkey as key players in the region’s accelerating drugs-for-arms traffic. Albanian nationalists in ethnically tense Macedonia and the Serbian province of Kosovo have built a vast heroin network, ……… The most powerful groups in the country are organized criminals who use Albania to grow, process, and store a large percentage of the illegal drugs destined for Western Europe. . . . Albania’s criminal gangs are actively supporting the war in Kosovo. ……..” ["Life in the Balkan 'Tinderbox' Remains as Dangerous as Ever," Jane's Intelligence Review, 3/1/99]
“Drugs traffickers in Italy, in Germany, in Spain, in France, and in Norway: Kosovo Albanians. The men from the Special Operations Section [ROS] of the carabinieri [i.e., Italian national police], under the leadership of General Mario Mori, have succeeded in neutralizing a fully fledged network of Albanian drugs traffickers. The leader of this network is a certain Gashi Agim, aged 33, originally from Pristina, ……… . . Drugs, arms, and the Koran: Could this be the murderous crime mix of the next few years?” ["Albanian Mafia, This Is How It Helps The Kosovo Guerrilla Fighters," Corriere della Sera (Milan, Italy), 10/15/98]
…… Another separate group of Egyptians with links to Calabrian and Albanian gangs were arrested on suspicions of laundering money through Switzerland for use by fundamentalists in Egypt.” ["Major Italian Drug Bust Breaks Kosovo Arms Trafficking," Agence France-Presse, 6/9/98]
“The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) has claimed responsibility for more than 50 attacks on Serbs and Albanians loyal to the Belgrade government, but little is known about the separatist group. . . . Details of the KLA, which the United States calls a terrorist organization, are sketchy at best. Western intelligence sources believe there are no more than several hundred members under arms with military training. Serbian police estimate there are at least 2,000 well-armed men. The KLA is said to rely heavily on a huge network of informers and sympathizers, enabling it to blend easily among the population. The Western sources also believe the core of the organization consists of Albanians who fled into exile in the 1970s and based their operation in Switzerland, where its funding is gathered from all over the world. ‘If the West wants to nip the KLA in the bud, all it has to do is crack down on its financial nerve center in Switzerland,’ one source said. Part of the funding, this source believes, comes from the powerful Albanian mafia organizations that deal in narcotics, prostitution and arms smuggling across Europe. The KLA has admitted having training bases in northern Albania, which the Albanian government does not condone but is powerless to stop.” ["Speculation Plentiful, Facts Few About Kosovo Separatist Group," Baltimore Sun, 3/6/98]
“The bulk of the financing of the UCK [KLA] seems to originate from two sources: drug-related operations and Kosovo Albanian emigres in the West. The former Yugoslavia has always been on the main European drug transit route. With the break-up of that country, the route has been somewhat modified; West-Europe-bound narcotics now enter Macedonia and Albania and are then distributed towards Western Europe through Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Croatia.” [Jane's Intelligence Review, "Another Balkans Bloodbath? -- Part One," 2/1/98]
………” ["The Balkan Medellin," Jane's 3/1/95; Albanian then-president Berisha lost power in 1997 and is now a known KLA patron in northern Albania.]
Reports on Islamic Terror Links
The KLA’s main staging area is in the vicinity of the town of Tropoje in northern Albania [Jane's International Defense Review, 2/1/99]. Tropoje, the hometown and current base of former Albanian president Sali Berisha, a major KLA patron, is also a known center for Islamic terrorists connected with Saudi renegade Osama bin-Ladin. [For a report on the presence of bin-Ladin assets in Tropoje and connections to anti-American Islamic terrorism, see "U.S. Blasts' Possible Mideast Ties: Alleged Terrorists Investigated in Albania, Washington Post, 8/12/98.]
The following reports note the presence of foreign mujahedin (i.e., Islamic holy warriors) in the Kosovo war, some of them jihad veterans from Bosnia, Chechnya, and Afghanistan. Some of the reports specifically cite assets of Iran or bin-Ladin, or both, in support of the KLA. To some, “mujahedin” does not necessarily equal “terrorists.” But since the foreign fighters have not been considerate enough to provide an organizational chart detailing the exact relationship among the various groups, the reported presence of foreign fighters together with known terrorists in the KLA’s stronghold at least raises serious questions about the implications for the Clinton Administration’s increasingly close ties to the KLA:
“Serbian officials say Mujahideen have formed groups that remained behind in Bosnia. Groups from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Chechnya are also involved in Albanian guerrilla operations. A document found on the body of Alija Rabic, an Albanian UCK member killed in a border crossing incident last July, indicated he was guiding a 50-man group from Albania into Kosovo. The group included one Yemeni and 16 Saudis, six of whom bore passports with Macedonian Albanian names. Other UCK rebels killed crossing the Albanian frontier have carried Bosnian Muslim Federation papers.” [Jane's International Defense Review, "Unhealthy Climate in Kosovo as Guerrillas Gear Up for a Summer Confrontation," 2/1/99]
“Mujahidin fighters have joined the Kosovo Liberation Army, dimming prospects of a peaceful solution to the conflict and fuelling fears of heightened violence next spring.. . . . Their arrival in Kosovo may force Washington to review its policy in the Serbian province and will deepen Western dismay with the KLA and its tactics. . . . ‘Captain Dula’, the local KLA commander, was clearly embarrassed at the unexpected presence of foreign journalists and said that he had little idea who was sending the Mujahidin or where they came from; only that it was neither Kosovo nor Albania. ‘I’ve got no information about them,’ Captain Dula said. ‘We don’t talk about it.’ . . . American diplomats in the region, especially Robert Gelbard, the special envoy, have often expressed fears of an Islamic hardline infiltration into the Kosovo independence movement. . . . American intelligence has raised the possibility of a link between Osama bin Laden, the Saudi expatriate blamed for the bombing in August of US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, and the KLA. Several of Bin Laden’s supporters were arrested in Tirana, the Albanian capital, and deported this summer, and the chaotic conditions in the country have allowed Muslim extremists to settle there, often under the guise of humanitarian workers. . . . ‘I interviewed one guy from Saudi Arabia who said that it was his eighth jihad,’ a Dutch journalist said.” ["U.S. Alarmed as Mujahidin Join Kosovo Rebels," The Times (London), 11/26/98]
…… . [B]y early December 1997, Iranian intelligence had already delivered the first shipments of hand grenades, machine-guns, assault rifles, night vision equipment, and communications gear from stockpiles in Albania into Kosovo. The mere fact that the Iranians could despatch the first supplies within a few days and in absolute secrecy reflect extensive advance preparations made in Albania in anticipation for such instructions from Tehran. Moreover, the Iranians began sending promising Albanian and UCK commanders for advanced military training in al-Quds [special] forces and IRGC camps in Iran. ………” ["Italy Becomes Iran's New Base for Terrorist Operations," by Yossef Bodansky, Defense and Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy (London), February 1998. Bodansky is Director of the House Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. This report was written in late 1997, before the KLA's offensive in early 1998.]
Top Publications Issue List Vote Analysis Main Page