Strategic Issues Today

Benjamin C. Works, Executive Director

Speak the Truth and Shame the Devil

SIT-01-03-23; Friday, March 23, 2001

Macedonia: “Talk-Fight, Fight-Talk”

Aside for US Military Readers: I have just been reminded, watching Cable news channels for footage from Macedonia, that the KLA wears camouflage fatigues and “spiffy” black berets. As of June 14, the average soldier in the US Army will wear camouflage fatigues and a Chinese-made black beret that used to be a distinction of our Ranger force (which will now adopt a tan beret). Thanks to General Eric Shinseki, effective June 14th, our American soldiers in Kosovo will look just like the KLA. On the Macedonian and Serbian border, that could hypothetically turn fatal, in a case of mistaken identity.

Applying topical solutions (a fancy hat) to solve fundamental problems (morale and discipline) always implies a damaging superficiality of thought and a political orientation. Those promoting symbolism over substance always seem to miss a critical detail; in this case the fact that US personnel can be mistaken at short range for KLA gunmen. We did this to ourselves, too.Congratulations to all involved in negotiating the compromise over beret colors; saving a little taxpayer money. Gen. Shinseki, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfewitz. The Rangers were too decent in compromising. SIRIUS recommends you take another look at videotape of the KLA and ask if you want our defenders of Democracy trooping around looking like Balkan post-Fascist terrorists.

SNAFU or FUBAR? Time will tell. Troops on the border tend to wear kevlar helmets, rather than “soft covers,” anyway. But commanders will have to be careful.

KLA Operations in Macedonia and elsewhere

From Sun Tzu:

17. All warfare is based on deception.

18. Therefore, when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity.

19. When near, make it appear that you are far away; when far away, that you are near.

20. Offer the enemy a bait to lure him; feign disorder and strike him.

21. When he concentrates, prepare against him; where he is strong, avoid him.

22. Anger his general and confuse him.

23. Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.

24. Keep him under a strain and wear him down.

25. When he is united divide him.

26. Attack where he is unprepared; sally out when he does not expect you.

– Sun Tzu; The Art of War, c. 350 BC; (S.B. Griffith translation, 1963) pp. 66-69

The lesson for guerrillas: Mass where the enemy is weak; disperse before his hosts, re-assemble where he was.

Mao Tse Tung determined how to drive his opposition towards defeat by alternating go-nowhere negotiations between his launching of limited or major offensives: “Talk-Fight, Fight-Talk.” China and North Korea tried this with the United States in the Korean War, and found the stratagem did not always work.

For now, NATO keeps urging negotiations between Serbia and the UCPMB, and between Macedonia and the NLA. As if negotiations matter once the guns have begun to fire. This is one of our post-modernist fantasies. The Balkans is a perfect place to demonstrate the follies of post-modern liberal diplomatic theory. The time for attempts to appease impossible nationalist demands has passed. Serious talks can only make progress when one side is too weak to continue its campaign. Macedonia is right to avoid talks on further political concessions (it has bent over backwards in the last nine years to accommodate the legitimate rights and needs of all minorities) at this early stage.

The Rebellion Spreads:

On Tuesday, as it was reinforcing its forces in Tetovo, the government of Macedonia offered a unilateral 24-hour ceasefire, to give the “National Liberation Army” (KLA or locally, the “NLA”, often referred to by the Albanian initials “UCK”) time to withdraw from six hillside villages outside the city. In seven days of fighting, several hundred KLA fighters had taken over these villages and ridden out a government artillery barrage with relative ease, by all reports coming out of their friends in the western press: AP, Reuters, The Washington Post, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and other Albanian sympathizers.

On Wednesday, as the government was getting its troops assembled for a counter-attack, the KLA suddenly offered its own unilateral initiative; a cessation of fighting if the government would agree to serious negotiations aimed at satisfying the “oppressed” Albanian minority’s grievances. The AP reported the KLA/NLA position thus:

“…the rebels’ self-styled National Liberation Army called for negotiations on their demands for more rights for the former Yugoslav republic’s ethnic Albanian minority.”Macedonia’s ignorant view and hypocritical disrespect of the Albanian demands and patience has surpassed all limits,” they said. ”We urge the international community to recognize our demands which are for peace, not for war.”

The statement ended with a warning that if talks were rejected, ”we will bear no responsibility for the future chain of events.”

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the NLA demonstrated their geographic reach by initiating light, harassing gunfire against government police and military outposts at positions more than 50 miles away, outside Kumanovo (a large town just south of Serbia on the main highway between Belgrade and Greece). Just outside of Macedonia’s capital city, Skopje, on Monday, government forces intercepted a vehicle attempting to smuggle weapons, including a 75mm light howitzer, into the Albanian populated suburb of Aracinovo.

More frightening, KLA gunmen and graffiti are starting to be visible in nearby Montenegro, where Albanians constitute some 25-30% of the population and where the KLA also claims the southern third of the republic as rightful Albanian land within “Greater Albania.” On Tuesday, Vecernje Novosti of Belgrade reported:

[In districts near the Albanian and Kosovo borders]… uniformed groups of men bearing the insignia of the “KLA” were observed on several occasions during the last three days in the villages of Gusinje and Plav municipalities, both of which border on Albania and have a majority population of Albanians and Muslims.That fear of the spread of Albanian extremism is not unjustified is also proven by the fact that yesterday at the secondary school for engineering technology in Podgorica, which is located near the state police (MUP) in the city center, graffiti was painted reading “UCK-Greater Albania” as well as several other slogans glorifying this terrorist movement from Kosovo and Metohija.

To paraphrase Sun Tzu, once again: “Mass where the enemy is weak, disperse when he is strong, reassemble where he is vulnerable,” is the standing rule of guerrilla war. “Create a wider crisis in space and time than the enemy’s resources can counter.” That is what the KLA/NLA, a combination of Macedonian Albanians, Kosovo Albanians and Albanians from both the home country and the international expatriate community (they call it a “diaspora,” but SIRIUS argues that no people can have “a diaspora” if they have a sovereign homeland, which the Albanians have) are up to.

A further modern principle is also being demonstrated at the tactical and diplomatic levels: exploit the “seams and gaps” between political entities (Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro), and between allies (test the new Bush Administration and NATO interrelationships as Bush replaces Clinton’s pro-Albanian policy with a more even-handed policy). Seams and gaps are weak points to be exploited. The KLA has developed a sense for that, by all appearances.

Militarily, to hamper the flow of arms and men into Macedonia, the US and NATO have specified that they will beef up their patrols on the Kosovo-Macedonian border; hoping people will believe that this is, somehow, a “robust” response that will have any effect. Good troops have been deployed for the job: just now the US has “red berets” on the border, troops of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 325th Airborne Infantry.

In fact, this is closing only half of the barn’s double-door after the horses have fled: the KLA/NLA has already built up its arms and supplies in both the Presevo valley and in Macedonia. More important, the Albanian-Macedonian border is now under surveillance by US “unmanned aerial vehicle” (UAV) drones, as reported in Wednesday’s Washington Post, but the supply routes from Albania to the NLA in Tetovo and elsewhere are wide open and will remain open. These are smugglers who know their territory.

SIRIUS wrote in last Friday’s report that the 10-mile long gorge between Kacanik and the Macedonian border was a critical security problem for the US and for K-For. On Wednesday, in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, NATO Commander, General Joseph Ralston, USAF, mentioned this “valley” as a critical security consideration that might cause the US to consider increasing its forces in Kosovo, if the Macedonian “situation” takes a marked turn for the worse.

Also according to Ralston, there is no plan to add to the 400 US troops already stationed outside Skopje, at “Camp Able Sentry.” Macedonia will receive intelligence, some contract training from civilians (the infamous MPRI) and help from other allies. But mostly, the beleaguered little ally will receive lots of advice and sympathy, but little substantive assistance until the crisis gets much worse.


Having staged a symbolic opening stand to gain publicity and recruits, the NLA melted away before the Macedonian government forces, rather than wage a stand-up battle they did not need. But they popped up in other towns along the Kosovo border and in a suburb of the capital, Skopje. In this phase, small groups will seek to spread the perception of chaos and vulnerability through the larger society, hoping to force a disproportionate crackdown by the government that may generate “atrocities.”

More than “A Mafia,” Less than “A People United”

SIRIUS’ last newsletter (SIT 01-3-16) made much of the Mafia connection of the KLA, but we must consider that this is no longer anything that narrow. The present KLA-NLA-UCPMB front for “Greater Albania” also draws great support from the larger population which has been indoctrinated for decades about the Albanian people’s “uniqueness” and their right to demand the world’s uncritical political support and economic subsidization.

Support for the NLA among Albanians in Macedonia is far from universal, but only the Agence France Presse (AFP) seems capable of finding the thousands of Albanian voices loyal to the government and fearful of the drug lords and bandit chieftains of the KLA’s inner leadership. AFP found Albanians from Tetovo fleeing to Skopje in the thousands. The rest of the press breathlessly reported “photo opportunity stampedes” of pro-KLA civilians towards Albania.

Most journalists also reported a flow of “Slavs” (the derogatory term used by the press to demonize Macedonians, and a term which American reporters don’t seem to realize evokes Nazi racial propaganda about “the Slavic Horde”) to the capital and even south Serbia. But those “Slavs” included Turks, Gypsies and Albanians. In all, the UN reported Wednesday that 14,000 refugees have fled out of a local population of 70,000 in Tetovo. By Friday, this estimate had grown to 22,000; large and problematical representing some 30% of the Tetovo population, but not a stampede.

The NLA made its war aims fairly clear on Monday, spokesman Sadri Ahmeti telling the New York Times’ Carlotta Gall:

“We want the status that belongs to us. This is all we want. How democratic are the Macedonian Slavs?” Mr. Ahmeti said. “I am sure if they were more democratic we would not have so many problems.”“We want Macedonian forces to withdraw from our territories.”

At minimum, the Albanian political leader Arben Xhaferi specified his people and the NLA want status as a co-equal federative republic (for what is mostly an immigrant group), including the right of secession. The fighters want to eliminate the presence of the national police and army from “their territory.” That just opens an Albanian republic’s territory up to the smugglers and Mafia, the hidden agenda in this rebellion.


SIRIUS will write more on the politics of the Albanian uprising in Macedonia and the Presevo valley in the next issue.