As has been mentioned, the CIMIC issue, although not new, was new to NATO and its contribution to combat taken with "certain tweezers." As soldiers accustomed to being prepared and trained to fight, on paper, against large masses of USSR or Russian forces, to think that a low-intensity military action on a small area - with the intention of later occupation - could cause more problems among the civilian population than on the few opposing military forces, was hard to explain. Also, it was more difficult to understand by the army´s older commanders, as well as for a large part of their senior general staff.

After some previous studies (known as Area Studies) on the political organization in the area itself, local military capabilities, International Organisations (IOs) and NGOs deployed there, dominant religion, terrain, climate, customs and customs of its people, I soon reached the theory that for fear of dying or being strongly repressed by Serbian hands, most Albanian Kosovars would tend to leave Kosovo rushing only with what they were wearing as soon as NATO attacks began. Besides, they would do so very disorderly and would try to take refuge in areas close to Albania border and FYROM – with the idea to return as quickly as possible when the situation changes. This would create insurmountable situations of chaos in both countries.

Despite Kosovo's short population, the movement was estimated to number several hundred thousand refugees (no less than 600,000) and, given the limited reception and support capacity - civilian and military - of the aforementioned countries to receive such a large number of refugees, the issue advised parallel military intervention in both countries under the formula of humanitarian support to help them cope with such tasks.

That kind of missions should be planned with time to precede all combat action. Although, without uncovering it or damaging it too much and with great support capacity, since the presence and permanence of these specific refugees[1] in those countries would initially be explosive and precipitate. But, in the conviction that once NATO forces entered Kosovo, they would tend to return equally quickly to their homes to recover their belongings left there and not checked by a friend.

AFSOUTH - Naples

As head of CIMIC, but in the inferiority of possibilities by my military rank, I exposed these theories several times in the meetings with the Generals responsible for Plans, Operations, Intelligence, and Logistics, under the presidency of the North American Admiral who exercised the command of the CG of AFSOUTH (CINCSOUTH).


Most of those Generals were more concerned with the "military operation" than with the situations, needs and consequences that I exposed to them; they understood, from their point of view, that an excess of attention to refugees would be counterproductive for the fulfillment of what they perceived to be "their mission."  Only the CINCSOUTH seemed to understand me and asked me to provide more details and evidence to justify my exposure.

In mid-February, I went to a coordination meeting at the CG of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC), in Rheindalen (Germany). At the time it was NATO's only rapidly deployable reinforced Brigade-style large unit. It was made up of British and Americans and had been entrusted with the mission of entering Kosovo after a previous campaign of aerial bombardment, softening the points where it was suspected that Serbian forces would become strong in order to prevent the advance of NATO and, at the same time, bombing on Belgrade in order to reduce the morale of civilians.

I met the J-9 of the ARRC in Rheindalen. He was an English commander with bad tempered and very different criteria to mine. He has different criteria to mine due to his inadequate training in CIMIC, as he confessed to me, and his total submission to his General in Chief (also British). He planned to attend punctually and slightly to some of the needs of the civilian population, but only once NATO forces were deployed in Kosovo, never before.

I couldn't understand such closeness and unprofessionalism. My discussions with him were significant and reached the ears of the Chief General of the ARRC, who called me. After listening to me, he has doubts on the area under discussion for some time. Later, he made it clear to me that the Preparatory Mission Order he had received from my GC (AFSOTH) said nothing about taking into consideration the needs of hundreds of thousands of refugees in Albania and Macedonia. He told me that they were preparing a purely military deployment in FYROM. Once the bombing phase was over, they just had to invade Kosovo, and that was all.

My frustration was deep because I could verify that finally all my suggestions and ideas exposed in AFSOUTH in the previous collective plans had been erased or sweetened so much by my plans companions (J-5), companions that did not appear as such in the Preparatory Order to the ARRC. The last version of the Preparatory Order was sent from GC, and the fax arrived in Germany while I went to its meeting.

When I returned to Naples, I presented my complaints about that in my own Division and after requesting a hearing, I exposed them to the same CINCSOTH which, moreover, I asked for authorization to travel to Albania and FYROM as a civilian to not raise suspicions. In this way I could check in situ their plans and real capacities for the reception of refugees, if they had any. I would quantify their possibilities to do so. Thus, I would make a proper assessment of the situation, present the most concrete final plans, and be able to alleviate or avoid serious consequences for our troops when the time to decide arrives.

I was authorized to travel to the area. Between March 1 and March 15, 1999, I flew to both countries on a regular airplane. For the trip I had the valuable help of a Dutch Lieutenant Colonel, a newcomer to my Section, who shared my fears at one hundred percent; he had a lot of experience in dealing with the elusive NGOs. I established and still maintain a good relationship with him, one of the most significant friendships that can be made in the life on international relations in the military field.

The help of the Defence Aggregates of the respective NATO leading embassies in both countries was critical; they made all the contacts and arrangements so that our stay was short and very fruitful; so when we arrived to each country, they already had organized meetings with the main military and civil authorities, the dependent OIs of the UN, Red Cross, the EU, and the leading NGOs.

Datei:Clark briefs NATO May 9.JPEG
Clark briefs NATO May 9.

In FYROM, we contacted the advanced detachments of the ARRC, who had been preparing the reception of the forces and their deployment before the ground attack on Kosovo. By the way, we did not find any sign that they were thinking very much or little -nothing- about covering any need in support of the potential refugees; needs that we continued announcing with much publicity, like a preacher that proclaims a terrible water storm in the middle of the Atacama Desert, Chile (the driest in the world).

The travel was complicated due to the lack of direct transport - from Naples to the area or between the two countries. The stay there and the meetings, mainly in Albania, were anecdotal, as well as frustrating. For example, during the interview with the GeneralLogistics Chief of the Albanian Army - in his small, poor and ramshackle office - all hope that that country could do anything substantial for the benefit of the many refugees who might arrive disappeared.

Both countries were far behind due to the many years inside the communist orbit, and due to having been exploited by the extinct USSR. Albania had suffered all kinds of abuses, also from Yugoslavia. That was the reason why of the great backwardness at which they were at our arrival. This situation clearly prevented them from carrying out actions on a medium or large scale, no matter how much understanding and sympathy they showed towards potential refugees, even if they were the same race and ethnicity.

We were able to notice that everyone, military and civilian, thought that there was going to be a massive exodus of refugees; but with two significant differences with our conclusions. First, they did not know what kind of actions NATO was planning and when actions were going to take place; they did not realize NATO's plans. Obviously, we could not reveal the plan. Secondly, their most alarming estimations did not expect to exceed a few thousand people.

Kosovo bombing

Few days before the disaster, their plans –already chosen- were straightforward and were limited to housing the refugees in the homes of relatives and voluntary supporters - in exchange for a small contribution - or in small refugee camps that would be built for the purpose by the local military, if necessary. For this purpose they had about fifty large tents, a hundred small tents, a dozen trucks, and two or three military field kitchens. That was all, as we were informed their superiors had not accepted requests for reinforcement.

To top it all, almost everyone was betting that if the number of refugees increased they could alleviate the trouble by displacing people to areas and populations far from the common borders with Kosovo, to avoid the saturation of those borders– using for that funds and international aid. That was another grave mistake on their part since they did not consider several fundamental points: one is personality and individual interests when one is forced to leave everything at home and run away, but with great desire to return home in order to recover it. They would try to return at the slightest indication of security perceived by them. Another critical point was the poor conditions of the roads in Albania and FYROM, and the inadequate means of transport available to the Kosovars. In addition the terrible weather conditions of the moment.

All in all, they did not share our view that the refugees were going to try to stay at the common borders and return home as soon as possible to recover their belongings walking behind NATO boots. Displaced population did that, to everyone's misfortune. It is easy to understand that we left the area with great frustration, and fearing the catastrophes that, at high odds, could be generate in a few days.

Back in Naples, I exposed my conclusions, based on real terms and data, to CINCSOUTH, who was somewhat alarmed by it. I know that he spoke to the ARRC General and urged him to pay attention. Even CINCSOUTH urged to the ARRC General to be willing to devote some forces and logistical support to address this problem, if it becomes a reality, before the situation worsens. As I was able to ascertain later, I think CINCSOUTH subordinate didn't pay much attention to him.

Once the previous deployment of ARRC in FYROM was completed, the air campaign over Kosovo began; precisely on 24 March, only nine days after returning from the field inspection and the contact trip. As I pointed out and predicted, almost in unison there was a massive and even larger movement (some 800,000) of Kosovar Albanian refugees over Albania and FYROM.

kosovo refugees

Televisions all over the world echoed that the weather was freezing, and the terrible conditions on the roads made displacements more difficult and dangerous for those unfortunate people who were crammed in all kinds of vehicles, or under pure plastics, soaked by snow and rain. They barely reached neighboring borders – borders sealed with crude fences and some even slightly mined in the Kosovar part. Refugees were displacing with what they had put on, with nothing to get in their stomachs and with no possibility of finding shelter or remain in some dry shelter.

Soon, the respective borders were saturated because the refugees wanted to return as quickly as possible. They didn’t want to move into those countries in which moving were even more difficult than in Kosovo, due to the adverse weather and their communication routes. The broadcasted scenes were panicky and indescribable because of the sadness and the children crying with their hands stretched out on the barbed wire asking for water and bread, especially on the border with FYROM. These images despite having seen them over and over in the television news and on press front pages at the time, incidentally and incomprehensibly, it has been impossible for me to retrieve them again on the Internet to illustrate this work.

It was a quite pathetic situation created by a military organization under the command of a Secretary-General, pacifist descent, Javier Solana[2]. Also a situation created by military commanders who, at that time, had not yet assimilated the salience of respect, and the obligation to attend to the needs of civilians, displaced persons, and refugees in any conflict. I attest these errors, and I thank God because due to those mistakes, those problems are very much taken into account now. At least, taken in account in the planning and operations of the UN, NATO, and the scarce actions of the EU.

Within hours after the first waves of refugees, the FYROM government issued an ultimatum to NATO; either FYROM soldiers would build and logistically support several refugee camps in their country, or they would close the borders to the refugees. At the same time, FYROM would expel the NATO forces by preventing NATO to meet the second phase of the campaign; the forceful invasion of Kosovo.

It was a very tense moment, because the "warlike" ARRC soldiers, in spite of the combative boss and the null predictions of his J-9, had to be involved in setting up and feeding several refugee camps in FYROM before starting the campaign in Kosovo. I must admit that they worked hard on it and they did it very well.

The situation described above, which we had shuffled between the most dangerous hypotheses - hypotheses had to be observed- and which nobody believed either. Faced with this, the CINCSOUTH called me and provided me with everything necessary to ensure that a humanitarian support plan would henceforth be drawn up for all operations under its command.

At the same time, under the patronage of the EU a meeting of donor countries was set up in Brussels as a matter of urgency. Several countries offered as much aid as they could or the aid they understood as necessary; although most countries did so following their slow canons, no "speed of response", few capacities made available, inadequate management of the aid to be provided, certain economic stinginess and, in many cases, excessive or rigorous standards for the use of the resources allocated according to their security.

Several nations and the EU itself responded, albeit not very quickly, to the petitions. To speed up the procedures and development of this operation each donor country decided to establish direct contact with Albania or FYROM and, therefore, these actions were not coordinated by NATO (AFSOUTH), although with some subsequent linkage.



Generally, when refugees are forced to move in search of a definitive new accommodation, they do so for one or some of the following reasons: they are repressed or persecuted for being in the minority in their country or location  (ethnic, political or religious), they are not really protected by their own or other people's military or police forces, they do not have sufficient resources or due to the extreme scarcity of water or food and other resources to lead a healthy life, the usual lack, or significant shortage, of jobs, or if the weather conditions are extreme and difficult to bear. None of these conditions existed in those refugees once NATO offered them protection.

[2] https://elpais.com/diario/1983/07/19/espana/427413605_850215.html

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