The Republic of Kosovo celebrated its 15th birthday on February, 17, 2023, commemorating when it became the youngest country in the world in 2008. However, its path to independence was achieved through countless sacrifices made by numerous generations and at the cost of many lives. The fact that freedom does not come for free is a statement that fits Kosovo precisely; Kosovo’s people can vouch for that.
But the United States Armed Forces also played a decisive role in the liberation of Kosovo, and its people are forever grateful. This article is a dedication to them.
From war to peace talks to NATO bombings
After two years of intense and scattered fighting between the Kosovo Liberation Army and the Serbian forces throughout Kosovo, the United States, jointly with France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom, organized the Rambouillet Conference in France. The Kosovo delegation signed what was known as the Rambouillet Agreement, but the Serbian side refused to do so. NATO's General Secretary, Mr Javier Solana, gave Serbia an ultimatum. They would either stop all atrocities and withdraw their troops, or they would start an air campaign against Serbian military targets.
Serbia's leader, Slobodan Milosevic, a.k.a. the Butcher of the Balkans, refused to do so. Therefore, on March 24, 1999, the NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) GEN Wesley Clark, was authorized to conduct an air bombing campaign to weaken Serbian forces.
The air campaign named "Operation Allied Force" was led by the United States, which had over 769 aircraft committed to the operation in addition to many Naval and other assets. The U.S. flew more than 60% of all air campaign flights. The operation targeted Serbian and Yugoslav forces, equipment, and infrastructure in Kosovo which was conducting its genocide campaign against the people of Kosovo.
On the ground, the Kosovo Albanian people were expelled by the thousands from their homes and country. By June 1999, over 1 million people were expelled to neighboring countries while hundreds of thousands of Albanians were internally displaced refugees, hiding from Serbian forces.
By the war's end, tens of thousands of Kosovo Albanian civilians were massacred as the Serbs waged their plan named "Operation Horseshoe" to empty Kosovo of the Albanian People. The Kosovo Liberation Army, on the other hand, fought a heroic war but lacked heavy weapons or armor making. Despite this, they earned significant gains in the war and became even stronger when the NATO campaign started. By April 1999, they were assisting NATO targeting by providing location grids of the Serb forces. One former member of the KLA once told the author, "We were a guerilla force with the largest air force in the world, NATO." He had a point.
Like the Allied strategic bombings in WWII, NATO targeted the Serbian war machine to include defense industry, communication infrastructure, and other critical infrastructure. Finally, after 78 days of NATO bombings, Serbia signed the capitulation in the war by signing the Kumanovo Agreement agreeing to the total withdrawal of its forces from Kosovo.
Liberation and return of hope
As the NATO bombings were occurring, there was already an operation plan in motion to prepare NATO forces for a ground invasion in case the air campaign was unsuccessful. However, on June 12, 1999, the U.S. Forces entered Kosovo through the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, led by the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) and elements of the 1st Infantry Division. They were greeted by the Albanian people with cheers, tears of joy and flowers. They could not believe that American soldiers had come to their aid.
The second group of Task Force Falcon consisted of the 1st Battalion, 26 Infantry; 1st Battalion, 77 Armor; 9th Engineer Battalion and the 1st Infantry Division’s 9th Engineer Battalion, 7th Field Artillery, 299th Forward Support Battalion, and 2nd Brigade’s Reconnaissance Troop. The Task Force was commanded by BG Bantz John Craddock, who would later become SACEUR.
The 7,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines who entered Kosovo as liberators brought hope to the people of Kosovo. They showed up at a time when hope was non-existent, and all they had seen was death and destruction. The scars of war, the massacres, and the human losses were fresh but hope and peace were restored.
To this day, the people of Kosovo are forever grateful for the irreplaceable support the Americans gave. As a result, the country has monuments, roads and boulevards named after many U.S. cities, statesmen and stateswomen. One such memorial is that of Madeleine Albright statue, in honor of the former Secretary of State who played a crucial role in ending atrocities in Kosovo.
In Prizren, one of Kosovo’s oldest cities and its main tourist attraction, there is a monument in memory of CW3 David A. Gibbs and CW2 Kevin L. Reichert, AH–64 pilots. They were conducting a night mission in support of Operation Allied Force when their Apache crashed due to mechanical failures. The Kosovo Prime minister and the U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo unveiled the monument on Memorial Day 2014.
But above monuments and representations, the people of Kosovo cherish and value the U.S. Forces' contribution to their country's freedom and do not hesitate to point out. If you're an American visiting Kosovo, it is hard to miss the appreciation. Finally, the important thing is that this appreciation is being passed on to the young generations so they may never forget. This way, they will always remember who was there for them when they were at a point of extinction as a people.
Did you know this about the NATO bombings against Serbia?
During the 78 days of NATO bombings against Serbia, the Chinese Embassy, codenamed "Belgrade Warehouse 1" in Belgrade, was bombed in what NATO called an accident and that the CIA later took responsibility for. In a prepared testimony to Congress, then DCI George Tenet stated, "Dr. Hamre and I are here today to explain how a series of errors led to the unintended bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade on May 7th. We will try to describe to the best of our ability - in this open, public session the causes of what can only be described as a tragic mistake. It was a major error. I cannot minimize the significance of this." Three Chinese state media journalists were killed during the bombing. The U.S. issued a formal apology to China afterward.