7 June 2001, Volume 3, Number 19
CAN THE MACEDONIAN ARMY DEAL WITH THE GUERRILLAS?
Part I. Part II Will Appear On 14 June.
Our participants in this discussion are Anton Zabkar, who is professor of the Faculty of Social Sciences in Ljubljana and lecturer on modern military systems; retired Colonel Dragan Vuksic, who is former head of the Directorate for Military Cooperation of the Yugoslav army; and Naim Maloku, who is one of the former commanders of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). They will discuss recent military developments in southern Serbia and in Macedonia.
RFE/RL: On 24 May 2001, Yugoslav army and Serbian police troops started to deploy in the so-called Sector B of the ground security zone -- the last buffer zone around Kosovo.
In neighboring Macedonia, government forces announced an important offensive against the Albanian guerrillas.
Does the deployment of Belgrade's forces in Sector B, as well as the withdrawal of the Albanian units from that area, mean the end of the crisis in the Presevo Valley?
Zabkar: If we are talking only about the police and military aspects, there is the possibility that the border patrol units will take over the area, put it under their control, and sort out all those questions regarding weapons. The area could then be demilitarized.
However, what remains unresolved is the cause of the conflict, which is political in nature. But I do not see any way in Serbia today to work that out easily.
Maloku: The conflict in Presevo may have ended, but not the crisis. What has started now is a process of normalization of the situation in the area, as well as of finding a political solution for the crisis. By forming an army and fighting, the Albanians have succeeded in bringing the problem of Presevo, Bujanovac, and Medvedja to the attention of the most important players on the international scene.
RFE/RL: As far as the conflict in neighboring Macedonia is concerned, Professor Zabkar notes that the army of the Republic of Macedonia was created, organized, and trained according to the doctrine of the former Yugoslav People's Army. That doctrine is completely inadequate in the present situation. Is that one of the reasons they are using tanks, heavy artillery, and helicopters against the guerrillas?
Zabkar: Obviously, there are two different concepts at work here. The former Yugoslav People's Army was organized in such a way that the army units, together with the Territorial Defense, were supposed to defend the country's territory. Now we have the reverse situation.
The very units that were supposed to defend the territory are now facing a new form of war. There is no frontal military activity according to the classic doctrine in which units hold firm front lines that are linked in a variety of ways.
What is going on now is that guerrilla groups are taking some places and resisting while the army is trying to take them back. The only way to do that is by what we saw in Kosovo during the operation that took place two years ago there. A blanket of fire covers the area and destruction takes place, while the international community keeps insisting that there be no excessive use of force in order to strike some sort of a balance.
But what balance can there be if there are guerrillas with small arms on one side, and heavy weapons, tanks, artillery, etc, on the other? In such a situation, there is no way to speak of a balance between artillery and small arms, which is what makes the conflict asymmetric.
This is all the more so since the guerrillas have left the civilian population in the villages -- according to some sources [keeping them] by force, while other say that the inhabitants do not want to leave. That makes the situation even more complicated because they are either hostages held by the guerrillas, or a local population that supports their fellow countrymen, ready to share with them the good and bad and afraid of a repeat [of previous anti-Albanian violence]. Once you leave home, you can never return.
RFE/RL: The type of military operations used in southern Serbia and in Macedonia was, among other things, determined by the fact that both the Yugoslav army and the Army of the Republic of Macedonia were sending conscript units into combat. There were very few exceptions, like the Seventh Battalion of the military police, created in Montenegro during Slobodan Milosevic's time, but based on political loyalties rather than competence.
Both armies suffer from a chronic lack of money since the military chapters of those states' budgets are being cut each year. For many years now, neither Macedonian nor Yugoslav armies have sent their officers abroad for training. There is a kind of negative selection in both armies, which is why they are rather a sort of social shelter than modern armed forces. These are just some of the reasons for their ineffectiveness in the fight against the rebels.
Zabkar: When there is an army that gets paid, but has no money for up-to-date training and camps..., and has neither proficiency tests nor rigorous selection rules, then it becomes more a sort of a social shelter for people who need to solve their bread-and-butter problems, enabling them to survive until retirement.... The army has become a typical "barracks army"....
RFE/RL: Retired Colonel Dragan Vuksic claims that the army's hands were tied in the Presevo Valley because they were not allowed to carry out full combat operations.
Vuksic: The army was not allowed to use force at any time. That is why this was not a fight between the army and the security forces against terrorists, but [the fruit of] a policy that meant a restricted role for the army and the police.
RFE/RL: As far as the conflict in Macedonia is concerned, Professor Zabkar thinks that the Macedonian army was not prepared for the situation in which it found itself. There were no adequate intelligence preparations. Many high-ranking officers were retired during the last few years in order to preserve the peace in the coalition government made up of Macedonians and Albanians. Those officers had warned about [military] preparations by the Albanian guerrillas. The army's only task during the last few years was to secure the corridor used by hundreds of thousands of civilians from Kosovo on their way to Albania in spring of 1999.
Zabkar: The Macedonian army carried out that operation, the operation of securing the corridor. Now that other operations have started -- I am talking about guerrilla warfare -- neither the police nor the army have shown themselves ready to come to grips with it.
[The Macedonian tactics] boil down to artillery fire from a long distance. Night operations are not possible with the kind of equipment that this army has. Helicopters are being shown occasionally [on television, but only] as a sort of spectacle, because there are not enough of them to change the balance of power.
It looks like a typical siege, which is an operation that requires an enormous amount of ammunition but has little effect. How many of these offensive operations have been announced since the moment it all started? There is a huge incongruity between what is being said about the offensive capabilities of that army and their successes, between how many people have been killed (with all that ammunition) and the television reports from the frontline.
RFE/RL: Our guests were asked to explain the fact that both in Macedonia and in southern Serbia, two similar incidents recently took place in which several members of the security forces were killed although there was no fierce fighting.
Vuksic: [The military] there had to face an evil phenomenon that [it was not allowed to combat and control effectively.] If there cannot be complete political or territorial control, then no one can fight [the guerrillas] efficiently.
The terrorists have the advantage of being able to choose the time of attack, thus surprising the Macedonian forces, whose maneuvering capacity is not always adequate for an efficient response. One cannot talk about a military clash; it is rather a play in which the army and police are limited to a specially prescribed series of steps, while the terrorists pursue their goals in a most brutal fashion.
One could say that in southern Serbia we had many victims. But if we think of what would have happened if real force had been used, and if we had met force with force, then the number of victims actually appears rather small.
By Srdjan Kusovac of RFE/RL's South Slavic Service.