14 June 2001, Volume 3, Number 20
CAN THE MACEDONIAN ARMY DEAL WITH THE GUERRILLAS?
Part II (Part I Appeared On 7 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.
Zabkar: [The Macedonian UCK] is a typical modern guerrilla organization, a small group of people with big firepower, since an automatic rifle can fire up to 1,000 bullets per minute. They have night equipment and excellent intelligence that accurately informs them when vehicles are coming, which vehicle carries personnel, and how they are protected.
All of that enables them to carry out very successful operations, so they do not need many troops to obtain big results. One infantry combat vehicle carries 10 to 12 soldiers. If it runs over a properly activated mine, operated by remote control, the consequence is a catastrophe. All the soldiers in the vehicle will be killed. It means that in such a situation, where cellular phones allow information to be transferred on both sides, guerrilla fighters have mobile phones just like the rest of the population, not to mention the Internet and all the other things that enable them to be extremely mobile.
Ambushes are set up in an area controlled by units whose patrols are not trained in classical anti-guerrilla warfare.... This is what makes those units helpless, even if they are made up of 20 or 30 fighters.
RFE/RL: Professor Zabkar reminds us that the geography of the region where the clashes are taking place does not enable the Macedonian army to use its advantages in firepower and heavy artillery.
Zabkar: Those units are situated on the 1,600 meter-high slopes of Skopska Crna Gora and Sar Planina. That topography does not permit the use of heavy artillery, combat vehicles for infantry, and other mechanized equipment of the Macedonian army. Such equipment is suited for another form of warfare.
Generally speaking, infantry not trained for commando tasks and small group actions, and not equipped for night operations, has no advantage whatsoever in a fight against guerrillas. On the contrary, guerrilla fighters have a big edge. They know the territory and have an intelligence service providing them with information from both the Macedonian and the Albanian sides. This is why the only advantage of the Macedonian side is its firepower, which -- as I have just said -- cannot be used effectively because of the geographic factors and other limitations, and because a civilian population [is present].
RFE/RL: We asked Professor Zabkar what the Macedonian government could do at this time, how the security forces could successfully fight the rebels, and what the main advantage of the guerrillas is. He thinks that Macedonian security forces do not have many options and that they are at the mercy of the Albanian guerrillas.
Zabkar: When we recall how recent events unfolded, we can see that the first moves were aimed at the city of Tetovo. A calm period followed, after which the fighting moved to Kumanovo. When the fighting escalated, it moved toward the mountains of Sar Planina and Popova Sapka.
What remains unaccounted for is the area between western Macedonia, Albania, Ohrid, and Debar. There is a possibility that [if the guerrillas] activate new hot spots there, the army and police forces might spread out and wind up carrying out reprisals against the civilian population.
This is how [international] public opinion could be influenced. There could be another attempt to make things look like genocide, just like in Kosovo. [This could lead to a] demand for international forces to be deployed and a sort of protectorate to be introduced. Therefore, [one could wind up with] the Kosovo model, with UNMIK and all the other things already existing there. This would put the issue on the [international agenda and force a] search for a diplomatic solution.
RFE/RL: One of the commanders of the former Kosovo Liberation Army, Naim Maloku, agrees that there is a real danger that the Albanian rebels might move [their activities] toward western Macedonia. He does not believe that Macedonia has enough money for the expenses required for a military operation across such a wide geographic area.
Maloku: In the past two or three weeks or month, there was fighting in three or four villages near Kumanovo, and that is where the Albanians and their army were localized. However, now that the pressure is intensifying on that region, the conflict might spread, and other parts of Macedonia populated by Albanians might join in.
If the conflict were stopped right now, I think that the Albanian army would be localized in those three or four villages near Kumanovo and two or three near Tetovo. If fighting were stopped now, there would be better chances for a political solution of the problem, which is not only a matter for the Macedonians and the Albanians, but the international [community] must be involved as well.
RFE/RL: According to some western media reports, there are no more than several hundred Albanian guerrilla fighters in the Kumanovo region. We ask Professor Zabkar: are those several hundred or maybe 1,000 men able to spread out across all of Macedonia?
Zabkar: It may sound strange, but if there is a group of 1,000 guerrilla fighters, divided into squads, that would make 100 squads. If those 100 squads were scattered in a way that 30 of them operated in the Kumanovo region and 30 of them on Sar Planina, they could be very effective. But not the way they have been doing so far, by attacking and setting up road blocks around villages they are defending.
If, however, they infiltrated deep into enemy lines in order to attack the real targets -- such as post offices, banks, communications systems, bridges, railway stations, and the transformer stations of the power grid -- if all those operations started, then I cannot see how the Macedonian army and police -- the way they are structured and trained -- could bring it to an end successfully with 20 to 30 percent of the population on the Albanian side.
Therefore, everything depends on the guerrillas. If they choose [mobile] forms of fighting, instead of a stationary defense, eventually [the Macedonian authorities] will be forced to sit down at the negotiating table....
But if the guerrillas decide to continue with these practically suicidal operations, to defend those villages in order to expose the civilian population -- which would in that case suffer casualties -- then public opinion will [go against them].
I think that with the present constellation of forces, when the international public does not support the Albanians because the [international community] wants a stable Macedonia, I think that there will be no great chances for [the guerrillas to succeed using their present tactics].
RFE/RL: What can the Macedonian government do in such a situation? How long would it take for Macedonia to train units that could fight the guerrillas?
Zabkar: Equipment aside -- since proper equipment is needed -- it takes time. It takes training hours.... First, on the individual level, then on the level of squads and platoons...for coordination. Then it takes time for a division, some three to six months...until the headquarters are coordinated.
Talking about these small units, if the equipment is completely new for them, if they have no previous experience, then it takes at least two to three months. It means that training would have to be intensified, that foreign instructors would have to be present, maybe the same ones who trained the Albanian fighters at Tropoja [during the conflict in Kosova].
The training should be at least as good as that of the guerrillas in the field. In that case, one could say that in two to three months there could be a core group ready for offensive actions. [But that would mean an end to the conventional warfare approach now being used.]
By Srdjan Kusovac of RFE/RL's South Slavic Service