The manner of their arrival was unscripted

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

On Friday 11th June 1999, at the headquarters of KFOR, the NATO army being assembled to act as peacekeepers in Kosovo, British Lieutenant General Mike Jackson, KFOR’s commander, and US Navy Admiral Jim Ellis, Commander-in-Chief of all Allied Forces in Southern Europe, met in a run down shoe factory just outside of Skopje, Macedonia. General Jackson’s men would begin to cross the border into Kosovo the next day — but it looked like someone else might beat them to the punch:

At about 10:35, the two men turned on one of the TVs in the operations room and tuned it to CNN to see how the press was reporting that breakthrough. What they saw instead amazed them. There, on the screen, were pictures of a column of about 250 troops and vehicles advancing out of Bosnia, with KFOR painted hastily on them. The voiceover helpfully explained that this was the Russian contingent of KFOR, which their sources said was heading to the Kosovan capital, Pristina.

This was news to both Ellis and Jackson — because KFOR didn’t have a Russian contingent.

“It was fair to say the manner of their arrival was unscripted.” Jackson commented later.

Before the two men could properly digest this, the main phone in the operations room began to ring. Simultaneously, the men realised this probably meant that the one person they didn’t want to see this footage yet almost certainly had.

When they heard the voice on the other end of the phone, this was confirmed.

“General Jackson.” Said Wes Clark, US General and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR). “You will secure Pristina Airport before the Russians arrive.”

The little green men have been at this a while.


  1. Kirk says:

    GEN Clark was an idiot of the highest order, a man who immediately set you to wondering where our officer training and selection process went off the rails the moment you met him. An advertisement for the institution he was not…

    The sheer stupidity of what he was trying to do at Pristina, plus the sheer lack of necessity for the idiocy of ordering the Brits to basically start WWIII over that airport thing… Wow. Just… Wow.

    The whole thing had deeper antecedents than this bit makes out–The Russians had been trying for engagement with NATO on the whole Serbian/Kosovo thing, and were getting rebuffed and, to their minds, humiliated. The grab for the airport was a grab for respect, more than anything else.

    And, if you want to pick a point for where the Russian/NATO issues really got going, that’s the one I’d look at. There was a lot of gratuitous insulting behavior on the part of a lot of NATO member officials, not the least from Clinton Administration types who thought that the Russians were now completely irrelevant to what was going on. Couple that with the attitude that Russia was there for the looting, with a cooperative token Russian oligarch or two, and… Well, it ain’t entirely beyond understanding why the state of affairs we’re in today exists. Putin is as much a reaction to the lack of respect shown Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union as he is anything else. And, Pristina was a cusp moment, one that Clark made happen in more ways than one.

    Maybe nothing else could have happened, given everything that was going on, but I still think Clark was an idiot of the first water. It’s shocking to realize that he gave the Brits orders to shoot the Russians, and all that prevented us from getting into an ego-driven war was the good sense of a future British pop star, one James Blunt, who in the finest traditions of the British subaltern, essentially told Clark to piss off.

    Or, so more than a few have described the situation. I know a couple of senior staff NCO’s who were around the relevant headquarters, and their impressions of what was going on around Clark were not what I’d term even remotely complimentary or respectful.

  2. Bob Sykes says:

    I’m with Kirk on this. I’d like to add that compared to the ham-handed NATO operation, the Russian coup was brilliant and audacious and carried out with panache.

  3. Kirk says:

    That whole era of US military operations was something I don’t like looking back at, to be quite honest.

    The entire Balkans mess was something created by the inept Europeans, and then managed by equally clueless American State Department types. The military had very few area experts, because the Balkans had always been a sideshow. Nobody knew the players, nobody understood the game–And, in large part, the decisions-makers were cozened by some of the more inimical players, mostly Bosnian Muslim.

    My own take on the issue is that the entire region should just have a wall built around it, and let the locals do their thing until they’re tired of killing each other. The animosity and inability to forget that each sub-culture has for the persecutions of the past means that there’s never any resolution; it’s just an ongoing, ever-revolving wheel of atrocity and madness between the players. One generations rapists and prosecutors of war crimes become the next generation’s victims, when the first set finds its way back to the top, usually with foreign help. The only smart ones are the Slovenes, who essentially said “Enough of this shit, we’re going our own way…”.

    The rest? They mostly just want to kill each other for unforgotten atrocities committed primarily at the behest of outsiders like the Turks and the Austrians.

    My advice would have been to stay the hell out of it all–The Kosovar Albanians are mostly a bunch of assholes, and the Serbs aren’t much better. Were it left up to me, I’d have simply asked for the popcorn concession, and then sold seats for the entertainment provided. Maybe the sheer embarrassment at realizing they were being laughed at by the rest of the world might have snapped all parties out of their bullshit. That entire region has been an open sore since about the end of the Byzantine Empire, and if you go back to the Romans, it wasn’t all that stable and productive then. It’s like the primary national product is chaos and murder, or something… The coastal regions were well-developed and productive for the Romans, but those were mostly colonies–The interior was packed to the gills with recalcitrant tribal elements locked into never-ending cycles of vendetta and murder. Several Roman legions went to their graves trying to pacify the region, and there was only really a relatively short period during the interregnum between the early Roman Empire and the Byzantines running things that the place was halfway civilized…

    Bismarck had it right; the whole area still isn’t worth the bones of a single Pomeranian Grenadier. And, it’s notable to recognize the two-fold insult in that statement–The Pomeranians were not respected as being worthwhile soldiers, there being a large ethnic Polish segment of that area during Bismarck’s day. What he was basically saying was that the Balkans weren’t worth even one of Germany’s worst soldiers…

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