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Austrian Armed Forces in KFOR


Between April and October 2005, 525 soldiers of the 12th Austrian Contingent (AUCON12) served in various places in Kosovo and in different positions to maintain a Safe and Secure Environment (SASE) in their allocated Areas of Responsibility (AOR). Since the beginning of this mission in June 1999 approximately 6,000 soldiers of the Austrian Armed Forces (AAF) have successfully fulfilled their tasks within the NATO-led KFOR mission. This article gives an overview about the challenging and interesting tasks of the Austrian contribution to this mission.

History of the conflict

At the beginning of the 1980s the economic situation in Kososvo as an autonomous province of Yugoslavia grew increasingly worse and was accompanied by a slow but steady exodus of Serbs from Kosovo. Therefore, the percentage of Serbian inhabitants dwindled significantly from 31 percent in 1946 to 9 percent in 1998. Growing political tensions between the Albanians and Serbs also aggravated the situation when mainly Albanian protestors started unrests that were always brutally quelled by the police. After the annulment of autonomy in 1989, Kosovar members of the Yugoslav parliament founded an underground government, developed a constitution for Kosovo and held elections in 1992, although this was never officially recognized.

With the increasing suppression of the Albanian ethnicity in Kosovo, the "Kosovo Liberation Army” (UCK) was founded as an underground organisation and put up a fight against the Serbian police forces, but its resistance was never successful. As early as in 1998, a large number of Albanian Kosovars were forced to flee, expelled by Serbian police. Increasing struggles between UCK and the Serbian police led to atrocities on both sides of the ethnic divide and culminated in the massacre of Racak where Serbian guerrilla and police forces killed 40 persons. All interventions by the UN, EU and NATO to stop the genocide failed, and also the negotiations at Rambouillet ended without any result. A suspected Serbian operation dubbed "Horseshoe Plan” was executed by the Serbian police and military to force the UCK fighters to flee to Albania. Along with the advance of troops, up to 750,000 Albanian Kosovars were expelled.

Due to this development of the situation, the NATO Air Operation against targets in Kosovo and Serbia started but could not really stop the activities of the Serbs in Kosovo. After 78 days of heavy bombing the air campaign ended with the first invasion of NATO ground troops that were welcomed by the Kosovars as liberators. Most of the Albanian Kosovar refugees would be allowed now to return but nearly all their houses and the factories in which they were employed before the war had been destroyed by Serbs all over the country. As a reaction to that, now the Serbian Kosovars had to flee from the aggressions of the Albanian population. Up to the year 2004, more than 120,000 Serbs left Kosovo and only few of them have settled there again. Since 1999 KOSOVO has been under UN authority (UN Resolution 1244) but is still a legal part of the Republic of Serbia and Montenegro. Although the status talks started in autumn 2005, the final status remains unsolved.

Bloody clashes with massive riots throughout Kosovo in March 2004 demonstrated amply the still prevailing existence of ethnic tensions and pressure below the surface that may easily erupt again. At the end of the unrests at least 28 persons were killed and more than 600 injured. About 3,600 Serbs and other minorities were expelled and their houses and some Serbian monasteries burned down.

Kosovo, the Land

Kosovo’s territory covers 10,887 km², which for example is 1,354 km2 bigger than Carinthia or 1,200 km2 smaller than Upper Austria. The terrain is surrounded by high mountains and can be divided in two main parts, the "Field of the Black Birds” or "Kosovo Polje” in the East, and "Metochia” in the West. From the administrative point of view, Kosovo is divided into 30 municipalities, each of which includes a number of towns and villages.

An estimated two million people from eight different ethnic groups live in the country. The percentage of Albanian Kosovars amounts to 90 percent, the Serbian populations is about eight percent, and the other minorities account for some two percent of the two million Kosovars.

The Present Situation

At present the situation in Kosovo is calm but not stable. Although the country has been administered by UNMIK for more than 6 years, although billions of Euros have been donated to the people, although a lot of NGOs have built houses, schools and infirmaries, all the efforts could not satisfy the basic needs of the population.

Therefore, people have to cope with the ever-present problems of electricity and water supply, and also the big problem of waste disposal has not been solved. There are only three factories working, all the other factories were destroyed by the Serbs during the war. Although Kosovo is rich in mineral resources, it would cost millions of Euros to reconstruct all the conveyor systems and factories in which the minerals are processed. Various companies all over the world are even willing to invest in Kosovo’s economy but since the issue of ownership of those factories is still unclear, nobody wants to undertake any ventures. Approximately 70 percent of the inhabitants are unemployed, and they can only survive with the financial help of the so-called Diaspora. More than 50 percent of the population are under the age of 25, so they would be able to rebuild their country but there are no jobs for them. Regardless of whether Kosovo will see independence in the future or not, the solution for these social and economic problems will always hinge on help from abroad. Although the freedom of movement for the minorities within Kosovo and the safe resettlement of Serbs are ensured more or less, the dangerous potential for inter-ethnic violence still remains; the poor social and economic situation may also be a multiplier in this case. Organised Crime (OC) within Kosovo has increased over the past few years and the smuggling of drugs and weapons and also human trafficking persist. In most cases incidents such as shootings or murders do not have interethnic reasons but have a background of OC.

The KFOR Mission

The mission of KFOR, based on UN Resolution 1244, is to ensure a Safe and Secure Environment (SASE) in Kosovo and to enable the UNMIK Administration and the Provisional Kosovar Government to develop the proper conditions for a future state. KFOR consists of soldiers from 34 nations. The overall strength of KFOR is up to 17,000 soldiers, deployed in 4 Multinational Brigades (MNB) and other additional reserve and force multiplier units. Headquarters (HQ) of KFOR is based in Filmcity in Pristina, and the areas of responsibility (AOR) of the four MNBs cover a certain number of municipalities. The AOR of the biggest brigade, MNB Southwest (MNB SW), covers 10 municipalities and thus approximately 42 percent of the whole territory of Kosovo. The number of personnel amounts to 7,000 soldiers, which allows the brigade to employ 22 manoeuvre companies and a multitude of other force multiplier units such as recce assets, engineer and logistic units with high capacities. 44 percent of all manoeuvre forces of KFOR belong to MNB SW. The HQ of MNB SW is located in Prizren. MNB SW is a multinational team comprising personnel from 11 different nations. Even the 5 Task Forces (TF) which are under direct command of MNB SW are multinational: the German-Turkish-Georgian TF PRIZREN, the Turkish-Azerbaijani TF DRAGASH, the Italian-Romanian TF AQUILA, the Spanish TF TIZONA, and finally the tri-national Austrian-German-Swiss TF DULJE.

Austria’s Contribution - AUCON 12

On 25 June 1999 the Austrian Government decided to contribute up to 500 soldiers to the Kosovo Force (KFOR) and after the approval of the Permanent Central Committee of the National Council the first Austrian soldiers arrived in Kosovo on 2 July1999. The current strength of 525 Austrian soldiers makes up approximately 3 percent of the overall strength of KFOR.

AUCON 12 comprises the following individuals and units:

The National Contingent Commander (NCC), who at the same time is the Assistant Chief of Staff Operations (ACOS OPS) of MNB SW, and his NCC staff consisting of one officer as a military assistant (MA), one Admin NCO and one driver. The NCC & ACOS Ops perform two different tasks: as national contingent commander he has to ensure all national matters of administration, logistics, welfare and communication with the operational command in Graz, which cannot be done by NATO. As the NCC has no full staff, the personnel of TF DULJE have to provide support. In addition, the NCC is also the highest-ranking military representative of the AAF in Kosovo and has to fulfil inherent representative tasks. His essential work is to lead the ACOS Ops division of HQ MNB SW and - employing the assigned branches for all operational matters (G2, G3, G9 CIMIC, Liaison and Monitoring Teams, Inspection Teams for the Conduct of the Kosovo Protection Corps and the Joint Implementation Commission with the Serb and Montenegro Security Forces) - to maintain the SASE in the AOR.

Nine Austrian soldiers are employed at HQ KFOR and perform their duties in different positions, such as the deputy chief of the HQ Support Group, Plans Officer, J4 Engineer Branch, Plans Officer with the Information Operations Branch or as NCO with the G3 PsyOps Branch.

Thirteen officers and NCOs work in various branches of HQ MNB SW where they discharge their respective functions. Austrian servicemen are thus employed in the Legal Advisory Cell, the Joint Visitors Bureau, the G2-, G3-, G4/1-, G6- and G9 (CIMIC) branches. Their specific tasks are indicated by the names of the branches.

Three Austrian medical NCOs are a very welcome augmentation at the German Field Hospital in PRIZREN, and their outstanding performance is much appreciated by all soldiers of this unit. AUCON 12 provides the head of the treatment section, one member in the emergency room and one X-Ray assistant. They perform shift duties to ensure continuous medical support of all soldiers of MNB SW and - available capacities allowing - also of the civilian population.

The Austrian National Support Element in Suva Reka with ten soldiers is responsible for follow-up supply and support, deals with all contracts for the running of the Austrian camp Casablanca, organises and carries out all logistic transports including the settlement of customs matters, effects purchases of goods in Kosovo and FYROM, and supports AUCON in matters of welfare. The coordination of vacation flights for soldiers with civil airlines is one of the key tasks of this purely national element.

The nine Austrian Military Police (MP) soldiers of the multinational MP Battalion in Suva Reka monitor the safety and conduct of Austrian soldiers, provide close protection to high-ranking persons, escort convoys, carry out traffic control and execute house and vehicle search operations together with troops of the TFs. They are also involved in Crowd and Riot Control (CRC) matters. One important task is to investigate all national incidents and accidents.

The Austrian Liaison and Monitoring Team (LMT) in Suva Reka with eight soldiers is a new element in Kosovo. Its task is to establish and maintain close connections and liaison to all authorities of the allocated municipalities, to international and non-governmental organisations in the area, and to "feel the pulse of the people”. Therefore LMT members spend most of their time afield to speak to the local population and to assess the overall mood. Their main function is to detect signs of possible situation changes and to allow MNB SW to react in time.

The Austrian National Intelligence Cell (AUNIC) in Prizren with eight soldiers has to contribute to the situational awareness. Their specific intelligence tasks are directly assigned by the "Armed Forces Intelligence Agency” (Heeres-Nachrichtenamt). Every nation in Kosovo has a NIC and information is exchanged inside the so-called NIC community. If there is information useful to the brigade and concerning tactical matters, they pass it on to the G 2 of MNB SW, who is in charge of the overall risk assessment. A similar task is given to the Austrian Counter-Intelligence Element (CI) in Suva Reka with two soldiers who predominantly track possible risks to the protection of our forces.

The Austrian heli-detachment in Toplicane is part of the tri-national TF MERCURY and contributes one AB 212 and one crew of four soldiers. Our AB 212 is a very popular helicopter because it can carry six passengers while the capacity of the German UH-1D is limited to four.

The Austrian element of TF DULJE, one of the 5 manoeuvre TFs of MNB SW, has a strength of 456 soldiers of all ranks. The commander of the TF, the staff, HQ company personnel and 2 manoeuvre companies mainly equipped with "Pandur" and Puch G vehicles all come from this element. In addition, one German manoeuvre company (GEDUC) reinforced by one mechanised Swiss platoon and other Swiss logistic elements at battalion level are attached to the TF. The overall strength of the tri-national TF therefore amounts to 719 soldiers, all of which are accommodated in Camp Casablanca in Suva Reka. All three manoeuvre companies are CRC trained and equipped and have capabilities for airmobile deployment anywhere in the AOR of MNB SW and also Kosovo-wide if needed.

The AOR of TF DULJE covers the municipalities of Suva Reka and Malisevo as well as Orahovac, which is one of the hot spots of MNB SW. In this area there are three Serb enclaves with a total of 1,250 Serbs who have to be surveilled, protected and defended from perpetrators as necessary. In the small village of Zociste the biggest resettlement project has started with the reconstruction of 40 destroyed Serbian houses. Zociste also has a small monastery that was totally destroyed during the riots in March 2004, but has since been partially reconstructed. Although Zociste is also an Albanian settlement, the situation inside remains calm because the resettlement of Serbs is tolerated by the Albanians, but only if the Serbs "do not have blood on their hands”, which means that they have never been involved in expelling and killing Albanian Kosovars during the war.

The daily work of the soldiers of TF DULJE while executing framework is patrolling inside the AOR, setting up and conducting vehicle check points (VCP), guarding the field camp, monitoring activities at Velika Hoca and Upper Orahovac, as well as undergoing training exercises. If the situation allows, the soldiers have one day off per week for recreation. In addition to these tasks, the soldiers of TF DULJE have also to participate in cross boundary operations to be deployed in other AORs where they have to work together with soldiers from other nations. One company is then placed under the tactical command of another TF, which was practised, for example, during operation "Sunrise” when 2Company was deployed inside the AOR of the Turkish TF DRAGASH. The task was to carry out combined VCPs and patrols together with Turkish soldiers in mountainous terrain. The reconnaissance platoon was detached to a special interception force and had to monitor the borderline to Albania in order to identify smugglers and perpetrators. The intent was to report detected perpetrators to the command post and to detain suspects in a detention box behind the recce troops.

Another operation was carried out together with the German soldiers of TF PRIZREN in Alpine terrain east of Prizren where the Austrian soldiers again could prove their skills and capabilities to MNB SW. During the change of command of Commander KFOR, one Austrian company was detached to another MNB to ensure security along the main road from the airport to the Film City compound in Pristina. This operation lent itself especially to improve the cooperation of Austrian soldiers with foreign soldiers.

With Austrian soldiers serving at all echelons of military command, the role they play in the overall mission of ensuring a SASE in Kosovo and fulfilling the given tasks is an important one and must not be underestimated. With the structure of KFOR MNBs changing and the number of troops possibly decreasing in its wake, 2006 may be a turning point for the KFOR mission. Austria’s contribution to KFOR is likely to change, too, but the dedication and commitment of Austrian soldiers to bring their skills and capabilities to bear at a very high level to accomplish their tasks in this mission will be undiminished.

___________________________________ __________________________________ By: Colonel Mag. Markus Koller, NCC AUCON/KFOR and COS MNB SW

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