Siol nan Gaidheal

CIA aided Kosovo guerrilla army

Tom Walker and Aidan Laverty

AMERICAN intelligence agents have admitted they helped to train the Kosovo Liberation Army before Nato's bombing of Yugoslavia. The disclosure angered some European diplomats, who said this had undermined moves for a political solution to the conflict between Serbs and Albanians. Central Intelligence Agency officers were ceasefire monitors in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999, developing ties with the KLA and giving American military training manuals and field advice on fighting the Yugoslav army and Serbian police.

When the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which co-ordinated the monitoring, left Kosovo a week before airstrikes began a year ago, many of its satellite telephones and global positioning systems were secretly handed to the KLA, ensuring that guerrilla commanders could stay in touch with Nato and Washington. Several KLA leaders had the mobile phone number of General Wesley Clark, the Nato commander.

European diplomats then working for the OSCE claim it was betrayed by an American policy that made airstrikes inevitable. Some have questioned the motives and loyalties of William Walker, the American OSCE head of mission.

"The American agenda consisted of their diplomatic observers, aka the CIA, operating on completely different terms to the rest of Europe and the OSCE," said a European envoy. Several Americans who were directly involved in CIA activities or close to them have spoken to the makers of Moral Combat, a documentary to be broadcast on BBC2 tonight, and to The Sunday Times about their clandestine roles. Walker dismissed suggestions that he had wanted war in Kosovo, but admitted the CIA was almost certainly involved in the countdown to airstrikes.

Initially some "diplomatic observers" arrived, followed in October by a much larger group that was eventually swallowed up into the OSCE's "Kosovo Verification Mission".

Walker said: "Overnight we went from having a handful of people to 130 or more. Could the agency have put them in at that point? Sure they could. It's their job. But nobody told me."

Walker, who was nominated by Madeleine Albright, the American secretary of state, was intensely disliked by Belgrade. He had worked briefly for the United Nations in Croatia. Ten years earlier he was the American ambassador to El Salvador when Washington was helping the government there to suppress leftist rebels while supporting the contra guerrillas against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

Some European diplomats in Pristina, Kosovo's capital, concluded from Walker's background that he was inextricably linked with the CIA. The picture was muddied by the continued separation of American "diplomatic observers" from the mission. The CIA sources who have now broken their silence say the diplomatic observers were more closely connected to the agency.

"It was a CIA front, gathering intelligence on the KLA's arms and leadership," said one. Another agent, who said he felt he had been "suckered in" by an organisation that has run amok in post-war Kosovo, said: "I'd tell them which hill to avoid, which wood to go behind, that sort of thing."

The KLA has admitted its long-standing links with American and European intelligence organisations. Shaban Shala, a KLA commander now involved in attempts to destabilise majority Albanian villages beyond Kosovo's border in Serbia proper, claimed he had met British, American and Swiss agents in northern Albania in 1996.

Belgrade has alleged the CIA also helped to arm the KLA, but this was denied by the guerrillas and agency sources.

"It was purely the Albanian diaspora helping their brothers," said Florin Krasniqi, a New York builder and one of the KLA's biggest financiers. He described how sniper rifles were exported from America using a loophole in federal law that allowed them to be shipped to "hunting clubs". Armour-piercing Barratt rifles made their way to the KLA's "hunting club" in Albania.

Agim Ceku, the KLA commander in the latter stages of the conflict, had established American contacts through his work in the Croatian army, which had been modernised with the help of Military Professional Resources Inc, an American company specialising in military training and procurement.

This company's personnel were in Kosovo, along with others from a similar company, Dyncorps, that helped in the American-backed programme for the Bosnian army.

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Knut Rognes


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