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Thursday, 29 March, 2001, 02:50 GMT 03:50 UK
Nato's Kosovo challenge
US K-For soldiers
K-For troops are clamping down on the border
By defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus in Pristina

Nato is signalling that K-For troops in Kosovo mean business and that they intend to shut down supply routes to ethnic Albanian insurgents operating on the other side of the border in Macedonia.


The political future of Kosovo is becoming the great unanswered question of the Balkans

These ethnic Albanian fighters, like similar groups operating in the Presevo valley, have already received a verbal assault - being dubbed by senior Nato figures and Alliance political leaders as nothing more than terrorists.

There is a coincidence here between the language used by Nato and that applied to the ethnic Albanian fighters in the Presevo valley, between Kosovo and Serbia proper, by the government in Belgrade.

Ethnic Albanian members of the UCPMB
Albanian fighters know what they want
It's an unhappy coincidence of language that is not lost on many ordinary people here in Kosovo.

Many of whom still see the Albanian insurgents - some of them veterans of Kosovo's struggle against Belgrade's rule - if not as heroes then certainly not as terrorists.

The almost Alpine frontier terrain makes K-For's job very difficult. Additional British and Finnish troops are moving up to positions on the border with Macedonia.

More sophisticated night vision and thermal imaging systems are being deployed to detect cross-border movement.

Red tape

And even the much-maligned US forces are now far more visible, out of their vehicles doing the basic job of soldiering - patrolling on foot.


The Americans have been widely criticised here, even among other K-For contingents, for being obsessed with force protection, rather than force projection.

But quite apart from troops, the Americans bring a good deal to the table.

One of the key assets in this operation are US helicopters: pairs of Apache attack helicopters clattering over the border area at regular intervals providing vital intelligence on the ground below.

However a brief tour of K-For troops on the border provides very mixed images.

There is a huge degree of professionalism and dedication from the soldiers on the ground. But often they seem mired in a hugely bureaucratic K-For operation, where political sensitivities among the allies sometimes seem as important as the job in hand.

Headache

K-For, Nato, the EU, and all the other agencies grappling with Kosovo's problems, also face one other fundamental difficulty in countering this ethnic Albanian insurgency.

US K-For soldier
US troops have come in for criticism
Their visions of Kosovo's future are high-minded but vague. Many of the ethnic Albanian fighters, on the other hand, know exactly what they want.

Better civil rights blends into demands for a greater Albania that would take in Kosovo itself.

More and more, the political future of Kosovo is becoming the great unanswered question of the Balkans.

And it's something that Nato doesn't even want to begin to think about.

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18 Mar 01 | Europe
Greater Albania question
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