Kosovo Blast Was a Warning to NATO

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French KFOR soldiers watch over the Albanian-dominated part of Mitrovica

Seven Kosovar Serbs died today and more were injured when a bomb destroyed their bus, which was being escorted by KFOR peacekeeping troops. Was there any surprise in such an attack at this time?

There is no surprise in continuing attacks on Serb civilians in Kosovo by Albanian extremists. This was not the first, nor will it be the last. But what was significant about this attack was the technique — a remote-controlled antitank mine buried in the asphalt. This goes way beyond the concept of "random revenge attacks." It required a high level of technical sophistication and organization. And that means it was a message to KFOR, too — that the NATO-led peacekeeping force is also vulnerable. Those who carried out this attack could just as easily have blown up a KFOR vehicle or a U.N. vehicle, or targeted some visiting foreign dignitary. So this puts the security situation in Kosovo on a new level.

What message would the perpetrators want to send to KFOR?

In a nutshell, the Albanian extremists are trying to tell KFOR, "Don't interfere or you'll be next. Don't try to crack down on us." The message is that the extremists are capable of operating on a sophisticated level that exposes KFOR's weaknesses.

So what can KFOR do?

I don't think they can do anything. I think KFOR will immediately understand the message. And the first thing they'll do is stop escorting Serbian convoys, to avoid putting their troops in danger.

But if they do that, won't they be allowing the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo's remaining Serbs?

Frankly, despite some efforts, they have for the most part already allowed the ethnic cleansing of the Serbs in Kosovo to take place right before their eyes. Now their efforts to slow down rather than stop the process are going to decrease. A typical military reaction to a security threat would be to confine as many troops as possible to base and decrease movements. So far KFOR has demonstrated that the safety of their own troops comes long before the safety of any civilians in Kosovo, Serb or Albanian. Any action involving risk to the troops is canceled, and this trend will increase. I'm afraid we're going to see a lot more more things like this. The traditional Balkan guerrilla season is about to start in spring, and the situation is going to deteriorate. KFOR won't pack up and go. But this attack has not only exposed their ineffectiveness; it has also exposed their vulnerability.

So where does this leave the peacekeeping mission?

KFOR has been working recently to try and stop the flow of men and weapons from Kosovo into the buffer zone in southern Serbia, where the extremists have been conducting an insurgency. And this attack raises a dilemma for the NATO-led forces, because it happened in a region nearby and it's a clear message from the extremists to leave them alone, or else KFOR could be next. I don't know what KFOR is going to do with this message, but I'll be very surprised if they try to clamp down on the extremists. Because we're not dealing here with a bunch of angry farmers. We're dealing with a serious organization that has the training and logistical capability to mount sophisticated attacks. And there is little reason for optimism that KFOR has either the intelligence capability or the political will to take them on.