State Department once called new allies ‘terrorists’: Cohen: For KLA victory, but not for KLA
The United States is loaning the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) the world’s most formidable air force, but on Capitol Hill, U.S. officials aren’t willing to embrace the group that the State Department only last year called “terrorists:’
While it’s clear that Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian regime has overshadowed any of the KLA’s past atrocities with its current campaign of terror against the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo, the rebel group has unsavory ties and an awful human rights record of its own. This was the chasm Secretary of Defense William Cohen attempted to straddle when he testified on the administration’s Kosovo policy before the Senate Armed Services Committee April 15.
Cohen told the committee that one of NATO’s military goals was to destroy enough Serbian forces in Kosovo so that Milosevic “will find himself having to confront a guerrilla force that over a period of time will in fact defeat his army.” The secretary was immediately countered by senators who asked, given that we are bombing Yugoslavia to help the KLA achieve its objective of wresting Kosovo away from Yugoslavia, why not simply arm the KLA and let it tackle the ground fighting itself?
Cohen was in a box, and sounded as if he knew it.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (D.-Conn.) said he wanted NATO to keep an open mind about arming the KLA, “which is a fighting force on the .ground that has the same mission as our fighting force from the air.”
The KLA’s long-standing goal, however, is outright independence, while the administration and NATO, so far, say they want only “autonomy” for Kosovo. Further, Kosovar independence would undoubtedly be merely the first step on the road to a greater Albania that could wreak havoc in the shaky neighboring states that have ethnic Albanian populations of their own. No ‘Choirboys’ in Kosovo
Cohen warned that arming the KLA might spur the Serbs’ wavering allies in Moscow and elsewhere to rearm Belgrade. But he also labored to keep the KLA itself at arm’s length from the administration.
“The KLA doesn’t qualify as any kind of choirboy circle,” Cohen told Sen. James Inhofe (R.-Okla.). “There are dangerous people in the UCK [the KLA’s initials in Albanian]. They, too, have engaged in the kind of atrocities at the smaller level, certainly, with killing Serb police or the [Yugoslavian] army from time to time, which is one reason why you may recall when I came before this committee on a number of occasions and said we are not going to be the air force for the KLA.”
That’s why the KLA was told to sign the agreement at Rambouillet, France, or no action would be taken to defend them, said Cohen. “So, I agree with you that they’re not simply one-sided, but there is really no real moral equivalency between what has taken place at the Serb level and what the KLA has done in the past. But nonetheless, I agree that there are bad people on both sides.”
Many observers thought the KLA’s signature on the Rambouillet agreement was purely a tactical move on its part to put Serbia in NATO’s bombsights. The rebels had no intention of disarming, but knew Milosevic would never sign, putting him in a state of war with the world’s sole superpower.
Such a scenario also fits with what was considered the KLA’s broad strategy of provoking the Serbs with limited terrorist acts into committing brutal reprisals and thus bringing about NATO’s entry into the war against Serbia
The question for the United States is thus not really, Which entity is worse? but rather, Are both combatants so tarnished by their record of terrorism and ethnic cleansing that the United States cannot in good conscience align itself with either?
Given that no direct U.S. interest is at stake in Yugoslavia’s civil war, shouldn’t the U.S. government restrict its efforts there to diplomacy and humanitarian assistance?
Osama Bin Laden
The origins of the KLA are somewhat murky, as are its current finances, but there are those who say the KLA was founded by hardline Muslim Communists who were frustrated by the Kosovar Albanian leadership’s policy of nonviolent protest. Also, according to the Financial Times, the KLA is partially funded by drug proceeds. There is no doubt that mujahideen from the Persian Gulf have been fighting alongside ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
The coercive, even murderous, methods the KLA used against ethnic Albanians to squelch dissent, as well as its attacks on Serbian police and civilians, earned it the terrorist designation from our State Department. Last February, for example, Robert Gelbard, then the department’s point man on Kosovo, told Agence France Presse that the KLA rebels were terrorists. “We condemn very strongly terrorist actions in Kosovo,” said Gelbard. “The UCK is, without any questions, a terrorist group.”
Deeply troubling to some lawmakers are the ties between the KLA and anti-American Muslim terrorist Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden has millions of dollars, hundreds of followers, and has sworn to destroy America, which he sees as the main roadblock to the worldwide Islamic state.he wants to create.
Appearing on CNN March 26, Sen. Pat Roberts (R.Kan.) said, “I wonder a little bit about aiding the Kosovars. The people that were sitting down during the peace talks, and some of the people we’ve been dealing with-I’m on the Intelligence Committee as well-and they do have a connection with Osama Bin Laden, and some of the drug cartel financing is involved in that. I don’t think our position now is that we want independence for the Kosovars.”
Last August, a Jane’s publication said the CIA had traced support from Bin Laden’s terrorist organization, Al Qa’ida, to Muslims fighting the Serbs in Kosovo. “Al Qa’ida supports Muslim fighters in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Tajikistan, Somalia, Yemen and now Kosovo,” Jane’s quoted from what it described as a CIA briefing paper. “Terrorism is a key component of Al Qa’ida’s strategy, and Bin Laden cites Koranic references in an attempt to justify it.”
A U.S. official familiar with U.S. intelligence assessments, who spoke with HumAN EvENTS on condition of anonymity, played down the possibility of Bin Laden’s involvement with the UCK, but didn’t definitively close out the possibility. “His organization is known to be supportive of a number of Islamic and Muslim groups. Support for the KLA couldn’t be ruled out in some instances.” The official, however, was not aware of any specific evidence of Bib Laden’s involvement and said such a role was far from certain.
One indication of such involvement surfaced in August when the Fort Worth Star-Telegram obtained a communique sent from Bin Laden’s camp to his followers. It was signed by Sheik Abdullah Abu al-Farouq. Followers were told to “make a Jihad holy war for the cause of God and against the enemies of Islam and Muslims, and do not direct your weapons to your brother Muslims.” The document listed Kosovo as one of the many areas in which his forces were active.
Growing Number of Mujahideen
In November, the London Sunday Times reported that the growing number of foreign mujahideen turning up in Kosovo meant poor prospects for peace. “The Islamic fighters created havoc in the war in Bosnia, where they were regarded as a serious threat to Western peacekeeping troops, especially Americans,” the Sunday Times reported.
“American intelligence,” the Sunday Times said, “has raised the possibility of a link between Osama Bin Laden, the Saudi expatriate blamed for the bombing in August of U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, and the KLA. Several of Bin Laden’s supporters were arrested in Tirana, the Albanian capital, and deported this summer, and the chaotic conditions in the country have allowed Muslim extremists to settle there, often under the guise of humanitarian workers.”
Copyright Human Events Publishing, Inc. Apr 30, 1999
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