New York's Kosovo Kingpin

Outspoken Ex­Westchester Congressman Heads U.S. Ethnic Albanian Lobby

According to a veteran U.S. intelligence officer with experience in revolutionary operations, despite the leadership of some ex­ Yugoslav army generals, the KLA still has to prove itself as a truly effective guerrilla fighting force. Unlike the Afghan muhjahedeen, he says, who engaged an invading army, the KLA has done little more than attack police units, and its track record in seizing territory isn't inspiring. As Zoran Kusovac notes in the current issue of Jane's Intelligence Review, when the KLA tried to seize the town of Orahovac last summer, it "display[ed] a tactical incompetence and a lack of proper command and fighting discipline." Indeed, says Kusovac, the Serb forces' main allies last summer were "incompetent [and] often competing KLA commanders" who failed to utilize simple flanking maneuvers or exploit the element of surprise. To the KLA's credit, it has improved its officer training and its command and communication structure, and "there are signs that the necessary tactical knowledge is filtering through" to volunteers. But the fact remains, writes Kusovac, that "the KLA has not yet learned to fully exploit its mobility and is completely untrained and unskilled in the tactical use of weapons."

DioGuardi, however, brushes off concerns about training, saying matériel is the real issue. In the ongoing propaganda war between Serbs and Kosovars, this is exactly the kind of statement that lends itself to twisted interpretation. Despite DioGuardi's insistence that the KLA is acting without outside Islamist support for fear of alienating the West, a staple of Serb propaganda is that the KLA is a tool of Muslim terrorist fanatics hell-bent on establishing an Islamist foothold in central Europe, with Iranians and other Muslim mercenaries backing it with arms, troops, and training.

There have been plausible reports that some non-Albanian Muslims are fighting with the KLA. If they are, however, they don't seem to be seasoned military instructors nor do they seem to be bringing necessary weaponry with them; Kusovac reports that the KLA is severely hampered by an absence of heavy artillery. ("One would think they'd have done better if they were getting all this help," says one Pentagon official.)

Joseph DioGuardi: Arm the KLA.
Joseph DioGuardi: Arm the KLA.

And not only has the open-source intelligence group Stratfor persuasively reported that the Iranians are split over what to do about Kosovo, but as an unnamed diplomat told The New York Times, the KLA's ideologies apparently are as conflicted as its command structure. "We really don't know what they are," the diplomat said. "There is an Islamic component, a left-wing component, and there are those who are just guerrillas."

While reports have appeared in the Times of London and elsewhere linking members of the Albanian Mafia to the KLA, as Stacy Sullivan demonstrated in her examination of the group in the November 22, 1998, New York Times Magazine, a substantial amount of the KLA's money comes from the worldwide Albananian diaspora. (In one unforgettable scene, she witnessed Albanians from Alaska arriving in the remote village of Bajram Curri "with a briefcase of cash they raised among Alaska's 300-strong Albanian community.") Indeed, New York is a KLA cash cow. "The KLA keeps getting more money," says DioGuardi, noting that contributions from New York's Albanian community have run into the millions. "Albanians work hard, work together, and are good at raising capital," he adds, noting that recently $385,000 was collected in in one night in Dallas.

While it's too early to say just how the proposal to arm the KLA will fare in Congress, the administration seems at best lukewarm to the idea. As Tomas Valasek of the Center for Defense Information observes, arming the KLA to fight for independence could lay the groundwork for another Balkan conflict as it might inspire Albanians in Macedonia and Montenegro to take up the standard of a new "Greater Albania."

"It would be opening a Pandora's box, not just for the region, but for the world," says Valasek. "It would set a terrible example— if you're an ethnic group, all you need to do is take up arms, start a rebellion, get the U.S. and world opinion on your side, and you're free, even though you may take heavy casualties."

Research: Ginger Adams Otis

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