The espaliered fruit trees of northern Italy are blooming without Gen. Dan Leaf. As wing commander of NATO's air forces in the bombing campaign against Serbia, Gen. Leaf saw winter turn to spring then summer at Aviano Air Base in the foot of the Alps one year ago. Last week he was far, far from any flight line, testifying before Congress on the capability of unmanned aerial vehicles and other exotic weaponry.
In January Gen. Leaf's tour of duty in Italy ended, and he took up a desk job at the Pentagon. "I miss the green bag," he said, referring to the flight suit that was daily attire during Operation Allied Force. NATO's three-month, round-the-clock bombing campaign, which began just over a year ago, was run mostly out of Aviano and under Gen. Leaf's command. His service uniform, now everyday wear in Washington, is weighed down with a few more decorations: Gen. Leaf was awarded a second Legion of Merit-unusual for a one-star general-along with a Defense Superior Service Medal following his most recent combat duty. ("I would categorize them as routine," he said.)
One year after its commencement, NATO's victory over Kosovo remains understated if not controversial. For those who conducted the air campaign, the results were unambiguous. In Gen. Leaf's case, everyone under his command returned home. Thousands of hours of bombing missions and over 700 surface-to-air missile shootings from Serbs did not lead to a single combat casualty (two airmen from Aviano were killed off base in a car accident). Most importantly, Serb forces in Kosovo surrendered June 9.
"They were defiant but they were leaving," Gen. Leaf recalled. "In the military sense, that was the measure of merit." Serb-based ethnic cleansing in Kosovo was over, he says, even though a military win "did not end all the problems in that poor land. Now they have to do something with the opportunity we gave them."
From the Pentagon to Pristina, questions remain about the NATO campaign. Human-rights groups charge the Pentagon with underreporting the number of civilian deaths associated with the bombing campaign. One report said as many as 150 civilians died in various incidents involving the use of cluster bombs. It said 500 civilians were confirmed killed in NATO raids, according to Human Rights Watch. The Pentagon sets the number of civilian casualties at about half that figure, while the Yugoslav government still puts the number of civilian casualties at 5,000.
Human-rights groups and other observers also accuse NATO (and by implication U.S. military brass directing the operation) of turning numbers into propaganda in order to justify entering the Kosovo conflict. At the outset of the campaign last year, NATO spokesmen said they estimated that as many as 100,000 Kosovars had been ethnically cleansed by Serb forces. At a June 25 press conference after the war, President Clinton said "tens of thousands" of Kosovar Albanians had been killed on orders of Mr. Milosevic. Forensics experts who entered the province at the end of the war, however, found far fewer confirmed cases of atrocities. Mass graves reported to contain hundreds of bodies were found to contain fewer than a dozen. The international team, composed of forensic specialists from the FBI and 13 other nations, announced late last year that they had exhumed 2,108 corpses. Not all were confirmed to be ethnic Albanians killed by Serbs. Work for the team will resume this month.
Humanitarian workers in general had very "mixed" feelings about the war, admitted Bob Johnson, dean of the Albanian Bible Institute and 25-year veteran of European missionary activity. When nighttime NATO bombing raids on Serbia began a year ago, the fighter jets from Aviano flew directly over Durrës, Albania, where Mr. Johnson and others already had been receiving Kosovo Albanian refugees.
Refugees began coming into Durrës, a major port and Albania's second largest city, up to six months prior to the NATO campaign. The city was trying to absorb up to 100,000 refugees even before the bombing raids began. The Albanian Bible Institute, together with the churches that supplied it with students, agreed to close the school temporarily and use its resources to serve refugees. A bread factory became a refugee center, and students and faculty transported mattresses and other necessities from the school. They also trucked in three meals a day to the hundreds of Kosovo refugees who began filling the center.
Unlike many other ethnic conflicts, including war in nearby Bosnia, the Kosovo refugees went home when the war ended. UN officials report that over 850,000 of up to 1 million refugees have returned to Kosovo. Many face the daunting task of rebuilding homes and villages, and quieting Serb-Albanian tensions. But Mr. Johnson said it could have been much worse.
Without NATO clearing the way for ethnic Albanians to return, Mr. Johnson said, "Eventually we would have had 2 million refugees living in poor countries like Albania or Macedonia. It would have been worse than Palestinian camps, and they would have been radicalized."
Instead, many church leaders from Albania and workers like Mr. Johnson took help into Kosovo along with the returning refugees. With their assistance, life is returning to some semblance of peace in parts of the region. Nearly 70,000 tons of wheat were harvested last fall-a start to rebuilding Kosovo's largely agrarian economy. Hospitals are being replenished. Stores are reopening. Mr. Johnson and his wife will take up permanent residence in Kosovo later this month, working with USAID to rebuild homes and building a retreat center they hope will one day include a Bible school.
Because some Serbs committed atrocities against the Kosovo Albanians, who are Muslims, in the name of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Mr. Johnson said it was important to minister not by preaching, "but by many acts of love and kindness" at first. The ethnic Albanians "would react to the sign of the cross as Jews would react to a swastika," he said. That has changed. Church workers say Kosovo had no more than five Protestant churches prior to the war; now there are at least 40 church plants. The refugee crisis, ironically, opened up the very provincial and traditionally Muslim region to the Christian gospel. In the last year 75 mission agencies have formed a partnership, the Evangelical League of Kosovo, to work with the young Christian community to further the growth of churches and humanitarian ministries among Kosovars.
Consistent among the returning Kosovars is a desire to be independent from Yugoslavia and its Serbian president, Mr. Milosevic. And that is the heart of the challenge for NATO's peacekeeping mission, known as KFOR. More than 37,000 troops (including 6,000 from the United States) have been unable to stop reverse ethnic cleansing in contested parts of Kosovo. Ethnic Albanians, led by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), made a commitment to a political solution and ceded control of rebel areas to KFOR. Recent violence in the northern city of Mitrovica, including a grenade attack that wounded 17 KFOR troops, reveals elements of the KLA are still armed and committed to ridding Kosovo of its Serb minority. In February, KFOR's commander, Gen. Klaus Reinhardt, complained, "When NATO came into Kosovo we were only supposed to fight the Yugoslav army if they came back uninvited. Now we're finding we have to fight the Albanians."
Craig Nation, a military studies professor at the U.S. Army War College who specializes in Kosovo, said maintaining peace will be harder than winning the war. "The good news is that events a year ago really held promise of being open-ended, low- or medium-intensive conflict. That cycle has been broken," he said. "The bad news is that ethnic conflict has not gone away." Creating a multicultural Kosovo with explicit autonomy inside Yugoslavia is, in many ways, as elusive as ever.
"We achieved military ends in Kosovo but not our larger political ends. We still risk failure on those. If we want to achieve them, it will take a different kind of commitment and a longer-term commitment," Mr. Nation said. "It is a lot harder to sell that than to sell a military response to atrocities like we did a year ago."