Kosovo is a southern province of Yugoslavia bordering on Albania. Although, by 1998, the population was no more than about 10 per cent Serbian, Kosovo, the region where the Battle of the Field of Blackbirds took place in 1389, is as fundamental to soul of the Serb nation as the Wailing Wall is to the Jews. A serious independence movement had been smouldering among the Albanian population of Kosovo since the 1970s when the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was formed. Until 1989, Kosovo had enjoyed sufficient autonomy to likely satisfy the United Nations Charter's right to self-determination. During that year, President Milosevic placed Kosovo under direct rule of the Yugoslav government in Belgrade. Subsequently, Albanians were gradually replaced in key positions in institutions essential to Kosovar society: hospitals, schools, universities, local governments, etc. This process gave increasing legitimacy and support to the independence movement that, although receiving little international attention during the Bosnian Civil War, continued to fester throughout the 1990s. The removal of Kosovar autonomy also provided the legal justification for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) intervention in 1999.
Nonetheless, NATO countries were reluctant to become involved in Kosovo. For example, the Kosovo Liberation Army had a notorious reputation throughout Europe for its ruthless thuggery and heavy involvement in organized crime activities such as drug distribution and prostitution. Furthermore, just about every European country has ethnic factions pushing for independence. Eventually, however, the Serb actions were so extreme that intervention was the only option.
In 1998, a peaceful protest movement attempted to regain Kosovar independence from Yugoslavia (Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo). When the protest movement failed, civil war followed. Kosovar guerrillas attacked Serbian police and officials, and the Serbian police responded with massacres of entire villages.
NATO and Russian diplomatic pressure eventually brought about a ceasefire in October 1998 but not before an estimated 300,000 Kosovars had been displaced. A force of some 500 unarmed European Union observers was deployed to supervise the truce. Despite the temporary ceasefire, violence between ethnic Albanians and Serbian forces worsened markedly in January 1999. The Milosevic regime used the period of ceasefire to buy time to prepare a very thorough plan of total "ethnic cleansing." The monitors were withdrawn, and the Yugoslav forces -- police, army, and paramilitary irregular units -- immediately launched their campaign against the Kosovar Albanians.
NATO aircraft began a bombing campaign against Serb forces in Kosovo and military targets in Yugoslavia. The planes flew from bases in Aviano, Italy. The Canadian fighter force consisted of 12 CF-18 fighters, which flew 10 per cent of the NATO bombing missions over Yugoslavia. In order to undertake these missions, the CF-18s had been equipped to carry "smart," laser-guided munitions, but the rest of their equipment was often woefully outdated. For example, their radios lacked anti-jamming capability, a deficiency that forced other NATO aircraft to use a single frequency that the enemy could jam. After 64 days of relentless bombing and after being informed by the Russians that NATO was about to intervene with ground troops, Yugoslavia capitulated.
President Milosevic ordered the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo. NATO organized the Kosovo Force (KFOR) to supervise the peaceful resettlement of refugees and maintain peace between Muslim and Serbian Kosovars. As part of the price to get Russian backing for the operation, it operates under a UN mandate, albeit with very heavy NATO oversight. On the other hand, the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, IFOR, is strictly a NATO operation. KFORs primary objective has been to protect the minority Serb population from their Kosovar neighbours who are now using every means possible to ethnically cleanse the Serbs from their midst.
KFOR initially contained a Canadian battle group built around the 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and a squadron of the Lord Strathcona's Horse, equipped with the new Coyote armoured reconnaissance vehicles, that also included a troop of five Leopard tanks. The Coyotes, with their state of the art surveillance equipment, proved invaluable for their ability to monitor movements of partisans. They have been requested for international deployment on several occasions since. Following a rationalization of NATO deployments in Kosovo and Bosnia, Canada now provides troops only to Bosnia.