BELGRADE – On this day 17 years ago, so-called “Kosovo Liberation Army” (KLA/UCK) forces, the Albanian army and NATO forces attacked the area of the outpost Koshare on the border between FR Yugoslavia and Albania.
The attack was fierce, and has surprised the Yugoslav army. KLA took the Kosare outpost, but failed to penetrate deeper into Kosovo and Metohija, which was the main goal of the attack.
At that moment on the front were a little less than 200 members of the border units of the Yugoslav Army. Due to fierce attacks from the air by NATO aviation, but also KLA’s diversions, reinforcement could not have arrived immediately.
Assessment of the Yugoslav military leadership was that the main ground attack would likely be from Macedonia, where about 16,000 NATO troops were stationed. There was no assumption that the main attack will be on the Kosare outpost from Albania. At that time, NATO had 12,000 soldiers, 30 tanks and 26 “Apache” helicopters in Albania.
On the Orthodox Good Friday, April 9 1999, at three o’clock in the morning began mass artillery fire from the Albanian side on the Kosare outpost: cannons, howitzers and mortars, with the participation of the French Foreign Legion. The attacks went in three directions: Rasa Kosares, Maja Glava and outpost Koshare.
Around 1500 KLA members attacked the outpost Koshare with the support of Albanian artillery, NATO aviation and NATO special units. On the border and around it there were only 200 members of the Yugoslav Army, according to the official statistics of Yugoslav Army (VJ). VJ could not persevere in such a violent and massive attack of the KLA, NATO and the French Foreign Legion and at about 19h, KLA terrorists had overrun outpost Koshare. The area of the outpost was commanded by terrorists Agim Ramadani, who was killed, Selim Djekaj and Ramush Haradinaj.
After the fall of the outpost, VJ reinforcements arrived. Several hundred members of the Yugoslav Army from the infantry and special units arrived to defend the border, and front line stabilized on April 19th. Until the end of the war there were no major shifts on the front line.
Yugoslav Army found that the artillery and mortars on the Albanian side had very precise instructions from the people who spoke Italian and French. Their scouts were in Italian, French, Turkish, British uniforms and there were also members of BiH Army.
Retired Colonel Vidoje Kovačević, during the war the Chief of Staff of the 63rd Parachute Brigade, directly participated in the combat operations in Kosare. Kovačević says that he personally saw two killed black men who fought on the side of KLA.
“They were in camouflage uniforms, the sleeves had French labels,” Kovačević said.
At the height of fighting the Yugoslav Army had about 1,200 troops and the KLA, with volunteers and Albanian units, about five to six thousand troops. KLA forces waged war in shifts, while the VJ did not have time to rest.
Great concentration of forces in Koshare cost KLA dearly, as their forces had to leave many positions because it was established that many parts of the border on the Albanian side were almost defenseless.
The awareness that, if the front line in Koshare falls, much more serious clashes with KLA and NATO will follow, with uncertain ending, held the morale high among VJ members. VJ often carried out the attacks in the freezing rain, cold, fog and snow with depth of one meter and defended every position to the last minute – which additionally decreased morale of the enemy units.
The goal of the KLA, NATO and Albanian army was to penetrate Metohija and to force VJ forces, which were well masked and hidden at the time, to open battle in which they would have the technological advantage of NATO airstrikes.
The territory of Serbia that the aggressor was able to conquer was only four kilometers wide and several hundred meters in depth.
Because of the constant tapping, a reserve VJ officer recalled American Navaho Indians in World War II, and engaged two Roma, members of the VJ, to guide Yugoslav artillery and mortars in their language via radio, so NATO and KLA could not figure out what was it about, as they did not understand the Roma language.
The majority of the VJ border units in Koshare before the battle consisted of soldiers of the regular military service, who served the army from March 1998 and were mostly 19-20 years of age.
In the battle for Koshare in the ranks of the Yugoslav army was a large number of volunteers from the country and abroad. In addition to Russians – Cossacks of airborne troops, in the ranks of volunteers were people from other European countries – so-called “international unit” of about 30 people was consisted of people from the Western part of Ukraine, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and one Irishman and a Scotsman from the Great Britain.
War Commander of 125 Motorized Brigade, retired Major-General Dragan Zivanovic says that at the Yugoslav – Albanian border on the Koshare region, 108 people were killed, including 18 officers and non-commissioned officers, 53 soldiers in regular military service, 13 conscripts and 24 volunteers of the Army of Yugoslavia.
The KLA had more than 200 dead and 300 wounded, and five Albanian tanks were destroyed. Three foreign citizens who were on the side and in the ranks of KLA and two from the NATO ranks were killed: French Arnord Pierre (1971) and Italian Francesco Giuseppe Bider (1961), as well as an Algerian volunteer in the ranks of the KLA Murad Muhammad Ali.
Battle of Koshare was officially over on June 14 1999, when the Yugoslav Army, on the basis of the Kumanovo agreement with KFOR, withdrew from Koshare. The withdrawal, in contrast to the other parts of Kosovo, passed without incidents, and the enemies watched each other quietly.