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Context of 'March 24, 1999: NATO Begins Bombing Serbia in Dispute Over Kosovo'

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Morton Abramowitz writes a column in the Wall Street Journal calling for a drastic change in US policy toward Kosovo. Abramowitz is highly influential with the US foreign policy elite (see 1991-1997). He argues that the US should support full independence for Kosovo and outlines options the US should consider including bombing Serbia, removing Milosevic, arming and training the KLA, and turning Kosovo into a NATO protectorate through the use of ground forces. [American Spectator, 6/1999]

Entity Tags: Morton I. Abramowitz, Slobodan Milosevic, Kosovo Liberation Army

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The six-nation “Contact Group,” comprised of delegations from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia, meets in London to discuss a resolution to the Kosovo conflict. At the conclusion of the conference, they issue an ultimatum to the Yugoslavian government and Kosovar Albanians, requiring them to attend peace talks in Rambouillet, France beginning on February 6 (see February 6-23, 1999). [Press Association (London), 1/29/1999; BBC, 1/30/1999] However, It appears only the KLA is invited to speak on behalf of the Kosovar Albanians, not Ibrahim Rugova—the only democratically elected leader of Kosovo—or any other member of the Kosovo Democratic League. “Western diplomats have described Rugova as increasingly irrelevant, while the key players in Kosovo are now the rebels of the KLA,” the BBC reports. [BBC, 1/31/1999]

Entity Tags: Kosovo Liberation Army, Ibrahim Rugova

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) says it will send representatives to the peace talks in Rambouillet, France on February 6 (see February 6-23, 1999). Representing the KLA, will be Supreme Commander Hashim Thaci, also known as “The Snake,” and four other Kosovars, all militants. [BBC, 2/3/1999] On Febuary 4, the Yugoslav government (essentially Serbia) agrees to join the peace talks. [US Information Agency, 4/13/1999]

Entity Tags: Hashim Thaci, Kosovo Liberation Army

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Kosovar Albanian Struggle

In Rambouillet, France, the Kosovo peace talks are held between the Kosovar Albanians and the Serbs under the auspices of the “Contact Group,” which is comprised of delegations from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia. [Guardian, 2/15/1999; New York Times, 4/1/1999; CNN, 4/6/1999] Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrives in Rambouillet during the latter half of the talks and brings both sides together for the first time. The Guardian reports that she has “‘abrupt’ and largely one-sided exchanges with the Serbian president, Milan Milutinovic,” and declares “that the threat of NATO attacks ‘remains real.’” The British, on the other hand, apparently disagree with Albright, believing that the use of force is not necessary. The Russians strongly oppose any military action. [Guardian, 2/15/1999; Guardian, 2/24/1999] Albright also works closely with the Kosovar Albanians, who are being advised by Americans Morton Abramowitz, Marshall Harris, and Paul Williams. [Christian Science Monitor, 2/10/1999] Albright offers the Albanians “incentives intended to show that Washington is a friend of Kosovo,” the New York Times reports. “Officers in the Kosovo Liberation Army would… be sent to the United States for training in transforming themselves from a guerrilla group into a police force or a political entity.” [New York Times, 2/24/1999] Madeleine Albright shakes hands with “freedom fighter” 20-year-old Hashim Thaci, a leader of the KLA [Wall Street Journal (Europe), 11/1/2001] who had previously been labeled a terrorist leader by the US. [Chicago Tribune, 7/11/2004] Toward the end of the conference, the Contact Group provides the two parties with a final draft of the Rambouillet Accords. The Kosovars have a number of issues with the document, especially a provision that would require them to disarm. Another problem is that the proposed accords would not require a referendum on the independence of Kosovo. Notwithstanding these reservations, the Kosovars do not reject the document outright. Rather they say they will accept the agreement after holding “technical consultations” back in Kosovo. The Serbs also refuse to sign the accords because it would give NATO almost complete control of the Yugoslavia. [Guardian, 2/24/1999] Article 8 of Appendix B, titled “Status of Multi-National Military Implementation Force,” states: “NATO personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY [Federal Republic of Yugoslavia] including associated airspace and territorial waters. This shall include, but not be limited to, the right of bivouac, maneuver, billet, and utilization of any areas or facilities as required for support, training, and operations.” Article 6 would grant NATO troops operating in Yugoslavia immunity from prosecution, and Article 10 would allow NATO to have cost-free access to all streets, airports, and ports. [Rambouillet Accords: Interim Agreement for Peace and Self-Government in Kosovo, 2/23/1999] As the German newspaper Berliner Zeitung notes, “This passage sounds like a surrender treaty following a war that was lost… The fact that Yugoslavian President Milosevic did not want to sign such a paper is understandable.” [Chicago Tribune, 7/11/2004] With neither party agreeing to sign the accords, the talks end with plans to reconvene on March 15 (see March 15, 1999). [Guardian, 2/24/1999]

Entity Tags: Morton I. Abramowitz, Kosovo Liberation Army, Marshall Harris, Paul Williams, Hashim Thaci, Madeleine Albright, Milan Milutinovic

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Kosovar Albanian Struggle

The Kosovo Liberation Army agrees to the provisions of the Rambouillet Accords proposed during last month’s peace talks in Rambouillet (see February 6-23, 1999). [Guardian, 3/16/1999]

Entity Tags: Kosovo Liberation Army

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Kosovar Albanian Struggle

March 19, 1999: Kosovo Peace Talks Fail

The Kosovo peace talks end in failure with the Yugoslav government refusing to agree to Appendix B of the Rambouillet Accords (see February 6-23, 1999), which would require the Serbs to provide 28,000 NATO troops “unimpeded” access to the country. [Guardian, 3/16/1999]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Complete 911 Timeline, Complete 911 Timeline

NATO launches a bombing campaign on Serbia in an attempt to force Serbian troops to withdraw from Kosovo. Kosovo is part of Serbia, but 90% ethnically Albanian and agitating for autonomy or independence. The air campaign begins just days after the collapse of peace talks (see March 19, 1999). [Washington Post, 9/19/1999] US General Wesley Clark leads the bombing campaign. [BBC, 12/25/2003]

Entity Tags: North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Wesley Clark

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

An unnamed European intelligence agency secretly reports that al-Qaeda has provided financial support for the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Documents found on a KLA militant further reveal that he has been smuggling combatants into Kosovo, mostly Saudis with Albanian passports. The report further notes that the KLA is largely financed by drug trafficking, bringing drugs from Afghanistan into Europe with the blessing of the Taliban. [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 71-72]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Kosovo Liberation Army

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Kosovar Albanian Struggle

The US-led NATO alliance begins bombing Serbia in March, pressuring it to withdraw from Kosovo, which is part of Serbia but ethnically dominated by Albanians (see March 24, 1999). During the war, the US publicly denies working with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the dominant political group in Kosovo. However, it will later be revealed that the CIA works closely with the KLA, starting at least from late April 1999. At that time, the CIA and US Special Forces troops begin working with the KLA to defeat the Serbians. The KLA passes on useful information about Serbian positions, allowing NATO forces to bomb them. But since the KLA has a reputation for drug running, civilian atrocities, and links to al-Qaeda, the US military generally uses the Albanian army as an intermediary. KLA representatives meet daily with Albanian military officers in Albania, but CIA and US Army officers are usually present as well. In addition, there is a secret NATO operations center in the town of Kukes, Albania, near the border with Kosovo. Most of the KLA liaison work takes place there. US officials begin considering using the KLA as a light-infantry force if NATO needs to invade Kosovo with ground troops. But the war ends in June 1999 before that becomes necessary (see June 9, 1999). [Washington Post, 9/19/1999] The same month that the CIA begins working closely with the KLA, a European intelligence report indicates the KLA is being funded by al-Qaeda and drugs from Afghanistan (see April 1999).

Entity Tags: Kosovo Liberation Army, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, US Special Forces, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Kosovar Albanian Struggle

On June 9, 1999, NATO has been bombing Serbia for 78 days (see March 24, 1999). Serbian ruler Slobodan Milosevic capitulates, agreeing to withdraw Serbian forces from Kosovo. Kosovo technically remains part of Serbia (which is still called Yugoslavia) but it is essentially taken over by NATO. Within months, nearly 50,000 NATO peacekeeping troops occupy Kosovo, and the United Nations takes over its administration. [Washington Post, 9/19/1999]

Entity Tags: North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Slobodan Milosevic

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Commander of NATO, says on television, “This is clearly a coordinated effort. It hasn’t been announced that it’s over.… Only one group has this kind of ability and that is Osama bin Laden’s.” [Ottawa Citizen, 9/11/2001]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Wesley Clark

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Senior Bush administration officials meet in secret together with Afghanistan experts from NATO and the United Nations to brief advisers from the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. The meetings take place over two days and are held at an exclusive Washington club a few blocks from the White House. The briefing is part of an effort by the departing Bush administration to smooth the transition to the next team, according to a New York Times report. At the meetings, Bush administration officials reportedly press the need for the incoming president to have a plan for Afghanistan ready before taking office. The sessions are unclassified, but the participants agree not to discuss the content of the briefings or discussions publicly. Some participants, however, will later disclose some meeting details to the Times. Among issues reportedly discussed are:
bullet Troop increases;
bullet Negotiating with the Taliban; and
bullet Expanding the war in Pakistan.
The meetings are organized by New York University professor Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan. Participants include John K. Wood, the senior Afghanistan director at the National Security Council; Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, a former American commander in Afghanistan who will later become the next US ambassador to Afghanistan (see April 29, 2009); and Kai Eide, the United Nations representative in Afghanistan. The Obama campaign sends Jonah Blank, a foreign policy specialist for Senator Joe Biden, and Craig Mullaney, an Afghanistan adviser to Obama. The McCain campaign is represented by Lisa Curtis and Kori Schake, two former State Department officials. The New York Times suggests that the briefing on Afghanistan and Pakistan appears to have been the most extensive that Bush administration officials have provided on any issue to both presidential campaigns. It further notes that both Obama and McCain have promised to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 10/30/2008]

Entity Tags: Karl Eikenberry, John McCain, John K. Wood, Craig Mullaney, Bush administration (43), Barnett Rubin, Barack Obama, Jonah Blank, Kai Eide, Lisa Curtis, United Nations, Kori Schake, Joseph Biden, North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

For the first time in 30 years, an Iranian diplomat meets for informal discussions with officials from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Senior NATO negotiator Martin Erdmann will later confirm that he has met with Iran’s ambassador to the European Union, Ali-Asghar Khaji. “This is another good step in engaging Iran in the international community,” Erdmann will say. NATO will confirm the discussion, and will say the main focus of the talks is the situation in Afghanistan. Iran will confirm its planned participation in US-backed talks on Afghanistan to take place at The Hague. NATO spokesman James Appathurai will say of Iran’s participation in those talks, “The fact that Iran has decided to go is good news and constitutes a new step.” The US State Department will welcome Iran’s contacts with NATO. The Iranian contact follows a recent message sent by President Obama to the government and people of Iran (see March 19, 2009). [BBC, 3/27/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Ali-Asghar Khaji, James Appathurai, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Martin Erdmann

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

President Barack Obama releases a video message directed at Iran. The White House sends the message to commemorate the Iranian holiday of Nowruz, or “New Day,” the Iranian New Year. Obama begins by lauding the history and culture of the Iranian people. He acknowledges that the US and Iran continue to have strained and difficult relations, but says, “[A]t this holiday we are reminded of the common humanity that binds us together.” Obama promises that the US will work to build a strong relationship through honest, respectful diplomacy. To Iran’s governmental leaders, he says: “You, too, have a choice. The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right—but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.” He concludes by quoting a famous Iranian poet and giving holiday greetings in Farsi: “I know that this won’t be reached easily. There are those who insist that we be defined by our differences. But let us remember the words that were written by the poet Saadi, so many years ago: ‘The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created of one essence.’ With the coming of a new season, we’re reminded of this precious humanity that we all share. And we can once again call upon this spirit as we seek the promise of a new beginning. Thank you, and Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak [Happy New Year].” [White House, 3/19/2009; White House, 3/19/2009; Washington Post, 3/20/2009]
'Groundbreaking' Message May Force Iranian Hardliners to Give Ground - Reaction to the message is mixed. The New York Times calls the message “groundbreaking,” and notes that Obama’s use of the proper name of the country—“The Islamic Republic of Iran”—acknowledges the nation’s theological governance in a respectful manner not done by members of the Bush administration and, the Washington Post observes, “signaling an apparent break from President George W. Bush’s unstated promotion of a change of leadership.” Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, says of the message: “That wording is designed to demonstrate acceptance of the government of Iran. The message is dripping with sincerity and directly addresses one of the things they are most concerned about.” Iranian officials acknowledge the message, but say that Obama’s actions must live up to his words, and past grievances, such as the US 1988 downing of an Iranian airliner, must be redressed. A senior government official, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, says: “This cannot only be done by us, we cannot simply forget what the US did to our nation. They need to perceive what wrong orientation they had and make serious efforts to make up for it.” A former Iranian ambassador to France, Sadegh Kharrazi, says: “Obama had no practical suggestion that we can work with. This is a lost opportunity.” But Iranian-American expert Karim Sadjadpour says that Obama’s message will force the Iranian government to, in the words of the Times, “put up or shut up on prospects for better relations with the United States.” Sadjadpour says: “What this message does is, it puts the hard-liners in a difficult position, because where the Bush administration united disparate Iranian political leaders against a common threat, what Obama is doing is accentuating the cleavages in Iran. It makes the hard-liners look increasingly like they are the impediment.” [New York Times, 3/20/2009; Washington Post, 3/20/2009]
Neoconservative: Obama 'Kowtowing' to Iranian Government - Neoconservative William Kristol deplores the message, calling it little more than a “message of weakness” and criticizing Obama for not calling on the Iranian government to emphasize “liberty,” “freedom,” “democracy,” and “human rights.” Kristol writes, “[W]hat’s distinctive about Obama’s statement is his respect for the ‘leaders,’ the clerical dictatorship,” to whom Obama is “kowtowing.” Kristol deplores Obama’s failure to echo the Bush administration’s call for regime change in Iran, and criticizes Obama’s failure to call for an end to Iran’s nuclear program. “Obama doesn’t believe in threats,” Kristol writes. “He believes that we should speak nicely to our enemies, and carry no stick.” [Weekly Standard, 3/30/2009]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, Barack Obama, Martin Indyk, William Kristol, Karim Sadjadpour, Washington Post, Sadegh Kharrazi, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

US presidential envoy Richard Holbrooke meets briefly and informally with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Mehdi Akhondzadeh. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representatative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Akhondzadeh are participants in a major international conference at The Hague convened to discuss the problem of Afghanistan. The two talk briefly during a lunch break. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will say of the meeting: “It was cordial, unplanned, and they agreed to stay in touch. I myself did not have any direct contact with the Iranian delegation.” Clinton says the US has asked the Iranian delegation to intercede in the cases of two American citizens being detained in Iran and a third who is missing. The New York Times calls the two contacts “another step in the Obama administration’s policy of engagement… a tentative process, in which the White House makes symbolic gestures, like President Obama’s recent video greeting to the Iranian people and government for their New Year (see March 19, 2009), while continuing to formulate its longer-term strategy.” Some experts believe that the meeting between Holbrooke and Akhondzadeh is not entirely fortuitous, but is the product of some planning. In the conference, Akhondzadeh says Iran will help reconstruction in Afghanistan as well as take part in efforts to curb the exploding Afghan drug trade. “The fact that they came today, that they intervened today, is a promising sign that there will be future cooperation,” Clinton says. “The Iranian representative set forth some very clear ideas that we will all be pursuing together.” The US and Iran have mutual interests in curbing Afghanistan’s drug trade, Clinton says: “The questions of border security, and in particular the transit of narcotics across the border from Afghanistan to Iran is a worry that the Iranians have, which we share.” [New York Times, 3/31/2009]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Mehdi Akhondzadeh, Hillary Clinton, Obama administration, Richard Holbrooke

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Newly retired Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, the former top commander of US forces in Afghanistan, is sworn in as the new US ambassador to Kabul. Prior to his appointment, Eikenberry served as the deputy chairman of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium. In a rare move, Eikenberry retired from the Army the day before he is sworn in as ambassador by Hillary Clinton at the State Department. [American Forces Press Service, 4/28/2009; Associated Press, 4/28/2009] Shortly before President Obama’s nomination of Eikenberry was made public, the New York Times noted that the decision to send an about-to-retire career Army officer to fill one of the country’s most sensitive diplomatic jobs was “a highly unusual choice,” raising concerns among critics of the war that the Pentagon has too much influence over American foreign policy. [New York Times, 1/29/2009]

Entity Tags: Karl Eikenberry, Hillary Clinton, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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