Officer's tale of Kosovo incident underlines need for nonlethal-weapons options
December 22, 2002
Editor’s note: The following is a description of an incident outside of Gnjilane, the largest city in the U.S.-controlled sector of Kosovo. Excerpted from an e-mail sent by an officer whose troops were caught in the ugly situation, it is a graphic illustration of why the U.S. military is focusing on nonlethal options. The officer’s name and other identifying details have been omitted for privacy reasons.
Camp Monteith, KosovoApril 5, 2000
I need to give you a heads up on what has transpired in the last 24 hours.
First, you really need to take some extra time and train on civil disturbance operations and the employment of nonlethal munitions.
Yesterday started out as a regular day. We were just completing a joint search with B Company of two apartments, based on some intell we took from a curfew violator. On the way to the Gnjilane [military police] station, we got a call to stand up two squads plus my security squad to help out with a crowd in Cernica …
[Another MP squad subsequently searches a house in nearby Strpce and arrests a Serb for hiding grenades. The Serb is driven off to detention; the squad remains at the house waiting for the ordnance-disposal team to remove the grenades.]
Word got through the village that the guy had been taken, and the entire village went out into the street and erected a barricade. As the squad came out, they were pelted with rocks and debris.
[Two more squads were called in to help the troops trapped in the house. As the squads moved into the village, they ran into the first barricade. Villagers then moved in and erected another barricade on the road behind the two squads, trapping them in the middle. At this point, the writer is called to assist. He brings three new squads, part of a security team and two dogs on a helicopter to move in.]
I got on the flight believing that this was one of the typical crowds forming; that we would fly in and show force and we’d be out of there pretty quick.
Instead, it turned into a slugfest within two minutes of getting off the bird.
We landed … and had to link up with [the squads on the road]. As we were moved in, people were hitting us with sticks. … The road was too narrow and the people were all over, so we moved in single file until we got by the first barricade and got our people on line.
By the time of the linkup, I was punched in the face, hit with a stick and got into a wrestling match with a guy that was trying to attack the dog handler from behind. … As one of my security guys was trying to help me get untangled from this guy and the barbed-wire fence I ended up putting him into, another guy was just about to hit me with a huge tree limb.
Luckily, my other security guy … came out of nowhere and gave him a flying kick to the groin, saving the side of my head. …
As soon as we got to the linkup, we got everyone on line and pushed the crowd back. [The highest-ranking U.S. soldier on the scene] spoke with the village leaders and got everything calmed down. The problem was most of these guys had been drinking all day.
[To calm the crowd, the MPs brought the arrested Serb back into the village and let him speak to the town leaders, to prove the Serb was unharmed. But when the MPs turned the Serb back toward the helicopter to take him into custody, the crowd exploded again.]
At this point, we locked and loaded our nonlethal munitions. The crowd, upon seeing this, cleared the road and let our other squad hook up with us. I really thought that would be the end of it.
[He was wrong. The squads started moving to the landing zone where the helicopter is supposed to pick up the Serb, who is already there, guarded by five U.S. soldiers. The crowd, which is moving with the squads, then spotted the arrested Serb.]
About 50 people ran for the subject, and the rest of the village — several hundred [people] — moved up the hill and started throwing rocks, tree limbs, firewood and everything else they could get their hands on.
After getting hit in the head by a large rock and getting smashed across the back with a tree limb, I gave the order for the soldiers to open fire with nonlethal munitions.
This worked pretty well, clearing the crowd back initially.
As we continued to fight and move with the people on the hill, I looked over to the [landing zone] and saw a mob swarming toward the subject and the five soldiers. … They had people around them throwing everything. I grabbed 10 guys and went to help. … I got about 15 [yards] away [from one soldier] and saw him get smashed in the head with a huge tree limb that actually broke on his head. He was fine; thank God for Kevlar.
At this point, I took out my 9 mm [M9, the standard-issue semi-automatic pistol] with the intent of shooting the guy. However, as I was getting my 9 mm out, a medic … already had his 9 mm out and he fired several warning shots. The [rioting Serbs] cleared out.
We then reformed everyone, got our injured [evacuated] and began the long march out of the villages. …
Seven hours after it began, it was all over. I had one [soldier] that required five stitches, and a soldier with a Class 2 [semi-serious] ankle injury. There were many other cuts and bruises. …
Needless to say, civil disturbance and nonlethal weapons employment [training] are a must.