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The 2008 Kosovo War was a military conflict between the forces of Kosovo and the American-led Coalition on one side, and Serbia on the other. It resulted in the expulsion of Serbian forces from Kosovo.
Claiming that it was suffering from a series of provocations which NATO peacekeepers were not preventing, Serbia launched a massive military offensive to reconquer the territory, but was quickly driven out by a rapid American-led counterattack.
Situation in Kosovo
Kosovo, with a predominantly Muslim Albanian population was claimed by Serbia as its sovereign territory, and by Albanian Kosovars and the Republic of Albania as an independent state. Following a bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, the Serbs withdrew. Yugoslavia eventually fragmented into the independent states of Serbia and Montenegro. In June 2008, Kosovo declared independence. Albania, Western Europe, and the USA recognized it, while Serbia and its allies refused.
Shortly afterward, violent clashes broke out. Several attacks on ethnic Serbs took place after Kosovo's declaration of independence. All Serbian military, police, and paramilitary forces had been withdrawn, so Serbia was unable to defend, and due to the presence of NATO peacekeepers, could not respond.
Serbs in Kosovo attempted to assassinate President Hashim Thaci as retaliation, but the plan was uncovered and stopped, leading to more racist attacks such as looting and arson. The Serbs responded by attacking Kosovar Albanians. Civilian refugees began to flee to Serbia.
Throughout the following days, attacks by both sides intensified. Serbia complained to NATO, which called for a cease-fire. Several hours later, a parcel bomb addressed to the commander of the Kosovar Army exploded in his office, killing him and injuring several aides. This prompted a wave of pogroms and riots against the Serb minority. Thousands were forced from their homes or fled.
Serbia declared that ethnic Serbs in Kosovo were being "ethnically cleansed". The Serbian Army began massing along the border, warning that it would intervene if it persisted. NATO and the UN called for a cease-fire, and peacekeepers were deployed into the areas where fighting had taken place. The fighting temporarily ceased.
During the night, Serbia reported that attacks had resumed. Two UN observers claimed to have heard occaisional small-arms fire, and NATO officials confirmed that skirmishes were taking place, but nothing that amounted to a provocation. The Serbian government announced that it was launching a military operation.
On 8 August 2008, Serbia launched a military offensive code-named Operation Clear Field against Kosovo. Its stated objectives were to "restore order, permit return of refugees, and restoration of Serbia's territorial integrity". Serbia believed that Russia could prevent any NATO retaliation by vetoing Security Council Resolutions authorizing the use of force, or by threatening to fire its missiles at Eastern Europe. In secret meetings with Vladimir Putin, Russia promised that it would remain consistent in its support for Serbia.
The offensive began in the early morning hours, when Serbian artillery and rocket units opened up a massive artillery barrage against military and government targets in Kosovo. The Serbian Air Force launched airstrikes against key targets throughout the territory. The attacks caused high casualty rates. Many were politicians or members of the Kosovo Security Force.
After several hours of bombardment, Serbian armor and infantry entered Kosovo from the east. They were preceded by units of Serbian commandos, which ambushed Kosovar units as they raced forward to meet the advance. NATO peacekeepers resisted, but the Serbs replied by shelling their bases, killing ten and wounding 30.
The Kosovars fought the Serbs street-to-street in Pristina, but within a few hours, they had regained control. In a matter of hours, a Serbian armored thrust reached North Kosovo after meeting and crushing minimal resistance, and commandos were airlifted into the remaining Serbian enclaves. At the same time, air and artillery strikes destroyed Kosovar forces as they tried to regroup or advance through open ground. Additional Serbian forces were then deployed, which seized the rest of the Republic of Kosovo. They were met with a last-ditch defense by the last fragments of the Kosovo Security Force, which quickly buckled. Within almost a day of continuous combat, the Serbs had seized Kosovo, and were met with only occasional guerrilla attacks. Throughout the next few hours, the Serbs deployed additional units, including air defense batteries, into Kosovo.
In an official statement, NATO condemned Serbia's "flagrant violation of international agreements and treaties", and promised that "this brutal sneak attack shall not go without a response". It demanded the complete withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo, and threatened a response.
The United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Norway, and Denmark mobilized their forces. Albania put its armed forces on high alert, and agreed to let NATO forces pass through its territory into Kosovo. Throughout the next few hours, American airstrikes targeted Serbian forces in Kosovo and military targets in Serbia, and Serbian casualties were heavy. Serbian air defenses took their toll, shooting down an American AC-130 with the loss of 13 of its crew and the capture of the sole survivor, and also shot down an F-16, killing the pilot.
Throughout the following days, NATO airstrikes on Serbian targets in Kosovo increased from both land bases and carriers at sea. Serbia retaliated by firing a missile at the nearest U.S. base, killing a pilot, which prompted a retaliatory raid against the Army HQ in Belgrade. Serbian losses were very heavy, but attempts to take out the Serbian Air Force were met with determined resistance from Serb pilots, resulting in losses for both sides, though the Serbs lost far more.
NATO deployed ground units into Kosovo on 13 August, but the advance column ran into an ambush by Serbian commandos and took heavy losses, though all of the Serbs were killed. In the following few days, NATO succeeded in driving out Serb forces after several days of fierce combat which saw heavy losses for both sides. Cruise missiles were launched from ships and submarines, and airstrikes and artillery proved instrumental in the defeat of Serbia, especially against Serbian artillery. The bloodiest battle was at Pristina, where the street fighting was won after several days of fighting.
Retreating Serbian forces took almost all of their military equipment behind, but left several dozen small arms and 150 vehicles and artillery pieces behind. The Serbs also left most of their dead behind. Although NATO soldiers killed in combat were removed immediately, the retreating Serbs did not carry their dead comrades with them. Despite the stifling heat, Kosovars refused to bury the dead, and the Red Cross eventually gave them back to Serbia.
The incident prompted widescale economic sanctions against Serbia, and a break in its relations with the U.S.