20 years on – back in Skopje on the 20th anniversary of K-Day

18 June 2019 / Categories: DA News and Events

At the same time as BI UK was delivering the course in  North Macedonia there was an international event attended by former US President Bill Clinton remembering it was 20 years ago exactly on 12 June 1999 UK forces crossed into Kosovo from the then Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia (FYROM).

This was part of NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR) deploying on the ground after a sustained NATO bombing campaign under Operation ALLIED FORCE. 

The Military Adviser to the BI UK programme who was on the BI UK delivery team last week, had been in FYROM on that day in 1999 and crossed into Kosovo on 12 June 1999 as part of KFORs advance as the then Yugoslavian security forces withdrew into Serbia. On this less well known anniversary Lt Col Dave Allen gives a small reflection:

“On the 75th Anniversary of D-Day we have all reflected back on what went before us and it was only upon arriving in Skopje, North Macedonia I found myself delivering a course on the 20th anniversary of another D-Day, except this one was called K-Day, the day NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR) crossed into the then Serbian province after a 78 day bombing campaign in response to the ethnic cleansing of the province. The term D-Day had been suspended in the build-up as it was felt to be too aggressive a term for phased changeover of Serbian forces with NATO. After detailed talks at Kumanovo and the Blace Border Crossing with Serbian commanders K-Day was set for 12 June 1999. I personally remember it as a surreal rather than intense experience; in many ways an unreal journey through contrasting vignettes of human life along a narrow single road. Some enduring memories of that day were:

• arriving in Skopje after leaving Kumanovo in the dark hours of the early morning headed for Pristina Airport in Kosovo to see thousands of people lining the route through Skopje throwing flowers and waving sheets painted with ‘NATO we love you’ and having to use the windscreen wipers to clear the flowers away

• we were a small convoy of UK Land Rovers, Norwegian G Wagons and a couple of 4 tonners almost disappearing in the midst of a NATO Corps on the move

• crossing the border through a customs post now manned by the Gurkhas of 5 Airborne Brigade who started their operation by walking just a few yards across a border whilst Chinooks flew overhead and vehicles raced up the route

• exiting the Kacanik defile across bridges secured by 1 PARA, feeling like XXX Corps in Holland in September in 1944 without the fighting

• the cheering crowds of Kosovan Albanians left long behind and overtaking forlorn Kosovan Serbs with all their possessions piled on tractors and horse drawn carts (www) as their homes of decades burnt behind them

• mixing on the move with Serbian military vehicles heading north and regarded with pure hate

• passing into the outskirts of Pristina with buildings burning, shops looted and isolated pockets of NATO vehicles dotted along the route (www) to be told by one of Norwegian team they had heard from their comrades that the airport was off as a destination as the Russian Army was already there with our first night in Kosovo spent with ‘wagons circled’ on the road to Pristina Airport

Whilst without the drama or danger of D-Day or even more recent events in Iraq and Afghanistan it remains to me a totally surreal experience. Almost like living through a screenplay of human emotions crammed into a few hours from the tearful joyful crowds of refugees in Macedonia, past the ever cheerful Gurkhas, crossing bridges with grim ‘ally’ Paras, past tragic convoys of tear stained Kosovan Serbs, vitriolic hate from withdrawing Serb military finishing the day with slightly bemused Russians who a few hours previously had been told to dash from Bosnia to the airport. 

K-Day was no D-Day in that sense but it was a unique event in history and I do feel privileged to have seen it at close quarters and playing a very small part in the history of the region.”

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