On March 17 and 18 2004, Sven and his two Norwegian infantry companies fought like lions to protect Serbian lives in the Serbian enclave of Čaglavica just south of Priština. Sven shot and killed to Albanians and probably killed many more with his Sisu armored personnel carrier in Obilić.
As a former NATO officer in Kosovo in 2000, it is not at all pleasant to be confronted with my naïve attitudes and statements, and this is the reason that I will spend the rest of my life to give my public apology.
However, when I failed and we failed in 1999-2000 and 2004, it gives me great comfort to know that there were Norwegian heroes during this ethnic cleansing of Serbs those dramatic days in 2004. Of course Sven is not his real name, and if Albanians in Norway knew his name, he would endanger the lives of himself and his family.
On many levels, KFOR and the international community failed these days. They did not have sufficient intelligence, and many nations in KFOR acted cowardly facing the Albanian mob violence. For more analysis you can read the report The March 2004 Riots in Kosovo: a Failure of the International Community written by Norwegian Lt. Col. Egil Daltveit.
Also see the video below, Norwegian soldiers protecting Serbs 2004, featuring an interview with the Norwegian battalion commander, Col. Aril Brandvik, and some of the soldiers who fought in Čaglavica. The video has English subtitles.
On March 17, 2004, the Norwegian Taskforce, the Norwegian battalion in KFOR huddled up on their vehicles to reach Čaglavica from their base of Lebane on the way to Podujevo. The roads main road was closed, and therefore the battalion had to travel through Obilić. Since Sven was the person with the best knowledge of the geography of Kosovo, he was the commander of the lead vehicle.
“We came to a road blocks consisting of 3-500 people, Albanian men aged 16-40, who simply blocked off the main street in the middle of Obilić. When we drove up to the crowd, they attacked my vehicle. They went simply berserk on the wagon, and they also tried to get in, but the hatches were blocked so they did not enter. I had weapons ready, and got up of the hatch.”
“I closed the hatch and gave the driver orders to only carry on, run them straight down. If we had been standing there, we would have lost the momentum, and the entire battalion would come to a standstill. Then we drove straight through the crowd, and because of that we drove through the crowd, just mowed them straight down.”
“Do you think anyone died there?”
“Yes, people were killed there. When we drove over them, people were killed. When you get run over by a six wheeler weighing 22 tons, then you die. Had we not done that, Čaglavica would have burned.”
Čaglavica was in the Swedish area of responsibility, and they had requested that the Norwegians should come and support them because they failed the task of protecting Čaglavica. When the Norwegians came, there was complete chaos.
“The Albanians shot with AK-47s, and the Swedes lay flat along the ground and were terrified. We saw a lot of people who came walking toward us, a couple thousand people. We gathered the guys quickly and set up a line, blocked the main road with shields, and we were a human castle against the Albanian mob that came.
The Norwegians got support from the US Special Forces and Irish Battalion, and Swedish Special Forces to get set line further out to the side that the Albanians would not be able to enter Čaglavica on the flanks.
After establishing the defense line, the soldiers could see a mob of 10,000 Albanians coming their direction, and a truck with one driver and his passenger also approached the Norwegian barricade.
“I saw that the truck came towards us, but it had to constantly slow up not to run down his own men. The Albanians stood in the way of it, and it ran and honked and yelled, but eventually he came all too close, and I thought, ‘if he comes closer now, least 10 to 20 soldiers die immediately, because he would run he them right down.’ Then I simply had to shoot the driver. Altogether, I fired 11 shots.”
“With a pistol?”
“Yes, with pistol yes.”
“And you had no assault rifle or something?”
“No, I had aн MP5 too, but I had a shield in hand so I couldn’t use it.”
“It was a one-handed shot then?”
Yes, a strong hand. I saw that the bullets hit him because I saw that he sat and shook in the car all the time”
“How far away was this?”
“Seven meters maybe, seven to 10 meters, and finally I saw the impact of the shots when he hung out from the truck, thus, he fell out the side window. The truck scolded down from the highway and into a ditch, but the truck was so close to the guys that the Albanians managed to creep into our line. Then came one guy came to take me.”
The two men in the truck were the brothers Bajer and Kastriot Elshani, and Sven confronted the other brother attacking him.
“He was one meter away when I shot him with two bullets in the chest. He fell right into the ground, and then he was dragged out of the line there.”
“It was like running into a brick wall; there were so much people. You could not turn them back,” says Sven. “I was responsible for a seizure-clearing team to scramble and run through the line, but you could not get out because you ran right into people. And the Albanians had also managed to squeeze in a little kids and older people in front. They hid behind human shields using small boys and everything like that.”
The soldiers fought all night, and on March 18 they also had big operations. “The Albanians also managed to catch a Swedish Sisu, one medic Sisu, where they simply managed to break the window to Sisu with crowbar, ignite it, and inside an injured Swede almost died. They tried simply to kill those who were inside the Sisu,” says Sven.
“How would you assess other nations’ efforts in relation to the Norwegian soldiers?”
“I shall not be biased or anything because I am Norwegian, but had the Norwegians not arrived, Čaglavica would have burned. The Swedes had simply given up. It is the worst I’ve seen, that they were so behind as they were. They were not at all trained and not ready for what happened there. The Irish Battalion came to help us, and they did well, and Ukrainian special police also did well. Those who failed completely were the Indian Special Riot Police. There was no point in that they even came.”
“But riot police, they ought to have found out such things?”
“Yes, but they came with bamboo shields and bamboo stuff for Indian country. They were not at all equipped to cope. The Norwegians were the best Irish battering was also very good, and the same was the Ukrainian special police. Unfortunately, the Swedes were not much to cheer for. They had resigned long before we arrived.”
KFOR in general failed miserably these days, but I am very pleased that my countrymen did a fantastic job, and the Norwegian soldiers received well-deserved medals.