Military


Operation Allied Harbour (OPLAN 10414)
Operation Sustain Hope / Shining Hope

Operation Allied Harbour was the codename for NATO's efforts in Albania to support humanitarian relief efforts for refugees in Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), and Montenegro, resulting from the Serb expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. The Serbian offensive had come as NATO had begun a bombing campaign in Kosovo and elsewhere in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, codenamed Operation Allied Force. US contributions to Allied Harbour were codenamed Shining Hope and Sustain Hope. The exact timeline for these US operations is unclear. Reference is made to both operations in a 14 April 1999 Air Mobility Command News Service news item. The news item said that in Shining Hope, Kosovar refugees would be airlifted from Europe to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, while Sustain Hope involved the delivery of relief supplies to those refugees while they were still in Europe. An American Forces Information Service news item in April 1999 said that the operation to relocate refugees to Guantanamo Bay was in fact codenamed Sustain Hope. Whatever the case, that plan was scrapped and resettlement operations were subsequently conducted in CONUS via McGuire Air Force Base and Fort Dix, both in New Jersey, as part of Operations Open Arms and Provide Refuge. On 25 April 1999, the previously established US Joint Task Force - Shining Hope, which had already been providing support to refugees in Albania, formally became the US contribution to NATO's Albania Force (AFOR).

The US Operation Sustain Hope was subsequently described as the US humanitarian effort to bring in food, water, medicine and relief supplies for the refugees fleeing from the Former Republic of Yugoslavia into Albania and Macedonia. The overall objective of Operation Sustain Hope was to maintain stability in the region and prevent a humanitarian disaster resulting from the ongoing offensive against the people of Kosovo. The specific military mission of the forces deployed was to support disaster relief operations to aid in the care and protection of Kosovar refugees and to provide for their own security. The number of US personnel who would be deployed for these purposes was initially uncertain, since planning for the deployment was ongoing as the advance parties departed, but at a minimum a deployment of 1,000 personnel was anticipated. Headquarters elements, air crews, airlift control elements, selected transport and rotary wing aircraft, security personnel, civil affairs and psychological operations personnel, medical and engineer forces, and logistics support forces could become involved in the operation. These forces would operate under US and NATO operational control.

Before the Serbian offensive began in 1999, the United States pre-positioned 36,000 metric tons of food in the region, enough to feed half a million people for 3 months. The US worked with the United nations to ready life-saving supplies at Kosovo's borders with Albania and Macedonia. President Clinton authorized an additional $50 million in emergency aid to augment US contributions to the UN High Commission on Refugees and other relief organizations. It also ensured the military could help them get aid to the people in need. To support the effort, civilian contract 747 aircraft carried more rations to Europe where they were transferred to US military aircraft for transport to the Balkans. In Europe, US European Command officials shipped 80 US military trucks and 30 State Department trucks to Albania to help move supplies from ports and airports to the people who need them. The Defense Department airlifted 500,000 humanitarian daily rations to the Balkans, and more were ready to go if needed. The flights were bound for Italy, where the supplies would be transported to Albania. The plan was to move the rations into Tirana, Albania. The US would be flying 10 missions daily by C-130 aircraft to Italy, from Italy to Tirana, and taking supplies from there to the border by helicopter.

To manage this effort, Joint Task Force (JTF) Shining Hope was established by the United States European Command (EUCOM) on 4 April 1999, with the mission to help alleviate the suffering and provide immediate relief to more than 450,000 Kosovar refugees fleeing into Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as a result of increased fighting in Kosovo. Never before had the US military accepted such a massive humanitarian responsibility. During its first 50 days of operation, JTF Shining Hope delivered more than 3,400 tons of food, equipment, and medical supplies to those in need.

On 5 April 1999, NATO's Headquarters, ACE Mobile Force (Land) (HQ AMF[L]) received a warning order and, based on the experience from a reconnaissance conducted in Albania in 1998, began developing an operational concept. The AMF(L) was a NATO Headquarters capable of readily deploying a land force at short notice. Ten nations contributed to its staff, while all NATO nations contributed forces. For Operation Allied Harbour the composition of the force was decided at a Force generation conference at SHAPE.

Preparation for the deployment of a NATO force to Albania to conduct a humanitarian mission subsequently began on 7 April 1999, when a NATO team led by Major General Pasqualino Verdecchia of the Italian Army deployed from Headquarters Allied Forces Southern Europe (AFSOUTH) to co-ordinate NATO plans with Albanian and international authorities. In response to the crisis in Kosovo, the Albanian Government had reacted quickly in creating an Emergency Management Group (EMG) to co-ordinate the relief effort.

A team of the AMF(L), led by the AMF(L) commander, Lieutenant General John Reith, arrived in Tirana on 10 April 1999 to make final preparations for the deployment of a NATO Immediate Reaction (Land) headquarters. General Reith conducted meetings with senior Albanian and international authorities while his staff conducted reconnaissance to make final recommendations about the location of headquarters and deployment of the force. The advance party also took control of in country from a predeployed AFSOUTH Command and Control node. Forces already in place at the time of the reconnaissance as part of national contingents deployed by NATO nations included 450 from France, 200 from Germany, 230 from Greece, 830 from the United States, 1,100 from Italy, while Belgium, Canadian, and Dutch contingents were already en route. The NATO's staff initially operated from the Albanian Ministry of Defence, which provided proximity to key agencies, ministries, contractors and international, and national journalists.

To ensure that AFOR could conduct its operations legally and freely in Albania, NATO and the Government of the Republic of Albania concluded an agreement regarding the status of NATO forces (Albanian SOFA), which enabled NATO to conduct its humanitarian operation in Albania successfully. This agreement granted NATO and its personnel certain privileges and immunities, such as free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access into and throughout the Republic of Albania, including associated airspace and territorial waters, exemption from taxes and import/export duties, and immunity from all legal process. National elements of NATO also retained exclusive criminal and disciplinary jurisdiction over their personnel. NATO was granted control over the airspace in Albania and the use and occupation of the seaport at Durres and the airport at Tirana Rinas without payment of fees. Supplementary arrangements under the SOFA were made regarding the infrastructure in Albania, particularly, the repair of roads and the repair and replacement of taxiways and ramps at the Airport.

On 13 April 1999, NATO approved plans for Operation Allied Harbour, a 10,000-troop NATO deployment to support humanitarian relief efforts for refugees resulting from the Serb expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. The AMF(L) Headquarters began deployment on 14 April 1999. On 15 April NATO announced that rules of engagement for this Operation were approved by the North Atlantic Council (NAC) and that, following the reconnaissance mission by AFSOUTH in Albania, the number of forces to be assigned to Allied Harbour were planned to be about 7,300. The Supreme Allied Commander Europe ordered the execution of Operation Allied Harbour on 16 April 1999. In turn, the Commander-in-Chief AFSOUTH transferred to the Commander of AMF(L), General Reith, authority over all NATO-led forces operating in Albania as part of this operation. In this respect, General Reith was the Commander, AFOR. The AFOR Headquarters was located at Plepa, near Durres in Albania. The mission of the operation was to provide humanitarian assistance in support of, and in close coordination with, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Albanian civil and military authorities, to alleviate the suffering of those who were forced to leave their homes in Kosovo and flee to Albania.

In addition, the United States continued to work closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other relief organizations to ensure a comprehensive and adequate response to the humanitarian crisis caused by the ethnic cleansing and atrocities being conducted by Serb forces. US and other NATO military forces provided support for humanitarian operations in a variety of ways, to include air and surface transportation of relief supplies and equipment, camp preparation, shelter construction, security, and other tasks uniquely suited to military forces. The Department of Defense pledged over $25 million in humanitarian assistance, which, in addition to the above, also included food (humanitarian daily rations), shelter (tents), bedding, medical supplies, and vehicles.

As of 10 May 1999, forces for Operation Allied Harbour were provided by Albania, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Luxemburg, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States. The United States contribution to Allied Harbour was Joint Task Force (JTF) Shining Hope, which had been previously established as part of US humanitarian relief operations in the region and formally became the US contingent of the NATO operation on 25 April 1999.

By May 1999, AFOR, consisting of approximately 8,000 personnel, was divided into task groups and a leading nation was appointed for each of them. Task Force North was led by Italy. Task Force South was led by France. Task Force Romeo, which subsequently became Task Force Bravo, was led by the Netherlands and Belgium. Task Force Whiskey was led by Spain. Lastly, as noted, the US JTF Shining Hope was assigned to the operation.

AFOR was also tasked with executing or considering numerous projects, including: construction of camps and providing interim shelter; engineer support to repair selected roads, airfield, or other appropriate infrastructure; providing transportation for refugee movement by both ground vehicles and in special cases by air (to include emergency medical evacuation); assisting in transportation and distribution of food, water and supplies; and electronic communication support as required.

The initial concept for AFOR envisaged functional Task Forces but, at the request of certain nations, this was adapted. The resulting structured for the force divided it into 2 regional areas and 3 functional groupings. Task Force North deployed its headquarters at Durres, while Task Force South was at Elbasan. Both of these task forces were tasked with camp construction and road repair. Task Force Whisky deployed to Hamallaj. Task Force Romeo was deployed in Durres port. The US JTF Shining Hope was based at Tirana Rinas Airport. Task Force Whisky was responsible for refugee camp construction, while Task Force Romeo was responsible for transportation and provision of quick reaction force protection and humanitarian reserves. JTF Shining Hope had the dual roles of camp construction and development of Tirana Rinas airport.

In addition, AFOR had a number of "Force Troops," including the Italian Carabinieri Multinational Specialised Unit (MSU), based near Kavaje. The Carabinieri MSU and the Force Military Police Unit (FMPU) arrived in Albania by late April 1999 and provided a high profile NATO presence, which did much to enhance stability in the country. The tasks of the MSU and FMPU ranged from presence patrolling to convoy escort, traffic control, particularly at the port and airport, and investigation of crime.

The deployment of some 12,000 AFOR and US troops into Albania was not allowed to hinder the flow of humanitarian aid. From the outset, AFOR took control of the airspace under 3,000 feet within Albania, improved the management of Tirana Rinas Airport and equipped it with modern air traffic control radar systems. This included work by US engineers to repair access road to Rinas airport in Tirana.

As a result its capacity increased from 8 to 100 aircraft daily, peaking at 88 fixed-wing flights in one day. At the height of the crisis the airport housed Task Force Hawk (4,500 personnel and 500 vehicles under US control and tasked primarily in support of Operation Allied Force, but also providing support to Operation Allied Harbour), JTF Shining Hope (1,028 personnel and 104 vehicles), the United Arab Emirates contingent (297 personnel), elements of Task Force South, and a large number of international organizations/non-governmental organizations coordinating the movement of humanitarian aid. Military police and designated traffic circuits were introduced to enhance vehicle movement.

During the operation 3,489 fixed wing landings were made at the airport, of which 1,139 were for the movement of aid; 10,000 metric tons of aid were brought into the country through the airport. In addition, there were 4,578 tons flown by rotary wing. Throughout the aid operation, the civilian terminal continued to function normally.

Durres seaport was essential for the movement of heavy military equipment and humanitarian aid into Albania. When AFOR arrived the port had a capacity of 8 ships per day. AFOR quickly established a Port Management Co-ordination Centre, in conjunction with civil harbour authorities, which planned and coordinated the flow of military and civilian vessels, as well as facilitating the management of the throughput of humanitarian aid. This improved ship turn around times, allowing 12 to be off-loaded daily. AFOR also improved the road network within the port area and established 120,000 square meters of secure storage and marshalling areas for equipment, containers and personnel. This effort, by Dutch Troops, involved the reclamation of large areas that had previously been used to dump industrial by-products and scrap metal.

AFOR also had some 1,719 ground vehicles, which provided a daily lift capability of nearly 1,000 tonnes. However, this daily tonnage was rarely required as it was Commander, AFOR's policy only to provide transport on a top-up basis. This was because most NGOs were using local haulers, which was providing valuable revenue for Albania, and there was no desire to undermine this. When NATO did provide support it came in the form of things like Dutch trucks transporting World Food Program aid to Kukes and helping UNHCR in relocating refugees. In addition, Albania had a particularly poor road infrastructure, and the increased volume of road traffic, coupled with the lack of maintenance, took its toll. In many places roads were partially collapsed or, after heavy rains, were washed away. AFOR engineers identified some 500 kilometers of road that required improvement along the main supply routes. Engineers were at a premium and constantly at work throughout the operation. 189 kilometers of road were repaired by NATO military or contracted civil engineers. For instance, Italian engineers repaired road collapses near Kukes.

Most importantly, when AFOR arrived in early April 1999, 256,000 refugees were being housed within Albania, either in public buildings or in people’s homes. The influx was continuing at a rate of up to 14,000 refugees a day, with the majority crossing the border at Morine and arriving at makeshift transit camps outside the town of Kukes. On 15 April 1999, over 10,000 Kosovar refugees entered Albania at the Morine border crossing. This was a significant increase in influx and triggered the Albanian Government and UNHCR to request AFOR assistance in the Kukes area. AFOR, although not fully established, responded rapidly by dispatching on 17 April 1999 the Kukes Co-ordination Team of Staff with a communications node. In addition Headquarters, Task Force North provided a transport platoon and an infantry platoon for security. The Team's tasks were to establish a secure base, assist the Kukes Prefect and UNHCR field representative to co-ordinate the transportation of refugees to camps elsewhere in Albania and to monitor, at first hand, the refugee situation at Kukes and the daily influx from Kosovo. A tented base was built adjacent to a World War II-era grass airstrip and became known as Mushroom Camp. In early May 1999. the UAE contingent, under coordinating authority of AFOR, improved the airstrip to make it capable of receiving C-130 military transport aircraft.

Despite efforts in Kukes, it was not a desirable location for refugees. It was in a mountainous region, where temperatures drop to minus 30 degrees Celsius during winter. It was within Serb artillery range and it suffered from water shortages during Summer. For these reasons, AFOR began to identify potential refugee camp sites on the coastal plains. There was also a potential threat of the FYROM Government ejecting refugees and so further sites were identified in the Korce area.

Task Force Whisky quickly located a site at Hamallaj, north of Durres, while JTF Shining Hope found a location near Fier. Task Force South identified a site at a former fish farm in Korce and Task Force North negotiated a large site in Rrushbull near Durres. There were also a number of nations (Austria, Turkey, Italy and Greece for example) that had already deployed under bi-lateral agreements with Albania, and had begun to build or in some cases had completed refugee camps prior to AMF(L)'s deployment. Upon TOA these troops came under Commander, AFOR's command and camp construction became a country-wide controlled operation. By the end of May 1999, NATO forces had opened or were planning on opening 7 refugee camps. US engineers opened the first US built camp at Fier, dubbed Camp Hope on 12 May 1999. Refugee flow to Camp Hope was 400 per day the first week and 800 per day the second week. Total capacity was to be up to 20,000 by June 1999. At Elbasan, French and British troops worked at a camp established by the British. At Korce, French troops were preparing the site for a camp for up to 9,000 people. At Poiske, Greek engineers were completing construction of a camp. At Vlore, Dutch units and the Red Cross finished a camp for 4,500. At Rrashbull, Italian engineers were constructing 2 camps for 4,000 and 400 refugees respectively. Lastly, North of Durres, Spanish engineers were to open the camp at Hamallaj.

These came as the refugee situation in the Kukes area grew more dire. By mid-April 1999, No more housing was available for the refugees, local services had been overwhelmed and water was becoming short. Thus, the Albanian EMG decided to 'relocate' refugees to the western and southern parts of Albania where the new refugee camps built by AFOR were becoming available. A joint operation to move refugees and their possessions by road, rail and air was devised. On 20 May 1999 Fragmentation Order 15 (FRAGO) was issued, and on 22 May 1999 a section of military police deployed to Kukes to assist Task Force Romeo, Task Force North, and the UNHCR with the movement of refugees. The section worked closely with UNHCR officials, grouping refugees by family and destination and ensuring an orderly departure. The majority of refugees were moved by road and rail, but families with ‘vulnerables’ (geriatrics, women in late pregnancy, and the sick) were moved by helicopter.

Road movement was supported logistically with way-stations that provided shelter, food, refreshments and medical cover and the hamlet of Mjede became pivotal as the exchange point from road to rail. The refugees then traveled by rail to either Durres, if they were destined for the Italian camps at Rrushbull or the Spanish camp at Hamallaj, or to Fier if they were transferring to the US built Camp Hope. The plan went well. The joint AFOR/NGOs operations were well coordinated and useful links were forged. However, UNHCR had problems in getting the refugees to move. The Kosovar Liberation Army was actively trying to retain them in the area, where fighting was ongoing just across the border and the KLA needed recruits. In addition, there was rumor that an end to the Kosovo crisis was imminent. To overcome this, AFOR developed a successful information campaign and a wide range of schemes were implemented to encourage movement, such as introducing 'Elder' flights (Camp elders and community leaders were flown in AFOR helicopters) to visit new camp locations and see the high standard of facilities.

As the relocation plan progressed and refugees continued to flow into the country, it became obvious that longer term accommodation requirements had to be considered. AFOR was in the process of building tented camps with a capacity for over 200,000, but this would only solve the immediate crisis. Thus a plan for winterization had to be devised. A number of planning options were considered by AFOR and the Albanian EMG and a plan was developed that took into account current camp construction plans, infrastructure projects, integration of local labor, and the introduction of a registration system. The plan focused on sustaining refugees within host families, improving accommodation in collective centers and using prefabricated buildings, such as corimex, to replace tents in the camps. Funds to support the plan were being raised as UN Security Council Resolution 12444 was approved.

During Operation Allied Harbour, AFOR constructed and planned a total of 21 camps, providing some 129,050 places. All camps were built to meet UNHCR/UNICEF specifications in order to provide the best possible living conditions with schools, children’s play areas, recreation facilities and medical support. On average, a camp for 5,000 took an engineer company one month to build. Planning had been completed for a further 120,550 places when the need ceased. Peace in Kosovo in early June 1999 brought the relocation program to an abrupt halt. Albania saw a flurry of activity as the refugee tide was about to turn. Stragglers from Kosovo who had been held hostage were being released and repatriated with their families and expectations in the camps for early return to Kosovo grew. On 15 June 1999, AFOR ceased camp construction and focused on the relocation of refugees to Kosovo.

As NATO initiated its peacekeeping mission in Kosovo proper as part of Operation Joint Guardian, AFOR transitioned to support that operation, eventually becoming part of NATO's Kosovo Force, eventually being designated as Communication Zone (West) or COMMZ (W). COMMZ (W) continued to support Operation Allied Harbour as well, but the focus shifted from refugee assistance to refugee repatriation. To support these efforts, work on road repair and improvement continued.

The speed and scale of the spontaneous return of refugees took everyone by surprise. In some camps, the refugees packed everything overnight and left by any means possible. Many had hired taxis, rented public transport, or purchased second-hand cars. The outflow of refugees peaked at around 25,000 per day, but numbers were difficult to track as several unapproved crossing points were used.

Those choosing to return by their own means were taking risks in a Kosovo ravaged by fighting. At that time, NATO's KFOR had not yet fully deployed, mines and UXOs were unmarked, and almost no aid was available. An information campaign was devised, therefore, to attempt to slow down the spontaneous return and included a comprehensive mine-awareness package. However, to support those refugees determined to return home against advice, an emergency plan was activated to set up way-stations manned by NGOs to provide fuel, water and food. AFOR provided security, medical, and some life support at them. The information campaign began on 14 June 1999 and was designed to encourage the refugees to wait in their respective locations until UNHCR was ready to receive them in Kosovo, to make them aware of the potential dangers on return and to explain how the organized repatriation plan was to work. Albania's EMG established an information group to co-ordinate it, and the success of this tight collaboration was very evident – flyers and posters were produced quickly, information bulletins were produced on a weekly basis, and coordinated messages were broadcasted through all available mediums. There was even a 60 minute live TV discussion with refugees, initiated by the Press Information Office.

The ground repatriation plan was based on 2 transit centers at Mjede and Kukes and a series of way-stations providing food, water, and medical support. The plan was simple: refugees were collected from collective centers and camps, driven to the nearest railway station and then railed to Mjede. They were accommodated at Mjede overnight and then moved in road convoys either directly to their destination in Kosovo in one day, if this was achievable, or overnighting at Kukes. UNHCR provided the coaches for the convoys and AFOR provided security, transport vehicles for luggage, medical support, communications and recovery.

The US JTF Shining Hope completed the humanitarian phase of its mission on 26 June 1999, with the transfer of operation of Camp Hope to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. On 1 July 1999, the repatriation of refugees began in earnest and continued at a hectic pace for the next 5 weeks. Concurrently, AFOR assisted the UNHCR and the NGOs in transporting shelter stores and food into Kosovo and a mobile bakery was moved from Kukes to Jakovica. Throughout the repatriation, the FMPU maintained traffic control between Kukes and Morine. With the congestion from the spontaneous return, it was taking some 4 hours to complete this 25 kilometer journey. The FMPU, once in place, reduced this to one hour. The FMPU also physically counted people crossing the border at Morine, thereby establishing accurate statistics of returnees.

Road access to the Korce area was extremely difficult and therefore it was decided to fly refugees from this area either to Kukes or Pristina, once the airfield became available for use. Engineers from Task Force South developed an old grass landing-strip into an airstrip capable of taking C-160 and C-130 military transport aircraft. Within 7 days the project was completed and the first refugees were being flown to Kukes. Once Pristina Airport was ready to receive them, 'vulnerables' were flown directly into Kosovo. AFOR provided planning support to the Albanian Government and UNHCR for the repatriation plan, during which more than 13,000 refugees were transported to Kosovo. In addition, US Navy Seabees and Air Force RED HORSE elements assigned to JTF Shining Hope completed the engineering projects and returned airfield operations at Rinas Airport, near Tirana, Albania, back to the Government of Albania civil aviation authorities on 2 July 1999. By late August 1999, less than 7,000 refugees remained in Albania.

On 1 September 1999, Operation Allied Harbour closed out in Albania. The US JTF Shining Hope had been disestablished on 8 July 1999. At that time US forces remaining in Albania were put under the operational authority of Joint Task Force Noble Anvil with further delegation authorized to the commander of Task Force Falcon for mission execution.




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