WANTED: GUNS FOR HIRE

DAVID H. HACKWORTH

Last month, American troops in Macedonia rescued 400 Albanian rebels who were members of the 113th UCK (Kosovo Liberation Army) Brigade. This operation didn't pass the smell test for me. I couldn't stop asking myself why NATO brass would risk the lives of 80 American paratroopers to save a band of heavily armed cutthroats bent on overthrowing the established government of a country that our president and State Department have repeatedly stated they are committed to save.

The act was kind of like an FBI SWAT team rescuing Timothy McVeigh minutes before the execution. My first thought was, Whose side are we really on? My second was, What's the objective here -- stabilizing or destabilizing Macedonia?

The UCK brigade -- dug in around Aracinovo, four miles north of Skopje, the capital of Macedonia -- had been surrounded for two weeks, under heavy attack by Macedonian government forces and on the verge of destruction. Imagine how we'd feel if one of our units was about to take out a rebel brigade whose objective was to overthrow our government, when out of nowhere a Canadian paratroop company swooped in and saved the enemy force?
Of course, the Macedonians were fit to be tied.

Sources in the U.S. Army in Kosovo familiar with the 3/502nd Airborne Battalion's rescue operation confirm that the mission was all about saving the "17 'instructors' among the withdrawing rebels -- former U.S. officers, who were providing the rebels with continued military education. But that was not enough: The Macedonian security forces claim that 70 percent of the equipment taken away by the guerrillas had been U.S. made -- to include even the most modern third-generation night vision devices," as reported by the German newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt on June 28.

Other sources say the "17 instructors" were members of a high-ticket Rent-a-Soldier outfit called MPRI -- Military Professional Resources Incorporated -- that operates in the shadow of the Pentagon and has been hired by the CIA and our State Department for ops in ex-Yugoslavia. The company, headed up by former U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Carl E. Vuono, is filled with former U.S. Army personnel, from generals to senior sergeants, all of whom draw handsome wages on top of their Army retired salaries.

This is the same outfit that in the early 1990s trained Croatian soldiers for Operation Storm -- which resulted in the brutal ethnic cleansing of 200,000 unarmed Serb civilians -- as well as bringing Croatian Gen. Agim Ceku up to speed. Ceku, who played a central role in the slaughter, is alleged to have killed thousands of other Serb civilians before joining the KLA in 1999, where he again received training and assistance from CIA and State Department contractors operating overtly and covertly throughout ex-Yugoslavia and around the globe.

Retired four-stars don't run out of power until they hear taps. Had Vuono or another of his compadres such as Gen. Crosbie Saint picked up the phone and suggested the 502nd be sent to the rescue, that suggestion would have been taken as a virtual command.

MPRI even has a Web site -- www.MPRI.com -- that boasts, "We serve the needs of the U.S. government, of foreign governments and of the private sector with the highest standards and cost effective solutions."

While Ollie North's Contra boys and the mercenaries who botched up the Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion might not have been so businesslike -- or so blatant -- they did establish an unfortunate tradition of hired guns sticking our nation into one minefield after another.

Dozens of ex-Army pals are presently working for the ever-expanding MPRI or other such military contractors in places like Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, ex-Yugoslavia and Colombia. We're talking booming business here.

But others have had the moral decency to say, "Take your high-paying mercenary job and stick it in your ear."

One still-serving three-war vet told me: "A number of contractors have been pitching me to work for them after I retire. I said no. There's no principles, no love of country, no honor -- just MONEY. I can't ... sell my soul for a buck."

There are laws on the books that prevent American citizens from serving foreign governments. It's about time Congress did its duty and enforced them.

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(c) 2001 David H. Hackworth
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