21. Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA

The Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, started to become increasingly visible in Kosovo in 1998 after the attack on the Jashari family in Prekaz although its organisation had evolved earlier. It started its activity using traditional guerrilla practice but gradually developed more conventional combat methods and organisation. It generally retained wide popular support amongst the Kosovo Albanian population and its membership grew despite its failures and large number of civilian losses. The KLA’s creation was a response to the failure of Ibrahim Rugova’s peaceful resistance policy. The LDK later attempted to set up its own much smaller FARK army which also fought during the war and was also in conflict with the KLA.

On 28 November 1997, the Kosovo Liberation Army, soon to become the main factor in the armed resistance, further influenced the internationalization of the Kosovo issue. Its war platform for freedom and independence, open society and democratic development was supported by the entire Albanian people.

The Kosovo Liberation War was intensified and struck, especially after the heroic battle of the Jasharaj family in Prekaz, 5-7 March 1998. Shaban Jashari with his two sons, Hamza and Adam, women and grandchildren were unprecedented heroes when facing and fighting the Serbian army and police, equipped with the most modern and sophisticated weapons of that time. This fight led by Adem Jashari became an example of inspiration of an entire people for freedom and independence.

A new stage in the KLA armed struggle came after the Reçak massacre (January 1999) and after the failure of talks in Rambouillet and Paris. The KLA in order to develop a more successful war against Serbia made the organization and creation of operational zones: the Operational Zone of Drenica, Dukagjini, Pashtrik, Llap, Shala, Nerodime and Karadak.

During the war over KLA 1,500 soldiers became martyrs for Kosovo’s freedom and about 2,000 were wounded.

The development of the KLA is not mentioned in any of the Serbian textbooks.

Noel Malcolm, Marc Weller


Several attacks took place from the summer of 1996 onwards, including the shooting of two policemen in Mitrovica, a bomb blast in Podujevo and an attack on the Serb Rector of Prishtina University; no organization claimed responsibility, and many Albanians assumed that these were artificial acts of provocation. But by the summer of 1997 a spokesman for something calling itself the ‘Kosovo Liberation Army’ was giving interviews in Switzerland, in which he said that his organization was responsible for several recent shootings of Serb policemen, and declared: “This is the movement people support now”. Whatever degree of support this ‘army did receive would have to be interpreted as an expression of popular frustration at the apparent inability of Ibrahim Rugova ((the President of Kosovo and leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK) to gain any new recognition of Kosovo’s interests from the outside world in the aftermath of Dayton.


These initial attacks were generally targeted against police or other security installations although the FRY/Serbian authorities indicated at the time, with some justification that they attacks were part of a strategy of intimidation against Serb civilians.


Oliver Schmitt, Marc Weller

The KLA emerged from the scattered left-wing extremist groups, which were active in the early 1980s and sympathized with Enver Hoxha’s ideology. Pan-Albanianism was at the basis of this ideology and any Communist was quickly given second place. The political pre-requisite for the armed struggle was provided by the breakdown of Albania in 1997 during the ‘pyramid crisis’, when a total of one million weapons were stolen from the Albanian army’s warehouses. They were then traded and part of then ended up the KLA’s hands. In the 1997 chaos, the Albanian government collapsed, and President Sali Berisha was forced to resign. He had maintained close ties with Ibrahim Rugova and in most cases supported his policy. So Rugova lost important support at the moment when he was challenged by the KLA. After the collapse of the Albanian communist regime in 1991 and the opening of the Albanian border, the KLA was able to use Albanian territory as a protected space.  Old family ties on both sides of the border were revived. Impoverished towns and people in the northeast of Albania like Kukës, Tropoja and Bajram Curri served as weapons supply centers, but at the same time gave a nod to smuggling, whoes profits were partly financed by war. Tropoja is Sali Berisha’s home territory but having lost control in 1997 he was unable to control Rugova’s opponents in Kosovo.

On November 28, 1997, three masked warriors appeared at the funeral of a teacher in the village of Llaushë and this would become the center of the movement. The KLA enjoyed strong support in traditionally rebellious regions such as Drenica and Dukagjini.

Up until the autumn of 1998, the KLA did not fight as an organized, centrally commanded army but followed the old Balkan guerrilla war tactics, similar to those of the Kacanik in the early twenties. In the winter of 1997/98, the guerrilla numbers were estimated at 2,000. They used the climate and territory. In winter many places could only be reached with difficulty the condition of the roads.  Armoured police and military vehicles could barely pass through these streets. Serbian authorities used the asphalted roads, while the guerrillas provided supplies through old tracks in the high territory between Albania and Kosovo, mules carriers were the vehicles. The war was partially developed with the pre-modern methods. Some of the toughest clashes took place in 1998 during the attempt of Serbian security forces to close these tracks. Initially the fighting was adapted to the traditional practice of battles.


At the early stages of the uprising, guerrillas concentrated on intermittent blocking of roads, especially at night, and in carrying out attacks against security forces. Serious responses by the Serbian police mainly affected the civilian population and encouraged young combatants to join the resistance. This pattern was also similar to other guerrilla fighting. At the end of winter 1998, the Serbian government decided to eliminate the KLA with a wide offensive. It relied on 30,000 members of the special army and police and several hundred paramilitaries and received support from the Serbian civilian population, most of whom were armed. War between villages and war between the guerrilla units and the regular army developed in parallel. In March 1998, Serb units invaded the “liberated region of Drenica”. During their attack on the Jashari family home in Prekaz (Adem Jashari was one of the founders of the KLA) 54 people were killed, most of them non-combatants. This brutal attack rebellion provoked a great solidarity of the Albanian population with the uprising, especially in the Drenica region. Afterwards Adem Jashari was seen as a martyr, providing the uprising with a symbol figure.


The KLA now changed its tactics and ignoring the civilian population began challenging Serbian security authorities. The KLA intended thereby to attract international attention and achieve the intervention of the great Western powers. The Serbian reaction was fierce: villages were attacked by artillery, on June 5, 1998, Junik was bombed by the air force. Along the Albanian border, Serbian troops set up a band of territory 130-kilometer-long which was mined and tried to create a 10-mile security zone but because of partially bad equipment, the lack of troops, and difficult terrain it was not realized.


In June 1998, the KLA launched an offensive and in central Kosovo, Serbs were expelled from their homes. In the Gjakovë/Gjakovica, Malishevë and Drenica villages, the guerrilla felt so confident they built regular administrative structures. These, however, were destroyed between the middle of July and August by regular Serbian units. By the autumn of 1998 the KLA had been almost completely defeated. Most of its fighters retreated to Albania.  The guerrillas apparently then lost the confidence of the population as it was exposed to Serbian repression although the sense of national crisis was seen by some observers as meaning that a feeling of national solidarity was generated, often transposed to the KLA, as it appeared to offer the only recourse to the increasingly desperate situation. About 2,000 people were killed 5,000 were injured, 400,000 people were displaced and 40,000 homes destroyed. According to Albanian estimates 95 percent of the victims were civilians.

The LDK Prime Minister in exile, Bujar Bukoshi, tried with financial resources from the Diaspora to establish an army himself. It was called the “Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo – FARK, but FARK commanders were probably killed by the KLA. The conflict between the KLA and the LDK escalated further. In April 1999 the KLA leader, Hashim Thaci, threatened the “betrayers” Bukoshi and Rugova with severe punishment. The old urban-intellectual elite and the new rural elite opened their conflict, which during the war would influence the further development of Kosovo Albanian society.

During the winter 1998/99, the KLA established new command structures. It had recruited some Albanian professional officers of the Yugoslav People’s Army, including the later Prime Minister Agim Ceku, who had previously been Lieutenant General in the Croatian Army. Part of the guerrilla soldiers were organized into a vertical command unit, while some others still received orders from local or regional commanders. Alongside the group of well-prepared insurgents, armed villagers were found. The KLA also provided modern weapons. By early 1999, the KLA was in control of villages away from the main roads, while Serbian security forces were in the largest localities and main roads. The Diaspora made a decisive contribution to the financing and transportation of weapons, combat equipment and humanitarian aid. There is only a small amount of reliable data on suspicious financial sources for the establishment of the KLA. Neutral observers think that the KLA was at least partially funded by the organized crime of Kosovo Albanians and that the borders between organized crime and political activists were sometimes invisible.

(Fehmi Rexhepi ‘Historia 9’. Prishtinë: Libri Shkollor, 2010.
Jusuf Bajraktari, Fehmi Rexhepi, Frashër Demaj ‘Historia 10’. Prishtinë: Libri Shkollor, 2011.
Đorđe Đurić and Momčilo Pavlović ‘Istorija 8’. Belgrade: Zavod za udžbenike, 2010.
Đorđe Đurić and Momčilo Pavlović ‘Istorija 3’. Belgrade: Zavod za udžbenike, 2010
Noel Malcolm Kosova – a short history, London, Pan Books, 2002. Oliver Schmitt Kosova – histori e shkurtër e një treve qendrore ballkanike, Prishtinë, Koha, 2012.
Marc Weller Contested Statehood: Kosovo’s Struggle for Independence, Oxford University Press, 2009;  Shtetesia e kuntestuar, Koha Publishing House, 2009)

Marc Weller Contested Statehood: Kosovo’s Struggle for Independence, Oxford University Press, 2009;  Shtetesia e kuntestuar, Koha Publishing House, 2009)