Reporters Notebook
Photos by Keith Nordstrom

OPERATION KOSOVO
BY CRAIG BORGES / SUN CHRONICLE STAFF

"Kossovo, more than any other historical site I know, arouses desolation. It spreads peacefully into its vast, gentle distances, slow winds polishing it like a cloth passing over a mirror, turning the heads of the standing grain to the light. It has a look of innocence, which is the extreme of guilt. For it is crowded with the dead " - Rebecca West from her 1940 book "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, A Journey Through Yugoslavia."

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"If they didn't have all this war crap going on, Kosovo would be one beautiful place." The words, spoken by a Blackhawk helicopter crewmember, are barely audible because of static and numerous conversations taking place on the KFOR air traffic control frequency. But how true they ring.

From the window of a Blackhawk flying high over the American-patrolled sector of the Yugoslav province, Kosovo's natural beauty unfolds. Sharp snow-covered mountains break through the clouds. Rolling bright-green hills that are dotted by picture-postcard-like towns made up of whitewashed buildings topped with clay-colored roofs surround the mountains.

Dirt roads are the norm and asphalt is seldom seen. Rivers wind through the valleys, and forests fill the spaces not turned over to agriculture. Asphalt is rare. There are no strip malls, no parking lots or clogged six-lane highways. There is just beauty.

But this masterpiece by mother nature is not without its flaws.

Entire sections of towns and villages are destroyed, victims of Serb and NATO bombing during NATO's 78-day war with Serb troops in 1999. Trenches and gun positions can be seen carved into hillsides. Craters caused by bombing and shelling, now filled with water and mud, speckle the fields. Entire sections of fields are surrounded by long white strips of cloth - a telltale sign that the area has been mined.

Entire blocks of homes and buildings sit in ruins, their shattered roofs and walls looking like so many crushed eggshells from above.

The beauty of Kosovo is deceiving.

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When the United States set up Camp Bondsteel it did so with power in mind - lots of it in fact.

The military units that make up Task Force Falcon and call Bondsteel home include armored divisions, infantry, engineers, field artillery, aviation, military police, airborne infantry, signal battalions, civil affairs and support groups.

Apache attack helicopters can be heard leaving for, or returning from, patrols late into the night. Heavily armed crews in humvees roam the camp's streets and leave the base regularly for patrols in the sector's villages and towns. Medical helicopters, as well as Blackhawks and the large Chinook transport choppers, come and go on a regular basis.

The camp serves as headquarters for various satellite bases set up throughout NATO's Multinational Brigade East, which is more commonly referred to as the American Sector.