Travelers visiting the villages above the west Macedonian cities of Tetovo, Gostivar and Kicevo have spotted long convoys of mules and horses, loaded down with contraband weapons and ammunition, destined for the military groups of the mosques. They tread the narrow routes heading south from the mountains of western Macedonia bordering Kosovo and Albania, down to Struga on the banks of Lake Ohrid. The quantity and types of the smuggled factory-fresh arsenal — especially anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, light artillery, mortars, 120 mm Katyusha rockets and heavy machineguns – indicate the Moslem army will be operational at a date near September, when the first snows coat the mountains and passes.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources in the region, Muslim army officers and fighters are keeping a very low profile so as not to attract attention to the large quantities of drugs al Qaeda has poured into the mountain region in the last two months from Afghanistan via Central Asia. Al Qaeda drug operatives are hoarding them in mountain hideouts for the Christmas and New Year trade in the markets of East and West Europe. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, the terror network estimates it has narcotics worth more than $2 billion tucked safely away in the Macedonian mountains. If this figure is correct, US intelligence approximations of al Qaeda’s annual budget as not more than $200-250 is way off the mark. Al Qaeda’s expectation of netting some $2 billion from drug trafficking alone means that its annual operating budget must be closer to $500 million.
With such astronomical sums at stake, not a few local and foreign politicians, as well as military personnel, may be safely assumed to be on the take. Last year, senior officers from several NATO countries — the United States, Britain, Germany and France – undertook the collection of illegal Albanian arms under a ceasefire agreement brokered by the United States and the European Union between Macedonia and the Albanian rebel force that calls itself the Muslim Liberation Army of Macedonia. In press statements at the end of the operation, the officers – who belonged to NATO units stationed in Kosovo and Bosnia – pronounced the arms collection mission a resounding success.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly sources can disclose that nothing could be farther from the truth. Not a single new weapon held by the Albanian Macedonians, nor any arms belonging to the new Muslim army, were surrendered to the NATO forces. The Albanians, with the help of soldiers of the new Muslim army, rounded up vintage side-arms from local residents, some dating from World war Two or even World War One and handed them over to the NATO officers, who turned a blind eye.
So blatant was the farce that the curator of the Macedonian National Museum Skopje wrote an official letter to NATO commanders in the area asking them not to destroy the collected weapons, but send them to his museum, where their historical value was far higher than their worth as firearms.
The new recruits to the Balkan Muslim army, asked about the source of their earnings, are trained to declare it comes from the imam as stipends for Islamic studies. They stare silently when asked about their uniforms and weapons. They are evidently told little more than they need to know and show a high level of discipline. They know who their commander is, but not much else. When called to arms, they are drilled to do their duty unquestioningly as good Muslim believers.
The army of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia is in too bad a shape to rein in the vigorous new Muslim force. It lacks an efficient intelligence service and the funds for running a network of Muslim informers in Kosovo and Albania to keep it abreast of Muslim plans, as well as the analysts for putting together any information that does come in.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources, without an outside rescue operation, the Macedonian government despairs of saving the small republic from falling into Muslim hands within months. As a last resort, the Macedonian government has secretly closed the country’s borders to the passage of goods to and from Kosovo, Bosnia and Albania, hoping to block the flow of weapons and ammunition supplies to the Muslim army.
But that is only a limited stopgap step. It is doubtful if Macedonia’s forces are capable of going into areas controlled by the Muslim army and flushing them out, along with its professional Saudi, Iranian, Iraqi military instructors and al-Qaeda terror experts. If despite its military inferiority the Skopje government does decide to forcibly stand up to the Muslim military threat, new outbreaks of fighting can be expected to flare along Macedonia’s borders with Serbia, Kosovo and Albania.