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Canadian Forces contribution to NATO Operations in the former Yugoslav Republic ff Macedonia: Operation FORAGE

BG-03.007 - January 23, 2003

On June 14, 2001, the government of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia asked NATO for assistance in stabilizing the country; in response, NATO developed Operation Essential Harvest, the collection of weapons from the armed groups of ethnic Albanians who had been in conflict with government forces. Under this plan, a 30-day collection program would be followed by a monitoring operation. The North Atlantic Council approved Operation Essential Harvest on June 29, 2001.

On August 13, the Macedonian government in Skopje and the representatives of the ethnic Albanian faction reached a political framework agreement and, on August 15, the North Atlantic Council authorized the immediate establishment of the headquarters of what was to be called Task Force Harvest.

Operation Forage began on August 18, 2001, with the arrival in Skopje of three Canadian staff officers to serve with the headquarters of Task Force Harvest. It ended on October 1, 2002, with the repatriation of the last Canadian staff officer to serve in the headquarters. The objective of the operation was to help collect weapons and ammunition from the armed groups of ethnic Albanians in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.

The first task was to assess progress toward compliance with several conditions of the framework agreement: the completion of a political agreement between the parties to the conflict, and a status of forces agreement between the government and NATO; the development of a weapons-collection plan, including a timetable; and the establishment of an enduring ceasefire respected by all parties. Significant progress had, indeed, been made in these areas and, in order to take advantage of gains in peace and stability, the North Atlantic Council authorized the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) to send troops into the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia to begin Operation Essential Harvest.
On August 27, 2001, Task Force Harvest started work, operating strictly within its mandate to collect only weapons surrendered voluntarily by ethnic Albanians. Items surrendered to Task Force Harvest during this 30-day period included surface-to-air missiles, artillery pieces, machine-guns and all manner of personal weapons, especially rifles. During this period, the government forces were responsible for ensuring a safe and secure environment.

Task Force Harvest was a 4,400-strong multinational force comprising personnel from 14 nations, including Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom. The Canadian contingent consisted of about 200 Canadian Forces members, as follows:

  • Three staff officers working at Task Force Harvest Headquarters in Skopje;
  • A Squadron, The Royal Canadian Dragoons, a 145-strong armoured reconnaissance squadron based at Petawawa, Ontario and re-assigned from Operation Palladium in Bosnia-Herzegovina;
  • A National Command Element of about 45 personnel from the Canadian Forces Joint Operations Group in Kingston, Ontario; and
  • A National Support Element of about 10 personnel from units in Canada and Bosnia.

From their camp west of Skopje, the Dragoons, with their Coyote reconnaissance vehicles, carried out observation, scouted routes and escorted convoys. They set up camp on August 31, and were ready to carry out their first mission, a convoy escort, on September 2. On October 1, 2001, when the NATO monitoring operation began, the Dragoons returned to Bosnia and their duties as part of Operation Palladium.

The Canadian contribution to the mission finally closed with the return of the last staff officer from Skopje at the end of September, 2002.

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