The night of Aug. 4 was pitch black in much of NATO-occupied Kosovo, as irregular Albanian forces took advantage of an unexplained, unannounced power outage to cause trouble. Such trouble is nothing new for KFOR peacekeepers. Also customary is lack of information and even interest in official Washington about how and why the lights went out.

Assaults by Albanians on KFOR troops are increasing, in light as well as darkness. Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Jackson, the British officer commanding the peacekeepers, said this week, "I can't say I am fully confident" that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commandeers "are in full control" of Albanian hard-liners. In truth, with nearly all Serbs driven out of the province, NATO has broken its promise to follow a blood-and-iron policy in Kosovo that empowers the Albanians with peacemaking that protects the Serbs.

The fruits of "victory" for the Western alliance are bitter. Chaos in Kosovo belies NATO's unkept pledge to ensure ethnic peace and threatens serious trouble with Russia. In Washington, attention -- much less criticism -- is minimal. Those Republicans who had opposed intervention in the Balkans are not willing to challenge a victorious President Clinton. An exception is Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, a longtime critic who told me: "I think the situation in Kosovo today is worse now than it was a year ago."

The Aug. 4 power failure typifies baroque conditions in Kosovo. The news service Agence France-Presse (AFP), reporting on Aug. 5, quoted KFOR as attributing the outage to the shutdown of a Bulgarian power plant. The incident resulted in a "busy night" for peacekeepers, according to a KFOR officer quoted by AFP. Terrorized since the Yugoslav government's submission to NATO, Serbs asked KFOR for protection.

Whether the power outage was caused by sabotage, private or public, is unknown. Five days later, both the State Department and the Pentagon disclaimed any knowledge of the event. The United States and NATO, which unleashed a massive propaganda campaign during the 78 days of bombing, are mostly silent about Kosovo, especially about the attacks on KFOR.

Three days of scuffling between French troops and Albanians at the village of Kosovska Mitrovica has been amply reported in the U.S. media. But much more has occurred outside television range. During two months of peacekeeping, NATO soldiers have been attacked some 30 times. On the evening of Aug. 6, Russian soldiers at three KFOR checkpoints were fired at.

NATO's performance in protecting Serbs can only be called passive. "The peacekeepers have been unable to stem the violence, and their representatives argue that as a military force, their primary job is not to act as police," reported Tom Cohen of the Associated Press. But Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's capitulation to NATO with his army intact was based on NATO's promise that it would indeed protect Serbs.

Stratfor.com, the invaluable web site on strategic information, recently offered this analysis: "NATO vowed and immediately failed to provide security for all ethnic groups in Kosovo. It essentially stood aside as Kosovar Albanians carried out attacks on Kosovo's Serbian minority, driving more than 100,000 of them from the province. NATO's repeated discoveries of KLA arms stockpiles show the rebel army has no intention of demilitarizing and every intention of consolidating its uncontested grip on an independent, Serbless Kosovo."

A critical U.S. government source told me, "The no-American-casualties policy of the war seems to have carried over to the peacekeeping." Accordingly, Stratfor analysts report that the Serbs see KFOR as a "willing, if unwitting, accomplice" of the Albanians. It is difficult for NATO to turn on the KLA, their surrogate ground forces in the air war.

Two practical impediments stand in the way of NATO reneging on its promises and permitting Kosovo's independence on the way to becoming part of a greater Albania. Col. Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic, commander of the 3rd Yugoslav army, has warned that Yugoslav troops will return to Kosovo if NATO does not restore order. This week he said that the peacekeepers "are coping poorly with the situation."

The second impediment: Russians in KFOR. However limited its resources, Moscow's pretensions to world-power status are inconsistent with abandonment of the Kosovar Serbs. The Russians sent a signal July 31, when for several hours they detained Gen. Agim Ceku, the KLA chief of staff. For the United States and NATO, peace looks more difficult than war.

(C) 1999, Creators Syndicate Inc.