KFOR: Why are Troops Still in Kosovo?
NATO Still Keeping the Peace 18 Years After the War
NATO has been leading a peace-support operation in Kosovo since June 1999 in support of wider international efforts to build peace and stability in the area.
With the recent news that the UK is sending a team of some 30 military personnel to Kosovo, some may have been surprised to learn that troops are still being deployed to the former Yugoslavia. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has had a continuous presence in the country since the end of the Kosovo War in 1999 called Kosovo Force, or KFOR.
The largest contributors to NATO’s KFOR are currently the USA, Italy, Germany and Austria. The US has 675 personnel there. Until the new announcement, the UK had only one person in Kosovo. The total as at February 2017 was 4,273. Why are so many soldiers still needed?
The Kosovo War
From 5 March 1998 until 11 June 1999, the Kosovo War was fought between the forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (by this time, consisting of the Republics of Montenegro and Serbia), which controlled Kosovo before the war, and the Kosovo Albanian paramilitary group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), with air support from NATO from 24 March 1999, and ground support from the Albanian army.
NATO intervened in the conflict against the ruling authorities with the intention of preventing large-scale civilian casualties. Ironically, their actions allowed the KLA to commit their own atrocities undisturbed. The Independent International Commission on Kosovo conducted a report, The Kosovo Report, which concluded that “NATO military intervention was illegal but legitimate.” NATO General Wesley Clark later said “There was a sense among some that NATO was fighting on the wrong side.”
The fragmentation of the former Yugoslavia along religio-ethnic grounds remains a source of concern today. The political status of Kosovo remains unresolved.
The KFOR Mandate
According to NATO, the international military presence in Kosovo is intended to deter renewed hostility and threats against Kosovo by Yugoslav and Serb forces; establish a secure environment and ensure public safety and order; demilitarize the Kosovo Liberation Army; support the international humanitarian effort; and co-ordinate with, and support, the international civil presence.
NATO has divided Kosovo into three administritive regions, or Joint Regional Departments (JRD): in the north, JRD-N; in the centre, JRD-C; and in the south, JRD-S. KFOR HQ is in Pristina, JRD-C.
The Multinational Battle Groups (MNBG)
A Battle Group is a battalion-sized military unit, consisting of numerous companies. These companies are highly mobile, flexible and rapidly deployable to potential trouble spots all over Kosovo. There are currently two MNBGs:
- HQ MNBG East, located at Camp Bondsteel, located near Urosevac;
- HQ MNBG West, located at Camp Villagio Italia in Pec.
Camp Bondsteel is the main US Army base in Kosovo in JRD-S and has been in use since 1999. Stretching over 955 acres (3.68 km2), construction of the camp required flattening two hills and filling the valley between them.
It is the largest US base in the Balkans, being able to accommodate 7,000 soldiers. It has 52 helipads in addition to a wide range of facilities, including fastfood outlets.
Kosovo Tries to Create Army
Tensions rose earlier this year when Kosovo proposed to turn the Kosovo Security Force into an armed force without consitutional change. NATO Secretary General “made clear that unilateral steps such as these are unhelpful.” Kosovo later backed down.
Ethnic Cleansing of Christian Minority Still Being Covered-Up
Italian journalist and writer Maria Lina Veca told Sputnik that the current Kosovo regime were implicated in the atrocities against the Christian Serbian minority in Kosovo.
One allegation involved illegal trafficking in human organs. According to a Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly report in 2016, members of the paramilitary Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) removed organs from prisoners, many of them ethnic Serbs, held in Albania. Muslim extremists also destroyed 155 Serbian Orthodox churches. It is estimated that some 2,000 civilians and 1,000 armed personnel were killed in the Kosovan conflict.
The current president of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, was the former leader of the KLA. He is alleged to have extensive criminal links from his time as leader of the KLA, including connections with illegal drug smuggling, according to a 1999 article in The Washington Times. The KLA was also connected to Islamic terrorist organisations and declared to be a terrorist organisation itself by the authorities of what was then Yugoslavia. US Special Envoy to the Balkans, Robert Gelbard, said that the KLA was “without any questions, a terrorist group.”
Veca was pessimistic about the possibility of justice today:
KLA members became respected politicians clad in suits and ties on the international scene, and nobody wanted to destroy this illusion by trying to get to the truth. I do not think that there will be trials related to crimes against the Serbian population [in Kosovo], and no highly placed Kosovo politicians will be affected. The trials against KLA criminals would have meant a failure of the alleged ‘truth’ about Kosovo that the mainstream media and political structures have been promoting for the past twenty years.
The 2011 census in Kosov showed that 95.6% of the population are Muslims.
The Balkan Punchbag in US-Russian Relations
On his recent visit to the Balkans, US Senator John McCain said “everything that is happening in Eastern Europe is of vital importance to the national security of the US.”
Photo: A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter takes Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Marine Gen. Peter Pace and members of his staff from Camp Bondsteel to Saltina, Airfield, Kosovo, Nov. 14, 2006.