Second of two parts
CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo | The U.S. military, which has been part of a NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo for nine years, views its mission as a model for its presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The more than 16,000-strong force, known as KFOR, includes more than 1,000 Americans. It has managed to keep Kosovo largely peaceful, because “problems get worked out before they become an issue that results in violence,” said Brig. Gen. John E. Davoren, the U.S. commander here.
“I’d like to think we are the template for what we’d like Iraq and Afghanistan to be,” he said in an interview. “The average soldier out there is working very hard to ensure that people in the U.S. really don´t read about us, because peace could seem to be boring business when it comes to [news] articles.”
Kosovo’s post-independence constitution takes effect Sunday, and KFOR is the only international component here with a certain future.
The constitution does not envision a role for the U.N. mission (UNMIK) that has run Kosovo since 1999. It invites the European Union to take over some responsibilities, but its justice and law-enforcement mission is not yet ready to fully deploy, and it is viewed as illegitimate by Moscow and Belgrade, which still consider Kosovo part of Serbia.
Russia maintained pressure to force the U.N. mission out of Kosovo by calling yesterday for the top U.N. official, Joachim Rucker, to be fired, the Associated Press reported from Moscow.
KFOR answers to the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s policy-making arm in Brussels, and it has said the force will remain in Kosovo as long as it is needed. U.S. military officials said they “identified” upcoming rotations through 2010.
There are still deep divisions here between the ethnic Albanian majority, which is about 90 percent of the population, and the Serbian minority. But except for a few violent incidents, the latest in March following the Feb. 17 declaration of independence, the past nine years have been peaceful.
NATO’s 1999 military campaign against Serbia was provoked by the treatment of Kosovo’s Albanians, which the United States called a continuation of the ethnic cleansing practiced by then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in other parts of former Yugoslavia.
“Our work with the people in the communities out there have allowed us to have a very calm situation. There have been times where people have not been very polite with each other, but they have been peaceful in their dealings with each other,” Gen. Davoren said.
He said the United States is one of seven countries with troops at Camp Bondsteel, in southeast Kosovo - some of which are not even NATO members, such as Armenia and Ukraine. A total of 35 countries participate in KFOR peacekeeping throughout Kosovo.
Most Americans here are National Guard troops, and they currently serve for nine months.
“Their basic mission is to ensure that we have a safe and secure environment whether we are engaging in anti-smuggling operations, weapons search and seizure or identification of where we may have problems,” Gen. Davoren said.
NATO agreed at a meeting in Brussels yesterday to train a 2,500-strong, lightly armed Kosovo Security Force, which is set to replace the existing civil emergency force, the Kosovo Protection Corps.
“NATO will … supervise and support the stand-up and training of a civilian-controlled Kosovo Security Force,” an alliance spokesman told Reuters news agency after the meeting.
Late last month, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said KFOR had no intention of policing the former Serbian province if the EU mission is delayed, because it has not been trained or assigned to carry out such duties.
“We can and do ask other international organizations to play that role,” he said.
Western diplomats in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, said the local government will most likely invite UNMIK to continue with policing responsibilities until the EU mission is fully deployed.