As KFOR shrinks, US peacekeepers will play a larger role in Kosovo's restive north.
By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times -- 29\12\10
US KFOR troops will be deployed in northern Kosovo as part of the overhaul. [Reuters]
US KFOR troops are ready for deployment in northern Kosovo early next year as part of a general restructuring of the force, official sources told SETimes this week.
But "the deployment of US troops in the north doesn't mean that other nations that are now there will be withdrawn," said KFOR Commander Erhard Buhler.
"The security situation in Kosovo has improved in the last years," KFOR deputy chief public affairs officer Jürgen Bredtmann told SETimes. As a result, he explained, the NATO Council decided to further reduce the amount of Allied forces there, and KFOR will be making adjustments as a result.
The number of troops will be cut from 8,000 to 5,000, forming two battalions rather than the current four.
"Beginning in March 2011, KFOR will have two Multinational Battlegroups, one with headquarters in Camp Bondsteel, led by Americans, and one with headquarters in Pec/Peja, led by the Italians," Bredtmann said.
"All units of both of the Multinational Battlegroups are deployable all over Kosovo; they are flexible, mobile and air-mobile. All in all, KFOR is going to consist of troops from 31 nations positioned in 12 Field Camps all over Kosovo," he said.
As part of the overhaul, the existing KFOR sector 2 -- located in the Giljane region -- will be unified with KFOR sector 4, in Mitrovica. Meanwhile, last summer US troops already took over control of sector 3, covering the Pristina region.
The commander of US KFOR troops, Francisco J. Neuman, said his soldiers are "ready to react to any situation in any part of Kosovo".
US troops have more helicopters than the other contingents in Kosovo, which makes them more able to be engaged in the north, he added.
Bredtmann confirmed that US soldiers will be involved in guarding the Kosovo-Serbia border. "Of course, KFOR will continue patrolling along the Administrative Boundary as well as the other borders of Kosovo, as KFOR has done so far together with the Kosovo Border and Boundary Police, and at the Administrative Boundary Line in close co-ordination together with the Serbian Armed Forces," he said.
The changes, KFOR sources stressed, do not mean that France will be withdrawing its soldiers.
"Beginning in March 2011, French Forces will remain in KFOR and will remain in Camp Novo Selo, as part of the Battlegroup East with headquarters in Camp Bondsteel. Therefore, the situation will be unchanged. KFOR will remain responsible for a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement Kosovo-wide," Bredtmann said.
"France will not leave Kosovo," said the outgoing commander of the French contingent, Frank Barrera. "KFOR is currently restructuring itself and the four battalions will soon be just two battalions, which will be ready to respond wherever there is a need, and French forces will always be here."
"The US military presence and also that of every other nation is very important for the security in northern Kosovo," Barrera said, describing the situation there as "stable, but fragile".
Local analysts said they hoped the restructuring would help maintain stability in a part of Kosovo that has remained largely outside the government's control.
"By taking under their control northern Kosovo, the US troops are giving a signal that there the situation will be returned to rule of law," said Ramadan Qehaja, a Pristina-based security analyst.
The general director of the Kosovo police, Reshat Maliqi, told SETimes that his force "welcomes every step which is intended to return rule of law" to northern Kosovo.