Pace Visits Kosovo, Georgia, Encouraged by Progress
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 2004 Clear signs of progress both in the southern Yugoslav province of Kosovo as well as in other countries, are encouraging troops and residents in Kosovo, said officials who traveled to the region recently with Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Pace returned from a trip to Germany, Kosovo and Georgia Dec. 6. He met with national leaders, troops and U.S. military leaders during his visits.
Pace observed a huge difference in Kosovo from his last visit a year ago. "The general remarked that the last time he was in Pristina (the capital of the province) most of the houses had those U.N. blue tarps in place, because the roofs were missing," said a defense official who traveled with the general. "Now most of the houses have roofs, and there were very few tarps still in evidence."
The official said the general also noticed an increase in traffic both ground and air and commanders spoke of a new realism between the Kosovar Albanians and the Serbs.
The last confrontation between Albanians and Serbs was in March. U.S. and NATO commanders told Pace that both sides seem to be coming to the realization that they pushed things too far, and that both could end up losing international support. "Albanians and Serbs know they need to ratchet things back a bit," the official said.
There are 17,500 NATO troops in Kosovo with about 1,800 American troops. Those National Guard soldiers are part of the 38th Infantry Division based in Indianapolis. The unit, in Kosovo since September, has had no firefights or other confrontations. They are handling "police missions."
The end of the Stabilization Force mission in neighboring Bosnia has encouraged the troops, as has the elections in Afghanistan, the official said. The soldiers are able to use that as an example to the people of Kosovo. "It shows there are other parts of the world in a bad situations places that have no history of democratic processes and they are models that show it can be done," he said.
After leaving Pristina, Pace traveled to the former Soviet republic of Georgia where he met with President Mikhail Saakashvili to discuss support by the Georgian military to coalition military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.
Following the meeting, Pace confirmed that U.S. European Command will begin a training mission with Georgian troops called the Georgia Sustainment and Stability Operations Program.
Details are still being worked out, but the new mission builds on the Georgia Train and Equip training conducted by Special Operations Command Europe and Marine Forces Europe between May 2002 and April 2004. The new program will involve sustaining the training by expanding it.
The program will train the Georgian 11th Brigade staff and will equip two more infantry battalions and two logistics battalions. It will train some separate companies from the Georgian 11th Brigade and some command and control elements that will plan, coordinate and execute Georgian deployments to Iraq.
"It's a great honor to be a partner with the Georgian armed forces in a country that has struggled for your own freedom," Pace told Georgian reporters during a press briefing in the national capital of Tbilisi.
(Air Force Lt. Col. Derek Kaufman of European Command Public Affairs Office contributed to this article.)