Myers Gets Upbeat Report on Kosovo
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
PRISTINA, Kosovo, Sept. 17, 2003 Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers had just finished answering a news conference question here on how long U.S. troops would be in Iraq when a Kosovar reporter piped up, "We want you to stay here for a hundred years," he said.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff visited Kosovo today as part of a trip through the Balkans. Myers is meeting with American troops in the region and speaking with leaders. Later in the week he will visit Hungary, Bosnia and Poland.
The general said he senses an air of security in Kosovo. Pristina, the leading city of the region, is booming. Construction sites dotted the route Myers took to the home of Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova for a meeting. On the way to the house, the motorcade crossed over Avenue Bill Clinton, which gives some idea of the regard Kosovars hold for America.
There were traffic jams as his motorcade moved through the streets -- something that was not a problem when Kosovo was threatened by the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic.
Myers met with Rugova, then flew to Camp Bondsteel to have lunch with soldiers based there. After lunch, he held a town hall meeting at the camp.
Task Force Falcon is the American contribution to the Kosovo Force. For the first time, a U.S. National Guard unit is the major U.S. command in the region and most of the troops are from the reserve components. Myers said there was a "seamless" handoff when the 28th Infantry Division of the Pennsylvania National Guard took over the duties. There are between 2,200 and 2,500 American troops in Kosovo. Most are part of the Multinational Brigade (East).
The Pennsylvania Guardsmen took over the mission in May. Many of the Guardsmen had previously served in Bosnia.
Myers said that while the situation in Kosovo is stabilizing, challenges remain. He said the U.S. military is in Kosovo as part of the greater NATO mission. The United States will stand with the NATO allies and will not leave early, he said. "In together, out together is the plan," he said during the press conference.
The chairman said NATO will continue to study the situation in the region, and is "almost continuously" reviewing the troops levels needed in the country.
He said the military mission in the region is almost done, but troops will be needed for some time to come. He did say he expects the number to drop as more civilians take over jobs, such as police work, now being done by military members. He said he was encouraged at the progress being made.
Myers said some of the lessons of operations in the Balkans can be applied in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"One of the lessons here is that our troops out working with the people of Kosovo have earned their trust and confidence," Myers said. "I think we've taken that same lesson and applied that in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"I think of all the armed forces in the world, the U.S. armed forces are probably the most highly respected," he continued. He said this is not only because the American military produces "very good warriors," but also because U.S. service members show compassion.
"You see it every day here in Kosovo, you see it in Bosnia, you see it in Afghanistan and in Iraq," he said. "Clearly, getting the trust and confidence of the people you are trying to help has worked in Kosovo, and the same thing will work in Iraq."