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Balkans, Lessons Learned, Discussed at NATO Meetings

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

TORONTO, Canada, Sept. 22, 1999 – NATO's 19 defense ministers gathered here Sept. 20 to 22 to discuss peacekeeping operations in the Balkans, lessons learned in Kosovo and future defense capabilities.

The informal meetings were the first since Operation Allied Force, NATO's successful air campaign against Yugoslavia. NATO officials make no decisions during informal talks; they pave the way for decisions to be made at the next formal meetings, which will be held in December.

As the ministers arrived in Canada's largest city, reports indicated the Kosovar Liberation Army had complied with its commitment to demilitarize. "This is a milestone for the ongoing peace implementation efforts by the international community in Kosovo," NATO Secretary General Javiar Solana said in a statement released Sept. 20.

The KLA no longer exists as a structured paramilitary organization and all weapons specified under the demilitarization agreement have been put under KFOR control, Solana said. KLA members turned in about 10,000 weapons and 5 million rounds of ammunition, according to NATO officials here.

"Any individuals found to be violating these undertakings will be dealt with severely by KFOR," Solana said. "Any non-authorized weapons found will be confiscated." He called on all members of Kosovo society, especially former KLA fighters, to seize this opportunity to build a peaceful and stable Kosovo.

The U.N. Mission in Kosovo plans to set up a new, multi- ethnic civilian emergency force, the Kosovo Protection Corps, to help with emergency planning and reconstruction tasks, Solana said. The force will be made up of 3,000 active duty and 2,000 reserve personnel, a NATO official said. The French government has contributed the uniforms for the corps.

Details on recruitment, base locations and training remain to be worked out, the official noted. KFOR, the NATO-led Kosovo peacekeeping force, will supervise the corps' activities and control its 1,800 weapons. KFOR will issue these weapons only if the need arises, he said.

NATO ministers stressed the importance of keeping KFOR strong as a deterrent to the reformation of any armed paramilitaries forces in Kosovo. They pointed out the need to track any attempt by Milosevic to infiltrate Serb paramilitaries into Kosovo to sow unrest and ethnic division, the official said.

About 47,000 NATO-led international troops are currently maintaining security in Kosovo, including about 6,000 from ten NATO partner nations. The U.S. contingent numbers approximately 7,000.

KFOR has made substantial progress in restoring stability since the peacekeeping operation began about three months ago, NATO officials said. Schools have reopened. Refugees have returned. While the level of violence is down, acts of revenge and intimidation continue at a high level. Cooperation is good between KFOR and Russia's 17 airborne companies.

NATO now has about 80,000 troops in five countries in the region, Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Kosovo.

In Bosnia, the ministers called for a significant reduction in the stabilization force this winter. SFOR would drop from the current 31,000 to about 20,000 troops. The U.S. contingent would drop from about 7,000 to 4,000. The ministers also discussed the need to better coordinate forces in the Balkans, including pooling transportation, logistics and communication assets.

The goal is to cut costs by making those forces as efficient as possible, the official said. "The more efficient we can make them, the easier it will be for countries to sustain a long-term deployment in that area," Solana said.

During the first day's meetings, the defense ministers discussed lessons learned during Operation Allied Force. NATO's air campaign was successful, stressed Great Britain's Secretary of State for Defense George Robertson, who will soon take the reins as NATO's next secretary general. The British defense leader emphasized that the alliance successfully coped with the humanitarian crisis, stabilized neighboring nations and forced Milosevic to withdraw his forces.

NATO ministers also looked at ways to improve NATO's performance. They called for better advance planning to allow for rapid escalation if necessary and better defense capabilities. Interoperability, sustainability, air and sea lift capabilities, the need for more precision guided munitions and the need for better intelligence.

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