Gates Urges Orderly Reduction in NATO’s Kosovo Force
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BRUSSELS, Belgium, June 11, 2009 With NATO defense ministers having agreed to reduce the alliance’s military presence in Kosovo from 14,000 to 10,000 troops by the year’s end, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today urged that the reduction take place as an organized process.
On the first day of an alliance defense ministers conference here, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer announced the force reduction today, noting that Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, has proposed moving toward a deterrent presence in Kosovo that will require fewer troops in the country.
Gates said that any NATO drawdown in the country should be accomplished in an organized and coherent alliance process, and not by countries leaving unilaterally.
“The irony is [that] two years ago, everybody was worried about us pulling out, and I came to these meetings and said our policy will be, ‘In together, out together,’” the secretary said in an interview with reporters traveling with him. “Now I’m in the position of worrying that some of them will leave prematurely. So the same phrase still applies: In together, out together.”
Unilateral withdrawal leaves other nations exposed if there is too little time to plan, Gates said. “Just unilaterally just pulling up stakes is not the way you behave as a part of an alliance,” he said.
De Hoop Scheffer said 14,000 NATO troops currently are in Kosovo, a number that is due to drop to 10,000 by Jan. 1. The United States has 1,483 troops – mostly National Guardsmen – deployed to Kosovo. The headquarters for the U.S. effort in the nation is at Camp Bondsteel. In addition, 33 NATO and non-NATO allies have troops in the country.
De Hoop Scheffer said NATO will remain in Kosovo and is committed to a safe and secure country. “We will remain for the security of the majority and minority alike,” he said during a NATO news conference.
The decision is a reflection of how far Kosovo and the region have come, he noted. While much work remains, “the region and international players are on the right track,” the secretary general said.
NATO’s North Atlantic Council must approve the proposal. There are further plans to draw the numbers down to 6,500 and then to 2,500, but this will happen only if conditions warrant it and only after the North Atlantic Council approves, NATO officials said.
The mission in Kosovo began in 1999 after Serbian troops began a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the ethnic Albanians in the country. NATO has led the security force – dubbed K-FOR – under a United Nations mandate.