Defence experts believe that NATO’s draw-down of troops in Kosovo is linked to the alliance’s expanding operations in Afghanistan.
NATO defence ministers agreed earlier this month to reduce the KFOR troop presence in Kosovo, taking into account the steady improvement of the security situation there.
NATO is expected to cut troop numbers down to 2,500 within two years.
Currently, the alliance has 13,800 troops on the ground in Kosovo, and that number is expected to be reduced to 10,000 by January next year.
Peter Felstead, editor of Jane’s Defence Weekly, told Balkan Insight that it is likely that NATO’s draw-down is linked to its operations in Afghanistan.
“NATO has always sought to reduce the number of troops in Kosovo where the security situation permits, and this is certainly more imperative now given the need to provide more manpower in Afghanistan,” Felstead said.
Afghanistan, with crucial elections looming for August, is in the security spotlight. Between 8,000 and 10,000 international troops will join a NATO-led military force in Afghanistan for August 20 elections, the outgoing NATO secretary general told reporters in Kabul on Wednesday. With Taliban attacks at a record high, there are fears that the intensifying insurgency will affect the polls, Afghanistan’s second presidential vote.
However, Felstead indicated, Kosovo would not be left on its own, and previous experience suggests that NATO will continue to show its preparedness to react to any violence in Kosovo through high-profile military exercises.
“During past draw-downs, exercises involving airborne and helicopter-borne troops have been used to demonstrate to any local factions with a proclivity for fomenting unrest just how quickly KFOR can be reinforced by NATO standing forces,” he said.
A report issued by NATO headquarters on the reduction in troops read: “The decision to gradually reduce troop numbers will reflect this [security situation] development.”
The ministers agreed that the transition of KFOR to a “deterrent presence” is to be implemented only gradually, indicating that there would not be a sudden withdrawal of large numbers of troops.
NATO defence ministers reaffirmed that KFOR would remain responsible for a safe and secure environment in Kosovo and would stay in Kosovo in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 as long as necessary, and until the Security Council should decide otherwise.
NATO troops entered Kosovo on June 12, 1999, after 78 days of air strikes on Serb positions aimed at the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.
During the initial days of the deployment, NATO’s peacekeeping operation had approximately 50,000 troops on the ground.