Kosovo – what role will US combat troops play in the north?

While sending US combat troops to Kosovo may be just a benefit of drawdowns elsewhere, the Germans, Americans and Austrians – the three largest national elements of KFOR – have, in the past, dependably carried out their orders to confront unarmed civilians. Would they try again? One hopes not.

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By Gerard M. Gallucci

For the first time in ten years, the US is sending to Kosovo active duty army troops that formerly would have been sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. According to press reports, the troops have been in Germany preparing – with Armenian soldiers – to take over KFOR’s Multinational Battle Group-East. Their mission will reportedly include combat planning, preventing and putting down public unrest, evacuation of wounded and interaction with civil officials. With EULEX, it will be tasked with guaranteeing freedom of movement including removing Kosovo Serb barricades placed in the way of Kosovo police and special units in order to deny them access to the north.

One element of the US troop deployment will be the 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade. One soldier in training noted the mission would be different from the combat roles his unit has been filling in Afghanistan. Crowd control, for instance “[brings] us to a different mental task, teaching the leaders and soldiers to be a little flexible and alter our main focus to something a little different.” He said the troops are also aware that they must be status neutral so as not to “influence the Serbian or Kosovo government to change its position on its current agreements.”

NATO’s record – especially the American and German troops – has not left the northern Kosovo Serbs with much confidence in its status neutrality. From September 2011 through November of that year, KFOR sought to impose Pristina’s control by forcing the northerners to submit to Kosovo-Albanian customs and police. It did not go well for anyone, though ultimately the northerners prevailed by simply not surrendering. There were injuries – including some KFOR members, possibly by friendly fire – and the July death of a Kosovo Albanian special police member shot (in a small Serbian village) during the initial push into the north. (None of these incidents led to independent investigations.)

The actions by NATO – in Kosovo under UNSCR 1244 – were illegal and counterproductive. Under 1244, NATO is in Kosovo to support implementation of the peacekeeping mandate of the UN and not to impose the political agenda of any one side. KFOR seemed to have learned from its 2011 experience that the use of force would not, in any case, be clean. Confronting an entire local community and seeking to impose upon it the control of a power perceived as its enemy would either fail or “succeed” at the cost of considerable bloodshed. This hard-won understanding led the Quint capitals – namely Washington, Brussels and Berlin – to seek to gain their political end by subjecting Belgrade to blackmail over EU membership. Now the Quint is sitting back and waiting for Serbia to subject the north to “Kosovo sovereignty.”

But maybe not just sitting back? While sending US combat troops to Kosovo may be just a benefit of drawdowns elsewhere, the Germans, Americans and Austrians (the three largest national elements of KFOR) have, in the past, dependably carried out their orders to confront unarmed civilians. Would they try again? One hopes not. As an American, I believe in the professionalism of US army personnel. But I am not so sanguine about those who may give the political orders. With the ability now to claim they are only enforcing an agreement accepted by both Pristina and Belgrade, perhaps the Quint feels it will have greater justification for using force against northern holdouts?

The two sides have now agreed to an “implementation” plan. But the devil is in the details and both Belgrade and Pristina will continue to maneuver around what it means. Meanwhile, the northern Kosovo Serbs remain unconvinced that anyone really has their welfare in mind. US policy on Kosovo remains a zombie, stumbling forward under the control of a small group of “Europeanists” who have never understood the zero-sum nature of the ethnic conflicts in the Balkans. Sure hope they don’t get our troops into trouble while President Obama is otherwise occupied.

Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010.

To read TransConflict’s policy paper, entitled ‘The Ahtisaari Plan and North Kosovo’, please click here.

To read other articles by Gerard for TransConflict, please click here. If you are interested in responding to this article, please do not hesitate to contact us by clicking here.

To learn more about both Serbia and Kosovo, please check out TransConflict’s reading lists series by clicking here.

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28 Responses

  1. Fadil

    “The actions by NATO – in Kosovo under UNSCR 1244 – were illegal and counterproductive.”

    If one wants “bigger Serb then Serbes themselves”, here it is – Gerard Gallucci.

    Actually KFOR did not fulfill its mandate in the north of Kosovo since paragraph 9 of UN SC R 1244 is MORE THAN CLEAR in asking from military presence (known as KFOR) to SECURE FREEDOM of MOVEMENT and hence REMOVING the barricades that would PREVENT such freedom of movement, even put by “unarmed civilians”. So it was the opposite i.e KFOR actually did NOT perform its duty by UN SC R 1244.

    It is very interesting how such “unarmed civilians” fire their guns, bombs so maybe thy have very strong throats and can mimic weapon firing. As for Gallucci, when it comes to Serbs, and it can fit his agenda even such things are possible.

  2. Troll Hunter

    The question, dear Troll Fadil, is freedom of movement for who? In 2011, NATO tried to impose freedom of movement for officials of a “government” with unsettled status. Until they did that, everyone had freedom of movement in the north. Barricades went up to stop intrusions of Pristina’s customs and special police. NATO’s responsibility was to protect the peace, that meant they should have stopped Pristina’s provocations.

    Why don’t you campaign, as a loyal friend of Kosova, for complete independent investigations of the incidents of violence so we can all know what really happened?

  3. North Mitrovica Serb

    Thank you for being almost a sole voice of reason and justice in any of the sides, either Belgrade, Pristina or IC…

    Trying to find correct wording for all those actions, strategies, tactics, deeds, words, writings about a community on whose destiny everyone decides but the community itself, and furthermore worse-fully brainwashing our minds to believe, or pretend to believe it is to our benefit, while we refuse, it is democracy while imposing what they called democracy, it is for our betterment while they intrude in my home telling me to believe in the bettgerment….MENTAL FASHISM, is this a good word?!

  4. Fadil

    Troll “hunter”,

    FREEDOM of movement FOR ALL. This is what KFOR is supposed to do by UN SC R 1244. I urge you reading CAREFULLY paragraph 9 of UN SC resolution 1244, paragraph 9. I CAN’T find anywhere in the resolution 1244 about “freedom of movement for officials of a ‘government’ with unsettled status”. I would be pleased if you show to the world that paragraph which is related to “military presence” tasks and status of Kosovo is mentioned at all.

    Just to remind that extremists in the north put barricades and in such way made obstacles in freedom of movement for KFOR, EULEX and Kosovo institutions being so in breach of UN SC resolution 1244. UN representative in Kosovo. Mr. Farid Zarif also made a CLEAR statement that so called elections of Serbia in Kosovo present VIOLATION of UN SC resolution 1244 and hence there are ILLEGAL institutions in the north of Kosovo.

    What kind of investigations do you want?? Everybody could see who killed Ukrainian police in the north, who demolished everything there. Everybody knows who sat fire in the custom objects, who shot KFOR soldiers. Do you think people are blind??

  5. Troll Hunter

    The events of March 2008 in which the UN policeman was killed were the results of a decision by the then UNMIK leaders to use force to impose a one-sided political agenda. Ask the UN Secretary General to release the full investigation of that incident that he ordered.

    NATO is in Kosovo to support the UN mission and to help preserve the peace, not to impose settlements. That is the way UN peacekeeping works, dear benighted Fadil.

    PS: Does it make you feel WISER to speak in capital letters?

    1. Fadil

      @Troller,

      You are indeed ridiculous. The courts were occupied illegally by some mobs in the north and had to be released from them. Serbian extremists or “unarmed civilians” used bombs and guns, killed a policeman and wounded many other UN policemen. Such people, in democratic states, are considered as terrorists.

      I see you do not quote anything important but just saying your baseless thoughts. Why I should ask UN secretary general for some investigations?? This is not my job.

      NATO is in Kosovo to fulfill its mandate by UN SC resolution 1244 and one of tasks is clearly keeping freedom of movement in every part of Kosovo. This is VERY CLEAR written in paragraph 9 of UN SC resolution 1244. Your personal thoughts (and Gallucci’s) are totally irrelevant on this.

      1. Milan

        Nato is in Kosovo ti mine its all riches dont talk trash if u want rights for movement on kosovo look what albanians did in 2003 and who give them right to do that “america”.

    1. Jeton

      American troops will surely help Kosovo Authorities to remove bandits from Kosovo installed and financed by Serbia. These bandits, crooks, gangsters and many other type of third rate population have killed and committed crimes not only before the War, but also after it. Enough is enough. Therefore neither shitty republica serbska, nor autonomy nor anything else similar for my fellows in Mitrovica except fair treatment as in all other parts of Kosovo. For my non-grata person Galluci, they guy who sold his soul to the devils, your writings and speeches are nothing more or less than just a simple waste of time. it is truly shame for you, to be so openly on the side of murderers, those solders and armies who committed crimes, genocide, suffer, …..blood and tears to slovenians, croatians, bosnians, and lastly albanian living in Kosovo. They are blood suckers, and you are not far from it.

  6. PEN

    The mystery is who are these ‘Europeanists’ presumably in the State Department, and what motivates them. Call me a cynic, but I have always been of the opinion that the Kosovo project was in essence about establishing something else. A prime piece of real estate free of charge. A vast military complex packed with high tech eavesdropping kit, utterly out of sync with the original mission and ideally located in a strategic position. Complete with a pliant population drooling over your presence. Perfect. A serious investigation about the role of Camp Bondsteel is long overdue. Little wonder that the three national forces most hostile to the Serbs; the Americans, the Germans, and the Austrians, are in the vanguard of bullying the northerners into submission. I’m sure there has been much preparation for all eventualities by both sides this coming summer. Any serious disorder will have NATO’s imprimatur all over it.

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