NATO to cut troop levels in Kosovo

AP News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2009 10:47 AM

Despite opposition from Serbia, NATO's commander for Southeast Europe said the alliance will cut down its force in Kosovo by some 4,500 troops in January for possible use in hotspots like Afghanistan or Iraq.

Adm. Mark Fitzgerald said Wednesday NATO will keep 10,000 troops in Kosovo which proclaimed independence from Serbia last year. He said there could be further reductions.

Fitzgerald said the pullout is because NATO assessed the security situation in the region as improved.

"NATO looked at the security situation and said we are satisfied and we will look at further reductions depending on the situation," Fitzgerald told reporters in Belgrade.

Pro-Western Serbian government officials have expressed fears that the reduced NATO presence would not be enough to protect minority Kosovo Serbs from retaliatory attacks by majority Albanians.

NATO has been gradually decreasing its military contingent in Kosovo since a brief air war against Serbia in 1999 when it deployed 50,000 troops. The Western military alliance intervened to stop a brutal crackdown by then Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic against Kosovo Albanian separatists.

Fitzgerald aid that Kosovo's police force alongside 2,500 European Union police and justice workers will gradually take over from NATO.

"More significantly, we have 28 bases in Kosovo and we are looking to trim that down to 18 bases by January and February," Fitzgerald said. "By freeing up some troops there, they will be available for other missions."

He also praised NATO's relations with Serbia's military.

"We had no incidents or concerns with the Serbian military in ten years," Fitzgerald said, adding that Serbian soldiers could join foreign peacekeeping missions, like in Lebanon, in the near future.