Whenever NATO officials visit Serbia and vice versa, the importance of cooperation and the role of KFOR in Kosovo are always emphasized. Moreover, recently in his official visit to NATO HQ, President of Serbia demanded from NATO to keep their forces in Kosovo, as KFOR’s role is still major in maintaining peace and stability. NATO Secretary General replied that NATO does not have any plans to leave Kosovo.
Since the signing of the Military-Technical Agreement (MTA) between NATO and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia in June 1999, NATO has been leading a peace operation in Kosovo to “build peace and stability”. NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) entered Kosovo which was followed by the withdrawal of Serbian forces. KFOR is operated under Chapter VII of the UN Charter as a peace enforcement operation that is referred to as a peace support operation.
As stated in the MTA, the State Governmental authorities of the FRY and the Republic of Serbia understand and agree that the international security force (“KFOR”) will “deploy and operate without hindrance within Kosovo and with the authority to take all necessary action to establish and maintain a secure environment for all citizens of Kosovo and otherwise carry out its mission.”
Initially, KFOR’s original objectives were to deter renewed hostility and threats against Kosovo by Yugoslav and Serb forces, to ensure public safety and order, to demilitarize the Kosovo Liberation Army and to support the international humanitarian effort, also to support the international civil presence. Today, KFOR still plays an important role in maintaining a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement and “supporting the development of a stable, multi-ethnic and peaceful Kosovo.”
The cooperation between KFOR and the Serbian Armed Forces (SAF) has been developing for the last 18 years. They have cooperated together through the Joint Implementation Commission (JIC), based on the 1999 MTA signed between KFOR and the Serbian Armed Forces. Following the signature of Military-Technical Agreement, other supporting agreements were signed in order to establish the procedures for coordination between the parties along the Kosovo Administrative Boundary Line.
Serbian Forces and KFOR cooperate on a wide range of activities on the Administrative Boundary Line including patrols, evacuation exercises and other that lead to better understanding, communication and operational effectiveness. The existing cooperation and information sharing between KFOR and SAF are also important when it comes to the issues like terrorism and organized crime. Under the Joint Implementation Commission, meetings between KFOR and Serbian Armed Forces are held on a regular basis for the implementation of the so-called Kumanovo Agreement (MTA).
In her visit to Serbia, several months ago, Commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples, Michelle Howard, emphasized the good communication that exists between Serbian Armed Forces (SAF) and KFOR, also the operative-technical cooperation that is proved through the regular meetings between the Chief of Staff of SAF and the KFOR Commander.
“NATO-led Kosovo Forces will retain a flexible, deterrent presence, and will make changes only when the security situation allows,” said Howard.
Currently, there are around 5,000 soldiers who are capable of responding to any security challenge.
“Our mission is condition-based, meaning that any reduction in the number of troops will be based on the condition on the ground, but now we assessed the situation in a way that is underlining the need for NATO to continue to be in Kosovo,” said Secretary General Stoltenberg at a joint press conference with President Vučić.
Recently, Prime Minister of Kosovo Ramush Haradinaj stated that Kosovo is making all the efforts to establish the Armed Forces of Kosovo, stressing the will to join NATO as soon as possible. When asked to comment on claims by Kosovo politicians that KFOR is an obstacle to the establishment of a Kosovo army, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg responded that any change in the mandate of the Kosovo Security Force has to be done in accordance with the constitution.
On the other hand, Serbian top officials stressed that KFOR is the most responsible actor for maintaining the peace and security in Kosovo. The announced transformation of Kosovo Security Forces to the Armed forces would be a strong violation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and would lead to the instability in the region. NATO has supervised the stand-up of the Kosovo Security Forces, which is a lightly armed volunteer force.
It has primary responsibility for security tasks such as emergency response, management of hazardous material, fire-fighting and civil protection. The Kosovo Security Forces are mandated to a maximum of 2,500 active personnel and 800 reservists.
“Inter-ethnic incidents have decreased and the security situation in Kosovo has greatly improved, including the areas populated by Serb majorities, while Kosovo Serbs and other minorities have been integrated into local security institutions,” said Giovanni Fungo, KFOR ex-Commander in his last meeting with the Chief of Staff of Serbian Armed Forces.
Also, they discussed the future activities between KFOR and SAF to be organised as well as the current situation in the Administrative Boundary Line. KFOR remains to collaborate with Serbian Armed Forces, but also with the security institutions in Kosovo and the international community to ensure that Kosovo has the adequate means to deal with security challenges.