NATO has been carrying out its mission in Kosovo for almost 24 years now. With recently increased efforts to reach a sustainable solution on normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, but also with the renewed tensions on the ground, the role of KFOR is gaining more and more prominence in the discussions surrounding this issue. For these reasons, European Western Balkans reached out to KFOR in order to shed light on their role in the current crisis, as well as the perspective of KFOR’s future involvement in Kosovo.
“With more than 3,700 troops contributed from 27 countries, including NATO Allies and partners, KFOR remains fully focused on the daily implementation of its mandate — based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999 — to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all communities in Kosovo,” it was stated by KFOR officials for European Western Balkans. Even though its role has evolved since 1999 as the situation on the ground has improved, “the progress achieved in security and stability testifies the commitment of the International Community to Kosovo.”
„KFOR has played a key role in defusing the recent tensions“
According to KFOR officials, on 5 January 2023 it removed several vehicles blocking roads in northern Kosovo “in accordance with KFOR’s UN mandate and followed the decision taken on 28 December 2022 to remove barricades set up in northern Kosovo”.
“The removal of barricades followed intensive efforts by NATO Allies and the European Union to defuse tensions, with key support from KFOR and the EU-led Rule of Law mission (EULEX). The dismantling of the final roadblocks was conducted in a quick, safe and secure way, to avoid incidents and other risks for local security,” it was said in the statement to European Western Balkans.
As KFOR emphasized, the recurrent tensions since July have illustrated the importance of its presence in Kosovo. KFOR has reinforced its presence since October with additional troops and patrols and has the necessary resources to continue carrying out its UN mandate.
“What is now important is that all sides refrain from provocative actions and further seek solutions through dialogue. This is key to lasting security in Kosovo and to stability across the region. KFOR continues to provide the security framework necessary for the EU-facilitated dialogue for the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina to move forward,” KFOR officials stated.
„KFOR has played a key role in defusing the recent tensions, remains extremely vigilant and has the capability and personnel to continue carrying out its mandate, while KFOR Commander Major General Ristuccia remains in close contact with all relevant parties“, it was stressed by the KFOR office in Pristina. Moreover, NATO supports the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue “as the main platform to find a solution that respects the rights of all communities and to build lasting peace and security across the region.”
„KFOR has all the necessary resources to fulfil its mission”
On 16 December, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić requested KFOR to allow the return of up to 1000 members of the Armed Forces and police to the north of Kosovo, explained by the concerns over safety of the ethnic Serbian community in the north of Kosovo. KFOR rejected the request on 6 December. European Western Balkansasked KFOR to comment on the concerns expressed by Serbian officials regarding the safety of ethnic Serbian community in Kosovo, which were intensified after the recent shooting.
“The KFOR Commander made clear that KFOR is in charge of providing a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all communities living in Kosovo, all over Kosovo, in accordance with its UN mandate. He also pointed out that KFOR has all the necessary resources to fulfil its mission. For more than twenty years KFOR has demonstrated that it is up to its task, thanks to a visible, agile and adaptive posture on the ground and to its impartiality in support to the needs of all communities living in Kosovo,” KFOR officials stated.
„KFOR is in close contact with Kosovo Security Force and Serbian Armed Forces“
KFOR Commander is in close contact with all relevant actors, including representatives of the institutions in Kosovo, Kosovo Security Organization and the Serbian Armed Forces General Staff, KFOR representatives assured.
“These different strands of dialogue are key to ensure mutual situational awareness and transparency, and they help to increase predictability and stability in Kosovo and across the region. The recent tensions in northern Kosovo have not jeopardized these relations. On the contrary, they have reflected the importance that these long-standing relations have, especially in complex situations like the one we have seen late last year,” they emphasized.
Asked about the current level of cooperation with Kosovo Security Force, KFOR stated that NATO Advisory and Liaison Team has been supporting the development of security organizations in Kosovo “under their original mandate, through capacity-building, education and training coordination.” However, NATO still hasn’t expressed clear support for the transformation of Kosovo Security Force into Kosovo Armed Forces announced in 2018.
“With the change of mandate of the Kosovo Security Force in 2018, the North Atlantic Council is re-examining the level of NATO’s engagement with the KSF,” KFOR stated in its answer.
Will KFOR’s presence decrease in the future?
“NATO’s KFOR commitment in Kosovo has not changed, and our commitment remains strong. Initially, KFOR consisted of about 50,000 men and women from NATO member, partner and non-partner countries under unified command and control. By early 2002, KFOR had been reduced to about 39,000 personnel. The improved security environment allowed NATO to reduce KFOR’s troop level to 26,000 in June 2003, then to 17,500 by the end of 2003, and today to about 3,800”, KFOR officials reminded.
According to their statement, “the gradual decrease in the number of KFOR forces has been made possible by the gradual improvement in security conditions the continued presence of KFOR, but also the progress made by the Kosovo Security Organizations, to which some competences have gradually been transferred. As such, any change in the position of KFOR forces remains condition-based and is not driven by a timetable.”
“A reduction of NATO forces would be based on political decisions according to conditions reached on the ground,” it was concluded in a statement by KFOR officials.