The military of the United States is deployed in more than 150 countries around the world, with over 170,000 of its active-duty personnel serving outside the United States and its territories. Many of those may not be in hot wars, but they are the tip of the spear. Meaning if they were attacked the United States would have to respond in kind. You may wonder why we have troops in Kosovo where these two care packages are going.
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES
Published: June 3, 2019Army secretary talks with US soldiers in Kosovo as the mission continues into
NICOLE MEJIA/U.S. ARMY
CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo
CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo — The U.S. Army’s top civilian met with troops here Sunday to take the pulse of a peacekeeping campaign now in its 20th year, as allies continue with NATO’s longest-running mission in history.
Army Secretary Mark Esper, who met with U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Philip Kosnett for closed-door talks ahead of his stop at NATO’s Camp Bondsteel, said his focus during the trip was to get feedback from soldiers rather than delve into the fraught political situation in the country.
During a base tour, Esper was briefed on the mission by soldiers and talked about the latest developments in Army training for deployments.
There are roughly 600 Americans deployed as part of Multinational Battlegroup East, one of two battlegroups that make up NATO’s Kosovo Force, or KFOR.
Battlegroup East is led by Col. Roy Macaraeg of the Hawaii National Guard’s 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which is nearing the end of a nine-month tour. The Guard has carried the bulk of the deployment load for the U.S. in Kosovo over the years. The Guard and Reserve also are key to supplementing the Army’s mission more broadly in Europe.
As the Army expands missions, Esper said one of his concerns is that units could get stretched thin. Effectively managing troop rotations will be crucial going forward, he said.
NATO Peace Keepers
The NATO peacekeeping campaign began in Kosovo after a 1999 intervention to stop a series of atrocities by Serbian forces against Kosovo’s majority Albanian population. Following a 78-day bombing campaign, Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic pulled his forces out of Kosovo, leaving NATO in control. In 2008, Kosovo’s government unilaterally declared independence from Serbia, which more than a decade later still fiercely opposes the move and considers Kosovo its territory.
KFOR has dwindled from a high of 50,000 troops in 1999 to about 3,500 today. Although NATO has considered disengaging from Kosovo — especially when its troops were needed in Afghanistan — Serbia has always insisted that the mission remain there to provide security. Ethnic Serbs account for about 10% of the population of about 2 million people.