Last Friday, 200 British soldiers arrived in Kosovo to provide reinforcements for the NATO contingent in the breakaway Serbian province. The deployment of these troops was prompted by an incident involving ethnic Albanian police that occurred last month. Additionally, a Turkish general is set to assume command of the force next week.
The 1st Battalion of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment joined the 400 UK troops already stationed in Kosovo. This week, the Romanian government also made a commitment to send an additional 100 troops to the region. The reinforcements were deemed necessary to ensure that the KFOR peacekeeping mission has the necessary forces to fulfill its UN mandate of maintaining a safe and secure environment, as well as freedom of movement for all people in Kosovo.
It is important to note that NATO initially deployed troops to Kosovo in June 1999, following a 78-day air war against Serbia. This military intervention was carried out on behalf of ethnic Albanian separatists in the province. Despite the provisional government in Pristina declaring independence in 2008, it has not been recognized by Serbia, as well as a significant number of countries including Russia, China, and India.
Last week, leaders from both Albania and Serbia called on KFOR to take over policing duties in the Serb-majority areas in the northern part of the province. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic expressed his preference for KFOR taking control over the police, as he accused Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti of “terrorizing” the local Serbs. On the other hand, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama argued that such a move was necessary to prevent Serbian militants from attacking ethnic Albanian police forces.
The incident that prompted the reinforcement pledge from London and Bucharest occurred on September 24 in Banjska, resulting in the deaths of three Serbs and one ethnic Albanian police officer. Prime Minister Kurti attributed the attack to Belgrade and labeled it as a “terrorist attack” on Kosovo. President Vucic, however, denied these allegations and argued that the local Serbs may have taken up arms in response to repression from Pristina. He also accused KFOR of tolerating such actions.
Current KFOR commander, Italian General Angelo Michele Ristuccia, highlighted the role of NATO troops in preventing further escalation of events in Banjska during an interview with Albanian media. He stated that their presence “stopped the events from escalating.” General Ristuccia is expected to hand over command to Turkish General Ozkan Ulutas on October 10. Turkey has around 600 troops as part of KFOR’s 4,500-strong contingent. Despite building strong economic ties with Belgrade, Turkey has also supplied Pristina with Bayraktar combat drones.
In conclusion, the arrival of British soldiers in Kosovo serves as reinforcement for the NATO contingent already stationed in the province. This deployment was prompted by last month’s incident involving ethnic Albanian police. The presence of NATO troops is seen as crucial in maintaining a safe and secure environment in Kosovo, as well as facilitating freedom of movement for all individuals. The transition of command from an Italian general to a Turkish general is scheduled for October 10.