U.S. troops in Kosovo are operating out of a new forward operating base these days.

Camp Monteith — which has served as the No. 2 American base in Kosovo since 1999 — has been downgraded to a forward operating base, with most soldiers heading to Camp Bondsteel, the largest U.S. base in the country.

“We still have soldiers there,” said Maj. Paul Pecena, a spokesman for Multinational Task Force (East). “It’s still operating.”

As recently as March, there were about 700 soldiers stationed at Monteith, located in the city of Gnjilane. That’s about 40 percent of the current American strength in Kosovo.

But, Pecena said, the move doesn’t mean a reduction in U.S. forces.

“When we were deployed, we were told we’d be here for a year, and that still hasn’t changed,” Pecena said.

The decision was made, Pecena said, for budgetary and logistical reasons.

“If you have a chance to do the same mission for less money, naturally you take it,” he said. Pecena said he didn’t have access to exact figures, but “it will save millions of dollars.”

About 700 local nationals employed by various American contractors at Monteith could end up losing their jobs. Some might be offered positions elsewhere.

Task Force Houston, which has responsibility for the Monteith area, is still conducting patrols, though many now start out of Bondsteel, about an hour’s drive away.

Pecena said there are no specific plans he’s aware of to close the base entirely, but the U.S. routinely evaluates such operations around the globe.

“So that’s always a possibility,” he said.

Company by company, troops have been pulling out of Monteith over the course of several weeks.

“It’s been a gradual process,” Pecena said. “We didn’t move everyone at once.”

Monteith’s downgrade means that nearly all the U.S. troops in the country are now stationed at Bondsteel, a sprawling complex near Urosevac. There’s also a small U.S. contingent that’s part of the NATO headquarters element in the capital of Pristina.

“We have a very extensive monitoring and liaison network set up,” Pecena said of efforts in the rest of the American sector. “That’s become even more important during the past year.”

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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