NATO leader says no Kosovo troop reductions planned
STUTTGART, Germany — NATO on Wednesday denied that it is looking at a plan to scale down the size of its 15,000-strong Kosovo peacekeeping force, which also includes a U.S. contingent of roughly 1,500 troops.
"Let me be very clear, those who are speculating on any possible reductions to KFOR (Kosovo Force), including those in uniform, do not speak for NATO on this issue," said NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in a statement. "There is no plan, and certainly no decision for any reductions to KFOR. Any changes will be made on the basis of a political decision by all the allies.
"Such a decision will only be taken if all allies are assured that a possible reduction of KFOR will not jeopardize the safety and security of Kosovo. And that time has not come."
Speculation about a troop reduction began last week when the NATO commander in Kosovo said security conditions have improved to such an extent that scaling back the peacekeeping force was an option to be explored.
"We are thinking we are planning to reduce our strength here," Italian Lt. Gen. Giuseppe Emilio Gay told The Associated Press.
At Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Belgium, military leaders on Thursday backed up de Hoop Scheffer’s statement that no such plan is in the works.
"The secretary-general could not be more clear and SACEUR (Supreme Allied commander Europe), that is Gen. (John) Craddock, is fully in line with that statement," a SHAPE spokeswoman said.
U.S. support for the mission is slated to continue at least through the end of 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during an October visit to Kosovo.
Alliance defense ministers, however, could take up the issue during meetings in June.
"A certain number of countries believe that we could envisage a reduction, but not all of them," NATO spokesman James Appathurai told the Agence France-Presse news service. "Will there be a consensus? It’s far too early to tell.
"It is possible that there could be discussion on a modification to the structure of KFOR, which would imply discussion about a possible reduction. That discussion might be possible in June, but not before," Appathurai added.
Still, at least a slight reduction in troops is assured. On the same day NATO refuted plans for a drawdown, Britain announced its intention to pull out most of its 167 troops by September.
While Kosovo’s independence has been embraced by the U.S. and other NATO countries, Russia has strongly opposed recognition of the former Serbian province.