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Mideast edition, Wednesday, August 29, 2007

ARLINGTON, Va. — The ninth rotation of U.S. troops into Kosovo since 1999 will leave in mid-September with its 1,300 members of the Army National Guard and Reserves.

The rotation will last nine months, instead of the usual yearlong assignment.

The mobilization period for “Task Force Falcon 9” — about a year, compared to more than 15 months for previous rotations — will allow “these citizen soldiers to return to their civilian jobs more quickly,” according to its commander, Brig. Gen. John Davoren.

Davoren is deputy commanding general of the 35th Infantry Division, headquartered at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

The deployment, which includes a predeployment training of just 60 days instead of three months, reflects changes in Army mobilization policy for Kosovo, Davoren told Stars and Stripes in a phone interview from Camp Atterbury, Ind., where the task force is preparing.

Soldiers from the 35th ID, which includes the Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska National Guard, a small contingent of Army Reservists and one active-duty soldier will make up Task Force Falcon 9. There are 200 fewer troops than the last two U.S. rotations, Davoren said.

There’s also a contingent of veterans: 10 percent have been to the Balkans, while another 10 percent are Iraq veterans, Davoren said.

Attention has been focused on U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but after eight years, the U.S. military still has a regular presence in the Balkans as part of the NATO-led Kosovo Force, or KFOR.

KFOR moved into Kosovo with 50,000 troops after the end of a 78-day air bombing campaign against Serbia that was launched by the alliance in March 1999, in an attempt to prevent the slaughter of the ethnic Albanians in the region.

Today, “the [security] situation is stabile, but fragile,” Davoren said.

KFOR has split what are now 16,000 troops into five brigade-sized task forces, each of which includes a different contingent of KFOR’s 35 NATO and non-NATO members.

The U.S. is the lead nation for Multinational Task Force (East), which is headquartered at Camp Bondsteel. MNTF (E) also includes units from Armenia, Greece, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Ukraine.

During Davoren’s task force’s rotation into Kosovo, there will be two major events that could challenge security in the province, he said.

The first is provincewide elections, scheduled for late November, but the more critical test will come Dec. 10, at the end of a 120-day negotiating period over the future of Kosovo.

Davoren and his officers and supporting staff have been preparing themselves, running through scenarios that could result from the outcome of the negotiations and coming up with a variety of responses, he said.

“We’re looking at what might happen, and how to support any security operations that might happen.”

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