NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organization

NATO's role in Kosovo

NATO has been leading a peace-support operation in Kosovo since June 1999 in support of wider international efforts to build peace and stability in the area.

Today, some 5,000 troops from the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), provided by 31 countries, continue to contribute towards maintaining a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all citizens, irrespective of their ethnic origin.

Following the unilateral declaration of independence on 17 February 2008, the Alliance reaffirmed that KFOR shall remain in Kosovo on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1244, unless the United Nations Security Council decides otherwise. In June 2008, NATO agreed to take on new tasks in Kosovo. These new tasks included the standing down of the Kosovo Protection Corps and the creation of the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) as an all-crisis voluntary, professional, multi-ethnic, lightly armed force with a mandate encompassing crisis response, assistance to civil authorities in responding to natural and other disasters and emergencies, explosive ordinance disposal and civil protection. These tasks, together with KFOR’s overall mandate, have not been affected by the ruling of the International Court of Justice on 22 July 2010: the advisory opinion of the Court on the legality of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence is that it did not violate international law, nor UNSCR 1244.

Throughout Kosovo, and bearing in mind its operational mandate, KFOR is cooperating with and assisting the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU) and other international actors, as appropriate, to support the development of a stable, democratic, multi-ethnic and peaceful Kosovo. In April 2013, Belgrade and Pristina reached an Agreement on Normalisation, which will help to improve relations between both parties while giving new momentum to the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Western Balkans. NATO and, in particular, KFOR will stand ready to support the implementation of this latest agreement to the best of their ability within their current mandate.

Over time, as the security situation has improved, NATO has been gradually adjusting KFOR’s force posture towards a minimal presence: essentially a smaller force progressively relying more on flexibility and intelligence with fewer static tasks. The pace and level of successive troop reductions is decided by the North Atlantic Council (NAC) as the security situation on the ground evolves and in light of security conditions. This process is conditions-based and not calendar-driven.

  • KFOR’s objectives

    KFOR deployed into Kosovo on 12 June 1999, in the wake of a 78-day air campaign. This air campaign was launched by the Alliance in March 1999 to halt and reverse the humanitarian catastrophe that was then unfolding.

    KFOR derives its mandate from UNSCR 1244 of 10 June 1999 and the Military-Technical Agreement (MTA) between NATO and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia. KFOR is operated under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and, as such, is a peace enforcement operation, which is more generally referred to as a peace support operation.

    Initially, KFOR’s mandate was to:

    • deter renewed hostility and threats against Kosovo by Yugoslav and Serb forces;
    • establish a secure environment and ensure public safety and order;
    • demilitarise the Kosovo Liberation Army;
    • support the international humanitarian effort; and
    • coordinate with, and support, the international civil presence.

    KFOR’s presence has been crucial in maintaining safety and security for all individuals and communities in Kosovo. Today, KFOR continues to contribute towards maintaining a safe and secure environment and the freedom of movement for all people in Kosovo.

  • KFOR's tasks

    Initial tasks

    KFOR tasks have included assistance with the return or relocation of displaced persons and refugees; reconstruction and de-mining; medical assistance; security and public order; security of ethnic minorities; protection of patrimonial sites; border security; interdiction of cross-border weapons smuggling; implementation of a Kosovo-wide weapons, ammunition and explosives amnesty programme; weapons destruction; and support for the establishment of civilian institutions, law and order, the judicial and penal system, the electoral process and other aspects of the political, economic and social life of the province.

    Special attention continues to be paid to the protection of minorities. This includes regular patrols near minority enclaves, check points, escorts for minority groups, protection of heritage sites such as monasteries, and donations including food, clothes and school supplies.

    Additional tasks

    On 12 June 2008, NATO agreed to start implementing additional tasks in Kosovo, i.e. assist in the standing down of the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC) and in the establishment of the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) and a civilian structure to oversee the KSF. These tasks are implemented in close coordination and consultation with the relevant local and international authorities.

    • Stand-down of the Kosovo Protection Corps

    The KPC was conceived as a transitional post-conflict arrangement, under the responsibility of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Its mandate was to provide disaster-response services, perform search and rescue, provide a capacity for humanitarian assistance in isolated areas, assist de-mining and contribute to rebuilding infrastructure and communities.

    The KPC ceased its operational activities on 20 January 2009 and was formally dissolved on 14 June 2009. In parallel, the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) was developed to ensure that key capabilities were available for emergency situations.

    Those KPC members not recruited into the KSF have been resettled, reintegrated or retired with dignity. A resettlement programme funded by a NATO Trust Fund is being implemented by a local partner non-governmental organisation, namely APPK (Employment Promotion Agency Kosovo), under the supervision of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

    • Stand-up of the Kosovo Security Force

    NATO has supervised the stand-up and training of a multi-ethnic, professional and civilian controlled KSF.

    The KSF is a lightly armed force, with no heavy weapons such as tanks, heavy artillery or offensive air capability. It has primary responsibility for security tasks that are not appropriate for the police such as emergency response, explosive ordnance disposal, management of hazardous material, fire fighting and civil protection.

    This professional, all-volunteer force was trained according to NATO standards and is placed under civilian-led, democratic control. The first Kosovo-wide recruitment campaign for the KSF started on 21 January 2009 and focused on encouraging all minority communities in Kosovo to apply. The recruitment process reached out across society and was carried out in two official languages: Albanian and Serbian. Training activities and courses started on 2 February 2009. The initial operational capability was reached in mid-September 2009, with some 1,500 personnel; full operational capability was declared by the North Atlantic Council on 9 July 2013, with approximately 2,200 active personnel (KSF’s total strength will not exceed 2,500 active personnel and 800 reservists).

    NATO is continuing to support the KSF beyond the declaration of full operational capability through a NATO Liaison and Advisory Team (NLAT). The NLAT is distinct from KFOR and will consist of approximately 30 military and civilian personnel. Its role is to provide advice and support at brigade level of the KSF and above, in areas such as capacity building and training, leadership, or command and control. It will also facilitate the continued professional development of the KSF.

    • Establish a civilian-led body to supervise the KSF

    NATO assisted and continues to assist in establishing a civilian-led organisation that exercises civilian control over the KSF. Primary responsibility for this task rests with NATO Headquarters in Brussels; KFOR is tasked to support the NATO Advisory Team that has been established in Pristina.

  • Command and structure of KFOR

    With the move to the so-called Transition Gate 2, KFOR has been restructured, reducing the number of Multinational Battle Groups to two. The decision to restructure was taken in October 2010, based on the security situation in Kosovo and the performance of the Kosovo police and the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX).

    Today’s Multinational Battle Groups (MNBG)

    A Battle Group is a military organisation at the level of a battalion, consisting of numerous companies. These companies are highly mobile, flexible and rapidly deployable to potential trouble spots all over Kosovo. There are two MNBGs, which constitute KFOR and are ready to react to any threatening situation:

    • HQ MNBG East, located at Camp Bondsteel, located near Urosevac in the eastern part of Kosovo;
    • HQ MNBG West, located at Camp Villagio Italia in Pec.

    HQ KFOR continues to be located at Camp Film City, Pristina, and there are 12 other Camps to accommodate the companies of KFOR. In addition to the KFOR troops in Kosovo, NATO continues to maintain a reserve force ready to deploy if necessary.

    KFOR comes under a single chain of command, under the authority of Commander KFOR (COMKFOR). COMKFOR reports to the Commander of Joint Force Command Naples (COM JFCN), Italy. The current COMKFOR is Major General Salvatore Farina. He assumed command of the Kosovo Force on 7 September 2013.

    Previous formations

    Originally, KFOR was formed by four Multinational Brigades (MNB East, MNB Centre, MNB Northeast, MNB Southwest) and from June 2006, by five Multinational Task Forces (MNTF): Multinational Task Force (MNTF) Centre based in Lipljan; MNTF North based in Novo Selo; MNTF South based in Prizren; MNTF West based in Pec; and MNTF East based in Urosevac.

    KFOR’s transition from Brigades to Task Forces was aimed at improving the effectiveness of the forces and their ability to operate flexibly throughout Kosovo without restriction. In addition, it placed more emphasis on intelligence-led operations, with MNTFs working closely with both the local police and the local population to gather information.

    In February 2010, KFOR was restructured and the five Multinational Task Forces, which had been in place since June 2006, were succeeded by mission-tailored Multinational Battle Groups (MNBGs).

    • MNBG North;
    • MNBG South;
    • MNNG East;
    • MNBG West; and
    • MNBG Centre, which also covered the KFOR Headquarters in Pristina.

    These operated until October 2010 when the present configuration was put into place.

    Former KFOR commanders

    Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Jackson, UK A

    09 Jun 1999 - 08 Oct 1999

    Lt. Gen. Klaus Reinhardt, GE A

    08 Oct 1999 - 18 Apr 2000

    Lt. Gen. Juan Ortuño, SP A

    18 Apr 2000 - 16 Oct 2000

    Lt. Gen. Carlo Cabigiosu, IT A

    16 Oct 2000 - 06 Apr 2001

    Lt. Gen. Thorstein Skiaker, NO A

    06 Apr 2001 - 03 Oct 2001

    Lt. Gen. Marcel Valentin, FR A

    03 Oct 2001 - 04 Oct 2002

    Lt. Gen. Fabio Mini, IT A

    04 Oct 2002 - 03 Oct 2003

    Lt. Gen. Holger Kammerhoff, GE A

    03 Oct 2003 - 01 Sep 2004

    Lt. Gen. Yves de Kermabon, FR A

    01 Sep 2004 – 01 Sep 2005

    Lt. Gen. Giuseppe Valotto, IT A

    01 Sep 2005 –01 Sep 2006

    Lt. Gen. Roland Kather, GE A

    01 Sep 2006 – 01 Sep 2007

    Lt. Gen. Xavier Bout de Marnhac, FR A

    01 Sep 2007 – 29 Aug 2008

    Lt. Gen. Giuseppe E. Gay, IT A

    29 Aug 2008 – 08 Sep 2009

    Lt. Gen. Markus Bentler, GE A

    08 Sep 2009 – 1 Sep 2010

    Maj. Gen. Erhard Bühler, GE A

    01 Sep 2010 – 08 Sep 2011

    Maj. Gen. Erhard Drews, GE A

    09 Sep 2011- 07 Sep 2012

    Maj. Gen. Volker Halbauer, GE A

    08 Sep 2012 – 06 Sep 2013

    Maj. Gen. Salvatore Farina, IT A 07 Sep 2013 – Present
  • The evolution of NATO’s role in Kosovo

    KFOR deploys

    UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1244 was adopted on 10 June 1999 and on 12 June, the first elements of the NATO-led Kosovo Force, or KFOR, entered Kosovo. By 20 June, the withdrawal of Serbian forces was complete.

    KFOR was initially composed of some 50,000 men and women from NATO member countries, partner countries and other non-NATO countries under unified command and control. By early 2002, KFOR was reduced to around 39,000 troops. The improved security environment enabled NATO to reduce KFOR troop levels to 26,000 by June 2003, then to 17,500 by the end of 2003 and today, down to around 5,000.

    Renewed violence

    A setback in progress towards a stable, multi-ethnic and democratic Kosovo occurred in March 2004, when renewed violence broke out between Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs. At that time, KFOR troops were under attack. An additional 2,500 soldiers were rapidly deployed to reinforce the existing KFOR strength.

    At the 2004 Istanbul Summit, NATO leaders condemned the renewed ethnic violence and reaffirmed NATO’s commitment to a secure, stable and multi-ethnic Kosovo.

    The Kosovo status talks

    After 14 months of UN-led negotiations, the Special Envoy for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, presented his Comprehensive Proposal for a Kosovo Status Settlement to the UN Secretary-General in March 2007. Whilst Pristina endorsed the Ahtisaari Proposal, Belgrade categorically rejected it.

    On 1 August 2007, in the absence of any UN Security Council decision on Kosovo’s future status, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched an extended period of engagement with the parties, led this time by an EU/Russia/US Troika under the auspices of the Contact Group. By the end of the Troika’s mandate on 10 December 2007, the negotiating parties failed to reach any agreement on Kosovo’s status.

    Throughout the negotiations, NATO supported the efforts of Martti Ahtisaari and, subsequently, those of the Troika to settle Kosovo’s status; KFOR helped maintain safety and stability on the ground allowing the negotiations to proceed without disruption.

    In December 2007, NATO Foreign Ministers agreed that KFOR would remain in Kosovo on the basis of UNSCR 1244, unless the UN Security Council decided otherwise. They also renewed their commitment to maintain KFOR’s national force contributions, including reserves, at current levels and with no new caveats. 

    At the Bucharest Summit in April 2008, NATO leaders agreed that NATO and KFOR would continue to work with the authorities. They also agreed that, bearing in mind its operational mandate, KFOR would cooperate with and assist the United Nations, the European Union and other international actors, as appropriate, to support the development of a stable, democratic, multi-ethnic and peaceful Kosovo. They also stressed that NATO stands ready to play its part in the implementation of future security arrangements.

    NATO Foreign Ministers, on 2-3 December 2008, reaffirmed that the UN-mandated NATO-led KFOR presence will remain in Kosovo on the basis of UNSCR 1244. They stressed that the prompt deployment of the European Union Rule of Law mission (EULEX) throughout all Kosovo was a priority, and in this context noted the adoption by the UN Security Council of a statement of its presidency in support of the reconfiguration of UNMIK. They reaffirmed that NATO will continue to work towards the standing down of the Kosovo Protection Corps and the establishment of the Kosovo Security Force on the basis of NATO’s voluntary trust funds.

    An improved security situation

    Since then, the security situation has continued to improve. As a result, on 11-12 June 2009, NATO Defence Ministers decided to gradually adjust KFOR’s force posture towards what is called a deterrent presence. This means that, when appropriate and according to the evolution of events, over time NATO will reduce the number of forces on the ground, with the remaining forces in theatre progressively relying more on intelligence and flexibility.

    At their informal meeting in Istanbul on 3-4 February 2010, NATO Defence Ministers were informed by the NATO Military Authorities that KFOR had successfully achieved the so-called Gate 1 in its transition to a deterrent presence, reducing the number of troops on the ground to some 10,200. The move to Gate 2, allowing for a total of approximately 5,000 troops was recommended by NATO Military Authorities and authorised by the North Atlantic Council (NAC) on 29 October 2010. Gate 2 was declared on 28 February 2011.

    In a separate development, the improved security situation on the ground in Kosovo also allowed NATO to continue with the implementation of the so-called unfixing process, the gradual transfer of security for religious and cultural heritage sites under KFOR protection to Kosovo Police responsibility. By the end of 2012, KFOR had unfixed seven properties with Designated Special Status: the Gazimestan Monument, Gracanica Monastery, Zociste Monastery, Budisavci Monastery, Gorioc Monastery, the Archangel site and Devic Monastery. Since then, the Pec Patriarchate, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has also been unfixed.  

    The situation in northern Kosovo

    The security situation in the northern part of Kosovo deteriorated in July 2011 over a customs dispute. Clashes ensued, resulting in two major spikes of violence in July and September, followed by a third in November, prompting the Alliance and its partners to adapt their posture on the ground. In this context, a NATO Operational Reserve Force battalion was deployed in August, with a troop contribution of around 600 soldiers, in order to help bolster KFOR’s deterrent presence.

    Amid the heightened tensions and clashes in northern Kosovo, KFOR acted carefully, firmly and impartially, with a view to guaranteeing the population a stable environment, freedom of movement and security.

    By the end of 2012, the Operational Reserve Force battalion had withdrawn from Kosovo. However, a reduction of KFOR was delayed with the aim to ensure the ability to maintain a safe and secure environment if tensions arise.

    Future decisions on further reducing KFOR’s footprint in Kosovo will continue to need the approval of the NAC in the light of both military and political considerations, with no automaticity in the move to a deterrent presence Gate 3.

    NATO continues to support the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina under EU auspices. This dialogue for the normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo remains key to solving the political deadlock over the northern part of Kosovo. In April 2013, Belgrade and Pristina reached an Agreement on Normalisation, which will help to improve relations between both parties while giving new momentum to the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Western Balkans. NATO and, in particular, KFOR stand ready to support the implementation of this latest agreement to the best of their ability within their current mandate.

Last updated: 22-Oct-2013 10:31

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