Updated: 06-Dec-2000 NATO Review

Web edition
Vol. 47 - No. 3
Autumn 1999
p. 16-19

KFOR: Providing security for building
a better future for Kosovo

Lt. General Sir Mike Jackson
Commander, Kosovo Force (COMKFOR)

(KFOR PIO Photo - 38Kb)

Within days of Belgrade's acceptance of a peace deal and the suspension of the Allied air campaign, the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) began deployment to secure the province for the return of refugees. General Jackson, Commander, KFOR, describes the rapid and synchronised deployment of over 40,000 KFOR troops from 39 nations and the challenges they face helping to restore order, rebuild the shattered infrastructure and speed the return to normality in Kosovo.

KFOR entered Kosovo from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia(1) on 12 June ("D-Day"), with a force of 20,000 troops split up into six brigades led by France, Germany, Italy, the US and two from the UK. Within six days all lead elements had entered Kosovo in an operation that demanded considerable skill and professionalism from the staffs and soldiers of HQ KFOR and the multinational brigades.

Serious challenges faced KFOR upon arrival in Kosovo. Yugoslav military forces were still present in large numbers. The Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), too, were armed and highly visible. Fighting was still going on. Nearly a million people were refugees outside Kosovo. Those who remained lived in daily fear for their lives. There was little electricity or water. Homes were destroyed, roads were mined, bridges down, schools and hospitals out of action. Radio and TV was off the air. Ordinary life in Kosovo was suspended.

The immediate priority was to ensure that no security vacuum should be allowed to develop between the outgoing and incoming forces that could have been filled by the UCK or any other armed group. In 11 days, the operation achieved the stated aim: the withdrawal of the Yugoslav forces from Kosovo and their replacement by KFOR as the only legitimate military force under UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1244. All this took place in a volatile and fast-moving environment, where the eyes of the world's media were watching and recording every move.

Events leading up to D-Day

Members of the 4th Armoured Brigade receive a jubilant welcome as they drive into Urosevac, part of the first wave of British KFOR troops to enter Kosovo on "D-Day", 12 June.
(Reuters photo 55Kb)

It is worth reflecting briefly on the events leading up to D-Day that suddenly turned an apparent strategic impasse into tactical military action on the ground. A breakthrough had seemed increasingly unachievable throughout the early spring and we had seriously begun to consider the possibility of winter operations.

Fortunately, during the last weeks in May - as NATO's air campaign continued and nations built up KFOR force levels in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - President Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, the European Union's envoy, and Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin persisted with their shuttle diplomacy between Moscow, Helsinki and Belgrade. The terms of a peace deal developed by the G8(2) were presented to President Slobodan Milosevic on 2 June, and ratified by the Serbian parliament and the Federal Yugoslav Government the following day.

For KFOR, this was quickly followed by days of intense discussions with representatives of the Yugoslav Armed Forces (VJ) and Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP) at Blace and Kumanovo on the border between Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The outcome on 9 June was a Military Technical Agreement (MTA) that set out in detail what was to be in effect a "relief in place" between the withdrawing Yugoslav forces and the advancing KFOR troops.

One day later, on 10 June, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1244 which formalised the mission for the International Security Presence, provided by the NATO-led KFOR, and the International Civilian Presence known as UNMIK (UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo).

Synchronising deployment with Serb withdrawal

The MTA called for a phased withdrawal of the Yugoslav forces from three pre-determined zones out of Kosovo through four designated gates into Serbia proper (see map). This was to happen within 11 days and was to be fully synchronised with the advancing KFOR troops. Following a Yugoslav request for a 24-hour delay in the KFOR advance, the VJ was given two days for preparatory work and the withdrawal of logistics troops before KFOR moved in at 5 a.m. on 12 June.

The French Framework Brigade (FFB), crossed the border on D-Day just north of Kumanovo. Their task was to occupy the eastern area of Zone 1 around Gnjilane until relieved by the US Brigade, then move north to Kosovska Mitrovica and expand into what is now known as Multinational Brigade (MNB) North. The brigade now includes troops from Belgium, Denmark, Russia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The Military Technical Agreement is signed by General Jackson and representatives of the Yugoslav Army (VJ) and Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP) in a tent at Kumanova, on the border between Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1)
(KFOR PIO photo - 42Kb)

The German 12th Panzer Brigade, with a Dutch Artillery battery already under command, used two axes of advance. One was up Route FOX north into Kosovo, heading for what was to be their final headquarters location in Prizren. The other axis took one battalion through Albania in a wide south-westerly sweep to enter Kosovo through the Morina crossing-point, that had previously achieved notoriety as one of the main exit points for the expelled Kosovar Albanian refugees. The brigade is now known as MNB (South), based on a brigade headquarters provided by Germany and comprises troops from Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Turkey and Russia.

The UK's 4th Armoured Brigade had been joined just before D-Day by the UK's 5th Airborne Brigade, which provided much needed additional forces to KFOR. On D-Day, the 5th Airborne - with one parachute battalion and a Gurkha battalion - deployed by helicopter to secure the strategically vital Kacanik defile on Route HAWK. Elements of this brigade, including the headquarters, subsequently moved on to Pristina airfield. This allowed the 4th Armoured Brigade to deploy forward to the northernmost point of Zone 1 and secure the provincial capital of Pristina. The UK continues to provide the framework for what is now MNB(Central). With its headquarters in Pristina, it includes troops from Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Once the UK and German Brigades were firm, the Italian Garibaldi Brigade moved through the Kacanik defile on its way into the devastated area of western Kosovo. The brigade now forms the core of MNB (West) with forces from Italy, Spain and Portugal. The headquarters is established in Pec and is responsible for the mountainous border with Albania and Montenegro.

The US Brigade based on Task Force Falcon (TFF) moved into eastern Kosovo on the second day of the operation, to begin to relieve the FFB who moved north into Zone III. The US now forms the core of MNB (East) that comprises a US brigade headquarters in Gnjilane and forces from the US, as well as Greece, Poland, Russia and Ukraine.

On 20 June at 5.25 p.m., the full withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo was confirmed, over six hours ahead of schedule.

Welcome Russian participation

Produced by Engr. (Geo), HQ KFOR.
05 September 1999 - 131Kb)

It is now a matter of record that the lead UK troops were met at Pristina Airfield by Russian soldiers, who had deployed overland through Serbia from Bosnia. This naturally attracted a great deal of media and political attention, but had no significant military effect on the operation.

Following the Helsinki Agreement on 18 June, a Russian air force unit assumed joint responsibility for running the Airfield alongside a NATO contingent, which has the responsibility for air movement. Both work under the KFOR Director of Kosovo Air Operations. The airfield formally opened for military traffic on 26 June and now accepts military and humanitarian aid flights.

The main body of the Russian contingent is deployed to the areas of Kosovska Kamenica with the US-led MNB (East), Srbica with the French-led MNB (North), and Malisevo and Orahovac with the German-led MNB (South). The Russian troops are an integral part of KFOR and we particularly welcome their participation, given the vital part that Russia played diplomatically in bringing about the end of the conflict.

UCK's undertaking to demilitarise

At 10 minutes past midnight on 21 June, "K-Day" - just after the Yugoslav withdrawal was complete - at the KFOR tactical headquarters just outside Pristina, Hashim Thaci, the Commander in Chief of the UCK, signed the Undertaking of Demilitarisation and Transformation which I, as COMKFOR, received on behalf of NATO. This is a voluntary statement of the UCK's intent to comply with the requirements of UNSCR 1244 to demilitarise, which also contains their aspirations for a future role in Kosovo, and laid out a path towards full demilitarisation which is now complete.

On 21 September the UCK ceased to exist. Some members are being assimilated back into society, as part of a resettlement programme designed to provide ex-soldiers with the skills needed for civilian employment. Others are joining recruits from all communities to form the Kosovo Police Service. Many of the remainder are expected to join a new multi-ethnic civilian emergency force, the Kosovo Protection Corps, which will play an important role in reconstruction tasks in Kosovo.

At the time of writing KFOR has been in Kosovo for 15 weeks. The intervening period has seen dramatic changes and Kosovo is a very different place to that which greeted us on 12 June. The VJ and MUP have withdrawn and KFOR is in place. The demilitarisation of UCK has been achieved in accordance with the terms of the Undertaking. But perhaps most significant of all, in the first few weeks nearly 750,000 people returned to rebuild their homes and their lives, in an overwhelming display of confidence in KFOR and the international presence in Kosovo.

KFOR's arrival also coincided with a pretty brutal shift in the balance of power. The atmosphere was extremely volatile. KFOR's advance was carefully synchronised with the withdrawing Yugoslav forces to avoid a military vacuum, but it was not so easy to fill the void left by the departing civil administration.

Handing over to the UN Civil Authority

UNSCR 1244 gave KFOR full responsibility for Kosovo until the arrival of the UN Civil Authority. While primarily concerned with providing security and law and order, it was vital that KFOR begin to rebuild the shattered infrastructure and prepare the way for a speedy return to normality. KFOR troops have cleared large areas of mines and unexploded munitions with the priority being schools, hospitals and other public facilities. Bridges and radio transmitters damaged during the conflict are being repaired. Military engineers have brought the main "Kosovo A" power station on line, and much of the railway has been reopened.

In each of the brigade areas, soldiers have been responsible for repairing ambulances and fire engines, organising refuse collection and generally restoring vital community services. With the onset of a Balkan winter in mind, much of the emphasis has been on repairing villages in the high mountains. These are not tasks ordinarily associated with classical soldiering. But, as was apparent during the Easter refugee crisis in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, international organisations need time to get established and the military is often the only organisation capable of providing such support in the initial stages.

But the Civil Authority in the form of UNMIK is now established. It comprises four pillars:

  • Humanitarian provided by UNHCR,
  • a UN Civil Administration,
  • OSCE Institution Building, and
  • Reconstruction by the EU.

It has begun to take over much of the work started by KFOR, but most importantly the UNMIK police have begun to assume police responsibility for areas of Pristina. The establishment of a civilian police force is vital for any democratic society and the formation of the locally recruited Kosovo Police Service will take this one stage further.

"Fortune favours the bold"

The military manoeuvre phase of the operation is now over. It has not been an easy task, but one which the officers and soldiers of KFOR have performed very professionally and with great skill and perseverance. There are now over 40,000 KFOR troops deployed in Kosovo from 39 nations. They continue to provide the secure environment within which the people of Kosovo have the opportunity to build a better future.

There will undoubtedly be challenges ahead as Kosovo looks to establish itself as a truly free, open and democratic society. The onset of winter is not far away and there is much to be done. In October, I will be handing over the reins to General Klaus Reinhardt, my successor as Commander of KFOR. The next chapter in the history of Kosovo is being written. I hope it ends well: Audentis Fortuna Iuvat.


  1. Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.
  2. The Group of 7 industrialised nations plus Russia.