Washington, 2 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Senior U.S. officials say U.S. troops in Kosovo cannot become police reserves for other NATO forces in the Serbian province, but neither will they be restricted to patrolling just the U.S.-controlled sector.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Secretary of Defense William Cohen sought yesterday (Wednesday) to clarify the U.S. military policy for its NATO peacekeepers in the province. Each testified separately before House of Representatives budget subcommittees considering a White House request for extra funds for the NATO mission.
The two cabinet officials said press reports which said American forces would not leave their assigned sector were inaccurate. They said American troops will respond to calls for help from NATO units in other sectors.
However, Albright and Cohen both said the U.S. military wants to ensure that the dispatch of U.S. forces to help NATO patrols in other Kosovo sectors does not become a routine occurrence.
The issue arose last week after U.S. troops dispatched to the city of Mitrovica in the French sector were attacked by Serbs. There are about 5,300 U.S. forces with NATO. They are responsible for a sector of southeastern Kosovo.
The Defense Department said yesterday that senior U.S. military commanders did not want U.S. troops to leave their sectors to, in the Pentagon's words, take up police work that should be done by the forces in those other sectors.
"But I think the important point that General Shelton was making is that the way that the military command structure works is that each country needs to be responsible for its own sector in order to be able to get the job done efficiently according to military lines. But when necessary, obviously other NATO partners fill in. So that is the short story on that aspect of it.
"So we help our NATO partners, but each of us has responsibility for our own sectors. And part of the issue here is how not to move forces around in a way that leaves other sectors open to danger. But we do need to help each other, and Mitrovica, which is one of the flash points, requires the assistance of a number of countries."
Defense Department spokesman Kenneth Bacon had said on Tuesday that the issue for the U.S. was, in his words, how often do we get dragged into a situation where we have to perform out-of-sector operations that can diminish our ability to operate within our own sector.
Cohen provided more detail in his Wednesday testimony, saying:
"What we have said is that the commander, the KFOR commander, has the authority to call upon forces in other sectors, including the United States, to deal with an emergency situation. That has always been the case. That was true in Bosnia as well. It remains true in Kosovo. What we have said, however, is that we do not want to see this routinized."
Albright said it will take many years to build lasting peace in Kosovo, and she said she still believes the solution lies in establishing a multi-ethnic society, not one separated along ethnic lines.
"Well, first of all, I think the overall policy that we've had in Kosovo is that we do not believe in partition. We think that it needs to be a multiethnic society.
"Mitrovica is at this stage a divided city, and a lot of the Albanians have been chased out of the north and the Serbs are being chased from the south. And we believe that ultimately, in order to have success in Kosovo, the region has to be multiethnic. There is a preponderance of Kosovar Albanians, but the Serbs cannot feel that they cannot live there."