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NATO Advancing Kosovo Troop Reduction

NATO's supreme allied commander, U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, says an improving security situation in the Balkans is clearing the way for a reduction of NATO troops in Kosovo.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- NATO will likely step up plans to scale down its military presence in Kosovo, the alliance's top commander has said, citing an improving security situation in the Balkans.

At a Washington conference, NATO Supreme Allied Commander U.S. Admiral James Stavridis said the situation in the Balkans was "not perfect but is moving in the right direction."

"And I'm reducing troops there from 15,000 to 10,000 to probably 5,000 later this year," Stavridis said.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced in September that the alliance would stick with plans to reduce the Kosovo Security Force, or KFOR, from 15,000 troops to a level of 10,000 troops at the beginning of this year.

Rasmussen stressed that any troop cuts would follow a thorough analysis of the security situation to ensure there was no negative impact in Kosovo or the region.

Kosovo, which declared independence in February 2008, has been administered by the United Nations since a NATO bombing campaign drove Serb forces out of the overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian province in 1999.