Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spain to withdraw its troops from Kosovo

Spanish Defense Minister Carme Chacón (r) in Kosovo Chacón with Col. Luis Francisco Rey (Photo ©

Spanish Defense Minister Carme Chacón was in Kosovo Thursday to announce the phased withdrawal of the remaining Spanish troops in the NATO contingent there, expected to take place within 4-6 months: Chacón anuncia la retirada de Kosovo El País 19.03.2009; España pone fin a su misión en Kosovo y la OTAN critica la medida El Mundo 19.03.2009; La Ministra de Defensa anuncia el regreso escalaondado de las tropas españoles desplegadas en Kosovo Ministerio de Defensa, España 19.03.2009. She said, "después de 10 años de gran trabajo, la misión está cumplida y es hora de volver a casa". (after 10 years of great work, the mission is completed and it's time to come home)

This is a real reminder that even success story of intervention and occupation came take a long time. The NATO intervention in Kosovo began in 1999, and enjoyed relatively high support from the local Kosovar population, though not from the Serbian inhabitants. Matters didn't go entirely smoothly. Corruption in the Kosovar government has been a major problem. Ethnic cleansing in postwar Kosovo wasn't nearly as bloody as it has been in Iraq, but the Serbs in Kosovo were pushed into a small enclave near Serbia proper, an area whose status remains in dispute. For that matter, the status of Kosovo as an independent country remains in dispute. Kosovo had been part of Serbia and Serbia, along with other countries including Spain, has not recognized Kosovo's independence.

Chacón made her visit to a Spanish military base there and was careful to avoid official contact with the Kosovar government. Fity-seven countries currently recognize Kosovo's independence, including 22 of the European Union's 27 members. Spain currently has 632 troops there as part of the NATO force of around 15,500, known as KFOR. Spain also maintains troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO contingent there, and in Bosnia, Chad, Lebanon, and Kyrgyzstan.

Kosovo's independence was a point of contention between Russia and the Cheney-Bush administration. Their insistence on proceeding with formal independence for Kosovo is considered to be a major reason for Russia's taking a hard line on the status of Georgia and Ukraine and the nature of its reaction to Georgia's attack on its positions last year.

Spain's withdrawal announcement annoyed NATO's Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to the point that he openly complained that he wasn't happy with the way Spain had proceeded. Even after a decade, De Hoop Scheffer complains that the situation there still isn't stable enough for Spain to be withdrawing its troops this year. Something to keep in mind when considering interventions in places like Darfur for humanitarian reasons.

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