Local Airmen support NATO operations in Kosovo

PRISTINA, KOSOVO -- Master Sgt. Cheryl Toner, deployed from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, talks to her supervisor, Austrian Army Major Alexander Unterweger, during an official ceremony in “Film City,” Pristina, Kosovo. The U.S. has been involved in the NATO-led operation since 1999. (Photo by Armend Aqifi)

PRISTINA, KOSOVO -- Master Sgt. Cheryl Toner, deployed from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, talks to her supervisor, Austrian Army Major Alexander Unterweger, during an official ceremony in “Film City,” Pristina, Kosovo. The U.S. has been involved in the NATO-led operation since 1999. (Photo by Armend Aqifi)

PRISTINA, KOSOVO -- While headlines grab stories from Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. military troops have been supporting a NATO-led peacekeeping operation in Kosovo since June 1999. 

Master Sgt. Cheryl Toner is deployed to "Film City," in Pristina, Kosovo, from Spangdahlem AB, Germany. Film City - called that because the headquarters building was previously used as a film production studio - is the headquarters for NATO's Kosovo Force, or KFOR, and is also called Operation Joint Guardian. There are approximately 35 U.S. Air Force Airmen in Pristina. 

Back in March of 1999, KFOR deployed troops in the wake of a 78-day air campaign launched by the Alliance to halt and reverse the humanitarian catastrophe that was unfolding. There is still evidence of it as the countryside is peppered with half-finished or demolished houses. Horse-drawn carts commonly share the road with drivers who appear to think getting behind the wheel is a chance to play "Chicken." 

The U.S. currently joins 23 other NATO nations, as well as 11 non-NATO nations by providing a total force of 16,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen Marines. KFOR is run in support of wider international efforts to build peace and stability in the contested province. 

KFOR's presence remains crucial to guarantee security and stability in Kosovo as the diplomatic process led by the United Nations to define its future status moves forward. The Alliance has promised to support the security provisions of any final settlement. 

As nations send their troops here to support UN Security Council Resolution 1244, the base is also involved in many activities with the local Kosovars. For example, Sergeant Toner goes with other NATO members to a nearby orphanage to read and play with the children. Other volunteers mow the grass, do minor repairs and, more recently, encouraged four local bands to play for free at a fundraiser for the orphanage. "The kids are great," said Sergeant Toner. "Their eyes light up when they see us coming." 

On a higher level, KFOR has three objectives: Establish and maintain a secure environment in Kosovo, including public safety and order; monitor, verify and when necessary, enforce compliance with the conditions of the Military Technical Agreement and the UCK Undertaking, and; provide assistance to the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), including core civil functions until they are transferred to UNMIK. 

KFOR has the mandate to enforce law and order until the UN Mission in Kosovo can fully assume this responsibility. This is achieved by patrols, air surveillance, checkpoints, response to emergency calls, search operations, border control, investigation of criminal activities and arrest or detention of suspected criminals. 

KFOR is actively involved in the demilitarization of Kosovo. Tons of weapons and ammunition have already been seized or handed to KFOR. This includes thousands of pistols and rifles, hand grenades, anti-personnel mines, rocket launchers, artillery pieces, mortar bombs, rifle bombs, anti-tank mines, fuses, explosives, and even anti-tank rockets and missiles. 

KFOR and UNMIK are Partners in an international effort to restore Kosovo and help the local population to transform the province into a free and democratic society open to all. Although KFOR's main responsibility is to create a secure environment, the multinational force provides resources, skills and manpower to various organisations and agencies working under the UNMIK umbrella. 

Examples of KFOR involvement can be found in a variety of sectors such as: public works and utilities, construction, transportation, railway operations, mine clearance, border security, fire services, protection of international workers, food distribution, removal of unexploded ordnance, mine-awareness education, medical services, etc.