US troops to leave the Balkans?

Greece explores possibility of replacing US forces in Bosnia and Kosovo but the task would be difficult

by Miron Varouhakis

(“Kathimerini”, English Edistion, 16 October, 2001)

A Greek soldier serving with KFOR in Kosovo hands out candy. Greece, which has traditionally played a support role in NATO-led operations, is considering relieving US troops in the Balkans which may leave to fight a war elsewhere.

...As the United States revamps its arsenal for a prolonged and sustained all-out war against international terrorism, [the] scenario of Greece replacing US troops in the Balkans — instead of a forward deployment at the front line in the fight against terrorism — certainly fits the profile of the role that Greece has played traditionally in the NATO alliance, that of support missions.

But even this scenario presents a number of obstacles that make it, if not impossible, somewhat formidable.

If Greece were to relieve US forces in the region, the first major obstacle is numbers. The United States maintains approximately 9,000 troops in the Balkans, 5,300 of which are stationed at camps in Kosovo as part of the 42,000-strong KFOR, while the rest are in Bosnia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Greece, on the other hand, maintains a strong presence in Kosovo, with 1,676 troops serving under the KFOR flag, while in Bosnia its presence is limited to a transportation unit.

So, if Greece considers a possible replacement of US troops in the Balkans - even a partial one - this would lead to a substantial augmentation of Greece’s military presence, along with logistical and support elements. This would make it the largest-ever export of Greek forces in its recent history, raising serious questions about its aptitude to undertake such task.

The second hurdle would be in the replacement of specialized units. If the USA were to redeploy some of its forces from the Balkans to a war zone it would most likely be assault units, including attack helicopter and ground troop units, in order to exploit their experience from operating in the field.

The 5,300 US troops in Kosovo include three infantry battalions, two cavalry battalions, one armor battalion, one military police battalion, one military intelligence battalion, one field artillery battalion, as well as Abrams battle tanks and Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. In the air the US forces operate Blackhawk and Apache attack helicopters.

At the same time, the Greek contingent comprises only a mechanized brigade, with one battalion deployed in Urosevac and the second in Mitrovica, while its headquarters are in Pristina. The tasks assigned to the Greek contingent are mainly support missions, such as combat support and combat service support, convoy escorts, response to traffic accidents, and medical exams.

So, in deciding on whether to take up this option of sending troops to the more familiar, and slowly stabilizing, region of southeastern Europe instead of Afghanistan, Greece will have to struggle with numbers as well as with a change in its overall role in NATO-led missions.


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