KFOR multi-national brigade to be headed by Czechs

KFOR soldiers, photo: CTK

The Czech battalion in Kosovo has finally been promoted. As of August this year, it will take command of one of NATO's four multinational brigades that have been active in the Serbian province since July 1999.

KFOR soldiers,  photo: CTK
There are approximately 400 Czech troops operating in Kosovo at present. Their area of responsibility, together with the Slovaks, totals some 1,200 square kilometres in the north-west region that has a population of about one million. The Czech mechanized battalion from the South Bohemian base in Tabor is part of the Rapid Deployment Brigade. It is equipped with armoured personnel vehicles, and has already taken part in IFOR and SFOR missions in the former Yugoslavia. But while it has received much praise, it has not been entrusted with any major tasks. To quote Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Winkler: "During most NATO operations, Czech soldiers have mainly been canon fodder".

But finally, six years after joining the Alliance, they have gained enough trust to play a major role in NATO's risky foreign peace-keeping missions. In just a few months, they will head one of the four multi-national brigades in Kosovo. Major Petr Sykora:

"The multinational brigade centre consists of national contingents from the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Slovakia, and Sweden, which together are a little less than 2,000 troops. The Czech contingent will have more than 500 troops. The Czech Republic will be the first of the newer NATO members to take over command in a foreign NATO peace-keeping mission."

The Czech Republic is expected to lead the multinational brigade for over a year. The only other "younger" NATO member to be entrusted with the leadership of a large foreign mission is Poland, which is heading a contingent of some 2,500 troops in Iraq. But in Kosovo, the other three multi-national brigades are led by the United States, France, and Italy. Czech commanders believe that the latest mission will have a major impact on the Czech Republic's prestige in NATO. But for Major Petr Sykora, the next twelve months will be trying times for the Czechs, as it will be anything but a walk in the park:

"To be a leading, framework nation in Kosovo forces is not very easy as we can expect a lot of work and a lot of logistic and practical problems but we are quite confident and sure that we will be able to fulfil our task and meet our new responsibilities. The actual situation in Kosovo right now is very calm and quiet but we know that the situation can change very quickly."