Turkiye is set to send a commando battalion to northern Kosovo in response to a request by NATO for troop reinforcements to help curb violent unrest, after Serb militants wounded 30 international soldiers.
On Monday this week, ethnic Serbs in Kosovo clashed with troops from NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR), wounding 11 Italian and 19 Hungarian soldiers through the clashes and the use of improvised explosive incendiary devices which caused fractures and burns. There were also reportedly live bullets fired at the peacekeeping troops during the incident.
Video from the clash between NATO/KFOR and Serbs in Zvecan.
41 KFOR troops have been injured according to media reports.
— kos_data (@kos_data) May 29, 2023
The clashes came after confrontations by Serbs who were attempting to block recently-elected ethnic Albanian officials from assuming office in the area, adding to tensions that have been building up in northern Kosovo over the past year.
In a press statement posted on its official Twitter account, the Turkish Defence Ministry made it known that Ankara is closely following developments in the Balkans region “where we have common historical and cultural values,” and urged “restraint and dialogue to resolve these developments in northern Kosovo which endanger regional security and stability.”
In response to a request from NATO’s Joint Force Command Naples, the Turkish Defence Ministry statement announced that a commando battalion will join the alliance’s KFOR peacekeeping mission as a reserve unit, where it will deploy to the Sultan Murat Barracks in Kosovo today and on Monday.
According to the ministry, the Turkish troops heading to Kosovo will number around 500, adding to the approximately 350 Turkish troops currently already in KFOR’s total force of almost 3,800. The deployment is seemingly part of NATO’s announcement on Tuesday that it would be reinforcing its presence in the area with 700 more soldiers.
The move by Ankara is seen as the latest representation of Turkiye’s increasingly prominent role in the Balkans in recent years, especially at a time when the United States – the historic backer of Kosovo’s independence – has turned on the Kosovan government by announcing sanctions on it for attempting to take control of municipal and governmental buildings in the north of its territory.
Washington accuses Pristina of stoking tensions through those attempts, as Kosovo’s northern region is dominated by ethnic Serbs in contrast to the rest of the country which is dominated by Albanians and Muslims.
While it has criticised and sanctioned Kosovo, the US has avoided criticising Serbia for its role in the tensions, in a policy which many analysts say is a tactic to keep Belgrade from slipping further to the side of Russia – its traditionally close ally and hegemon – in order to stem Serbian support for Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and broader regional influence.
Many Kosovans and critics of the US, however, accuse the sanctions on Pristina as simply a punishment for failing to run Kosovo’s decision-making process through Washington first.