The Times 1999-12-03  -  Eurocorps in line to run Kosovo force

BY MICHAEL EVANS, DEFENCE EDITOR, IN BRUSSELS

FRANCE and Germany have surprised Nato by offering the Eurocorps to take over command of the peacekeeping operation in Kosovo next year.

Although there were reservations yesterday over whether the five-nation organisation, based in Strasbourg, would have the capability and credibility to run the Kosovo operation by next year, even US officials were not against the idea "in principle".

The offer, made in a letter to General Wesley Clark, the American Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, was seen in Brussels as an astute and timely move.

Nato faces a problem in rotating suitable command headquarters to run its force in Kosovo and if the Eurocorps were deployed to the territory and were successful, it would advance significantly Europe's ambition to run its own military show in any future mission in which Nato is not involved.

France, Germany, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg are members of Eurocorps. The headquarters staff consists of 250 military personnel and would need to be significantly increased to be able to handle the operational complexities of the Kfor peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, which at present involves about 40,000 troops from 29 countries.

British officials attending a two-day meeting of Nato defence ministers said that, with the Eurocorps now considering an expanded role, a liaison officer from Britain would be appointed to join the corps' headquarters.

The Eurocorps, which used to be regarded by Britain as a paper force, has taken on a new significance in the wake of the EU's burgeoning plans to create its own 50,000-man rapid reaction formation. This force is likely to take several years to develop, however.

The idea of the Eurocorps being used by Nato was first mooted several years ago, but the nearest it has got to being deployed was when troops from the Franco-German brigade were allocated an area in the Nato-led operation in Bosnia.

The command of Kfor is now in the hands of Nato's Landcent headquarters, directed by a German, General Klaus Reinhardt, who took over from Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Jackson when the alliance's Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) headquarters completed its tour of duty in Kosovo in early October.

The ARRC is Nato's only ready-made mobile headquarters. If the Eurocorps is not deemed to be suitable for commanding Kfor next year, the alliance will have to convert a static headquarters, such as Landsouth, into a deployable unit for Kosovo.

The job of deciding whether the Eurocorps will be up to the task will initially be down to General Clark, or his successor as Supreme Allied Commander, who will make a recommendation to Nato's military committee.

British officials emphasised that a Eurocorps headquarters in Kosovo would come under the same command structure as that of the ARRC and Landcent, being answerable to the Supreme Allied Commander and, politically, to Nato's North Atlantic Council.

  • The 290 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles in East Timor are to be withdrawn. They were due to have stayed until next month, but Ministry of Defence officials in London said that their task "at the sharp end" of the peacekeeping mission had been completed and they would start to leave from next week.

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