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News 25 Oct 13

Albania Backs the Creation of a Kosovo Army

Albania’s new defence minister Mimi Kodheli has told Balkan Insight that Tirana supports the transformation of Kosovo’s security force into an army, but change should come at the right time.

Besar Likmeta

“It’s not only Albania that strongly supports this process, but also other NATO members from the Balkan region like Croatia and Slovenia,” Kodheli said.

“However we must be careful that this process goes forward in parallel with political developments in Kosovo, particularly in relation to Serbia,” she added.

Currently, the Kosovo Security Force, KSF, is an emergency response force charged with conducting operations in Kosovo and abroad in the areas of search and rescue, explosive ordnance disposal, firefighting, and hazardous material disposal.

As NATO plans to reduce the size of its KFOR mission, which currently deploys 5,000 soldiers to guarantee the country's security , it is assumed that the KSF will be transformed at some point into a conventional army.

Kodheli made the comments on Tuesday after meeting NATO’s Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, where the latest developments related to NATO operations and the KFOR mission in Kosovo were discussed.

The KSF has currently 2,500 lightly armed active soldiers and 800 reservists.

“Albania must hold a leadership role in Balkans not only as a NATO member state, but also as a country that support its neighbors that seek membership,” the minister underlined.

The two-day NATO ministerial meeting at NATO headquarters brought together defence ministers from its 28 members states who agreed to ensure that the experience of 20 years of operations in Afghanistan, the Balkans and elsewhere is retained through more training and exercises.

NATO ministers also discussed missile defence and NATO’s programme to defend the alliance states against missile attacks from outside the Euro-Atlantic area.

The ministers got together with their Russian counterpart, Sergey Shoygu, for the Russia-NATO Council, exchanging views on pressing issues on the international agenda.

Albania joined NATO in 2009 and Kodheli is the first woman to hold the post of Minister of Defence in Albania’s history.

The new minister said that weeding out corruption from the armed forces remained a key challenge, while she noted that the army will become smaller and smarter.

“We will not fight individuals but the system of corruption that was built, which won’t make our work easier,” Kodheli said.

She noted that the armed forces has had a poor promotion system that gave little leeway to meritocracy.

“The promotion system has been deformed partly due to a deformed legal framework, but this framework does not justify the corruption that has been widespread in many levels,” Kodheli said.

Based on the latest strategic planning documents approved by parliament, tbe Albanian armed forces will be reduced by 1,500 members, to a total of 8,500 in the nexttwo years.

Kodheli underlined that a smaller force did not mean a less effective army, and her priority as a minister would be to strengthen its capabilities and know-how, particularly in areas like cyber defence.

“We don’t have specialized personal in this area while investments for a secure network are necessary,” she said.

“With the help of NATO and allies we will install the necessary filters to make sure the Albanian cyberspace is safe from hackers and other attacks,” Kodheli added.

The minister said that although many young Albanians had been trained in some of the best military academies in the world, they did not find the necessary space inside their own armed forces.

“I have heard stories of young officers, trained in some the world’s best military academies, ending up working as security guards in foreign embassies,” she said.

Kodheli explained that the ministry holds a good database of these graduates and will seek to include them in a planned restructuring of the army.

“These are careers and taxpayers’ money that has gone to waste and I am here to make sure that never happens again,” she concluded.

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