The Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization's military planners are seeking to streamline the alliance's 17,000-strong mission in Kosovo, its top military commander in Europe said Tuesday.
Gen. James L. Jones said the mission needed to put greater emphasis on front-line peacekeeping troops and reduce numbers of backup and logistics support.
Jones said there would be no lessening of NATO's commitment to the peacekeeping mission, as the U.N. administered province prepares for difficult decisions in coming months over its final status, namely whether to seek independence or remain part of Serbia.
"It has nothing to do with a decrease in commitment," Jones told reporters at NATO's military headquarters in southern Belgium. "The goal isn't to do less, but to actually do more."
NATO peacekeepers have been in Kosovo since 1999, following the alliance's air war to stop the Serb crackdown on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.
Jones compared the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo with that in Afghanistan, where just 8,500 NATO soldiers are responsible for an area of difficult and dangerous terrain over 30 times the size of Kosovo.
"Mass does not equal commitment in the 21st century," Jones said. "Numbers aren't particularly important any more, it's how you use those numbers."
However, officials cautioned that some NATO allies fear now is the wrong time for a scaledown. Crucial political decisions are expected in the coming months to resolve the status of the province. Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority wants independence, while the province's minority Serbs seek to keep it part of Serbia.
Jones said decisions on streamlining the mission could come at a June meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels. He said the restructured force could be a model for the modernization of alliance operations.