NATO military planners are looking at ways to cut sharply their peacekeeping force in Kosovo without undermining its ability to deal with unrest on the ground, the alliance's top soldier said on Tuesday.
U.S. General James Jones said NATO's failure to deal effectively with March 2004 ethnic riots in the U.N.-run Serbian province showed that the ability to move troops rapidly to hotspots was more important than overall numbers.
"We can propose efficiencies that would be very interesting and fairly significant. The goal is not to do less but to do more," the Supreme Allied Commander Europe said, stressing that NATO's commitment to Kosovo was unchanged.
NATO currently has 17,100 troops in the province of 2 million people, by far its largest current operation.
Its force - then numbering 18,000 - was overwhelmed in the the 2004 Albanian riots against Serbs and other minorities, in which 19 people died and more than 800 homes were torched.
Jones said NATO had since improved the training of its forces to deal with civil unrest and had convinced member nations to remove operational restrictions on their troops.
Speaking to reporters at NATO's military headquarters in southern Belgium, He said the alliance was now studying ways to remove inefficiencies in the huge logistics and support operation behind its Kosovo force.
"It is hoped that this debate will mature over the course of the year," he said, suggesting the issue may come up at June's meeting of NATO defence ministers.