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NATO Military Commander: Allied Forces Could Leave Bosnia Next Year - 2003-10-10

NATO's military commander says Friday the situation in Bosnia could be stable enough for allied troops to withdraw sometime next year.

U.S. General James Jones says there is, what he terms, "a real potential" for ending NATO's military mission in Bosnia next year.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, General Jones says NATO troops, including 1,500 U.S. soldiers, could be withdrawn, leaving security in the hands of police forces. "It is not unreasonable to think, that absent any sudden change to the contrary, if the situation currently continues and we see the evolution of the institutions of governance that are taking root and the positive steps that are being demonstrated in Bosnia, that certainly during 0-4 we could have a different footprint there than we currently have," he said.

As for Macedonia, another Balkan hotspot in recent years, General Jones says by the end of this year, all but what he terms a token NATO presence will be pulled out, essentially ending that operation.

But the NATO commander pointed out that Kosovo still requires a military presence. He notes there has been recent violent activity but says NATO believes it has the forces to deal with the flare-up. Some 2,200 U.S. troops are in Kosovo.

Reducing the number of American soldiers in the Balkans is considered a priority in the Pentagon to help ease the burden on U.S. forces stretched by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan