The North Atlantic Treaty Organization says it plans to withdraw about a third of its force in Kosovo by next year because the security situation has improved.  The announcement came during a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels.  

The announced troop cut was widely anticipated and will leave about 10,000 NATO forces in Kosovo -- compared to up to 15,000 troops there at any given time.  While NATO officials gave no specific timeline for the drawdown, Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said it could take place by next January.

In remarks to reporters, German Defense Minister Franz Joseph Jung suggested that security would be beefed up with the recent deployment of a European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, or EULEX, and the expansion of Kosovo's own security force in the coming months.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia last year, despite strong opposition from Belgrade and from Moscow.

Some analysts suggest that the NATO troops in Kosovo could be redeployed to Afghanistan where U.S. and NATO forces are battling a strong Taliban insurgency.

Afghanistan was also on the agenda during the Brussels meeting.  The first of some 21,000 additional American troops are beginning to arrive there ahead of presidential elections in August.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

"There is a general feeling I could say that with all these additional troops and all these additional efforts that everybody is making to get to the elections in Afghanistan, to have a momentum, to have a free and fair election and then see over the next months whether we can begin to shift the momentum," Gates said.

During the next year, Gates said, it will be critical to show that progress has been made in the war in Afghanistan.  Otherwise, he said, patience in the United States and in other NATO countries for the mission could wear thin.