The United States government has issued a stern warning to Belgrade, urging Serbia to withdraw its military forces from the border with Kosovo in the wake of what it has termed an “unprecedented” Serbian military mobilization.
This move follows a deadly clash near a monastery in northern Kosovo over the weekend, which resulted in the death of a Kosovar police officer and three Serb gunmen, further inflaming tensions between the two nations.
The White House, in a statement released on Friday, disclosed that Serbia had deployed advanced tanks and artillery units close to the Kosovo frontier. John Kirby, the White House National Security Council spokesman, expressed deep concern over this development.
“We are monitoring a large Serbian military deployment along the border with Kosovo,” Kirby stated. “That includes an unprecedented staging of advanced Serbian artillery, tanks, mechanized infantry units. We believe that this is a very destabilizing development.”
Kirby further emphasized the need for immediate action, stating, “We are calling on Serbia to withdraw those forces from the border.”
The escalation has transpired over the past week, although the exact purpose behind the Serbian mobilization remains unclear. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken engaged in a telephone conversation with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic earlier on Friday, urging “immediate de-escalation and a return to dialogue,” according to Kirby.
Vucic, while not directly acknowledging the recent military build-up, refuted claims of heightened combat readiness, stating, “I have denied untruths where they talk about the highest level of combat readiness of our forces because I simply did not sign that and it is not accurate. We don’t even have half the troops we had two or three months ago.”
In the midst of rising tensions, Jake Sullivan, the U.S. National Security Adviser, spoke with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, expressing concern over Serbian military mobilizations. Following the call, Kurti took to social media to request “increased assistance against Serbia’s warfare plans” from the United States.
The two leaders also discussed the EU-facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, which Sullivan emphasized as the sole long-term solution for ensuring stability in Kosovo, according to a readout of the phone call.
The recent military build-up comes in the wake of last weekend’s clashes, which began when heavily armed Serb gunmen ambushed a patrol near the Serbian border, leading to the death of a Kosovar police officer. Subsequently, dozens of assailants barricaded themselves at an Orthodox monastery, resulting in a protracted firefight during which three gunmen were killed, and three were arrested.
Kosovo’s government accused Belgrade of supporting the armed operation, while a member of a key Kosovo Serb political party admitted to leading the gunmen, as confirmed by his lawyer.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has confirmed the alliance’s readiness to bolster the KFOR (Kosovo Force) presence to address the escalating situation. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move that both Belgrade and Moscow have steadfastly refused to recognize.
Tensions have been on the rise in recent months, particularly in northern Kosovo, where longstanding ethnic divisions between the Albanian majority and Serb minority have exacerbated the situation. The international community now watches closely as diplomatic efforts aim to prevent further escalation and foster dialogue between the parties involved.