Remember the Ground Troops? Well, Now It's Up to Them

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Rolling, rolling, rolling, get those Serb troops rolling.... The Yugoslav army began its withdrawal from Kosovo Thursday, signaling that one of the bloodiest chapters of postwar European history is reaching its end. "Even though there are a number of dangers in NATO's taking control of Kosovo, there’s guarded optimism in the Pentagon," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. Wednesday’s Military Technical Agreement between NATO commanders and Yugoslav generals requires the Serb forces to complete a phased withdrawal within 11 days, during which period alliance troops serving in the 48,000-strong KFOR international peacekeeping mission begin a phased deployment in Kosovo.

While NATO readies its forces to enter Kosovo -- and tries to fill a power vacuum that could be exploited by the Kosovo Liberation Army or by renegade Serb irregulars -- one issue that remains unclear is Russia’s role. Moscow is assembling a contingent to arrive in Kosovo shortly, but their relationship with the NATO command structure has not yet been agreed.

Peace it may be, but it’s not going to be pretty. "The Pentagon is essentially showing all Serbs in Kosovo the door," says Thompson. "Even though they’d strenuously deny it, they’d like Serb civilians to leave too. Most will, but some won’t, and any nationalist elements that decide to fight on could endanger the peace." Then there’s the KLA. Even though they’re being denied their ultimate goal of independence, "the KLA isn’t dumb enough to take on NATO," says Thompson. "But there’s a real danger that they decide to target whatever Serb contingents are allowed to return to Kosovo to guard their sacred sites." There’s also signs of an impending power struggle between the KLA and more moderate Kosovar Albanian leaders such as Dr. Ibrahim Rugova. NATO, which announced the suspension of bombing on Thursday, was designed to win wars; it may find that keeping the peace in Kosovo is a lot more difficult.