GRAFENWÖHR, Germany -- The latest rotation of U.S. soldiers to the NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo arrived in the small Balkan nation on Wednesday.
Kosovo Force 16, or KFOR16, comprises roughly 750 soldiers from the 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade out of South Carolina and eight smaller Guard units; Army reservists; and multinational troops, said the Defense Department and a KFOR spokesman. The commander of the 218th, Col. Waymon Storey III, will assume command of the U.S.-led Multinational Battlegroup-East later this month.
The task force is stationed at Camp Bondsteel near the town of Urosevac and is part of an array of 5,600 multinational troops stationed throughout the country.
NATO forces entered Kosovo in 1999 under a U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at ending the ethnic cleansing of the region's majority Albanian population by Serbian forces. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and has remained under international oversight.
NATO force numbers have since lowered from a peak of 50,000. Multinational soldiers remain in the country to discourage ethnic violence and train the Kosovo Security Force, a civil-response force.
Tensions linger in the country's north, where ethnic Serbs refuse to recognize the Kosovo government. Last summer, protesters erected road barricades to block the passage of Kosovo officials, leading to violent stand-offs between Serbs and NATO forces.
Kosovo is recognized by 22 of the 27 European Union countries and lacks recognition in the U.N., where key member Russia sides with Serbia.
Before deploying, KFOR16 trained at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany. The center trains every American rotation to Kosovo.
The rotation replaces KFOR15, which gained notoriety earlier this year after 17 noncommissioned officers from one National Guard unit were removed as part of an investigation into hazing allegations. The cases of three soldiers went to court-martial this year, with two acquitted and one awaiting punishment after he pleaded guilty. Other soldiers received nonjudicial punishments or reprimands.
The KFOR16 rotation is scheduled to last nine months.