The Department of Defense announced on Monday that a 20-year-old soldier died in Kosovo in a “non-combat related incident.” Alexander Blake Klass of Willamina, Oregon died on Saturday at Camp Novo Selo, Kosovo. The incident is still under investigation, according to the Pentagon.
About 600 US troops are stationed in Kosovo as part of a NATO mission called Kosovo Force or KFOR, which consists of some 3,500 soldiers. The mission started in 1999 when the US and NATO intervened to lead a 78-day bombing campaign against the Serbian in an attempt to oust former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.
The KFOR force initially consisted of 50,000 troops and has dwindled substantially as Kosovo has built up its own military. In 2008, Kosovo’s government declared independence from Serbia, and tensions flared between the two states, as Serbia still considers Kosovo to be its territory.
A Serbia-Kosovo summit was planned to take place at the White House in June, but it was postponed after an international prosecutor in the Hague indicted Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci for war crimes he is accused of committing during the 1998-99 war against Serbia. Thaci stands accused of “nearly 100 murders,” torture, and disappearances.
Thaci was the leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during the war, a group that has been accused of organ trafficking. The US and NATO supported the KLA during its 1999 bombing campaign. In that air campaign, 23,000 bombs fell on the Balkans, and thousands of civilians were killed. Targets hit included hospitals, factories, schools, and even the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.