DONJA SLATINA, Yugoslavia -- The U.S. military will reduce its presence in Kosovo by about 1,000 troops, or 20 percent, by year's end, an American military official said Thursday.
The reduction is part of a NATO plan to draw down peacekeeping forces in the Balkans, said Maj. Mark Ballesteros, a spokesman for U.S. troops in Kosovo. In May, NATO agreed to cut its the Kosovo peacekeeping force by 4,800 to 33,200 troops.
The United States has kept 5,000 soldiers in Kosovo, more than any of the 38 other countries participating in the NATO operation. It was the first to announce cuts.
"The reduction reflects no letup in U.S. commitment to Kosovo," Ballesteros said. "It's a reflection of the progress that Kosovo has made in the last three years."
The American reduction will take place in November when U.S. forces are rotated out.
NATO wants to cut the number of troops in Kosovo to under 30,000 by the summer of 2003, said Gen. Lt. Marcel Valentin, the commander of the Kosovo force.
The peacekeeping force included 50,000 troops when it first deployed in June 1999 under the terms of a peace agreement that ended a 78-day NATO air war. The campaign forced Yugoslav forces out.
Ballesteros announced the reduction as U.S. forces began a rapid-deployment exercise in eastern Kosovo, which is controlled by U.S. troops.
About 200 soldiers from the U.S. Army Southern European Task Force in Vicenza, Italy, parachuted Thursday onto the corn fields in the eastern village of Donja Slatina, about 30 miles east of Pristina.
Once in Kosovo, the 200 soldiers are to participate in training and peacekeeping patrols with NATO-led units. The monthlong exercise will include about 200 U.S. Marines.
The exercise, which will include a total of 1,000 troops, was especially important considering the reduction, Valentin said, because it helps "train our soldiers to come very quickly to Kosovo if it's needed."