Some Iowa National Guard soldiers are guarding the border between Kosovo and Serbia as tensions in the region are heightened by Kosovo’s bid for independence. Governor Chet Culver flew into Kosovo Saturday morning to meet with the troops and visit with their commander. "I’m honored to be here with about 330 Iowa Guardsmen and women from 14 cities across the state," Culver told reporters back in Iowa during a telephone conference call on Saturday afternoon.
Culver arrived in Kosovo’s capitol early Saturday local time, then flew by helicopter to a military base. From there, Culver and a contingent of Iowa Guard soldiers went to two cities to see where some of the soldiers conduct their patrols. "The eastern border of Kosovo is where some of the troops from Iowa are patrolling…so we actually went to one of the gates, a check-point if you will, where people come in or leave Kosovo on the Serbian border there," Culver said.
Culver and the governor of Minnesota were invited to make the trip. "It’s a very historic time in this region. Kosovo declared independence, their own independence, on February 17 and that was one of the reasons that Governor Pawlenty of Minnesota and I were asked to be here," Culver said. "We’re the first (U.S.) governors to come to Kosovo in a long time."
According to Culver, morale among the Iowa Guard soldiers is high. "We wanted to come into this theater to formally thank them and recognize them for the important service they’re providing…and to get a better feel and understanding, as the commander-in-chief of the Iowa National Guard for the challenges that remain here and for the mission," Culver said.
Serbia considers Kosovo’s bid for independence illegal, but the U.S. backs the move. Serbia’s parliament was disbanded in March amid disagreement over whether Serbia should join the European Union. The European Union also backs Kosovo’s move for independence. "We have a multinational force in this region because of the importance of trying to help maintain stability in this region…It will be important to maintain the peace and the order in the future and to help do our part and these Iowa troops are doing that every day," Culver said.