U.S. Navy Admiral James Foggo (third from left, near), commander of JFC Naples, meets with Serbian Minister of Defence Aleksandar Vulin (second from left, far) as the first of several key leader engagements in the Serbian capital city of Belgrade, Jan. 31, 2018. Serbia is part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program and has contributed training as part of NATO Training and Capacity Building - Iraq program. (Photo by JFC Naples Public Affairs)
Story by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Patton
NAPLES, Italy – As U.S. Navy Admiral James Foggo, commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples, begins his Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 engagements in the Western Balkans, he cites recent progress and collaboration in the region as a reason for optimism.
"I look forward to developing key relationships that will lead to future success,” Foggo said.
Foggo is visiting Belgrade, Serbia and various parts of Kosovo during the trip, where he’ll meet with senior leaders at the two locations — including the Serbian Minister of Defence, Chief of Defence and Minister of Foreign Affairs — as well as visit troops and key sites that are part of the Kosovo Force, the NATO-led peace support operation commonly referred to as KFOR.
The commander of JFC Naples said he sees good connectivity and collaboration between NATO, the state of Serbia and the Serbian Armed Forces.
In an interview prior to his departure, Foggo highlighted a recent noncommissioned officer training event with Serbian Armed Forces from the 63rd Parachute Battalion and troops from JFC Naples. As he spoke, he took out a letter written to him by German Army Master Sgt. Hilke Lütt, which also included a coveted badge from the Serbian battalion. Foggo used the letter, which extolled the success of the training in Serbia and the collaboration and coordination that took place for future events, as an example of the positive relationship.
"I think there’s a lot to be positive of in the relationship that we’ve established with one another as professional Soldiers,” Foggo said.
He also pointed out a recent Airborne exercise, dubbed Double Eagle, with U.S. and Serbian Armed Forces last year, and he looked ahead to a regional exercise Belgrade will host this year. The exercise is designed to familiarize troops with NATO standard operating procedures during simulations of real-life scenarios such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The current trip is Foggo’s fourth to Serbia, although the first as the commander of JFC Naples. He doesn’t hesitate to say that he predicts a bright future for the country.
"I think that the Serbian public, given the opportunity to learn more about NATO, will find that NATO is a defensive alliance, it’s not an Alliance that’s looking for a fight,” said Foggo. "We’re about deterrence, and I think that’s a very positive message that NATO is about security and stability in the European theater.”
Foggo said he’s concerned about Russia’s influence in the Western Balkans and false information coming out of some Russian media outlets.
"I think that the role that NATO is portrayed as playing is unfair,” said Foggo about the false Russian narrative. "NATO is not an aggressor. NATO is not trying to encircle Russia or her friends and allies. NATO is merely a defensive Alliance.”
Foggo noted that he’s in favor of NATO enlargement, but he said Serbian leaders are pleased with the current situation.
"Serbia has made it quite clear that they’re happy with the relationship with NATO right now, and that is collaborate, coordinate, conduct exercises together in a very peaceful and productive way,” said Foggo.
When Foggo looks back to 2003 – his first tour on the Joint Staff where he was Director Western Europe and the Balkans – and compares it to the present day in the region, the progress is distinct.
"We’re so far ahead of where we were back then with several Balkans countries having become members of NATO, several Balkans countries embracing European integration and becoming members of the European Union,” said Foggo. "I know that Serbia is on that path, a path to ascension in the EU. I am a huge fan of the European Union, and I see that as both a political and economic boon and boost for Serbia. I think that would be a critical step.”
The mission of Kosovo Force, or KFOR, is about a stable and secure environment. Foggo said it’s often cited as one of the most respected institutions in Kosovo.
"KFOR will be there as long as it takes for the institutions in Kosovo to become autonomous, fully democratic and for stability and security to reign across the four points of the compass in that country,” Foggo said.
KFOR was established in 1999, and it’s the largest NATO operation in Europe with 4,600 troops from 30 nations.
Foggo’s trip comes a fortnight after the murder of Oliver Ivanović, a prominent Kosovo Serb politician who was gunned down outside his party headquarters.
"It was a cold-blooded murder in broad daylight,” said Foggo. "There is no room for that in any democratic country in the world. The perpetrators must be hunted down, prosecuted by rule of law, and if found guilty, incarcerated.”