Of particular relevance were also short-notice exercises conducted in Albania, with the implicit aim to demonstrate NATO's commitment to stability in the entire Balkan area, at a moment when a new crisis was developing within the former Yugoslavian province of Kosovo. To send a clear message that no option was ruled out by NATO, from June to August 1998 AFSOUTH brought STANAVFORMED ships to visit the port of Durres; conducted an air presence exercise ("Determined Falcon") over the skies of Albania and former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (2); and deployed land troops and aircraft to Albania with exercise "Co-operative Assembly." To show a broader NATO commitment, Headquarters Allied Forces Northwest Europe also conducted an exercise in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (2) the same summer.
Adm. James O. Ellis, Jr., assumed command of AFSOUTH on 9 October 1998. By that time the situation in Kosovo had deteriorated to a point requiring AFSOUTH to conduct extensive planning in order to be prepared for any mission NATO might assign the headquarters to help stop the violence. Building on lessons learned during the experience in Bosnia, AFSOUTH planners identified a wide range of possible military options; following with utmost attention all the efforts made by the international community to restore a safe environment in Kosovo, where over 300,000 people had been forced to leave their home.
A turning point was marked on 23 September 1998 when the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1199, demanding all parties in Kosovo to end hostilities and maintain a cease-fire. Lack of compliance with the resolution was the basis for a decision by the North Atlantic Council to issue an "activation order" on 13 October for an air operation – "Determined Force (the AFSOUTH operation order under SACEUR's plan Allied Force)" - aimed at preparing NATO forces to conduct both "limited air strikes" and a "phased air campaign" in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The execution of these air strike options was initially set to begin not earlier than 96 hours from the authorisation of the activation order, to allow time for negotiations between US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and FRY President Slobodan Milosevic to bear fruit.
On 14 October, NATO's Standing Naval Force Mediterranean was detached to the Adriatic, as further evidence of NATO's commitment. One day earlier the Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the Chief of Gen. Staff of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had signed an agreement in Belgrade establishing an air verification mission complementing an OSCE verification mission in Kosovo, where the FRY pledged to comply with UNSC resolutions.
Mr. Milosevic committed to cease hostilities and withdraw mobilised forces in Kosovo. Furthermore, he pledged to allow the international community to verify compliance by all parties with the provisions of UNSC Resolution 1199. This was to be conducted through NATO unarmed flights and the deployment in Kosovo of a Verification Mission provided by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
As the 96-hour deadline for compliance with the negotiated settlement approached, the international community had clear evidence that Yugoslavia was still some distance from full compliance with the terms of the accord. While diplomatic efforts continued to secure full compliance, NATO decided to extend the period before execution of air strikes would begin. The extension gave Mr. Milosevic until 27 October 1998 to comply fully with UNSCR 1199. NATO additionally decided to maintain its readiness to launch air operations against the FRY, to include continuing deployment of substantial air forces in the region.
Just prior to the end of this extension on 27 October, evidence indicated that Serbian military and security forces had made progress toward the demanded restraint and withdrawal. Despite the substantial steps, NATO's objective remained to achieve full compliance with UNSC resolutions. As a result, NATO decided to maintain both activation orders in place, with execution subject to decision by the North Atlantic Council.
Meanwhile, starting on 17 October, U-2 verification flights were flown from Aviano air base, Italy. A new plan was produced and the NATO air verification mission – "Operation Eagle Eye" - commenced on 21 October, shortly before the UNSC adopted Resolution 1203, which formally supported NATO and OSCE verification missions.
Eventually, a Kosovo Verification Co-ordination Centre was established in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (2). Meanwhile, AFSOUTH kept the "Determined Force" plan on hold, ready to conduct air strikes at short notice, in case of continued non-compliance. In parallel, the Contact Group mediated extenuating negotiations in the attempt to get all parties to sign a peace agreement, while AFSOUTH monitored that activity in order to be ready to help implement such an agreement.
The Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) lasted several months, during which NATO also deployed an "extraction force" to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia (2), under Operation "Determined Guarantor," to be ready to extract OSCEKVM Verifiers and/or persons with designated special status in Kosovo in order to assure their safety. During that period AFSOUTH was busy with several approved operations (the air complement of SFOR; "Determined Force;" "Eagle Eye" and "Determined Guarantor" while continuously updating plans to be ready to support a possible peace agreement. Never before had the Southern Region planning headquarters been so fully immersed in operational activity, with a good complement of its staff deployed at various locations in Italy and in the Balkans.