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Kosovo, 10 years later

Lessons emerge a decade after the NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo began.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanians celebrate the first anniversary of independence in the capital Pristina Feb. 17, 2009. (Hazir Reka/Reuters)

BOSTON — Ten years ago, U.S. warships in the Adriatic began launching cruise missiles into the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

I saw them light up the sky. I saw the smoldering aftermath. They began pounding away at the port town of Bar and then paved a path to Belgrade, where they struck at the heart of Slobodan Milosevic’s brutal regime and sent the clear message that its vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo would not stand.

The U.S. and its European allies were united in the effort to stop Milosevic. And today, a decade later, that military operation is still seen as one of the great strategic successes of modern NATO.

Kosovo was liberated two months later on June 12, 1999. Milosevic and his military thugs were turned back and ultimately brought to trial by the International Criminal Court of Justice for crimes against humanity. And today Kosovo has a better future, even if it struggles.

With the 60th anniversary of NATO just around the corner, it is a success worth remembering — particularly since the U.S. is about to step up its presence in Afghanistan in coordination with the NATO troops there.

The U.S. “surge” of 17,000 troops may soon strain the NATO alliance, which has a different sense of the mission in Afghanistan. For the U.S., it has been a war on terror. For NATO, it is an exercise in nation building.

It seems we are headed for an existential moment for the NATO alliance in Afghanistan.

“The importance of what happened 10 years ago is that it showed that American leadership is indispensible, especially when creates strong alliances with a clearly delineated purpose,” said Veton Surroi, who courageously published an independent newspaper in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, and played an important role in Rambouillet, the French village where negotiations took place prior to the military action.

I first met Surroi 10 years ago during the aftermath of the war. Earlier this month he visited us here at GlobalPost in Boston. He looked much the same, a bit older but somehow less severe and less consumed by the worry that had eaten away at him during the darkness of that time.