ROME and MILAN — Kosovo’s defense minister claims the Serbian government may have violated a deal struck with the United States on how it uses American military equipment.
On Sept. 24, about 30 armed ethnic Serbs entered a Kosovan village and killed a Kosovar police officer during a firefight, then took shelter in a monastery where police killed three of the ethnic Serbs while retaking the site.
According to Kosovan Prime Minister Albin Kurti, the ethnic Serb paramilitary force trained in Serbia before the raid. He produced video footage allegedly showing them train with what appears to be an American-made military Humvee, manufactured by AM General.
Kosovar Defence Minister Ejup Maqedonci decried the alleged use of a Humvee.
“The rules that apply to us — as I am sure they are also applicable to other countries — for securing military-grade equipment, such as the military Humvees used, is that there needs to be congressional approval and an end-user certificate,” Maqedonci told Defense News. “These systems are designed so that U.S.-produced military equipment is not used in terrorist attacks. This case raises many questions about Serbia’s violations of such agreements.”
The battle was the latest outbreak of violence in Kosovo, which declared its independence from the Balkan nation of Serbia in 2008 and now oversees a restive Serbian minority community of about 50,000.
Serbia, which does not recognize Kosovan independence, accuses Kosovo of mistreating Serbian residents.
Kosovo alleges Serbia foments violent resistance by arming the community.
Days after the battle, Kosovo’s prime minister posted the drone footage appearing to show a paramilitary exercise carried out at night.
He claimed it showed ethnic Serbian paramilitary forces training at Pasuljanske Livade, a military base inside Serbia, four days before the attack.
A Kosovo government spokesperson alleged the footage was captured by Kosovo police from the ethnic Serb paramilitaries.
In one of the videos, a fighter is seen firing a weapon mounted in the roof turret of what appears to be a military Humvee vehicle.
“The attacks enjoyed the full support and planning of the Serbian state,” according to Kurti — a claim since denied by Serbia.
In 2012 and 2017, the U.S. donated a total of 40 Humvee light armored vehicles to the Serbian Army.
Serbia has also purchased Humvees from U.S. company AM General, which delivered 66 vehicles in July 2023 — part of an order for a total of 118 vehicles.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson told Defense News the government is “looking into this matter.”
“The United States takes seriously any allegation involving U.S.-provided equipment anywhere in the world,” the spokesperson added.
A spokesperson for AM General told Defense News the company “cannot speak to the use of the vehicles by the customer.”
“AM General successfully delivered vehicles to Serbia following the [Direct Commercial Sales] process, which includes securing the proper authorization via an export license from the U.S. government,” the company spokesperson noted.
The Direct Commercial Sale process is used to export U.S. military goods by a U.S. firm made under a State Department license, as opposed to a Foreign Military Sales process, which is organized by the Defense Department.
For its part, Serbia has denied involvement in the raid in Kosovo.
When asked to confirm if the video showed a Serbian group training with a Serbian military-operated Humvee, the Serbian Defence Ministry referred Defense News to a press conference held Oct. 2 by Defence Minister Miloš Vučević and head of the military’s General Staff Gen. Milan Mojsilović, “where the allegations your questions refer to were refuted.”
During the news conference, Vučević denied the video showed the use of a Serbian Humvee during the training of paramilitaries.
“The fact that someone plays thermal vision recordings from a vague location, with utterly unidentified individuals and faces, can mean absolutely nothing,” he said.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.
Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.