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Balkans Stage 3

NATO efforts in the Balkans

Canadian Armed Forces warplanes took part in NATO air strikes in Kosovo. They saw some of their heaviest action since the Korean War.

March 1999 – April 2004


North Atlantic Treaty Organization takes over

The original mandate for UNPROFOR ended in the spring of 1995. Three different multinational forces took over its roles in the Balkans. Two were in Macedonia and Croatia. A restructured UNPROFOR continued in Bosnia and Herzegovina. By December, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had taken over most of the peace support duties in the region. CAF members continued to serve in the Balkans, but now it would be as part of a new NATO mission.

A CH-146 Griffon Helicopter from 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, CFB Edmonton, flies a mission carrying the Quick Reaction Force past the ruins of an old castle near Velika Kladusa, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo: Department of National Defence

NATO Implementation Force

The Dayton Peace Accord of December 1995 laid out the terms to end the fighting in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A multinational peace Implementation Force patrolled the ceasefire lines and other borders. It helped keep citizens safe, assist local police forces and monitor elections. The Implementation Force also helped refugees return and rebuild the economy.

More than 1,000 CAF members served with the Implementation Force in many roles. This included a headquarters group, a reconnaissance squadron, a mechanized infantry company, an engineer squadron, and command and support elements.

NATO Stabilization Force

The Stabilization Force was the next phase of NATO peace support efforts in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Formed in December 1996, it saw multinational peace support troops patrol the country. It helped establish lasting peace in the war-torn land. Its goal was to help set up a democratic nation that would sustain the peace process without help from multinational peace support forces. Some 1,200 CAF members would serve with the Stabilization Force.

Canadian Armed Forces diver in Zgon, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo: Department of National Defence

Unrest in Kosovo

In 1998, the Serbian military and the local Albanians began fighting in Kosovo. Despite attempts by NATO to enforce peace, the violence continued. The Serbian military repeatedly attacked civilian Albanian residents in Kosovo. NATO threatened military action against the Serbians if a lasting ceasefire was not signed. When negotiations failed, NATO forces began an air campaign.

Operation Allied Force

Operation Allied Force was the code name given to the NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo. Its goal was to drive the Serbian military out of Kosovo. In March 1999, Canada committed six CF-18 jets—a number that grew to 18 by the end of the mission. Canadian warplanes made up 10% of the missions flown in Kosovo. This was the first time Canadian pilots flew combat missions since the Korean War.

Operation Harmony, Sarajevo. Private Pierre Lévesque at the airport in Sarajevo. Photo: Department of National Defence


The NATO bombing campaign did a lot of damage and took a toll on the Serbian forces in Kosovo. With its plans to end the bombing, NATO deployed ground forces to Kosovo and nearby Macedonia. In June, Serbian forces accepted a ceasefire agreement and NATO's Kosovo Force rolled in.

Canada's role in the Kosovo Force

Canada initially dedicated roughly 800 peace support troops to the Kosovo Force, and soon added 500. Canadians helped maintain the fragile peace, protected civilians and provided reconnaissance support. The CAF deployed an armoured reconnaissance squadron, a tactical helicopter squadron, a field engineer squadron, an infantry battle group, and command and logistical supports elements.

They led patrols and monitored activities. Our soldiers also carried out many humanitarian aid projects in Kosovo. They rebuilt damaged schools and medical facilities. They installed small bridges and put up playgrounds for local children.

In December 1999, the first Canadians to serve in the Kosovo Force rotated out. By June 2000, most of the Canadian military personnel had left.

Corporals Rob Serjeant (left) and Rob Majore (right) clear debris from the road near Kiseljak, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sergeant Pat Gear in the background supervises some work of the Drott excavator. Photo: Department of National Defence

On the road to peace

By December 2003, the situation in Bosnia had improved. NATO reduced the size of the Kosovo Force and the Canadian contingent dropped to about 650 people by April 2004. The European Union Force led the multinational peace support troops in late 2004. As the mission evolved into this new form, the number of CAF members in the country reduced to less than 85.

A Liaison and Observation Team led Canada's role with the European Union Force. These troops kept in close contact with local authorities, police departments, community leaders and army units. They helped develop a peaceful society, collect illegal weapons and prevent smuggling. As a lasting peace took root, the CAF withdrew its last troops from Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2007.

A handful of CAF members are still serving in the Balkans today. The region has recovered since the devastating civil wars that swept through the former country of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. Almost 40,000 Canadian peacekeepers served there over the years. They played a major role in helping achieve this hard-won security and stability.

Canadian Armed Forces military policemen preparing for patrols in Zgon, Bosnia-Herzegovina. (Photo: Master Corporal Bernie Tessier. Department of National Defence ZN2004-003-003)


Canadians can be proud of our country's reputation around the world as a force for peace, but this comes at a price. About 130 Canadians have died in the course of international peace support operations. In the Balkans, 23 of our service members died and many more were injured.

The wounds of peacekeeping are not always caused by hostile fire, land mines or accidents. Sometimes the scars of service are psychological. Canada's military efforts in the Balkans were particularly difficult for our soldiers. The war crimes and atrocities committed against the civilian population there were horrific. Witnessing such human brutality often has a deep impact on those who see it.

Classroom materials

Classroom materials main page

Lesson plan: 12-18

Humanitarian aid tree

Lesson plan: All ages

Peace and Freedom WebQuest

historical sheet


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