PRISTINA, Iowa (KCRG) - Since 2003, the Iowa National Guard has worked closely with the Kosovo Security Force as part of the State Partnership Program. It’s a big reason why former Governor of Iowa Terry Branstad signed an agreement with Kosovo leaders in 2013, making it Iowa’s newest sister state.
Kosovo's capital, Pristina (Allison Wong/KCRG)
The relationship arose out of the Kosovo War, which lasted from 1998 to 1999, as Kosovo sought independence. Serbian forces in Yugoslavia responded with attacks on civilians and “ethnic cleansing” of ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo. NATO intervened, led by the U.S., in 1999 with an air campaign against Yugoslavia that eventually led to a peace agreement. The U.S. and most other nations, except Serbia, now recognize Kosovo as an independent country.
Kosovo is the smallest country in the Balkans. It’s landlocked by Serbia to the north and east, North Macedonia to the south, Albania to the west and Montenegro to the northwest.
Kosovo has relied on the Iowa National Guard to turn its security force into an army in order to build its democracy and independence, a move which has created tension with nearby Serbia. Iowa and Kosovo have developed a unique partnership due to the hundreds of Iowa National Guard soldiers who have served there on peacekeeping missions.
Kosovo has a small consulate which opened in 2016 in downtown Des Moines. It’s Iowa’s first consulate. Three cities in Kosovo have established sister city relationships with cities in Iowa. In 2013, Peja entered into a sister city relationship with Johnston. Fort Dodge is a sister city to Gjakova in Kosovo. The City of Vushtrri entered into a sister city relationship with Norwalk.
In addition, both Kosovo and Iowa have similarities when it comes to small populations and economies based around agriculture.
KCRG-TV9 reporter Allison Wong and photojournalist Charlie Grant recently traveled to Kosovo with the Iowa National Guard. You can find links to stories about their experiences on this page.