Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 300 - 319)



  300. I hope that came fairly soon afterwards, for instance, what the leadership was, were there differences within the organisation, where were they getting their weapons from, what eventually their war aims were. I am not sure how much you can say. At what stage do you think you were reasonably confident that you were aware of who these guys were and what they might be up to?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) Once we realised there was this UCK/KLA, through 1998 and into 1999 ***. Initially it was not a very cohesive structure, that was the problem. That was why it was difficult to get to grips with it. Even as late as the time of Rambouillet we were still finding out things about them. Also at that time they were still forming their structure. It was a mix of both things. They were not properly structured. As I say, it was very much a clan based thing. *** More and more work was done on this but there was not a structure which suddenly we found out about. I think that their structure was forming at the same time as we were finding out about it.

  301. How about their weaponry? Did you find out where they were acquiring their weapons?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) We put work into trying to identify where they might come from. I am not sure that we had any very accurate intelligence, certainly in 1998, to be able to finger accurately where it came from. In 1999 we started getting a much better feel on that and indeed were able ***, because of course there was an embargo on arms both for the Serbs and also for the KLA.

  302. Were they getting any guns, do you think, from the Albanian government or any other government in the region or extra-regional funding, official funding?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) ***

  303. In Bosnia there was talk of a lot of Mujahedin wandering around and finding it rather difficult to be taken too seriously because the Bosnians were not quite as devout as they were. Was there any evidence that you had come across indicating that what is classed as Muslim fundamentalism was either officially or unofficially getting involved in providing advice and weaponry?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) Within the Kosovo crisis context possibly it was not primarily a Muslim orthodox issue. It was primarily an ethnic issue whereas there was an element of the religious aspect within the Bosnia crisis, a much greater one. Therefore, you are right, we saw a lot of evidence of Mujahedin in the Bosnia issue. ***

  304. This is a classic clash between what is perceived as Christianity and Islam. I find it difficult to believe that the Saudis and the Iranians and all sorts of groups or governments would not have seen this as a splendid opportunity for penetrating into Europe. Did they display some kind of self-restraint that was hitherto unnoticed? I cannot imagine that they were not in there pretty actively in trying to influence the KLA.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) As I say, I am not aware of any hard intelligence showing massive governmental support of that organisation. We did see ***.

  305. Were we or the Americans or anybody talking to the KLA, getting information, finding out who they were, who the leaders were, at that stage? I do not want to compromise sources, but were western intelligence sources talking to people?
  (Mr Hatfield) Perhaps I can help, Chairman. If we are talking about, say, up to late 1998, one of the things that was going on of course was that the American Ambassador Hill was trying to broker some sort of solution with various parties, including talking to the KLA, during 1998, although one of his problems was that even as late as towards the end of 1998 there was no single clear leader of the KLA. There were contacts going on but at this stage it was primarily on the political net. The KLA became, as the Admiral made clear, a significant player in the game quite late in the day although it grew in significance very quickly. But everybody up to that stage had been focussed on Rugova, and I think the same would have been true of other people before at least early 1998.

  306. When the KLA insurgency intensified in 1998 did you perhaps anticipate that things would step up? Did you anticipate what Milosevic's reaction might be? I know this is in the realms of futurology, looking at 1998, but did you think that western intelligence and your own institutions had sussed out the situation that they would react in the way they did and Milosevic would react in the way he did?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) As I said before, we became increasingly concerned about the levels of violence within Kosovo. The KLA started shooting the odd member of the police, the MUP. ***. Then we saw an attack in about April 1998 on an MUP armoured vehicle, which again was an up-step in this level of violence. The Serbs, as I am afraid they tended to do in all the other regions of Yugoslavia, over-reacted against this. In a way I can understand their difficulty. You need particularly well trained troops to be able to handle that sort of operation. I think we are extremely fortunate in the UK. I know there are all the things going on at the moment but we actually have amazingly well trained troops who do obey orders and handle these situations well when they are being shot at and killed. The Serbians have not been trained in that way and they over-reacted dramatically. Therefore one saw a rising level of numbers of Kosovo Albanians being killed. One could argue that the UCK were not unhappy about that because they were trying to provoke something.

  307. I was not hostile to what NATO did, quite the reverse, but at what stage did you think that we were being used, that we were being set up, to help achieve their war aims?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) I will not answer that directly. As I have already mentioned, we were aware that they were probably trying to provoke things because they felt they were not getting anywhere in terms of Ruvoga's passive opposition. It does not justify the extreme violence and over-reaction of the Serbs. There was a murder of almost an entire family of about 40, I cannot remember their name, again in 1998 and that saw another step up in this dreadful cycle of violence, and the violence increased yet again. As one moved towards the autumn one saw major VJ and MUP (primarily PJP) operations against places where they felt the UCK were based. Of course the little UCK cadres inevitably were inside villages. The way the Serbs would go about this was not to do some clever operation based on intelligence to try and get in there and catch the people who were involved. They would surround the village and bombard it and particularly they were using AAA weapons, 30-millimetre weapons, because they are very good for that sort of thing, and then going through it with armour and things like that. The result was to drive people out of those villages and also there were high casualties. We saw this getting worse and worse and after that massacre of the family we saw a lot of extra people suddenly saying that they wanted to become members of the UCK. Most of them were within little village areas and did not go on any operations elsewhere, but it was an inevitable cycle of violence that got worse and worse. We were becoming extremely worried about that and we passed that over of course.

  308. At what stage did you think that the lid would get blown off this?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) This was really in the middle of 1998 and that is why I think NATO started planning for various options. Then it got worse through the autumn leading up to the Holbrooke deal and the threats of bombing at that stage. The numbers displaced were probably in the region of a quarter of a million. It is always extremely difficult with these numbers. One is always a few thousand out but probably about a quarter of a million were being pushed out of villages. Very often when they were pushed out, although the Serbs would destroy certain houses and things like that, once the MUP had gone the people would come back off the hills and go back into them, so it is quite difficult to give a figure. It was about 250,000 and probably 60,000 had come across the border, something like that.

  309. What do you believe the KLA's war aims were? You mentioned to draw us in because they were not able to handle it on their own.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) The KLA would certainly like to have an independent Kosovo and that has always been what they want to do. But the KLA are not necessarily the majority of Kosovo. That is what they want.

  310. I could have worked that out from reading The Guardian. Is there anything rather more sophisticated by the way of analysis of war aims?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) You have got to be quite careful because one is talking about quite a disparate group and they do not produce policy papers on what they are doing. I think there are extremists within the KLA who would like to do even more than that. On the other hand there are a lot of average Kosovo Albanians who do support Rugova and feel it is a shame that the KLA ever came along and started doing this. Their feeling is, because the demographics are on their side, that they would have got what they wanted one day anyway. One has got this spectrum of opinion across the Kosovo Albanians.

  311. In terms of strategy how did you set out the strategy being pursued?
  (Mr Hatfield) I do not think they had a strategy, certainly not one which was consistent through the whole period we are talking about. If you look at 1998 before NATO becomes even a theoretical player, the first thing they are doing is being involved in the starting the cycle of violence that the Admiral has described. They are next trying to get the international community playing on their side. For four or five months it was essentially a diplomatic involvement with NATO not really being even mentioned. But what happened on the ground, slightly to their surprise, was that they started to take villages and control them. You could see in May and June BBC newsreels of reporters going into villages controlled by the KLA. At that stage they were clearly trying to take over as much territory and run it as they could. There then comes a counter phase when Milosevic responds in brutal fashion and throws them all out and we go on from there. I do not think there was any long term KLA strategy of any sort probably at that stage, let alone one which was saying, "We are going to bring NATO in." Later on, as things developed, they began to exploit that as a possibility and you actually begin to see by Rambouillet that that is the first time they have got themselves together as a reasonably coherent political organisation, but Rambouillet in a sense was a focus, I think, for producing a group of people with the same basic political aim in a planned structure into a loose organisation with fairly clear (at least immediately) political objectives.

  312. Did you find out about their decision-making process, how their negotiating position was changing, who the guys were there, were they guys who counted or were they getting orders from back home?
  (Mr Hatfield) I think the leadership was emerging from the Rambouillet process, partly from their own discussions. Who was calling the shots in that process became fairly clear.

  313. Do you think most of them were there?
  (Mr Hatfield) No, not on the ground, not physically in Rambouillet.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) *** To say there was a clear top structure would be wrong. There just was not a clear top structure at that stage.

Mr Gapes

  314. Can I take you back to the period when you started in your job? It has been in the press so it is public information that an organisation suddenly appears with uniforms, with military equipment and then starts over the winter and into the spring of 1998, as Mr Hatfield said, taking villages and whole areas, whereas previously you had the League for Kosovo which had been operating, including organising demonstrations in Trafalgar Square (and I spoke at one) in the mid 1990s. Suddenly we are in a position where Rugova, whose organisation had the aim of an independent Kosovo, is swept aside. What I cannot get to, and none of your answers so far has revealed this (it has been in the press), is that it was alleged that that there was a drug based organisation, that the finance came through the drugs operation and the money came from Switzerland and that the Americans had been arming and training and helping to set up this group. Are we saying that we did not have any information about this kind of thing? Your answers so far have been very general. I would be grateful if you could tell us what you knew and how it developed over that period where suddenly the KLA had come up and was defeating the Serbian police and driving Serbs out of certain areas within the Kosovo province of Serbia.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) Looking at the end of 1997 and the beginning of 1998, you could not describe the KLA as defeating the Serbians at all. Indeed, whenever it came to a set piece they had had it anyway. I think they got rather lulled into thinking they were more capable than they were. When you look at Kosovo it is split up into clans. They are all split into these clan groups. They all carry weapons as a matter of course. Once you are a 13-year-old you are given your gun, are you not, and so they have all got weapons. They have all got specific areas of interest there. The initial uniforms—to call them uniforms was a little bit ambitious. They were appearing in military style dress. They were not a uniformed army. This all slowly developed through that year. I personally saw no intelligence at all through 1997 when I first came and in 1998 showing that the Americans were funding, supporting, providing training and arms. I saw nothing like that. It was not a big bang in the way that you are describing it. It was slowly developing. In one of the regions where there was that massacre of 40 in one family, *** , and that is why the Serbs reacted to it. That again caused more people to want to be involved against the Serbs. I think it developed at quite a speed through the year but there was not this army suddenly appearing. What really happened was that the Serbs were not really contesting certain areas. What they had not realised was that what in effect had been a vacuum had been filled by these people who were getting outside commentators to look, so they could walk around say, "We are an army", and I think that is what happened.

  Mr Cann: We should re-settle them all in Essex. They would fit in perfectly.

Mr Gapes

  315. Thank you very much. I live in Essex. Can I take this a step further? I have seen information that Mr Thai, who is now the leader of the KLA, and other people, have good connections with the clans that you were talking about, but that also they have connections with criminal activity in Albania and that Albania itself and the relationship between this strange Marxist/Leninist/Maoist political system in Albania has actually got more to do with the KLA than them being Kosovan in a sense. It is actually an Albanian organised or Albanian funded group of people who happen to have lots of family links and all the other things. Is that true?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) There are certainly lots of family links with some of the northern Albanian people. Historically the Albanians and the northern Albanians have been the people in the hills there and the Kosovo Albanians have been involved in cattle rustling, smuggling of whatever drugs. That is something now that has appeared. *** Those linkages were all there but I have no doubt that the prime driver of this was a desire by the Kosovo Albanians (some of them) to have independence, certainly to have autonomy, and the fact that the Serbs were becoming more oppressive to them. I have no doubt at all that that was the prime driver.

  316. It was not Greater Albania because certainly the family links and everything else would imply that somehow this was a kind of drive for a historical unification of the Albanians?
  (Mr Hatfield) No.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) I explained, looking at the whole spectrum of thought, that there is no doubt that there are some extremists in Kosovo. They do feel that there is a thing called "Greater Albania" that they should have. Interestingly, certainly before the fighting the Kosovo Albanians themselves mostly would not have wished to belong to northern Albania because their standard of living and quality of life were rather better. Yes, there are some extremists who do believe in this thing called Greater Albania but it is a small number of extremists.

Dr Lewis

  317. Up till now, Sir Alan, you have been giving us some detailed assessments of the Albanian side of this argument. I have a couple of questions to put to you about our assessment of Milosevic. Two weeks ago the Chief of the Defence Staff, together with Kevin Tebbit, was being questioned by our Chairman and a rather fascinating exchange took place. At one stage Mr Tebbit said: "We did not expect the barbarity or the savagery" from Milosevic. Our Chairman then immediately took that up and said, "One of the things which surprises myself and some others is, you said a moment ago you were surprised by the barbarity." And he added, "I was not surprised by the barbarity. Anybody who has been watching what has been going on in Bosnia would not have been surprised by the barbarity. Why were you surprised by the barbarity?" And Mr Tebbit replied, "Because we did not think he was a war criminal before then. He had behaved in a reasonably responsible way in trying to get the settlement in Bosnia actually. His track record was not so bad as it has become." At the time of the Bosnian crisis I had formed the view that the Foreign Office was looking on Milosevic as some sort of restraining factor, a moderating factor, on the Bosnian Serbs. What sort of assessment had you made of Milosevic? Was he seen as in some respects a moderate until the atrocities in Kosovo came to the fore?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) I do not think I would describe him as a moderate. There is no doubt that he was instrumental in allowing in a conclusion to what was happening in Bosnia and therefore the move towards Dayton. I am not quite sure what the rest of the exchange had been and what the PUS was referring to in terms of the barbarity. Our thoughts on Milosevic were that he was very much a Serbian nationalist and actually a racist, I have to say. His whole ticket from 1987 onwards had been based on the fact that for a start he was not going to let Kosovo be taken away from Serbia and he was going to make sure that the Serbians there were secure and well looked after, and indeed he was going to push down on the Kosovo Albanians. I think that Serbia-centric view then played out in the break-up in the rest of Yugoslavia and one did see some very unpleasant things happening which happened, I believe, as a result of his leadership.
  (Mr Hatfield) It would be wrong to say that the Foreign Office, let alone my Permanent Secretary, regarded Milosevic as a moderate. At various times, and one of the things I am not sure about was the context and which piece of barbarity was being talked about, there was a view that when Milosevic saw it as being in his own interest he would be perfectly willing, as he was at Dayton, to restrain others. It was not that he was a nice chap, a moderate. It was just that sometimes his self-interest meant that he would be willing to restrain others and Dayton was the obvious case of that where some people thought he ratted on his own Serbs in Bosnia.

  318. You have both referred to the context, so I will just take it a tiny bit further. What I am trying to get at is that whenever we are dealing with dictators there is often a temptation to project on to them our own hopes and aspirations, and that because we are reasonable people and are democrats we try to ascribe some of these features to our adversaries. What surprised our Chairman a fortnight ago and what surprised me, or perhaps it did not surprise me, was the fact that when the Chief of the Defence Staff was being questioned about to what extent we had anticipated Milosevic's behaviour, the Chief of the Defence Staff had said, "I think it is extremely difficult to get into Milosevic's mind. We did have people who sat down and said, `I am thinking like Milosevic', and we did have psychologists in NATO who actually studied the man's record. It was extremely difficult. Thank heavens he is not like us", to which our Chairman rightly responded, "I think you ought to get a new set"—meaning of assessors and psychologists—"if they did not tell you that that was an option." I am concerned that there may have been a failure in intelligence assessment as to what sort of a character we were dealing with; or do you think that we had summed him up correctly?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) I think we had a fairly good understanding of what a complex person he was and how difficult it was to predict how he would act. The main driving force for Milosevic—I have talked about him being a non Serb hater—is not that. It is actually his survival and his remaining in a position of power. That means that he is quite willing to change his position very dramatically almost on a daily basis. That makes predictions extremely difficult. He is an opportunist. *** One thing we do know in the intelligence world is that you must never think people think the way you do because they do not. That is one of the biggest mistakes you can ever make. They do not think in a rational way. They certainly do not think like that. I think we were working very hard at that. To predict what he would do was very difficult and one had to work on various strands of intelligence and all sorts of other things.


  319. The overwhelming impression I have, and please tell me I am wrong, having heard the previous witnesses and heard what you said today, is that it does seem that we were taken a bit by surprise. With the benefit of hindsight and reading The Guardian I am surprised that we were taken by surprise. I would love to be around if papers survive the shredding process in 25 or 50 years to see whether—
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) Taken by surprise by what?

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