Examination of witnesses (Questions 300
WEDNESDAY 29 MARCH 2000
WEST and MR
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)
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
(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.
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 uniformsto 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.
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
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
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
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
MilosevicI have talked about him being a non Serb hateris
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