Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 320 - 339)



  320. By the fact that the guy was a total bastard.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) We knew that. People were aware of that.

  321. And that he was likely to translate that into violent action.
  (Mr Hatfield) I suspect that the exchange that we started talking about was related to specific things that he did during the period of March onwards in 1999. Some of the specific things he did did indeed take us to some extent by surprise, not least because they looked slightly strange in as much as we could put ourselves into his mind. They did not seem like the right things for him to do but none the less he did them. The fact that he was prepared to be a bastard did not take us by surprise at all. He had proved that in a number of previous rounds of this crisis, starting from at least 1989.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) I think one should really ask Mr Tebbit. It is always very dangerous to be assessing what my PUS says. It is a recipe for a short career. What he was probably referring to was to the scale of the expulsions that happened when the bombing started. I imagine that is what he was referring to. I have no doubt you want to talk about that anyway.

Mr Cann

  322. I have not got the benefit of a large intelligence staff unfortunately. Some people would say I have not got the benefit of any intelligence either; I do not know about that. What I do know is that when I went to Bosnia three years ago and we saw the wreckage of Sarajevo and the empty houses and the trashing of a whole country, I said to some of the staff over there that we talked to, "What is the best book to get to understand what happened here?" It is Death of Yugoslavia written by a journalist. I read that. From then on there was no way I was going to give Milosevic the benefit of any doubt over anything.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) I do not think we gave him the benefit of the doubt. That is why certainly in 1997 we were giving warnings of the concerns. That is why NATO started planning.

  323. But your analysis that you have just told us was effectively that sometimes he would go hard and sometimes he would go soft. My analysis of Milosevic is that he always goes hard and only pretends to go soft.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) I have not said he would go hard and soft.

  324. Sorry; I am paraphrasing, maybe unfairly.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) As I say, I think we had a good feel for how dangerous a man he was. We had a track record of what he had done. We became concerned about Kosovo which was why this was all flagged up on the intelligence front and the international community and our government started trying to do things about it. That is why NATO did its planning as we moved to the autumn of 1998, when we were getting more and more concerned and we started seeing the violence that we had expected, that had got worse in the way that we had expected, and then the threat of using air power came in and the Holbrooke deal. Then we went through the winter where he had said, "Yes, I will stop", and he had agreed to the KVM, he had agreed to reduce numbers of VJ and MUP. Going through that winter we saw that he was preparing for a new spring offensive. Actually the KLA were also preparing for more action in the spring as well. We saw his numbers not dropping down. After Christmas we saw them start rising up. We had the Raak massacre. I think we predicted very well that there was going to be a real problem. The difficulty was how do we deal with him? How do we stop it happening? That was the real worry.

Mr Hancock

  325. If what you say is true in 1998 when Milosevic, after Holbrooke's last visit to him, had agreed to pull his troops back, and you had all these doubts about this character, what was your reaction, first to him agreeing to pull the troops back, and secondly, what did you do to see that that was being done?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) We had our normal sources of intelligence clearly ***, so heavy weapons you can monitor. The KVM was on the ground reporting through the OSCE chain to Vienna and so one was able to get reports there of what was happening there, and, as I say, all the other normal sources, ***, to be able to monitor that. We were able with that and the Air Verification Mission to have a reasonably good handle on the number of troops he had. What was interesting was that it looked as though he had started doing some withdrawals and then it was quite clear that he really was not and in fact was putting people back in. Indeed, by the time of the Paris talks I think there were about 20,000 VJ which was twice the number that he had had prior to what was happening, and 16,000 MUP, which was about 6,000 more than there were originally, and a lot of those 6,000 were PJP and some of those very nasty special units. We were concerned about that and we reported that as it was happening.

  326. Why on earth, if you knew that was the case, was action not taken then? He had obviously broken his word to Holbrooke and less than six weeks after he had given his word there were more troops in Kosovo than there were before he had given his word, and we still waited three more months before we did anything. Why did we not act then, bearing in mind that in that time, that December period, very few Kosovars had actually been pushed out of Kosovo itself?
  (Mr Hatfield) I think that is a policy question and it goes much wider than the United Kingdom. I am not quite sure what action you are suggesting we could or should have taken at that point.

  Mr Hancock: Holbrooke went to meet him saying that Clinton had made up his mind that he would take military action if he did not pull troops back. Within six weeks he had more troops there than when Holbrooke offered him that ultimatum. Clinton had supposedly told Holbrooke to tell Milosevic, "There is no turning back as far as we are concerned. NATO is as one."

  Chairman: In fairness, that is not an intelligence question.

Mr Hancock

  327. No, but intelligence must have been telling him that this was not happening.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) I said that. We did. In intelligence terms we told them what was on the ground and we exposed that.
  (Mr Hatfield) Intelligence and wider judgment made it clear from the start that this was quite likely to happen. As the Admiral has already said, it was not only the Serbs who were not actually honouring the spirit of the agreement in October. The position was getting gradually worse and worse in terms of troops on the ground, but what they were doing during the winter was not very much. In the spring it started to step up and then we got into the cycle we saw.

  328. You had told us and you have told us again this morning that you envisaged him being this nasty person, and that it was inevitable that this would be the end game.
  (Mr Hatfield) It was not inevitable.

  329. You said in 1986 he wanted Kosovo.
  (Mr Hatfield) This makes it sound as if he has won the game. Forget about whether we had won it. He has lost the game he was playing, whatever we have done.

  330. In the meantime a lot of people have lost their lives and their homes.
  (Mr Hatfield) But the point is, it was not inevitable because this is not the game he expected, and whether it was the outcome we wanted or expected, it was not the outcome he wanted or expected.

  Mr Hancock: Okay, so you had the intelligence information before Christmas 1998. Why then did not the policy decision happen sooner?

  Chairman: That is a policy issue.

  Mr Hancock: I thought Mr Hatfield was the Head of the Policy Division.

  Chairman: If we want to ask Mr Hatfield what happened after intelligence was constructed and passed on, that is another forum. We have an hour and a half to get through 20 questions.

  Mr Hancock: That question lays on the table for someone to answer.

  Chairman: Absolutely.

Mr Hancock

  331. And when we knew that there were more troops there than when we started and it was at least three months before we did anything about it and the situation got out of hand during those three months after Clinton had given him the ultimatum. Okay. We will move on. When you had recognised—
  (Mr Hatfield) Sorry. I cannot leave that lying on the table that nothing was done about it. One of the things that was done about it was the Rambouillet Conference and threats of taking action preceded the Rambouillet Conference, and Rambouillet was a last attempt to avoid having to take military action. As the problem got worse lots of things were done. What we did not do until the end of March, however, was take military action and an air campaign because that was clearly a last resort and lots of people were going to get killed and we wanted to avoid that. But we did not ignore the problem.

  332. All right; let us stick to that then. Do you have a recollection of your intelligence coming out of Serbia saying that Milosevic actually believed we would bomb it?
  (Mr Hatfield) When?

  333. If he did not toe the line, towards the end of 1998. Do you think he took that threat seriously?
  (Mr Hatfield) Our assessment is that he did take it seriously at the time of the Holbrooke deal, yes.

  334. Why then did he relax? If he thought it was serious when Holbrooke went to him in October, what made him change his mind and allow his army to run amok in Kosovo in January, February and March?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) Run amok? Certainly in January there was the Raak incident. This is again trying to think the way other people think. This is something we try and do in Intelligence and it is quite difficult sometimes. For the Serbian MUP (Interior Forces) Army close to Raak they had a column of their people which was ambushed and three were killed and two were badly injured. This was in a period when neither side were taking action. The KVM were there to stop this happening. From their intelligence sources the VJ discovered that the group that had conducted this operation was in the village of Raak. Therefore they conducted an operation against those people. Again you have got to think the way they think. To us, the way of conducting that sort of operation is not to surround it, bombard it, fire heavily and kill lots and lots of people. That is not the way to do it. But their thought processes are different and that is how that happened. In a sense he was waiting and seeing. He wanted to see what the KVM would come up with. Would the KLA for example stop operations? Would they slow down their operations? He might well have said, "Oh, they have stopped killing our people."

  335. He was not worried about them, was he, because you said earlier—you keep contradicting yourself—that you thought that the KLA had over-estimated their ability. Milosevic knew better than anyone that they did not have the ability to really inflict a defeat on his army, so he was not worried about them, was he?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) I think he was worried about numbers of his police being killed, of Serbians in Kosovo being killed. Clearly he was not worried about his army being defeated per se. I think yes, the answer was, when he was threatened with air in the autumn, it did have an effect on him. *** I think there was very much an element of "Let us see what happens now in the winter." We know that during the winter very little can happen anyway. I have explained why I think Raak occurred. There is no excuse for the level of violence used by the VJ, but their thinking is totally different, as I tried to explain. By the time it came up to Rambouillet there was another series of factors that were affecting his thinking. ***

  336. Let us move on to the time when the bombing had just started and the Serbs built up their forces along the Kosovo border and then brought more troops into Kosovo. Most people at the time would have thought that was a bad error of judgment, to bring people out into the firing line by putting them into Kosovo. What were your thoughts about why that was happening? What was the purpose of those troops? What were they going to do?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) We thought he was trying to get better control of Kosovo and when the bombing started we had strands of reporting *** and therefore these were the sorts of moves to strengthen the Third Army that one would expect ***.

  337. Do you think Milosevic knew that it would take us so long to get a ground force together?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) I am trying to remember. ***

  338. Would you write to us about that?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) In general terms I can, but I would have to see exactly—

  339. The times when you were getting an analysis that they thought it would take X amount of time for a major ground force to get there.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) I am not sure that we ever saw a precise date, a time line, but I will have a look and come back to you on that.

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