Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 360 - 379)



  360. Sure.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) Indeed, I think the first package that NATO put together, whilst there was an enabling part to it, in other words to ensure our aircraft were not shot down so hitting IADs and all these sorts of things, part of it was very much "let us not do anything too unpleasant straight away because we do not want to fight, we do not want lots of people being killed, let us give him the chance of backing out". It was quite clear very quickly that was not the case and then we got all the information about clearing people out and it became a very difficult situation.

  361. That reflects really into the next point I want to raise, whether your advice to the Chief of the Defence Staff reflected that it was likely to be short?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) No, ***.

  362. Right.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) Also, we were reporting across our whole intelligence community that he might well dig in and not respond to these attacks.

  363. Overall on this point—my last point on this air campaign strategy—are you happy that the information you gave to the Chief of Defence Staff was accurate, mainly accurate?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) Yes, I am. In fact, I set up some new structures in terms of infrastructures, support and things, having taken over *** and I felt that worked well. My people did some really, really good work. They worked amazingly long hours. In terms of the accuracy of the data they produced, there were no UK targets that were attacked where we found that it had killed civilians unnecessarily because we hit the wrong things. We were very, very precise about that and I was very pleased with what they produced. I think it was sound advice.


  364. Would it be within your Department's competence to ascertain attitudes of public opinion, particularly in Belgrade, how long could they withstand bombing, or was that somebody else's watch?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) No, we did that. I think it was quite interesting. ***. Almost inevitably if you start bombing someone the first reaction, very often, is that the public opinion swings very much in support. We predicted that was likely to happen. It happened in London during the Blitz and it happened in Germany in the Second World War until it got really, really bad in 1945 by which time there were other factors. We predicted that was likely and indeed we saw that soon. Then, as things went on, one began to see people getting a bit fed up with things and saying "I do not really like this very much, what the hell are you doing anyway" so one saw a slight swing in that public opinion, particularly when they started getting bits of our media, getting exposure to some of that. There is no doubt that Milosevic controlled his media very, very tightly, he still does. When they started getting some exposure to some of our media they thought it was not quite as clear cut. Some people in Serbia started being a little bit more unhappy about what was going on.

  365. What about those countries which maintained a diplomatic presence in Belgrade, did we plug into that?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) We used our normal sources. We got intelligence from our normal sources.
  (Mr Hatfield) Chairman, actually there was quite a lot available through relatively open sources on that.

  366. Sure.
  (Mr Hatfield) Both of us were contributing to an inter-departmental assessment in this area in particular. It was not specifically defence or military sources that were the key factors in relation to that issue.

  367. It would be interested to know—maybe you do know—what the assessment was of how long our public opinions would withstand the campaign. There were a lot of sources he could look at which would certainly encourage him to say "If I brazen this out these buggers will give up before I do". I think there was a very strong case that was the assessment he was using.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) *** he felt his strong card was that NATO would not stay together.

  368. Absolutely.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) ***

  Chairman: It would be interesting if he read Hansard.

Laura Moffatt

  369. I wonder if I could pursue the targeting issue. In your answer to Harry you mentioned that you were entirely happy with the intelligence that you provided. You made sure we were looking at the right things and that we were not going to cause collateral damage. Were you surprised at any of the targets that were then selected that being so?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) ***

  370. I was probably trying to get at both, I must say. Many of us felt some disappointment that we were not able to disable the air defences and that seemed to me quite crucial in what was happening. I wonder if you could tell us something about that?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) It depends how you define disable. I think we did disable their defence.

  371. Effectively enough?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) I think the fact that we flew over Serbia and Kosovo night after night after night after night and actually only two aircraft were shot down—an American F117 and an F16—and those pilots were zipped out, shows that we were pretty effective. ***. Probably that was the area they were slightly more robust in than we thought they were but we had a very good understanding of their IAD system. We knew what we needed to do in terms of our suppression of enemy air defence package. Although pilots were extremely brave, and there was no doubt there were some exciting moments, our counter-measure systems did work. When you are a pilot and a missile goes shooting past you, you are not actually to know that, and there is some very exciting language occasionally between them. Those packages did work. We managed to suppress it and we managed to conduct those air operations. I think we did do it very successfully and part of that was because ***. So we did have a good handle on that. They were holding a lot of their stuff in reserve, they did not want to expose it too much. *** It was having an impact on them.

  372. With that in mind, not under-estimating the bravery of the pilots, the reality was they were not exactly flying very low over Belgrade, were they?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) I do not think you have to fly low to be at risk. Things like SA6, SA2 and SA3, they were all able to operate up at those levels and the height they were flying at, you have to do a balance between the risk you wish to get involved in. There is no doubt when you go very low level you add a whole new inventory of weapons to the things that reach you: shoulder launched SAMS and also AAA and all sorts of things. Also, a number of our systems were laser designated weapons and they were optimised for use at that sort of level anyway.

  373. Pursuing the kind of psychological effect of the bombing, Mr Hatfield you mentioned maybe things were changing, people were being not so comfortable, the business community was getting very upset about losing their production, were we having any serious effect on the hearts and minds of people in Belgrade?
  (Mr Hatfield) I did not say that, I would have said that had you asked me earlier. I think the answer is yes but it is a very complicated effect, as the Admiral said. Part of the effect, especially initially, was "we hate NATO", not surprisingly, but equally these privations got to be worse and there did not seem to be an end to them and there was not any particular benefit coming out of it. I do not think I am any better placed than you are to make an assessment about what the Serb citizen really felt, let alone how much influence an individual Serb citizen had on Milosevic's behaviour. We know the sort of effect we were having but how that worked its way through in people's minds was another matter.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) The sort of strand one was getting late on, in a town in the centre of Serbia, a number of bodies were brought back from Kosovo, dead reservists, and the mothers all said "This is appalling. Why on earth are we doing this? This whole thing is a nonsense" and there was actually quite a major demonstration. This was put down with a certain level of violence which we reported in our normal way in the media into provinces. It was interesting to see that obviously the VJ in Kosovo were listening because we found that one reservist unit that came from this town basically decamped, dropped their weapons to drive home and look after mum who was being knocked around by the police there. It was those sorts of things which were giving us a flavour of the discontent and the fact that people were not happy, and interestingly that they were listening to what we were saying.
  (Mr Hatfield) We never went beyond that and assumed "Ah, morale is about to collapse, it is all over."
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) I was asked that almost everyday when I briefed Ministers. "Is their morale going to go", I would say "Hang on, it will not just go like that". After a few weeks I said "Well, there are what I would call hairline cracks now appearing" and then as we got to the end I said "We are seeing lumps of plaster falling now". It was that sort of thing.

  374. My last question, looking at the effect and the way in which targeting was initiated, is how much the UCK was used in that target identification? Did you rely on information that came in that way? Was it a formal line?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) Generally, we were not getting direct information from the UCK, that is speaking for me, I do not know about the rest of NATO. I was not generally getting direct information from them. ***
  (Mr Hatfield) At a practical level there were two things to remember, time lags, and bear in mind the risk of collateral damage even in a the very short time such as occurred on one bridge. Even if you want to use people they have to be trained quite well to give you the sort of information for precise targeting. At a practical level, targeting through the UCK or information from refugees for precise attacks would not be on. Yes, the information is useful in forming the picture but you would not base your targeting on that information.

  375. Are you saying you would not risk NATO personnel lives on what might be inaccurate information?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) Certainly I would not want to do that. That does not mean if I was given something I would not go and have a look at it some other way. You can get somebody else to go and see and if they say "Yes, there is something there" then obviously you can do a proper attack.

  376. It was always in collaboration with other information?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) ***

  Mr Gapes: Why did we attack the radio and television stations?


  377. Again, why did we attack it—Did you get intelligence as to why?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) Our intelligence showed us very clearly that a lot of the media, ***. Also, Milosevic drove a very strong propaganda machine. There is no doubt in my mind that some of the propaganda coming out from some of the radio stations and on some of the television actually incited some of the action that happened in Kosovo. Those would be reasons that I did not like them particularly and we flagged that up and then it was up to someone else to make a decision whether these were going to be attacked or whatever.

Mr Gapes

  378. It was back on the air very quickly ***?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) *** But your specific question, did it damage, I would want to come back on.

Mr Brazier

  379. Sir Alan, my question follows on Laura Moffatt's questions. We have heard about the difficulty of targeting land targets, particularly from 15,000 feet, one understands the difficulties in some cases. What would you say your intelligence community have learned about the difficulties of detection, attack and critically Battle Damage Assessment from this operation?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) You focused on an area where we have got certain lessons we have got to learn.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 25 May 2000