Examination of witnesses (Questions 360
WEDNESDAY 29 MARCH 2000
WEST and MR
(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, ***.
(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 pointmy last point
on this air campaign strategyare 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
(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.
(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 knowmaybe
you do knowwhat 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
(Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) *** he felt his strong
card was that NATO would not stay together.
(Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) ***
Chairman: It would be interesting if
he read Hansard.
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
(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 downan American
F117 and an F16and 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
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
(Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) ***
Mr Gapes: Why did we attack the radio
and television stations?
377. Again, why did we attack itDid 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.
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.
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.