Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 640 - 659)



  640. Can I complete this group of questions by asking General Reith this: where were you and what were you doing during autumn 1990?
  (Major General Reith) I effectively stood down from this operation other than monitoring, because my headquarters is only designed to command a smaller force, and we had clearly reached a scale, if there was going to be any intervention into Kosovo itself, that we would not be commanding, and therefore the focus turned more to the ARRC. Similarly to General Mike, I was monitoring what was going on in case I was needed for anything else or I became a subordinate command within that force. I obviously, as I said before, had full access to everything within NATO, and again various national systems, because my intelligence centre within the AMF(L) is run by the UK intelligence organisation. So I had access to everything in exactly the same way and was monitoring throughout.


  641. If things had suddenly got worse, as eventually they did, who was going to carry on building the roads, improving the airport, building an airfield or two, the kind of thing that one might have to do if a shooting match really began? If you are out of the frame, who would come in to do the work?
  (Major General Reith) No. As I say, I was only out of the frame, but we were monitoring. We had been involved in the planning process throughout, so I knew what was going on. As it transpired, I was required to go in at very short notice into Albania to do exactly that: to build roads and take over the airport and the port and so forth, and build refugee camps. But you must remember, I did not own the forces. I was just a headquarters, but my headquarters was held at 72 hours' notice to move, and as it transpired, we moved within four days, and we could have moved faster; we had all the equipment, I had all the personnel I needed, but clearly, there was not a requirement to move until the fourth day rather than the third.

  642. When I visited your headquarters I did have the impression that for any of your subsequent careers Wimpey would have been a fine option because you were building more than I have ever seen any private British company doing in terms of infrastructure.
  (Major General Reith) What I would say there is, although we were providing the manpower and the expertise, we were working with the NGOs in all the building we were doing, and the NGOs were producing the money and then taking ownership of the work we had done after we had left, and it worked very well.

  Chairman: Thank you. We will now move on to problems of deployment in March-June 1999. We have been subject to slight mission creep and it is our fault, not yours.

Mr Viggers

  643. General Jackson, were you anxious to deploy in February 1999?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Having lived with Kosovo for nearly a year at that stage, with it being pretty much at the forefront for most of that year, I think I can honestly say, speaking for the headquarters as a whole, that there was almost a sense of relief when we actually got moving.

  644. My understanding is that a NATO activation order is necessary in order to provide the operational funding.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Correct.

  645. Was there a hiccup in the issuing?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Yes, there was.

  646. Could you explain that to us please?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Forgive me, this will take a moment or two because it is less than simple, as some of these things are. You will recall the Racak massacre I think was on the 20, maybe 24 January,[1] late January, and was, as I say, probably a watershed event and if not the main driver of Rambouillet certainly was one of the drivers that led to that conference. Now, Rambouillet was seen inevitably as a form of Dayton and had it succeeded it might well have been quite a close parallel to Dayton. There would almost inevitably I think have been huge political pressure had Rambouillet succeeded for very fast action on the ground to begin to lock in in a tangible way the provisions of whatever agreement. Certain nations therefore decided to get ready in case Rambouillet did succeed and such a rapid move was required France had already taken "framework nation" responsibilities for the small extraction force, which I mentioned earlier, which was deployed into Northern Macedonia in November/December in support of the unarmed verifiers in Kosovo itself. France had a battalion and a brigade headquarters already there. We, Britain, had a small contribution as the Germans did to this very small force. It was decided by certain nations, that was Britain, France, Italy and Germany, to increase their in place forces in Macedonia. Each of them had a brigade headquarters there and a largish battalion. These decisions were taken nationally. There was not, at this stage, an Alliance decision to deploy such a force. Also, there was an American battalion already in Macedonia which had been there for several years as part of UNPREDEP—the UN Preventative Deployment force—a standing force which had been on the border between FYROM and Yugoslavia in a deterrent role. The mandate for that force expired on 28 February 1999 through a slightly bizarre set of circumstances where, if I remember rightly, FYROM had recently recognised Taiwan, and China therefore vetoed the extension of the mandate in the Security Council, as mainland China policy. Therefore, also, we had an American 1 Star headquarters, an American battalion. HQ ARRC was then deployed, or elements of it, whilst Rambouillet was still running in order to provide co-ordination of these national forces but it was co-ordination in terms of allocation of real estate and logistic deconfliction, liaison with the FYROM Government, etc. The main body of the ARRC then deployed in March, the third week in March, as it appeared that Rambouillet was heading into the sands. You are right that no activation order was issued. Now this is a formal mechanism by which the North Atlantic Council embodied a force, so this we were all on a bit of an informal basis down there but it worked well enough. You are absolutely right, one of the things that also comes with an activation order is operational NATO funding and that did give us a problem, without a doubt.

  647. That accounts for the impression that might have been gained in some quarters that there having been some delay, when deployment did take place it took place, as it were, with unseemly haste because the diplomatic procedures were not proceeding exactly in parallel with the military ones?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) I think that is a perception, if I may say so, unseemly haste. Clearly you have to get the circumstances of when a deployment makes sense. I think what people hoped, of course, was that during that winter, the moderating influence of the KVF—the Kosovo Verification Mission—would do just that and that we would not necessarily have to go the next step up. The hope was ill-founded as I am afraid events showed but I understand why that hope was there.

  648. What reception did you get from the former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia? What reception did you get from FYROM?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) FYROM had accepted the small extraction force in November of 1998. Then they accepted these nationally deployed forces which I have spoken about which started to arrive in February or thereabouts and then my own headquarters and, of course, from those very modest beginnings, that nucleus of KFOR grew to the point where on entry in June, we had got to about 16 or 17,000, off the top of my head, something of that order. The Government of FYROM are, of course, in a difficult position as a neighbouring country. They are conscious of their own relationships with Yugoslavia, they are conscious of their own demography with a very sizeable Albanian minority, up to 30 per cent, the numbers are not easy to be precise but certainly up to 30 per cent. They are also of two minds, I think, I do not mean that pejoratively, I mean it I hope very sympathetically. Their long term goal is to be fully assimilated into Europe, both into the European Union and indeed to NATO. That is their very publicly stated strategic goal. Conversely, of course, they found themselves by necessity host to a growing NATO force in what is quite a small country with a limited infrastructure and taking a political risk in my view of a very considerable nature in acting as host to this NATO force. They squared the circle, if that is a phrase I might use, by putting a block on the use of Macedonian territory for offensive operations by NATO. We will never know whether that would have changed if necessity had demanded it to or not. I worked pretty hard and John Reith worked pretty hard on the Albanian Government because without these two countries, without Albanian and FYROM I think it would have been impossible for NATO to have fully prosecuted the campaign. They were essential to us and therefore it was very important that every effort was made to keep those governments as certain and as on side as possible, despite their very understandable nervousness. Now the politics of course of Albania are rather different than they are from Macedonia. I might mention also that, of course, Greece went through a difficult period politically. Public opinion was almost unanimous against NATO taking military action, of course that left the Greek Government, as the NATO member, in a difficult position, particularly as Thessaloniki was so important to us. I have said it before and I would perhaps like to take this opportunity of thanking the Greek Government for everything they did. They did remarkably well in very difficult circumstances. Again it took some of my time to explain and to thank the Greek Government during that very difficult period.


  649. Perhaps you could add your thanks to the German Foreign Minister. He is my latest hero, not somebody who I would have put high on my list of heroes hitherto I might say, but I think a lot of governments made very significant contributions and in some cases rather unexpectedly I might add.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Yes. I might say, also, what helped enormously in Macedonia was after a slightly shaky start in NATO/FYROM relations—I say the Alliance as a whole, perhaps rather than we on the ground, although I got a bit of the fall-out—the appointment by NATO, not of an Ambassador, because I gather there are legal reasons why he cannot be one, but of the Senior Civil Representative of NATO as he was known to the FYROM Government, a retired German Ambassador to Belgrade, Herr Hans Eiff, was a very good move indeed. Excellent.

Mr Brazier

  650. Sir Mike, the opening part of my question overlaps a bit with the answer you have just given to my colleague Peter Viggers but let me put it anyway. If I understood your answer to him correctly, if I was to ask you what were your orders in February and March 1999, the answer would be basically you did not have a lot of orders, you were sent to co-ordinate what was already there. That is broadly a summary of it.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Yes. It was quite clear in February, early March, that you would not have these national contingents without any formal command structure, all jockeying for position, all trying to nick the best factory, all trying to get on the training area first, to get the best deal from the government. It was a bit overwhelming for the Macedonian Government besides everything else it was having to deal with. So there was a self-evident need for some form of co-ordination and a focal point. Our first task was no more than just that: co-ordination within, some logistics, allocation of real estate and liaison with the Macedonian Government. Of course that changed dramatically once military action began and we can come to that later.

  651. Absolutely. It is fairly unprecedented though for a General of any nation but particularly for a British General, albeit wearing a NATO hat, to find himself deployed into what might be about to become a theatre of war without a proper order.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) I think that is pushing it, if I may say so, "without a proper order". I was quite clear what was required. It was perfectly obvious why this was required, a broadening of what we were there to do, which was utterly foreseeable, but nonetheless I think given all sorts of political sensitivities we had to wait for the events that would trigger that broadening.

  652. Right. At the RUSI in November you said "In Macedonia we spent an awful lot of time planning. At one stage my political adviser had a roots and branches diagram which I think had seven outcomes we were trying to plan for each of these different outcomes". Very unfair question, off the top of your head, what were those seven or some of the seven outcomes?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) They were purely theoretical. Please do not misunderstand me. Without in any way saying "This is what will happen" or "is likely to happen" just a theoretical "What are the possible outcomes of this" which ranged from, of course, on the one hand "It is all too difficult, we are going home", as simple as that, to "war with Yugoslavia". As I say please do not read any weight into what I am saying other than that when you look at a situation like that there are a range of conceivable academic, if you like, outcomes.

  653. Each of which you had to put some planning and thought into.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Yes. Between those two extremes there were a number of avenues and roads.

  654. Did you have the contingency planning resources to undertake this very wide range of options?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Yes.

  655. What would you say then—still staying with this interim period between your deployment and the actual start of hostilities—what were your immediate problems then? What were at the top of your list of problems then besides planning for these different options?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) There were a number of things which we had to do. Firstly, we had to build this growing force together, that is not any particular series of actions, although there were things, exercises, study periods, all getting to know each other because it is a multi-national force, very important. I have spoken of, if you like, the political/military interface. We will take that as covered, I hope.

  656. Yes.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Training the force, very important. We were fortunate with a good training area in FYROM and, as I say, getting ready for whatever may come. Now, it was not very long, of course, after we all got there that events changed dramatically with the commencement of military action. At that stage then, of course, with the particular geography of FYROM being what it was, the centre of gravity was all up in the north—the capital, the international air field, etc., the main population belt—it is all up in the north very close to the Yugoslav border—which was where we were mainly, again for fairly obvious reasons. We were therefore in artillery range from across the border, we were certainly in aircraft range so long as they had an aircraft flying, we were certainly easily subject, had they wished to do so, to cross-border special forces actions or indeed some form of home grown terrorism within FYROM. It was not inconceivable also, we believed, for the Yugoslavs to have tried some form of propaganda style ground incursion. If you remember the Gulf War, the Iraqi attack on to Al Khafji had no military significance but it did attract television cameras because they did go into Saudi Arabia. Then we had to get ourselves on to a proper military posture for conceivably conventional fighting, which we did, basically with a small force at that stage.

  657. That brings me straight on to two questions I will put together, if I may, for brevity's sake. Did you feel that faced with all these various branching options that the forces under your command had adequate capabilities to meet the situation and, secondly, with that, critically did you believe there was sufficient flexibility to surge reinforcements and bring in additional capabilities as necessary as the situation developed?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) I have said already that the force was pretty small, and I am talking in the region I think of 7 or 8,000 at this stage. That was by no means, of course, the KFOR that we had designed, you will recall that I said about 25,000. The formal force generation had not taken place. There was no activation order, no formal force generation. In other words, we were a bit of a—what is the word I want—virtual force, not in the sense we did not exist but identity was a bit of a problem.

  658. Yes.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Some nations even had difficulty with the label KFOR because we had not been embodied. It was a slightly strange existence at that time. Also, there was a derivation of that slightly odd legal identity or lack of it. It gave some difficulty there with command and control states. This is going to get into some technical area if you want me to pursue it.

  659. Rather than that, can I just ask you if you can pursue the other side of the second half of the question. I understand entirely the point about the formal legal structure lacking because of the lack of the order, as you pointed out earlier, but, from a wider point of view, were you satisfied that the systems were in place within NATO given the order to reinforce quickly and bring in all the various reinforcements necessarily from a lot of different countries?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Yes. The machinery is there and we saw the machinery really kick in when it was clear that KFOR was properly on its way as KFOR into Kosovo. We had got to about 15,000 on entry but—

1   Note by Witness: I have checked the date: it was in fact 15 January. Back

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