Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 680 - 699)



  680. There is the untapped source of the Parliamentary Armed Forces Team which would bring Hood and Hepburn and Julian Lewis and the old codgers in the TA would pick up Brazier and maybe Viggers but I do think, whatever your reassurances are, it would be quite a tight fit to have got 50,000.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) It would have been a huge challenge. I would be delighted to take Members of the Committee under command of course.

  Laura Moffatt: We want to go.

  Chairman: I think Jamie Cann has also done the Parliamentary Armed Forces Team and there is a nurse over there.

  Laura Moffatt: I am doing it.


  681. I think we could have done our bit towards the 50,000. I am sure the Ministry of Defence would have been delighted to send us out.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Seriously, and I am sure that figure would not have been given last year without a certain amount of homework being done to make sure that we would not then have been embarrassed by not being able to make the 50,000.

  682. How long could you have sustained 50,000?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) That is a one shot. For as long as it was deemed necessary to keep that size of force in theatre, they could not be replaced.
  (Major General Reith) Could I add in here, wearing my previous hat as the Director of the Operations of the MoD and my current hat as the ACDS (Policy) of the MoD. The 50,000 fits within our defence planning assumptions for a one shot. If you think that of the 50,000 about 10,000 would come from the TA that fits in roughly with the percentages when we went to Bosnia with IFOR because we went with 14,000 of which nearly 3,000 were TA. If you work on that basis 40,000 and your teeth to tail ratio is about, at best, 40% logistics and 60% combat elements, you are only talking about five brigades and actually we have eight deployable brigades. We would have been able to have constructed it but it would have had to have been a one shot.

Mr Brazier

  683. No rotation either?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Precisely.
  (Major General Reith) No, no, a one off.


  684. If they had been deployed, the winter would have made it pretty difficult to operate in November. It would have been short term or nothing at all.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Again this is hypothesis. The way one could have seen that going would have been a short but probably quite sharp fight for a few number of days followed by a breakthrough. I have said already the timing of that was designed to get refugees back before the worst of the winter. Now on the basis that you had then stabilised the situation, you could downsize that force extremely quickly because you needed the weight of it, the fighting power of it to actually fight. When the fighting is over you can come down to your enforcement force.

Mr Cann

  685. You will be happy to know, General Jackson, that I was with the navy not the army so you would not have had the responsibility for me.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) We are very joint these days.

  686. I am happy not to act under you I suspect. Basically my questions are to Major General Reith. We did not see much about our operations in Albania in the press during this business, it was all FYROM and what was going on in Kosovo itself. I would like to ask you a few questions about that if I may.
  (Major General Reith) Of course.

  687. For example, what operational orders were you given when you arrived in Albania? How did they establish the priorities of your mission? To what extent did the operational orders evolve in the early weeks of the deployment?
  (Major General Reith) I think if I can say that my experience was very different from General Mike's. As I said earlier, I moved within four days from my initial warning order. I arrived in Albania on 11 April and on the day I arrived I was met by the Albanian Government with open arms. They were overwhelmed by the scale of the problem. The NGOs and the various international organisations were not well co-ordinated and they too were overwhelmed so there was a major problem. On the day I arrived I was actually given by the Albanian Government control of their ports, their airports and their air space and access to all their defence establishment properties and buildings which helped me considerably and also helped later with the flow of aid. Two days later whilst I was still on the reconnaissance I received my activation order which meant of course that opened the NATO funds for my operation as well. Clearly each day I was in communication back with SHAPE as to how we were progressing. Three days after that we had the force generation conference. The day after that I had the rest of my core headquarters out, the core element that came from Heidelberg. We were reinforced very quickly in my headquarters and I expanded from less than 50 to 250 over two weeks. I had, rather like General Mike, quite a lot of troops already there. The Italians had about 1,800 troops in place, the Greeks had a couple of hundred, the Turks had some. So I took those under my command. Then over an eight week period I was reinforced to my final level of 8,300.

  688. What proportion of those troops were engineers?
  (Major General Reith) I had about 1,800 engineers but I had six field hospitals, five of them supporting the refugees and one of them supporting my own forces. I had four infantry battalions, they were there principally to provide security and escort, and so forth. Clearly lots of other specialists linked-in with supporting refugees.

  689. That brings me to my second question, how you describe the range of priorities you had. One was humanitarian efforts, another one was to show Serbia we meant business. To what extent were you there to build a road from Durres through to the Kosovan border?
  (Major General Reith) I was mandated by NATO to go in on a humanitarian operation. Clearly underlying that was to stabilise the region and to show that Milosevic's policy to evict the refugees was not going to work. My force was configured entirely for that. Clearly, again, when it comes to prudent military planning and the difficulty of accessing into Kosovo one has to looks at options from Albania. We did a lot of reconnaissance on that, entirely in line with my needs on the humanitarian side, I improved the road that ran up to Kukes on the border with Kosovo because, in fact, the bulk of the refugees were coming out on that same road. We had to move them and we had to deliver very large quantities of aid. I upgraded that road to Class 30 in military terms, which means it could take up to APCs, it could not take tanks. I could never have upgraded above that because the bridge constructions were such that you cannot use military bridges on them. There were a series of bridges on the route which could not be upgraded above Class 30.

  690. You could put light troops through but not battle tanks.
  (Major General Reith) Again, only one road and the journey from the port up to the border was something like a 14 hour drive. I should say that the infrastructure in Albania is such that it is a third world country in Europe. I had seen much better roads in Africa and Central America.

  691. I think UNHCR has come under criticism for its activities, do you have any views on that? When you were deployed did you have a problem working with them, for example?
  (Major General Reith) I had no problem working with them. I went in and my mandate was to support the UNHCR, because they were the leading agency in the country. What I found when I got there was a demoralised UNHCR, because they had been overwhelmed, and the Albanian Government who had lost confidence in them. I spent quite a lot of time and effort bolstering the UNHCR. I put staff in to support them. I made sure that their senior representative in the country Jacque Mouchet was with me everywhere when we were in front of the press and that he was given credit. I spent a lot of time persuading Prime Minister Majko and other ministers that the UNHCR were doing the best job that was possible in very difficult circumstances. Having said all that, I will say, they never properly got their act together. They were under-staffed and I thought about it long and hard after the event—I had worked with the UNHCR in Bosnia, when I was their under the UN, and they had not been particularly successful there either—I have come to the conclusion that each of the UN agencies has a specific function. Clearly the function of UNHCR is to repatriate refugees and move them across borders. That requires a legal background and most of the people in UNHCR are legally trained, however they are not trained in the administration and logistics, which in these crisis is what is needed, and so there is a vacuum in the system at the moment of the United Nations to provide the co-ordination that is needed in the early stages of these crises. This is very much a personal view. I believe there is a vacuum there and on this occasion it was my headquarters from NATO that filled that vacuum and created the co-ordination and the synergy with the IOs and the NGOs to resolve the crisis.

  692. UNHCR essentially needs either business project management involved or military people involved at an early stage?
  (Major General Reith) It needs resourcing with the right people and obviously the right support to do the job.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Perhaps I might echo that from experiences in FYROM, where we were confronted at Easter weekend with this extremely desperate situation in humanitarian terms, but also pretty desperate in terms of the campaign—I have no doubt that Milosevic was attempting to destabilise FYROM by flooding it with not only refugees but I would call some of them deportees, they had been put on trains and dumped, therefore there was an operational aspect to this as well as a crying humanitarian need—I do not blame UNHCR because they were caught by surprise. I do not think anybody expected that size of deliberate deportation, those numbers. I would echo what Major General John Reith has said, UNHCR were, perhaps, a little slow to realise the gravity of it and to reinforce. I do not blame them at all for having the half dozen or dozen people they had at the time. They have actually published a very long report—I do not know any of you have seen it—on their own performance, which is extremely creditible, because it is honest and they have been, I think, almost a model, perhaps, to some other organisations for whom life is always perfect, even though clearly it is not. They have been very honest.

  693. You are referring to the MoD, are you?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Perish the thought, Sir! There was no solution other than for KFOR as it was, that embryo force, to get stuck in, there was no other solution at all, on both those counts, purely for humanitarian reasons and secondly also to neutralise the operation and the effects of what this might mean, given what Milosevic was up to. We were then able to hand over the running of the camps on a programmed basis under the overall auspices of the UNHCR but with many NGOs working under them—that is a very military way of putting it, of course an NGO would be horrified to hear me saying this—in cooperation, doing the various functions such as water, food, et cetera, in the camps.
  (Major General Reith) Can I say that in no way do I want to discredit the individuals from the UNHCR that were working, they were very dedicated and worked extremely hard. The system is weak and needs some attention. I should say that the NGOs appreciated that synergy, that co-ordination, working together. As one grateful one said to me afterwards, otherwise they just have evangelical prayer meetings.

  694. Having established AFOR in theatre were you satisfied with what you were given to do the job and were you satisfied with what the Albanian Government did with the new synergy, so to speak? Which resources were available to you from different national contributions? Were all of your requirements for those met?
  (Major General Reith) My full requirements were not met. I wanted 8,800 and I got 8,300. The bulk of the missing assets were engineers. That did not mean to say I could not complete the task it just meant that it took a lot longer, in a deteriorating situation. It went from about 240,000 refugees when I arrived in the country to nearly half a million refugees by June, when obviously the tide turned, so that was a concern to me—we just worked harder, longer hours. People were working 18 hours a day to try and get the camps built. An average camp for 5,000 was taking an engineer company with about 120 men between three and four weeks to build, depending on the ground they were building on, that was quite important. The relations with the Albanian Government were outstanding. They were extremely helpful in every way. I think our own Ambassador in Albania did not know that I was seeing diplomatic telegrams and he had actually sent one back to the Foreign Office saying I had become a minister without portfolio in the Albanian Government. I had full access to the President and the Prime Minister at any time. I was working very closely with the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Interior Transport and Public Works. Almost anything that I wanted I got, although sometimes it would take a little longer than I would have desired, however we managed to work through that. The Albanians did actually introduce something called the Emergency Management Group, which proved extremely useful and could well be a model for future operations of this type, where they nominated a minister to be the Minister for Crisis, provided the accommodation and support in the Prime Minister's building and we then developed an executive co-ordinating group, with UNHCR and NATO being the prime members but with many of the senior NGOs and other IOs involved, where we were able to co-ordinate the operation and get the necessary people to provide the resources.

  695. We used to have one of those, he was called Denis Howell, the Minister for Snow, I seem to remember.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Can I add just how politically difficult the whole refugee crisis was. I know the FYROM Government were criticised but it was extremely difficult for them, they were put through the fire.

  696. What about your command structure? Who were you responsible to and did it work properly, in your view?
  (Major General Reith) I was responsible to Admiral Ellis, who was COMAFSOUTH and through him SACEUR. Normally in peace-time I worked direct to SACEUR. If I was not deployed on an operation I had direct access to SACEUR. I had contact with AFSOUTH everyday. I also had various senior visitors on a regular basis, SACEUR came out and saw me about six times in the five months I was there. I was well attuned with the political situation and well supported throughout, in terms of the logistic support I needed.

  697. You were left with adequate authority to do what you saw was necessary in effective time?
  (Major General Reith) Yes. In military terms the broader your mission statement is the easier it is for the Commander to carry it out. I was given a very broad mission statement which was to assist the UNHCR in resolving the refugee crisis, which meant I could do almost anything I wanted.

  698. Finally, allied mobile force land, it is the first time it has gone anywhere operationally, have you learned any lessons from it? Do you think it works well?
  (Major General Reith) Rather like General Mike Jackson I had been a battalion Commander in the ACE mobile group, in fact I took over from General Mike Jackson about 12 years before. When I became Commander I was horrified when I arrived to find that it had not changed in that interim period, although, shall we say, the whole security situation in Europe and the situation with NATO had changed. From the outset of my command I instigated various work to change the AMF(L). When we went on the operation the various weaknesses that I had already highlighted 18 months earlier were clear to me. SHAPE were well aware of those weaknesses and reinforced me, accordingly. We are in a situation now where the headquarters of AMF is doing a trial under the Combat Development Experimentation Initiative in NATO to have an enlarged and strengthened headquarters, working a new system, so that it is able to carry out, primarily, peace support operations and still be able to carry out its Article 5 tasks.


  699. I never aspire to be a literary agent but your experience was fascinating and very, very important. I am hoping the institute will invite you to go into more detail because the way you had to relate to civilian authorities and the NGO seems to be something that is quite inspiring and really very helpful. I hope if you have any time the urge to put pen to paper might overcome you.
  (Major General Reith) I am not sure we can put pen to paper while we are still serving.

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