Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 700 - 719)



  700. In terms of planning, did you pass back the word that despite your road constructions and improving the harbour, it had its limits. It was difficult enough to get from Tirana to Kukes by helicopter, let alone by land. It would have been very difficult to have got past the Greek dock workers in Thessalouiki and, as you said, it would be damn difficult to get to Kosovo via Hungary, for political reasons, and the existence of Serbia. Had there been a real fight, can you tell us what route you would have taken to get sufficiently heavy artillery and tanks to have made a significant difference and to achieve your objectives? I am not a geographer. I am just wondering where it was going to come from.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) If you look, Chairman, at the ground, I have already mentioned you have Kosovo, which is just over half the size of Wales, something of that order. It is roughly circular, as you well know. It has couple of north/south wooded ridges in the centre of the plateau, but it is basically a plateau. Then we have these mountain, 10,000 feet or more, particularly high on the west side, bordering Albania, and particularly high on the south side bordering FYROM. There is one, to use our terminology, Class 70 Route in from FYROM capable of taking the main battle tanks. Its first15 kilometres is a ravine the famous Kacanik defile, which has three bridges and two tunnels, all of which were prepared for demolition. It has an alternative Class 30 route somewhat to the west of that, that is it for FYROM, other than the odd track. From Albania you basically had the road from Kukes to Prizren, that road is not bad, but it is getting to Kukes, as you rightly said, which is the problem. Then you have the route way up in the north which would be a nightmare. Actually you are quite constrained. This means that we would had to have done it in a rather different way and there would have been an emphasis on people using the air to get there and using their feet to get there.

  701. A difficult planning task.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Mountains are only an obstacle to vehicles, they are not an obstacle to good soldiers.

  702. Despite the goodwill of the Greek Government would it have been possible to use that route?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) I cannot answer that question, I do not know. What I do know is that the Greek Government, as I think I have already made clear, were resolute in discharging their responsibilities as a member of the alliance.

  Chairman: Thank you.

Mr Hepburn

  703. If I can move on and ask you both some questions on the military's relationship with the aid agencies out in theatre? How good was the actual level of co-operation between the military and the aid agencies?
  (Major General Reith) I think excellent. When we arrived in Albania there was a natural hesitancy on the part of many of the NGOs of working with the military. We have seen that before in other places, such as Bosnia. I asked the NGOs to gather so I could speak to them and we had 238, I think, registered NGOs within Albania and another 40-odd which were not registered, and almost all of them came to a meeting in the centre of Tirana. I tried to overcome the problem by standing up in front of them and telling them what we were and what we were about. I explained to them—I was wearing my camouflage uniform—that you see here what appears to be soldier but really this is camouflage. I gripped my top and shook it and said, "Really I am one of you, I am a very big NGO with 8,300 people and we have lots of things we can bring to the party and we want to work with you." It broke the ice and thereafter we started working with them very closely. We developed an NGO information centre in the pyramid building in the centre of Tirana—it is called the pyramid building because it is shaped like a pyramid—and we provided a 24 hour help desk there. We were able to inform them of the security situation. We were able to help them get in touch with other people that they needed to work with and we were able to co-ordinate their activity, if they wanted to be co-ordinated. We found it very quickly became used in a major way. On average we had about 80 or 90 customers a day.

  704. What lessons have you drawn for future events?
  (Major General Reith) The lesson I draw is that the military and the aid agencies can work together in good and very close harmony. I was impressed by many of the NGOs, they clearly work very hard in what they do. I was particularly impressed with people like Oxfam that have specialised in Albania in water and sewage. I was impressed by the way they were willing to co-operate with us and with others for the overall effort. In the average refugee camp we built we probably had four or five sponsor NGOs and one of them took over the running of it in the end, and they found the money for it. That worked very well. In the later stages, when we were assisting in the return of refugees into Kosovo, we set up a large transit centre at a place called Mjede where the rail head is in northern Albania. We had27 NGOs working together on the one site to assist the refugees in their return.

  705. Were they overwhelmed?
  (Major General Reith) They were overwhelmed before we arrived but not because they did not have the resources in the country and not because all of the disciplines were not there it was just that it was not co-ordinated. When I went in there on my recce I originally thought my primary job was going to be to build refugee camps, that was part of it, the most important priority. I realised once I got there we had to synergise all of these resources. That is where I spent my first month, or so, setting up the mechanisms and making the relationships and forging them to achieve them.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) The dimension I could add to Major General Reith's answer is that approach is the only one that is going to work. It helps to give the NGOs a good party, that breaks down some of their natural reserve. Whether we like it or not some of the people who work for NGOs look at soldiers as the cause of the problems. There are soldiers and soldiers. There is a certain amount of reserve sometimes. I mean this in a descriptive way, nothing more, NGOs are quite jealous of their independence and their autonomy. They are not beholden to governments and they are not beholden to armies. We all have to operate together in such a circumstance like this. Any peace support operation solution is going to have a number of strands to it, military, humanitarian, political, economic, etc, they all have to work together to deliver the whole. I think the lesson that comes out is that we militaries must understand that the NGOs are not under command, they are not soldiers and they need a different sort of handling. They too, in turn, must realise that soldiers are not always brutal.

Mr Gapes

  706. Can we talk about the KLA? With the refugees there were lots of people who were clearly identifying themselves as the KLA by that time, what was your knowledge of the KLA and how much information were you getting on it?

  (Major General Reith) I should start by saying that from the outset SACEUR said that I was not to have any direct contact with the KLA, politically it was very sensitive. What I did have was a very close relationship with the Albanian Intelligence Service, who had a very close relationship with the KLA. We obtained very large amounts of intelligence on the KLA and their activities within Kosovo and their deployments and what they were doing. My concern with the KLA was that they were operating in the camps up at Kukes and I could see a sort of Palestinian refugee crisis beginning to develop. The KLA were recruiting in the camps and, I will say, firmly encouraging young men to join the KLA. The camps were in Serbian artillery range. One of my principle tasks from early on was to begin relocating the refugees out of Kukes for that reason but also because in the winter they would not survive there and in the hot summer there was insufficient water to sustain them as well. Logistically for me it was a nightmare because it was a 48 hour loop for my transport vehicle to get the aid to them. We were working for a whole host of reasons to try and get them out of Kukes and to create a buffer so if we had further huge ejections we could absorb them before we got them down further into the country.

  707. You described Albania as a third world country and evidence given to us at earlier sessions pointed to the very close family and clan links between northern Albanians and Kosovans. To what extent do you think the KLA is dependent upon Albania and in fact how much is the KLA an Albanian organisation as opposed to a Kosovan organisation?
  (Major General Reith) The Albanian Government did not support the KLA. They got no direct support from them at all. There are close family links across the border but only in that northern region from Kukes round through Tropolje to Bajran Curri and a lot of the refugees that came out initially from Kosovo actually stayed with family in that northern region and I had difficulty thereafter trying to get them away from there. I had no evidence at all of the Albanian Government directly supporting the KLA.

  708. In that case where did the KLA get its support from, it uniforms and weapons?
  (Major General Reith) They[2] were not obstructing the KLA and on the ferry from Italy every day you would see 40 or 50 recruits for the KLA coming in from the Albanian community abroad—and there is a very large Albanian community in Europe and in the United States—and we had evidence of them getting the ferry in Italy in their civilian clothes and then changing into uniform they had bought themselves when they arrived at the other end. So they literally walked off the ferry dressed as KLA. They were then issued their patches by a reception team and moved up towards the border where they went into various training camps.

  709. You said that you were not supposed to have any contact with the KLA but clearly some form of negotiation had to happen if you were going to avoid difficulties. How easy was it to identify the KLA leadership and negotiate either directly or indirectly with the people who actually made any decisions?
  (Major General Reith) In the stage before the actual negotiations with the KLA to disarm we had no negotiations with them. The Albanian Second Division headquarters was in Kukes and the KLA had put a liaison team in there so they could deconflict with the Albanian Army and I took advantage of that by putting my own liaison team in there which meant we were communicating through the Albanian Second Division to ensure there was no problem between us and them as well.

  710. How much was the KLA an organisation or was it really a collection of disorganised, disparate, unreliable, conflicting groups all using the same name?
  (Major General Reith) The intelligence we had back in 1998 indicated that there was a series of factions. On the ground I found it different and once they were openly fighting the Serbs they had come together under Brigadier General Ceku and Thaci's political control and all the factions were working to Ceku.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) It is worth just saying that that cohesion did not long survive the end of their fighting.

  711. It has been suggested by some people that NATO could have made greater use of the KLA.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) It is a political question entirely.

  712. What is your view of that?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) It is a political question entirely.

  713. Was there a danger, on the other hand, that the KLA was using NATO and that you were being exploited and that you should have been a little bit more distanced from them?

  Mr Hood: That is not a political question!
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) It is inevitable that when NATO took military action against Yugoslavia, including against the Serbian forces in Kosovo itself, that this would be of benefit to the KLA. It could not be anything else, could it?
  (Major General Reith) It was mentioned earlier that perhaps the actual destruction of tanks and so forth was not as great as had been thought but the fact was it positively curbed the Serb actions within Kosovo which obviously then assisted the KLA in theirs.

Mr Gapes

  714. When it came to the period when you did negotiate with the KLA, how successful do you feel you were in negotiating the terms of demilitarisation with the KLA and in fact do we not have the KLA today under another name?
  (Major General Reith) All I would say is that I went in and I had to work the art of the possible. When I went in my original remit was to try and negotiate an undertaking by the KLA to disarm and that even if I did not achieve it at least they would know what the international community expected of them. I did achieve it, not with the ideal solution and I had obviously been dealing with Brussels and SHAPE and also dealing with General Jackson in Kosovo to make sure he was content that what we were offering in the terms of it, remember it was their undertaking, was workable. At the end of it they did agree to disarm within 90 days and I felt a bit like a used car salesman when I finished it.

  715. Have they kept to the agreement?
  (Major General Reith) I will leave that to General Jackson.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) What was that?

  716. Have they kept to the agreement they made?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) The programme of demilitarisation was 90 days, as John has said, at the end of which they were to turn in their weapons and ammunition and they were to cease to exist as the KLA and obviously cease to wear KLA uniforms. Whether we like it or we do not, the KLA see themselves as a victorious army. Some of them, the majority certainly see themselves as the embryo army of a future independent Kosovo. This may be unpalatable but it is a fact. As the period of demilitarisation moved through—and within the Undertaking was an aspirational paragraph along the lines of an army of Kosovo—it became clear to us that we actually faced a very difficult choice indeed. After the 90 days was over was the KLA to vanish off the face of earth at least in terms of any formal arrangements but actually elements of it almost certainly would go underground, or would it be more prudent to offer those who saw themselves as wishing to be part of this future "army"—I put that in inverted commas—some form of visible, overt (as opposed to covert) uniformed hierarchical organisation which would keep them above the water rather than under it. The balance of judgment was that the second course was preferable to the first and it is this that led to that again difficult period of negotiation at the end of 90 days which led to the establishment of the Kosovo Protection Corps, a civil defence organisation modelled along the lines of the French Securite« Civile. As to the efficacy of the demilitarisation, some 10,000 weapons were handed in, some five million rounds of ammunition, of itself a significant figure. The inevitable counter question of course is how many were not handed in? That is certainly unknown to me because I would have to know how many there were in the first place to do the necessary arithmetic. So too would the KLA and they probably do not how many there were in the first place either because "is this Kalashnikov in the formal, collective possession of the KLA" or "does it belong to an Albanian farmer who helped the KLA for a month or two and went back to his farm and put his AKA 47 in the haystack", which is what just about everybody in that part of the world does. We live in a very strange environment down there where privately held weapons are the norm. I cannot give you a better answer.

  Mr Gapes: I think you have said enough. We can draw the appropriate conclusions.

Laura Moffat

  717. We are running short of time so I am going to get into the question we have been wanting to ask all morning. We have heard a lot in the media that relations between you and SACEUR were difficult at times particularly related to the Russians and Pristina. For the record can you tell us how that relationship worked in theory and practice.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) I am not quite sure what you are getting at but I think I know what you want me to talk about! General Clerk was my boss. I have always said that he was my superior officer and all soldiers are pretty clear about what that means. Equally so, it is inevitable that in any chain of command there will be differences of view and opinion from time to time and I think that is all I am going to say about it. Sorry.

  718. You rotter!
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) I know.


  719. Watch this space. When we met John Warner in the Senate Armed Services Committee he said he was going to summon you to appear before him. I retaliated by saying I was going to call Wesley Clark. Thankfully we never called Wesley Clark and you never appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee so a good story was left largely untold.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) I think there is something that I could usefully say. I do not want to be taken down personal roads because I do not think it is appropriate, but the question of the red card was much spoken about. I think people ought to understand what this actually means. It is a bit of a shorthand. The longhand is that nations who contribute forces to a multi-national force do so as a matter of sovereign judgment and choice and decision. Nations therefore retain full command of those forces and only delegate a certain level of authority, and that level can vary, to the multi-national alliance commander, etcetera. Therefore, if a nation does not wish to do something it will not because that is what full command means, you retain the right to do it or not to do it, to agree or to disagree. Hopefully it is used very rarely but it is always there. That is what the red card means. It is nations exercising the sovereign right of the ownership of the final decision about the use of their troops. Nations, not alliances, do that.

2   Note by Witness: the Albanian Government. Back

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