Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 720 - 739)



Mr Cann

  720. That implies a political element to it.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Of course, absolutely.


  721. General, you may not wish to comment further on whether your judgment or Wesley Clark's judgment was right in terms of the Russians and Pristina Airport, but from my own vantage point I believe history has proven your judgment to be absolutely correct and we would certainly commend you for the courageous decision you took. I do not want you to comment any further upon it.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Nothing more personal but I think again a word from me ought to be said about the part that Russia played in bringing the conflict through its conflict termination phase. The role of Russia's Special Balkan Envoy Mr Viktor Chernomyrdin, alongside President Ahtisaari of Finland was, in my view, a very pivotal aspect of that conflict termination procedure along with the military pressure being applied. I have said publicly before and I will say it again that the Russian contingent in KFOR was in my time certainly, and I have no doubt still, doing a good job in an impartial way.

Laura Moffatt

  722. Let's talk about other relationships then ones, not personal, with the UK MOD and PJHQ. I want to know how that fitted with what you were doing.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) There is little direct contact and nor indeed should there be for both John and I were working in a NATO chain of command as multi-national commanders, and therefore going quite carefully in terms of avoiding any sign of national partiality because that is not good for your credibility with other nations within the force, you have got to be absolute the neutral in that sense. So the national/alliance interface is not either of us but it is in through the national MoDs into SHAPE. It is up at that level where you get the inputs from nations into the alliance. All of that said of course, with a sizeable British element in KFOR, there were some purely British points but not on policy grounds, they would more often be on practical administrative grounds when we would pick up the phone and speak directly over this or that. Perhaps you would be good enough to take my word that these were not policy matters because that would have been quite wrong.

  723. You have given a good impression that it is not wise to keep scuttling back to your own MoD and those relationships have to be at a certain level.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) If it became clear that I was in the habit of discussing everything on a daily basis with General Sir Charles Guthrie for example or whatever, that would not go down too well with other nations who might be suspicious of what I was getting up to and of a national agenda emerging, and you cannot afford to have that impression.

  724. How were you about discussions with Air Marshall John Day and the like? Would you do that informally or formally or would you be careful about that?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Yes, from time to time there would be discussions but I was very happy to discuss my perspective with the senior military of any of the contributing nations. If I could help inform their view and their own decision-making, fine. I came back to London two or three times I think during the period for informal discussions, "How did I think? Where do we think we are going?" that sort of thing. As I say, this needs to be done with care to maintain your credibility as an unbiased, multi-national command.

  725. You felt that you struck the right balance?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) I hope so.

  Chairman: We have another 15 minutes if that is alright. Julian Lewis?

Dr Lewis

  726. Your recent remarks about the role of the Russians gives me a steer to the answer to this question, but I would like to ask it just the same. Do you subscribe to Sir John Keegan's view that this was a war won by strategic air power alone or to the view that we have heard from the Chief of Defence Staff and from people at NATO that the reinstated threat of ground forces, the decision of Russia not to back Milosevic and the success of NATO in maintaining alliance cohesion were important factors in forcing him to cave in?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) I do not believe it is sensible to conclude that Milosevic was brought to the point of concession purely by the military action that was used against him. One can identify a number of pressures and levers which were operating. Clearly there was that option of military action.

  727. Do you mean air action when you say military action?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Of course, yes, and I suspect in particular what was damaging there was the strategic level of bombing that was taking place within Serbia proper, not only the physical destruction but I suspect it was beginning to hurt that extraordinary politico-commercial Mafia that seems to operate around Belgrade and some of them were not making as much money as they used to. Secondly, I have already reflected on the diplomatic pressure that was brought to bear and it must have been an unpleasant experience for Milosevic to realise he could not look to the Russians for any form of support or help. Thirdly, he might have expected or at least I am sure he hoped that NATO would collapse under the political strains of prosecuting this conflict. Indeed it had not and there were no signs of it doing so. We have already spoken about the emerging signs that there would be a ground offensive if that became necessary and I have no doubt that Milosevic knew that he could not win that one and of course we must not forget that in late May he was indicted, another form of pressure that was put upon him. There may be others, I know not. We will never know precisely why he conceded unless he writes a book, perhaps from the peace and quiet of a cell in The Hague!

  728. General, I am sure we all say "Hear, hear" to that. Were your views sought on the likely efficacy of the air campaign and all its possible implications for any subsequent ground operations you might have had to take?
  (Mr Sharples) Not as such, no. As the ARRC Commander, if we put it into doctrinal terms eventually this was not necessarily a matter for us, but the strategy emerged of course as a result of the political will. It was what was the political will at the time in terms of how far we can go at any one time.

  729. In the light of that answer, can you tell us what your links were with the NATO Air Commander and whether you had regular exchanges of information with him? Can I join with that, because of the time pressure, a supplementary that I would otherwise have delayed until I had heard your answer? We formed an impression that you played little or no part in the selection and approval of targets during the air campaign. Are we correct or wrong about that?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) You are quite right. On the second part, our input into the targeting process was absolutely minimal. In a way that was almost inevitable because it was not a ground/air simultaneous action. It was unusual in this sense. What we did ask was would it be possible to leave alone certain installations and barracks but I fear the temptation to reduce their barracks to a load of rubble was too much, so we did not have barracks to go to when we got there and we had to build some portacabins. As to your first question I had a strong liaison team in Vicenza at the combined air operations centre, and in ARRC we have our own small but very able air operations control centre so the linkages were there without doubt.

  730. But there was not too much information travelling along them?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) There was a great deal in terms of implementation. There was often aircraft that got in trouble. When we finished up in FYROM, bits fell off aircrafts and all sorts of things went on. In the policy making, which is really what you are getting at, nothing.

  731. Is it true to say you were unimpressed with the way that tactical air operations were conducted against the fielded forces in Kosovo, and is it possible to say what impact the air campaign and its choice of targets had on your subsequent entry into Kosovo? You have already made a point about the barracks, for example.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) I have already intimated, at least, the pressures upon Milosevic and the effect of the strategic bombing against fixed targets in Serbia, I suspect, again we do not know, was much weightier than the damage being done to his army in Kosovo. I think it is matter of record that the actual damage done is rather less than was once estimated to have been done. We can play with the numbers forever, I am not privy to the information on which the numbers have been assembled. Certainly when we entered Kosovo we did not have to clear away hundreds of burned out tank hulks.

Mr Viggers

  732. Are there any general lessons that you think would be useful for us to share? Are there any general lessons you can share with us about the negotiations of the MTA?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) It was an extraordinary experience because, of course, the mechanism by which we got there was the visit of Mr Chernomyrdin and President Atiisaari to Belgrade on 2 June and on the subsequent day 3 June when they said, "We will now accept the G8 principles." It was then a question of translating these broad principles, some of them of a political nature, into an actual set of actions which would get us from A to B. All of this was done at a point of contact on the ground rather than any Government to Government level. In terms of any lessons which emerge, no, I do not think that I can come to any great weighty comment there. It worked, there was a lot of political input, for the reasons I have just given, which meant constant referral to Belgrade, which took a long time. They tried to get a bit more out of it than the principles would allow, which explains the hiatus at the halfway point. At the end of the day the Kumonovo Agreement is a reasonable expression in practical terms of those principles agreed by the G8.

  733. Following which, you then advanced your forces in a dangerous military situation, did you not? Were you confident? How did you plan, as they went through?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) The thrust of the Kuminova Agreement, the conflict was terminated by agreement and that agreement involved a succession of actions, perhaps the most important of which, although all of it was important, was, of course, the withdrawal of the Serb forces from Kosovo itself, that was central to the agreement. It is not, of course, impossible that the Serb side might have signed the agreement in bad faith and had no intention of carrying it out whatsoever and would have resisted KFOR's entrance. That would seem a pretty extraordinary thing to have done. I cannot think of an advantage of it, having gone through the agreement process, then tear it up, why bother to go through it? We had reasonable confidence that strategically the Serbs would do that which they had agreed to do. What we felt we could not be certain of was that all members of the Serb security forces would be of a view that it was time to leave Kosovo. We were fully prepared for local resistance. In the event there was hardly any.

  734. You said elsewhere you felt a certain amount of respect and the competence for the manner in which they carried out their withdrawal?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) The figures speak for themselves. 40,000 people, 400 tanks in 11 days, any army would regard that as a challenge.

  735. You were, presumably, planning? You, presumably, planned for the alternative. You had air power, which you could have called upon. Were you confidant that could have been arranged?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Yes, what was all arranged.

  736. Were you confident that KFOR, our military in Kosovo, was capable of sustained operations should there be a chemical or a warfare environment?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) We had all the equipment. The capability of the Serb forces would only have been chemical, that is all they are alleged to have had, it is very dubious. We looked into this and there is very little evidence of any coherent capability on the Serb side at all. We were prepared for it. Even if they deployed whatever they had it would not have been a significant problem.

  737. Your planning took account of surprises, should they come.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) Yes.

Mr Gapes

  738. From your discussions with the Serb military how were they reacting to the political decision that had been made in Belgrade. Did you get a sense that they were relieved or did you get a sense that they, in fact, were offended by the thought of leaving the historic heartland of the Serbian nation.
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) The atmosphere at Kumonovo was workman-like, unemotional, no raised voices, I think that describes it well enough. There was no sort of sentimentality, one way or another. I think what we discovered, as we saw more of the Serb Army withdraw and we advanced, there was a mixture of feelings. Some thought, "What on earth are we doing in this place, we are hated by the people who live here, the sooner we get home the better. Thank goodness I am still alive." Others would take the traditional Serb view, Kosovo the heartland, the Fields of Blackbirds and all of the Serb mythological aspect to it. It is hard for me to give you a general answer to the question.

  739. Were there concerns expressed at any time as to what would happen to the remaining Serb population?
  (General Sir Mike Jackson) On their side it was one of their driving motives throughout the Kumonovo negotiations, that whatever arrangements resulted from the agreement absolutely minimised any risk to the Kosovar Serb population. They were extremely concerned, and as we have seen, with good reason, extremely concerned for retributive action by the Albanians against what would then be a minority Serb population.

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