Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 920 - 939)



  920. Just two quick questions to end this part of it. Looking back over your experience there—and you are coming in right at the beginning, past the planning stage really—how good do you think SHAPE's intelligence was both before and during the campaign itself? And looking to the future, and particularly with the European initiative, would it have been possible for the European nations to have launched a Kosovo type campaign without heavily relying on American intelligence? If that was not available, could they have done it?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) You always want better but I think we had adequate information intelligence and so forth for the bombing phase. There were areas where you will see we were wrong, publicised things like the Chinese Embassy; but, also, where we mis-assessed the reaction of the Serbs, driving all those people out. Those sorts of things. Those were demonstrably wrong in the event. I think I can say that it was adequate. One would like to improve it in the way I have described. Whether Europe could have done it in the same way without the Americans, I do not think so, no. In order to do it that way, you would have needed the equipment and capabilities, but I daresay Europe could have found another way. It might easily have been a great deal more costly; it may have taken longer; but that does not mean to say you cannot find a way round it within your means.

  921. One last point. Are you able to give any examples at all of where operational analysis and war gaming within NATO, something that NATO was famous for, directly led to a change in plan?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) I cannot think of an occasion, no. No, I cannot. I think I can say in the targeting process that is the most sophisticated system of working out how to do the attack and so forth. If you include into that analysis and so forth, then that did adjust how it was done or when it was done and so on and so forth, but it was not in order to reduce collateral some would say, in that sense there were adjustments. In the sense of a major shift and so forth, I cannot remember an occasion, certainly not in my time at DSACEUR.


  922. Perhaps if you can ask your colleagues when you go back if there was an example.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) Certainly, I will do that.[1]

Mr Brazier

  923. Just carrying on from the penultimate question there. Why do we appear to have so obviously over-estimated the battle damage inflicted on the Serbian ground forces? To put a supplementary into the main question, was it just a question of improving the mechanics of the Battle Damage Assessment, which is always difficult, and improving Intelligence Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance means—that is quite a big area in itself—or is there more to it?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) I do not think there is more to it. It is an imperfect science. Your adversary is making every step to confuse you. It is in his interests to do so. The reporting you are referring to, which was only, I say "only", only a bit of the things we were attacking, notoriously difficult targets (a) to hit and (b) to assess what you have done and there is a historical tendency that you always think you hit, whether you are shooting at clay pigeons or dropping bombs. There is a tendency to believe that you have got it right and so people tend to report it as such. I am quite clear, having been sitting there, there was no intent to lie about it, people thought they had hit it and that was what they said. People added it up and that was what they then reported and so on and so forth. That is the great difficulty of this thing, it becomes accumulative.


  924. As a group we are prone occasionally to exaggeration. Perhaps we do have an empathy with the military for occasionally over-egging the cake.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) In some ways I suggest it is the need to answer all the questions about what did you do today to fill the space on the television or the radio programme and so on and so forth that fuels this demand all the time. I think it is a much bigger problem to address than just narrowly on the single issue "what do you say".

Mr Brazier

  925. Absolutely. As we have been around the buoy with a number of other people at this detailed level I will not pursue you further on that except for asking one detail which clearly must be very closely engraved on your mind, and you have alluded to it already. What did we think was in the building which recently started housing the Chinese Embassy when we hit it? What did we think we were striking there?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) We thought we were striking the Chinese Embassy. We were quite clear that we were attacking the Chinese Embassy. I beg your pardon.


  926. Please rephrase it. Can we ask the BBC to wipe the slot.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) We thought we were attacking the right building.

Mr Brazier

  927. Absolutely.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) What did we think it was?

Mr Cann

  928. It was identified by the CIA, was it not?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) Before I dig myself even deeper in.

Mr Hancock

  929. I think you got it right the first time.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) I cannot remember.

Mr Brazier

  930. It does not matter.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) As I say, the fact that the building was the Chinese Embassy was not clear to us at all. At all. The building that the Chinese Embassy was in was the thing that we were trying to hit. That was what I meant to say when I started.[2]

  Chairman: If you would like to write us a note afterwards. I think we are all of the opinion it was a mistake.

Mr Brazier

  931. My final question, forgive me for coming in with a hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy question, General. We have obviously had four or five main factors put to us again and again as to why Milosevic ultimately did climb down in such a hurry. How would you rank those four or five factors? In your view what was it that made him suddenly climb down in a hurry?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) I am not sure it was that sudden, in my view. I have difficulty in ranking them in an order. I am not sure that is how it works. There was, I think, in his mind no prospect of this stopping. This organisation—NATO—was holding together, was going to go on until it got its way. I think that had begun to dawn on him. Secondly, the damage being inflicted upon him and his state was increasing and becoming more painful and more evident. Thirdly, there was a sufficiency of communications now by May opened up, so there was someone talking to him, and in that conversation, as I understand it, the Russians had made it plain they were not on his side. I think those three factors. Then there was the fourth factor that there was an escalatory step which was that NATO would go and take Kosovo. While we know it was proving difficult to formulate this step, as an Alliance, there was enough evidence that we were there on the ground and that we were bombing in such a way. Although you make a valid point about the damage on the fielded forces, those fielded forces were not out on the ground preparing defensive positions, and if they did come out on the ground to try and do that they would have been a great deal easier for us to attack and so on and so forth. There was a whole series of pressures, as it were, and the fourth one was this prospect that "if I do not deal now, I might not have anything to deal over". That would be my fourth factor. I do not think I can rank them except possibly to say the fourth one I have mentioned, the escalatory step, was possibly slightly behind in his mind than the other three but we would have to go and ask him, I cannot say.

  932. Just a last point really on that. Given that all the testimony that we have had in the course of this inquiry was that actually that key escalatory step was a window that was only open for a few more days, we have had figures between ten days and four weeks suggested to us but certainly it was not very long, was that what you meant when you said you rate it slightly behind the other three?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) In that it was pressure on him?

  933. Yes?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) No, no, it was whether he could see. I have no way of measuring how much he recognised or deduced, or his people did, from our posture. You listen to the rhetoric in capitals but you watch the forces deploy also, and you tend to watch them for the worst case probability. They would have seen forces in Albania, they would have seen forces in Macedonia, they would have seen tanks coming in and so on and so forth. We would suppose they were able to collect that information and knew it. Someone in Belgrade would have been marking all this on a map and saying "Hang on a minute, are you sure they are not going to do a ground attack because we have just had reports of engineers on the road up to Kuke­si and so on and so forth. What I cannot tell you is how much weight was given to that.

Mr Viggers

  934. May we go back to the planning stage. I believe that the North Atlantic Council formally instructed SACEUR—Supreme Allied Command Europe—to prepare contingency plans in May 1998. How far had these proceeded at the time of your arrival at SHAPE?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) We had a raft of plans, some we were starting to put into effect at that stage. There was the support for the OSCE monitoring mission, there was the Extraction Force for that, which was two separate plans, two separate groups of forces both deploying to Macedonia. As I recall, the Extraction Force had three stages in it and in its third stage it involved the deployment of the headquarters of the ARRC and some forces. Then there were contingency plans made—but very broad—for ground options, and I cannot remember quite how that was divided up. There were some there but they were well to the back of the shelf. Then you had the air plans, of which there were two. There was a limited air option which was short, sharp, punitive shock, rather like the attack—and I cannot remember what it was called—on Iraq during 1998. Then there was the phased air option which went through a series of escalatory steps and those were drawn up and in almost all cases, if not all cases, were already up and cleared by the North Atlantic Council.

  935. All of these would have been based presumably on what you perceived to be Milosevic's centre of gravity? An expression well known in military circles.
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) Yes, they were. They were options. I think that is a helpful thing to remember, that they were options of something one could do but they were not necessarily part of something greater at that stage the diplomatic effort or whatever. The precise definition of a centre of gravity can only really be achieved when you can link it to the ultimate aim that you are working towards.

  936. In your strategic planning, to what extent were you looking at Milosevic's situation within his own country and his reliance upon the military, his reliance upon the military police, his reliance upon his diplomatic/political relationship with other countries, including Russia? How did you calibrate these?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) Again, I am trying to recall because I am now recalling reading the plan rather than making the plan. Those were part of the considerations in making the plan. The weighting given to any particular factor I cannot recall precisely. Those were not actually the mission of the plan. Let us take the phased air option, the one that was carried out, it had in effect a split mission. It was to halt and disrupt attacks on people in Kosovo and also to support diplomatic efforts, such as the Rambouillet talks, and so on. Now when you start to consider that plan, if you see what I mean, you are not necessarily looking in great depth into Belgrade's relations with, for example, Russia. That was what I meant about when you take these options and you connect them, they were not made in connection with a greater political/diplomatic context.

  937. On the other hand, the graduated air campaign strengthened the will of the Serbian people in supporting Milosevic. That was presumably anticipated?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) It had that aim or it had that effect?

  938. It had that effect?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) Not in making that plan. At SHAPE we did not make that deduction, nor would we have argued it if we had. That is why I come back, those were options—military options—they were not made within the context of a greater political or diplomatic activity.

  939. The plans themselves, were they made by SACEUR or by the Commander in Chief SOUTH?
  (General Sir Rupert Smith) The SHAPE plan was made by SHAPE. It might then give a mission and so forth for the air plan or the actual attacks on something. That would have been done by the appropriate commander at that level. The plan was included in the process, if you like, it was a sub-set of the plan at the higher level. You have two plans, yes. You could see that Mike Jackson was making a plan, for example, which was a sub-set of something that was done at the levels above him.

1   Note by witness: Prior to the start of bombing there are no examples of the use of Operational Analysis (OA). However, from mid to late April, OA was used extensively to identify the effect and subsequently to inform the targeting process of major infrastructure items. These include bridges, power structures and logistics bases amongst others. Back

2   Note by witness: it was thought that the target being hit was Belgrade Warehouse No 1, which was believed to be holding spare parts for imported weapons. Back

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