Examination of witness (Questions 1060
TUESDAY 20 JUNE 2000
(Lord Gilbert) Not many other Western powers have
much experience of that. It is very revealing, Chairman, the state
of the terrain. In not all but in certain parts of Kosovo there
was a report recently of British troops there finding it thoroughly
inconvenient, if not impossible, to use their light armoured vehicles
to get around and they were resorting to ponies and horses.
1061. Could we have got 50,000? I know it was
not your own department but you obviously know what goes on on
the other side of the shop.
(Lord Gilbert) I am not sure I always knew what was
happening on my side.
1062. Where was our contribution going to come
(Lord Gilbert) I think you had better ask somebody
else that question, Chairman, I am not competent to answer it.
All I would say is I would have been very pleasantly surprised
indeed. I think a land invasion of Kosovo would have been possible
by September but by September this year, not by September last
1063. This developed into a test of NATO's strength
and credibility in the end. Are you saying that if the air campaign,
which as you yourself acknowledge remained quite a limited campaign,
had failed that we would have just said "ground invasion
is not on really, we will have to give up and Milosevic has won"?
I suggest we would not have said that at all and, therefore, if
that raises the possibility of a ground invasion then surely the
heart of that would have been an important factor in Milosevic's
mind. Coupled with that, will you also say why was it that it
was felt necessary publicly to rule out a ground invasion at the
outset that many people now seem to acknowledge was a mistake
and that even if one had ruled it out publicly, why could the
threat not have been conveyed to him privately that we would,
in fact, do it?
(Lord Gilbert) There is a whole raft of questions
there, Dr Lewis, as you know. I am sure you are not trying to
put words into my mouth.
1064. I would not dream of it.
(Lord Gilbert) I hope I did not say that, had the
air campaign not proved effective we would not have tried. I think
people would have tried. I think it would have been far more difficult
than they thought it would have been. I think it would have taken
far longer to get enough troops together with equipment and I
think it would have been extremely difficult to get the various
countries to produce the troops. For God's sake they cannot even
produce the number of policemen they all promised in a peaceful
Kosovo, as you well know, many, many months afterwards. The sorts
of things that were being said in the Ministry of Defence were
"what is all this about the Serbs being ten foot tall; they
are no good as fighters; the Croats gave them a bloody nose and
they ran away, it is not difficult dealing with them". I
do not happen to share that view. I think it would have been very,
very difficult. You asked me whether it was necessary to rule
out a land campaign from the beginning. I think probably, psychologically,
it was a mistake, but I do not think it influenced Mr Milosevic
one way or another because I think Mr Milosevic is a realist.
Mr Milosevic knew perfectly well as the thing proceeded how little
damage was being done to his military assets. Have I answered
1065. Not really, no. You are saying that the
threat of ground forces had nothing whatever to do with the eventual
decision to cave in and what I am putting to you is if you acknowledge
that had the air campaign not brought about the result that eventually
came about, if you acknowledge that in those circumstances NATO
would indeed have proceeded to a ground offensive no matter how
hard it was to do and how long it took, then you are acknowledging
that a ground offensive was indeed possible in the medium to long
term. If you acknowledge that then the ruling out of our ever
doing that at the beginning was a mistake and the fact that Milosevic
could see that we were moving strongly in that direction could
well have been a factor, as indeed many of our witnesses think
it was a factor, in his final decision to capitulate. That is
what I am suggesting.
(Lord Gilbert) First of all, I do not think we were
moving strongly in that direction by the time hostilities came
to an end. Secondly, I think we were extremely lucky that he gave
way when he did. I am sure you have taken, evidence, Chairman,
on the stocks of various types of munitions that we and the Americans;
had and how we were scraping the barrel of this, that and the
next thing in certain areas. You are constantly trying to tempt
me into making a prediction as to what NATO would have done and
I do not feel competent to do that, Dr Lewis. They would have
had to contemplate very, very considerable numbers of casualties.
The French estimate was that they would be taking 2,000 casualties
a day if they tried to go in. I do not know which land route the
French contemplated. *** there was no way in which you could put
together a ground force to go into Kosovo before the winter and
when the winter arrived it would be diabolically difficult. It
is all very well for the decisions to be taken, but were they
going to be implemented? I think we would have had very considerable
difficulties in raising 50,000 troops. George had put them on
the table saying "that is what I will provide", it is
a matter of record, I gather, from evidence in Lessons from
but whether the others would have come up with the other 100,000Most
of them would have been Americans, they would have had to come
all the way across the Atlantic and where were you going to disembark
them, how were you going to deploy them?
1066. They could have been sustained for a limited
amount of time.
(Lord Gilbert) You would have to get it through the
United States Senate. If you think you could get all that done
and have an effective force in position by September, that is
1067. I am moving amendments on a Bill up the
corridor so I am going to very rudely ask a question, hear your
answer and then disappear. Just on the Russians, I heard what
you said about the Russians, Lord Gilbert, but it is a matter
of public record that a public pact was signed between Milosevic,
the Government of Belarus and a large group of extremists in the
Duma Parliament. It is also a matter of public record that it
was just two days after the collapse of that same group's impeachment
effort against President Yeltsin that Chernomyrdin was sent on
his second mission which resulted in the immediate collapse. There
is some solid evidence there, it was not what the Russians had
done to them, it was the prospect of ousting Yeltsin and the Russians
doing something for them which disappeared surely?
(Lord Gilbert) I am sure that is right. I think it
was largely a lot of posturing. What on earth could the Russians
1068. It was what Milosevic believed and had
been told by his mates in the Duma basically.
(Lord Gilbert) I think Milosevic's intelligence was
pretty good. I know his brother or his brother-in-law was ambassador
in Moscow. I cannot remember which one it was.
1069. Brother. And was very heavily involved
(Lord Gilbert) Absolutely. The Russians were shown
to be absolutely impotent.
1070. On the question of what could the Russians
do at Pristina Airport, do you line up on Wes Clark's side or
General Jackson's side? Can we tease you into an answer?
(Lord Gilbert) This is a quote from 11 May, Herald
Tribune: "When fewer than 200 lightly armoured Russian
peacekeepers barnstormed to the Pristina Airport in Kosovo to
upstage the arrival of NATO peacekeepers, General Clark asked
NATO helicopters and ground troops to seize the airport before
the Russians could arrive. But the British General . . ."
this is not my language, "absurdly saying he had feared World
War 3, when in truth the Russians had no cards to play, appealed
to London and Washington to delay the order". ***.
1071. As a subordinate officer, what were his
(Lord Gilbert) He was not insubordinate, he had rights
under the NATO command structure to appeal to his national line
1072. So who do you think he
(Lord Gilbert) Now you are tempting me a little too
far. I have a pretty good idea of what happened.
1073. When we were in Italy last week the American
General who was responsible for part of the air campaign, responsible
in the Atlantic Command South
(Lord Gilbert) This was not Short?
1074. No, this is his replacement. This is the
chap who is actually running the air fields, not the overall commander.
I cannot remember his name. Also one of the senior British officers
there told me, because I was sitting with them at dinner, that
part of the problem was that Clark was fixated with targeting
tanks and used a disproportionate amount of resources chasing
tanks around Kosovo to the extent of it being bizarre and there
was much criticism within the American chain of command over Clark's
actions which went back to the Secretary of Defence and subsequently
to the President about Clark's behaviour and being fixated over
chasing numbers rather than critical areas of command. That is
the first one. I wonder if the Brits had a view on what was going
(Lord Gilbert) It was extremely difficult to know
what was going on. One of the first things I should say is as
far as I know we did not originate any targets. We approved certain
targets but they were brought first of all to the Secretary of
State who delegated some types of targets en bloc to commanders
and then reserved to himself other types of targets to be dealt
with individually. When he was out of the country they came to
me. All targets, of course, were cleared with the law officers
in this country. I think NATO, under pressure from the media,
certainly became obsessed in their reporting with the amount of
material that they had successfully attacked; I think that is
quite right, but I do not think either Clark or Short wanted to
attack those targets. Primarily they were forced to do that because
the politicians would not allow them to start off by taking out
the factories, the bridges and the oil refineries and so on.
1075. They went on to say that it was when the
French, who flew the second largest number of missions, objected
to so many abortive missions being flown chasing tanks that action
was finally taken, that Clark had slightly lost track of what
was happening and they felt had slightly taken his eye off the
ball of the reality, as it were.
(Lord Gilbert) I cannot tell you everything that went
on at NATO headquarters, not by a long way; all I knew was what
was happening at MoD of course. I think Clark was very highly
stressed, that was a lot of this. I am told by people who were
with him that he was actually on his mobile phone every ten minutes
or so, which is a quite extraordinary state of affairs for a commander
in charge of a campaign of this scale. I do not recognise the
scenario that you have put to me. I am not challenging it; I am
saying I do not recognise it.
1076. The second question relates to what we
have been told both in this Committee and when we have visited
elsewhere about the state of intelligence.
(Lord Gilbert) Ah.
1077. Considering that we claim to be the top
ball players in this field, along with our American colleagues,
why was it that there was so much of a deficiency in the intelligence
both on what Milosevic was going to do and what he was up to and,
secondly, about what his reaction or what the Yugoslavs on the
ground's reaction would be to what was going on? Why did intelligence
get it so wrong?
(Lord Gilbert) I think that is an extremely good question,
I asked it myself. I do not know the answer. I think it is something
where the Ministry of Defence ought to be picked up by the scruff
of the neck and shaken. Can I talk for a moment or two about intelligence?
1078. Yes, please.
(Lord Gilbert) There were basically three different
sorts of intelligence. One was intelligence battle damage assessment.
Has your Committee been given various figures?
1079. It changed after we were given them.
(Lord Gilbert) No doubt you have been given information
on this subject. Have you been given classified information on
this subject? There is no reason why I should not give you information
in that case. We had an assessment ***. I am not at all sure that
they were all being attacked. When we get on to the question of
the oil supplies, the amount of damage we had done to Serb oil
refineries varied very considerably. In my view, if we had really
wanted we could have taken out all of the Serb oil refineries
like that if we had concentrated on them. We knew exactly where
they were, we had the weapons with brilliant precision, as I am
sure you know, Chairman. We also got extremely varying intelligence
on the state of Serb morale and what was happening post-Milosevic.
I have to say that it was very difficult to know what to believe
from one day to the next. Thirdly, we also got advice right at
the beginning when I was advocating that we should take out the
electricity supplies as soon as possible,***, "why the hell
were we told eight weeks ago that these consequences were going
to flow?" We got some rhubarb, people were not happy at being
asked that sort of question. In answer to your question, I think
a very serious look needs to be taken at intelligence, both the
Americans and ours.
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