Select Committee on Defence Fourteenth Report


The Humanitarian Operation

212 The government's report on Kosovo treats the handling of the humanitarian aspects of the crisis as a matter of necessary co-ordination between the relevant agencies, and is broadly satisfied with the way it all worked.[514] It outlines some of the ways in which co-operation could be improved for the future, both within Whitehall and in relation to the UN.[515] This, too, is treated as a matter largely of bureaucratic practice. This is not the whole story. The humanitarian crisis that the Allies faced as part of this operation was a complex political crisis, as well as an organisational challenge, and should also be analysed in this light. Though witnesses repeatedly stressed to the Committee that Milosevic had already begun to implement an ethnic cleansing plan in Kosovo before the bombing started, the bombing itself appears to have had a major effect on the nature of the humanitarian problem. General Naumann, was of the view that—

    What no one in all fairness can rule out is that our bombing campaign, which Milosevic may not have expected, accelerated the movement [of refugees]¼.It was not the bombing campaign which triggered the expulsion. It may have accelerated it and it may also have increased the brutality with which it was eventually executed, but it would be unfair to blame NATO for the plight of the Albanian people.[516]

The Foreign Affairs Committee concluded in their report that—

    ... although Milosevic's forces were already poised to move against the Albanian population of Kosovo, the withdrawal of OSCE monitors and the start of NATO air strikes encouraged an intensification of repressive action by Milosevic against the Kosovo Albanians, including their expulsion from Kosovo, as opposed to their internal displacement.[517]

However, as the Foreign Affairs Committee also noted,[518] it could be argued that the NATO air strikes served as a cover for, rather than a cause of, Milosevic's acceleration of his pre-existing plans for mass expulsions.

213 By failing to anticipate the use of such asymmetric in Kosovo, NATO was unable to give precise warnings to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). They were warned by NATO several times of the likelihood of a refugee crisis, but not of its potential magnitude. The UNHCR thought it was adequately prepared in being able to handle up to 20,000 people.[519] In the event they were faced with 800,000 people. Uncertainty about the scale of the crisis was also apparent in the build-up of NATO forces in Macedonia and then Albania. Both deployments were initiated for purposes which were then overtaken by events and their rationales changed. The Macedonian operation was intended first as an extraction force, and then as the nucleus of a peace enforcement operation that would follow a negotiated settlement; the Albania operation was to act initially as a deterrent to further destabilisation in the area and then as an aid to humanitarian operations. Both forces in fact found themselves at full stretch in coping with the brutal expulsion of Kosovo Albanians from their homelands.[520]

214 When the humanitarian crisis struck, the aid agencies were quickly overwhelmed, the Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) in theatre were not sufficiently co-ordinated to meet the challenge, and the credibility of the whole aid effort was severely damaged in the eyes of the host governments in Albania and Macedonia.[521] The military presence of KFOR in Macedonia and then AFOR in Albania rescued the aid effort in several ways.[522] The military undertook the building of refugee camps and other essential facilities, which it then handed over to civilian agencies to run, it distributed aid directly, provided logistic support to UNHCR operations to get them back on track, served our own DfID aid operations in theatre, built and repaired roads and port facilities for the movement of people and aid, and it co-ordinated much of the effort of the 270 or so NGOs operating on the ground.[523] However, the NGOs are understandably wary of becoming too closely identified with the military. The International Development Committee commented that they were—

    ... greatly impressed by the quality of NATO leadership in Albania and FYR Macedonia and the clear sense of planning and purpose to their humanitarian operations. There are, however, broader policy issues arising from this unprecedented NATO involvement in humanitarian operations ... We accept that in principle UNHCR is the lead agency in this crisis and the logistical support provided by NATO does not necessarily compromise the humanitarian action. However, as we have stated above, UNHCR remains weak and is not providing inspiring leadership to the humanitarian effort. Furthermore, NATO involvement is extensive and one of the most effective components of current humanitarian operations. The theory of UNHCR leadership must be transformed quickly and effectively into practice if the humanitarian efforts are to maintain a reputation for impartiality and neutrality.[524]

215 An independent evaluation of the Kosovo crisis, commissioned by the UNHCR, comments—

    If UNHCR is to lead effectively in refugee emergencies, it has to be generally accepted by a wide range of humanitarian actors. UNHCR's relations with the military are critically important in this respect. Although UNHCR's status as a non-political humanitarian agency would seem to preclude close co-operation with a military that is a party to the conflict, in the Kosovo case it was widely accepted as necessary to save lives. Co-operation has been similarly accepted when military forces were involved in UN-authorised peace enforcement operations. This suggests that contemporary norms validate operational cooperation between UNHCR and a military that is a belligerent party only under two conditions:
  • when the military is engaged in UN enforcement action under the Charter and authorised by the UN, or
  • there is no alternative way to avoid substantial suffering and loss of life.

    Limiting relations with the military has the customary effects of "self-denying ordinances". In particular, it would seem to rule out joint contingency planning, and thereby potential sharing of information. In the Kosovo case, UNHCR declined joint contingency planning and did not receive much useful information regarding population displacement. Of course, it is an open question whether NATO would have generated and/or released information to UNHCR, even if there had been closer working relations.[525]

216 Though the military assistance was all provided under the immediate pressures of a humanitarian crisis that might have been anticipated sooner, there is no question but that this represented a remarkable effort on the part of the armed forces. As General Jackson put it—

    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 these 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.[526]

We also heard from General Reith, who in early April 1999 was in Heidelberg commanding the Allied Mobile Force (Land), and who very shortly afterwards was appointed to command AFOR (Albania Force) with a mission "to assist the UNHCR in resolving the refugee crisis".[527] He told us—

    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.[528]

217 The response by the few NATO ground forces then in Albania and Macedonia was swift and highly effective. In particular, we should commend the hitherto largely unpublicised efforts of AFOR[529] who were engaged by June 1999 in handling an overall inflow of 500,000 refugees into camps in Albania, compared with 200,000 in Macedonia.[530] But, as General Naumann himself has said—

    Luckily, we still had the Extraction Force in FYROM [by then merged into KFOR] and were thus able to react immediately. Without it it would have taken NATO weeks to deploy and assemble an appropriate force.[531]

Following his earlier reconnaissance (paragraph 22), Major General Reith described his role at this time as follows—

    My own headquarters in the autumn of 1998 were involved with planning for Albania to stop the flow of arms into Kosovo. Thereafter we were not involved. It clearly was becoming a task too big for the size of my force, and it switched completely across to the ARRC.[532] It was only then, right at the last moment, that I got involved in the plan for the humanitarian mission in Albania in April 1999.[533]

218 Because the task was not foreseen, it was also one for which the military were largely unprepared. One of the lessons of Kosovo—as it was in Bosnia and has been elsewhere—is that much further thought needs to be given to the consequences of military involvement in humanitarian support operations in terms of doctrine, the logistical implications and the manner in which best to co-ordinate the activities of all the agencies involved. We note that the MoD shares this view and already has a number of initiatives in hand.[534] We were informed that NATO, too, was similarly aware of the need to enhance its doctrine to embrace civil-military co-operation.[535] When we next return to NATO HQ we hope to see the results of these initiatives.

219 There are also some more immediate domestic lessons to be learned. The Institutions of the Royal and Civil Engineers held a joint professional meeting on the lessons of Kosovo on 21 March this year. From their papers there are perhaps two key lessons which might be drawn. First on training. All engineers (Sappers) are taught two trades—a combat trade (eg combat engineer, combat signaller) and an artisan trade (eg plumber, bricklayer, electrician etc). It is this dual trade capability that makes Sapper units very flexible and capable of taking on a range of tasks, all the more relevant, perhaps, to humanitarian operations. Given that few young men come into the Services with an artisan trade, it follows that training Sappers is expensive. One of the lessons of Kosovo is that Sapper training should not become an easy target during spending rounds. The second lesson is on the use of Royal Engineer Reserves. The SDR increased the number of regular Sapper units. This, we believe, was a sensible and overdue measure. But this combined with a quid pro quo which was a reduction in the RE TA. We doubt whether the lessons of Kosovo suggests that this reduction in engineering capabilities in the Territorial Army was sensible or made significant savings.

220 More broadly, it is clear that the Reserves possess particular skills and experience which are very relevant to humanitarian operations. They include civilian relations, reconstruction, media skills, linguists and psyops specialists. Kosovo serves to remind us of the increasing importance of these skills in the challenges which the Armed Forces face, and the increasing relevance of retaining access to these through a well-funded and well-trained Reserve.

221 One of the key failings in respect of the humanitarian crisis was the disorganisation of the UNHCR itself. This made it difficult, as it has in other situations, for the military to disengage from humanitarian work once emergency humanitarian provision has been made. It also made it difficult for the military to disentangle its humanitarian work from its more formal military responsibilities. This feeling was mutual. The UNHCR's own evaluation comments—

    For UNHCR, NATO's humanitarian engagement was a mixed blessing. It added significant resources to deal with the emergency, but also inserted competing priorities and, especially in Albania, took a form that blurred the line between military and humanitarian missions. For NATO, as a party to the war, it was important to demonstrate its commitment to alleviate the humanitarian crisis that followed.[536]

222 AFOR's construction of roads and improvement of port facilities in Albania was not only to serve aid distribution but was undertaken up to a standard that would allow the movement of armoured vehicles through the territory in the event of a bigger ground operation.[537] These ambiguities, which do not help the clarity or efficient implementation of the mission, are largely caused by the inadequacies of the major international aid agencies to cope with large scale crises. General Reith told us—

    What I found when I got there [to Albania] 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 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 under­staffed and I thought about it long and hard after the event—I had worked with the UNHCR in Bosnia, when I was there 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 ... on this occasion it was my headquarters from NATO that filled that vacuum and created the co­ordination and the synergy with the IOs [international organisations] and the NGOs to resolve the crisis.[538]

And General Jackson added—

    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. [539]

223 There are some important political implications of the humanitarian aspects of the crisis which affect both the UK and the wider UN community. If the nature of future crises includes the deliberate politicisation of the humanitarian element, as it did in this case where it was used both by the Alliance as its fundamental justification for military action and by Milosevic to attack the Alliance, then the handling of those aspects of the situation must be given a higher priority from the beginning. The agencies likely to be involved—the UN, the UNHCR, national aid agencies, the military, and even the major NGOs—should be brought, as far as possible, into strategic planning for the crisis, not merely into planning for ad hoc co-ordination to cope with its fallout. There is no evidence of a shortage of co-ordination in theatre between the military and the aid agencies during the 'waiting phase', when it was unclear what the outcome of the bombing campaign would be: this was largely thanks to the initiatives of the aid administrators on the ground and the flexible, 'can do' attitude of the military commanders, most of whom had a good deal of previous experience in the Bosnian crisis. But there is very little evidence of joint planning (as opposed to co-ordination mechanisms) in this phase, still less of planning around a clear strategic objective as to what the Allies were seeking to achieve on the ground in Kosovo and the surrounding countries. However, as the UNHCR's report suggests, there are some cultural differences which have up to now presented almost insuperable obstacles to this kind of coordination.

224 If humanitarian crises are no longer to be seen as a by-product of war but as a cause and as a weapon of war, this raises some very delicate political problems for both the military and the aid agencies themselves. It represents a nettle that should be grasped explicitly. It should not be treated merely as a problem of bureaucratic procedure. The MoD told us—

    For the future we would welcome the presence of the DfID liaison officer [at PJHQ] during the planning stage for any operation ...[540]

This is not good enough. This work cannot just start when the crisis looms. This applies to inter-departmental planning in Whitehall, as well as between UK governmental agencies and military and the international aid agencies. It must become part of the MoD's way of thinking, and that of the other government departments, at all levels. Above all, military planners both at NATO and in the UK should consider ways of forestalling, or ameliorating, the manipulation of humanitarian crises. This should be part of their overall strategic planning for the handling of the situation. At the very least, and on the experience of many other crises around the world, they should anticipate the potential manipulation of human misery as a weapon of asymmetric warfare. This issue should also be considered in the reform agenda debate about how to make the United Nations more effective. While we recognise that the UN was not a party to the decision to take military action, we believe that the United Nations Secretariat and the Security Council should urgently address the lessons of the inadequacy of the UNHCR in Kosovo, including the need for recruitment of competent experts in administration and logistics in addition to the lawyers who are already well-represented in the ranks of the UNHCR.

Information Operations


225 Information operations are a relatively new concept to the UK defence and foreign policy establishment. Their essence is the use of a combination of tools (physical destruction, electronic warfare, deception, psychological operations and operational security) to take an indirect approach to defeating an opponent. In this context, information is an operational environment, akin to land, sea, air and space. Although the elements are not new, the concept brings together formerly discrete activities into an overarching strategy. NATO defines it as—

226 There is a recognition that when engaging in peace support operations, the crucial battlespace is not the physical but the psychological. As General Sir Mike Jackson made clear to the Committee, in PSOs—

    ... you are actually operating amongst people's perceptions, people's attitudes. That is your operational arena, not a piece of ground with a conventional enemy.[542]

Despite this recognition of the importance of the psychological battlespace, it would appear that NATO and the UK failed to plan for or to implement an integrated information operation campaign during Operation Allied Force. There were sometimes effective uses of certain elements of information operations, but these do not indicate a systematic adoption of these concepts or principles.

   227 General Wesley Clark, who as SACEUR was in overall command of Operation Allied Force, and Admiral Ellis, who as CINCSOUTH was the closest operational commander of the air campaign, have expressed the view that had information operations been better used in Operation Allied Force it would have shortened the conflict. According to briefings given by Admiral Ellis since the end of the conflict, the Alliance's information operation was "at once a great success¼and perhaps the greatest failure of the war. ¼ All the tools are in place [but]¼only a few were used." He noted that those in charge of such operations were "too junior and from the wrong communities to have the required impact on planning and execution" but that as one of the Alliance's capabilities, these type of operations have "incredible potential [and]¼must become our asymmetric 'point of main effort'." He concluded, perhaps rather dramatically, that, "properly executed, IO could have halved the length of the campaign."[543] But Admiral Ellis's concerns were supported by the DoD's After Action report's conclusions that—

    ... the conduct of integrated information operations was hampered by the lack of advance planning and necessary strategic guidance to define key objectives,[544]

a conclusion that could perhaps be addressed to many other areas of the campaign. Lord Gilbert assessed NATO's psyops as "amateurish".[545]

228 There appear to be two overarching reasons for this failure. First, information operations strategy and doctrine were immature at the time of the Kosovo campaign. While the UK was further ahead than the Alliance in developing these capabilities, neither the UK nor the Alliance as a whole had the knowledge or skills to incorporate them into their planning and operations in a systematic and coordinated manner.

229 Second, and perhaps more significantly, any attempts to develop an integrated information operations campaign fell foul of the political circumstances of the conflict. An effective information operations campaign by NATO would have required an integrated political-military effort. Although coercion of Milosevic was a central aim of the air campaign, there was, as we have outlined above, disagreement within the Alliance over the appropriate, proportionate and legitimate use of physical force, for instance against non-military targets inside Serbia. Other components of information operations, such as psychological operations and deception would have been even harder to agree upon amongst 19 nations. The lack of connection between political objectives and military planning was emphasised by General Sir Rupert Smith, DSACEUR, who pointed out that the military options provided by SHAPE "were not made within the context of a greater political or diplomatic activity".[546]


230 It has become clear in the course of this inquiry that, at all levels from grand strategy, through doctrine, training and resourcing to intelligence support, information operations were not adequately incorporated into national or Alliance planning. The MoD's own report on the Lessons from the Crisis comments that 'Our capabilities for conducting information operations needs to be further developed'[547] and includes one paragraph on the subject which states—

    Information operations comprise actions taken to influence decision makers, in support of political or military objectives, by affecting their information, communications and information systems, and command and control systems. Information operations is more an integrating strategy than a new capability, drawing together existing military capabilities, including command and control warfare, with emerging technologies. The concept of information operations is still in the early stages of development, and our ability to influence key decision-makers through carefully targetted information operations is still relatively limited. The full potential of information operations was therefore not realised during the campaign. As a result of the lessons learned from the Kosovo operation, MoD has now developed a framework information operations policy, which will be further defined in the coming months, and has put in place new management structures for information operations which will oversee the development of new capabilities. This will require the commitment of additional resources. Joint doctrine is also being developed by the Joint Doctrine and Concepts Centre.[548]

Those elements that were used, such as media operations, contributed to the effectiveness of the campaign but revealed numerous weaknesses in national, let alone Alliance, capabilities. The MoD has refused to speculate on how effective an integrated information operation strategy could have been.[549] It has, however, acknowledged that these factors will be an increasingly important part of future military operations and we were told by the MoD that "our capabilities for conducting information operations need to be further developed".[550]

231 The MoD recognises the principle that an information operations campaign 'requires coordinated pressure on a variety of fronts: economic ¼, diplomatic etc as well as military'.[551] It has acknowledged that the principles, procedures and structures for such a co-ordinated effort were not in place prior to Operation Allied Force, either within the Department or across government. As the MoD noted—

    ... the most important deficiency that was identified was in the management structures needed to pursue the integrating strategy.[552]

The lack of central direction also meant that, before the Kosovo campaign, the UK armed forces had little useful joint doctrine on information operations. The MoD told us it has developed a framework for information operations policy and that the creation of a Capability Manager for Information Superiority under the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability) has provided, for the first time, a focus for development of this capability. We were also assured that the Joint Doctrine and Concepts Centre is incorporating information operations into its single-Service, joint and combined publications and in all relevant courses.[553]

232 There is a similar but larger deficit in implementation of these concepts in NATO. NATO developed a draft policy in 1997, based in part on a recognition of the crucial importance of this activity in the context of IFOR and SFOR in Bosnia. At the start of Operation Allied Force, we were told, NATO had agreed the concept and definition. However, as we learned on our visit to NATO HQ, by early 1999 the Alliance had not moved from the conceptual stage to developing an agreed information operations doctrine or to including information operations in its exercises or planning. Without doctrine or exercise experience, it was therefore unsurprising that NATO political decision-makers and military planners more or less ignored information operations during the conflict. NATO (and its members) appear now to have recognised this shortcoming and have acknowledged that "doctrine on information operations needs to be developed further."[554] It is about time that NATO did develop a doctrine and strategy for information operations, supported with the necessary financial and human resources. The failure to have done so before now is negligent.

514  Cm 4724, paras 3.16, 3.17 Back

515  Cm 4724 paras 5.31, 5.32 Back

516  Q 1007 Back

517  Foreign Affairs Committee, op cit, para 89 Back

518  ibid, para 98 Back

519  Q 1006, Q 1007 Back

520  QQ 634-642 Back

521  Third Report from the International Development Committee, Session 1998-99, Kosovo: The Humanitarian Crisis, HC 422, paras 4 to 6 Back

522  ibid, paras 24 to 27 Back

523  Q 693, Q 704, Q 705 Back

524  Third Report from the International Development Committee, Session 1998-99, op cit, paras 27-8 Back

525  The Kosovo refugee crisis: and independent analysis of UNHCR's emergency prepared ness and response, UNHCR, March 2000, Summary, section 5 Back

526  Q 693 Back

527  Q 697 Back

528  Q 687 Back

529  Q 686 to 705 Back

530  Q 670 Back

531  General Naumann, Evidence to Senate Armed Forces Committee, November 3, 1999. Back

532  Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps Back

533  Q 589 Back

534  Cm 4724, paras 5.31 and 5.32. Back

535  Q 876 Back

536  UNHCR, op cit, Summary, section 3 Back

537  Q 698 Back

538  Q 691 Back

539  Q 692 Back

540  Q 460 Back

541  MC 422 Back

542  Q 610 Back

543  Briefing to DoD audience, 1999 Back

544  pp 88-89 Back

545  Q 1089 Back

546  Q 939 Back

547  Cm 4724, p 23 Back

548  ibid, para 6.41 Back

549  Ev p 249, para 34 Back

550  Cm 4724, p. 5 Back

551  Ev p 247, para 32 Back

552  Q 94 Back

553  Ev p 264, para 90 Back

554  Q 876 Back

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