Select Committee on Defence Fourteenth Report


The End of the Campaign


261 The present Secretary of State told us, displaying a gift for understatement, that Operation Allied Force 'perhaps took rather longer than anticipated'.[613] DSACEUR [614] and CJO[615] confirmed that as early as April there was serious consideration being given to what options were open to the Alliance if the bombing campaign failed to produce a result—by June these considerations were becoming urgent. Other than continuing indefinitely with the air campaign at or around its then tempo, three obvious options were open to NATO: to withdraw; to escalate the air campaign—which could eventually have become an all-out blitzkrieg against Serbia; or to seize and take control of the territory of Kosovo. The first two options were beyond the bounds of political reality. How plausible was the last? Lord Gilbert told us—

    I do not believe for one moment that Mr Milosevic was frightened of a ground invasion. He knew the numbers being talked about. We had varying reports on morale in Belgrade ... He must have known what would have been involved in trying to get together 150,000 men with their weapons, to get them to his borders and then to involve them in military operations. I do not think that was a starter, I never thought that for one moment and I do not think Mr Milsoevic did either.[616]

General Jackson was clear in his evidence to us that up to the point it went in (June 1999) KFOR was configured, structured and sized as a peace implementation force. He told us—

    Had we had to force our way into Kosovo against opposition ... we would have had to build ... a much larger force, a much heavier hitting force to do that job. That would have taken some time and some effort."[617]

General Naumann told us that the initial "illustrative" figures provided to the NAC in August 1998 of the number of ground troops required to force entry into Kosovo was "150,000 to 200,000".[618] The MoD, while noting that any UK contribution to such a force would have depended on what others were willing to provide, told us that the UK was prepared to provide up to 54,000 personnel from the Army, including some 12,000-14,000 from the Reserves,[619] principally drawn from logisticians, engineers, signallers and infantry.[620]

262 Lord Robertson considered, shortly after the end of the conflict, that—

    ... it would have taken 100 days at least to assemble a force of 150,000, the number required to embark on a forced entry into Kosovo.[621]

Vice-Admiral Haddacks indicated that in terms of deployment timelines it would have taken somewhere between eight to 10 weeks to stand up and deploy the force.[622] General Jackson confirmed that the generally held view was that once a decision had been made some two months would have been required to deploy, assemble and ready the force for operations.[623] We have, therefore, a range of around 60 to 100 days as the time required from a decision to undertake an invasion to the point at which the force required to undertake it could have been assembled.

263 Towards the end of the bombing campaign, it was becoming clear that the ground option was being more seriously considered. However, the opportunity for launching and completing such an operation before the winter set in was closing fast. Sir John Goulden explained that September was the critical time when NATO would have had to start a ground campaign, and a decision would therefore have been needed within days of the date on which the bombing campaign was suspended (11 June) to allow negotiations on the Serbian withdrawal to begin.[624] He subsequently recounted that—

    ... we went into the period in June when we knew that if we did not succeed quite soon, we would have to take a decision within days in order to meet the September timetable.[625]

Describing the situation prevailing at the beginning of June 1999, General Jackson told us that the point had not been reached where any formal decision regarding forced entry was on the immediate horizon.[626] General Sir Rupert Smith who, as DSACEUR, is responsible for force generation planning also acknowledged that, although he had been party to some informal discussion among NATO nations of likely force requirements, the formal force generation process had still to be initiated.[627]

264 The MoD has confirmed that it would have been essential for NATO to achieve its objectives before the onset of winter, and that any ground campaign would thus have needed to begin in the late summer.[628] The deadline was driven by the need "to give ourselves a month for military operations" and "a month or so to get the refugees back" before "the hard onset of winter by early November/mid November".[629] The Chief of Defence Intelligence was clear that the Serbian forces would have shared this assessment.[630]

265 The onset of winter would have posed not only a major operational problem but could have been disastrous for the refugees in Albania and Macedonia. Planning for an opposed entry therefore had to assume a period of a month in order to get the refugees home before winter (which would effectively begin in mid-November). The Department planned for a two month period in which to move the additional forces into theatre. This would have required a very significant sealift and airlift of people and equipment. Whilst the UK might have been able to make the shorter time, it seems likely that the total time taken to mount a forced entry operation would have been at least influenced, if not governed, by the speed at which other NATO countries could make their contributions. In practice, therefore, we conclude that Lord Robertson's public acknowledgement of 100 days at least (14 weeks) being the time required to assemble the force, stated whilst events were still fresh in his mind, to be the more realistic assessment. Adding in the two months (8 weeks) required to complete operations and get the refugees home before winter, it is clear that, by 11 June 1999, NATO was already close to, if not past, the critical decision-making deadline for a forced entry ground operation.

266 There is no doubt that putting together a force of over 150,000 troops would have presented NATO nations with a considerable problem. There was a general feeling amongst witnesses, however, that in the interests of NATO credibility, the major Allies would have stumped up. CJO commented that his—

... illustrative planning always assumed that the United States would be part of that entry.[631]

General Smith, whose task it would have actually been to assemble the force, observed that—

    If it had come to that [forced entry], I think you would have seen American, British, French and German forces deployed. I am not saying there would not [also] have been other nations there.[632]

However, Mark Urban had a revealing anecdote to tell—

    I found myself talking to some US Marines very shortly before KFOR moved in as they came up the road. I assumed they were much further ahead in their deployment than they were. They said, "No, we are just the recce group. The others are still on boats in Greece." I asked around. I spoke to their CO. He said, "No, it was absolutely decided in Washington that we would not get off the ships until the military technical agreement had been signed. We were not allowed to be seen in Macedonia, lest it be suggested that we were going to be ready to fight a ground war."[633]

267 We know that considerable detailed planning was conducted on the availability of UK forces before the MoD offered to contribute up to 54,000 troops from the Army and Royal Marines. No doubt the UK could have found the numbers offered, though it would have been at a high price in terms of over-stretch and over-commitment. We are also in little doubt, as General Jackson said, that it would have been a huge challenge[634] and "a one shot" deployment,[635] without scope for UK to refresh the force.

268 It would also have been a considerable challenge to have mobilised 12,000 to 14,000 Reserves. Whilst we share CDS's optimism that " we would have had large numbers of the Territorial Army and the reserves volunteering to come",[636] the total represents a substantial proportion of the trained strength of the TA and Reserves available. Following the reductions in the size of the TA post-SDR, we are far from confident that the right number of personnel would have been available. Given the lower readiness states to which many TA units have been reduced, we also suspect that both the TA and reservists would have required considerable pre-deployment training before being ready to be thrust into a war-fighting (forced entry) scenario, all of which would have added to the total time needed to mount the operation.

269 Some doubt has been cast by commentators on the ability of NATO to achieve a victory in an opposed ground entry. Such speculations were not, and cannot, be put to the test. DSACEUR was quite clear that, if forced entry had been required—

    ... we would have had another load of mountains to climb but I am quite convinced we could have done that ground attack.[637]

General Jackson was similarly confident stating that—

    ... although the numbers [of the Yugoslavian Serb Army (VJ)] are quite large, the capability is not one I think that would have given a properly organised, trained and equipped western NATO force any great problem[638]

and Sir John Goulden commented that—

    In our calculations about a ground option we would have worked on the assumption that we needed to over-estimate rather than under-estimate their capability"[639]

The Chief of Defence Intelligence was also fairly optimistic about the level of resistance which ultimately might have been offered.[640] And it would almost certainly have been the last roll of the dice for Milosevic.

270 We conclude that we must accept in good faith the assertions that NATO could have assembled a force of the required size to conduct a forced entry into Kosovo and that NATO ground forces, supported by NATO air-power and in possession of total air superiority, would most probably have prevailed over Serbian forces. By this stage, the threat of a ground attack was credible. We are extremely doubtful, however, in the absence of a decision by early June to assemble a force for a ground invasion, whether NATO could have mounted and concluded such an operation successfully, and returned the refugees to their homes, before the onset of winter.

271 We have also discussed above the relatively low rate of consumption of air-launched munitions during the campaign, which had apparently not put pressure on stockpiles or tested the ability to regenerate stocks of those weapons. We suspect that keeping the air campaign going prior to mounting a forced entry operation could have created considerable logistical and practical difficulties. There would also, of course, have been significant presentational difficulties for NATO which might have severely tested both the cohesion of the Alliance and its credibility.


272 The end, when it came, was quite swift. Following diplomatic moves in which the Russian envoy Mr Chernomyrdin and the EU envoy, President Ahtissari of Finland were involved, Milosevic indicated compliance with UN resolutions and a Military Technical Agreement was signed whereby Yugoslav-Serbian forces would be withdrawn from the province. On 11 June, the bombing campaign was suspended. The Permanent Secretary at the MoD listed the factors he thought had caused Milosevic to give in—

That list again reveals the extent to which the KLA's ground campaign assisted NATO's strategy. DSACEUR's view was that—

    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 [were] 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.[642]

The Chief of Joint Operations, while acknowledging that only Milosevic would ever know for certain, surmised that—

    ... by attacking strategic targets in Serbia that had an increasing impact on Milosevic, but I think there were probably political aspects that had a greater impact on his final decision to accede to NATO demands.[643]

General Naumann thought the threat of a ground attack was decisive—

    Had he had this final assurance that we could never come in, in a ground campaign, he may have felt encouragement to sit the air campaign out knowing that some nations would sooner or later under the influence of the media say, "Okay. Stop it".[644]

The Chief of Defence Intelligence was convinced that the indictment for war crimes had had an impact on Milosevic, "Clearly the way he reacted showed it had done that".[645] He believed that "five things—cohesion of the Alliance, the role of the Russians, the threat or potential of a threat of ground forces, the use of air power and the indictment—were all significant contributory factors." "It was a mixture of all these things."[646]

273 The MoD's own Lessons from the Crisis sums it up as follows—

    What forced Milosevic to concede? We will probably never know exactly, but it is clear that the effective application of military pressure was fundamental to the achievement of our objectives. The following factors are likely to have been those most influential:

    —  the continuing solidarity of the Alliance, and Milosevic's inability to divide the Allies, despite repeated attempts;
    —  the determination of the international community, including the states of the region and, crucially, Russia, to force him to accept a negotiated solution;
    —  the continued increase in tempo of the air operations, and the damage and disruption they had caused, and were likely to continue to cause if operations continued, to the command and control and operations of his security forces;
    —  his indictment by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and the indictment of four other key members of his regime, which would have added to the pressure on him and those around him;
    —  and the build-up of ground forces in the region, the confirmation at the NATO [Washington] Summit that all options remained under review, and the suggestions from the UK and other Allies that an opposed ground entry operation could not be ruled out.[647]

274 Our colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee came to very similar conclusions, but also noted Tim Judah's suggestion that an additional reason was fear of a KLA breakthrough on the border with Albania, where in the last stages of the air campaign, the KLA received strong air support from NATO, and Albanian army artillery. They also commented that—

    In some ways the deal which concluded NATO's bombing campaign was better than that offered to Milosevic and Rambouillet and also better than that demanded by NATO during the campaign itself. Unlike the Military Annex at Rambouillet, there was no requirement in the military technical agreement (MTA) to permit the transit of NATO troops through the territory of Serbia (although it does specify that NATO troops have the right to travel five kilometres into Serbia). It is also the case that Milosevic [had] not had to "provide credible assurances of his willingness to work for the establishment of a political framework agreement based on the Rambouillet Accords" as was demanded by NATO. However ... the Military Annex was not decisive in Milosevic's refusal to sign Rambouillet and it is unlikely to have been decisive in his decision to concede to NATO.[648]

The Foreign Affairs Committee also noted that NATO agreed that Kosovo should remain a part of Yugoslavia, albeit in a less substantive way than under Rambouillet. The MTA does, however, allow a limited return of Yugoslav forces to certain parts of Kosovo, although any return of Yugoslav troops is to be at a time appointed by the NATO commander. Overall, the Foreign Affairs Committee concluded—

    ... it cannot be considered that Milosevic got a 'good deal' as a result of NATO's campaign—rather he was forced to accept NATO's demands because his situation was bad and getting worse in the face of an Alliance, not divided as he had expected, but united.[649]

Nonetheless, the extent of the NATO concessions noted by the Foreign Affairs Committee may indicate the Alliance's anxiety to avoid a ground campaign.

275 If nothing else, what these different analyses suggest is that there was no one factor which finally secured NATO's aims. Nor will the impact of the various different factors ever be scientifically demonstrated. Our task is to assess the impact of NATO's military action on the outcome.

276 We must also ask what part luck played in securing the desired resolution. Air Marshal Sir John Day believed—

    We were not planning on luck, we had a comprehensive plan to ensure victory.[650]

General Sir Rupert Smith countered the suggestion that luck played a part—

    Where was the luck? ... I do not see where the luck played?

The Secretary of State was clear—

    It was not at all lucky, it was not fortunate, it was the result of a sustained and determined campaign by the Allies, by our armed forces and the armed forces of other countries, which eventually produced the result. As I said earlier, we do not know precisely what it was that eventually persuaded Milosevic to back down, but he did back down, and I think he backed down because of the sheer professionalism of our armed forces and the armed forces of other countries involved in what was a difficult enterprise and one that they carried through very, very successfully.[651]

277 There is no doubt that, in the end, NATO achieved most of the goals which the international community had set out in the Rambouillet Accords. The Alliance's resolve was tested far more than anyone anticipated—had Milosevic held out longer NATO would have prevailed in the end, but at greater cost than anyone was prepared to contemplate at the point when he did concede, not only in terms of material resources but also in terms of the political cohesion of the Alliance. Given the state of readiness of NATO in June 1999, it is perhaps fortunate that Milosevic gave in when he did. The key role played by Russia in these final stages should not be underestimated.

278 The battle was not won by airpower alone. The Alliance had more trouble neutralising Serbia's air defences than it should have done. Less damage was done to Serbia's forces than should have been. Without the activities of the KLA, strikes against fielded forces would have been less effective still. The strategic bombing of targets in Serbia, we believe, had more effect in coercing Milosevic, but the targets sometimes appeared to show a lack of pattern and purpose, and NATO forces were distracted from this work by the requirement to continue attacks on forces in Kosovo.

279 The threat of a ground invasion was real and credible, but came too late. Milosevic had more to fear in the summer of 1999 from KLA insurgents than from NATO ground forces. It was they who provided the synergistic combination of ground and air attacks which began to tell on Serbia's armed forces.

280 Alliance unity was, undoubtedly, a key factor in persuading Milosevic of the hopelessness of his situation, especially when confronted by the reality that Russia was not coming to his aid. But, paradoxically, this takes us back to where we began. The war should never have needed to have been fought. It was, we believe, the impression of the lack of unity and resolve in the Alliance at the outset which led Milosevic to think he might get away with calling NATO's bluff.

281 This paradox is at the heart of the lessons to be learned from Kosovo. Although Alliance unity was only one factor amongst those which eventually enabled NATO to prevail, it was a necessary condition for the others to have effect. Unity was, in the end, the Alliance's greatest strength. At the same time it was NATO's weakest point. The perceived need to defend NATO's credibility was, in itself, a major factor in driving the process whereby the Alliance found itself painted into a corner by March 1999 from which its only way out was to pursue a military campaign against Serbia. Yet the maintenance of its unity was the factor which most significantly restricted the military options open to the Alliance to pursue an efficient and successful coercive strategy against Milosevic. General Naumann put it well—

    ... we did not have the consensus in the Alliance when we started to threaten the use of force ... that is my lesson learned for crisis management. I am saying this openly and frankly, since I am certain the next crisis will come.[652]


282 In the end, NATO gained the control of Kosovo that it sought, and the peace implementation force entered as the Serbian forces withdrew. Many aspects associated with KFOR's entry into Kosovo in June 1999 went better than expected. We include in this and commend the parts played by General Jackson and General Reith in their separate negotiations with the Yugoslav/Serbian security forces and the KLA.[653] However, it is a matter for concern that, after months of waiting for air strikes to force Milosevic into an agreement, when the time came, NATO was still scrambling to gather the requisite number of troops together for its peace implementation force. Sir John Goulden explained that—

    We had completely modified the plan for going in after success. I think the original estimate was 28,000, but then we realised how big a humanitarian problem and infrastructure problem there would be and virtually doubled those figures to something like 48,000."[654]

The impression of haste is reinforced by General Jackson's description of events in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute—

    We started the operation on the 12 June, D-Day as it was inevitably named ... on D-Day KFOR was nine battalions ... of those nine battalions on D-Day four were British. Of those four, two had arrived in-theatre over the last four days as a deliberate decision by the Government to reinforce the probability, and that's all it was at that stage, of a successful outcome to talks. On 14 June we went up to eleven battalions, a second French and an additional British battalion. Therefore, on D-Day+2, out of eleven battalions in the KFOR, five were British, three of which had arrived in the last few days. A very remarkable story.[655]

As General Jackson told us in evidence—

    We had got to 15,000 on entry but ...We were aiming, at that stage, for what became KFOR plus, not 25,000 but getting on for 50,000 ... I think we got up to 50,000 by late July, a month after entry, something of that order.[656]

283 UK forces were the first in place and ready to move into Kosovo. Some countries waited until the UN Security Council Resolution before deploying, and others even waited until that point before beginning pre-deployment training and so took 4-5 months to get into theatre (but such lacklustre performance does not of course appear in any 'lessons' papers). The requirement was for 50,000 troops, but by 31 August only 40,000 were in place. The Albanian refugees had 'deployed' back into Kosovo more efficiently than NATO. Whilst applauding the actions of the UK in leading the way, we do not subscribe to the MoD's view that from March 1999 onwards NATO forces remained ready to deploy quickly into Kosovo in a potential peacekeeping operation.[657] On the contrary, we consider that NATO was pressed to assemble the forces required for entry into Kosovo in June 1999, and that NATO should have had a much more capable and better prepared peace implementation force in place much earlier.

613  Q 10 Back

614  Q 943 Back

615  Q 179, Q 181 Back

616  Q 1056 Back

617  Q 666 Back

618  Q 1018 Back

619  Cm 4724, para 8.11 Back

620  Q 42 Back

621  "War in Kosovo: Some Preliminary Lessons", RUSI, 29 June 1999. Back

622  Q 882 Back

623  Q 673 Back

624  Q 884 Back

625  Q 880 Back

626  Q 672 Back

627  Q 948 Back

628  Cm 4724, para 8.11 Back

629  Q 670 Back

630  Q 398 Back

631  Q 279 Back

632  Q 959 Back

633  Q 751 Back

634  Q 680 Back

635  Q 682 Back

636  Q 37 Back

637  Q 958 Back

638  Q 667 Back

639  Q 889 Back

640  QQ 396-8 Back

641  Q 38 Back

642  Q 931 Back

643  Q 228 Back

644  Q 1003 Back

645  Q 393 Back

646  Q 394 Back

647  Cm 4724, para 3.25 Back

648  Foreign Affairs Committee, op cit, para 120 Back

649  ibid Back

650  Q 38 Back

651  Q 1212 Back

652  Q 981 Back

653  For a description of the part played by General Reith, see QQ 706 to 716. Back

654  Q 882 Back

655  "KFOR: The Inside Story", RUSI Journal, February 2000. Back

656  QQ 659 and 660. Back

657  Cm 4724, para 8.8 Back

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