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Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)



  20. That is the impression I get.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is a little unfair. May I just respond? We have had no UK incidence of death through friendly fire since the Gulf conflict, so for the last 11 years I have not been able to give you any figures because there are none. Since 1982 we have had two conflicts where this is relevant: the Falklands where we had eight people killed from fratricide and 22 wounded through friendly fire incidents, therefore our total casualties from friendly fire incidents, killed and wounded, were 30 out of a total casualty figure of 1,032.

  21. That is appalling.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is 3 per cent.

  22. It is appalling: eight people killed and 22 wounded by our own troops.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is right.

  23. That is not something to be put as "only" three per cent; it is horrendous.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Warfare is a bit dangerous—

  24. I am sure it is.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit)—and much more serious—

  25. I am sure it is. It is a lot more dangerous when you go to war and are going to be killed by your own troops.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit)—much more serious were the 248 who were killed by the Argentines. That is a figure which is even more serious and that is the issue. The issue is trying to reduce the number of people killed by any means.

  26. If you go to war you expect to have fatalities but you expect them to be killed by your enemy and not by yourselves. I just find that the answers you were giving the Chairman indicated to me—I do not know whether the rest of the Committee got the same feeling—that you really were not sure what was happening and you were not really sure what you were going to do.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) In the Falklands we are talking about eight people, in the Gulf conflict we are talking about nine people. The total British deployment to the Gulf was 43,000, the total deployment to the Falklands was 28,000. That is the context which you asked me to provide and which I am now providing.

  27. Let us move to page 9 paragraph 1.11 which tells us that war is fought with a certain sort of ferocity, that you have some very fierce wars and you have some conflicts which are not so fierce. Is that correct?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) There is a whole spectrum of possibilities from peace support operations, which are relatively peaceful, to all-out warfare, which is a rather nasty business.

  28. Even so, it is still very dangerous on a peace mission. We have just heard on the news this morning that one of our troops has been killed in Afghanistan.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is true.

  29. Shot in the head, presumably by one of his own side. Is that right?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I think a very sad accident happened. It was not an operational accident, but I do believe it was a very sad accident.

  30. The point I am trying to make is that the ferocity of the war does not necessarily determine whether you are going to be killed by the other side or not. Here we are on a peace-keeping mission and one of our soldiers is dead.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) We cannot link that to the issue we are discussing though. It is a very sad incident.

  31. An Afghan soldier did not kill him nor the Taliban.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) But it was not in a combat situation. That is the point I am making.

  32. If that is the case then what I seem to understand from this is that the more ferocious the war the more chances there are of this friendly fire sort of incident taking place. Is that right?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) The more chances there are of people getting killed by the enemy as well.

  33. That is obvious. I did not need that. I can understand that.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is the point I am really trying to get across. I am trying to help the Committee understand the issue here. The issue is seeking to resolve conflict with the lowest level of casualties for any reason, whether it is by friendly fire or by being killed by the enemy and that is what defence policy is based around and that is what the Strategic Defence Review is trying to deliver and that is why I talked about a manoeuvre concept of warfare where you try to unbalance the enemy and he gives in without deaths arising rather than an attrition approach to warfare where you hammer away at the enemy and people get killed on all sides for all reasons.

  34. So you do have clear evidence that is the case? You have clear evidence that the fiercer the battle the greater the chances of friendly fire incidents. The report seems to indicate that, does it not?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) The report shows that particular land engagements between armies on the battlefield tend to lead to more of these than—

  35. Figures 4 and 5 show us the areas of conflict and peace support operations where we have been involved since 1992. Can you give us a rundown on any of these operations where there has been this sort of problem? What you seem to be indicating now is that we have not had any problem like this in any of these conflicts or any of these peace operations.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is correct.

  36. If that is the case I shall not pursue that line of questioning. We shall move on to paragraph 1.27 on page 11. I found the answers you gave to the Chairman regarding the use of specific weapons, for example the high velocity missile and the Javelin, not at all helpful. The Chairman was asking, and I wish to ask the same question, whether, regardless of whether they needed to be used or did not need to be used, you could have used those weapons if you had not had superiority in the air or would they have been reduced to 25 per cent capacity? Your argument was that they did not need to be used because we had gained superiority in the air.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) May I ask Commodore Nance to give you an answer because a lot of the issues are ones where it is military judgement which is most important?
  (Commodore Nance) Thank you very much indeed for the question. It may be helpful to turn to page 32 of the report. On that page is a broad user definition of the term "weapons hold" which occurs in the paragraph to which both the Chairman and you referred. If I understood your question correctly it was: under the circumstances that they were deployed in Kosovo, were these weapons able to be used to defend the positions in which they were placed? They were given a weapons control order, as the report identified, which says that it only allows personnel handling weapons to fire if they feel they are under direct threat. Clearly it is the business of the tactics, techniques and procedures which individuals are given as part of them being deployed for them to be able to identify the target they are firing at. That is part one of the pillars, to understand the environment in which they are operating, whether they have air superiority or not, what the Permanent Under-Secretary has referred to as situational awareness, being aware of the circumstances, and then to use the right procedures in order to engage to defend themselves. It is a long answer.

  37. I understand all that but you are not really answering the question I asked Sir Kevin. The question I asked was: would or could you have used those weapons, regardless of being on weapons hold or not, to win the battle, regardless of whether it was self defence or not? If it were possible to use those weapons not just for self defence but as offensive weapons would you use them?
  (Commodore Nance) I am not being clear in answering your question.

  38. If you cannot use it you are fighting the war with one hand behind your back, are you not?
  (Commodore Nance) Absolutely right. The issue is that both these weapon systems are point defence weapon systems, that is they defend a position. Their offensive role does not exist. They were given a form of control which allowed them to be used if those weapon systems were under direct threat. So the rigorous answer to your question in one word is yes, they would have been allowed to be used.


  39. To defend themselves.
  (Commodore Nance) To defend themselves, because that is the capability they have, they are self-defence weapons.

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