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Thursday, July 8, 1999 Published at 02:15 GMT 03:15 UK


Talking up the war?

Nato originally claimed to have destroyed 40% of Yugoslav tanks

Calls for a thorough review of Nato's actions in the war with Yugoslavia have already begun to dampen the spirits of the victorious alliance.

Kosovo: Special Report
The Conservative opposition in the UK has called for a full inquiry into the bombing campaign.

The government has rejected such a move, saying there is no need to re-examine a military campaign that was ultimately successful.

But supporters of an inquiry stress it could be vital to the success of any future military conflict.

Only by pinpointing their mistakes, can Nato's powers hope to learn from them, they claim.

While some in the government feel it would be nothing more than an expensive exercise in political point-scoring, there is a precedent for this sort of post mortem.

Post-operative investigations were carried out in the aftermath of the Falklands conflict in 1982 and following America's Vietnamese debacle.

Gen Sir Charles Guthrie on 16 April 1999 claiming "successful strikes" by Nato
Certainly, grand claims made by the allied forces in the thick of the conflict, have come under scrutiny since fighting ceased a month ago.

State-of-the-art weaponry

With some of the world's most advanced weaponry at its disposal, Nato claimed to have destroyed 60% of the Serbs' artillery and 40% of their tanks during the 11-week bombing campaign.

It was suggested this was one of the main reasons why President Milosevic decided to cave in and agree to a ceasefire.

But a report last month alleged only 13 of the Yugoslav army's 300 tanks were damaged.

K-For troops counted out 250 tanks, 450 armoured personnel carriers and 600 pieces of artillery returning unscathed to Belgrade after the peace accord was struck.

[ image: Nato hit many strategic targets, such as this bridge in Novi Sad]
Nato hit many strategic targets, such as this bridge in Novi Sad
Reports by journalists on the ground, that Milosevic's forces built dummy tanks out of polythene sheets, suggest Nato's victory might not have been the all-out military triumph it claimed.

The events echo 1991, and America's "all conquering" Patriot anti-missile system.

Echoes of the Gulf War

Assessments by the US army during the Gulf War painted the system as all but perfect in intercepting Iraqi Scud missiles.

"The Patriot's success is known to everyone," said General Norman Schwarzkopf, a fortnight into the war.

"It's 100% - so far of 33 [Scud's] engaged, there have been 33 destroyed."

Yet a report by the American Physical Society's Panel on Public Affairs later concluded the Patriot had probably failed to successfully intercept a single Scud.

'Playing up success'

Nigel Vinson, of the Royal United Institute for Defence Studies, said: "It's inevitable that during a war governments and their military forces will deliberately play up the success they are having."

[ image: Patriot launcher - the system was not as effective as first claimed]
Patriot launcher - the system was not as effective as first claimed
"That is probably truer in Kosovo than many others," he says, because behind the Nato monolith contained 19 democratic, member states struggling to stay together.

"The common denominator that brought these states together was to ensure that Nato held steadfast throughout the crisis."

But Mr Vinson says it may be premature to accuse Nato of deliberate misinformation. At the time, it may have thought it was causing enormous destruction.

"When you're travelling at 500mph at 15,000ft, it is easy to be fooled," was the interpretation of one K-For source.

Mr Vinson says an important distinction needs to be made between Nato's action in Kosovo and the rest of Serbia, where the strategic, precision bombing campaign had been "extremely successful".

Mobile targets

In Kosovo the bombing had been against mobile forces responsible for "ethnic cleansing and repression".

This meant engaging mobile tanks, armoured personnel carriers and artillery pieces.

Mr Vinson agrees that an investigation should be commissioned, modelled on the Franks inquiry into the Falklands War.

He says: "The question still needs to be asked as to whether this campaign was conducted in the most effective military and political way.

"Unless one asks the questions, one doesn't get the answers.

"And if one doesn't get the answers then if there is any future conflict we will go in expecting to conduct the same sort of offensive even though our pot adversary will undoubtedly have learned lessons."

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