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Monday, 5 June, 2000, 17:53 GMT 18:53 UK
MoD condemned for 'hiding cost of Kosovo'

The cost of Kosovo: an extra 866m over five years
The Ministry of Defence has hidden the true cost of the Kosovo conflict, according to a report by the National Audit Office.

The report by the Whitehall spending watchdog criticises the MoD for disclosing only expected additional costs for the first year of the operation - put at 342m, when over five years the total will be nearer 866m.

The shadow of the chancellor continues to threaten the Ministry of Defence Budget

Menzies Campbell MP
The report came on the same day as the Ministry of Defence published its own conclusions about the conflict, and admitted there were a number of strategic weaknesses in the military campaign.

Responding to the reports, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon acknowledged that lessons need to be learnt from Kosovo, and that more money must be spent equipping the armed forces.

Hidden costs

The MoD was further criticised for failing to release the figures until last January - six months after the end of the air war - despite a promise to Parliament after the Bosnia conflict that it would in future publish cost details at the outset.

The NAO also said the costs did not include the estimated 50m cost of replacing used ammunition and lost equipment.

It urged ministers to report the full costs of the deployment in Kosovo to Parliament "at the earliest possible opportunity".

It said it was only the bad weather, which resulted in the cancelling of a number of bombing raids, which prevented the RAF from the "real risk" that it would run out of precision-guided "smart bombs" during the air campaign.

Defence spending boost

The report by the spending watchdog has prompted a call in the House of Commons for a hike in defence spending.

Menzies Campbell, defence spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said that British forces would be hampered from intervening in future conflicts without a boost in resources.

"If we are to assert the moral obligation to intervene on humanitarian grounds, it is clear that we must be able to intervene... So long as the shadow of the chancellor continues to threaten the Ministry of Defence budget how do we think we're going to achieve that?" he asked.

But Armed Forces Minister John Spellar defended the government's strategy: "I'm always in favour of pleas from the opposition for additional funding.

"But...the operation and effectiveness was demonstrated very clearly in Kosovo where we were able to respond rapidly and also we have managed to sustain that operation with forces now in both Bosnia and Kosovo," he said.

Limited technology

The MoD's own report, on the bombing campaign, admits that system limitations made it difficult, and later impossible, for the RAF to carrry out precision-guided attacks in the poor weather conditions that dogged most of the campaign.

MoD report: highlights weaknesses in army intelligence gathering
The document says too many civilian targets were hit during bombing missions and criticises the accuracy of strikes during bad weather.

It says the failure to equip all the aircraft with compatible secure air-to-air communications systems meant they were unable to receive the latest intelligence about targets.

While it praises British forces for achieving the objectives set out by Nato, the report also draws attention to weaknesses in intelligence gathering, reconaissance and surveillance.

'Lessons of Kosovo'

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told the BBC: "It is always necessary to learn lessons, those lessons will require further expenditure...we are already spending significant amounts of taxpayers' money on learning the lessons of the Kosovo campaign."

He said 5bn was being spent updating the UK's ability to wage such campaigns in the future by investing in new aircraft capable of "strategic heavy lift".

Money is also being spent, he said, on developing a new anti-armour missile for the RAF.

"The single most important conclusion of the report was that the Kosovo campaign was an outstanding success and that the UK and our allies were entirely right to intervene in the way that we did," Mr Hoon said.

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