-Caveat Lector-


Nato admits air campaign failed
By Tim Butcher and Patrick Bishop

NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia had almost no military effect on
the regime of President Milosevic, which gave in only after Russia withdrew
its diplomatic backing.
This is the gloomy assessment of a private, preliminary review by Nato
experts of the alliance's 78-day Operation Allied Force bombing campaign
against Yugoslavia over Kosovo.

At the same time, British diplomats have concluded that Milosevic had no
intention of honouring any diplomatic agreement which reduced his hold on
Kosovo - despite his vaunted willingness to enter the negotiations at
Rambouillet and the peace talks in Paris which preceded the bombing
campaign. The experts nevertheless judge that, diplomatically and
politically, the operation was a success because the 19-member alliance
remained united throughout and left Belgrade so isolated that it was forced
to submit to Nato's terms.

Despite the outcome, preliminary inquiries into the war are revealing some
uncomfortable truths for soldiers and politicians seeking lessons from the
Kosovo operation. Their findings will shape new military and diplomatic
approaches as to how the West deals with maverick leaders and rogue states
which confront them in future.

The main finding of the Nato inquiry is that despite the thousands of
bombing sorties, they failed to damage the Yugoslav field army tactically in
Kosovo while the strategic bombing of targets such as bridges and factories
was poorly planned and executed. Changes are being considered within Nato,
including the radical overhaul of how strategic targets are identified and
considered for attack.

Any future operation by Nato is likely to involve heavier, more ruthless
attacks on civilian targets such as power stations and water treatment
plants at an earlier stage of the campaign. There is also an urgent
operational requirement for more sophisticated surveillance equipment
including Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to find small hidden tactical
targets such as tanks and artillery pieces. As it was, by parking a tank,
for example, in the ruins of an old house, the Serbs made it invisible from
the air.

A team of Nato bomb damage experts is yet to complete its work on the
ground, but so far the assessment is that only a handful of tanks, guns and
armoured personnel carriers were damaged. Military sources said that it was
likely that the damage would have been greater had the Serb forces been
actively engaged on the ground by the Kosovo Liberation Army and forced into
the open.

Without adequate surveillance assets, including low-level UAVs such as the
British Phoenix system which only arrived in the Balkans in June, Nato was
simply unable to spot well-hidden Serb military units in Kosovo. A wave of
new air-launched missiles, including the RAF's Brimstone, will give Nato
jets a more sophisticated missile for destroying targets on the ground.

The second part of the campaign was the strategic bombing of military
targets, including air defence systems, as well as the civilian
infrastructure of Yugoslavia and the Milosevic regime. Military experts now
concede that by breaking down this part of the campaign into phases, the
alliance made a serious error.

The political leaders of Nato wanted to threaten Belgrade with bombing and
believed that a series of steps would be most effective, because it would
gradually increase the pressure on Milosevic to negotiate. The Yugoslav
leader was told at the outset of the bombing that Phase I targets such as
command bunkers would be hit and that, if he did not comply, he could expect
Phases II and III - which would be wider bombing.

Nato sources now concede that this was an error as Phase I did not cause any
significant military pain to the regime - all the main military assets and
personnel had long been evacuated from obvious targets. Furthermore,
Milosevic was able to use the state-controlled media to prepare the wider
Yugoslav public for a long campaign, kindling a sort of Blitz spirit that
reduced public opposition to his rule.

Nato believes that the bombing in the latter weeks of Operation Allied Force
against bridges, factories and other civilian targets was more effective but
it could have been much more so had it been done earlier.

On the diplomatic front, Foreign Office officials have concluded that
Milosevic never had any intention of co-operating with the outside world to
find a solution to the Kosovo problem that would reduce Serb control of the
province. The undertakings he gave to the American special envoy Richard
Holbrooke last autumn which averted an earlier threat of Nato punishment
were worthless.

They now accept that the numerous ultimatums issued to Milosevic during the
course of the Kosovo crisis should have been backed up with the credible
threat of force. Like Nato, they judge that Russia's withdrawal of support
played a significant part in Milosevic's capitulation, along with other
factors including the realisation that invasion was a real possibility if he
remained defiant.

Nato plans for ground war options which included a full-scale occupation of
the whole of Yugoslavia were drawn up a year ago and updated throughout the
crisis. Diplomats now say that with Nato's credibility at stake, a ground
war was inevitable if Milosevic had not caved in. They believe that pressure
from his cronies in the demi-monde that controls Serbia's disintegrating
economy also played a part in his decision.

British officials concede that the Kosovo problem should have been dealt
with at the 1995 Dayton talks which ended the Bosnian war. One said:
"Unfortunately, it got put in the 'Too Difficult and Not Absolutely
Pressing' in-tray." They are now hoping that the alliance's ultimate
willingness to go to war in Kosovo will convince future troublemakers that
it does not pay to defy international opinion.

But despite the talk of the need for urgent pre-emptive action in future
crises, they conclude that the innate reluctance of democracies to project
power means that history is likely to repeat itself

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