NATO Admits Air War
Against Yugoslavia 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.