Leading Article: Unanswered questions left over from the war

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The Independent Culture
THE CONSERVATIVE Party's call for an inquiry into Nato's bombing of Yugoslavia is one of the more ingenious bits of political mischief to have come from that source lately. Ingenious, that is, because it exploits the reasonable proposition that lessons can and should be learnt about the conduct of all military campaigns, even successful ones, and that it is sensible to review strategy and tactics.

However, Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory defence spokesman, is being mischievous by exploiting this in the way most likely to yield a dividend for his party and rub the gloss off Tony Blair's reputation for strong leadership. Mr Duncan Smith says that "the key here is to look at what politicians said and what the outcomes were in terms of what targets were set by politicians". That may be "key" for Mr Duncan Smith, but it is an unpromising way to get to the bottom of some of the undoubted mistakes of the campaign.

Nato's politicians may have exaggerated the extent to which we were successful in hitting Yugoslavian heavy artillery on the ground in Kosovo. Perhaps they had poor intelligence about what was really going on. But that is not so vital as finding out why our aircraft were unable to distinguish between crude wooden decoys and real Yugoslavian army tanks in the first place. Or why we bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. And, most significantly of all, why Nato not only decided against committing ground troops, but made that decision public. A properly focused inquiry might also help us to understand to what extent it was the air bombing that forced Milosevic to capitulate, rather than, say, the eventual threat to use ground troops. These are legitimate questions, raised not least by The Independent's correspondent Robert Fisk. They should be answered swiftly and publicly, and not just for the benefit of an opportunist politician on the make.

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