Kosovo Crisis: British army commander with a tough reputation

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The Independent Online
THE BRITISH commander of the 10,000 Nato troops in Macedonia sought yesterday to dispel ideas that his force could be used for a land attack on Kosovo. Its only role was to implement any peace accord, he stressed.

"There is speculation that we have other roles and I want to kill this speculation," said Lt-Gen Sir Mike Jackson. "We are here to do one thing and this is to implement a Kosovo peace agreement when and if it occurs."

The plan is eventually to deploy a total of 28,000 Nato troops in Kosovo to police an agreement on granting the province autonomy from Serbia. Nato has said any hostile move on the part of Belgrade towards the force in Macedonia would be "a great mistake".

Lt-Gen Jackson, a former commander in the Parachute Regiment, has been dubbed "Britain's toughest-looking soldier" in the media and "the Prince of Darkness" by his troops, because of his suntanned features. His own view is simply that he has a "well lived-in face".

His new Balkan role comes because of his position as commander of Nato's Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, which is undertaking the operation. Its headquarters staff of 1,000 officers, of which about half are British, will be supplemented by a further 2,000 troops from the Royal Signals if full deployment takes place.

The mission is Lt-Gen Jackson's second experience of peace implementation in the Balkans, having commanded the British contingent in Bosnia between 1995 and 1996.

After joining the army at 19, he was commissioned into the Intelligence Corps and took a degree in Russian at Birmingham University before going on two years secondment to the Parachute Regiment.

It was after this that he decided to transfer permanently to the regiment, in an unconventional move for an ambitious corps officer, and saw two periods of service with them in Northern Ireland before taking command of 1 Battalion from 1984 to 1986.

After a series of staff jobs and the higher command course, in 1989 he spent six months on a fellowship at Cambridge writing a paper on the future of the British army.

He has commanded 3 (UK) Division, the job which took him to Bosnia, and is a former director-general of development and doctrine, the army's own "think-tank".

Lt-Gen Jackson, who celebrated his 55th birthday on Sunday, married his second wife Sarah in 1985. The couple have a son Thomas, aged eight, and Sir Michael has two grown-up children from his first marriage. His interests include travel, music, reading, skiing and tennis.