British forces involved in the Kosovo campaign faced critical munitions shortages, a lack of spares and had to use an insecure communications system vulnerable to the Serbs, says a leaked report from the National Audit Office.
The report, which is in draft form, also noted worrying discrepancies in the supply of medicine. Although there were vast surpluses in some drugs, the consignment of morphine was close to its sell-by date.
The office praised several aspects of the Kosovo operation, ranging from the security goal for Kosovo and financial control, to field accommodations and the quality of new combat uniforms. But it also highlighted shortcomings that could have caused severe difficulties if the Serbians had not withdrawn from Kosovo, allowing unopposed entry by Nato's Kosovo Force (K-For).
Prolonged air strikes before the Nato takeover led to dwindling stocks of ammunition and spares. The spares situation became so serious that half the flying hours undertaken by Royal Navy Harrier GR7 aircraft only became possible as "a result of 'robbing' other aircraft". The fuselage-mounted missiles of the Harriers also suffered so much from heat and vibration that "within two months over half the missile stocks were unserviceable". The bombing missions showed inadequate munitions supplies. "Had the air campaign continued, it would have exhausted munitions stocks in a number of areas", the report said.
On communications, the office noted criticism from the Army that the "Ministry of Defence had not learnt lessons from Bosnia". Such was the shortage that "at times, the only functioning communication systems were civilian mobile phones and satphones and the [armoured] brigade had to compete with others for their use. During heightened media interest, it was sometimes impossible to get on air." The report said: "The Serbs, KLA and the media regularly monitored local communications..."
Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs and defence spokesman, said the report, if published in the same form, would be "extremely disturbing. If you have a moral right of intervention, you have also a moral obligation to make sure you give your forces all that is necessary in order to carry out difficult and dangerous tasks."