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War in the Balkans: Media War - Campbell helps put the spin into Nato

SIX BRITISH officials have been seconded to Brussels to staff a new unit designed to manage Nato's faltering media operation along the lines of successful election campaigns in Britain and America.

The move was seen as evidence of fears within Nato that it is losing the propaganda war. "It shows they have anxieties about the way that the propaganda war is going," said one critic of the bombing.

There have been a series of propaganda blows to Nato, including the mistaken attack on the refugee convoy in Kosovo, splits in Nato over the bombing of broadcasting stations in Serbia, dissent over the oil embargo, and above all, lack of coherence about Nato's policy on ground troops.

The group, operating from two meeting rooms inside Nato's headquarters in Brussels, is designed to relieve the pressure on Jamie Shea, the alliance's over-worked press spokesman, and modernise his communications operation.

Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's press secretary, will spend most of this week in Brussels, and at Shape (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe, the alliance's military headquarters in Mons, 50km south of the Belgian capital.

Mr Campbell was partly responsible for raising the expectations that Nato would endorse the use of ground troops, but the subject was carefully kept off the agenda at the Nato summit by the Americans. The Prime Minister also went to Washington with headlines suggesting that he was giving a lead to Nato, but having set the tone, he avoided holding any press conferences at the summit, leaving it to Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, and George Robertson, Secretary of State for Defence, to answer questions about Britain's role.

There is no doubt, however, that Mr Campbell is leading the behind-the- scenes co-ordination of a tougher, more aggressive media strategy against Serbian propaganda from the Nato headquarters. He is deeply respected by Bill Clinton, who once joked that he wanted him on his White House staff, and was responsible after the bombing of the refugee convoy for co-ordinating Nato leaders in blaming the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, for all killings in Kosovo, deflecting the blame from Nato.

Mr Campbell was the first to signal that last week's offer by Mr Milosovic was unacceptable, when Mr Clinton was still saying it was a "step forward", and he has been the most robust in defending the bombing of the broadcasting stations as "legitimate military targets", playing down the anxieties of the Italians.

His task is to set up a unit which will provide all the functions now expected by political parties when they fight campaigns: a daily newspaper cuttings service and wider media monitoring, preparation of "lines to take" for press officers, creation of "story lines" for daily briefings, quick rebuttal of news from Belgrade, and stronger liaison between Nato, Shape and the alliance's major national capitals.

Mr Campbell, who spent yesterday in Brussels in meetings with the new staff, now has six Foreign Office and Downing Street personnel in place, including one aide from the Number 10 press office. However he is said to be treading carefully, aware of the danger of being seen to dictate to Mr Shea.

Washington, meanwhile, has seconded three staff, including Jonathan Prince, a White House speech-writer, and both Bonn and Paris are expected to augment the team, although their staff had not arrived yesterday.