The Tories said there was growing evidence that the 11 weeks of air strikes had inflicted less damage on President Slobodan Milosevic's war machine than Nato had claimed during the conflict.
Although Tony Blair's official spokesman said there would be no official inquiry, the Government faces a detailed investigation into the campaign by the Commons Defence Select Committee.
The Government's decision was undermined by yesterday's intervention by the former defence chiefs. "There were clearly some things that did not go correctly - both from a foreign policy and military point of view," said Lieutenant- General Sir Roderick Cordy-Simpson, chief of staff of UN forces during the Bosnian War.
"We all saw the Serbs leaving Kosovo with their tails up and their flags flying," he said. "Clearly we did not do anything like [the damage] we claimed. Had we launched a ground campaign in the belief that we had done the damage we pretended we had done, I think we would have got a very nasty shock."
The call for a full-scale investigation was backed by Lord Craig of Radley, Chief of the Defence Staff between 1988 and 1991; Lord Bramall, who held the post between 1982 and 1985 and Colonel Bob Stewart, Land Commander of the 1st battalion of the Cheshire Regiment in Bosnia between 1991 and 1992.
The Tories seized on reports that as few as 13 of the 300 Serb battle tanks in Kosovo were damaged and that Yugoslav troops were now starting to destabilise Montenegro, which is part of Yugoslavia but at odds with Serbia. "Many of them will have equipment which was not hit during the campaign," said Iain Duncan Smith, the shadow Defence Secretary. "The Government can't simply claim `We are a Labour government, we are beyond reproach, beyond question.' Why don't we just have an inquiry and clear the decks?"
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