Doubts still linger over Nato's war evidence

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The Independent Online
NATO PRODUCED a dossier detailing strikes against tanks and heavy artillery in Kosovo during the air offensive but admitted it had uncovered physical evidence for only a fraction of the destruction claimed.

A presentation by General Wesley Clark, Nato's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, still left doubts about the success of the campaign, because it argued that most evidence of destruction had been removed by the Serbs.

Dogged by accusations that the campaign destroyed only 13 tanks, against the 110 claimed, General Clark yesterday mounted a fight-back, dismissing criticism as "incorrect" and "invalid", adding: "We struck enough; the conflict ended on Nato's terms - Serb forces are out, Nato forces are in. We have every piece of evidence available. The public has the right to know and the informed media has the right to know."

He was accompanied at the presentation at Nato headquarters in Brussels by 20 airmen who served in the conflict. There were also files illustrating the paperwork examined by investigators.

Nato's Strike Assessment Team said it found evidence of 26 tank "kills" after visiting sites of strikes, adding that another 67 strikes had been confirmed by "multiple sources", including tracks showing where tanks had been dragged away.

Under methods used, validation could be based on collaboration of aircrew reports by only one of a number of sources, including sightings by forward air control, cockpit video, pre and post-strike imagery, or human intelligence.

The findings, which leave a lot on trust, fall short of Nato's contemporaneous claims, which were said to be "on the conservative side".

At the end of the conflict the alliance said that 110 tanks had been hit, against the 93 it accounts for now. Nato also said it hit 210 armoured troop carriers, compared to 153 now accounted for, and 449 artillery pieces or mortars, as opposed to 389 verified.

A team of 35 experts did the survey in July, visiting 429 locations and interviewing witnesses. Nato investigated 181 reported strikes against tanks and self-propelled artillery pieces.

Apart from the 26 "catastrophic kills" confirmed on site, and 67 "validated by multiple sources", 19 were accounted for by duplicated reporting of hits, 60 were impossible to confirm and nine were decoys.

The nub of Nato's argument is that the Serbs could remove equipment that had been hit with some ease. General John Corley, chief of the assessment team, said: "The bottom line is: it is basic army doctrine to clean up the battlefield after the engagement." Heavy objects were moved to be cannibalised for spares or "subsequently reconstituted". That contrasts with the impression during the campaign, when journalists were told Serb forces in Kosovo were "pinned down", "feeling the heat", or "degraded".

Yesterday Nato explained the discrepancy by saying the Serbs could move freely under cloud cover during poor weather. The fear of causing "collateral damage" also deterred allied pilots from attacking vehicles, including damaged heavy armour, when it was being transported north.

In all, Nato flew 35,000 sorties during the 11-week campaign and of nearly 2,000 pilot reports of strikes, more than half were validated. The inquest is important because Nato foreign ministers meet next week to debate the lessons of the war, a discussion expected to inform debates about the relationship between Nato and the proposed new European defence capacity. Robert Fisk,

Review, page 1

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