Monday, 24 April, 2000Kosovo weapons crisis revealed
An official report into Nato's campaign against Serb troops in Kosovo has revealed that British forces almost ran out of munitions during the conflict.
The National Audit Office report - leaked to BBC Radio Four's Today programme - also criticises some of the equipment and medicines issued to service personnel.
The Ministry of Defence refused to comment on a leaked report but pointed to the success of the campaign, which it says had met all its objectives.
Last month Kosovo debriefing reports seen by Today revealed criticism by the officers on the ground, of an operation hailed by generals and politicians as a great success.
The National Audit Office reviews every British military action but its report into Kosovo - due to be published next month - gave mixed views of the operation's success.
Financial management, the supply of food and accommodation were highly praised, and overall the operation was hailed a great success.
But the UK troops suffered a "critical munitions shortage". Had the air campaign continued, Britain would quickly have run out of weapons, specifically precision guided munitions for the RAF.
Thousands of essential medicines sent to the army were past their use-by dates by the time they reached troops in Kosovo.
And commanders' desperate pleas for secure radios were dismissed by the MoD as "not relevant", the report found.
The report - a late draft copy - also states that Britain lost 12 unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, the first such admission.
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell said: "A lot of what appears in the report is simply confirmation of what has been suspected for some time."
He added: "You can say that if you have a moral right of intervention, you also have a moral obligation to make sure you give your forces all that is necessary in order to carry out these difficult and dangerous tasks."
The NAO has lent weight to the leaked debriefing reports which said equipment failures would have made an advance into the province unworkable if the Serbs had put up stiff resistance.
The reports, drawn up by Lieutenant Colonel Paul Gibson, commanding officer of 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment and his superior, Brigadier Adrian Freer, Commander of 5 Airborne Brigade, said that at any one time a third of the soldiers' personal radios were out of action.
Commanders resorted to using nicknames to try to fool the enemy, said Colonel Gibson, and requests for better equipment went unanswered by Whitehall.
Troops had to borrow guns from other K-For soldiers because many of their own failed to work properly.
Both men agreed the K-For operation, launched in June 1999, was a success - but they suggested this was because the Serbs barely put up a fight.
Although the leaked NAO document was a late draft copy, senior MoD sources have told the BBC that the facts contained in it are not in question.
Professor Michael Clarke, director of the centre for defence studies at Kings College London, said: "It has been an open secret for some little time now that our stocks of precision guided missiles are very much lower than they would need to be."
He added: "Many in the military say that we have been very lucky so far, from the Falklands onwards.
"To make good these deficiencies will be pretty expensive, but many would argue that if we don't make them good then the British will just walk themselves into an operation that will go seriously wrong."