DAVID GROSSMAN: It's rather fashionable to say
that modern war is presented like a movie - but there's at least one important
difference. No Hollywood script writer would construct such a chaotic
narrative with so many contradictory images and expect anyone to follow
Amid all these confusing
versions of events, what can we know for sure. The US and their allies
want to convince the world they're hitting hard at only military targets.
The Taliban and their supporters on the other hand want to swing international
opinion with news of huge numbers of civilian casualties. Amid this claim
and counter-claim it's very hard to make an objective assessment of the
impact and accuracy of allied bombing. But if previous conflicts, like
the Gulf and Kosovo are anything to go by, it could be that US and British
Military claims are significantly over-inflated.
LORD GILBERT: There was a chasm between
what we thought we were hitting in terms, purely of military hardware,
that's what we're talking about and what we actually did, no question about
PROFESSOR GREG PHILO: I can't predict the future but in
all previous conflicts what has happened is that we've been given a very
different story afterwards than we got at the time.
GROSSMAN: Going to the military
for an accurate assessment of what their weapons are doing is somewhat
hit and miss. In the Gulf War for example, you'll remember all those reports
of Iraqi Scuds shot out of the sky by American patriot missiles. Except,
actually they weren't. The official US congressional report on the conflict
was damning. It concluded that despite having claimed to have shot down
four times as many missiles as Iraq actually possessed, a thorough review
of the photographs cannot produce even a single confirmed kill of a Scud
PHILO: Well in the Gulf War what
we saw on television was a whole series of images of smart weapons so the
visual impression was that the bombing was incredibly accurate, very high
tech and extraordinarily, in a way it was almost safe. You could hit exactly
the target you wanted and nobody else. But what it then turned out later
on that ninety-three per cent of the bombs that had been dropped had just
been traditional iron bombs, they weren't Smart weapons at all.
GROSSMAN: In Kosovo too, initial
bomb damage assessments, particularly against military targets proved
hopelessly optimistic. During the fighting Nato claimed to have destroyed
a hundred and eighty one Serbian tanks. But after the conflict when Nato
troops were actually on the ground looking for wreckage they could only
find physical evidence of twenty-six.
LORD GILBERT: I think our intelligence
was very faulty but this is not necessarily a criticism of the weapon system,
you have to be careful about this. Milosovic was a master at the art of
the military camouflage and deception which was part of the art of war.
So he would stick up a dummy tank, you send a missile or a bomb at it
or a shell, and you hit it and you say I've destroy the tank. Well of course,
you haven't destroyed the tank, all you've destroyed is the dummy, but
you count it as one. I do recall that the amount that rolled out when we
told the Serbs they should take all their heavy equipment out, back in
to Serbia, was very little different from the amount we thought they had
there in the beginning.
GROSSMAN: Strikes on fixed targets
tend to be more accurate but are still reliant on the military's most precious
resource - Intelligence. Nato thought this building in Belgrade was a
Serbian defence procurement office - their bombs turned it into rubble
and a major international incident.
AIR VICE MARSHALL TONY MASON: A Smart bomb is only as accurate
as the information which has led to its targeting. We have the very very
obvious example in Kosovo, the tragic example where a B2 bomber from a
height of probably thirty-five thousand feet placed three not one, two
but three bombs accurately, in bad weather at night into the wing of one
building. Unfortunately it was the Chinese Embassy.
GROSSMAN: Deciding what to hit
and trying to measure your success is a human art. In Kosovo an American
pilot from three miles up thought this refugee convoy was tanks not tractors.
In straining to read the grainy and blurred battlefield images wishful
thinking is the enemy of accurate bomb damage assessment.
ANDREW GARFIELD: You can read more in to what you're
seeing than you're actually seeing. Some aspects of human nature come in
to it. For example you're wishing to see success and sometimes you see
success. Also the individual involved may misinterpret the information
that they're seeing. So it's not necessarily some sort of conspiracy.
It can be simple human error. Also, you may not wish, you may wish to present
a more successful campaign to undermine an enemy's morale than perhaps
is actually taking place.
GROSSMAN: But when does accentuating
the positive become misleading propaganda. These images released by the
Pentagon this week apparently show the mosque at Herat early warning station
undamaged. But we can't of course know what we're not being shown.
PHILO: As soon as a war starts,
everybody involved in it wants to put the best impression they can on their
own side. They want to maximise their own successes, they want to say that
there has not been any great cost to their own side and that all of the
great costs are being borne by the other side and that that means that
everybody has a vested interest in feeding in false information, or at
least spun information or bent information.
GROSSMAN: The news programmes and
channels still of course give plenty of coverage to military claims during
this conflict, however the media is now much more wary of presenting those
claims entirely unchallenged. So if, for whatever reason, the military
end up giving out wildly inaccurate assessments of their own achievements
does it actually matter? Some in the Armed Forces and government would
argue that it's their job to win a war, not keep score. And in the Gulf
and Kosovo the did just that. But critics would argue that this war against
terrorism is above all a battle for hearts and minds in which accuracy
GARFIELD: We're not talking about
a simple military campaign here. We're talking about a wider war on terrorism
that requires cohesion within the alliance. It requires support, co-operation
from the wider coalition. It requires the support of a lot of people in
the region who are highly sceptical of the campaign that we're fighting.
It's therefore important that we both demonstrate that we're being accurate,
discriminate as opposed to indiscriminate and that we're releasing as much
information as operational security can justify protecting.
GROSSMAN: Blank paper spools into
a newspaper press - politicians want to make sure that the pictures and
words that are printed on it tell a story of smarter weapons and fewer
casualties - but some analysts believe the inaccuracies of military claims
in the past have made that result much less likely today.
PHILO: At the end of the Gulf War
there was a huge amount of criticism of the government and journalists
then began to point back at news management practices from the time of
the Gulf War where they said, for example, that they'd been misled. Journalists
after that began to say well look, we are not going to be had in this way
MASON: We've seen this trend, the
increasing proportion of use of precision guided weapons, but it is only
a trend and it's been accompanied by an ever increasing public expectation
which has probably now gone too far. And instead of looking back and saying
hey, look how we've progressed from carpet bombing to something like an
eighty-five per cent chance of a precise weapon hitting its target, albeit
occasionally with casualties, I think perhaps it's easy to go too far the
wrong way and instead of noting the progress that's been made in the reduction
of casualties, there is, tends to be, astonishment that there are any casualties
GROSSMAN: Propaganda and error
is part of war and always will be but some think the military have now
learned not to get carried away with their bomb damage assessments. One
thing certainly hasn't changed since the Gulf War and Kosovo. We won't
know whether what's being said this time is accurate until after the fighting