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Monday, May 10, 1999 Published at 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK

World: Europe

Embassy strike: What went wrong

The Chinese embassy was hit by three bombs

By BBC News Online's Andrew Webster

Nato tried on Sunday to draw a line under its "terrible mistake" in bombing the Chinese embassy in Belgrade by placing the blame on "faulty information".

Kosovo: Special Report
But the admission came too late to influence incredulous reports in Sunday's European press.

Newspapers spoke of "monumental incompetence", "the stupidest operation imaginable" and "absurd, bungling and irresponsible" measures to make Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic yield.

Nato deeply regrets ...
The attack on Friday night killed three people and injured about 20 more.

Nato spokesman Jamie Shea said a "review of procedures" had found the mistake was an "anomaly" which was unlikely to happen again.

He was quoting a joint statement by US Defence Secretary William Cohen and CIA Director George Tenet, which explicitly exonerated Nato pilots and equipment.

BBC's Jonathan Marcus: The explanation is buried deep in the target selection process
"(The mistake) was the result of neither pilot nor mechanical error," it said.

Nato said the blame lay in the mistaken belief that the embassy building was in fact the home of the Federal Directorate of Supply and Procurement.

"The extensive process in place to select and validate targets did not correct this original error," the joint statement said.

Target selection

Target selection and validation requires approval at many levels, according to Defence Analyst Wing Commander Andrew Brookes.

[ image:  ]
"The military will produce a long list of targets that they wish to attack," he told the BBC.

"That list will be prioritised and presented to politicians and will have to be accepted according to how they see the risk."

The US military is largely responsible for choosing the targets and, in this case, has been using information supplied by the CIA as part of its validation process.

Former CIA agent David Whipple on intelligence problems
The problem seems to have arisen because everybody, from the politicians to the CIA, assumed the information they had was correct, and did not have a system to cross check.

The question is: Why, when embassies are listed in telephone books and clearly marked on maps, wasn't the mistake picked up?

Mixed messages

Nato's case wasn't helped on Saturday by a confusing stream of information about the attack from alliance spokesmen.

[ image: A difficult day for Maj-Gen Jertz at Saturday's Nato briefing in Brussels]
A difficult day for Maj-Gen Jertz at Saturday's Nato briefing in Brussels
Mr Shea initially said Nato pilots had mistaken the building for a legitimate military target and then hit it with precision-guided weapons.

But later that day, at possibly the most hostile Nato news briefing since the air campaign began, Major General Walter Jertz told reporters the error had been made earlier in the target selection process.

"We had the information that this (procurement) headquarters was in this building," he said.

"That's why we hit this target, not knowing that it was the embassy."

When pressed, Maj-Gen Jertz said there was no evidence that Nato maps were inaccurate or out of date, neither was there any evidence that Nato intelligence was inaccurate.

Asked if Nato knew where embassies were located in Belgrade, he replied: "Yes, of course we know where the embassies are."

BBC Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus says there will probably not be much more information forthcoming about the factors that led to this error.

He says what went wrong is buried deep in the process for selecting and identifying targets and this is not going to be discussed in the middle of the conflict.

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