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DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA
March 03, 1995 1:30 AM EDT

Thursday, March 2, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

The extraction from Somalia continues to go extremely well. It should be over relatively soon, and when it is we'll give you a complete briefing. I'd like to withhold questions on the details until it is over.

With that, I'll take questions on anything else.

Q: Is the United States about to add troops to the contingent in Macedonia?

A: It is not about to add troops to the contingent in Macedonia. It's an option that is really in the suggestion stage right now. It's far from the planning stage. Let me explain the context of how this has arisen and the context of how any change in the troop strength in Macedonia might take place.

As you know, we believe that UNPROFOR has been successful in helping to limit the fighting both within Bosnia and within the former Yugoslavia. If UNPROFOR has to come out of Croatia or Bosnia or both, we're fearful that fighting will start up again and spread -- will spread beyond where it is now and, perhaps, threaten neighboring countries. In that context, we would consider increasing troop strength in Macedonia as a way to prevent the fighting from spilling over into other areas.

Q: What is the situation now, vis-a-vis planning for a partial or total withdrawal from Croatia? And what are the conditions, as the U.S. understands it, that Croatia is imposing?

A: We are hoping to convince President Tudjman to allow UNPROFOR to stay in Croatia because we think that's the best way to retain stability in that country. So far, we have not succeeded, but there are negotiations and discussions continuing, and we're hoping we'll prevail. If we don't prevail, he has said that when the mandate expires on March 31st, we'll have, I believe, 90 days to withdraw the UNPROFOR troops from Croatia.

We're in the process of planning such a withdrawal, but the plans aren't complete and they probably won't be complete until toward the end of this month. This planning is complex. It involves NATO countries and dealing with the UN, etc -- so it takes awhile to put these together. I can't give you, now, any estimate of how many troops would be required. There have been different comments about this but I can't give you any firm figures.

Q: You said the idea of putting troops in Macedonia would be to keep the fighting from spreading to other areas if the other troops are pulled out. You're talking about spreading to Macedonia? And number two, are you saying that if UN troops are pulled out of Croatia and/or Bosnia, that that would trigger putting more U.S. troops into Macedonia?

A: I didn't say it would trigger putting more troops in. What I said was that this is an option. It's something we would consider in that situation. No decision has been made. All I can tell you is it's something that's on the table as a possibility at this stage.

Q: It would keep the fighting, you said, to other areas? You're talking about preventing the fighting from spreading to Macedonia?

A: That's what the troops in Macedonia would do, yes.

Q: Is that the only option for placement of troops?

A: I can't answer that question right now, but that's the one that's been most commonly discussed, and "discussed" is the operative word here. We're far away from a plan.

Q: So there are other discussions about perhaps the necessity of putting American troops elsewhere in that region? Discussions if we were to be forced to pull out of Croatia?

A: I'm aware of the discussions about Macedonia, at this stage. Since our goal is to keep UNPROFOR in both Croatia and Bosnia, we have not paid a lot of attention to what to do if they come out. We have looked at the Macedonian situation. We could look at other situations later, but, right now, we haven't.

Q: Has the government of Macedonia asked for more troops?

A: I can't answer that question. I'll try to find out.

Q: You say you can't give us numbers on what would be involved in pulling UNPROFOR out of Croatia, but have you made a decision about whether it would require American combat formations as opposed to logisticians and communicators and all the kind of support services that you might need?

A: I don't know the answer to that question. On the Croatian situation, I've heard that General de Lapresle has said that they might not need support to get out, that they might be able to move the UNPROFOR troops out on their own. So, I think, this is not as daunting a prospect as pulling troops out of Bosnia, but I can't answer that specific question. And I'm not sure that there is an answer at this stage.

Q: Do you expect that Secretary Perry will discuss the situation, this weekend, at great length, with the French, British and German Defense Ministers during meetings?

A: These are very informal talks, as you know, in Key West, and that will be one of the issues that will come up because it's clearly an issue that matters to all four countries.

Q: The words you used in the beginning were that this is a way to prevent fighting from spilling over. Would that be the mission of these U.S. troops?

A: As opposed to what?

Q: As opposed to any other mission? If they're being used as a way to prevent fighting from spilling over, that seems to suggest what David is saying -- that they would be somewhat combat-capable.

A: I thought David was asking about Croatia. I was making a reference to Macedonia. Those would be UN... They're UN peacekeeping troops, essentially, in Macedonia now -- isn't that right -- under ABLE SENTRY? There are about 1,100 peacekeeping troops there, of which less than half are U.S. troops. So they would be classified as peacekeeping troops in that area.

Q: I guess I'm trying to determine... You're looking at two separate missions, potentially, for U.S. troops. One mission in Macedonia and one mission vis-a-vis Croatia?

A: We already have U.S. participants in ABLE SENTRY in Macedonia which is a UN operation. If UNPROFOR has to come out of Croatia, it is possible that NATO will assist in that extraction, if assistance is needed. The President has not yet decided whether the United States will participate in that. Both Secretary Perry and Secretary Christopher have said they would recommend that the U.S. participate; but that has not reached the President for a decision and he hasn't made a decision on that.

If you want to pursue this further, there are three possible ways in which we could be involved. The other, of course, is an extraction from Bosnia.

Q: So when you said, "The way to prevent fighting from spilling over..." That was strictly in Macedonia?

A: Right. If you make an analogy -- if you look at the war in Bosnia as a cancer, we want to prevent that from metastasizing into other areas. Our main goal has been to stop it entirely, to cure it with a peace agreement. We haven't succeeded in that. The next goal has been to contain the fighting, and I think we have succeeded in that, so far. We'd like to continue to succeed.

Q: Is it still the view of the United States that a withdrawal from part, or all, of Croatia does not necessarily mean that a withdrawal from all, or part, of Bosnia must follow?

A: It's our hope.

Q: So there is a potential linkage there?

A: Our real hope is that we'll stay in Croatia. But barring that, our hope is that it would not immediately, or trigger at all, a withdrawal from Bosnia.

Q: Is there disagreement within the Alliance, and within the UN, about how those things might be linked to the event?

A: I wouldn't characterize it as a "disagreement." This is a parlous situation. It's hard to predict what's going to happen there. You know, as well as anybody, it would complicate things dramatically in Bosnia if we had to withdraw from Croatia.

Q: There have been some suggestions from Croatian officials that even if the UN is forced to pull out of Croatia, that perhaps troops from the Contact Group, from the five countries in the Contact Group -- might be put in there. Has there been any thought given to that?

A: Yes. We consider all proposals, but we have not signed off on anything like that.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about things in the Persian Gulf? Can you talk about the level of concern and angst within this building, and within the Administration, about what Iran is doing in the Persian Gulf?

A: We've been monitoring Iranian activity closely for years, and we continue to monitor it very closely. The buildup that's received attention in the last couple of days began in October. We have been watching it proceed since that time. We see it as primarily defensive. We don't see it as something that's designed to threaten international or U.S. shipping in the area. The deployments do, however, increase the possibility of miscalculation and mistakes. They're worrisome from that standpoint.

The island that's received the most focus, Abu Musa, has been a disputed territory for some time between Iran and the UAE. It continues to be disputed territory. This buildup goes a little beyond what they might need to protect themselves from the 200 UAE fishermen who live on the island, but we are monitoring it carefully. So far, as I say, we do not see it as a threat.

Q: Regarding Somalia, what is this building's assessment as to whether this whole peacekeeping operation has been a success or not?

A: I guess I should divide it into several categories. So far, the extraction of UNOSOM forces by the United States Marines has gone extremely well. It's gone well because of very good planning and great competence by the American and Italian Marines who have worked very well together. It's also going very well because the UN portion of the withdrawal was started well before we came on the scene -- went very smoothly. It's been, in a way, an example of this part of the UN operation that worked very well. They drew in the multinational forces from outside of Mogadishu into Mogadishu, into the port area, and got them out. I think they took their force down from a high of 28,000 to about 2,400 by the time the Marines came to help with the final extraction of people and equipment. So that aspect has been very smooth.

The broader issue of whether the UN involvement in Somalia has been a success is more complex. In one respect, yes, it's been a success. 350,000 people died before the UN went in, and I think we all remember being haunted by pictures of starving Somalia children along roadsides dying. That stopped. We estimate that as many as 250,000 lives may have been saved by 1) arresting the starvation by allowing food supplies to come in; and 2) by providing enough stability so that people who had been moving in great refugee packs were able to settle down enough to plant crops. So, as a result, the starvation has ended. That was the first goal. That was why the UN went in there, and we achieved that goal.

Then people began thinking about trying to stabilize Somalia and bringing back a sound, functioning government. That part of the mission clearly has failed.

Q: How many deaths of Somalis have there been at the hands of UN troops, and why was it not possible to use any of the non-lethal weapons that...

A: I'd like to leave all those questions until we finally get out and have a final briefing on it.

Q: Let's go back to Abu Musa a minute, if you will. What is the buildup on Abu Musa? What's there?

A: There were several hundred troops there in October. The total number of Iranian military people has gone up to over a thousand. There's a Hawk battery there, as you know. There's some artillery. There are about ten Korean War-vintage tanks on the island. They've done some improving of fortifications or berms around the edge of the island. That's the type of thing that they've done.

Q: This artillery, does that include Silkworm missiles?

A: No.

Q: Have any Silkworm missiles been put on islands in the area?

A: Not on that island.

Q: How about the others?

Q: Sirri, Qeshm?

A: There are some on Qeshm, I believe.

Q: Is the United States considering reinforcing in any way its military presence in the area in order to ensure that Iran doesn't miscalculate the U.S. resolve in the area?

A: Not that I know of. We maintain a fairly healthy military presence in the area.

Q: What changed here to cause Shalikashvili to apparently decide it was time to surface this issue? Did the fact that they put Hawk missiles on the launchers raise the concern enough to make it something you wanted to talk about? What's changed?

A: I wasn't at that breakfast. My understanding was that he was asked a direct question and he answered it.

Q: What about the buildup on Sirri Island? Can you describe generally what is on that island?

A: There has been some buildup there. I think Sirri Island is a lot smaller. In fact, Abu Musa is a relatively small island. I think it's three square miles, approximately. I believe there is one Seersucker on Sirri Island that was moved there around October.

Q: When you say that the U.S. regards their buildup as primarily defensive, defensive against who? The United States? Iraq? UAE fishermen? Who?

A: Probably all four. Not the fishermen. The first three.

Press: Thank you.

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