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DoD News Briefing, Tuesday, March 7, 2000 - 1:30 p.m. (EST)

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
March 07, 2000 1:30 PM EDT

Tuesday, March 7, 2000 - 1:30 p.m. (EST)

MR. BACON: Welcome, welcome to our briefing. I'm glad you're all here. Let me start with three announcements.

The first is Admiral Blair will be here in approximately an hour to bring you up to date on developments in his area of responsibility, the Pacific region. As you know, he's the commander in chief of our forces in the Pacific.

Second, at 3:30, an hour after Admiral Blair's briefing, we'll have a background briefing on Secretary Cohen's upcoming trip to Hong Kong, Vietnam, Japan and the Republic of Korea. He leaves tomorrow evening.

Third, I know that you've all seen the pictures on TV of our operation in southern Africa, in both South Africa and in Mozambique. Just let me bring you up to date in where we stand there.

We have approximately 270 people there now, I think precisely 267. Three HH-60 helicopters were due to arrive today. I believe at least two are there, and maybe the third is there by now. The three MH-53s will be coming in tomorrow, if the current schedule holds. They will be operating out of the city of Beira on the coast of Mozambique about halfway up the coast. I don't know whether you've looked at the size of Mozambique. But if it were superimposed on a map of the United States, Mozambique would stretch approximately from Maine to Georgia, or nearly the length of the Appalachian Trail -- which runs from Maine to Georgia. So Beira is about halfway up.

QHow do you spell that?

MR. BACON: It's, I believe, B-E-I-R-A. And General Wehrle, Major General (Joseph H.) Wehrle will be stationed in Maputo, where he will be close to the U.N. and the headquarters of the non-government organizations. And most of our planes will operate out of Hoedspruit in South Africa, which is much less congested than Maputo, which is very busy with helicopters from a number of nations. So our planes, the C-130s, will operate out of -- most of them will operate out of Hoedspruit, which is spelled H-O-E-D-S-P-R-U-I-T, which is in eastern South Africa, I believe in the Transvaal area.

And I misspoke. The number of people we have there now is 247, not 267.

Secretary Cohen made his first offer of assistance on February 15th. The South Africans sent their own assessment team out and came back with a request that was slightly different from the one Secretary Cohen made. And we made our first delivery of relief materials on March 1st, and our second delivery on March 2nd.

And now we're actually in a situation where we're moving more from rescue to relief. At the time we ordered the helicopters to go in, made the decision to send them in, we were thinking in terms of rescuing people. The waters are receding now and the real issue is how to help the people who have been driven from their homes and have moved into refugee camps or other areas where they need shelter and food.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Yes, Charlie?

QKen, would you argue again -- you said last week these helicopters were going in to pluck people from rooftops and trees. Would you argue with criticism these helicopters have just simply arrived too late?

MR. BACON: Yeah, I'd argue with that. First of all, as I pointed out last week, there have been a number of helicopters there, mainly from South Africa. The South African military, by the way, has done a fabulous job over the last three weeks or more in helping to rescue people, and there have been helicopters from other African countries and European countries as well. But I don't think they've arrived too late at all. I think there's going to be a considerable job for them to do in still doing some rescue work, moving people, relocating people, particularly people who are weak and ill, who need to go to medical care from remote areas. I also think that they'll be crucial in delivering supplies.

QWhose fault is it that these helicopters didn't arrive earlier in order to help the South African helicopters pluck these people from --

MR. BACON: The helicopters are arriving on time. There is no issue of fault here. This is an issue of responding appropriately to a disaster.

Yes?

QDo you have anything on today's death of French and Serbian soldiers in Kosovo by a known explosion? Any comment?

MR. BACON: I am not aware that there were any deaths.

There was a confrontation between Albanian and Serb people in Mitrovica. I understand there were some possibly hand grenades thrown. And there were some injuries to French soldiers, from shrapnel, is my report.

Obviously, first reports aren't always complete, and we may learn more as time goes on. But my understanding is that there were no deaths. That's the latest I have heard at any rate.

QMr. Bacon are you planning to move those 200 U.S. Marines somewhere in the Aegean, via Thessaloniki, to Kosovo?

MR. BACON: Those Marines are part of the Strategic Reserve. They are on the USS WASP Amphibious Ready Group, which entered the Mediterranean on March 2nd. And they are subject to the call of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Wesley Clark, and the North Atlantic Council of NATO.

In order to enact the Strategic Reserve of NATO, the North Atlantic Council has to vote to do that. And there has been no decision yet by the NAC to activate the Strategic Reserve.

QKen, can you bring us up to date on the current state of play on this whole issue of Strategic Reserve, out-of-sector operations, what the NAC has approved or hasn't approved, the question of filling out these under-strength battalions and getting additional battalions?

MR. BACON: Yeah. My understanding is that this work continues. And it's -- right now, the Military Committee was supposed to take up for consideration today, the question of the requirements imposed on each country in each sector. And once they decide whether the requirements are being met, or how much they are not being met, then they'll make a recommendation to the North Atlantic Council.

My understanding is that the French reinforcements have not arrived yet, but we still expect French reinforcements to arrive in Mitrovica.

The NAC acknowledged that the SACEUR had requested placing the strategic reserve on a shorter tether, and -- which the SACEUR can do without NAC approval. It's within his authority to put the strategic reserve on a shorter tether.

QAre they?

MR. BACON: Yes, they are. I mean, that's a question of saying they have to be ready to move in a shorter amount of time than they were before. We've cut the notice to move time by about two-thirds, or -- General Clark has done that. But in order to activate the strategic reserve the NAC has to review the request and approve it. And that has -- there has been no request to activate part of the strategic reserve yet. And therefore the NAC has had nothing specific to review.

In terms of the limits on -- that various countries place on their forces, the countries will be looking at their own limits and deciding best how to support the NATO operation.

QSo the military committee that's meeting today, that's looking at this issue of hollow battalions?

MR. BACON: That's looking at the issue of whether the forces are large enough to do their jobs.

QSo other than the French battalion, which you still expect to arrive -- you don't expect it to arrive anytime soon, do you?

MR. BACON: Well, I think that's really up to the French. I find it better not to speak for the French. They can speak for themselves with perfect spiel and clarity.

QHave they given you any time likely?

MR. BACON: Not me personally, no.

QHave they given the Defense Department any time likely?

MR. BACON: I don't know about that. I don't know about that.

QThen where's -- are there any other reinforcements -- as distinct from filling out hollow battalions, as distinct from this one French battalion, are there any other reinforcements under consideration?

MR. BACON: I'm not aware that there are. Remember, though, that we've been working for a long while to improve the -- and increase the police forces as opposed to the military forces.

QI know. I'm just talking military forces, though.

MR. BACON: Right. I'm talking police forces.

QYou know of no --

MR. BACON: No. I do not at this stage. I think it would be more appropriate to ask that question after NATO, the military committee in the NAC, completes its review of the requirements.

QAnd what is the policy now on out-of-sector operations? Because it seems the White House has a different opinion than General Shelton on when it's appropriate to send American troops out of sector.

MR. BACON: How would you define the White House opinion?

QThat it's okay to do it for routine operations to fill out an under-strength sector, namely the French sector, and it does not require the kind of extraordinary circumstances that Shelton would seem to require.

MR. BACON: Well, General Shelton's letter to General Clark reflected the view of the National Military Command Authority, the National Command Authority, which includes the White House and Secretary Cohen. And what he said in that letter was he didn't feel it was appropriate for the United States to be called regularly to fill in gaps in other sectors for normal police work. He didn't say that we wouldn't participate in out-of-sector operations, and indeed, we did have some American troops in Mitrovica, which is not our sector, in support of a Greek company last week. And I would anticipate that American troops will participate in out-of-sector operations, as appropriate, from time to time in the future.

QWell, but the issue is, what's appropriate? Is it -- Shelton says it's not appropriate just to send them up there to fill a gap; right?

MR. BACON: I think that General Shelton made two points. The first is that our troops are fully occupied in our own sector, performing their job, their mission, and that we have sized our force appropriately to perform the mission we're facing. To take our troops out to other sectors opens up potential gaps or vacuums in our own sector and, therefore, stretches our troops thin and creates the possibility that there will be problems in our own sector that we can't attend to.

Second -- the second point was that he didn't think that it was appropriate for sectors that were below strength, that had hollow battalions, to rely regularly on outside help to do routine patrolling. And that was the point that he made about Mitrovica. So he has not ruled out nor have we stopped supporting out-of-sector operations, but the point is, we'll do it as appropriate.

QWell, is filling a gap appropriate?

MR. BACON: I guess I'll say this a third time.

QI'm asking --

MR. BACON: General Shelton made it very clear that he does not believe it's appropriate for the commanders of KFOR to call on the United States and, by implication other countries, to send forces in to fill in gaps that other countries should appropriately fill with their own forces. Nor does he think it's appropriate for them to go in and do routine patrols that should be done by other countries -- the forces of other countries.

Obviously, as members of NATO, we take seriously our obligation to protect our allies in dangerous situations. And we take seriously our obligation to assist our allies, when they are doing their jobs, as long as we don't believe we are being called on unreasonably to perform the work of other countries that they should be doing, or that we're not doing it at the expense of our own mission.

QDo you see the hand of Slobodan Milosevic in the continuing cycle of violence, in Mitrovica in particular? Do you have evidence that he is stirring the pot there?

MR. BACON: We certainly have suspicions that "he is stirring the pot."

But I want to point out that, like most situations in the Balkans, this one is extremely complex. The city is divided, yes, between Serbs and Albanians. But it also is not just a fight over division, versus integration, but it's a fight over economic resources. This is one of the richest economic regions in Kosovo, and much of the wealth is in what is the Serb part of the city. So there are a lot of economic, as well as social, reasons why the Albanians would want to move north.

But our goal is to have an integrated society and an integrated city, that works as well as possible. It's not something that is going to be able to -- that we can accomplish immediately.

QAnd can we just look to the south in the American sector and just across the border, where that situation appears to be getting more inflammatory, where there are now ethnic Albanian forces operating down there, where the U.S. has now set up guard towers? Is that why Shelton is over there today on this surprise visit?

MR. BACON: Well, he is over there to talk to the commanders, and also to talk to troops, to get a firsthand sense of what's happening in Mitrovica, as well as what's happening along the eastern border of our sector.

QAnd what is it that you think is happening on that border?

MR. BACON: Well, I think that not a lot of new things have happened in the Presevo Valley. It remains an area of concern. It's been an area of concern for some time. There was a small -- there was an episode with some -- it involved some firing in a town in that area earlier in the week. But generally there hasn't been a huge change in forces on either side, the Serb side or the Albanian side. There was a Serb build-up last November, some augmentation in December. But there hasn't been much of a build-up since then. There's an ebbing and flowing of forces in and out on both sides. It's an area where we have appealed directly to the Albanians to show restraint, and to the Serbs as well. We don't think it benefits either side to transfer hostilities from Kosovo to neighboring areas.

QIs anybody listening to your appeal?

MR. BACON: Well, it's hard to know. They're certainly hearing it.

Yes.

QMr. Bacon, how do you comment on reports from Greece that some countries are planning to move troops and sit on the direction to the Greek island of Corfu on the Ionian coast, off of the coast of Albania?

MR. BACON: (Pause.) The island of Corfu?

QYes, a Greece island.

MR. BACON: I hadn't -- I'm not aware that we have any plans to do that, but I'll check into that. It's certainly a beautiful island. I'm sure many troops would love to go to Corfu -- (laughter) -- but I'm not aware that they're headed that way.

QCan we stay on Kosovo?

QYeah, Kosovo.

MR. BACON: Sure.

QIs it -- the overall picture since the end of the air war, is it the opinion of the Pentagon that things are getting better or getting worse since the air war?

MR. BACON: It's the opinion of the Clinton administration that -- including the Pentagon -- that we always realized that bringing stability to Kosovo would be a challenge, and that what we have today is much better than what we had a year ago today. And we have made considerable progress in stopping killing and stabilizing the situation. But we have not succeeded in making Kosovo an integrated democratic -- a fair country yet, a fair area.

It's still part of Serbia. But --

QIs what we have today better than what we had after the NATO peacekeeping force first went in?

MR. BACON: It's better in that there has been some rebuilding. It's better in that some of the scars -- the obvious scars of war and destruction have been healed. In that respect, it's better. It's better that the economy is functioning better than it was before. But it remains a challenge, and I don't think anybody would deny that. And that's precisely one of the reasons that General Shelton is there today, to look at what that challenge is and how best to respond to it.

QHas Serbia essentially sealed the border with Montenegro? And is that raising concerns of possible conflict there?

MR. BACON: There has not been conflict there. Serbian authorities have been obstructing some trade between Serbia and Montenegro, for more than a year actually. And this is in violation of Yugoslavia's own federal constitution.

We have seen reports that Serbian authorities have prevented trucks from delivering food to troops in Montenegro, but we haven't been able to confirm those.

Yes?

QYou know, when Secretary Cohen was here a few days ago, or several days ago with the French defense minister, Cohen said there would be what he called a "robust reinforcement" of military forces in Kosovo. It doesn't appear to have happened. The French haven't moved in yet, and there hasn't been any additional reinforcement, and the violence continues.

So I guess my question is: Is the secretary concerned that this "robust reinforcement" has yet to take place? And does he still believe that there should be a reinforcement? Or has something changed his mind on that?

MR. BACON: No. The French have made a commitment to increase their forces, and we expect them to live up to that commitment. I think it's not entirely fair to call the situation in Mitrovica unremittingly bad. It has been episodic.

There have been problems there, but they have been separated by weeks of calm. And it's important that everybody work together, police and military forces, to provide the troops we need, the people we need on the ground to maintain stability.

QSo, is the French reinforcement, then, it for now, or is there anything additional to this robust reinforcement?

MR. BACON: The main problems have been in Mitrovica. The French have made a commitment to send more troops to Mitrovica, which is the toughest part of Kosovo and happens to be in their sector. And I think they realize what their responsibility is. The French want to do a good job; they have done a good job, and they've made a commitment to enhance their forces. And I anticipate that they will do that relatively soon, but I don't know when.

Bill?

QKen, what does this stirring of the pot in Kosovo by Milosevic, the Milosevic government, what does that have to do with the people from Kosovo, there being an exodus of about 200,000 Serbs back into Serbia, which is certainly putting pressure on Milosevic's economy -- what are the Serbs doing, or can you say?

MR. BACON: What are the Serbs doing?

QWhat are the Serbs doing to stir animosity, tension, in Mitrovica, for one?

MR. BACON: Well, the Serbs -- you know, this is a situation where the Serbs want protection from the Albanians, and the NATO stance, I think, on this is very clear. First, we've appealed to both sides, Serbs and Albanians, to be calm, to look for peaceful resolution of disputes, and to try to break the cycle of violence that has afflicted Kosovo in recent years.

Two, we are trying to develop internal police forces that can provide law and order and set up a legal system in Kosovo to take care of those who break the law.

Three, while we work through the U.N. and other international organizations to set up a police force, NATO has deployed a force of about 30,000 troops into Kosovo to patrol and to keep calm, and the goal always has been to transfer authority as quickly and as much as possible from the military to the police force as it is developed.

QI see. What I was getting at is, are the Serbs trying to reintroduce refugees, Serb refugees, that have gone back into Serbia, reintroduce them into Kosovo, or do --

MR. BACON: I don't have that impression. I think there is an ebb and flow across the border. The borders are generally open borders, so people can move back and forth. And I don't have the impression that they're trying to send a lot of refugees back into Kosovo.

Tom.

QNew subject?

MR. BACON: Yeah. I'm going to have to take one more question then leave, because I've got to do something --

QThe New York Times today, the front page, the TRW story involving false claims, alleging a lot of things. But it implied that there was a disagreement within the Pentagon on whether TRW was guilty of not. And then it quoted some DCIS document that -- very obliquely. Did the Pentagon in fact agree with the Justice Department not to join the False Claims Act suit after reviewing the case?

MR. BACON: Yes.

I think the important point to make here is that TRW was one of two companies that was competing to build the kill vehicle, the part of the National Missile Defense System that will go out and hit an incoming missile. And TRW did not get the contract. Raytheon got the contract. Raytheon has a different kill vehicle system than TRW had. It's a better system in that it gives the computers which have to acquire the images and discriminate among them, discriminate among the decoys and the warheads, more time, because it has an optical capability, not just an infrared capability. So it is able to acquire -- in other words, see the images optically -- long before they're picked up by the infrared sensors. This gives the computers more time to sort out the information and to pick up the warheads.

Yes.

QYes. If the Raytheon system is better, why is it that whereas the earlier tests and the fly-bys with TRW used not just an RV, but -- and a simple balloon, but actually used decoys and was a more complicated target? Why is it that all the Raytheon tests have been just with a single RV and a large balloon that is a different shape, different temperature, different everything and no decoys?

MR. BACON: My understanding is that the TRW tests were fly-bys and the Raytheon tests have actually been hit-to-kill tests, which of course is an entirely different level of technological challenge and complication.

QBut considering the fact that it costs about $100 million to do one of these tests, and you have done other tests using a more complicated kind of target and you had data for that, you would think you would want to sort of keep the target the same?

MR. BACON: Well, this is an evolving program. We have said from the very beginning that it poses enormous technological complexities and challenges. I think that's clear to anybody who has followed the program. It's also clear that you don't have instant solutions or instant success in a program like this -- we have not -- but we have had steady progress.

And our goal, from the very beginning, has been to assemble as much information as possible, to try to have two successful hit-to- kill tests, in order to give the president the information he needs this summer to make a decision on whether to go forward with the program or not. We'll continue to work on that.

I think it's important to note that this New York Times story is, in the large extent, historical in that it's about a program by a company that was not selected to manufacture the EKV, or the hit-to- kill vehicle, in the program.

Two, the story is largely about a civil suit between a former employee and her former employer. The Justice Department studied this very carefully. It looked at the charges and decided not to become a party to the suit.

I'll take one -- I'll just take one more question.

QAll right. Can you just comment on -- just on -- to end this subject -- the general perception that might be left by the New York Times article is that there may be some reason to suspect that the Pentagon's claims of success in other areas regarding national missile defense, could be overstated? Could you react to that? Was the general impression that this may raise questions about whether other areas of the program were succeeding to the extent you said?

MR. BACON: Well, I have spoken -- you know, this is an old theme of the New York Times. This is an evolving program. And we hope that every test will teach us more than we learned from the previous test.

I do not believe that we have overstated the results of this program. I think that we have been up front in describing what happened, in every test, to the extent we have been allowed to, given classification. The earlier dispute had to do whether we should have reported that, for a while, the EKV focused on the wrong target before it finally found the right target and hit it. Our feeling is that, if the EKV realizes it's looking at the wrong target and takes a new course to hit the proper target, that that's exactly the way the EKV should operate and it shows that it was discriminating properly among the targets.

QKen, just one quick -- do you -- have you set a date or are you close to setting a date for the next test?

MR. BACON: I'm not aware that we've set a firm date yet.

QDo you know when you're going to start using decoys, as opposed to just balloons, in intercept tests?

MR. BACON: I don't know that.

Thank you.

This transcript was prepared by the Federal News Service, Inc., Washington, DC. Federal News Service is a private company. For other defense related transcripts not available through this site, contact Federal News Service at (202) 347-1400.

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