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DoD News Briefing, Thursday, March 30, 2000 - 2:40 p.m. EST - Mr. Ken Bacon

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
March 30, 2000 2:40 PM EDT

Thursday, March 30, 2000 - 2:40 p.m. EST

MR. BACON: Good afternoon. Let me announce that tomorrow afternoon Secretary Cohen will address the American-Turkish Council on Turkey's importance to the 21st century international security. And that address will be at the Grand Hyatt Hotel at 12:35, and it's open to the press. He'll talk about the importance of our relationship with Turkey, and and also Turkey's important role in NATO.

Q: We couldn't hear that fully.

MR. BACON: He will talk about the importance of our relationship with Turkey and Turkey's important role in NATO. And we will pipe it back to the Pentagon, so you don't have to stir to go downtown to the district.

Q: Where and when, now? The Mayflower, you said?

MR. BACON: It's going to be at the Grand Hyatt Hotel tomorrow at 12:35. And it's the American-Turkish Council.

Q: Do you know if that includes a question and answer session --

MR. BACON: I don't know that. I do not know whether he'll take questions. I'll find out. [No]

And I have a reader that I'm supposed to greet a group of Poles, but the Polish officials were impatient and left. (Laughter.) So I won't greet them, but I was glad -- oh, here they come! Welcome to the Polish officers. Welcome back. Sorry for the delay.

These five officers are from the Polish Ministry of Defense, and they're here as part of our joint contact team program. And they are studying how the U.S. military communicates internally and externally. So welcome to the briefing.

And with that, I'll take your questions. Charlie.

Q: Well, I'll ask yet again, have we been asked to send more troops to Kosovo, and are we going to? And if we are, how many do we have there now?

MR. BACON: We have not been asked to send more troops to Kosovo by NATO. And the timetable I laid out for you in the last briefing remains: that is, the KFOR is doing a troop-to-task analysis now to decide whether it has enough troops to complete its tasks as we roll into the springtime weather, when we expect everybody to be more active. And they will complete that analysis over the weekend and submit it to SHAPE. And then SHAPE will analyze it and decide what to do next. But basically if KFOR recommends more troops to meet the task, then SHAPE would set out a revised statement of requirements of some sort for the troops.

However, independently the U.S. has recently taken two actions. Secretary Cohen last night signed two deployment orders. The first is to send a long-range survey team, a reconnaissance company, to our sector in KFOR to basically provide more eyes and ears to Brigadier General Sanchez, who's Task Force Falcon commander in Kosovo. And this is an Army long-range surveillance company of about 125 people. They will deploy from the V Corps in Germany down to Kosovo, and they'll probably be there for about six months to help patrol the border area between our sector in Kosovo and the Presevo Valley, the adjoining Presevo Valley area in Serbia.

Q: When are they deploying?

MR. BACON: I don't know exactly when they'll get there, but relatively soon. And it will not in any way bump up against our limitation, our force cap of 7,005. We now have about 5,900 people there, I think. So this will be another 125 people added to our forces.

Q: How many UAVs will be part of this?

MR. BACON: Well, we've already announced the UAVs. And actually, you make a very profound point, as always. They will work partially in connection with the UAVs.

As I said, we were deploying some Hunters and some Predators. They have been -- they're in the process of being deployed. We deploy Hunters and Predators there every spring. They don't operate in the winter because their wings ice. So they are in the process of going down there.

If they see things along the border that require investigation by people on foot, it's these men and women who will do the investigating. They are basically foot soldiers. As I say, they operate as eyes and ears for Brigadier General Sanchez and his troops. And they'll be patrolling in the border area.

Q: But the Hunters and Predators will not be based in Kosovo, they will be based outside of Kosovo.

MR. BACON: They will be based outside of Kosovo; that's right.

Q: As these new troops do their things in the border area, would you expect going into the, whatever it's called -- the buffer zone, the control zone, whatever it is -- would that become a relatively routine thing?

MR. BACON: I would not anticipate that they would operate in Serbia. I anticipate that they will -- the Ground Security Zone is a 5-kilometer zone within Serbia. In other words, it's on the outside border of Kosovo, and it's the first five kilometers of Serbia. And I don't anticipate that they'll operate there. They'll operate within Kosovo, on the Kosovo side of the border, where we're obviously applying more attention and have been for the last several weeks.

Q: You call these recon troops. Would it be a stretch to call them intelligence?

MR. BACON: No, I would actually call them long-range surveillance. I think it would be a stretch to call them intelligence. Obviously, they provide information that can be used by the commander and his subordinates, but they have particular reconnaissance skills. They can operate at night. They're prepared to operate for several days at a time in small groups. And that's what they'll do. They'll probably be supported by a couple of humvees, probably some communications and command and control. But basically, they operate on foot.

Q: How would you describe the situation now in the Presevo Valley in terms of the problem that these troops are attempting to address?

MR. BACON: Well, I'll answer that question, but let me talk about the second deployment order Secretary Cohen signed. And that is, we have a company from the First Armored Division stationed now in Camp Able Sentry in Skopje, Macedonia, FYROM, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. They have been down there since January without their armor support, their tanks or artillery. Secretary Cohen is now going to send down their 14 tanks and six Paladins, 155 millimeter artillery, to meet up with the soldiers.

This is happening for three reasons. One, the soldiers who are in Macedonia, and will stay in Macedonia, will be able to now work with their tanks, so it will improve readiness. It will allow them to continue their training as armored troops, which they weren't able to do without their armor. Now they will.

Two, it will provide more force protection assets to our troops at Camp Able Sentry in FYROM, and three, it will serve as a deterrent to any mischief that might take place along the borders of Macedonia.

Now, to answer your question, it's obviously related to this in some way. In the Presevo Valley, there has not been a great deal of activity in the last several weeks. Things have been relatively calm there. The issue that is of greatest concern to us is that the Kosovar Albanians deliver on their promise to hand in their uniforms and to disarm the forces that are operating in the Serb area just outside of Kosovo beyond our sector.

As you know, James P. Rubin of the State Department, went to Kosovo and met with Mr. Thaci and others and talked to them about the importance of not taking provocative acts, of living within the agreements, and not doing activities that will stir up trouble. They agreed to do that. Mr. Thaci then held a meeting and announced last week that they would take actions to disarm and turn in their uniforms. So far they haven't done that. So we are continuing to watch them and to expect them to deliver on the pledge that they made last week.

As you know, on March 15th, we sent a group of soldiers into the area right around the border, just inside the border, to pick up some ammunition, some uniforms and some weapons, including mortars, claymore mines, hand grenades, rifles, et cetera. They were operating on credible intelligence that weapons had been moved into the area and they went in and seized these weapons and took them away from the Kosovar Albanians. We obviously reserve the right to do that again, if we have credible intelligence that weapons are being hoarded improperly in that area.

Q: How many troops in Mitrovica, in the Mitrovica area now?

MR. BACON: I don't believe there are any U.S. troops there now.

Q: What can you tell us about the Serb, the small movement of a small number of Serb military into the neutral zone adjacent to the British zone, and whether that was worrisome or not?

MR. BACON: Well, it was worrisome and it was investigated by KFOR. Let me tell you what happened.

On March 24th, the British troops monitoring the border noticed some movement, they thought, into the five-kilometer ground security zone. They obviously have range finders, as our troops do, and they have these range finders set so they know pretty much where the five kilometer border is, and they saw some movement in there.

They operated through the Joint Implementation Council, which is the forum for discussions between the Serbs and KFOR. And yesterday, March 29th, some British troops, some members from the JIC, the Joint Implementation Council, met with Serb troops in the ground security zone, somewhat north of Pristina. So, as you say, this was adjacent to the British sector. They looked for evidence that a tank had moved illegally into the ground security zone, and they did not find conclusive proof that a tank had moved in there and violated the ground security zone. But remember, this was five days later, and it took awhile to organize, work through the Joint Implementation Council, as I understand, for them to get in there.

But any violation of the ground security zone, whether by the Kosovar Albanians or the Serbs, remains an issue of concern to us.

Yes?

Q: You know, at Camp Able Sentry, you say one of the reasons you're putting the armor in there is to improve the force protection posture, but yet you always do tell us that force protection is at its maximum levels. So I'm curious whether there's been some events or some intelligence in Macedonia recently that leads you to believe force protection needs to be boosted? Why now?

MR. BACON: Well, as I said, there were three reasons, and it's really a combination of those three reasons. I'm not aware of new intelligence. But General Sanchez did request these -- these two requests for the reconnaissance assets and for the armor were discussed with General Shelton when he was there recently, and with General Clark, who was there with General Shelton. They agreed that these two moves would be prudent augmentations, and that's why they're happening.

Q: Just to close the loop on that; is there any reason to believe the request is related to the March 24th threat against Lord Robertson and General Clark when they were going to be flying from Skopje into Pristina?

MR. BACON: I don't have any reason to link these two together.

Q: You said we have 5,900 troops in Kosovo. How many do we have in Macedonia?

MR. BACON: We have (sic) [KFOR has] 5,500 in Macedonia and in Albania. [As of Mar 30 about 5,900 U.S. forces are deployed to Kosovo, 450 in FYROM and 10 in Greece. These numbers include U.S. military, active and reserve and DoD civilians assigned to Joint Guardian.]

Q: Fifty-five hundred?

MR. BACON: Yeah, five thousand, five hundred in Macedonia and Albania.

Q: And 5,900 in Kosovo?

MR. BACON: Yeah, it's about 5,900. And -- I'm sorry, and in Greece. So in three countries, spread in three countries -- FYROM, Greece and Albania -- there are 5,500 [KFOR] troops. They are supporting the 5,900 [U.S.] troops in Task Force Falcon, those troops assigned to Kosovo.

Q: Do you know when the tanks are anticipated to arrive?

MR. BACON: I don't. It will depend in part how they choose to send them, whether it's by ship, whether it's by rail and ship, whether it's by air. All that's being worked out.

Q: The order was given last night in Washington?

MR. BACON: The order was given last night here -- was signed last night.

Q: Why were they sent there initially without the tanks?

MR. BACON: That's a question I've tried to get answered. But I don't know why they were sent there initially without their tanks.

Yes?

Q: A question on a report related to Kosovo, if I could. The USAFE organization put together a report titled, "The Air War Over Kosovo." And my understanding is that Secretary Cohen has only committed to releasing that in a classified format around the November 8th time frame. Why are you not going to release an unclassified summary of that report? And since it's not related to the Kosovo after-action report, why are you keeping it only classified? The Kosovo after-action report, as a separate issue, was released and made available to us.

MR. BACON: Well, I don't know the answers to those questions. In fact, I don't know whether the facts you stated are correct. I have no reason to say they aren't, but I just don't know that because I haven't discussed this report.

I do know that USAFE was one of the organizations that did a study. But I also know that we covered the air war pretty completely in the Kosovo after-action report, both the classified and unclassified versions. And prior to that, there was an extensive analysis of the air war done by General Clark and his staff in Brussels. And in fact, he briefed extensively on that last fall, a briefing that was carried on television, as I recall, and the transcript of that is certainly available.

But I don't know the facts that you cited. I'll look into them.

Yeah, Jamie?

Q: Different subject. Is it true that the highest ranking female officer in the Army has filed a sexual harassment complaint against a fellow general? And is the Army inspector general investigating that allegation?

MR. BACON: I have nothing to say about that. That's an Army issue, and the Army has neither confirmed nor denied that there is such an investigation, and I'm going to adhere to the Army line on that.

Q: Has Secretary Cohen asked -- or been informed of the situation?

MR. BACON: Secretary Cohen is aware of the news story that ran today.

Q: Has he talked to Secretary Caldera about it?

MR. BACON: We're in the process of -- our posture here is not confirming or denying that there is an investigation. I understand that, and I have nothing more to say about it.

Q: Why is it -- why -- I mean, I understand that there's privacy issues involved, but why can't you at least tell us whether or not there has been a complaint filed and it's being investigated, without compromising the privacy of anybody involved? Why is it that you can't answer that question?

MR. BACON: The Army has taken a view that it's not appropriate to confirm or deny the newspaper report.

I happen to agree with that stance, and therefore I have nothing more to say than what I've said.

Pam.

Q: Has this reached the stage of -- is it strictly an Army matter --

MR. BACON: Give me a break, will ya? Come on. You guys --

Q: I'm just -- let me ask you --

MR. BACON: You can ask me a thousand questions on this. I've given you my answer. I'm not going to give you any more answers.

Q: Has this reached the department level, department of -- or is this strictly an Army matter now? You keep saying the Army has refused to confirm it. Is this an Army matter now, or has it reached the department level?

MR. BACON: This is a nice try. Let's move on to another topic.

Yeah. Pam. (Laughter.)

Q: Tangentially related --

MR. BACON: Sure.

Q: Is the normal series of events that if there is a sexual harassment complaint, doesn't it go to the IG, or do you go through the EEOC here at the Pentagon? How does it normally work?

MR. BACON: We have a zero tolerance for harassment. And that's been made clear by Secretary Cohen and by all military leaders. There are established channels for reporting allegations of harassment. And the IG is one of those channels. But there are other channels, too. And there were hotlines, for instance, during the Aberdeen situation. And there -- I think some hotlines remain in the military for reporting harassment. So whether it's racial harassment or sexual harassment, there are a number of channels for reporting it.

Yes.

Q: I'm sorry about this. Is the issue here one of privacy? Is that the concern, or is it classification involved? I'm not sure I understand why the head-in-the-sand approach here.

MR. BACON: Well, I think that if there is a proceeding under way, the parties of that proceeding have every right to assume that it will occur in the most discreet possible way until it's over. If there's a proceeding.

Q: I have a National Missile Defense question. It's not as sexy as this.

MR. BACON: I welcome it. (Laughter.)

Q: The Guardian today, from the United Kingdom, quoted unnamed sources as saying that Prime Minister Tony Blair has approved cooperation with the United States on the National Missile Defense architecture, possibly building an early warning radar system, I guess at Fylingdales. Is that true?

MR. BACON: I don't know. I've been trying to find out, but I haven't hooked up with the right official to know that.

Q: But you're going to check, though, for --

MR. BACON: Yes, we're still checking on it, to see if we can respond to that.

Q: Ken?

MR. BACON: Yes.

Q: To return to your least favorite subject, in what circumstances would the department's IG look into an allegation, and in what circumstances would a service's IG look into it?

MR. BACON: I don't know the answer to that question. Legal circumstances would determine it. I mean -- I don't know. I suppose it would depend, if there were a complaint, to whom the complaint were made. It would depend on against whom the complaint was made. It might depend on who made the complaint. There would be a number of factors that would come into play.

Q: But legally speaking, does the department's IG have any authority or precedence over the service IG? I just don't know how that works.

MR. BACON: There have been times -- there was a case within the last couple of years -- that one service didn't feel it was appropriate for it to investigate, and therefore, it asked the department's IG to take over. And that was done. And the department's inspector general completed an investigation that most normally would have been left to the department.

Q: Can it go the other way?

Q: But how can the department have any Army IG?

MR. BACON: Right. So there are circumstances.

Q: But can it go the other way, where the department IG just takes authority or control over an investigation?

MR. BACON: You guys are asking me to dance on the head of a pin about a topic I am not addressing. I am just not going to get into hypotheticals. I don't know the answer to these legal questions.

Q: That's not a hypothetical. That's a legal question on whether the Department of Defense has precedence or authority over a service investigation. That's all. Can --

MR. BACON: There is no --

Q: -- they take control --

MR. BACON: -- right today on this particular topic -- there is no division between searching for answers on this topic and philosophical questions; there is no difference. And I am not going to answer the questions on this. I am sorry, but -- it just --

Q: It has nothing to do with the case that was in the newspaper today; it was strictly --

MR. BACON: Of course, it does. Why didn't you ask me this three weeks ago? (Laughs.)

Q: (Inaudible.)

MR. BACON: Come on. Let's not play games. You know, as well as I do, it has relevance to what's in the newspaper today, and I am just not going to go there.

Q: Well, could somebody take that question --

MR. BACON: Could we get back to national missile defense? (Laughter, cross talk.)

Q: The Army has refused to comment on this, as if it's the Army that's doing this. The Pentagon is also refusing to comment on this.

MR. BACON: I have also make it very clear that I have refused to comment.

Q: Oh, I am sorry, Ken. So you have ruled out that --

Q: He just came back in.

Q: -- the department -- (laughter, cross talk) -- have you ruled out that the department IG is looking into this? Or have you not commented on that?

MR. BACON: I have not commented on it. My stance is clear: no comment. I am trying to make it as clear as possible. You guys have a lot of questions.

I have no answers; or, I have one answer, and it's consistent.

Q: I have a non-anthrax question.

MR. BACON: You have a non-anthrax question? (Laughter.)

Q: No, actually, it's an anthrax question, but it's non-sexual.

(Laughter, cross-talk.)

MR. BACON: A non-sexual anthrax question. Okay.

Q: That's a whole subgroup I don't want to get into, sexual anthrax questions. I guess you guys are waiting on a lot of vaccine to get approved and if you don't get it approved by July, you're going to run out. Is that the case? And could you talk a little bit about that and maybe give some assurances that this isn't a program hanging on by a thread, if it's really getting this hand-to- mouth?

MR. BACON: Well, first of all, we have 350,000 doses of anthrax on hand. We use approximately 75,000 doses a month. So we have on hand today certified doses that will take us through July. Now, Secretary Cohen, from the very beginning, has adopted the most conservative approach to releasing vaccine from the anthrax supplies that we have in Michigan, and we have asked the FDA to review five other batches of vaccine which add up to about a million to 1.2 million doses. The FDA is in the process of doing that. We are confident that they will have completed the review and released doses of vaccine in time for us to continue with the program uninterrupted. If they do nothing, we can go ahead with the program until July. We're confident that we will have additional vaccines before then in order to meet our needs.

Now, so far, 415,000 people have received at least one anthrax shot, and our program today is phase one, which is to vaccinate people going to high-threat areas. That's principally Korea, Korean Peninsula, and the Gulf.

Q: How old is the vaccine that is going to get FDA approval?

MR. BACON: I think it's of various ages, but I don't know.

Q: And what effect does it have on someone if they're getting their fourth or fifth shot, or their third shot, and they're scheduled for it in July, if they don't get it till August or September? What does that do to their course of --

MR. BACON: I do not anticipate that will be a problem.

It's a hypothetical question. I think it will not arise.

Bill?

Q: Ken, can you confirm, elaborate in any way the report today that the sworn enemy of the DOD, Osama bin Laden, is dying of kidney and liver failure?

MR. BACON: I cannot confirm that report. There have been many reports about Osama bin Laden's health, and I'm not in a position to confirm any of them.

Q: Thank you.

MR. BACON: Thank you.

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