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DoD News Briefing, June 9, 1998 at 1:30 p.m.

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
June 09, 1998 1:30 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our briefing.

First, I'd like to welcome 15 military public affairs officers and civilians from around the world who are here attending a two-week Joint Public Affairs Officers Course, training better to serve your needs when they arise, and when you're traveling through the world and dealing with our military public affairs people. Welcome.

Second, I'd like to announce that on Thursday, in New York, the Department of Defense, UNICEF, and DC Comics will together release a new comic book on promoting mine awareness among children. This is aimed at children in Latin America. It's, I believe, the second in a series. We earlier had such a comic book designed for children in Bosnia, it was printed in Serbo-Croatian. This will be printed in Spanish and in English. It basically educates children not to pick up mines and tells them about what has to be done to deal with mines that they find in the ground. So that will be Thursday at 11:00 at the United Nations in New York. I believe General Wilhelm will be there, as well as the UN Secretary General at that ceremony. We'll try to get copies down here on Thursday so you can take a look at it.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Ken, is the United States, as the New York Times said, prepared to support a British resolution in the UN calling for NATO military intervention in Kosovo? Are you set to go that far?

A: We are working with the British right now to come up with a resolution before the UN Security Council. I think the exact wording of that resolution is yet to be worked out, but we clearly want to work closely with the British and with other allies to come up with an acceptable resolution.

Q: Are you prepared at this time to accept a resolution that would call for NATO military intervention in Kosovo or do you want to see how the situation plays out first?

A: As I said, whatever resolution we come up with will presumably make military action an option, which it is now. We haven't ruled out any military action in Kosovo. We've made it very clear, however, that anything that happens in Kosovo, if anything happens, it will be done in a NATO context. It won't be done unilaterally by us or bilaterally between us and another country. So any action will be in a NATO framework.

Second, we're still hopeful that we can find a diplomatic solution to the problem in Kosovo and work on that is continuing. One of the reasons that the economic sanctions were reimposed yesterday was to put new pressure on the parties to come up with a diplomatic solution. We and other allies will continue to push for a diplomatic resolution of the problem.

Q: There are reports, I think very credible reports, of men -- Kosovar Albanians -- coming across the mountain paths from Albania with rifles they have newly purchased, reports of pack animals laden with rifles going into Kosovo. What, if anything, can be done to stop this aspect of the fuel that's firing this slaughter in Kosovo?

A: It's a good question and it highlights the fact that our policy is symmetrical. We realize that it takes two to fight, and that both the Albanian Liberation Forces, the Kosovar Liberation Army, the so-called UCK and the Serbian forces, both their police, the MUP or their army, have to exert restraint. We've been calling on both sides to exert restraint and will continue to do that.

Obviously any solution we come up with will have to require both sides to stop fighting and that means that the UCK will have to stop being provocative and the Serbian forces will have to stop using violently repressive techniques.

Q: In recent days there's been a number of assaults on Albanian army supply depots, primarily arms depots. And earlier in the week the President of Albania had mentioned that he would like NATO help in guarding these arms depots around the country. Does NATO and the United States plan to do anything in this regard?

A: Well, one of the things NATO is looking at now is whether it makes sense to put NATO forces into Albania to protect stability and to prevent provocative or warmaking acts. That review hasn't been completed yet.

There was a NATO assessment team in Macedonia and Albania. That team is now back. I think it's actually in Naples. But it's assembling its information, completing its study, and I think it will report back to Brussels on Monday.

In addition, the Foreign Ministers meeting in Luxembourg at the end of May decided to do several things to help bolster the security situation in Albania. One is to continue working with the Albanian military in its efforts to restructure and rebuild its armed forces. They are also going to provide some refugee control and border guard training and help in training in deterrence of smuggling of arms and drugs which answers your question, I think, to a certain degree.

They're also looking at the humanitarian needs in Albania. We think there are, by now 10,000 to 15,000 refugees have flowed into Albania from Kosovo, and that's a problem that the UN High Commissioner on Refugees and others will have to deal with.

But your specific question is whether NATO will guard these weapon sites, and I don't think that type of decision has been made yet.

Q: Do you see the request kind of dovetailing with these attacks as just another form of leverage or pressure on saying help us, look what's happening, we can't control our own arms depots for weapons that are being, then being smuggled across into Kosovo?

A: I don't think I want to psychoanalyze the Albanians, why they're doing what they're doing.

Obviously there is a demand for weapons in the area. When the Albanian government was toppled and there was near anarchy in Albania about a year ago, there was fairly substantial looting of Albanian arsenals, between 600,000 and 800,000 small weapons were spirited out of Albanian military arsenals. We don't know where those are. Some probably are in Kosovo. Many are probably in the Albanian countryside. So there's no shortage of arms in the area. How those arms are distributed is a question I can't answer now.

I think it's clearly a very volatile situation and one that requires restraint by both sides in order to resolve it.

Q: Did Secretary Cohen talk to Melvin Laird about the use of nerve gas while he was Secretary of Defense in the Nixon Administration? Two, do you have any comment on Admiral Moorer's thoughts today? And three, are you going to provide us with the TAILWIND freedom of information release?

A: Let me address all those questions, maybe not in the order that you asked them.

First of all, Secretary Cohen has sent a memorandum to the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of the Air Force asking them to report back to him in 30 days on their assessment of the truth of the allegations that have been made about the use of nerve gas in Laos in September of 1970. You can get a copy of those memos as you leave if you want them.

To the best of my knowledge, Secretary Cohen has spoken to nobody about this because he feels that what's appropriate is for him to turn this over to experts and let them do what they need to do to get to the bottom of these accounts. That will involve not only looking at documents but interviewing people who either participated in the operation or participated in the decisionmaking at the time. So it will be up to the Secretaries of the Army and the Air Force and also the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who was included on the memo, to design an approach to figure out what happened, and to do that within 30 days.

I understand right now that another agency in town is reviewing the documents that have been requested under the Freedom of Information Act and they assure us that they will try to complete their review as quickly as possible. Many of the documents are still classified and have to be declassified. It's something that requires more than just the Department of Defense. I hope that those documents will be available quickly. Since this is not... I would not make a promise about the ability of this Department to produce documents quickly, although we try very hard to produce them quickly. I certainly can't make a promise about another department when classified documents are involved.

Q: Secretary Cohen and his investigation is sort of the Administration investigation of these allegations, but it doesn't sound like in his memo he's asked the CIA or Tennet for help. Traditionally the CIA ran these Laotian operations, out of country operations during the war. Traditionally they ran the special forces black operations. Is the CIA involved in this investigation one way or another?

A: I think the Service Secretaries will have to decide whether they need to go to other agencies to get questions answered and that hasn't happened yet. They just got the memo this morning.

My assumption is that if they feel they need information from other agencies that they will seek that through the proper interagency process.

Our goal here is to get to the bottom of this quickly, and our goal is to make the facts known to everybody, whatever the facts are. This is something that happened 28 years ago. It's something, obviously, the public deserves to understand. And they certainly deserve to know whether or not nerve gas was used in Laos in September of 1970. So we will try to produce that information as quickly as we can.

Q: What about Admiral Moorer's comments today?

A: I think that Admiral Moorer will have to explain his own dealings in this. I talked with Admiral Moorer yesterday and he told me that he did not authorize, when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 1970, he did not authorize the use of sarin gas. That he had, at the time, no personal knowledge that it had been used; that he had no documentary evidence either in the terms of operational orders or after action reports or other documents suggesting it had been used. And that was his, that he heard rumors afterwards that gas had been used, but he had no first hand knowledge that it had been used.

Q: He heard rumors?

A: He told me that later on he heard rumors that gas had been used...

Q: After the war, or...

A: He wasn't specific about when.

Q: Can you give us a breakdown on forces in the Gulf now that the 12 F-117s are back?

A: I think 39 planes have left since June 4th when I last gave you a rundown, and most of the naval drawdown is complete. Much of the Air Force drawdown is complete. There still may be two dozen planes or more left to be deployed in the Air Force assets. Much of the Army drawdown remains to take place, in part because it requires a considerable amount of airlift. But everything should be complete by early July, I believe.

We now have 31,600 in the Gulf, I believe. It could be a little less than that now, but I believe that's what it is.

Q: How many planes?

A: There are 195 aircraft there. There were 235 on June 4th.

Q: I take it that the Air Force planes that still have to go are mainly from the AEF, aren't they?

A: The AEF is largely gone.

Q: Where are the 21 planes from then if...

A: Well, there are other planes over there.

Q: Support planes?

A: No, I'd say there are at least 20 combat aircraft still over there that will be coming back.

Q: Can you tell me what the purpose of your call to Admiral Moorer was yesterday, and have you received personally any other feedback on this TAILWIND situation, realizing that it's only been about 24 hours since it's cropped up?

A: I spoke to Admiral Moorer because there were differences between what he was quoted in saying on the program and in Time Magazine, and what I saw him quoted as saying in a Reuter report. I just wanted to talk to him and get a sense of what was correct.

I think there is no doubt that Admiral Moorer will be interviewed by the service investigations in the course of their study of what happened. But Admiral Moorer is clearly capable of speaking for himself. I know he spoke again with CNN yesterday.

In terms of information, a lot of people are sending around e-mails and giving their accounts of what happened in Laos in September of 1970 as part of Operation TAILWIND. Most people who seem to be sending around e-mails from the Special Forces Association and coming forward don't believe that sarin was used. And it's interesting that one of the primary participants in the program, a guy named Robert Van Buskirk, wrote a book about this in 1983 in which he did not mention the use of nerve gas at all. Nor did he mention that this Operation TAILWIND was designed to track down and kill defectors. He called it a diversionary operation. He mentioned that about half the soldiers in his group did not have gas masks, and he also mentioned that his gas mask had a big leak in it because of a shrapnel hole through the rubber, and specifically mentions that his eyes were burning, which is generally associated with tear gas.

To the best of my knowledge, from what I can tell so far, it looks as if two gases were used -- non-lethal gases: tear gas CS, and possibly a vomiting gas called CN. But the facts, I hope, will become clear after 30 days when the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of the Air Force complete their reviews of exactly what happened there.

Q: Did you say there was some evidence that CS/CN was used?

A: I have spoken personally with a pilot who flew A-1s during this mission and he said that he delivered CS. There's some other evidence that CN may have been used, but that's one of the things we have to find out.

Q: Which pilot was that?

A: It's a pilot in Philadelphia named Stumpf.

Q: Secretary Cohen said the USS CONSTITUTION would not be going to Portsmouth, Maine [New Hampshire] this summer. I know they've been conducting tests, the Navy's been conducting tests over the past two weeks. I'm just wondering what changed their mind.

A: The Navy said some months ago that it wanted to test the seaworthiness of the USS CONSTITUTION before deciding whether she should sail up and down the New England coast and go to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and possibly other places.

The Navy has reached a conclusion that the ship should stay primarily in Boston and sail only in the relatively confined waters of Massachusetts Bay. The Navy reached that decision after it looked at one, the seaworthiness of the ship; and two, the historical value of protecting the USS CONSTITUTION. And three, I think also, the value that the ship has to both tourism and fueling an interest in history.

So my understanding is that the Navy has decided that the ship will make, at most, two very small cruises a year and one is part of Bunker Hill Day celebration and another around the 4th of July, but basically stay at the pier in Boston.

The Navy has a release on this and would be glad to talk to you further about it, I'm sure.

Q: ...the tests are finished yet?

A: I believe the tests are finished, from what I understand, and the ship will stay primarily in the confines of Massachusetts Bay.

Q: I understand the United States and China have been negotiating the possibility of Chinese naval forces participating for the first time ever with U.S. naval forces in an exercise off Hawaii next year. Can you tell us how far the negotiations have progressed and something about the proposed operation?

A: I can't. I'll have to find out more about it. I do know that we've traded ship visits in the last year, and Admiral Prueher, in particular, the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Command, has been working with military officials in China to develop more extensive military exchanges, but I don't have facts on that particular exercise.

Q: Any comment on Russian bombers practicing attacks against the U.S.?

A: I think that it's fairly well known that Russian bombers have, I think, generally two training periods every year, and they do practice a wide range of techniques. There recently was such a training period that was described in the Russian press. I believe it took place in April, toward the end of April.

I think that all the training missions, whether they're done in the United States or Russia or other countries are done with real or imagined situations in mind, and it doesn't surprise me that the Russians had some scenario in their heads when they did this training mission.

Q: Just one more, for me at least. Mr. Butler with the UN has reported to the UN, and Mr. Richardson has responded to that report by, I believe, saying that we cannot continue, we continue not to be able to trust Saddam Hussein in his disposal of weapons of mass destruction. There was a road map that Mr. Butler conveyed to the UN presented, I think, last week saying what would have to be done for the sanctions to be lifted in Iraq, what Iraq would have to do.

What is the state of play at present? What is the next step that will be taken with regard to weapons in Iraq?

A: The long term, which in this case is October, is the next... October is the next sanctions review. What Ambassador Butler was trying to do was convince Iraq that there are very clear, definable steps that it can and should take in order to complete the type of actions that are necessary to win a consideration of lifting the sanctions. That was the purpose of his briefing which extended longer than one day, as I understand it, was to be very specific in what the UN inspectors have learned so far and what they need to learn, the type of assurances they need about efforts to dismantle chemical, biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them so that Iraq understands the type of steps that must be taken in order to bring itself toward compliance with the UN Security Council mandates.

The next step is really up to Iraq. I think that the goal of Mr. Butler was met, and that was to lay out, as you said and as he said, a road map for efforts that Iraq has to take now.

If Iraq wants sanctions lifted, which it says it does, the steps now are very clear. If Iraq takes those steps it can move closer to having the UN Security Council consider lifting sanctions.

Q: Has it been accurately reported that Iraq has refused Mr. Butler's road map?

A: Well, I think that you should ask Iraq how it responded to the Butler presentation. Clearly, the weight now is on Iraq and Iraq knows very plainly what it has to do, and whether it chooses to do that is up to Iraq.

Q: Back to Kosovo for a quick second.

A: Sure.

Q: You said NATO was looking at whether it made sense to put forces into Albania as part of this assessment team's work. Just so I understand, did they look at both air and ground forces?

A: They've looked at a variety of options, and I think they're looking at a wide variety of options. They haven't settled on any options yet and they haven't made any recommendations, but...

Q: Were both air and ground included in those options, would you say?

A: I can't really comment on that and what they were looking at. I think that if you... The infrastructure in Albania is not great. We have ships from which aircraft can be launched, as do our allies. There are many airports nearby. I think that there are many issues that would have to be resolved before somebody would come to a conclusion that aircraft would be stationed in Albania.

Q: If you're talking then about ground forces, is it a given that this -- it might be a rather obvious question -- but is it a given that this would be with and at Albania's invitation and permission?

A: I think that Albania has called for help in a variety of ways, and yes, we would, I assume, if NATO deployed forces into Albania it would be done with Albania's permission. Now, no decision has been made to do that and that's what the NATO assessment team is looking at and that's, of course, among the options that NATO Defense Ministers will discuss in Brussels later this week.

Q: The other point I'm not very clear on is exactly what, at the moment, besides stopping the violence, is the U.S. policy objective in Kosovo?

A: We have always supported a degree of autonomy for the Kosovar Albanians and that remains our goal. But first, we want a ceasefire; and two, we want a political solution that's going to lead to stability. We don't want a political solution that will just unravel again after a couple of months. We'd like to find a political solution that somehow balances the needs of both sides. That's what we and our allies will work to achieve.

As you know, Serbia did roll back some of the rights they had granted to Kosovars, and the situation has been much more tense since they did that. They did that several years ago. So one of the things that we think should be looked at are ways to restore some autonomous rights for the Kosovar majority in the province of Kosovo and the Albanian majority in the province of Kosovo.

Q: Is the U.S. using UAVs over Kosovo as it did over Bosnia? I believe they were based in Albania, weren't they? UAVs that we used...

A: I can't answer that question.

Q: Back to China.

A: Sure.

Q: One of the major wires reported that the spokesman for Chinese Foreign Minister Qian had said that the United States had invited a Chinese delegation to come to either Alaska or Hawaii as early as mid July of this year to observe, I guess, some military exercises. Do you have details or a comment on this?

A: This, I think, goes hand in hand with your earlier question. I just have to get some facts on it which I don't have.

Q: Why can't you answer that question?

A: Because I don't know the answer. (Laughter)

There's not any secret about it, I just don't know the answer.

Q: Would you take the question?

A: Yes.

Press: Thank you.