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DoD News Briefing: Mr. Bacon

Presenter: Mr. Bacon
December 02, 1997

Mr. Bacon: Good morning. We're very glad to have General Anthony Zinni who is the Commander in Chief of the Central Command here this morning to talk about the recent deployments and conditions and challenges in the Gulf area. He became the CINC or Commander in Chief last Summer. He's spent, since then, about six weeks in the Gulf and he's going back tomorrow, so he's very up to date, and I'm very glad to have him.

General Zinni.

General Zinni: Thank you.

I thought just before we took questions I'd like to make two short comments. One is to express my pride in our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, coastguardsmen, and civilians in the region. They've done a magnificent job throughout this crisis.

I'm here to tell you morale is high, spirits are up. They're fully ready. I get motivated more and more every time I visit them out there.

I would also like to say that despite things I've read or heard, that the coalition could not be sounder. I've visited the leadership of every country in the region that has supported us. There is not a request that we've made that has been turned down. They see the threat the way we do and they've been fully cooperative with what we've needed to be able to respond and to protect ourselves in this region.

With that, I'd be glad to take any questions you might have.

Q: General, the Secretary said yesterday if there was military action taken, that it was reasonable to assume it would be more than a pinprick. Could you be more specific on that?

A: I won't go into specifics for obvious reasons, but I will assure you, it is far more than a pinprick in the case of our forces being attacked or in the case of a response to an unacceptable act.

Q: Can you be a little more specific on the coalition being sound, in your view? You did not put a lot of difficult questions to the Gulf states, as I understand it. Can you sort of run down some of the specifics? None of the Gulf states like to be mentioned by name. For example, were the Saudis completely willing to have us expand our force presence in their borders?

A: I think a couple of things are worth bringing out on this. First of all, the support that we've had since the end of the Gulf War. Obviously we would be unable to enforce the UN sanctions without the support of these countries. I think all of you know these countries bear a large portion of the cost of our forces being there, in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

We have made a number of requests that have come in areas such as overflight rights, enroute basing requirements, actual basing of our forces in the region, increasing our forces, support aircraft, combat aircraft, additional naval forces and all sorts of other support and protection forces. Again, in no case have we been turned down. I think we have asked some hard questions and made some hard requests. I don't like to get into too many specifics because then that's an indication of where we're located and may give some indication of our intentions. But I can tell you that it has not been difficult to gain this permission.

Q: Was there a discussion in each of these places about actually using the forces that the U.S. is bringing into these various countries' territories. There's no hesitation on their part, should it be necessary for the United States and the coalition partners to actually use those forces in offensive operations.

A: First of all, clearly, if we're attacked or if there's an initiation of hostilities by Saddam, I found no hesitation on understanding and permitting us to respond. We have existing, obviously, rules of engagement, and that's well understood.

In the case of future military action I think the agreements that we've made are that there would be consultations. We certainly were not closed out on anything. As events evolved, we've agreed to stay in close touch and everybody understands our position. We did not get into hypothetical situations. I don't think that would have been productive. But I do feel strongly that we will get the support we need when the time comes.

Q: Are you saying that if the U.S. feels the need to take offensive military action that is not in direct response to an attack on U.S. forces in the area that you would first have to get permission from the countries where those forces are based?

A: I don't think that's necessary in all cases. We obviously have unilateral capabilities if required. There are obviously cases when we obviously would like the cooperation and the forces that we need would come from places in the region. Again, I think this will be dependent on what the action is. The nations out there would like us to consult with them and to be clear on what our intentions are and what we're responding to. I would not want to get into hypothetical situations. We didn't with them. I think this would have to be a case by case requirement.

Q: Have they told you no more pinpricks? If you're going to put us through this business of deploying your forces, that if you do it, do it right this time?

A: Yes, virtually everybody in the region said that. Exactly.

Q: Said what?

A: No more pinpricks. If Saddam attacks our U-2, for example, or there's a requirement to respond, that we ought to do it in a serious way.

Q: There's an old military axiom that you don't really defeat any kind of adversary in the final analysis unless you put boots on the ground. There doesn't appear to be any move to do that here. How badly can the United States unilaterally or with Great Britain or others hurt Saddam Hussein by use of air power alone?

A: I think it goes back to what the objective is, what we are attempting to do. The decision on what kinds of forces is mine to make and to request. At this point in time given the objectives and given what I see, we have the kinds of forces we need in there. There are some boots on the ground. Those boots are obviously in there for the protection and defense of Kuwait. At this point in time we feel we have adequate force. We do look at certain trigger points, certain events that might require us to bring in additional forces. I've listed those. I obviously won't go into what they are here. Those would require other kinds of forces or additional forces in the region, and it would be shaped on the event and the requirement. Right now we feel we have the adequate forces given the missions that we foresee.

Q: Could you give us your assessment of how you view Saddam Hussein and his forces as a threat? Yesterday the Secretary talked about him having still, evidently, the chemical or biological capability to kill every man, woman and child on earth. And the study was released which said that if there is another conflict in the Gulf the Pentagon fully expects chemical or biological weapons to be used.

You're talking about no more pinpricks. How do you assess the ability of Saddam Hussein to respond to the kind of military action that that might require?

A: Obviously since the Gulf War his forces have been greatly reduced, but at the same time they've been remarkably streamlined. Probably half the ground forces, but he's consolidated them. His training has continued. He obviously maintains an Air Force that still is capable, and an air defense system that's pretty robust. Biological/chemical weapons, we don't know. Obviously, I think that's been covered in great detail as to what the potential is out there. Evidently there must be something he's hiding. That concerns us greatly.

Obviously our ability to protect ourselves and operate in that area is one that gives me great concern, but not only us. Our capability is far better than our allies, but we have to worry about our allies in the region. Protection of their forces, protection of host nation facilities that we need to use, protection of the civilian populations that are in our friendly countries. They could be put at great risk should we end up having to resort to military action.

Q: Do you agree with the assessment that Saddam Hussein is fully expected to use chem or bio if military forces...

A: I spent seven months in Northern Iraq. I went into the Kurdish villages that were gassed. I went into villages where no stone stood upon stone and the villagers told me that five times the villages were destroyed. We still detected traces of the chemicals in those areas and couldn't let the Kurds go back into those villages. He used it in the Iran/Iraq War, he's used it against the marsh Arabs. So he's used it against brother Arabs, he's used it against brother Moslems. If any indication that he has it, it's clear that he would use it.

Q: I just want to follow up on her question. The histories of the Gulf War, as you no doubt know, included the finding that if you try to bomb Saddam Hussein's germ warfare factories -- which the Secretary made a big point about yesterday -- it would take a nuclear weapon which would generate heat of 20,000 degrees to destroy the germ warfare agents. Otherwise they'd go into the atmosphere and kill hundreds or millions of people. Question. Is the nuclear option ruled out on your pinprick list?

A: I haven't been in any discussions involving the use of nuclear weapons at all.

Q: You said a minute ago that the coalition partners said they didn't want pinpricks, that they wanted the U.S. to respond in a serious way. What was their definition of serious way? How far do they want the U.S. military to go this time? To obliterate his military capability? To take out Saddam Hussein? What is a serious response?

A: I think a serious response puts at risk the things that mean most to Saddam. I would just say that when you look at his military you have to divide it into parts. There are the conscripts that I think suffer under him whose lives he doesn't care much about. The Iran/Iraq War, Gulf War, all the other things indicate that he doesn't much care if you strike a unit, a surface-to-air missile site, a division. What means most to him are things like the special Republican Guards, his own special Republican Guard and other Republican Guard units that keep him in power, his own infrastructure and command and control systems and those kinds of things. I think that for our friends in the Gulf what they meant -- in general terms, we didn't get into specifics, is go after the things that matter most. The things that keep him in power, enable him to inflict the kind of pain he does on his own people and on others in the region.

Q: Did any of those partners suggest that Saddam Hussein himself should be taken out?

A: No, we never got in that kind of discussion? I think they would clearly like to see him pass from the scene, but we never got into discussions about that kind of targeting or anything.

Q: Two parts to the same basic issue. Can Saddam project his weapons of mass destruction to U.S. forces in Kuwait, in the Gulf, in Saudi Arabia currently, either by artillery or missile? He has adequate defenses. The second part is what about terrorist attacks on U.S. forces, especially land based?

A: To answer the first part, the potential exists. We can't be sure we have all SCUDs and things that might be able to be, to enable the weapons of mass destruction to be weaponized. If he possesses any residual capabilities that he had from the war or the time prior, he certainly then would possess the capability to deliver biological or chemical weapons.

In terms of terrorist attack, that's a serious concern in the region. We have heightened our awareness and readiness and potential to deal with these kinds of attacks. A particular concern, obviously we're moving troops into the region that haven't been in there before. We're taking every precaution, making sure that our force protection measures are up to snuff, that the awareness of the individual troops is what it should be. I put out several messages, talked to my component commanders that we don't lose sight of that potential threat. It rests there day to day, not just based on this crisis. As a matter of fact, movement of more troops in may even increase the potential of those not directly involved in this crisis, but those that would do us harm that would come in and commit a terrorist act. So we are very, very aware of that possibility.

Q: Do you have all the countermeasures you need in place?

A: Yes.

Q: It seems like a huge buildup, an immense buildup from the outside, especially now that he has reversed himself, possibly in response to the buildup. So is it now excessive to your needs, the number of planes you have there, for one thing, and ships? Exactly what is the mission of this enormous presence?

A: Obviously I don't feel it's excessive to my needs since I requested these forces and they were granted. So as the requestor and the constructor of the forces required, I feel we have what we need.

As far as them being not required now and this have automatically ended, I certainly don't see it that way. I applaud the diplomatic efforts. We certainly all hope that they work, but the crisis is not over, in my view. I still feel that the potential for him to take military action against our forces is possible, although we have seen him stand down considerably, for example in the case of our U-2 flights. But that is just a matter of a message to the troops in effect to change that whole environment. The UNSCOM inspections are obviously proceeding, we're monitoring those, where they go, what happens, what the next step is we aren't sure, and I think it's too early now to talk about a complete standdown and the crisis being over. So we are still in the region, and still postured, ready to see what the outcome is.

Q: What does he have to do before you begin to draw down?

A: I think that will be determined partially by UNSCOM and the UN, and their satisfaction with how things go. I think it will also be based on our assessment of the threat, his capabilities and intentions and what we see. He is still in violation of the southern no-fly zone, for example, with his surface-to-air missiles. Now they don't pose an immediate threat to us, we can certainly handle them. That's still a technical violation. He has moved some out, so he is still postured in a way where he is violating sanctions, where he has violated established, and issued demarches. These haven't been cleared up yet.

Q: General, we've seen Saddam Hussein surround many of these potential targets with civilians -- women and children, human shields. As we understand it, they may even be paying these people to occupy these potential targets. How does that affect any kind of military planning, any targeting that the U.S. military is involved in?

A: We certainly in all our targeting take into account the potential for civilian casualties. That is a factor. We certainly do not desire to engage targets where that potential is there. I will tell you this, that this act has really turned people in the region against him. The people I've talked to in the region don't view this as a courageous act or the act of a noble warrior or an Arab man. They're appalled by his decision to use women and children to what we call, to get the two dinar crowd motivated and inside the palaces. It obviously is an act that flies in the face and disgusts most of the people in the region.

Q: Is it effective, however? Would it eliminate a potential target if it was surrounded by civilians?

A: I don't want to get into discussions of targeting, but I will say that we obviously look at what is known as collateral damage and civilian damage. There is no intent on our part to engage a target that we don't have to that would pose a threat to innocent civilians.

Q: There is a perception in Europe and through some Arab countries that the United States is beating its breast too much, that there is too much talk of war from the podium at the Pentagon and from the White House. There are too many threats, especially given the fact that the UNSCOM inspectors are back in and they have not met resistance, thus far, to the inspections that they have been doing.

Do you ever feel that the talk about the military potential is counterproductive to a possible diplomatic resolution?

A: First let me say that the first threat was a threat to shoot down one of my airplanes. To me, that's an act of war, and that's a military threat that was issued to us. I don't recall that we issued any military threat to the Iraqis other than within the rules of engagement we would enforce UN resolution sanctions. When he made that threat, and I believe in the beginning, had intended to carry it out. It was just foiled by the way we flew the flights and the protection we had in place. Later I believe he might have changed that, but who knows? So the initial military threat came from the other side.

He's dangerous. I would not want to predict his intentions. I purely look at his capabilities, those exist. As I said, he's still in violation of some of the sanctions that are in place to support the resolutions, and until he is fully compliant, I think we have to be ready to take military action and to respond because he still poses a threat. I even saw last night where again there was some veiled indication, I believe...

Q: The Foreign Minister I think said he would throw out the inspectors. So how do you view that? That kind of threat. Do we go again?

A: This kind of up and down, these kinds of on again/off again threats, this kind of hard rhetoric that comes out, based on his past track record, I think we have to believe that he'd be more than willing to take violent measures to get his way and stay in power and we have to be prepared to react to those.

Q: You've indicated that if there is offensive military action you would go after those things that matter most to Saddam. Is the objective of doing that simply to once again try to convince him that he has no alternative but to comply with all the UN sanctions? Or would the objective be to destroy, as best you can, his weapons of mass destruction or whatever you believe his capabilities for reconstituting his weapons of mass destruction are?

A: I think clearly the intent is to deny him the capability to continue to threaten his neighbors and his own people, and to threaten the world with his capabilities. So I think we are trying to take away his tools or his ability to continue the way he has and to continue this sort of threat. Those are the basic objectives.

Q: That sounds like a yes. You'd go after his weapons of mass destruction.

A: Again, I don't want to get into target lists, but obviously those things that threaten his neighbors and his own population, and his ability to direct those things are the kinds of things that we feel are important to remove if he continues on this path.

Q: That includes his conventional military capability as well, though, doesn't it? If you demolish his military capability in addition to going after weapons of -- potential weapons of mass destruction, that means you're going to have to level, as best you can, his military capabilities.

A: Again, I don't want to get into targeting and be target specific.

Q: That's pretty general.

A: But generally, we would not want to leave him with the capability to continue to threaten his neighbors and others.

Q: My question was actually somewhat along the same vein, and then I'll ask a follow-up. You said you had adequate forces in the region to address the missions that you foresee. Do you have adequate forces in the region to address the WMD target set?

A: At this point I feel we do. The reason I'm hedging a little bit is there's a lot not known about his WMD capability. We may discover more.

Q: That actually brings up the question, what's your current assessment --in the broadest sense you can say -- about what we do know about where things are. Do you feel you have a good sense of...

A: I certainly feel we do not have a good sense of what he has. That's why this whole business...

Q: And where it is.

A: And where it is. That's why this whole business of the importance of the UNSCOM team and their ability to inspect is critical. If we knew, we might not be as concerned. It's what we don't know. It's what we suspect. It's what every indication leads to or points to.

Q: You talked about the air defense being robust. Have you seen some recent reconstruction of air defense either...

A: Yes.

Q: ...within the no-fly or...

A: Yes.

Q: Can you articulate that?

A: We've seen some additional systems moved in, some systems built up, additional radars, that sort of thing. There's been a...

Q: Where?

A: Southern no-fly zone, elsewhere in the country. Northern no-fly zone.

Q: Didn't you just say there's been a stand-down, though?

A: Some of it has moved back, yes. There was a buildup. Some of it, as diplomatic efforts began, has stood down. But they are still not in full compliance, there are still violations.

Q: You're talking about the southern zone now?

A: There's also violations in the north.

Q: ...possible military action than you planned for. Do you consider the balance of power in the region? Iran has been very quiet during this whole period. When you go in, if you do, and hurt "Saddam Hussein", do you want to hurt him to the point where he couldn't possibly be an adversary against Iran? Do you take that into consideration at all?

A: That hasn't come into any of my considerations in terms of what we've been tasked to do.

Q: I just wanted to ask if there is movement south or movement north in a threatening way, would you recommend air action to stop such movement before it threatened Kuwait?

A: You mean ground forces?

Q: Ground forces.

A: I think any movement of his forces south violates the no-drive zone. It's a violation of an imposed sanction. I would take it very seriously, and I would certainly recommend we deal with it. I don't want to get into details of how we would.

Q: Can you at all give us a feel for what he's moved in terms of SA-2s, SA-6s, what type of radar? Also how what he has now compares to the IADs he had pre-Desert Storm and pre-Desert Strike?

A: Let me talk in broad terms about it because we're into intelligence information. We have seen... He has an IAD system that we think is very robust. We actually think, and we've seen in the past where he loses part of it. He has redundancy and can repair pretty quickly or compensate for the loss. We have seen the movement of SA-3s, SA-2s, SA-6s. We have seen more in the way of training and where he's learned to disburse and operate from disbursed positions. We believe, obviously, he thinks in terms of offsetting TLAM targeting, that sort of thing. So to answer your question in a broad sense, since the end of the war he still maintains what I consider a robust air defense system, still maintains a communication and command and control ability to handle it, and maybe even the redundancy to get parts, or most of it back up should he lost some if it. And he has tactically and in training done things to help his survival.

Q: Is it as good or better than it may have been in the past?

A: It's a hard judgment. I'm trying to think back to Desert Storm days. I would say probably not as good as Desert Storm, but still very good.

Q: As he moves his air defense systems constantly, although it provides you with certain targeting problems, doesn't it also degrade his ability to communicate, force him to go to radio communications as opposed to buried line communications, making it in some ways easier for you to get into his system and analyze and destroy?

A: The continuous movement we feel does degrade the system to a degree. Some of the movement isn't that great and the distances aren't that great.

Q: ...headquarters, which is another critical part of this. If it's more difficult to communicate with headquarters, it means that somebody at the end of the line could be shooting without command and control from the top.

A: That's a good point and that could, in fact, even make it more dangerous. If the last order was weapons free, engage all targets and there's been a change and someone didn't get the word, this is the kind of concern we have with U-2 flights, enforcement of the no-fly zones, those sorts of things. So that lack of communication can work two ways.

Q: Let me ask you to look around the corner a little bit. Several of your predecessors have said that they really would like a headquarters in the region for the Central Command. Is that a goal of yours, that you don't have a headquarters, you have to work out of Tampa? Or have you kind of given up on that proposition and are content with the way we are?

A: I think in principle every CINC would like to be in his AOR. It would be easier, the proximity would allow you to do more. I think right now that's very difficult, for a lot of reasons, not just trying to find the right country politically that you should be in, but trying to find the right country and predicting the future that tactically, operationally, it's the right place. Looking in terms of budgets, military construction, in terms of manpower requirements. Now we're talking about tours and families and quality of life issues and everything else, and it becomes a manpower expense. It becomes obviously a fiscal expense, a construction expense. Right political decisions, right operational decisions. I think at this point in time that we can quite adequately do it from Tampa for day to day operations. I spend probably half my time in the region, if not more. And we have sites in the region that we can operate from. We obviously have components in the region, like our naval component. All our components have forward headquarters there, and as I said, multiple sites that we could fall in if necessary. And the agreement of the countries that that could work.

As a matter of fact, one of the things I discussed with several of the countries is should something happen and I needed to move a small forward headquarters in, could I come here? Those that I asked all acknowledged that I could.

Q: General, do you have an agreement with the countries you consulted with in the region over how long these forces were going to stay? Is there a period in which you have to go back and...

A: No.

Q: So you're in there indefinitely?

A: We did not discuss time. We did not discuss limits and time.

Q: How long, in your judgment, can these forces stay there without starting to become a political problem with these countries?

A: I wouldn't put a time on something like that. I think clearly as long as the countries see the threat and as long as we see the threat I don't think time will be a factor.

Q: The President's been out of town. Have you had a chance to share with him what you've learned in the Gulf from your trip?

A: Not directly, but obviously I've been in direct contact with the Chairman and the Secretary of Defense throughout all my travels, virtually daily. I've been talking to them.

Q: Is there any additional forces that you've requested since last week? Have you made any requests that have been denied?

A: No requests I made were denied. We have no further forces that are in the chalks to deploy. We do have forces that are, for lack of a better term, earmarked should certain, as I mentioned, trigger events or things occur that we would feel we'd need them, we'd move them in, so we do have a plan for how we would build up or move other forces into the region based on an event that would require them to be there. But right now nothing in addition to what we've deployed is in line to go.

Q: What are the Iranians doing right now? Are they steering clear? Or are they at a heightened state of alert? Have we given them any directives to sort of stay outside of...

A: We've had no dialogue with the Iranians, obviously. We have not seen them in any heightened state of alert at all. My best take is they're just watching.

Q: General, given what you know today about the circumstances, the players, everybody in the region, what do you think is the likelihood now that this will come to some kind of military confrontation?

A: I could not predict Saddam Hussein's actions and would never attempt to do so. I think we have to fully expect that it could be a possibility that this would occur. I'm not sure how desperate he is. He's a man that doesn't act rationally. I've seen the results of his handiwork firsthand. It's sickening. It seems to me he has little value for human life, and if it's a question of being in power, I think he'd resort to any act.

Q: Why have you let Saddam get through the southern no-fly zone technical violations? And did you ask for the B-2 bomber at all?

A: No we have not on the last question. And he is in violation, he knows it. Right now we know we can handle that threat and we're more concerned about the U-2 flights, the UNSCOM inspections and those things, and we know we can deal with that technical violation now.

Press: Thank you.

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