DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD (PA)
Tuesday, September 12, 1995 - 12:00 p.m.
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our briefing. Sorry for rousting you out early today.
I welcome the members of the Air Force Public Affairs Leadership Course. All your future Doug Kennett's out there, working hard. If you work as hard as he has, you'll do very well.
The Secretary tonight will address the Japan Society in New York. We, unfortunately, do not have an advanced text, and probably will not before the speech, but the speech is open to coverage and we'll have a text tomorrow.
Q: Will there be Q's and A's tonight, or...
A: No. There's not scheduled to be Q's and A's.
Q: Can you tell us the general subject of the speech?
A: He's talking to the Japan Society, and he'll talk generally about a range of foreign policy and strategic issues involving Japan, China, and South Korea.
Q: Mainly on the Pacific Rim.
A: That's right.
Q: Could we go to Bosnia?
Q: The United States wants to put the F-117s into Italy. When do you expect to get agreement from the Italians who appear somewhat miffed that they're not getting a higher profile in the peace process?
A: Well, without accepting that characterization of the Italian position, I'd just like to say that Italy is a very active and important, loyal member of NATO. Italian planes have been participating in NATO airstrikes over Bosnia.
The Italian government has been a very full partner in all NATO operations involving Bosnia. It's strongly supporting the current air campaign. There are almost 300, I think the number is now 270 allied planes stationed in Italy. Any decision to enhance the NATO air forces there will follow full consultations with the Italian government. We are currently discussing the possibility of deploying F-117s with them. Those consultations are continuing.
Q: When do you expect they might be deployed?
A: I don't want to get into that. The point is, that NATO forces in Italy are working very closely together, and the U.S. and Italy are certainly working extremely well together.
Q: Up to now there hasn't been a need for F-117s. Why now? Why would they be useful at this point?
A: Well, from the very beginning, the commanders -- Admiral Smith and General Janvier -- have looked at a whole range of assets they could employ as part of the NATO campaign in Bosnia. F-117s have been on that list as a possibility. It would simply expand the flexibility that commanders have to carry out their missions.
Q: Might they be based somewhere else if not in Italy? Is that under consideration?
A: I think that's premature to get into details like that. It's been reported that we've been discussing this with Italy. It's in fact true. As I say, Italy has been extremely supportive and extremely helpful in all respects. We're working very closely with them. We have consulted with them over every increment in our force, and this is no different this time.
Q: Do you expect that Italy will become a part of the, will join the Contact Group as a sixth member?
A: I think that's a diplomatic issue that's best left to diplomats to respond to.
Q: Do Russian objections to what's going on in this operation in Bosnia have any effect on the consideration of deploying a weapon like the F-117?
A: I think the answer to that is no. NATO is proceeding on a very carefully designed plan to put pressure on Bosnia to meet the conditions that the UN has laid down -- on the Bosnian Serbs to meet the conditions the UN has laid down. We have been careful to avoid civilian casualties. We've been careful to be as precise as possible. The planes only take on targets they can see in situations where they know what they're doing. I would expect us to continue along those lines. I thought that Willy Claes, the Secretary General of NATO, addressed that very forthrightly yesterday.
Q: Interfax reported that Secretary Perry had telephone conversations with Pavel Grachev. Can you tell us at all what the subject of those conversations were, or anything about them?
A: The short answer is no. I cannot tell you anything about the telephone conversation. They did talk at the Secretary's initiative yesterday. He was at Pope Air Force Base on his way to Fort Bragg, and he placed a call to General Grachev. They talked and they will most likely talk again this week by phone.
Q: Is there any prospect of any sort of face-to-face meeting as the Secretary travels over to Europe?
A: I don't want to go beyond what I've said, but I would not encourage you to plan on a face-to-face meeting. Beyond that, I wouldn't want to comment.
Q: When was the Secretary notified that NATO planned to use cruise missiles against the Bosnian Serb targets?
A: The use of cruise missiles has been in the plan for some time.
Q: When was he specifically notified that they were going to be using them on Sunday against those targets? Before the fact, after the fact?
A: I can't answer that question and probably won't, but I will look into it.
Q: I think perhaps the follow up on that, do the Secretary and the President have to sign off on any final approval, or give final approval for use of the cruise missiles or...
A: I think it's important to realize what went on here. There was a general plan drafted by the North Atlantic Council. This overall guidance has been translated into specific operational detail by Admiral Smith and General Janvier. It has been reviewed by national authorities at several times in the course of this process -- both at the NAC level and at other times. So as Mike McCurry said yesterday, the President had signed off on the use of Tomahawk cruise missiles in that he had reviewed the plans.
But the specific operational details have been left up to the commanders in the field. That is, what mix of weapons to use, what targets to go after, and the phasing of the attacks against the targets.
Q: To jump ahead, on possible use with stealth attack jets, has the approval for those already been given? Or when they're sent over, then the national authority -- the Secretary and the President -- have to give final approval for use of the stealth fighters?
A: I think you can assume that if something's deployed there's a willingness to use it.
Q: Can you bring us up to date on rotations such as the handoff between the AMERICA and the ROOSEVELT and other changes that are underway in the Adriatic area?
A: The ROOSEVELT rotation will take place very soon. I believe it will begin its trip back today [tomorrow]. I don't know about other rotations in the area. Obviously a certain number of ships travel in that battle group and will be coming back, I assume, and then others, the AMERICA battle group will take its place.
Q: Or at Aviano such as the EF-111s...
A: I'm not aware. We'll check into that. If we have details, we can give them to you. I'm just not up to date on what's happening there.
Q: Is the AMERICA group now in the Adriatic?
Q: So both of them are in the Adriatic and...
A: A brief overlap, yeah. It's not being held there. It's coming back.
Q: This aircraft, this aviation on ROOSEVELT, are they finished with their operations then?
A: I assume so. They'll be coming back with the carrier and a new group has gone in.
Q: NATO has said that the use of Tomahawk cruise missiles...
A: Competing CNN personalities here. I'm torn, I don't know which way to turn. [Laughter]
Q: That should look good in the transcript.
A: I thought you'd want to be cooperating CNN personalities in the transcript. [Laughter] I notice you never sit together. It's sort of like a bad marriage. [Laughter]
Q: NATO has said that the use of Tomahawk cruise missiles doesn't represent a military escalation of the bombing. Would you be willing to concede that based on the reaction to the use of the Tomahawk missile that it's at least a political or a public relations escalation of what NATO has been doing?
A: No, I would not be willing to concede that.
Q: Back to the Russians for a moment. Yeltsin has given out a very strongly worded statement this morning, playing up the killing of innocent civilians, I believe it said, and children, using the word genocide. Talking about what NATO is inflicting upon this generation of Bosnian Serbs, any response to the use of the word "genocide?" Do you think the letter is balanced, a little too strongly worded perhaps?
A: I think that's not a fair statement of what's going on here. We have worked very hard to avoid targeting civilian populations and even concentrations of military troops. This is not always a delicacy or a tactic that's been shown by other countries.
This is an extremely complex and mean-spirited war in the Balkans that's been going on for several years now, and of course is based on a very tortured history. The NATO role here is not to try to tip the balance in a war. It's trying to win a peace agreement. We've always realized from the beginning that a peace agreement was the way out of this conflict.
We are now closer to a peace agreement than we've been since the beginning of the fighting. We're not there. There's a lot of hard work to be done. Secretary Holbrooke is going back today, I believe, to start his discussions again. There will be another meeting of the Contact Group in Geneva later this week, and Nick Burns will outline that whole schedule later today.
But the fact is, we have worked very hard to try to keep the military pressure exerted by NATO limited in a way that is best designed to protect people, not to hurt population groups. There has been too much fighting that has been directed against different ethnic and population groups in this area of the world. We are trying very hard not to be a participant in that, but to limit it. That's been our goal from the very beginning. It's been the goal of the UN from the very beginning and the role of NATO from the very beginning, and I don't think it's fair to confuse that with a very sort of third rail word that does not at all describe what we're doing.
Q: Can you characterize the status of the rescue operations for the French pilots?
A: I cannot describe that except to say that it is a top priority by the allied forces and it continues.
Q: Does the Administration believe that the goals of the bombing campaign, the goals set out in General Janvier's letter can be achieved without resorting to level three targets, the kind of target that would require another political decision?
A: To a certain extent, in a de facto way, the goals have already been achieved in that the Bosnian Serbs have largely stopped shelling the safe areas. Remember before the marketplace massacre in February of 1994, the Bosnian Serbs were sending a thousand shells a day into Sarajevo. Recently there have been very sporadic and rather ineffectual attacks in Sarajevo. The attacks have largely stopped from the Bosnian Serb artillery ringing Sarajevo. So one goal is to stop the shelling, and that largely has happened. A second goal is to win free passage of UN personnel, food, supplies, and medical equipment into Sarajevo, and there have been convoys going in over the last week. I've seen reports that the food supply in Sarajevo is now adequate, so we have achieved a greater degree of transportational freedom into Sarajevo than we had before.
The other goal that General Janvier laid out in his directive to the Bosnian Serbs was to remove the heavy weapons from the 12.5 mile exclusion zone, and we have not been successful in that so far. But the airstrikes are continuing. There are a number of targets left to be attacked in the current categories of targets which have been focusing on air defenses, lines of communication, logistics, ammo dumps, and to a certain extent, the heavy weapons or artillery themselves that are ringing Sarajevo, although those attacks have been carried out primarily by the artillery of the Rapid Reaction Force that's in the area.
So there are a number of targets that have not yet been attacked and there are targets that can be attacked again.
Q: You referred earlier to one of the goals not being to change the military balance. Do you believe airstrikes that have taken place so far have begun to change the military balance in Bosnia? And do you believe that if airstrikes continue a number of days further, that there will be a significant change to military balance?
A: I think it might be better to go back to what triggered the current NATO policy in the first place, and that was the fall of two safe areas, Srebrenica and Zepa, to the Bosnian Serb forces. That triggered the London meeting, I think it was July 11th [21st]. It was from that meeting that NATO emerged, and then ultimately the UN emerged with new resolve to protect other safe areas from falling, principally Gorazde and Sarajevo. We issued an ultimatum, NATO issued an ultimatum saying that if these areas were attacked or threatened, if these safe areas were attacked or threatened, we would reserve the right to respond vigorously with NATO air power, and that's in fact what's happened.
I think what the air campaign has succeeded in doing, aside from the sort of de facto benefits I talked about earlier, it has succeeded in making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the Bosnian Serbs to mass to launch another attack against an area as they had against Srebrenica, for instance. It's not only because we've attacked their logistics and we've attacked their ammo, but it's primarily because NATO has now shown that it has the resolve to attack preemptively. I suspect that this will have a major impact on their willingness, as well as their ability, to launch new attacks. So I think I would describe the impact of the air campaign more in those terms than in terms of changing the military balance.
Q: Can you confirm whether Bosnian government forces have in fact seized a key corridor that's held by the Bosnian Serbs up near Tuzla that effectively cuts off the Serbs from the eastern and western portions...
A: I'm sorry, I cannot confirm that.
Q: Would you tell us what the status is of the work on the potential peace implementation effort by NATO, the implementation by the U.S. forces and so forth?
A: There have been a series of meetings on that, and I believe the North Atlantic Council is going to consider that issue again tomorrow in Brussels. The allies are continuing to work on that. It's not done yet, but we will continue to press ahead.
I would expect that there might be... Well, I would hope there would be the details of a plan or certainly the most important elements of a plan would be nailed down by the end of this month.
Q: Is it your understanding that it would involve fewer U.S. people than...
A: At this stage I think it's a little hard to tell because the peace implementation plan will be defined to a certain extent by the peace agreement itself, if we get a peace agreement. That will involve a lot of questions involving the map, the shape of the map, what's in, what's out, etc. I think it's hard now in isolation from an agreement to know exactly what will be required of a peace implementation force.
Q: Last night in an ABC News report, on the side of an F-16, you could clearly see the name of Lieutenant General Mike Ryan, the Air Commander over there. That raises the question of whether General Ryan is flying combat missions over Bosnia, or does he have his own F-16?
A: I saw that report and I looked very closely, and all I could read was LTG Mike. For all I know there are many LTG Mikes over there. I didn't see the last name, did you?
Q: Well, that's what it appeared to say. My wife saw it. [Laughter] She's a better reader than I am.
A: I have trifocals and I would be the last person to trust my eyesight from across my office.
Q: Can you take the question of whether it's General Ryan or another Lieutenant General flying combat missions, or have their own F-16?
A: We will take that question. We have a whole room of Air Force people. I'm sure we can get an answer to this question. [Laughter]
Q: One last question...
A: Of course it's a NATO operation, so I wouldn't expect the U.S. Air Force Public Affairs group necessarily to know the answer to this immediately.
Q: One last question. We enjoyed having this briefing at 12:00 o'clock. It seemed to work so well. Couldn't we have earlier briefings in the future?
A: I have to tell you, it was miserable for me. You may find that surprising, given the amount of information that comes out, but there's a lot to go through. I can't promise you that 12:00 o'clock will be our briefing time from now on.
Q: It gives us another hour and a half to figure out what you said.
A: Of course that's always good.
I have to correct one thing. The ROOSEVELT will finish its operations today and depart tomorrow from its station in the Adriatic.
Press: Thank you.