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DoD News Briefing, Thursday, October 1, 1998 - 1:15 p.m.

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
October 01, 1998 1:15 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome.

Let me first start by noting that today Mike McCurry's giving his last press conference. He's been a great professor and instructor to all of us whose business it is to answer questions for a living. I'm sure it will be a wonderful experience for him to finish this and we wish him well in his next endeavors.

Let me also note that today at 2:00 o'clock, Secretary Cohen will officiate at a ceremony establishing the Defense Threat Reduction Agency which is a conglomeration of several existing agencies. This is designed to improve our ability to deal with a wide variety of threats including the weapons of mass destruction that we see around the world.

We'll pipe that back in here so you can listen to it. There was a very, I thought, detailed and good briefing explaining some of our domestic response programs today by Deputy Secretary Hamre, Jacques Gansler, and Dr. Jay Davis who is the head of the new Defense Threat Reduction Agency. If you're interested in this topic, as many of you are, I commend the transcript to you.

Tomorrow, at 2:30, Secretary Cohen will host a ceremony swearing in Dr. Jerome Smith who will become the first Chancellor for Education and Professional Development in the Department of Defense. One of the defense reform initiatives was to do a better job of pulling together and organizing and improving programs designed to educate civilians in the Defense Department to make them better managers, better technicians. Dr. Smith will supervise that project.

The creation of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency was also one of the management reforms that was announced last year.

With that, I will take your questions on these or other topics.

Q: What is your sense at this point, Ken, on the pending military situation in Kosovo? There's a huge amount of rhetoric. Can you give us a sense of where you feel NATO is encamped?

A: Sure. NATO has taken another action today. It has voted out the Activation Request or so-called ACTREQ. This is another step in the process NATO must go through before a force can be employed.

Last week, as you recall, NATO voted out the Activation Warning, and that was alerting countries that a military action was contemplated and alerting them that they could be asked soon to actually put up forces for that military mission. Now we've taken the next step and it is one of several steps to prepare for the use of force, and that's called the Activation Request. This is actually a notice that countries must come forward with specific offers of weapons that will be used in military action. So it essentially puts the finishing touches on constituting a force that could be used.

However, it is not a decision to use force. That will come later and that's called the Activation Order. That's the time when NATO actually votes that the military plan is complete, that the force has been generated to execute that plan, and the activation order is the decision by the NATO ambassadors or perm reps to go ahead and authorize the use of force. This gives the NATO military commander, General Clark, the SACEUR, then, the authority he needs to go ahead and actually use force, if necessary.

Q: Are there any additional U.S. assets being moved to the region, either planes, troops or ships?

A: No assets have been moved at this time. It's conceivable that some assets may be moved in the future but none have been moved yet.

Q: What would the U.S. contribution to this possible military force be? What is the U.S. offering as far as troops...

A: First of all, all we're talking about right now is air actions. And what NATO has planned is a graduated series of possible air attacks that could at the high end involve a very significant number of airplanes.

It's not appropriate right now to talk about any U.S. contribution to that. It will be a significant contribution, however.

Q: Why is it not appropriate? They've asked, the order has gone out and you're going to have to say it, right?

A: At this time we would just like to wait until the SACEUR thinks it's appropriate to talk about the size of the force.

What I want to stress is that what NATO has been looking at is a graduated series of options, so the mere fact that the high end may require a lot of planes doesn't necessarily mean that if we use military action we would use large numbers of aircraft.

Q: Are you able to say what the options -- without going into too much detail...

A: All the options involve striking against military targets. The goal of the options is to reduce or degrade the Serbian military's ability to continue striking the Kosovar Albanians, to continue its attacks. So the military -- if military action is called for, the purpose will be to degrade Milosevic's ability to continue his attacks and reduce his will to continue those attacks as well.

Q: Does that mean that attacks could be directed against Yugoslav forces outside of Kosovo?

A: I think it's not appropriate now to talk about targets. They will be military targets and they'll be appropriate targets to reach the military goal which is to degrade his ability. Obviously, if military action is necessary, we will do it in such a way that protects our forces to the maximum degree possible.

Q: What are the pieces of the puzzle that you feel must still fall in place? If you can talk about what's happening at the UN, does that have any impact on the timing of what you're working on?

A: The main decision about using force, and that is whether to use force or whether not to use force, will be made by NATO. Obviously assessments of conditions in Kosovo will have a determinative effect on that. The Untied Nations is making an assessment of whether or not Mr. Milosevic and his forces are complying with the demands made in the UN Security Council resolution last week.

Basically the UN Security Council demanded that he stop his attacks, that Serbian forces would stop repressing civilians and withdraw, that the free flow of humanitarian aid take place, that refugees be allowed to return to their houses in a secure environment, and that a political -- that the discussions begin designed to produce a political settlement in Kosovo.

The UN is assessing, is in the process of assessing and will next week present its assessment of his degree of compliance with these demands. NATO will make its own assessment and decide what to do based on that.

Let me just say that our best information to date is that the Serbian forces are continuing to attack the Kosovar Albanians in areas north and northwest, north-northwest of Pristina. So while the Milosevic government in Yugoslavia says that they are withdrawing back to their barracks, they are continuing to fight at the same time.

Q: Have some of the Serb forces then withdrawn across the border?

A: I think what's happened so far is that some forces have been returned to garrison and what that means is that most of... There are two types of Serbian forces at work in Kosovo. The first are the special police and the second is the Serbian army. Most of those people were stationed in Kosovo before the fighting began. Not all of them, but by far the overwhelming majority. So they would presumably stay in Kosovo but return to their garrisons or barracks in Pristina or other places.

Q: So there are then adequate targets in Kosovo or Serb assets that NATO might go after.

A: We think there are certainly a number of military targets appropriate for us to strike if that decision is made. But I want to point out again that no decision to use force has been made by NATO.

Q: Are you saying that there are some forces that are withdrawing from Kosovo?

A: What I'm saying is we believe that some of those forces may be returning to garrison, within Kosovo. I'm not aware that there have been significant withdrawals from Kosovo at this time.

Q: When the Activation Order is voted on, when (inaudible) force? Will there be an ultimatum issued to Milosevic by NATO?

A: I think the Western demands on Milosevic are already very clear.

Q: It wouldn't be necessary for any further warning, is that what you're saying? It will not be okay, we told you one more time, you've got to do it. As far as you're concerned, you've been warning him all along?

A: I think it should be very clear to him what the demands of the UN are and what the demands of NATO are.

Q: Would any NATO decision on the use of force await that assessment by the United Nations on compliance?

A: Our hope and expectation is that the UN report will come early next week, before NATO is likely to consider the next step which is the activation order. But that is up to the UN. We hope that the UN will be able to complete its report before NATO takes up the next issue.

Q: If there were a delay in producing that report NATO might act independently of a UN assessment?

A: The U.S. view has always been that NATO has the right to act on its own -- the right and the obligation to act on its own in matters of European security.

Q: Is it your feeling that America's NATO allies, many of whom said they wanted another UN resolution before doing anything, have begun to change their mind? Do you feel there is a different tone and tenor in this debate since the massacre?

A: I think the wanton violence of the massacre has certainly made people realize that we can't wait much longer. That we have to move with some dispatch to resolve this situation. Our hope is still that we can achieve a diplomatic resolution from Mr. Milosevic. Efforts are going on to do that. So far, though, he has, I don't believe, and I don't believe NATO officials believe yet, that he has met the terms that he would have to meet.

Q: My question was, do you feel that America's allies no longer feel it is necessary to have a second UN resolution providing them with political cover on this issue?

A: I think that's something that the allies will have to speak about for themselves. I would just point to the action that the NATO ambassadors took today. They did move ahead, took another step which is the Activation Request, that now will lead to the generation of a very specific, tangible force. When that is all put into place, countries will basically say what they're going to submit to meet the commander's needs. Once that's done, the next step is the actual order to use the force.

Q: What's the timeframe for having knowledge of what the countries have said they would do? In other words, have you said in 48 hours, has NATO said in 48 hours NATO would like a response from your government?

A: I think this is usually done in 24 to 48, hours as I understand it. My understanding is that the person in charge of this is the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe who is a British General, Jeremie McKenzie.

Q: Would the U.S. contribution to any possible future NATO strike force include cruise missile equipped Navy ships?

A: As I said earlier, it's inappropriate to talk about the U.S. contribution.

Q: How about the aircraft carrier EISENHOWER?

A: As I said earlier, it's inappropriate to talk about the U.S. contribution.

Q: Where in this sequence of Activation Request, Activation Order, does the deployment of the forces come? Is that part of the Activation Request, or do you have to wait for the Activation Order before you deploy the forces?

A: The Activation Request basically... The Activation Order is basically what leads to putting the forces in place.

Q: So we won't see any movement of forces until after the Activation Order?

A: Yeah, I don't think there will be much moving until after the Activation Order. After that, things could move very quickly.

Q: [There won't be] a decision on an Activation Order until after this report from Kofi Annan early next week?

A: My guess is that NATO would take it up at its regular meeting on Wednesday, next Wednesday. That could change, obviously, but that would be, right now, the logical chain of events.

Q: What level is that at?

A: That's, again, the so-called permanent representatives, the NATO ambassadors.

Q: I'm trying to understand how today's actions take us much farther than last week's actions. Is it that the countries actually get specific units now that will be put on alert or something? I thought last week they were to generate this...

A: Last week they were put on warning that they were going to be asked to commit specific forces. This week they have actually been asked to contribute those forces, to confirm precisely what forces they'll be using. This is a NATO process that is long and detailed. I handed out this chart last week and it lists all the various steps to go through before a force can be used. This basically ensures that forces are formally committed to an operation and that all the necessary preparations are carried out that will allow, the preparations that will allow a rapid deployment if the next step is taken. The next step is called an Activation Order. This basically causes everybody to position their forces, get them ready to move if they're called upon to move with an Activation Order.

Q: So it's the second to the last...

A: Right.

Q: A heavy bureaucratic piece of machinery that's got to crank before...

A: It's the second to the last step in NATO's very thoughtful, thorough process. (Laughter) And it is appropriate. Every time force is used it should be thoughtful and thorough.

Q: After you get this Activation Order and the force is deployed, you still need an execute order, don't you?

A: But the execute order is basically, my understanding is that that's done by individual countries. Once the Activation Order is voted on then individual countries... We would then issue our execute orders to our own forces.

Q: You're talking about executing order for deploying the forces, right? I'm talking about executing orders for actually carrying out the strike. The Activation Order does not guarantee that a strike is going to ensure, right?

A: No. I mean that basically gives the NATO military commander the ability to go ahead. The Activation Order establishes an execution date for a plan.

Q: Execution date for the airstrikes as opposed to the deployment.

A: Right.

Q: So if NATO were to vote on Wednesday to approve this Activation Order, the Activation Order would say to conduct airstrikes to begin not later than such and such a date and Wes Clark would then just be able to do it whenever he felt like it?

A: That's my understanding. That it basically gives him the authority to move forward.

Q: This NATO process which is deliberative, thoughtful and the adjectives you used to describe it, doesn't it though give Slobodan Milosevic the clear impression that he has at least another week to continue mop-up operations against the Kosovo Liberation Army before he has to fear NATO airstrikes?

A: I think it gives him the impression that unless he immediately begins to meet the demands that the international community have made, that he faces the possibility of a very punishing military strike.

Q: Just to clarify, there were several questions about the deployment of U.S. forces. Is it anticipated, without telling us what forces we might commit, is it anticipated that we have to go outside the general area? There's a considerable American force at Aviano, on the aircraft carrier. Is it anticipated that we have to go beyond the forces already in the general area?

A: I think I will avoid getting into details at this stage. It will be appropriate at a later date if we actually use force to talk about that. But right now we don't want to talk about any details.

I will point out that any time we use force we have to generate not only the combat forces but significant support forces including search and rescue assets and intelligence assets and other monitoring assets. Tankers, etc. So there are -- I suppose there's the possibility that there will be planes coming from outside the area.

Q: Of all the NATO allies that have the appropriate sorts of forces for this type of operation, have they all pledged something?

A: I don't know the answer to that question. We would expect, however, based on the Secretary's conversations at the NATO Minister's meeting in Portugal last week, very significant participation from NATO allies.

Q: Do you have a breakdown of the Serb order of battle at all in Kosovo in terms of air defense systems...

A: I'll try to get that. I don't have it here in front of me.

Q: That becomes more relevant as...

A: It does. They have a fairly significant air defense system. As you know, they shot down allied planes over Bosnia in 1995, including one American plane. They have invested heavily in air defenses. It's not an air defense system to be taken lightly. It's one we can certainly prevail against, but it's a serious air defense system.

Q: On the U.S. acting alone, I think the language you all used is usually it hasn't been ruled out. But is it anticipated? Is this out of the question?

A: We are part of NATO, and we will act as part of NATO.

Q: Has the use of ground forces been taken into consideration in any of these NATO steps that have been taken up to now or is that purely air attacks?

A: The discussions now and the Activation Request voted on today deal explicitly with air forces, not with ground forces.

Q: Is it fair to say that all the air planning has been done, all the target selection and all the complications that go with that are virtually complete?

A: Certainly a lot has been done, but this isn't an area in which I'm called upon to give my minimal expertise so I'm not involved in it. But as all commanders basically refine their target lists and their battle plans up until the very last minute, so I can't rule out that some changes will be made, but certainly a lot of planning has been done.

Q: The meeting in Congress and Senate with the Joint Chiefs and the Chairman, Ken, does the civilian leadership of the DoD, of the Secretaries of the services, Mr. Hamre, Mr. Cohen, are they all on board with the Joint Chiefs on the need for about $16, $17 million, $1 billion additional funding this, I think it's this fiscal year they're asking for it, I mean the next fiscal year. But is the civilian leadership on board?

A: Secretary Cohen came to the realization months ago that we needed an increase in defense spending to meet our requirements, and he has been working very carefully with members of the Administration, with the Joint Chiefs and others to craft a plan that will protect readiness, allow us to continue with necessary modernization, and to make necessary improvements in quality of life for the military. That plan has not reached fruition yet. We're continuing to work on it. So I think it's premature right now to talk about a specific budgetary increase.

We're in the middle of a budget process, have a couple of months to go, and it's not appropriate right now to talk about specific numbers.

Q: $16 million isn't ball park then?

A: The Chiefs have their views of what's necessary, but these final decisions will have to be made by Secretary Cohen and those decisions haven't been made yet. Certainly a range of estimates have come out in internal discussions, and $16 billion isn't out of the ballpark, but at the same time I want to point out no formal decision's been made. There are a number of major decisions that have to be made before we can settle on a figure.

Q: So DoD is united in the need for increased spending at some level, is that correct?

A: That is certainly true. And President Clinton has said in a letter to Secretary Cohen that he is prepared to protect readiness and the other needs of the Department.

Q: Ken, you said Secretary Cohen came to this decision or this realization months ago. One of the biggest complaints heard on Tuesday was that this situation has been building for a long time and that the Chiefs were just now coming to the Hill to acknowledge it. Did the Secretary communicate his concern to the Hill months ago or any time before Tuesday?

A: I wasn't at the hearing because I was out of town. I think that this Department has been very forthright in discussing readiness problems. We've had briefings here with the operating officers of each one of the services, we have invited reporters to accompany Secretary Cohen on two trips that he's made to make his own personal assessment of readiness, and he heard, any reporter who went on those trips or anybody who read the accounts of those reporters would have heard the problems that have been raised by people. I don't think we've done anything to hide the fact that there are some readiness concerns.

I think that readiness is always an issue that you have to discuss with some subtlety. We are ready to do our major jobs. We believe that the troops at the point of the spear, the forward deployed troops are ready and they're doing their jobs very, very well. There is some fraying around the edges and we want to stop that fraying from becoming a tear.

So I don't think anybody should have been surprised that the Pentagon was becoming increasingly concerned about readiness issues and that we were working to address those issues.

There are a number of ways to deal with readiness problems. One is through management changes, and we have asked Congress to allow us to get rid of excess infrastructure and bases, and they've refused to allow us to do that, so they have foreclosed so far some necessary savings that we could channel back into readiness or into procurement.

We have made a number of management changes and are making more of them in the services on a day to day basis. The Navy announced some management changes earlier this week that will relieve some pressure on deployed troops. The Joint Chiefs have been looking at ways to reconfigure exercises to reduce overlap and duplication. But we don't think that we can resolve all the problems through management changes alone. We think that some increase in resources will be necessary and the President has agreed on that. Now we're at the point of trying to figure out exactly how much we need.

Q: Has the Congress, according to DoD management -- the Secretary especially, has Cohen seen DoD as the problem with regard to funding because of diversion, test projects, anything else that's taking away from the service budget?

A: There are always a number of issues. Congress every year adds some projects that we didn't request and diverts some money into those projects. I think the central issue here is that our forces are working very hard, the deployments have been at a high level, we have aging equipment that requires more maintenance and more spare parts than some services anticipated so we need more spare parts and we need newer equipment.

I think given the strength of today's economy and the attraction of jobs outside the military, we're losing pilots as well as highly skilled enlisted personnel to private businesses, and that's made people look at questions such as pay, retirement benefits, medical benefits, and quality of life generally. So all of these have become issues in the readiness equation, and all of the factors in the equation are being examined now.

Q: You said a minute ago that no one should be surprised by what we heard on Tuesday. Do you think that indignation that some members of the Committee expressed after what they heard was genuine, or was some kind of posturing going on here? Do you want to...

A: Far be it from me to comment on whether politicians are posturing or not. I think the Chiefs went up and gave an honest assessment of where they stand today. I think they have been giving honest assessments in their speeches and in their press interviews over the past several months. I think the Secretary has been very clear in discussing readiness problems around the edges, and I certainly think the Chairman has been extremely clear in discussing these issues in public speeches and interviews that he's given.

I think that what happened on Tuesday was a pulling together of all these concerns and an opportunity to present them all in one place. Maybe when they were all heard at once they created a somewhat more solid picture than in the past.

Q: On Liberia. The Liberian embassy is complaining that a U.S. patrol boat or craft of some sort is operating near their coast. My question is, is this vessel in international waters? Is it in Liberian waters? If it's in Liberian waters will it be moved to international waters?

A: We do have a coastal patrol boat off the coast of Liberia. We informed the Liberian government on Monday, September 29th, that it was there. This boat carries some military personnel who have one purpose, and that is to protect Americans if necessary. That's their only purpose. I don't know specifically whether it's in international waters or outside the international waters at this stage.

Q: They've asked that it be removed.

A: As I say, I don't know specifically where the boat is so I can't tell you whether we're going to move it or not. We can try to find out.

Q: Is there increasing tension or concern in DoD or in State over the safety of Americans in Liberia?

A: My sense is that the concern has been reduced somewhat from several weeks ago, but it's still a situation we're watching closely.

Q: So the principal reason for this boat and for other military personnel active in the area would be to assist in an evacuation should that become necessary?

A: The only reason for the force there is to protect Americans if necessary.

Q: Switch back to NATO just for a second. Have NATO countries pledged the use of their territory for basing of possible operations? Or is under the rules of NATO, is, once they go along with an Activation Order, is that just part of the deal, that you have to let bases be used?

A: I don't anticipate we'll have any problem with use of necessary bases in the area. NATO operates by consensus, and it's taken two very important votes by consensus -- the Activation Warning and now the Activation Request. I think those indicate that the countries will not only put up the forces necessary but put up the bases and the infrastructure necessary.

Q: Ken, your response to the Washington Post article picked up by USA Today about Mr. Ritter and others saying that the Iranians have at least three implosion type devices that could then be used for fission type nuclear weapons?

A: First, I can't confirm that they do have components of what could become nuclear weapons. We do know that Iraq has an interest in developing nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. The International Atomic Energy Administration, the IAEA which monitors this under UN Security Council mandates, has concluded that Iraq does not have fissile materials and does not currently have the ability to produce fissile materials. This is the necessary component to producing a nuclear weapon -- fissile material. And the IAEA believes that Iraq does not have that now, and we support that finding.

The fact that they've developed subcomponents is indicative of their ability to maintain a very expensive destructive force.

Q: If IAEA cannot find the implosion devices that are alleged to exist, how do they know for certain that the fissionable materials have not been acquired and hidden?

A: There are many ways of following such things. I know much of what these inspectors do is sort of the job of accountants going through trade records and reports and intelligence records and reports. I think the IAEA is quite confident there is not fissile material in Iraq. If it were to turn out that Iraq had secretly acquired some fissile materials it would be in violation of the United Nations Security Council mandates and it would be a very, very serious development.

Q: But we know for sure Iraq has tried and tried to get a hold of such material, correct?

A: Well, many countries try to get a hold of fissile materials, and there are fairly tough controls against sales or shipments of fissile materials in international agreements. It remains a major concern today, the possibility of illegal trafficking in fissile materials.

Q: A couple of answers ago you said that the fact that they developed subcomponents of nuclear weapons, which sounded a lot like you were confirming...

A: If they have. I don't mean to confirm it because we don't have... But if they have done that, it would be indicative of their desire to develop.

Q: On the fissile material question, they do have large piles of sort of raw materials -- uranium ore and things like that. In the past of course they had various ways of refining and concentrating uranium which we think we have a handle on. But they have the raw materials, don't they?

A: All I can tell you is my understanding is the IAEA does not believe they have the fissile materials necessary to create a nuclear weapon now.

Q: Another subject, you probably covered this already. Sorry I'm late. But forces identified to participate in any NATO operation in Kosovo...

A: I covered that.

Press: Thank you.