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DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD (PA)

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD (PA)
September 14, 1995 2:30 PM EDT

Thursday, September 14, 1995 - 2:30 p.m.

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

I'd like to start with a couple of announcements. First of all, Deputy Secretary White will host a ceremony for the observance of POW/MIA Recognition Day tomorrow at 11 a.m., and he'll be joined by a former POW, Congressman Pete Peterson of Florida, who will be the guest speaker. The ceremony will be held in the River Entrance parade field.

Next week you're invited to attend the White House roll-out briefing on the Administration's National Security Science and Technology Strategy in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building at 1 p.m. on Tuesday. Paul Kaminski, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition will be there, along with John Gibbons, the President's science adviser, and others. They will present a comprehensive view of our investment in science and technology for national defense.

With that, I will take your questions.

Q: Have the Bosnian Serbs agreed to remove their heavy weapons from around Sarajevo contingent on certain conditions being met? And have they begun doing it?

A: You've read reports of negotiations. These negotiations are continuing. There is reason to be hopeful that we will reach a ceasefire agreement, but that's all I can tell you right now.

Q: If we get a full agreement by all sides, have the Bosnian Serbs themselves agreed to do this if certain contingencies are met?

A: I'm afraid I can't go beyond what I told you. There are some reasons to hope that we will get an agreement. Right now, Ambassador Holbrooke is negotiating. When those negotiations are complete and we have something to report, we will.

Q: Is there any sign at this time that weapons are being removed?

A: When we have something to report, we will.

Q: NATO has announced a temporary pause in the allied bombing. Can you tell us what has to happen for the bombing to resume again?

A: The temporary pause is designed to give the parties time to reach an agreement and NATO will make a decision based on advice it gets from the UN and from Ambassador Holbrooke as to how long to continue the pause and whether it should be ended.

Q: ...military forces often use a pause to sort of regroup, restock, what have you. Can you tell us, are the F-117s on the way? Will they soon be on the way? Has the advance phalanx of equipment and troops to take care of them already arrived in Aviano? What would you like to tell us?

A: I wouldn't like to tell you anything. Our conversations with the Italian government are continuing on the F-117s.

Q: This pause -- which I understand Secretary Perry said was a 12-hour pause -- you mentioned, it's to give time to reach an agreement... About "what" exactly? Agreement on what?

A: We're in the middle of very complex negotiations now. These negotiations bear a greater chance of success than we've faced in a long period of time. The negotiations are ongoing, they're sensitive. I'm not going to talk about the negotiations here.

When the negotiations are over -- when we have something to report -- we'll report them. We're not going to negotiate before cameras. We're not going to negotiate before the press. These negotiations are taking place in the Balkans and they'll continue to take place in the Balkans.

Q: I'm not asking you to give the positions of the various sides, necessarily. I'm asking, what is the scope of the negotiations about? It's not about

-- I understand -- a peace agreement for all of Bosnia. It's something narrower than that. What?

A: Right now, what we are trying to negotiate is, one, a cessation of hostilities agreement for Sarajevo that will lead to compliance with the UN conditions that were imposed by General Janvier. That's what's being worked on now. If we achieve that, then we will move forward to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Balkans. So it's a multi-step process.

Q: When did the 12-hour period begin?

A: You'll have to check with NATO on that -- on the timing of the pause.

Q: Given what you know about potential agreements in the future, what can you say overall about the effectiveness of NATO's bombing campaign?

A: I think the bombing campaign has been highly effective. The bombs have been remarkably accurate -- much more accurate than the use of precision-guided munitions were in DESERT STORM. We, I hope, will have for you relatively soon some statistical information on the accuracy of the precision-guided munitions.

You have to remember what the goals of this campaign were. We set out to win compliance with some conditions imposed by the UN commander, General Janvier. We did not set out to win a war. We did not set out to inflict damage on the population of the Serbian sections of Bosnia. Nor did we set out to destroy the Serbian army, the personnel of the Serbian army. These have been very precise bombing attacks that have been directed against command and control facilities, air defense facilities, logistics facilities, ammo dumps, etc. Those attacks have succeeded one, in stopping the shelling of Sarajevo and the other safe areas, and they have also succeeded in opening -- in a de facto way -- in opening supply routes to Sarajevo, because now supplies are moving forward.

It is our hope that we will get a formal agreement that will codify what's already happened in a de facto way. But I think there is no doubt that the bombing raids have put a lot of pressure on the Bosnian Serb military force, and they have basically prevented it from engaging in the type of maneuvers that it was able to carry out back in June, July and August. By degrading the air defense system in Bosnia -- the Bosnian Serb air defense system -- we've given ourselves great freedom to fly over areas of Bosnia, and therefore to prevent movement or attacks by the Bosnian Serb forces. This has had a major impact on the Bosnian Serbs.

Q: Can you give us any expected timeframe on when you expect getting out of this? If it's a relatively brief...

A: I cannot.

Q: I'm sorry?

A: I'm not giving you details on what we hope for. These are ongoing negotiations. Right now, we have to give the negotiators as much freedom and flexibility as we can to continue their negotiations.

Q: Secretary Perry, apparently today, in public comments gave a guesstimate of the number of troops it would now take to enforce a comprehensive peace agreement. If that happens, I think he said it would be roughly two to three NATO divisions, of which two or three brigades might be made up of U.S. combat troops. Can you translate that at all into sort of numbers of troops? What kind of rough figures are we talking about? What's two to three brigades?

A: First of all, there are no precise figures right now. The reason is, the number of troops we'll have to commit for a peace implementation force will depend on what type of peace agreement we're able to win, if we win a peace agreement, if we succeed. And Secretary Perry said today he is cautiously optimistic -- with the emphasis on the word optimistic -- that we will be able to reach a comprehensive peace agreement.

But the dimensions of that peace agreement, the terms of that peace agreement, will determine how many troops NATO has to put in to maintain the terms of that agreement.

We have said in the past that the U.S. is prepared to commit up to 25,000 troops as part of a far larger NATO force, and that is still the upper limit of what we're prepared to commit. If we could get by with fewer troops, we would. But those figures won't be known until we understand what the peace agreement is -- if we get one.

Q: Isn't two to three brigades... Again, it was a guesstimate or an estimate. That's significantly less than 25,000. Wouldn't that be more like 15,000, maybe 18,000?

A: Jamie, as I said, there are no precise figures right now.

Q: Have the Russians been asked -- or agreed -- to take part in overseeing any final peacekeeping...

A: Basically the peace implementation force will be a NATO-directed force. That doesn't mean there won't be members from non-NATO countries involved. That remains to be worked out.

Q: Can you address the question as to whether the law of diminishing returns has begun to set in on these airstrikes? All the easy targets, either in terms of danger to the pilots or danger to civilians, have basically been hit. And what you're doing is going back and hitting the same targets over and over again, and at some point you just don't get much out of what would be the ninth or tenth bomb that's been dropped on the same target.

Also, this question of whether or not the level of destruction to the Bosnian Serb military has reached the point where the Bosnian army and the Croatian army are beginning to take advantage of it.

A: First of all, in terms of targets, I can't talk specifically about targets except to say that in the over 3,200 sorties that have been flown -- only a percentage of which are so-called strike runs or bombing runs -- those sorties have had a cumulative destructive impact on the Bosnian Serbs' ability to carry out military operations. So every day we are inflicting greater damage on their ability to communicate, their ability to defend against air attack, their ability to move logistics or retain logistics. I do not think we have reached the point of diminishing returns, and I think the fact that there are hopeful signs of a cessation of hostilities agreement in Sarajevo suggests that we certainly have not reached the point of diminishing returns. The mere fact that these discussions are taking place show that the bombing has had an impact on the correlation of forces there.

Secondly, it's clear that the bombing alone has not been what's changed the balance in Bosnia. Clearly, the ability of the Croatians and the Croatians operating in federation with the Bosnian Muslims have had an impact as well. They have been reclaiming territory in the last few weeks. Actually the amount of Bosnia and Herzegovina held or controlled by the Bosnian Serbs has shrunk over the last two weeks, and I think they might reasonably fear that it would continue to shrink if the bombing and the offensive by the Croatian and the Bosnian Muslim Forces continued.

So they were facing, and could face again, several pressures compelling them to look for a way to end the hostilities.

Q: What percentage of these 3,200 are strikes?

A: I don't want to get into the details there.

Q: You mentioned that it was shrinking, do you have what percentage of Serb-held territory...

A: I do not have a precise percentage on that.

Q: Does the Department of Defense -- does NATO -- condone the actions of the Croats and the Muslims in taking territory while these raids are in progress? Or would DoD insist or ask NATO insist that there be a cessation of hostilities, especially if there is a cessation of air action?

A: The United States and NATO are trying to win a comprehensive cessation of hostilities in all of Bosnia, and we have asked all sides to stand down their fighting. If we had complete control over, if NATO had complete control, or if the UN had complete control over the forces in Bosnia, we wouldn't be in this mess today. It would have ended a long time ago. So clearly, we don't have complete control.

Q: You've made it clear that the short term agreement you're talking about you're working on now -- is a short term agreement. It's not for a Bosnia-wide ceasefire or a ceasefire in the Sarajevo area. Is that not right? You said that could lead then later to possibly...

A: Our hope from the beginning has been to win a comprehensive peace agreement in Bosnia. It's an extremely difficult and daunting task. There may be steps to reach that agreement. One step certainly would be a cessation of hostility agreements in Sarajevo, and a removal of the Bosnian Serb threat to the Muslim populations in Sarajevo, and a removal of threats facing the rather substantial Serb population in Sarajevo. There are over 100,000 Serbs living in Sarajevo, so it's not entirely a Muslim enclave.

Q: I think what I'm asking... You're not demanding of the Bosnian government now that it stop its fighting elsewhere in Bosnia in order to get the Serbs to agree to remove their weapons from around Sarajevo?

A: Once again, you want me to get into the terms of the negotiations which I refuse to do. What I'm saying is we are striving for a comprehensive peace agreement in Bosnia. We seem to be on the brink... There are hopeful signs that we are on the brink of progress. We are continuing to work for an agreement, and when we get one, we will tell you what we have.

Q: Your 3,200 sorties. Did you do Bomb Damage Assessment on those, and did that establish there was no collateral damage?

A: You brought up a new topic of collateral damage and I glad you have. There have been, as you know, allegations -- really baseless charges by the Russians -- of extensive civilian casualties. Early on there were baseless allegations that I believe have turned out to be baseless by the Bosnian Serbs on extensive civilian casualties. Recently, Koradzic was quoted as saying he was not aware of extensive civilian casualties. And Secretary Perry has said that he's not aware of any civilian casualties.

I think these bombing raids have been extremely precise, and we have studied them very closely for evidence of civilian casualties, and we have not found that evidence.

Q: In fact, the answer to the question to the question that your BDA shows no collateral damage then?

A: No collateral damage, probably no collateral damage, but certainly very little collateral damage. BDA is a continuing thing. It's an evolutionary process. But we believe that this bombing has been... We certainly have attempted to carry out an airstrike campaign that was directed at certain military capabilities, not at the population as a whole.

Q: To your knowledge, no civilian casualties.

A: To our knowledge. But we're continuing to evaluate.

Q: You said earlier that you're going to try to show us evidence that the precision-guided attacks have been more precise even than DESERT STORM. With the exception of the Tomahawks, which actually have been upgraded, most of the weapons that are being used there are not necessarily more accurate. The only difference between this strike and DESERT STORM is that we view a much higher percentage of precision munitions. In fact, it's almost been exclusively PGMs rather than the 80/20 ratio that was used in DESERT STORM. Besides Tomahawks, what improvements are you citing on our PGMs?

A: I'm not prepared to answer that question now, but we will talk to this in considerable detail when we're ready.

Q: Have the Russians been invited to participate in the enforcement of an overall peace agreement? Or will they be invited or asked to participate in that?

A: The Russians, as you know, participate in the UN Forces in the former Yugoslavia now. I would assume that they will certainly be invited to participate in the future as well.

Q: Have they indicated a willingness to put a large percentage of peacekeeping forces -- a substantial number of troops -- into Bosnia?

A: Secretary Talbott is now in Moscow, and I think we just have to wait and see what happens on that. It's one of a series of conversations that's taking place in capitals around the world now, trying to reach a comprehensive peace agreement.

Q: Would the United States, which is not anxious to put a very large number of troops into Bosnia, welcome large participation by the Russians in a peacekeeping effort?

A: We welcome a peace agreement that will be broadly supported by all countries. That's our goal.

Q: Defense Appropriations meets next week. The conference meets next week. The House wants to ban the $31 million payment to Lockheed-Martin for their bonus package. Are you going to take a position on that before that conference? Are you going to take any position at all, if you support that...

A: We have not taken a position yet. As you and I have discussed in the past, the payment is not a penny more than we would have paid under existing contracts, and I don't know what or whether... What position we will take or whether we will take a position on this, but we have not as yet. I do not know.

Q: Your previous position stands then?

A: Right now we have not taken a position, and I don't know if we will take a position.

Q: Are you aware that there's a compromise in the works that would restore the proposed cut in military retirement pay? Are you still working that issue or is there something...

A: The President, Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Chiefs of every service have spoken out against a proposal that emerged in the House reconciliation process that would have changed military retirement pay. I'm very hopeful that there will be a compromise that will avoid that.

Q: Do you have any comment on Floyd Spence's complaint that the Pentagon has been "conspicuously unresponsive" in helping them solve that military retirement problem?

A: Well, we've been working on this for a long time. We've been discussing this with Congress for months. We have been working very hard on it. We've been calling it to the attention of people in Congress. I do not think that's a fair characterization.

The fact is that this change was made during the budget reconciliation process which is one of the murkier parts of the whole Congressional process, and one of the ones that's hardest to influence from the outside. Secondly, this was done quite quickly, and we were not... Although we have been following it very closely, it was somewhat of a surprise when it occurred -- when we learned about it. We have been talking to them for months before this, trying to head this off, and we have been talking to them quite vigorously since, looking for a way to avoid this. But the proposal adopted in the reconciliation process is just a flatly unfair proposal.

Press: Thank you.