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Department of Defense News Briefing, Thursday October 15, 1998

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
October 15, 1998 2:05 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

It's great to be back. We had a very good trip to the Gulf, visited some U.S. troops and talked to our friends and allies over there.

Let me just make a few announcements, then I'm going to take a survey from you before I get into the questions.

First, tomorrow evening in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Secretary Cohen will address the 1998 Fortune 500 Forum and he'll talk about defense reform. It will be carried on C-Span, I understand, but we also anticipate having prepared for release copies of the text sometime tomorrow afternoon.

Second, after my briefing today there will be a news conference by the Navy on their successful test of a new vaccine for humans. I believe it's a malaria vaccine.

Third, I'd like to welcome 12 German journalists who are here courtesy of the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation. Welcome to the Pentagon.

Here's the survey. What do you want to talk about today? What are the topics? Charlie?

Q: Kosovo.

A: What else? All right, we'll limit it to Kosovo. (Laughter) A one topic briefing on Kosovo.

Q: Ken, when will the observation planes begin their flights over Kosovo? U-2s and other planes. And will that include Russians and other planes? The Russians have offered to take part in that.

A: Right now the Secretary General of NATO, Mr. Solana, and the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Clark, are on their way to Belgrade or in Belgrade. They may be there now signing the verification agreement for the air part of the verification mission. We anticipate that, as I say, that will be signed this afternoon. It's conceivable that the first mission could start as early as tomorrow. If not tomorrow, it will be very shortly thereafter.

The air verification mission will include participants from a number of countries, probably including Russia, although I'm not sure that the full details have been worked out yet. It will certainly include some U.S. planes and some planes from a number of the allies.

Q: What other allies?

A: I think there could be some French Mirages, there could be some German Tornadoes, there could be some British Canberras and DeHavillands, and there could be some Dutch P-3s working with some American U-2s, some unmanned aerial vehicles -- the Predator which we already have working in Bosnia. Those missions could be extended to cover Kosovo as well.

Q: What kinds of Russian planes...

A: I don't know yet what kind of Russian planes might be involved. As I say, after this agreement is signed today the next step will be to work out the composition and the operating procedures for the air verification mission over Kosovo.

Q: There seems to be a difference of opinion on how much in compliance or out of compliance the Serbs are. Can you give us your assessment of whether you feel they have really begun to comply, or are they slower than you had expected?

A: First of all, they have begun to comply, but they are far from full compliance. What we're asking is for an immediate move to full compliance. General Clark and Secretary General Solana will discuss this issue specifically with President Milosevic today, at least they expect that they will. I spoke to General Clark earlier today and he expects to bring this up with President Milosevic. They intend to work towards specific benchmarks or guidelines that will help NATO evaluate the degree of compliance over the next several days.

I think what the Serbs need to show is a significant move toward full compliance and they have to do that quickly.

Now let me bring you up to date on where we are on the compliance front. I'll break it down into several categories. The first category is withdrawals; and the next category is the return of internally displaced people, refugees to their homes; and the third category is the provision of humanitarian aid.

In terms of withdrawals, there has not been enough progress on withdrawals, particularly by the VJ, that is the Serbian army forces from Kosovo. There has been somewhat more encouraging withdrawal by the special internal police, the so-called MUP, but still, that has not been enough either.

What we're asking for is more significant withdrawals. What we're demanding, and this is a demand by the UN under UN Security Council Resolution 1199, is significant withdrawals and we have not seen significant withdrawals yet. There have been withdrawals and that's encouraging, but we need more.

In terms of the movement of internally displaced people, there are reports, and these are pretty much anecdotal reports right now, that there's been a fairly significant return of internally displaced people to their villages. The villages, particularly in Central Kosovo are, in the terms of one on the scene report, are coming back to life. We attribute that primarily to the withdrawal of the special police forces, the MUP. As the MUP and the police forces withdraw, people feel more secure about moving back into their villages, and that's in fact what's happening.

In terms of the provision of humanitarian aid, there are currently, we believe, seven non-governmental organizations on the ground in Kosovo or about to go into Kosovo from Macedonia doing their work. There have been five aid convoys in the last two days I understand, bringing in a variety of supplies -- food, shelter, medical supplies, etc. So there has been an encouraging uptick in the provision of humanitarian aid. The aid workers are reporting that they are moving without hindrance. They are not encountering roadblocks or opposition of any sort from the Serb police or military in Kosovo. So that's encouraging.

Q: The various people from news agencies who have been driving around in Kosovo say that many of the villages are not coming back to life, that there are checkpoints everywhere. What does the agreement require? For them to remove all checkpoints? Some checkpoints? Who is allowed to be in checkpoints? It appears to be very ambiguous.

A: There are a number of agreements. The first agreement that's going to be signed today is the air verification agreement. That will allow monitoring flights to take place soon, perhaps as early as tomorrow. That's a very significant agreement because it essentially gives unarmed NATO combatant planes free reign over Serbian airspace, over Kosovo, and it essentially requires Serbia to give up control of its airspace, so that's a very significant agreement.

The second verification agreement will probably be signed tomorrow, and that is the agreement that will set up the on the ground monitoring that's called the Kosovo Verification Mission or KVM. That agreement will be signed by the current head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Brantislav Geremek who's the Foreign Minister of Poland. He will go to Belgrade tomorrow to sign that agreement. He was in Brussels this morning. I believe he went from Brussels to Vienna for a meeting of the OSCE, permanent council, and then will go to Belgrade tomorrow to sign that.

That's the agreement that deals with the rules of the road for the Kosovo Verification Mission. That does, in fact, call for the elimination of roadblocks, as I understand it. As I said, that agreement has not yet been signed but we expect it to be signed relatively soon.

Q: So that will be, the clearing of the highways of checkpoints will be something that is mandated in this agreement.

A: It says here that this mission may request the removal of any roadblock, that they will look for and report roadblocks and other barriers, and they can request the removal of that roadblock.

Q: If the roadblock is not hassling people but just checking then it's okay?

A: Well there's a provision for some police force to remain in Kosovo.

Q: The villagers complain that these checkpoints scare them, intimidate them, there's gunfire every night around these both from the ethnic Albanians at these posts and then back out again. That as long as the guard posts are there, they're not going back.

A: We anticipate a reduction of that type of activity because one of the requirements under the UN Security Council 1199 is that there be freedom of movement within Kosovo so people can return to their homes and their villages, and that's what we anticipate will happen.

Q: Can you be more specific about what Serbian forces are allowed to remain within the Kosovo borders and how they may act to protect, keep law and order at interim?

A: These are the types of details that General Clark will be working out with the Serbian authorities. He may not complete all the work today, but it's something that will be done over the next few days.

Q: Can you explain what the threshold is then for at least this Administration to judge compliance? Berger said the other day he wanted there to be serious steps, but even by some measures of NATO we're not seeing much of those.

A: One problem we have right now is that the Verification Mission is not on the ground yet. One. Two, we have had something called the KDOM, the Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission. That was operating within Kosovo until it was pulled out because of worries, because of the possibility of airstrikes. Those missions are going back in. I believe five teams went in today. We will have fuller reporting from them tomorrow than we have today because they're just getting back in and getting established.

The plan is that the KDOM will sort of grow over the next couple of days and through the weekend into KDOM-2. Like cell division, it will expand. It will more than double in size, and therefore, we will have more eyes and ears on the ground telling us what's going on.

We will have a clearer idea then of what's happening than what we have now.

But to answer your question, we need to see a fairly significant withdrawal of both police forces and military forces. This withdrawal has to occur in several different ways.

First, some of the forces that moved into Kosovo... The forces that moved into Kosovo earlier this year at the end of February, early March, have to come out. In other words, there was an augmentation of both the police forces and the VJ forces. Those numbers have to be drawn down.

Second, a number of the forces that are still there will have to return to their garrisons within Kosovo. In other words if you look at the police forces, the MUP, about half of the forces came into Kosovo from outside of Kosovo, and the other half were already there. We need to see a withdrawal of those that came in, and we need to see many of those that are there returned to their garrisons.

There are local police forces that can take over many of the police functions, that is maintaining law and order, preventing petty thievery, stuff like that. It doesn't have to be done by the interior police, it can be done by local police forces.

Third, is that in the past the VJ was primarily a border security force. Starting in March the VJ was gradually drawn in to work with the police as more of a civilian repression force. The VJ needs to return to its previous position of a border patrol force, not a civilian repression force as it has been for the last couple of months.

Those are the types of things that have to happen. The details of those will be worked out by General Clark and the staff with the Serbian authorities over the next couple of days.

Q: What's the timing? The 96 hour deadline expires tomorrow night. Are you talking about an extension to see this...

A: Well, NATO will have to look at what progress has been made over the 96 hour period. As you correctly point out, there are only about 24 hours left in that period. NATO will have to weigh all the progress that's been made, including progress made over the next 24 hours, and decide what to do. That decision hasn't been made yet.

Q: Is that essentially a judgment call or are there specific benchmarks that have to be reached?

A: As I said, General Clark is going to discuss the issue of benchmarks today and he'll report to NATO tomorrow. This is still very much in play so I can't talk about what the benchmarks might be or what he'll be able to say tomorrow in terms of measuring progress against the type of benchmarks he's laid down with President Milosevic.

Q: What you know already about some of the movement of the police forces and the regular army troops, is that largely based on national technical means or is that a combination of that and also folks that are there in Kosovo on the ground? I guess my question is the overflights haven't started. How do you know so much?

A: It's based on a variety of sources of information.

Q: One of the things you haven't mentioned that's part of the air verification campaign is this dismantling of air defenses.

A: Right.

Q: What kind of progress have you seen in that area?

A: Much of what is going to be required has to do with an agreement to shut off or not to operate certain types of radar when U.S. and other allied flights are being made over Kosovo. The details of that are pretty clear in the air verification agreement, so I think that's, I don't think there's much left to chance there.

Q: What about the deployment of SA-6 mobile missile batteries that occurred over the last couple of weeks? Is there any evidence that those missile units have been moved back in or moved in any sort of non-threatening or non-hostile way?

A: My understanding is, and I'm not a total expert on the air verification mission, but basically what's going to happen is that they'll set up a zone called a mutual safety zone that will include Kosovo and a corridor around Kosovo of about 25 kilometers beyond the contiguous boundaries of Kosovo. In that zone, when verification flights, when manned verification flights are being made, certain things will have to happen.

The first is that surface to air missiles and air defense weapons which include acquisition, target tracking, and other fire control radars, radar controlled guns and manned portable air defense systems, will either be removed from Kosovo and the mutual safety zone which, as I said, extends a little beyond the boundaries of Kosovo, or placed in cantonment sites and not operated. These sites, the cantonment areas, will be subject to inspection. The cantonment sites will be declared and open to inspection, as I said.

SA-6 missiles and launchers can remain at their currently deployed sites but they have to be separated from their acquisition and target tracking and fire control system radars. So in other words, although the missiles could stay there, they're basically inoperable because their eyes and brains will be disabled.

Q: Does that mean it's only the radars that have to go into cantonment?

A: They have to either be removed or placed into cantonments, yes.

Q: When you say that, is that at the discretion of the Serbs to decide...

A: All of this is open to inspection.

Q: But they get to decide whether... You indicated that they're either removed, turned off, or placed in cantonments. Who makes that decision?

A: I think the Serbs can make that decision but this is open to inspection so if we found that this was threatening, we could presumably demand that changes be made.

Q: The other thing I wanted to go back and ask you, a little bit more on the MUP. Do you have any current numbers on how many MUPs are still deployed in Kosovo, how many are out, how many are in garrison?

A: Our numbers are pretty squishy, and I think it's probably not safe to get into the numbers right now because we need better numbers than we have. That's one of the things we'll be discussing with the Serbs.

Q: Given that, is it accepted under the agreement that there is a continuing role for any deployed MUP in Kosovo? And what would that role of a deployed MUP be?

A: I can't answer that question, but some MUP will be allowed to stay, and what we're talking about is the special interior police. Some will be allowed to remain within Kosovo.

Q: [Deployed].

A: They'll be allowed to remain in Kosovo. I'm not certain about what they can do when they're there. I believe that's one of the issues that will be resolved with the Polish Foreign Minister, the current head of the OSCE, goes tomorrow to meet with the Serbs.

Q: Do you see the deployment of any other military or police forces in Kosovo of any sort besides VJ and MUP? Are there any other types of forces...

A: As I said, there are local police forces. Indeed, one of the very significant aspects of the agreement reached between Mr. Holbrooke and his team on the one hand and Mr. Milosevic and his team on the other hand is the political settlement aspect that allows movement, basically requires self government or autonomy for Kosovo. There will be provisions in that, in fact the terms of that in general have already been released by the Serbs yesterday, and you can get copies of the whole agreement as announced on Serb radio and in the Serb press.

But the terms of that do allow for local police to function, and it sets up a schedule for elections and talks about how local institutions -- courts, police, etc. -- will function as part of an autonomous area.

Q: I'm still looking for an answer to my earlier question which is you outlined what needs to be done in terms of standing down the air defenses, but is there any evidence that any of that has taken place, that there's been any stand-down in Mr. Milosevic's air defenses in Kosovo? Because as you said, flights could start as soon as tomorrow.

A: I am not aware that there have been significant changes in the air defenses, and I think that's obviously one of the things that would have to happen before flights do begin.

Q: Have they been warned that if they in any way paint or target aircraft they could be immediately attacked? Radars?

A: Charlie, even as we talk here General Clark and Secretary General Solana are in Belgrade talking about these very issues with President Milosevic and his team, and I'm sure that these are among the messages they're delivering. There's a very clear agreement that covers the air monitoring or air verification campaign...

Q: In the agreement.

A: What is in the agreement are requirements that they basically disconnect their air defense system in the mutual security zone that will be created. And I think the point of the agreement is extremely clear, that there is to be no threat posed by Serbia or the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to the unarmed NATO surveillance aircraft that are flying over Kosovo.

Q: I guess what I was asking was, is it simply implied that they would be attacked? Or is it stated flat out that if this happens they will be attacked in the agreement?

A: It is very clear, it should be very clear from everything that's been said so far, from everything that will be said today in Belgrade by General Clark, and from what I'm going to say here, that if there is any violation of this agreement such as you've just mentioned -- painting, etc. -- that NATO reserves the right to take defensive action. It will be fully able to do that.

Q: Does the activation order provide for that contingency? And also is that activation order...

A: The activation order deals with an entirely different set of circumstances. What we're talking about is a post agreement, a set of conditions which are in the process of being negotiated right now.

Q: Would a separate activation order be required to use NATO aircraft to protect reconnaissance planes flying over Kosovo?

A: The reconnaissance planes flying over Kosovo will be unarmed, but NATO will retain the ability and the right to provide protective reaction if necessary.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the quick reaction force, the rapid reaction force that's been discussed?

A: I can't say too much about that except to say there will be a quick reaction force.

Q: Is that part of one that currently exists within NATO? Or will that be separate?

A: All those are very good questions. I've discussed those with General Clark, and I really don't have answers. He's going to be working on this over the next couple of days.

There is, as you know, a rapid reaction corps within NATO and that could well be the father for this organization, but it could be set up separately. That's one of the things that will be decided over the next couple of days.

Q: One of the countries that was mentioned was possibly Macedonia. However, it appears that there's quite a few number of troops there now. Is that a place that could actually accommodate a fairly sizeable...

A: All these are good questions and they're yet to be answered. We don't have answers to give you. We could speculate about a lot of things but I don't think it's too profitable right now because the decisions haven't been made.

Q: Do you have an answer as to whether or not U.S. troops would participate in the quick reaction force?

A: I think there likely will be U.S. participation in the quick reaction force. But that has not been worked out yet. The composition of that force hasn't been worked out yet, but there could be U.S. participation.

Q: Just recently Secretary Cohen said no, at least no troops going into Kosovo, and now the plan, at least what's being talked about, is some kind of a force that might include military personnel as civilians serving there.

Is the Secretary on board with the use of U.S., official U.S. personnel in Kosovo?

A: We were talking about a quick reaction force which will not be based in Kosovo. A quick reaction force has many types of people in it. It could have pilots, it could have soldiers, it could have communicators, it could have administrators, it could have leaders and followers, and there's plenty of opportunity for people to participate in that force. They could be based, even when the force deploys, some people presumably won't all deploy. Some will stay back at the home base. So there's a lot of possibilities. As I said, General Clark has not yet decided what that force will be, where it will be based, how it will operate, and who will be in it. But there is a possibility that when the force is put together there will be some form of U.S. participation. I'm not saying what that form will be -- it's premature to say.

Q: So in other words you could in theory have U.S. participation without having U.S. ground troops in a situation where they'd be deployed to Kosovo.

A: That could be the case. But as I say, the parameters of this force have not yet been designed. I just don't at this time want to rule out some form of U.S. participation in a quick reaction force.

I'd also like to point out that if these agreements work as planned, there should be no need for the quick reaction force ever to deploy. We have a quick reaction force ready to deploy into Bosnia at a moment's notice and it hasn't deployed. So we would hope that model would apply to Kosovo as well. In fact we expect it.

Q: Back to the surveillance mission. Have all U.S. aircraft that might participate in that, are they in theater at present?

A: Yes.

Q: Were they moved from any other theater or were there enough there sufficient to take care...

A: We have been providing fairly intense reconnaissance and monitoring over Bosnia and we think we have enough assets to include Kosovo as well.

Q: The regulation about combat aircraft not being allowed, not being used, is there any concern that the Tornadoes and Mirages, even though a reconnaissance version might be mistaken for combat aircraft? Unlike a U-2 which would be obviously a reconnaissance aircraft.

A: I don't think that's a major concern at this stage.

Q: One other question, the imagery that would be gathered from NATO planes but also from the Russian planes, where does that go? Who analyzes it? Is that distributed among all the allies?

A: That's among the issues that will be worked out as the force is set up.

Q: There's been a lot of emphasis in this building in the last few years on force protection. It sounds like what you're outlining here is a mechanism for retaliation if forces are threatened or attacked, but I'm not hearing much about protection of forces on the ground while this operation is going on. Is that correct?

A: The Kosovo Verification Mission, the KVM, as you know, is being run by the OSCE. It's not a NATO mission. The people on the ground will be unarmed. They will operate as the Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission operates now, that is unarmed. Those people have been operating without threat during a period of conflict within Kosovo and they have basically been able to carry out their job. We anticipate that this larger group will be able to carry out its job.

We do have an agreement with Mr. Milosevic that imposes obligations on him, and we expect those obligations to be fully met. If they're not met, NATO then reserves the right to take other action. But we expect the terms of those agreements will be fully met.

Q: Will the people in this building who are concerned with force protection, are they comfortable with this arrangement?

A: I believe the people in this building, as people throughout the government and I hope throughout the country, are very pleased with this agreement because it essentially has provided a very meaningful, diplomatic solution to a ticklish problem that was hurtling toward the use of force. We believe that by avoiding the use of force we have reached an agreement that benefits all sides.

Q: Some of the reporting from the Kosovar Albanians, about the Kosovar Albanians, said they're very skeptical that NATO will actually hold together. What reassurance can you offer them that the NATO consensus to take military action will hold together if Mr. Milosevic, who is a very skilled politician, offers half a loaf, for example, and doesn't fully comply?

A: I think Mr. Milosevic looked at what his options were and he basically had a choice between being overflown by U-2s or being attacked by B-2s. He decided, all in all, he would rather be overflown by U-2s than attacked by B-2s. That choice will remain. If he does not comply with this, NATO will have to decide what to do next, and NATO has a significant force that it can bring to bear if necessary.

We don't anticipate that it will be necessary. We believe that in signing this agreement Mr. Milosevic made a decision that he did not want to risk military attack, that he wanted to deal diplomatically with his problems. Already there have been a series of very significant developments. Perhaps the most significant development from the standpoint of your question is that the Serbs have already announced a political reconstruction plan for Kosovo that grants autonomy to, limited autonomy to Kosovo. This is a huge change. This reverses ten years of past performance by Milosevic, indeed President Milosevic rose to power on extreme nationalism aimed at the Kosovar Albanians. Part of his rise to power was to seize limited autonomy away from Kosovo and to enforce Serb rule over Kosovo. Now he's agreed to reverse that. This is an incredibly significant change and we have no reason to believe that he will not, looking at the alternatives which are dire for him, that he will not honor these agreements.

Q: What I was trying to get at is no one ever doubted that NATO had the capacity to wreak havoc in Kosovo and elsewhere in Yugoslavia. The question is will the consensus between the NATO nations, will it hold together under the stress of a partial compliance?

A: This Kosovo Verification Mission will be comprised primarily of Europeans. Should the missions be either attacked or blocked from doing their work, it will be not only an affront to the OSCE, not only an affront to NATO, but an affront to the nations that supply the verifiers that are part of this force. I believe that NATO and all European countries have learned from the experience of UNPROFOR in Bosnia that if you don't answer attacks you get attacked more and more often. I do not believe that... And I also believe that Mr. Milosevic learned a lesson of what happens if you attack these forces.

So I believe that he has very powerful incentives to maintain the, to live by the terms of these agreements, and I expect him to do that.

Q: On compliance, is there any thought being given to extending the 96 hours because of...

A: That is one of the issues that NATO will have to face tomorrow. It will have to decide whether there has been a significant enough movement toward full compliance to warrant extending the 96 hour period, or to ending it or, they'll have to decide what to do. What they'll do is look at a variety of measurements that, as I said earlier, are being explained to Mr. Milosevic right now.

Q: On the issue of Russian aircraft possibly participating, if that happened would they technically be under the command of NATO? Also I don't know if you know this, maybe you can take it, would this be the first time that Russian aircraft have operated with U.S. aircraft in a real world operation? I know they've been on the ground in Bosnia, but...

A: That's a good question. I will take that question and try to get it answered. But your first question was...

Q: Would NATO aircraft follow the chain of command of a NATO officer? Russian, rather.

A: It's a NATO air operation, and if they chose to participate in it I believe they would be within the NATO chain of command. My understanding is the general actually running the air operation is going to be an American, he will be part of the NATO operation.

Q: Can you just clarify for me, did Secretary Cohen in his remarks to troops in Saudi Arabia confirm that the U.S. was in fact targeting Osama bin Laden in this attack on the camps in Afghanistan...

A: No, he did not confirm that.

Q: Didn't he say that the intention was to hit bin Laden?

A: He did not say that. I'd be glad to make available to you a copy of what he actually said if you haven't read it yet. It's in DDI and you can get it.

Q: Did he express any disappointment that more suspected terrorists weren't killed in the attack?

A: You can read what he actually said, but let me explain to you as he has explained many times to the press and to Congress, what the goal of this attack was. The goal... The purpose of striking a terrorist organization operating within Afghanistan was one, to show them that they were not beyond our reach and that we would not take terrorist attacks against Americans sitting down. That we will strike back against terrorists.

The second was to destroy or degrade their infrastructure, to make it more difficult for them to do business. We believe that both those goals were accomplished.

Q: Can you confirm that this attack was carried out with cruise missiles now that Secretary Cohen has indicated as much in testimony?

A: I think I'll just let Secretary Cohen speak about the attack and anybody who wants to read his words on it can do that.

Q: You still won't confirm for the record that this was an attack using cruise missiles?

A: I'd just say that we were able to strike at targets in Afghanistan over a long distance.

Q: Is this quotation accurate for Secretary Cohen, "When we saw that Osama bin Laden carried out the bombing attack in Africa we sent a very strong message by going after his colleagues and himself, hopefully, in Afghanistan." Was that what the Secretary said?

A: That's exactly what he said.

Q: So there's no implication there that the brass leadership of this country hoped to kill bin Laden?

A: I think the implication is that we were going after the terrorist infrastructure. If people happened to be at those camps at the time we struck they would have been fair targets for having been there at the time.

Q: Have you any reaction to reports in the London Times that bin Laden has obtained tactical nuclear weapons from former Soviet republics?

A: That certainly would be a grave and dangerous threat to the entire civilized world if it's true, but I don't have any evidence that it's true.

Q: And finally, the Talaban has said they'll take bin Laden to trial. Is this desirable?

A: That would be certainly desirable, but more desirable would be sending, would be extraditing Osama bin Laden to a country where he has murdered citizens. There are many of those countries around the world today.

Press: Thank you.

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