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DoD News Briefing, Thursday, October 29, 1998 - 1:30 p.m.

Presenters: Captain Mike Doubleday, DASD (PA)
October 29, 1998 1:30 PM EDT

Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon.

I know some of you want to watch the launch here shortly, so I will try and be brief.

We've got a group of some foreign visitors with us today. We also have a group of people who are studying in our Joint Public Affairs Officer Course that come a couple of times a year. Some of you in the media will be able to meet with them during the course of their studies. We also have some War College students attending the Current Affairs Panel of the U.S. Army War College Class of 1999. We welcome all of you.

With that, I will try and answer some questions.

Q: It's not a direct question, just an open-ended one. Is there anything new to report, as far as you're concerned, on Kosovo?

A: The situation in Kosovo continues on a good trend. The compliance continues. The diplomatic observer mission that is there on the ground is not encountering any difficulties in seeing what they need to see.

I think you've seen reports that the initial people who are going to be forming the verification mission, this is the ground verification mission that will ultimately take over the responsibilities that in the past have been carried out by this diplomatic observer mission, that initial group of people have reported.

Next week I would anticipate that some additional augmentees for the diplomatic observer mission would report. So there is movement certainly for the OSCE part and the verification part on the ground.

In the air, I think in the next several days you'll see from NATO the activation order which will formalize the air verification mission. In the interim, that mission is for the most part being carried out by U.S. platforms, both U-2s and our unmanned aerial vehicles.

The biggest factor that I think is pleasing to everybody is that the number of internally displaced persons who have been up in the hills is dramatically decreasing. UNHCR and some of the observer missions are reporting that the total number of internally displaced persons may now have dropped to as low as 10,000. That number at its height had been between 50,000 and 70,000 people, and of course it was those individuals who could have been exposed to severe temperatures as the winter came on, that the international community was most worried about.

So that gives you kind of an overview of where we stand.

Q: One follow-up question on the diplomatic mission. Do you know how many Americans may be involved in this next week increase?

A: I don't. I think that the number is more than 50, and the State Department actually has contracted for those people. I'd refer you over to State to get detail on that.

Q: What's your assessment now of some of these reports we've seen of the KLA being somewhat emboldened and going back and...

A: I know that Ambassador Chris Hill is spending a lot of time working with the KLA to ensure that they realize that they must live up to this agreement also. And ultimately, of course, this comes down to a resolution that's going to have to be done on the political front and that can only occur if both sides get together and start talking.

Q: Has it gotten to the point then that you're concerned their activities may lead to the Serbs coming back out of garrison?

A: I don't think it's gotten to that point, but certainly everyone on the ground there is realistic enough to have an understanding that there is great potential for conflict and that's the reason we have these observers on the ground. Their numbers will be increasing in the coming days.

Q: One last quick question. Anything new on the reaction force?

A: The term I think that we would prefer to use and that NATO would refer to use is an extraction force. These are the individuals who are -- this is a NATO organization that is going to be assembled, the purpose of which will be to rapidly extract individuals in the ground verification mission who for some reason get into a bad situation and need to be taken out.

NATO is still looking at that. I think we're some ways away from that one coming into being implemented.

In the mean time, I just want to point out a couple of things. Number one, the reason that the ground verification mission not only is proceeding but in fact is going to grow is because Milosevic signed up to the fact that one, they could be there; and secondly, he assured their safety.

So these individuals will be unarmed. For the most part, they can get around the country without any problem. We've seen that in the last several days. In fact the Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission has been on the scene there for some months and has not encountered any kind of security situations that would have called into play an operation such as this extraction force might have to perform.

So I think we, one, we have in place an agreement that assures their safety and security. We do have backup plans. We have backup plans that are currently in place and we have backup plans that are being worked out by NATO.

Q: It doesn't seem like there's a lot of urgency to it.

A: No, I think there is some movement there, but NATO is putting it together. It is being worked presently at SHAPE in the concept phase. Once that occurs and it's been accepted by the political leadership then you'll see the normal NATO chain of events that occur which is an activation warning, and ultimately an activation order for that organization

Q: Can I follow up first on that subject, and then let's go back to the KLA.

Mr. Holbrooke yesterday said that there would be no United States ground forces in that, the force that would be stationed in -- this is correct. Except he said there might be a few specialists there, but by and large there will not be U.S. troops or U.S. expense. Is that correct?

A: That's correct. What we have said all along is that we have no interest in having ground combat forces involved in this operation. We continue to believe that. But we don't rule out the possibility that there will be some support personnel primarily in headquarters and liaison functions.

Q: Understood.

Then back to the protection of the implements, or the verifying force. The protection of the verifying force, the protection of all of those citizens of Kosovo will then be in the hands, and the protection of the KLA for that matter, in the hands of the I believe it's 11,000 Bosnia police that remain in the country. Is that correct?

A: First of all, I want to emphasize once again that the whole idea behind this verification mission is that it's going to be done under what we call a permissive environment. Permissive in that Milosevic has signed up to the safety and security of those individuals who are involved in it. The 2,000 people who are going to be assigned, at least 2,000 people assigned to this ground verification mission.

There will be and are in place, as you point out, both military personnel and what we call these special police force personnel in Kosovo, and they will continue to be there.

One of the things that this whole agreement worked out was that the specialist police would go back to performing the normal duties that they had in the past and get out of what they had been doing which was terrorizing the population. And I might add that the bulk of those portions of the specialist police who were contributing most of the violence have left the country.

Q: Mike, if there are KLA bands that are rogue, still rogue, still using their tactics against the Serbian police, it's up to Serbian police to neutralize those people?

A: I don't want to get into that type of a hypothetical and appear to be giving green lights to anything.

The thing I want to emphasize here is there is going to be a requirement on both sides to observe the cease-fire. There is going to be a requirement on both sides to reach some kind of political settlement in this thing if there is any hope for a lasting peace.

Q: You said there's a requirement for both sides to observe the cease-fire. The Serbs know what the penalty will be if they egregiously violate that cease-fire. Has anything been done to bring a message home to the KLA? And what would they face?

A: Again, I think we made it pretty clear in the briefings that we've given here and other briefings that they're two entirely different situations, and that the military which has been mostly responsible for the violence in Kosovo was Serb in nature.

But Ambassador Chris Hill has been devoting an enormous amount of time not only with the Serbs but also with the KLA to bring home exactly that point, that there needs to be restraint on both sides, there needs to be compliance on both sides, and there needs to be a movement toward reaching the kind of political settlement that will be in the best interests of both sides.

Q: Over the last couple of days there have been reports that the Secretary and the Chiefs are going to go for a retirement benefit increase next year; also a pay increase. Can you give us any indication of what the thinking is, any round numbers? Or whatever is going on in that.

A: This is a very complicated issue, pay and... First of all, let me just... Have we finished with Kosovo? Okay.

The issue of pay and retirement is certainly one which is very much on the mind of not only Secretary Cohen and General Shelton, but also each one of the Service Chiefs and the Service Secretaries as they have been visiting with their units and forces over the past months and even the past year. They have received a very clear message that pay, which is now perceived at not being comparable with civilian levels; the military retirement which was changed in 1980 and again in 1986, was becoming a contributing factor to retention. In other words, that some number of individuals who were leaving the service were doing so because of this incomparable pay and also because of the changes that had been made in the past on retirement.

What the Secretary has said, and he actually taped along with General Shelton last week a message to uniformed personnel in all branches of the service. He has made it very clear that making changes to correct the, what we call the redux, retirement plan, and addressing the issue of pay, are very high on his list of priorities for the upcoming budget cycle. That will be the budget for 2000 and the years following.

Now there have not been at this point any firm decisions as to exactly what the details of those changes will be. But the thing that I want to stress is that this is not something that can be done kind of piecemeal. It is going to have to be something that would be addressed across the board. Because based on the feedback that the Service Chiefs have gotten, that the Service Secretaries, and certainly Secretary Cohen and General Shelton have gotten in their visits with troops, retirement, pay, adequate housing, hospitalization, the whole medical thing. Those quality of life issues, along with optempo, perstempo and being, continuing to be well equipped forces, all of these are issues that are important to the troops, and all of these are factors that come to play in their decisions about whether they're going to make the military a career.

Q: Was there a meeting on this this week?

A: It wasn't this week. It was last week. The Secretary met with General Shelton, with the Service Chiefs, and with the Service Secretaries. The purpose of that meeting was so that he could make clear to them that these issues would be addressed in the upcoming budget cycle.

Q: This tape you talked about, who is it being shown to?

A: It is being disseminated by the American Forces Information Service, by AFRTS. And in fact if you are interested in seeing the tape, we will make copies of it and make sure that you can see what was done. It contains, as I recall, what is called a two minute report which is the two minutes that fill commercial advertising on AFRTS and it also contains a four minute report which is an expanded version of that. Both of those are essentially a Q&A session that AFRTS had with the Secretary and the Chairman late last week.

Q: So it's Armed Forces Radio is what you're talking about.

A: Armed Forces Radio and Television. What we have here is the television version. The audio version plays on the radio side.

We also, I believe, have a transcript so those of you who are in print and wanted to see the full transcript, we can provide that to you also.

Q: Let me try one more, and then I'll quit. What about base closings? Has the Secretary given up on base closings? Is that why a positive move in the budget is necessary?

A: I have not seen any indication that the Secretary has given up on base closings.

Q: Is the Department providing or has it been asked to provide any kind of humanitarian relief to the countries in Central America that are being hit by...

A: We are kind of in a standby mode there. My expectation is that we may be asked to provide some aerial surveillance capability, and we're certainly prepared to do that. And there may be a requirement in some locations for water assistance. But because that part of the world has, is frequently exposed to storms of this magnitude, I think there is already in place a pretty good program to provide rapid assistance. But we're ready if called upon to provide assistance.

Q: Let me go to the subject of Iraq. Mike, I understand there's been, in the last week there's been confirmation of VX in warheads that confirms U.S. tests. And at the present time I understand there are no inspections going on. In fact I don't even know if there are any observers on the ground.

Isn't it dangerous, does the U.S. military see it as hazardous that Saddam could go forward with his weapons of mass destruction development in the interim? And isn't it incumbent that this program be reimplemented?

A: We believe that that mission, the UNSCOM mission is a very important one, and that those individuals whose purpose is to monitor the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq get back in there so that they can do their important work.

The UN is addressing this, and we expect the UN to pursue that.

Q: Is there any indication that Mr. Saddam Hussein is currently taking advantage, making movements, making weapons, disbursing weapons or anything at this time?

A: I can't give you a definitive answer other than to say that Saddam Hussein has always been one who has taken advantage of every opportunity.

Q: According to a GAO report the military services are losing about one in three enlistees during their first term -- some because of behavioral problems, others because they seem to have an inability to meet certain performance standards. What is the military doing to A, work with problem recruits? And secondly, what is it doing to improve the pre-enlistment screening process? Especially in an economic situation where gaining recruits is becoming more difficult. A: Well, I think for a full understanding of this I would refer you to Colonel Begines in DDI, but let me just say that while it is true that there are a large number of individuals in their first enlistment who are discharged, that is because we have very high standards now. We expect people to perform at a very high level not only through the basic training, but through their first enlistment and throughout every subsequent enlistment.

The military have a variety of programs and each service varies in this regard, to address the individuals who don't measure up. In many cases there are opportunities to retest, to try and meet the standards during the course of initial training. But there are always some number who don't meet the grade and because our standards are so high and because we believe that maintaining those standards is in the best interests of not only the military but the country, I believe you will see us continue to maintain those very high standards.

Q: Is it then a problem with the selection of potential enlistees? According to the GAO it's costing the services about $300 million a year.

A: First of all, I'm not sure that we totally agree with the cost figures. The total number of individuals who are discharged is certainly accurate in that. But keep in mind the figures that were cited by the GAO included the pay for the individuals as they went through their first enlistment. Certainly those who were discharged before the end of the enlistment, their pay was included in that. As I say, in some cases these individuals contributed during the two, three, or three plus years that they spent in the military, despite the fact that they got out before the end of their enlistment.

But nevertheless, it is true that there is some money expended on individuals who have not been properly screened, and the services have pledged to work very diligently to ensure that their screening processes are adequate to accomplish the job.

I think there also needs to be an understanding that the recruiting environment, particularly now, is such that the recruiters work extremely hard. They have a very difficult task, and they have a lot of pressure on them. They do a lot of testing. The military does a lot of testing before individuals are permitted to enlist. But there always will be some number of individuals how kind of slip by and get into the military, and some number of those who have not been adequately tested will ultimately fall by the wayside.

Q: The number of recruits washing out, has it gone up or down dramatically?

A: I don't believe that there's been a dramatic change in the number of recruits washing out, but we have had for, well since the all volunteer force we've had very high standards, and certainly in the years since Desert Storm and Desert Shield we've maintained very high standards, and we believe that's paid real dividends for the U.S. military. You see that forces have been very quick to respond all over the world to a whole variety of situations that have arisen.

Q: Is it necessarily wise to keep the standards too high? I mean Mike Boorda, for example, said he wouldn't have survived his first enlistment in the current...

A: Well, I think that you'll always find some people who want to debate how high the standards should be. I think in general, though, we believe in the military that the very high standards we have had over the past decade have paid enormous dividends. And as I say, the dividends have not only been to the military but to the country at large.

Q: Will you take just one more?

A: Why don't I stay behind, because I know there are people who want to get to a television set to watch this.

Thanks.

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