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DoD News Briefing, Thursday, November 5, 1998

Presenters: Capt. Mike Doubleday, USN, DASD (PA)
November 05, 1998 1:30 PM EDT

Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon.

I have several announcements, and then I'll try and answer some questions.

Remains believed to be those of nine American servicemen will be repatriated from North Korea across the demilitarized zone on Friday morning, Korea time. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/MIA Personnel Affairs Robert L. Jones will be present to witness the turnover. The remains were recovered by a joint U.S./North Korean team operating along the Chong Chon River 100 miles north of Pyongyang for the past 24 days. This is the fifth joint operation in North Korea during 1998, and the ninth overall since these recovery operations began in 1996.

If you have any questions, Alan Liotta the deputy at POW/MIA personnel office would be happy to respond, and you can reach him through Larry Greer at (703) 602-1245.

The Department also is going to recognize the military service contributions of native Americans and Alaskan natives at a Pentagon ceremony on November 10th. The ceremony in honor of National American Indian Heritage Month and also Veterans Day, begins at 2 p.m. in the Pentagon Auditorium which is Room 5A1070. The featured speakers will include Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre and Dr. Roger "Red Hawk" Bucholz, a decorated Vietnam veteran and a member of the Santee Tribe of the Dakota Nation.

The event will feature song and dance presentations, a special presentation by Navajo Code Talkers, and a historic uniform presentation. It's worth noting that there are nearly 190,000 native American military veterans, and historically, native Americans have the highest record of service per capital when compared to other ethnic groups.

There are more details in a press advisory which we released earlier today.

About 1,000 U.S. sailors and Marines from USS AUSTIN and elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit will participate along with Romanian forces in Exercise RESCUE EAGLE '98 from the 5th through the 11th of November. This is a Romanian hosted exercise in the spirit of Partnership for Peace. It's a maritime amphibious humanitarian relief exercise and it takes place in the Black Sea near Constanta, the mountain warfare training area near Predal, and the Babadag field training area. The exercise provides U.S. and Romanian forces with the opportunity to practice a series of cross-training and field-training events including a non-combat evacuation order.

Finally, I just want to point out that immediately following my briefing this afternoon, retired Gen. Dale Vesser who is the Deputy Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, will present the next in a series of public releases and investigations that have been conducted on potential causes of Gulf War Illnesses. Gen. Vesser and his subject matter experts will be available to answer questions. You can pick up copies of the report, I think they're at the back of the room -- certainly at DDI.

With that, I'll be happy to try and answer some questions. Charlie?

Q: Mike, Ken Bacon has issued a couple of statements released here since he's traveling with the SecDef. The latest one says that the SecDef came away from his talks in the Gulf confident of support for any action that the United States might take to uphold the U.N. sanctions.

Does that mean that the leaders in these Gulf states have given the United States the go-ahead to launch any raids from their territories on Iraq? Can you make that clear?

A: Charlie, actually I'm not going to be able to add anything to Ken's statement. I think it's very clear that the Secretary came away from his visits feeling that any of the support that the United States needs to take appropriate action to uphold U.N. Security Council Resolutions is there. And he is continuing his trip right now, will actually return to Washington sometime late Friday evening after what Ken has characterized as a very successful visit.

Q: The statement from Ken mentions that he's going to Jordan and to Egypt and Turkey. Is he going elsewhere in Europe before he comes home, or will those be his final three stops?

A: Let me just give you a rundown on what happened today. He started the day in Qatar, went from Qatar to stops in Oman, in the United Arab Emirates, in Egypt, and they are presently in Jordan. Tomorrow's stops include Turkey, and there will be a stop in Paris where he will have an opportunity to consult with some military and civilian officials there before he returns to Washington.

Q: Including the Defense Minister?

A: I don't believe the Defense Minister is going to be able to meet with the Secretary because of a budget presentation that's going on, but there will be other officials who will meet with the Secretary and other members of the party during that brief stop in Paris.

Q: Will there be any press coverage allowed of his return to Washington Friday evening?

A: We'll certainly do everything we can to facilitate that, but let me get back to you on what we're going to do there.

Q: How do you square the statement of successful talks with some of the rather vociferous statements that have emerged from the Middle East, that the United States is acting like a "craven rat" for Israel, but not showing support for Arab causes in the Middle East? Some of the rhetoric has been pretty hot describing the Secretary's visits there.

A: I acknowledge that there's been some rather hot rhetoric attributed to unidentified sources in various locations in the Gulf area, but I think that everything that I have heard indicates that the Secretary at this point feels that he's had a good series of meetings with officials throughout the Gulf region, and he's confident that the U.S. will have the support it needs to take appropriate action to uphold the U.N. Security Council Resolutions.

Q: Don't you find it curious that no country in the Gulf has publicly echoed the sentiments that the U.S. is claiming that they heard from them?

A: Actually, I can't characterize exactly what the mindset is over there, but I can communicate to you what Ken Bacon's assessment is of the trip so far, and I think the President has earlier today spoken on this and has given something of the same assessment.

Any more on this one?

Q: Have there been any movements of forces at all or any warning orders to change position for U.S. military forces in the Gulf?

A: First of all, there have been no changes in the numbers of units or personnel in the Gulf region. I'm sure you're aware that there are always units that move into and out of regions to reflect the normal turnover that takes place, but there have been no major changes that I'm aware of.

Q: Any plans to do so?

A: We, of course, don't discuss future operations, so I'm not going to be able to tell you exactly what may be coming down the pike in the future.

Q: If military action is required down the road, would the United States need access to bases in the Gulf?

A: Well, first of all I think you're aware that we have a very substantial force that's in the region. I can't comment on any kind of planning and any additional forces that may in the future be moved to the region, other than to point out, as I just said, that we've got a lot of forces there already. We've got over 23,000 personnel. We have an aircraft carrier. We have an amphibious ready group. We have a lot of fixed-wing aircraft. I think there's more than a total of 170 aircraft, combat aircraft that are available. So there's a very substantial force, including cruise missile capability which is maintained aboard the U.S. ships that are in the region.

Q: When you say 100 and something combat aircraft, I understand the Saudis have said that attacks could not be launched from Saudi soil.

A: I am not going to characterize what other countries may or may not do. All I'm going to indicate to you is what we've got there.

Q: Can you update us on the disposition of Iraqi forces? In previous times of tension they disbursed their antiaircraft forces and that sort of thing.

A: I'm not going to give much detail except to say that the kinds of disbursal that we've seen on previous occasions that are similar to this has been repeated again.

Q: Can you give us some assessment as to the seriousness of not having the inspectors able to do their jobs? How long does it take for Iraq to reconstitute? How grave a situation is it? Therefore, how much time do we have?

A: I don't think I've ever seen anything that specifies an exact timetable. But I think all of us in the U.S. Government that watch this thing feel that the inspections that are done by the U.N. inspectors are very important. In the past we've pointed to the fact that there are more weapons of mass destruction that have been destroyed as a result of these inspections than were destroyed during the Gulf War. This regime that was set up by the U.N. in the aftermath of the Gulf War was designed to do exactly that, which was to dismantle the weapons of mass destruction stockpiles that the Iraqis had, and to get a full accounting of the program that exists. As long as the inspectors are not able to do their jobs, there is a good opportunity that Saddam Hussein is taking action to reconstitute his weapons.

Q: How about the monitoring cameras and the chemical air sniffers? Don't they give you some important information?

A: Yes. All of that adds to it, but the inspection program is not limited just to those cameras and to the sniffers. Everyone is in full agreement that it's important for the inspection team to get back to work to do the important work that has to be done to get this full accounting that we're all looking for.

Q: What provisions, if any, have you made to be able to rapidly build up forces again in the Gulf region if that becomes necessary?

A: I don't want to go into too much specifics on this, but there are forces, as you might imagine, that have already been identified that could be called into action and moved to that area as well as other areas that may require military involvement. That can be done in a matter of a very few days.

Q: Can I change the subject?

A: Are we finished with Iraq? Okay. Let's go on to another one.

Q: On to Osama bin Laden and those who have been indicted with him. Specifically from that indictment, Mike, it appears that this terrorist group has tried to obtain weapons of mass destruction, especially chemical weapons and nuclear weapons. I would ask if the DoD and the rest of this government is treating bin Laden as a very dangerous threat, a nuclear threat very possibly? Is that something that's on the agenda?

A: I think that certainly the actions that were taken in the aftermath of the embassy bombings and this recent action by the Department of Justice regarding Osama bin Laden is a clear indication that indeed we do consider him a very real threat, and an individual that should be brought to justice for the long list of crimes that he has perpetrated.

Q: Can you tell us anything about his association with the Iraqi's weapon of mass destruction industry or...

A: I have nothing for you on that subject.

Q: Any update on that Bosnia laser incident you mentioned Tuesday?

A: No. I really don't have any update. I'll see if we can get anything for you on the sergeant medically. As I mentioned on Tuesday, the injuries were minor. The sergeant on Tuesday was, as I recall, still wearing sunglasses. There has, to my knowledge, been no definitive answers to the source of the laser.

Q: You mentioned Tuesday that you believed that you were leaning away from these little hand-held toys as the source of this. Can you say why? Was it because of the range involved or the damage that was done?

A: The individuals who have looked into the matter believe that the strength of those toys is not such to have been able to cause the eye irritations that occurred with the chief warrant officer and the sergeant.

Q: Any comments on a report that finally a French spy officer and not a Greek one disclosed the NATO plans against Serbia, since in a previous briefing the Department of Defense left the issue open as a serious matter under NATO investigation.

A: First of all, I will have to refer you to both the NATO authorities and to the French regarding this latest situation.

My understanding is that on the previous question that came up as a result of a magazine article, I believe, the spokesman for NATO responded that there was no basis for that story whatsoever.

Q: Is the response to the complaint filed by the Greek Embassy with the DoD regarding this issue? I would like to know the answer.

A: Say it one more time, what that one was.

Q: The Greek Embassy filed the kind of official complaint with the Department of Defense regarding this issue, regarding this press briefing. I would like to know what was your answer to this.

A: First of all I'm not aware of any kind of a complaint that came to us, and secondly, I'm not sure that there would have been a complaint since my recollection of the answer that was given in that instance was to refer the questioner to NATO for details on that subject which we had no knowledge of.

Q: The last one, according to sources, the U.S. Air Force is going to have a kind of preliminary discussion in Florida on an exercise named TOP DOLLAR in the first days of November. Do you know what this is about?

A: What the exercise is about?

Q: Yes, the TOP DOLLAR exercise.

A: TOP DOLLAR, as I understand it, is an exercise involving the accountants and the comptrollers who are all part of the U.S. Air Force. It's a very important evolution that they go through that is actually a competition of sorts to select the individual who is the most outstanding in that field during the course of the year.

Q: Is it only the United States or in other countries too?

A: Excuse me?

Q: Is it taking place in the U.S. only or...

A: This is going to take place down in Florida. My understanding is that this is an Air Force wide competition amongst that particular professional segment of the Air Force.

Q: On a slightly different topic, can you update us on U.S. efforts to mediate between the Greeks and the Turks, and also on arms sales to those two nations? The reason I ask this is public policy groups in town have said (inaudible) that's criticized DoD policy on that matter.

A: Criticized...

Q: The continuing arms sales to both sides (inaudible) in a time of tension.

A: Let me just say that there is a very deliberate process that we go through when it comes to arms transfers. All of this is done not here in the building separate from the rest of the U.S. government, but is part of an overall effort. That effort, by the way, is coordinated by the Department of State.

What we do when we receive requests for military arms from any country, and I don't want to be specific here because it applies to any kind of arms transfers, is to take a look on a case by case basis as to exactly what is being asked for. Then there are a number of factors that come into play. Among those are what the legitimate security needs of the requesting country are, what our interests are with regard to regional stability, what the impact on U.S. industry and defense industrial base will be, what the human rights record is of the recipient, and the potential for misuse of the export in question. Then finally, the availability of comparable systems from foreign suppliers. All of that is part of the decision making process. We certainly play a major role in this, but we are not the only ones who do.

Q: There has been criticism to say it was unwise in their view to be selling arms to countries that are frequently at odds in a time of tension. Is that a consideration?

A: Certainly that comes into play, but I think that as I've just read through the list there, there are other factors including, in many cases, the availability of the intended weapons from other sources.

Q: A question about the B-2. Does DoD consider the B-2 nuclear ready and capable, given that it can't recall the bomber that was on its way?

A: I believe that there is no basis in fact for that allegation.

Q: The report that was in the Early Bird this morning is inaccurate, then?

A: I believe that the B-2 currently uses the MILSTAR UHF satellite communications system as its primary means for receiving emergency action messages from the National Command Authority. It is a nuclear survivable global capability that gives Air Force bombers the connectivity they need to conduct their worldwide business. They are operational for both nuclear and conventional missions, and the future requirement for EHF or other nuclear survivable communications is due to planned discontinuation of the current MILSTAR system in favor of a constellation of EHF, which will incorporate EHF.

Q: Why the decision then to accelerate the planned mod or upgrade?

A: Why to accelerate it?

Q: Right. Why not wait two or three years?

A: I'd have to take that question and see if we have an answer. I don't happen to know.

Q: So it's incorrect that there is no communication system that can recall the aircraft? That's what the story seems to indicate.

A: What I can tell you on that is that we are confident of our ability to command and control all of the nation's strategic nuclear forces.

Q: Are B-2 bombers currently part of the strategic ground based bomber force? Do we have nuclear weapons assigned to any...

A: I think you know the answer regarding nuclear weapons.

Q: I guess my question is, I thought we were briefed that the B-2 bombers had been outfitted to carry conventional weapons because that was the role that was needed. Are they part of the nuclear forces as well?

A: The B-52s and B-2s are operational for both nuclear and conventional missions.

Q: But we couldn't have a Dr. Strangelove/Slim Pickens situation where there's a B-2 on it's way with nuclear weapons with no way to call it back?

A: Absolutely not.

Q: Another subject?

A: Sure.

Q: Is there any update beyond what was issued on Tuesday about U.S. forces in support of the Hurricane Mitch problems in Central America?

A: There has been a very extensive briefing that was just completed over at the White House that gave quite a rundown. I'd be glad to go over some of the highlights of that.

Let me just mention that we currently have more than 640 personnel, 20 helicopters, and four fixed-wing transport aircraft operating in support of the relief efforts in Central America. Since November 1st, the U.S. Southern Command has flown 105 fixed-wing and helicopter missions rescuing more than 675 people and moving more than 220 tons of needed supplies and materials.

The White House briefing that was just completed indicated that the Department of Defense will be providing an additional $30 million worth of support in the form of military airlift, goods, and services in the effort, the overall U.S. government effort to assist in this disaster.

Q: Could you clarify that number? The wire service story that came out of the White House briefing, one said 30 million total, one said 36. Is...

A: The number that applies to the Department here is 30.

Q: Has there been any increase in DoD's commitment due to this White House announcement? Or do you have that information?

A: First of all, I would refer you to the transcript from the White House press conference. But I think it's important to realize that one of the, despite the very devastating aspects of this hurricane in Central America, one of the advantages that the United States military had was two-fold.

Number one, we had been conducting exercises with the countries, the military forces in the Central American countries over a number of years on this very kind of situation -- disasters and how we would respond to them. And there was in place already a mechanism to facilitate assistance.

The second thing that played a major role in our ability to respond rapidly was the fact that we had a small number of military personnel at a base which is called Task Force Bravo that has existed down there for some time, acts as a kind of command and control, forward operating element for the U.S. Southern Command. Because those people were in position, as soon as the winds died down sufficiently, they were able to put aircraft in the air which enabled them to deliver needed supplies and make some very dramatic rescues in the early stages of this disaster.

Q: Is this being termed by our people on the ground in Central America as a great catastrophe?

A: I don't think there are any words that sufficiently describe the extent of the devastation.

Q: Was there any significant storm damage at the U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Miami? And has it in any way hampered the U.S. relief efforts?

A: I am not aware of any damage there, but I think we'll probably need to check on that. That has not affected the ability to provide relief in Central America, but I'm not sure whether the recent storm that passed over Florida this morning affected the U.S. Southern Command headquarters there.

Q: You spoke about supplies and rescue efforts. Is there any request or any contemplation of sending in medical personnel? I would guess there are a lot of medical problems associated with it.

A: I can't answer that question. I don't have that level of detail. I would have to refer you to the U.S. Southern Command. I would imagine that there is an enormous requirement. I do know that we are planning within the next day or so to send in a couple of preventive medicine teams. There are some SEABEE detachments and civil affairs personnel that are going to be moving in, and also some engineer teams. I don't know the composition of those preventive medicine teams, but I think you can get all kinds of detail from the Southern Command.

Q: The newly elected governor of Minnesota, Jess "The Mind" Ventura, says that he was a Navy SEAL for a number of years and took part in some classified missions. Can you confirm that he was a Navy SEAL and took part in any black operations during the Vietnam War?

A: It will be easy for us to confirm if he in fact has a Navy connection. I don't happen to know it myself. Regarding any kind of operations he was involved in during the course of his career, I'm not sure we'll have that level of detail, particularly with regard to classified operations.

Q: Can you take a request to release whatever is releasable about his military service?

A: We will do whatever we can for you in that regard.

Press: Thank you.