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DoD News Briefing, Tuesday, November 10, 1998 - 1:45 p.m.

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
November 10, 1998 1:45 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Hello everybody. Welcome to the Pentagon.

Let me bring you up to date on the relief effort in Central America to the victims of Hurricane Mitch.

The Defense Department has deployed 1,065 U.S. military personnel, 29 helicopters, and four fixed wing aircraft to the disaster area in Central America in support of relief efforts going on there. Since the commencement of relief operations on November 1st, the U.S. military has flown 243 missions and delivered more than 440 tons of supplies which include food, medical supplies, water, fuel, blankets, tenting, etc. Another 32 medium and heavy lift helicopters are being identified and moved to the region as well as four additional C-130 aircraft to augment the relief efforts.

This is all being run by U.S. SOUTHCOM which is conducting the operation. As you know, Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera was there over the weekend at Secretary Cohen's instructions, to monitor the operation.

Let me just say that there are basically three parts here. The first was to save people from dying by rescuing them and by bringing them immediate food.

The second is now to stabilize the operation by bringing in medical assistance and taking care of the water purification and other needs like that.

Then the third part of the operation will be an engineering part to help rebuild crucial infrastructure, particularly roads. There are whole communities because of missing bridges and washed out roads that are unreachable now except by helicopter. So the idea is to reconstruct some roads so that goods can begin flowing by car and truck and by foot, rather than by helicopter. This will obviously make it easier to bring in medical care and other help as well.

Secondly, today is the 223rd birthday of the Marine Corps, so I'd like to wish all the Marines happy birthday.

With that I'll take your questions on the history of the Marine Corps or anything else.

Q: Ken, the ENTERPRISE and the BELLEAU WOOD are headed for the Gulf now apparently to change out with the forces that are there. There's no plan to keep them both there. The ANZIO is going to be added to the Gulf force, though. Are there any other forces being sent to the region? Any other aircraft or other forces?

A: I think I should clarify one thing. The ANZIO was part of the EISENHOWER Battle Group. She got separated, lingered in the Adriatic a little longer than the EISENHOWER did, and now is just rejoining the EISENHOWER Battle Group. There have been no other force augmentations that I can talk about now. These are the only orders that have been signed and that's all we've done at this stage.

Q: Do you expect others?

A: I don't have a feeling one way or another.

Q: When is the ANZIO scheduled to join the group?

A: I think the ANZIO is already in the area.

Q: Can you give us an update in terms of overall numbers, what is there now?

A: I certainly can. In the Gulf today we have 23,500 U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. There are 2,600 soldiers; 14,300 sailors and Marines; 5,600 in the Air Force; and then there are joint headquarters and other joint units comprised of 1,000 people. We have 23 ships in the area, and that's principally the USS EISENHOWER Carrier Battle Group and the ESSEX Amphibious Ready Group. Of those 23 ships, 14 of them are combatants and 8 are Tomahawk capable. We have in the area today 173 aircraft including air to air, air to ground, dual role, support, and attack helicopters.

Q: That does not include Turkey, right?

A: That does not include Turkey.

Q: Ken, it's alleged or reported in the International Herald Tribune today that the answer, the response that Secretary Cohen received in his tour of the Gulf states, the Saudis and the Arab Emirates as well, was something like we can't afford to let your planes use our bases if they're going to drop a few bombs and leave, but if you mean business, we're with you.

So what is "business"? Is there going to be a follow-up patrolling of the airspace of Iraq after some initial bombing period? And is this what, in fact, the Arabs said to Secretary Cohen?

A: As we said last week, the Secretary had very productive meetings with his counterparts and other leaders in the Gulf and in the Middle East generally, and he left those meetings confident that the U.S. would have whatever support it needs to carry out its mission in the area. I can't go beyond that. It was a clear statement then, it's a clear statement today.

In terms of what the future holds, our strategy vis-a-vis Iraq is unchanged. It's to contain Iraq from threatening, intimidating or attacking its neighbors. We will continue to follow that strategy.

Q: Is a follow-on air patrol, quarantine by air of Iraq being contemplated?

A: The United Nations Security Council under its resolution going back to 1991, has set up a regime to contain Iraq. The pillars of that regime are the sanctions and the inspections. We patrol parts of Iraq under those UN Security Council Resolutions and we will continue to operate Operation Southern Watch and Operation Northern Watch to contain Saddam Hussein from attacking his own people or his neighbors.

Q: Jerusalem reported that Cohen called Mordechai on the hotline last night and discussed the provision of Patriots to Israel. Is that true?

A: I was not party to that conversation and I have no comment on it.

Q: The same story said that Patriot units are on standby in Europe. Is that...

A: We do have Patriots in Europe. I can't go beyond that.

Q: He did call Mordechai last night and speak to him. You say you weren't...

A: I saw the report. He did talk with Minister Mordechai and I have no details on the conversation.

Q: Let me try it this way. Has Israel requested Patriots?

A: David, Israel seems free to talk about its conversations with Secretary Cohen. I'm not going to talk about Secretary Cohen's conversation with Minister Mordechai.

Q:...Patriots in the newspaper report.

A: I'm just not commenting on it. I'm saying there was a phone call and that's all I'm going to confirm.

Q: The Patriots that last winter/spring went to Israel, as I recall, from Europe, they later came out and went back to their bases in Europe, right? Remember when...

A: Yeah. Just before I came in here I tried to brush up on this and I read the Strategic Balance issued by the International Institute of Strategic Studies. In there I read that Israel has three batteries of Patriots of their own, as well as of course other air defense assets.

Q: But we had supplemented that with our own, I believe...

A: We are committed to Israel's defense. That's clear. But I have no more details to give you about Patriots.

Q: A factual question on Tomahawks. How many, approximately, are in the Gulf right now? Two hundred, 300?

A: That's an issue that I can't discuss. A large number.

Q: One other question on deployments. Do we have any B-52s on Diego Garcia at the moment?

A: No.

Q: When you said there were no other force augmentations you could discuss, did you mean to suggest that there were some that you couldn't discuss?

A: No. There have been no other ones.

Q: Just to clarify, the ENTERPRISE is going over. The EISENHOWER is coming back on schedule, is that correct?

A: That is the current plan, that the EISENHOWER will come back. Yes. There's been no change in the schedule.

Q: So there's no plan to double up on carriers in the Gulf?

A: There will be some overlap, but my understanding is that the EISENHOWER right now will come back on schedule.

Q: Can you talk about any changes in the status of Iraqi forces? Are they setting up air defense systems, is there any evidence of that? Or have they moved from barracks?

A: There has been little change in the Iraqi air defenses. There has been some dispersion of Republican Guard and regular army units over the last week or so. That is they've spread out over larger areas.

Q: Air defense?

A: No significant movement among those.

Q: In your absence Mike said that the breakdown in UNSCOM could potentially give Saddam a chance to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction. Have you seen any evidence of anything like that?

A: I'm not aware of any action along those lines. It clearly does remain a threat, and the CIA filed a report with, I believe, the Senate Intelligence Committee several months ago outlining what they thought some of the time lines could be -- particularly if there are no inspectors -- to reconstitute some of the weapons of mass destruction.

Q: Would the United States feel if they had evidence that there was reconstitution of weapons of mass destruction that that would be enough to justify a strike, just on that?

A: Without getting into questions of triggers, we have said many times that our goal, and the goal of the UN Security Council, is to contain Iraq from threatening, intimidating, or attacking its neighbors. Certainly weapons of mass destruction are one of Iraq's instruments of intimidation. It has used weapons of mass destruction against Iran, it's used chemical weapons, it's used chemicals against its own people, the Kurds, and it has launched missiles against Israel and Arabic countries. So it has a history of attempting to use weapons of mass destruction.

Q: If the United States has been discussing the issue of using force to make Saddam Hussein comply, can you talk a little bit about how you think force makes him comply? At the State Department today Jamie Ruben was no longer willing to say that our goal was to get weapons inspectors back up and deeply embedded in their society. The argument seemed to have shifted a little bit. Is that no longer a goal?

A: I think it's important to go back to our overall strategy, and our strategy is containment. The pillars of containment have been the sanctions, have been the inspections, and have been Operation Southern Watch. We believe, and the UN Security Council unanimously believes, that sanctions should remain in effect until Saddam Hussein complies with UN Security Council resolutions, particularly 687. He is out of compliance now because he has unilaterally abrogated the inspection regime.

If we don't have inspections, it makes containment more difficult. The CIA has reported to Congress that in relatively short periods of time, matters of months, he would be able to begin reconstituting parts of his chemical arsenal and begin manufacturing some biological weapons and perhaps manufacture missiles as well. So the inspections are a very important part of containment.

We don't have inspections right now. So what the President is looking at, and he's made no decisions, is how do we, the United States, and how does the international community respond if one of the pillars of containment is removed? As Secretary Cohen made very clear this morning, we prefer a diplomatic resolution to this problem that would get the inspectors back on the ground doing their job. Right now that does not seem possible. Iraq has steadfastly refused to retreat from its position of stiffing the UN Security Council.

So the President is looking at what our range of options are right now and we've been discussing those with our allies.

Q: Although, as you said, no decisions have been made, can you say whether or not the U.S. has requested from some of its allies that they participate in military action if it comes to that? And if so, have they responded? If not, does the U.S. plan to ask allies to send forces...

A: As I said, Secretary Cohen had very productive discussions last week. He visited 11 countries in four days. He was encouraged by the meetings that he had and he left confident that we would have the necessary support. Beyond that, I don't think it's profitable to comment.

Q: Have you come out with any specific assurances, whether it's British or French, have there been any assurances...

A: I've seen the British Defense Minister quoted in the wires today. He's visiting the Gulf. The French will have to speak for themselves. I can't speak for the French.

Q: The British have made it clear publicly that they would take part in such raids. Would the United States find it helpful and perhaps feel that it might turn Iraq around if the French made a public commitment to take part in such raids?

A: I think that we've had very good discussions with the French and the French should announce their own policy.

Q: The President had meetings with some Pentagon officials today, evidently in response to his request for more information. Was that meeting sufficient for a response to what the President needed, or was there an additional request for additional information?

A: He didn't meet exclusively with military advisors. Secretary Albright was there and National Security Advisor Burger was also there. Secretary Cohen and General Shelton were there. It was a private meeting, and I think I should let the outcome of the meeting remain private.

Q: With regards to Veterans Day tomorrow, how do you feel about the fact that leaders such as Clinton and Cohen never served in the military?

A: I think that Secretary Cohen has spent 18 years on the Senate Armed Services Committee, he's worked tirelessly for the welfare of the men and women in the military, both as a Senator and as Secretary of Defense. He has spent a lot of time visiting with troops all around the world both as Senator and as Secretary of Defense. I think that he's proven that he understands the needs of the U.S. military and the needs of the individuals in the military.

I think the same applies to President Clinton as well. He's spent a lot of time visiting troops in the Gulf, he's visited troops in Bosnia, he's visited sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines, and I think he has shown by the increases in the budget that he's made throughout his presidency, I think he's increased the defense budget seven times so far. Just a month or so ago he sent a letter to Secretary Cohen saying that he was prepared to spend more money on the military in order to meet the current readiness problems.

So I think the fact that they understand and are meeting the needs of the military speaks for itself.

Q: Regarding the GCC, Gulf and Western military officials say that all six member countries have approved the use of their infrastructure for airstrikes. Can you confirm this or can you confirm which countries?

A: I think I'll just reiterate what Secretary Cohen said last week, that he had very good meetings in the Gulf and left with a sense of confidence that we will find the support we need if we need it and when we need it.

Q: Is your statement that the ENTERPRISE and BELLEAU WOOD were the only orders that had been signed, does that cover warning orders as well?

A: I was referring to deployment orders, but I'm not... This is confusing because when we reduced our forces in the Gulf from about 40,000 people last spring, we changed the way we deal with the forces in the Gulf in two ways. First, we left behind a significantly higher number of cruise missiles. We doubled the cruise missile supply in the Gulf. Second, we, while pulling forces out, built in a very rapid reinforcement capability, and that involves putting certain naval and Air Force forces on a 96 hour tether which means that certain forces are designated at certain times -- for instance an air expeditionary force -- to be ready to pull up stakes and get to the Gulf within 96 hours. So those forces, in a sense, are under a constant state of readiness to depart in short order to the Gulf. To that extent, they're always on some -- those particular forces that have been identified are on some level of alert.

We haven't changed that system. We still have forces identified to be ready to go to the Gulf very, very quickly.

Q: So you're saying to the best of your knowledge no additional alert or warning orders have been issued?

A: To the best of my knowledge, that's true. Yes.

Q: But you're saying also...

A: But I have not actually, since we don't announce alert and warning orders, I have not asked specifically about alert and warning orders because we don't announce them. If I had asked and they said here are seven alert orders, I would not announce them today.

Q: But basically you're saying that the forces that are on alert, obviously the units have changed since we pulled them out in the summer, but to your knowledge those are the only sort of alert orders that have been given?

A: That to my knowledge is true. But as I said, I haven't specifically asked this question.

Q:...for instance B-52s, the F-117s...

A: They include a wide array of combat and support aircraft, and the types of assets we think we might have to send quickly to the Gulf.

Q: I'm a little unclear on how long the aircraft carriers usually have this turnover. Is it a period of two or three days? Is that right?

A: It varies.

Q: And also, these rapid reinforcement forces, can you give us an order of magnitude? Are we talking dozens, thousands?

A: Well, I think you should look more in terms of, although there are, you should look more at the aircraft. It could be an air expeditionary wing, it could be some other forces as well. This basically allows us to reconstitute quickly the type of force we had in the Gulf earlier in the year.

Q: Just to follow up on that, I'm not quite sure of the numbers, but it was about 44,000 people, there might have been about 400 aircraft. Are there that many forces that are in this designation that it could be pulled together if necessary?

A: I'm not sure of the exact numbers, but we could augment very quickly to close to those numbers.

Q: Can you contrast or compare and contrast the amount of support you received in February from the Gulf states versus today? Fairly comparable or...

A: I think that we received support back in February and we received support on this trip. What is different is a much greater sense of frustration on the part of our allies both in the Security Council and in the region and in Europe about Saddam Hussein's refusal to honor the agreement between Kofi Annan and Iraq.

There was a sense of relief last February when the agreement was reached and the crisis appeared to end, but he's not honored that agreement. So people see him for the intransigent figure that he is. I think they have determined that he is not committed to maintaining the terms of that agreement or the inspection regime, and that I think has made people, as I said, frustrated and somewhat impatient.

Q: One more follow-up on the air quarantine, what might come. Is it a part of the plan at the present or there may be an alternative to take all of the airspace, merge north and south, quarantine all of Iraqi airspace with combat aircraft, and keep, try to keep Saddam from reconstituting his weapons of mass destruction, moving his military? Can that be done? Is that a way to bottle him up?

A: I can't talk about future plans that we have, future operating plans.

Q: Have you got an alternative you can talk about?

A: I just said I'm not going to talk about it so I'm not going to change my mind and suddenly talk about it.

Q: Why is overt force an option with Iraq when there's other nations such as North Korea that clearly also...

A: First of all, Iraq has used weapons of mass destruction against its neighbors in the past. It's attacked a neighboring country, several neighboring countries, and it is now under UN Security Council mandates to discontinue its program and it's in violation of those mandates.

Secondly, we take very seriously what's happening in North Korea today, and we are engaged in negotiations with North Korea to force it to honor the framework agreement which deals with nuclear forces, but we've also been talking to them about missile forces as well. As you know, there are supposed to be talks in Pyongyang, I believe they're in Pyongyang, next week dealing with the question of underground facilities and U.S. access to those facilities, or U.S. or international access to those facilities to inspect them.

So we are working with North Korea on that, but the Iraqi situation is a different situation and different situations have to be treated with different means.

Q: There was a letter to the editor in the Washington Times yesterday that raises again the question of deference to civilian authority in at least some parts of the military today.

Does the Secretary have any new concerns about that? I know we asked you about that a couple of weeks ago. But does this letter in light of the publicity that was generated in the past about Article 88 raise any fresh concern in the mind of the Secretary about deference to civilian authority?

A: I can say without fear of contradiction that Secretary Cohen believes in civilian control of the military.

Q: Is he satisfied that everyone in the military accepts that?

A: I think he... Yeah. I think... Does everybody in the military, all 1.4 million active duty people understand that? I think it is generally part of the military code. It is part of the military code and it's part of our national law that our military is controlled by civilians and I think most officers understand that.

I have actually been rather interested in the editorial comments on some of these letters that have been sent by uniformed military officers. There seems to be throughout the country almost uniform acceptance of civilian control of the military and of the conclusion that it's not appropriate for uniformed military officers to make public criticism of their Commander in Chief. That is Secretary Cohen's view.

I doubt if you would succeed long in your job if you went on WJLA and publicly criticized your bosses in Virginia, made disparaging comments about your managing editor or something like that. I don't think anybody in this room would remain long on the job.

But there are different rules for the military than there are for civilians. Those rules make it very clear that contemptuous statements about civilian leaders are wrong.

Q: Just to follow that, since these letters seem to keep appearing, does the Secretary feel any need to issue some guidance or discuss this with the Chiefs and have some reminder sent down the line?

A: I think that individual services have already taken that action.

Q: Jumping back to Iraq really briefly, we've always maintained that we have sufficient forces in the region. Would we feel confident launching a strike six hours from now? Or tomorrow? Or how soon would we be ready?

A: We do have strong forces in the region, and they give us a lot of flexibility.

Q: To launch an effective, successful strike..

A: This is like that classic Saturday Night Live episode during the Gulf War where people are asking for specific battle plans and timing. Come on, give me a break. And show some respect for yourselves. I can't answer questions like that, and it's really, I don't think it's appropriate to... It's certainly not appropriate to answer, but I'm not even sure it's appropriate to ask questions like that. We're talking about serious issues here, the possible use of force. It's very clear that it's not appropriate to talk about timing or about operational detail of any sort.

Q: Another Iraq question. You might want to take this. Can you give us a general figure of how much the United States has spent since the Gulf War to keep Saddam in his box?

A: I'm sorry I can't do that. It's an interesting question. I'll take the question but I'm not sure I can promise an answer.

Q: Would you take another subject?

A: Sure.

Q: Ken, Secretary Richardson is in Taiwan over the strong objections of the Chinese. Just two weeks ago the Chinese also objected to a study that might include Taiwan in a ballistic missile defense operation, something mandated by the Congress. The Chinese some months ago said anyone who helps defend Taiwan, provides arms, etc., would be an enemy of China, would be subject to war coming from the PRC. Can you respond in any way to that? And perhaps you can tell us is Mr. Cohen planning to renew his trip...

A: Taking the last question first. The Secretary does plan to go to Korea and Japan probably early next year. I'm not sure that a firm date has been set yet.

On the Taiwan issue, our policy is very clear. I believe the Chinese understand our policy. We provide certain defensive support to Taiwan. I have nothing to add to that.

Q: A quick one on Kosovo. Can you bring us up to date on surveillance flights being conducted to date?

A: Well, the U-2 continues to fly as weather permits. The Predator continues to fly as weather permits. The Predator...

Q: (Inaudible)

A: Well, the U-2 has been flying pretty regularly. One or two flights, several flights have been canceled. The Predator is a little trickier. A P-3 flew, I believe, today or yesterday. Tomorrow the first allied aircraft, a French plane, is scheduled to take part in the surveillance mission. That's the air verification mission.

Press: Thank you.

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