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DoD News Briefing - Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
October 05, 2000 2:00 PM EDT

Bacon: Anything happening today?

Okay, a couple of announcements before we get into the rest of the briefing. First of all, as everybody, I hope, knows by now, Secretary Cohen will leave tomorrow for a trip to Tunisia, Greece and the United Kingdom. While in Greece he'll attend the Southeastern European Defense Ministerial, and in Birmingham, England he'll attend the informal defense ministerial, NATO Defense Ministerial.

Earlier this morning Secretary and Mrs. Cohen both spoke at the Military Quality of Life Summit held at the Chamber of Commerce. And the goal of that summit is to find better ways for the military and industry to work together to achieve three ends. The first is for industry to help military spouses find jobs and continue their professions as they move around the country and around the world. The second is to find ways to use the money and influence of business and know-how of business to meet some of the quality of life problems we face in the military, principally housing, but also transportation. And the third is to work with business to find jobs for people leaving the military -- there are 285,000 veterans leaving the military every year and entering into the job market.

There was a very good speech by Tom Donahue, the president of the Chamber, talking about the needs business has for new workers, saying that in the next several years they'll need to find over 18 million new workers. During the Clinton administration 22 million jobs have been created, but there will be continuing job creation and need to fill those high tech jobs in the coming years. They produced from this meeting a partnership for the military quality of life, which will concentrate on the first goal, which is matching employers with military spouses and those seeking post-military service employment.

Finally, I would like to note an unusual change of authority, transfer of authority in Bosnia today. The 49th Armored Division of the Texas National Guard relinquished command of the U.S. mission Task Force Eagle in Bosnia to the Third Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Georgia. This is notable because this is the first time that a National Guard division has run the headquarters of the SFOR operation for us. It was an extremely good deployment, went very well. And Major General Robert Halverson, who is the commander of the 49th Armored Division from Texas, has turned over command to Major General Walter Sharp.

One of the steps that Secretary Cohen took earlier -- early in his tenure here, in the first several months of 1997, was to try to get the active duty Army and the Reserve and the Guard working more closely together to create a total force. And I think this is one sign of the success that that effort has yielded.

And with that, I'll take your questions. Charlie.

Q: Ken, speaking of Bosnia, are U.S. forces on any special alert in the Balkans and the Adriatic given the situation in Belgrade?

Bacon: No, they are not.

Q: And what can you tell us about Yugoslav forces? Does it appear that they are on a higher state of readiness, from what you can observe?

Bacon: Well, I think you have to break that question down into several elements. The first is, how have the Yugoslav forces responded to the demonstrations in Belgrade? Obviously, we've all seen from television that there was some initial use of tear gas to keep the demonstrators out of the parliament building, but after the demonstrators got into the parliament building, from everything we can tell from our own reporting and from watching television, the forces have not been actively involved in trying to use violence to suppress the demonstrations, neither the special police nor the forces, the military forces.

We hope this continues, obviously. The people of Yugoslavia wanted a peaceful transfer of authority, peaceful replacement of Milosevic through the ballot box. They tried to do that, have been frustrated, and now they've moved on to -- to demonstrations that they call nonviolent. And we hope that they can stay nonviolent.

It's clearly preferable to have a peaceful transfer of authority through elections than a violent transfer through confrontation. But -- and we hope that Milosevic will read the message that's being given to him loud and clear by the people of Belgrade.

Q: But outside of Belgrade, do you see no marshalling of forces --

Bacon: We have not seen any significant marshalling of forces or a change of alert posture over the last few days.

What happens as a result of the latest demonstrations, of course, remains to be seen. We think the lesson, the message, of these demonstrations is very clear: that it's time for a change in leadership in Yugoslavia and that the people of Yugoslavia would like a peaceful change. And we hope that that's what can occur.

Q: Ken, have you asked, actually, whether U.S. forces were on a special alert? What is the alert status? And has it changed in any way in the last --

Bacon: There has not been a change in the positioning of the forces, in the alert status of the forces --

Q: Normal?

Bacon: It's normal, meaning it's, you know --

Q: Ken, with the --

Bacon: The forces -- I mean, I want to be clear here. Individual commanders basically have the responsibility of setting alert status in response to what they see in terms of terrorism, et cetera, terrorist threats, other local threats. There could be local conditions that cause changes in alert status, but there's been no overall change in alert status or positioning of the forces.

Q: Is the United States willing to give up or at least lessen pressure for Milosevic to go to The Hague if he just gets the heck out of the country?

Bacon: Our position on that --

Q: If someone's willing to accept him, just to get him out of the country, would the United States reduce pressure on the country that accepted him to send him to The Hague?

Bacon: Well, this is not a Defense Department issue --

Q: (Off mike.)

Bacon: -- and it's a State Department issue. So I recommend you ask the State Department briefer. But our position on that is pretty clear, and I think the only thing that's changed in our position is that since the elections on September 24th, it's clear that Milosevic no longer has a mandate to rule. It's clear that the Yugoslav people want him out, out of office, and that he ought to step down and pay attention to the will of his people.

Q: Is the George Washington Battle Group in the area?

Bacon: The George Washington Battle Group is currently at -- at least the George Washington is currently on a liberty call in Corfu.

Q: Corfu.

Bacon: Corfu, which is Greece.

Anything else? Yes, Barbara?

Q: What's your assessment -- since you don't see security forces using violence against the people right now, do you have an assessment about the current state of loyalty of the armed forces to Milosevic?

I think you have commented in the past in Montenegro the loyalty is not so certain. Do you have a sense of it right now?

Bacon: Well, it's always been the case that the -- there's been some tension between the military and the internal security force, which we call the MUP -- M-U-P. The MUP is Milosevic's first line of defense and has received historically greater resources and greater attention from Milosevic than the military has. So there always has been some jealousy or tension between the military and the MUP over this allocation of resources.

The MUP has been, we believe, more loyal to Milosevic than the Army, but the Army hasn't been disloyal. There have been changes in the leadership of the Army. There were -- obviously, during Kosovo there were some moments when troops came back from Kosovo absent without leave. There were some pockets of resistance within the military to what was going on in Kosovo. But they were quite isolated.

I think it's -- right now it is very difficult to comment authoritatively on what's going on in Belgrade and how the various power blocs are lining up. It could be that there's great resistance on the part of both the Army and the secret police to be put into a position where they would have to attack other Serbs. But I don't think we know that right now. And we'll have to watch very closely. All we can say is that we hope for everybody's benefit that this is resolved peacefully and that Milosevic reads the ballot box message that it's time to go.

Q: Do you have any assessment as to which types of forces are actually physically protecting Milosevic today, or the last couple of days? Who's -- who's --

Bacon: Well, our belief is that he's largely protected by his internal security forces, the MUP.

Q: Are there any indications of any civil unrest or demonstrations in Kosovo, where NATO is maintaining control --

Bacon: I'm not aware that there is.

Q: Any sympathetic demonstrations or anything?

Bacon: Not that I've seen, no.

Q: And you mentioned the change of command in Bosnia. Has that resulted in a temporary increase in the number of troops in Bosnia?

Bacon: I think right now there are about 4,600 troops in Bosnia, and -- U.S. troops in Bosnia. And -- I mean, typically, when there's a swap-out of units, there's a temporary increase. But I don't think that -- I mean, 4,600 is about in line with what we've had over there for some time. [Update: There are about 5,200 U.S. troops in Bosnia. This is temporarily higher than the 4,600 cap due to the transition.]

Q: Can we get kind of -- maybe you could take this, but can we just get a brief rundown of U.S. military forces in the region, just so we have that to refer to as the days ahead go by?

Bacon: Well, yeah, without garbling the numbers myself, we'll get it for you. But there are under -- somewhat under 6,000, I believe, in Kosovo; about 4,600 in Bosnia. I don't know how many ships, exactly, are in the George Washington Battle Group, but there are usually 4 (thousand) to 5,000 people on a carrier and then several other ships, so there are several thousand people in the George Washington Battle Group in Corfu right now. And then we probably have some number, maybe a thousand or less, in Macedonia, and there are small numbers in Croatia and other places -- Sarajevo -- but not large numbers. [Update: There are about 5,200 U.S. troops in Bosnia; 5,700 in Kosovo; 500 in the FYROM; about 5,000 aboard USS George Washington.]

Q: And will the port call, or liberty visit, for the George Washington be cut short in any way because of this?

Bacon: There's no plan to do that.

Q: And when would -- under the current plan, when would the G.W. go back out to the Adriatic?

Bacon: Well, I think the port call began today or yesterday and lasts for several days. I don't have the exact date. Probably through the weekend. It's a holiday weekend, obviously, with Columbus Day on Monday. [Update: USS George Washington is scheduled to remain in Corfu through Oct. 8.]

Q: Is there an ARG in the Adriatic?

Bacon: I don't believe there is one now in the Adriatic. We'll check on that. [Update: The USS Saipan amphibious ready group is at sea in the Adriatic and central Mediterranean.]

Q: Do you have an assessment of how much the Yugoslav military and the police force has been rebuilt or reconstituted since the end of the bombing a year and a quarter ago? Is there some either anecdotal or statistical way you can describe -- (off mike) -- how patched together it is?

Bacon: No. I don't have a good handle on that. That is something we can get for you, obviously. You know, they lost a lot of air defense capability, some MiGs, a lot of armor and other rolling equipment, but I -- and there is an economic embargo against Yugoslavia, so I assume that it's been difficult for them to replace lost equipment.

Q: But the size of the force has not diminished during this year-long period where it's been hard for them to pay for it, to the best of your knowledge?

Bacon: No. I'm not aware that there's been any rollback, significant rollback in the size of the force.

Q: Does the United States have a good idea of the whereabouts of Slobodan Milosevic? And are there any indications that either he or members of his family are attempting to leave the country or leave Belgrade?

Bacon: Well, there are certainly a lot of rumors, but we have nothing to confirm that anybody has left, at this stage. I'm referring to President Milosevic and to his wife. As far as we know, Milosevic is still in Belgrade.

Q: And -- I know this is probably better suited to the State Department, but they're not briefing today, so can you tell us anything about whether the United States has had any contact with Russia about somehow facilitating President Milosevic's departure from the --

Bacon: That is a good State Department question.

Q: Thank you.

Bacon: Thank you.

This transcript was prepared by the Federal News Service, Inc., Washington, DC. Federal News Service is a private company. For other defense related transcripts not available through this site, contact Federal News Service at (202) 347-1400.

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