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DoD News Briefing: Lt. Gen. Howell M. Estes, III, USAF, JCS/J3

Presenters: Lt. Gen. Howell M. Estes, III, USAF, JCS/J3
December 12, 1995 1:00 PM EDT

Tuesday, December 12, 1995 - 1 p.m.

What I plan to do for a few minutes here is to give you a quick update on where we stand as best I can do that from this position. I also want to talk a few minutes about the quality of life that our troops are going to face when they get there, to give you some feel for what the troops are going to be exposed to, how we're going to house them, and some of the general quality of life issues surrounding our forces as they arrive. I'll spend a few minutes talking about the Reserves and where we are with the Reserve call-up and where the current state of play is there, because I know there's great interest not only amongst you all, but in our country on this issue. Then last, I want to talk a couple of minutes about this issue of the use of force by the peacekeepers as they go in there to do this implementation force mission, and why you've heard myself and others talking about the use of force so that we sort of set the record straight on exactly why we're doing that -- what the implications of that are.

Let me start out now by giving you a quick update on the two groups of forces I've been talking to you about for the last couple of times I've spent with you. Recall that we have this implementation force going in. Once the treaty is signed, the United Nations Security Council resolution is passed, and we have a decision by the North Atlantic Council to, in fact, deploy the main body force -- but in order to prepare for that, and we all feel fairly certain that's going to happen, obviously the President has to, once the North Atlantic Council makes the decision to deploy the implementation force, decide that U.S. forces are going to deploy, and once he has approved that -- they will, in fact, deploy.

But what we've been doing now is putting in place the apparatus that will allow for the rapid movement of this force into Bosnia. It's called the enabling force. The enabling force goes to Croatia and to Bosnia -- about 700 at each location, spread throughout the country to do the enabling force tasks.

We also have the support force, that's the second group of forces. It's going to be somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000. It's going primarily into Hungary. It's a U.S.-only force, and its purpose is to establish the support base from which we will flow the main body forces as they go down into Bosnia.

So let me cover both those pieces -- first if all, the enabling force and the current status.

What I want to do is tell you, first of all, the enabling force... We have about 245 people as of one o'clock yesterday, now, so we're almost a day later than that in terms of time. But these are the latest numbers we have, and obviously, more have gone in the last 24 hours. But we're up to 245 in Bosnia, and 71 in Croatia. You're going to see these numbers increase rapidly over the next couple of days because equipment is coming in very quickly, and I'll describe that to you on these charts as we go through them.

Q: Are you talking Americans or...

A: I'm talking Americans only here. The NATO force -- the enabling force is around 1,000 for the same time period that I'm discussing.

Let me just quickly hit some of the high points on here that you can look at on the chart and I will cover for you briefly. One of the first things we've done, of course, is get the reconnaissance teams in. Reconnaissance teams are designed to go in, get their eyes on the ground so they can report back to the other folks who are involved in doing the planning with what they see exactly where we're going to do certain things -- and establish communications nets to establish initial logistics facilities and intelligence locations. So we've had these sort of survey teams or reconnaissance teams -- both -- in Croatia, and we've also had them in Bosnia.

In Croatia in particular -- in Zagreb you see shown on the map here -- this is going to be the location for the implementation force support commander. So there's going to be a base set up there to handle most of the NATO pieces of the implementation force support. Structures are already going in there. Seven U.S. trains bringing U.S. equipment have arrived in Zagreb. Some of those trains are dropping equipment off in Zagreb. Others are going on to Split and Ploce, which of course, Split and Ploce being down on the Dalmatian coast here in Croatia. And they're carrying equipment down there that will be moved up from these two locations -- once they arrive on train -- on roads up into Sarajevo to support U.S. forces that will be in the Sarajevo Kiseljak area.

So that's what's happened in Croatia so far. As I said, we're up to about 71 U.S. people in Croatia. There are a number of busloads of people that are on the road right now as we speak. Some of them, I'm sure, have arrived but I don't have confirmation of that so I can't tell you that today. But you're going to see the number in Croatia go up by 300 or 400 here in the next 24 hours as these forces arrive.

In Bosnia now, of course, the main task we've had is to get the headquarters elements in and the support for our infantry division that will deploy as a part of the main body. Of course that's going into Tuzla. You've seen a lot of coverage by all of the media of operations that are going on there.

Two things primarily have been going on in terms of Tuzla. The first is that we've tried to establish the initial elements of this 1st Armored Division which is coming out of Germany -- and they are doing the initial preparations for the receipt of the main body force when it's told to deploy. So they're looking for places to put up the base camps and doing some of the initial work and coordination that's required to assist with this main body force coming in right after the signing of the peace agreement and the other authorities that need to take place prior to the actual movement of that force.

The second large piece of U.S. contingent that you've seen go into Tuzla is out at the airfield. Those people have been doing the things necessary to make the Tuzla airport an all-weather airport by putting in the navigation aids and things of that kind to make sure we can, in fact, land there in all kinds of weather. I won't detail what those are, but if anybody in the audience is interested in that, I can do that later for you. But the objective is to make this an all-weather airfield so we can get in there when the weather is bad; and, of course, it has been from time to time since we've been going in.

We've had to upgrade the lighting on the airfield for obvious reasons. We're going to have day/night operations there. The nav aids -- again, navigation aids -- are the things that we put on the ground there to allow the aircraft to navigate and find their way down through the weather. The other thing that's gone is the things that we use to control the airfield -- the tower people and things of that kind for actual control; and then the movement of cargo on the ground for the control of that cargo and the movement of it from once it gets off the aircraft to get it out to where it needs to go. So it's a cargo handling unit there as well that's doing that. So that's primarily what we've done at the airport at Tuzla.

Special Operations Forces, of course, are deploying as well. They're setting up their headquarters for special operations force operations throughout all of Bosnia once the peace treaty is signed and the decision made to deploy. That's no different than what we're doing with a 1st Armored Division-type of headquarters, but the SOF people -- the Special Operations Forces -- are doing that. Their operation is more down in the Kiseljak area, which is really to the west of Sarajevo and a little bit north.

The last thing that's happened so far in the enabling force -- as far as the U.S. is concerned -- is that a Joint Information Bureau is set up. With so many media over there, we've had to quickly get that in. The media outnumbers U.S. forces now about five to one at the moment. That's quickly going to change, but in order to assist with the media having access to the kinds of things that they're interested in throughout Bosnia, the Joint Information Bureau has now stood up for media liaison.

Again, this is the enabling force. It's only deploying into Bosnia and Croatia, and right now -- as of about one o'clock yesterday -- we were up to about 250 total U.S. people in Bosnia; 71 or so in Croatia.

Let me turn now to the U.S. support forces, if I can. Again, these are the forces going into Hungary to assist with the movement of our main body force into Tuzla -- once that's approved -- via air and ground movement.

Recall that it sits here in Hungary. The railhead is called Kaposvar, and the airhead called Taszar. Let me quickly cover what's going on here with these forces.

Again, we've had the same kind of survey teams go in. It just makes sense to put people on the ground to try to determine exactly what the situation is and what's required. So those same survey teams you saw that went into Bosnia and Croatia also went into Hungary.

The national support base, as I mentioned, at Kaposvar here... The initial elements are flowing in there as we speak. Again, this is the ground site through which the U.S. forces will flow as they go down south -- once the authority is

given -- through Bosnia -- I should say through Croatia, across the Sava River and into Bosnia as those forces are authorized to go.

So far, we have three trains that have arrived in Kaposvar. There are another eight scheduled. So the national support base there will quickly expand in terms of size. We've talked numbers between 2,000 and 3,000 prior to the signing of the agreement, and we are moving toward that.

We have had some weather problems in the Hungary area in terms of using Taszar as an airport because of the visibility restrictions. There's been heavy snow, but nevertheless, trains are moving, aircraft are getting in now. We do have some work that's been done on the airfield in terms of enhancing the operations at the airfield at Taszar: upgrading the navigation aids for the same reason we're doing it in Bosnia, so we can have all weather capability. Firefighting units have been brought in to particularly protect our aircraft. So far we've had four

C-17s and two C-141s arrive. That's where we are.

In Hungary, we're up to about 320 Americans on the ground. Again, that's as of one o'clock yesterday, Eastern Standard Time. You will see these numbers, again, grow very quickly in the next few days as these trains are starting to arrive with the equipment on board.

That's sort of the update on where we are.

Let me turn now and talk a little bit about quality of life for the soldiers as they arrive in Bosnia and what they can expect to find when they get on the ground. Clearly, we're talking about field conditions. The soldiers are all going to be sheltered, quite obviously, especially this time of year with the weather they're going to face. They're going to be in tents that they deploy with. These are reasonably large tents. They're also going to have some leased tents or we'll be in leased buildings. There are some of the initial forces that went in that are there now are, in fact, staying in leased buildings. But all of the tents that we put up are going to have wooden floors. They'll have heat in them and light. While this may not seem like much, it's a lot better than a pup tent that we may experience ourselves as we go off on camping trips -- this is not what we're talking about here. We're going to have troops off of the wet ground with the wooden floors. They will have heat because... It's not extremely cold, but it's been in the 30s and low 40s there in most of the locations we're deploying U.S. forces to during the day; dropping off to a little cooler at night. But we want to make sure we're making things as comfortable as we possibly can. These conditions will improve over time, but that's basically what we're going to do for the troops when they arrive, and they can expect that.

In terms of the food that the troops will be getting when they arrive, the objective is to try to give them three hot meals a day. I'm sure the soldiers that are going in there won't consider one of these a hot meal, in that they'll be obviously eating the Meals-Ready-to-Eat -- the MREs that you are familiar with from the Gulf War. The same sort of meal is available. They have a hot pack with it, and some people consider that a hot meal. I'm sure there's no soldier that considers that a hot meal. But they will get what we call T-rations, which is a tray with food on it that is warmed. They'll be getting that at breakfast and dinner. These types of meals will be supplemented by fresh milk, fresh bread, and fruit as they get those meals; especially the T-ration meals in the morning and the evening. And as time goes

by -- as the mess tents are set up, as the base camps are built -- you'll find the feeding conditions will move from rations of this kind to hot, prepared meals provided for the troops daily.

I think another thing worth pointing out... Some of you may have already noticed or have reported that the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service is already there with an FM station. It started broadcasting on the 9th of December. It's an FM station, 100.1. This will be a means of getting information to the troops about what's going on outside of Bosnia, as well as information important to them while they're there.

Mail is anther question that a lot of people have. I think it's worth mentioning that it already exists to Sarajevo, obviously, in that there are people at the embassy there. But postal service for people who will be in Tuzla will start about the 15th, with mail actually flowing about the 18th. Postal people arrive about the 15th, so it will be there in time for Christmas. We'll get more information to you on zip codes, if that's of interest -- and it will be to the families, obviously, and others who would like to write to troops -- but we'll get this information to you as it becomes available.

The next issue I want to talk about a couple of minutes is where we are in the Reserves. At the moment, we have about 37 of about 70 Reserve units that have been called up. Recall that the President has authorized the Reserve call-up. As we are here today, 37 units have been called up from across the United States. And they involve a number of different specialties, but primarily focused in the areas of engineers, military police, postal people. There are others -- psychological operations, civil affairs people from the Special Operations Forces -- and as this list grows, we'll try to keep you advised as to the scope of it.

The CONUS mobilization stations are located at three of the Army's forts Fort Benning, Fort Bragg and Fort Dix. At the moment, the only units that have been called up are from the U.S. Army -- from both the Reserve and the Army National Guard.

There are some units included in the 37 that I just mentioned that are Reserve units that are actually located in Europe. As I recall there are nine of those units; but the bulk of them, obviously, are here in the United States.

The last point I wanted to make before we take some questions is that I know there have been discussions about the use of force and why we have been talking about that as we talk about a peace mission. All of us, up to and including the President, have been talking about the importance of the peace mission. We have a peace treaty signed -- at least initialed, to be signed shortly -- that this is not conditions of war. And a statement has been made by the President that he absolutely would not be deploying forces into conditions of war.

So why are we talking about this use of force with the force going in with a lot of capability, and why are we making something of this? I think it's worth spending a couple of minutes talking about this because there may be some confusion as to why we're going on a peace mission and yet we're talking about the use of force.

First, I want to point out it is our obligation to ensure that the troops have the ability to protect themselves either against the threat of an attack or an actual attack. Be it a sniper or anything else they may confront. We want no mistake about this, and we want to make it very clear that they have this authority.

It's awfully important -- and the reason you hear us talking about it -- that the warring parties understand the importance of this. We want the warring parties to know that, in fact, these forces are coming well equipped with all of the things necessary to protect themselves and to ensure that this peace agreement is carried out within the bounds of the mission statement and the tasks they've been given -- which we've said many times, is very clear and very narrowly focused to ensure that we stay focused on exactly what the Dayton Agreement has authorized the military forces to do.

But it's important that the warring parties don't have a misperception about what they're used to seeing in terms of the UN forces there today and what this implementation force is going to come in with. We want to make it clear that it's not going to be the same. These forces that are coming in there under NATO and the U.S. part of that, are operating with extremely robust ROE. We're coming in, we're going to be sure we protect ourselves, and we're going to be sure we can carry out the mission and the tasks that we've been asked to do. So we don't want any confusion on this point. What I'm trying to do is to say, on the one hand, this is clearly a peace effort. We hope that we have no conditions under which we have to use the amount of force we're taking in -- or any force for that matter -- to carry out any part of this agreement; but we want everybody to understand that if required, and if this force is threatened, it has the ability and the authority to protect themselves. That's the reason you hear us talking about it: to be sure there's no confusion in the warring parties' mind about the capabilities of this force.

Again, I can only reiterate to you that this clearly is a peace mission, and by going in there with this kind of force available to the U.S. forces as well as the rest of the NATO forces, it will help ensure that that peace holds. We can only hope that that's exactly the situation that we face when we get there. We are not confused by the fact that this is not a risk-free mission, and that's why we're going with this kind of capability. But it's very important that we make the record straight, that everybody understand what the situation is, and I want to sort this out because I know there may have been some confusion here in this country when we're talking about why are we talking about the use of force when we're talking about a peace mission. I hope that helps with some explanation. We want to be sure the troops have the ability to protect themselves.

With that, I will open up to questions.

Q: General, Reuter has a report out of Bosnia -- a UN report I believe -- that a Bosnian general or a senior Bosnian military official -- Serb military official

-- at a town about 60 miles north of Tuzla, is saying that no U.S. patrols will be allowed in. They'll be ejected if they come into the town. I don't know if that's in the zone of separation or what. Are you familiar with this? Do you have any comment on it?

A: I'm not. But this is not surprising. The details of the peace agreement may, in fact, not be known to some of these people. Make no mistake, the peace agreement authorizes the implementation force to go anywhere in Bosnia that it chooses. That is the IFOR commander's authority.

Now, in the initial stages of the arrival of the implementation force... Recall when I first did one of these about the middle of last week, I said that we had 30 days from the time that NATO takes command of the theater. The warring parties, as part of the agreement, have agreed to separate themselves along the ceasefire line. That is the responsibility of the warring parties. It is the implementation force's responsibility to monitor that separation and then to enforce it in places where they may not be separated. We don't expect that to happen. We expect them to separate. They're the ones that agreed to this. They have command and control of their forces, so they're going to do that. But in terms of where patrols can go and what IFOR's authority is, you really ought to address this issue to NATO and to the commanders there. But as I read the peace agreement that was initialed in Dayton, there is no question about the NATO commander's authority to travel throughout the country of Bosnia as he sees fit to carry out his tasks. It's well within his authority to do that. I hope that answers your question.

Q: With regard to the zone of separation in the American sector, do you have any kind of breakdown on how much of that zone of separation is accessible by a road that may be traversed by mechanized armor? And the questions I think clearly are will our troops be out on foot patrol without cover of armor to patrol these sections? Will they be camped in the zone of separation? Can you give us some details on that?

A: I can, except I really need to leave this to General Nash and the commanders once they get there.

What I plan to do as we do some more of these... I will bring in a map that describes the zone of separation and the general things that the agreement allows the NATO forces to do; and, in particular, address the Tuzla sector in terms of what it looks like, what the distances are, where the major roads are -- and I'll get into some of that. But I don't want to do that now, because it's a little ways off down the road and you'll just ask me again -- not that I'm not willing to do it now, but I think those questions will be answered in the very near future for you.

Q: Can you answer will there be the necessity for U.S. troops to be out on foot in patrols without protection of armor in various parts of the zone of separation? And will they, in fact, patrol -- come and go through the zone and not camp in the zone?

A: I would say that initially you're going to see the U.S. forces with a lot of protection as they move around until they get the lay of the land. This is a natural thing. Why would we go out and expose ourself to an uncertain situation? We're going to be sure that the forces are adequately protected. That's exactly what the commanders are charged with doing, and I assure you, they understand their responsibilities. That's up to them to take care of. Clearly not my business here. It's what we give those commanders good pay for, and they're superb at it.

So what you will find is that initially we will undoubtedly have heavy protection for the forces with all the kinds of things you can think of as we go out and feel our way along. As time goes by, and if the situation so warrants, you'll see this lessen somewhat as we determine there's no threat. You're not going to find people totally exposed out there walking around, however. That's not the objective here. But again, we've got to remember we're trying to use the concepts of war, and we're talking about a concept of peace here. We hope this works out well, but we're not going to unduly expose our forces until we understand what the situation is; and it will be up to the commanders on the scene to decide how they can relax or tighten that, depending on what they think the threat is to their forces.

Q: The treaty says the troops can go anywhere. But in your estimation, what will the mine threat there do to inhibit the forces from going anywhere they want to?

A: It's really unknown right now. We don't have a feel for where all the mines are. Clearly, we're going to take very great precautions as we go in, as I described when I saw you all last week, to be sure that we protect our people -- that we don't get exposed in the minefields where we might get somebody hurt. But we're going to be sure that the minefields do not inhibit our ability to carry out our tasks.

Now if there are large minefields around -- that are along the zone of separation and we feel we have to patrol that area -- then something will be done about it. But, in fact, minefields in the zone of separation -- not along the lines of communication, the roads that run between the two sides -- may in fact prevent anybody from moving along those areas, which is good. So you want free access across this inter-entity boundary or initially the ceasefire line -- eventually the inter-entity boundary as we get to that point. So as long as we have access across those roads, we're OK.

Q: If we rely on other people -- the warring factions -- to remove the mines, why is it in their interest to remove them if it would inhibit our movement if, indeed, they want to play it that way?

A: Again, this is an item in the peace agreement. They have said they will remove the mines. Hopefully -- initially -- we do it as an article of good faith. We certainly are going to do it to facilitate the IFOR in order to do their tasks. But eventually, we've got a humanitarian demining issue here. We're all extremely hopeful that this peace holds, and eventually they are going to have to sort out how they rid their country of all these mines. It's a horrible problem that's been created there, as is other parts of the world. As I described the other day, the U.S. has been involved in nine demining operations around the world -- not removing the mines, but training country teams how to go out and do this safely.

I suspect you're going to see a fairly major effort as the peace takes hold and people start getting comfortable as they move down the road with a major effort for humanitarian demining in Bosnia. It's a terrible problem.

Q: Now that the French pilots have been released, can you describe in a general way what the U.S. did to help secure their release, or talk about a general way the various rescue attempts and what the U.S. really knew about them while they were in captivity?

A: Well, I think I have to leave this to a later date. As you know, this event has just happened. Make no mistake, the French were doing the negotiating for their pilots, as you would fully expect. We were trying to give as much support as we could to this effort in that these were NATO forces -- part of a NATO force that had been shot down. I know the air commander in the region -- General Mike Ryan -- has repeatedly mentioned to me the importance of trying to help and do everything we can in the U.S. to assist the French and NATO in the recovery of these pilots, but let's give credit where credit's due. I think the French did what we would have done. We would have worked very hard in every channel we could find to get our pilots back -- as we did with Scott O'Grady. The French were doing the same things. I just don't have access to the information that would be useful to you in answering the question that you asked. I'm sorry.

Q: General, do you know that 4,000 German forces will be deployed? How far from your area of responsibility?

A: It's a good question -- where the German forces are going to deploy. As a U.S. officer standing here trying to describe what U.S. forces are going to do, I'm really not in a position to describe what the Germans are going to do. I really don't know exactly where they're going to deploy, sir, but I can try to find out. But I suggest that you would ask the NATO forces what their plan is on how they're going to deploy the German forces. They'd be a better source of information than I would.

Q: If I can return to the mine issue, if I may. You've often spoken of the minefields that are recorded. We also know that from time to time mines are thrown out as a matter of last minute defense. How big of a threat will the unknown mines be to the troops?

A: Of course that's what the majority of them are -- unknown at this point. We are going to have to work very hard with the warring parties to identify these minefields as best they can track where they are. Then before we go into an area, as I described last week, we're going to take great precaution to ensure that the areas are mine-free. We're not going to just go walking into an area assuming there are no mines there. You assume there are mines until you prove different. And that's the approach that U.S. forces are going to take, and I expect all NATO forces, [to] because there are a lot of mines out there, as we know. The exact numbers are unclear. But you hear a wide range. We talked around three million last week. Could it be double that? It could be double that. I don't know how man mines there are, nor does anybody else. But we're assuming a mine threat until it's proven different, and we're going to ensure the area is mine-free before we conduct operations into an area.

Q: How much of Task Force Eagle will already have moved into Kaposvar before Thursday, before...

A: Task Force Eagle, the only... When you say Task Force Eagle, that's the force that's going into Bosnia. As we've said from the start, the Task Force Eagle force -- the main body force -- cannot deploy until it's authorized first by the United Nations Security Council with a resolution; secondly by the North Atlantic Council which deploys the NATO force; and, thirdly, by our President who authorizes the deployment of U.S. forces in support of the implementation force. So you're not going to see those forces...

The things you see going on right now in terms of the forces moving into Hungary are the support forces; a bridging unit, which is going to be the first bridge across the Sava River as we go in to cross between Croatia and Bosnia. That's important, because until we get this land line of communications open, we are restricted to support of our forces by air. So we've authorized them to go ahead and preposition this so we can get down quickly, get the bridge across the river, and then be prepared to support the forces -- the land line of communication -- which is very important to us.

Q: That's part of the support force?

A: Yeah, it's considered part of the support force and not Task Force Eagle. Clearly, we're going to take the force protection with those people. We're not going to send them down there, exposing them. We're going to be sure they're protected. So there are some troops going down to be sure they do that. But in terms of Task Force Eagle -- the 1st Armored Division, the main body force that's going -- that can only deploy after the President authorizes it.

Thanks very much.

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