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Transcript : DoD News Briefing : Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA
January 11, 1996 1:30 PM EDT

Thursday, January 11, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our briefing. I'm glad you all could make it in the snow. We missed you the last several days.

I've got a couple of announcements to begin with.

The results of the investigation into the September 22nd crash of the AWACS at Elmendorf Air Force Base will be released tomorrow [today] at 2 o'clock at Hickam Air Force Base. For more information you should call the Headquarters of the Pacific Air Force Public Affairs. That's (808) 449-5211.

The reduction of U.S. forces in Haiti continues. Last week we announced that 66 troops came out. This week another 160 are coming out. They're members of the 46th Engineer Battalion at Fort Polk, Louisiana.

As you know, we've got now 2,300 troops there. The exact number is 2,258. The UN mandate under which they're operating in Haiti expires on February 29th. We hope to have all the troops out in an orderly pace some time after that, in the next month or so after February 29th. But the movement has begun and will continue.

While I'm on that topic, I want to mention a success story that has perhaps escaped notice. Which is, we plan to move the final migrants out of Guantanamo Bay by the end of this month. At one point in September 1994 we had 46,000 Cuban and Haitian migrants in Guantanamo Bay. The last Haitians left on November 1, 1995; we're down to about 1,500 Cubans. They're being shipped out at 500 or more a week, and we hope to have them all gone by the end of this month.

We're also in the process of dismantling some of the equipment there and shipping the facilities back to the U.S. or elsewhere, so the camps at which they were stationed, or kept, or living, are largely being dismantled.

Q: Where are the Cubans going?

A: The Cubans now are going back to Cuba. Remember under the arrangement we made with Cuba, they're being repatriated.

Q: You mean Cubans from GTMO.

Q: You said they were being shipped out.

A: They're being repatriated to Cuba, I believe, at this stage. Am I wrong on that? We'll double-check. [Most are paroled to the U.S.]

Q: What becomes of GTMO? All the families have been moved out, the golf courses all chopped up. Are you going to revive that base or...

A: I can't answer that question. We're going to leave a space there for about 10,000 migrants in the future if we need it, which we hope we don't.

Q: Will GTMO continue to operate as a naval station or...

A: It continues its normal operations, but this part that housed the refugees is being closed down, and just retaining a surge capacity there.

Q: But you don't know whether families will be moving back to that base?

A: We will find out what's going to happen there.

Q: You say you're leaving space for 10,000 migrants in case something else happens again in the future?

A: Right. Well, given the past, it would be probably unrealistic to assume we'll never have another migrant at Guantanamo Bay, but we hope we won't.

Bosnia, the deployment continues. We've got 6,666 people in Bosnia, as of our last statistics, which were yesterday. They're flowing in at about 500 or 600 a day, so we'll have more than half the force in Bosnia by January 19th when we take over the enforcement of the zones of separation.

We do plan to build a second bridge across the Sava River, but the construction of that bridge has been delayed for 30 or more days so the engineers can turn their attention to building better living facilities for the soldiers who are living around the Sava River bridge site. You may have read reports that the tenting and other facilities have been sort of rough, in part because their initial tents were flooded. So we will turn our attention to building better facilities, more sanitary, dryer facilities for the troops, and then work on the bridge.

Q: You said 30 or more days?

A: Yes, 30 or more days.

Q: Will that impact the deployment at all?

A: No. Right now there are about 230 vehicles a day coming over the bridge. It's far less than its total capacity. So we have plenty of bridge space right now.

Q: The housing and the facilities you're referring to are the ones on the northern side of the Sava River, or are these some of the initial base camps that will be spread throughout Bosnia?

A: These are mainly right around the Sava River bridge head, but we'll probably do some other building at base camps in the area with the engineers.

Q: My understanding is part of the reason that those base camps are as primitive as they are is that you can't get enough flow across the Sava River, so you have a Catch-22. If you had an extra span of bridge...

A: We believe we're getting enough flow across the Sava River now, yeah. We believe that the time of the engineers could be better spent improving the quality of life for the troops there, and we'll delay the second bridge for, as I say, about a month.

Q: Any other incidents, difficulties involving American forces in Bosnia that you know of?

A: No. Basically, it's going well. You've read about the minor problems we've had. The troops continue to flow in. As I said, we'll be well able to police the zones of separation, monitor the zones of separation on the 19th.

Q: The New York Times had a piece on the front page this morning about a mine, in what is apparently the British sector, that is being used to dump bodies from the alleged mass grave sites down into the mine, apparently in an effort to hide those bodies. IFOR commanders are saying their job is not to get involved in this sort of stuff. Does the U.S. Government have a position on if an attempt is being made to cover up the mass grave sites and to cover up atrocities, will IFOR protect those sites, intervene in any way? Or just let the various forces go about their business and cover it up?

A: The allegation in the Times piece was they were trying to destroy the evidence that it had been a mass grave site. Obviously having that effort appear on the front page of the New York Times somewhat sabotages their effort to cover it up.

We will increase our intelligence collection in that area to provide the War Crimes Tribunal all the up-to-date information we can. The IFOR is not designed to protect these sites, but it is designed to allow free movement in each sector, particularly after January 19th when we start enforcing the zones of separation. We assume there will be free movement in and out for the UN people and the War Crimes Tribunal people who will be looking at these sites.

Q: Has there been a request, to the best of your knowledge, from the War Crimes Tribunal for some assistance by IFOR on this particular case?

A: I'm not aware of a request. We are actually, on our own, volunteering the additional intelligence information we can find about this, and we've been cooperating with them all along in providing information.

Q: After all of the hue and cry by the U.S. Government and the allies about the atrocities, it seems that you would want to protect a site that apparently is where evidence is being destroyed of these atrocities. Not just collect various types of intelligence, but to stop the activity. There's no intention by our government to try to stop the activity at that mine site?

A: That is really not part of the IFOR's job, as I said. There are probably 15 to 20 mass grave sites in Bosnia. We believe most of them are Serb, but every party has, we believe, mass grave sites in Bosnia. The fact of these sites is well known, and it also should be very clear to the parties that they cannot escape legal retribution. They cannot escape the reach of the War Crimes Tribunal by trying to cover up and destroy these sites.

Q: Do you have any intelligence already that confirms the Times story about that mine or other...

A: No.

Q: What can you tell us at all about the validity of that story? Is there anything at all that you know about specifics or details?

A: I've not taken a survey of every person in the American government. We will turn intelligence assets to that area to survey it. It was not an area we had been surveying regularly beforehand, but we will now.

Q: What's the status of arrival for the Russian troops?

A: It will probably be over this weekend that they'll start coming in. The first troops will fly in, and we expect they'll be there on Friday or Saturday, although the Russian press has said they're being delayed by a day or two. Most of their equipment is coming on 11 trains. They are actually facing some of the same problems we faced early in our deployment, which is they have not been able to get transit permissions through all the countries they have to go through. It's just a matter of time, we assume they'll get it, and they'll start flowing in relatively quickly.

Q: How many do you expect to arrive this weekend?

A: A small number. We don't know the exact number. The initial part of the Russian force will be about 400 paratroopers, and I think they'll come in in probably small numbers.

Q: Did they ask for any logistical support from the U.S.?

A: I'm not aware that they have so far asked for logistical support. The first people plan to come in in their own planes. Obviously, they're bringing their equipment on their own trains.

Q: Fly into Tuzla?

A: Yes, Tuzla.

Q: Do you have any information on the Russian carrier, the Kuznetsov, that is now in the Mediterranean, that according to press reports has asked for water because some of their evaporators are down?

A: I thought it was sort of a mischief-making press report in a way, because it suggested that we regarded the carrier as a bother, or perhaps an organizational obstacle in the Mediterranean. Vice Admiral Pilling has been on board. He's met with the commander of the Russian Task Force. He's offered them all sorts of help. What they've talked about is doing some joint exercises and finding ways to cooperate together, to work together in the Mediterranean. There's going to be another visit held on Saturday aboard the AMERICA, where we'll give a tour to the Russians of our aircraft carrier. As I say, they're talking about ways to increase interoperability of the two fleets. We're working together on the ground in Bosnia. We think our fleets ought to be able to work together in the Mediterranean in similar operations there.

There has been no request from the Russian fleet for water. They did ask if we had the capability to provide water, and we do have the capability to provide the water, but they have not requested it.

Q: Have they told us that they're short of water?

A: No. It says right here, "There has been no discussion about a critical need for water" aboard the Russian ship.

Q: So the U.S. Navy does not believe that this ship has a fresh water, potable water problem?

A: I didn't say that. I said they haven't asked for water. They inquired whether we could give them water, which might suggest they need water, but they haven't asked for water. We have the capability to pump water onto other ships, and probably would consider this a worthwhile type of cooperation and exercise at sea if we were asked to provide water.

Q: Did the U.S. take any steps to provide such water?

A: No, we have not been asked.

Q: Sometimes the Navy even anticipates...

A: The Navy anticipates many things, and it may have anticipated this, but it has not provided water for which it hasn't been asked.

Q: Do we know if any of the Russians will be in Tuzla when the President's there?

A: Probably a few will be there, but I'm not positive about that. As I said, the exact arrival schedule for the Russians is not clear now, but it could well be that there will be a few Russians there. I doubt if their commanders will be there because the Russian force is supposed to be certified by NATO in Moscow tomorrow. So I would assume that the commanders of the Russian detachment will be in Moscow to meet with NATO officials.

Q: Going back to the potential war criminals for a second, you had said that people have to realize they couldn't escape, that they would eventually, well you didn't say it. You said they couldn't escape.

Could you go back over what the rules are for U.S. forces in terms of if they come across people who are alleged war criminals -- indicted or not indicted -- what the responsibility is of U.S. forces, and why the policy is what it is?

A: The policy -- that's a much more appropriate question for the State Department -- why is the policy what it is. It's set down in the Dayton Accords. But the rules that apply to U.S. forces are that if they run across indicted war criminals, they should turn them over to either local authorities or to UN authorities.

Q: They do have what could be defined as authority to arrest?

A: They have authority to detain them and turn them over.

Q: Is it part of the rules of engagement, so to speak, that they are under orders to actively look for these people?

A: No, as they come across them. The IFOR is not a force being sent over there to round up war criminals in Bosnia. That's not its job.

Q: There has been some concern expressed about the deployment of American radars in the south near Sarajevo, and also some American helicopter support, that perhaps this might be the beginning of an increased mission for the United States, patrolling and doing things outside of the sector that's been assigned to the United States. Can you tell us whether this is the beginning of any kind of wider mission for the U.S., or...

A: It is not the beginning of a wider mission for the U.S.

Q: Is there pressure on the United States to do more than originally committed to do?

A: Not substantial pressure... we are part of an international force under NATO direction, and we provide assistance as requested when we can. We have some abilities that other members of the force don't have, and we have provided those on a very limited basis and will continue to do so. But I do not regard this as an expansion of the mission.

Q: Was the United States asked at all to begin patrolling Zepa, which originally was not in the American sector?

A: I can't answer that question.

Correcting an earlier answer, it says the majority of the migrants currently at Guantanamo Bay continue to be paroled into the U.S. A small number who aren't eligible for parole are being repatriated to Cuba.

Q: Once the United States troops have left Haiti, and I think you said it would be within a month or so after the end of February mandate expires, will there be other troops left in Haiti as part of that mission that aren't American troops? Is there a UN force staying behind?

A: We anticipate that a UN force will stay behind. I don't have the details of that force, but it won't have American participation.

Q: About ten days ago the President signed out the unified command plan that basically says in June of '97 the Caribbean will shift to the U.S. Southern Command now headquartered in Panama. Do you have any further information on that, the details of that plan?

A: No. If you want some, we'll try to get them for you. What do you want, the names of islands, dates?

Q: Time line, the dates, the...

A: We'll try to respond to that.

Q: This has to do with the budget. We're about a month into the FY96 budget and we don't have an authorization bill. What sort of problems do you foresee in executing your budget if we cannot get an authorization bill? Is it the desire of this building to have an authorization bill?

A: Two major problems from our standpoint are deleterious impacts on the pay and quality of life of the troops. Without an authorization bill, we don't have a pay increase, a full pay increase of 2.4 percent. We have a 2 percent pay increase. And there are certain improvements in barracks that can't take place without the authorization bill.

Q: There's other stuff like acquisition reform, there's ships that...

A: There's a long line of things and we'll be glad to give you a list, but basically, those are the two major impacts from our standpoint.

Q: Are you still on schedule to release the budget on that first Saturday in February?

A: I'm unaware of the budget schedule. You should ask OMB.

Q: Here's another budget question from left field. I'll understand if you don't have this answer off the top of your head. I understand that in the budget there's a chunk of money, I think it's something like $35 million, in order to assist in security at the Olympics. Do you have any idea what that money goes for, what that money is meant for? Can you take that question?

A: We'll take the question.

Q: I'd like the name and rank of the North Korean officer that's coming to Honolulu regarding the MIA [question].

A: I'm tempted to say you should ask the North Korean government for that information. I do not have their names or their ranks. This is about the POW/MIA remains. I'll see if we can get that for you, but I'm not making any promises.

Q: What's the latest condition of that soldier that was transferred to San Antonio who was injured in Bosnia by hitting an electrical line last Friday?

A: I don't know. We'll find out.

Q: Can the Pentagon help us remove the snow in front of the White House? [Laughter]

A: It seems to me that the best snow-removing operation in Washington, the best snow-removing place is around Mayor Barry's house, from what I can tell. You should talk to him. [Laughter]

Press: Thank you.