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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA
February 01, 1996 1:30 PM EDT

Thursday, February 1, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. I'm sorry I'm late. I'm late because I was delayed reading the transcripts of all the Bosnia briefings we've had for you today.

Before I start with taking your questions, I'd like first to thank French President Chirac for his kind mention of Joe Kruzel, Bob Frasier and Nelson Drew today in a Legion of Honor Ceremony at Blair House, noting the contribution that they had made to the peace process. It was graceful for him to mention that.

I'd also like to note that we're standing down OPERATION PROVIDE PROMISE which three years ago started to support the U.S. and UN operations in the former Yugoslavia. There's a Blue Top on this listing its accomplishments, but I'll just tick off several things that it has done in the last three years.

The air crews established a Sarajevo air bridge which supplied more than 160,000 metric tons of food, medicine and supplies. It was the longest running humanitarian airlift in history. The operation also flew emergency air drops for 19 months, during which it delivered 18,000 metric tons of food, medical supplies, and other supplies to isolated regions in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It operated a hospital in Zagreb which treated more than 46,000 out-patients, 2,000 in-patients, and performed some 1,200 surgical procedures.

The task force is beginning to stand down today, but it will continue a... We will have one task force left in the area after this which is ABLE SENTRY, outside of Bosnia. There will be Task Force ABLE SENTRY in Macedonia, which, as you know, is protecting the border with Macedonia to prevent conflict from flowing southward. With that, I'll take your questions on PROVIDE PROMISE or anything else.

Q: Admiral Smith said this morning that the total U.S. troops in Bosnia would top off at 17,700, I believe. Do you have any comment on that? The fact that it will not reach 20,000 as planned?

A: He said that had always been, I thought that was actually General Nash who said that. He said that had always been his plan. There are troops moving in and out. We'll try to deconflict that with the 20,000. We've always talked in terms of a maximum of 20 in the area in Bosnia, and then some in Croatia as well. But there's been no change of plan. There has been no decision to scale down the size of the deployment. As of this time, we're still going ahead and moving troops in.

Q: So it will not reach 20,000?

A: I didn't say that. I said we'll attempt to find the difference between the 17,000... He said he had always operated with the assumption that he would have 17,500 troops. I will check that maybe there are other troops elsewhere in Bosnia, but I will check that. But what I'm trying to stress is that there has not been a scaling back in our commitment.

Q: Admiral Smith, in one of his interviews, said that on the recommendations of the ground commanders, that he would consider -- once all the forces are in the area -- he would consider restructuring and lightening up, were the terms he used, the force. Do you know what that means in the case of the United States forces to exchange heavier armored forces for other kinds of forces, lighter forces, or does it mean an early drawdown of troops?

A: From the first briefings on our Bosnia peacekeeping plans to Congress, Secretary Perry and General Shalikashvili have noted that we will build our troops up over a period of time, and then we will draw our troops down over a period of time with the goal of having all our troops out within a year of the beginning of the operation.

The most challenging military tasks the IFOR troops face will largely be done in the first six months of the mission. Indeed, they'll be done in the first several months of the mission. The first challenge was getting the troops in there safely in the first place. That's been done. We've proven we can do that. They're not all there. They're still flowing in. The IFOR force is still building. The second challenge was to establish and monitor the zones of separation. We have done that.

The next challenge is on February 3rd, Saturday, when we have to, when territories have to be transferred among the parties. Then 45 days after that, which I believe is March 19th, people can flow back into these transferred territories. These will be times of some tension -- potentially some tension -- and will certainly demand full and alert forces to monitor what's going on there.

Then there are a series of other deadlines. One, of course, is the imposition of an arms control agreement or regime six months after the agreement was signed.

But after about six months, the major military jobs will be done. The forces will be divided, the zones of separation will be set up. There will be demobilizations, disarmaments, destruction... Either removal or destruction of heavy weapons, etc. Then the forces will concentrate on providing a secure and stable environment, basically helping the sides build confidence, helping them devise a number of confidence-building measures, such as arms control.

So depending on how the mission goes, there will be an opportunity, probably, to draw down some of the forces before next December. We have always planned on a gradual withdrawal.

Having said all that, I'm not predicting that the future will necessarily go as well as the past has gone, but we have every hope that it will because one of the most important and impressive aspects of this operation so far is that all the warring parties have shown a desire for peace. We, as a result, did not face the organized opposition that we feared we might face in the early days.

Secretary Perry has also said, and I think it's worth repeating time and time again, that we made a decision to go in heavy. If it turns out we went in too heavy, we can always pull some of the forces back. I think it's premature to say whether that means we would consider removing some of the armor or that we would just scale down the size of the force, rather than lightening up the force that's already there. We will look at the options when it's appropriate. It's not appropriate now.

Q: Excuse me, you did say you had taken the question on the 17,700 and whether there were troops elsewhere in Bosnia, right?

A: I did say that. Yes.

Q: Another subject?

A: Sure.

Q: Could you express for us the level of concern at the Pentagon over the provision in the defense bill with regard to discharging those with HIV virus and what you hope to be able to do about it?

A: First of all, the defense authorization bill that contains this provision has not been signed. We expect that President Clinton will sign it next week. He objects strenuously to this provision and to a number of other provisions, but we think the provision that requires the discharge of military personnel who test HIV positive is operationally unnecessary, and we think it is harsh from a humane standpoint. We think it imposes a degree of micromanagement on commanders that is unwarranted. We also think it imposes a degree of pain and suffering on members of the military that is unwarranted. There was, I thought, a quite moving piece in the Washington Post today about a young sergeant who became HIV positive from her husband who was since deceased. Is a mother, has been in the military for ten years, and is fully able to perform her job. That's the point here. As long as people are able to perform their jobs under the current procedure, they're allowed to stay in the military. This would require them to get out within six months of the signing of the bill. Those are the reasons we oppose this.

We basically have several lines of defense. The first is, as you know, several members of Congress have also expressed outrage over this provision, and are going to introduce legislation seeking either to repeal this provision, or to provide certain types of support to the dependents of people who are thrown out of the military or perhaps support to the former military member, such as training. I do not believe that... I don't know whether pieces of legislation have been introduced, but you know that Senator Nunn has talked about a bill. I think Senator Kennedy has been talking about a bill, Senator Boxer, etc. So our first hope is a legislative remedy.

If that doesn't work, the Administration is also looking at a number of administrative remedies that perhaps could be implemented through executive order. I think it's premature now to discuss these in detail, but they would also involve providing some sort of support to dependents, perhaps training to people who are being thrown out of the service. It would be a comprehensive package, as comprehensive a package as we could design. But as I say, we hope there will be a legislative remedy.

Q: Having said that, is Secretary Perry going to recommend to the President that he sign the authorization?

A: Well, he already has. We've been through the history of this bill. As you know, the President vetoed the bill once, and there were a number of unacceptable parts of this bill initially that restricted the President's authority to assign troops, that would have required the building of a very costly ballistic missile system that we think might have sabotaged the arms control process, therefore inflicting much greater cost on the United States because right now the U.S. and Russia are making great progress in reducing the size of their arsenals.

So the most objectionable provisions of the bill were cured by Congress, and that's what allowed Secretary Perry to recommend that the President sign the bill, and the President to decide to sign the bill. Life is a series of compromises. There are provisions. This is an enormous bill. It deals with rules for spending, provisions for spending $265 billion. There are a number of provisions in this bill that the Pentagon doesn't like.

There are also a number of very important provisions in the bill that we in the Administration wanted. Principally, is a full military pay raise. That is a pay raise this year of 2.4 percent versus the 2 percent the military would have gotten without the bill. There are provisions with the bill that allow us to move forward with our program to improve military housing, which is a central part of the quality of life program. There are also provisions in the bill which allow us to move forward with acquisition reform. As you know, acquisition reform is one of the ways we hope to achieve savings in the future, which will allow for more money to be put into research and development and procurement.

Q: Do you have a number on the number of people who have HIV?

A: Yes, as of December 15th, there were 1,049, I believe, people in the military who have tested HIV positive.

These people may remain in the military as long as they can perform their jobs. We've all seen recently, in watching Magic Johnson's decision to return to basketball, that people who have tested HIV positive are fully capable of carrying on near normal lives and performing their jobs, performing jobs that are quite strenuous.

Q: As it stands now, are they going to be out of service in six months?

A: That is what the bill provides and as I said earlier this week, we will have to obey the law.

Q: So the only way you would not get rid of them at this point is with new legislation, is that right?

A: That's basically correct. We're hoping there will be legislation that will either repeal or modify this provision. You may be able to predict what Congress will do on this or any other issue, but I can't.

Q: What restrictions, if any, now currently apply to HIV positive members of the armed services?

A: Basically, they cannot be deployed overseas, and they cannot be deployed into combat situations. But that leaves a wide variety of jobs that they can perform domestically.

Q: On the budget, I understand that a mini-budget or part of a budget will be sent next week, but you all won't have anything until March, is that right?

A: Well, I think I should leave that to OMB to come in on the timing of the budget. But my understanding is that the full budget will come later.

Q: But you won't have any briefing or anything next week on the military aspects of it?

A: I'm not aware that we will, no.

Q: Different subject?

A: Sure.

Q: On Sudan. Do you see any potential escalation of the situation between Egypt and Sudan in light of evacuation of American citizens from Sudan? Any sign of any military buildup between the two nations?

A: No. I do not see any sign of a military buildup, but I'm not the person qualified to talk about the Sudanese intentions or plans vis-a-vis Egypt.

Q: There was a television program last night and a new book out that is raising questions about whether the Navy has a serious sexual relations problem. Does Secretary Perry have any particular concern about the conduct of the Navy currently in addressing these situations? Does he feel that the Navy is in worse shape than the other services as far as addressing these kinds of problems of harassment or sexual misconduct?

A: The Secretary talks frequently with the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations about a wide range of issues, including personnel issues. The Navy has worked very hard in the last four or five years to deal with a problem that certainly has been magnified by the press, but to deal with real problems of harassment and... I think that the Navy is making progress on that. It's certainly sensitive to the problems it faces. They have been addressed very forthrightly by the Secretary of the Navy and by the Chief of Naval Operations publicly. As you know, there was a stand-down late last year, within the last several months by the Navy, to work on questions dealing with sexual harassment. I think this is an issue that the Navy is addressing forthrightly and aggressively, and I think that should be very clear to the public.

Q: Are you saying that you think the press is making it sound worse than it is?

A: I'm saying this has clearly received a lot of attention in the press. I'm not saying the press is making it seem worse than it is. I think the press has focused much more on the problems than on the solutions the Navy is trying to promulgate.

Q: It's important that you not forget these are high profile problems.

A: I'm not minimizing these problems, and Secretary Perry doesn't minimize the problem, and the leadership of the Navy has not minimized the problem. The point I'm trying to make is, the Navy has faced these problems very aggressively. One of the points that has been made by the press is that it takes a long time to change a culture. I don't know whether this is a cultural problem or not. But I think that what's happening in the Navy is, in a sense, a version of what's happening throughout our society. Appropriately, and I think thankfully, our views of treatment of women are changing. The Navy is certainly working very hard to make sure that that change happens as quickly and as productively and as efficiently as possible.

Q: Without belaboring the issue of the role of the press one way or the other, is there any perception that the drumbeat or the focus has created a morale issue in the Navy? Has been perceived or addressed or it is considered a problem at any level?

A: No, there's the old statement that you're not paranoid if somebody really is chasing you. I think that the figures speak for themselves. I think the Navy is dealing aggressively with this problem.

What the military has shown over the last 20 years is that it's capable of dealing with extremely difficult problems -- problems of vision, of doctrine, of morale, problems of force quality, problems of training. The Navy is doing that, and I'm confident that the Navy is doing it well. These aren't easy problems. The Navy is not divorced from society. No service is divorced from society. No American institution is divorced from the broader problems of our society. So what we see here is perhaps a microcosm of what's happening throughout the society. When I used the term magnified, I do think that because the Navy is a very defined, highly visible organization, that probably the problems in the Navy tend to get more attention than problems do in say corporate America. One of the reasons is that the reporting provisions are much different. In a hierarchical organization, you have much better data reporting and you may have much clearer dispute resolution and also dispute alert mechanisms in the service than you would in other parts of America and society. So for those reasons, I think the problems have gotten more attention.

I am not minimizing the problems at all. They are real problems and the Navy is working hard and aggressively to correct them.

Q: Just exactly for those reasons, it would seem somewhat natural to ask, would there not be a kind of natural reaction from people subjected to that kind of pressure dealing with tough problems to, I'm trying to carefully choose words too, but to feel the effect of that pressure and that spotlight being put on them, perhaps feel that it's sometimes unwarranted or unfair, and so on. That's what I meant by morale. To what extent is that being looked into as a factor throughout the Navy? In addition to the problem, the reaction to the pressure.

A: I don't think it's productive to look at this as a morale problem. It's part of the mix of what the Navy has to deal with. The Navy is dealing with many other issues as well, just as the other services are -- questions of racial discrimination, etc. So I think that the Navy is dealing with this in an adult way and the members of the Navy understand that.

Q: I don't think anybody would argue the fact that the Navy is trying to change, but the Army and the Air Force aren't continually having to slap down their senior officers over problems like this which the Navy is. Granted that that's high profile because of the original problems with Tailhook and the Navy was spotlighted there. But the Army and the Air Force don't seem to be having these problems with their senior officers.

A: What conclusion do you draw from that?

Q: I don't draw any conclusion except that you say the press is highlighting this, pressing this, or magnifying it. The press is simply reporting what's going on.

A: I explained why I used that term.

Q: What's the situation in North Korea on the DMZ? Has there been any significant change there?

A: In the DMZ itself?

Q: In the alert status and reading what's going on in North Korea.

A: I'm not aware that there's been a change in alert status there. We're always extremely aware of what's going on. We watch it very closely.

Q: Particularly with the indications of starvation and everything. Any change in the military calculation of what's going on?

A: We're always evaluating a lot of information. The reports about starvation have been public and relatively widespread. There was a defector recently who reported on starvation in North Korea. We have responded as a nation by granting them some food aid, as has Japan and South Korea as well. There is now UN consideration of additional food aid for North Korea. So the food problems are real and we're trying to address those.

I do not believe that right now we see any reason for dramatically increased concern. We're dealing with a country that is enigmatic, to say the least; a country we don't fully understand that is highly secretive, tightly closed. We don't know what their intentions are, but we do know what their capabilities are, and we do know that they've got about a million soldiers lined up around the demilitarized zone. We know they have a lot of artillery. For those reasons, we're always watching this very carefully.

Q: Changing the subject to Nashville, there are lots of allegations of hot dogging going on against the pilot down in the press, in Tennessee. Has the Pentagon been able to confirm an angle of takeoff with the plane, the speed, that kind of thing?

A: Before I address that question I'd like to point out that I read a story today. "Tennessee Governor honors pilot. Says he guided F-14 past school." This is from the San Diego Union Tribune, but it says that the day after Lieutenant Commander J. Stacy Bates died in the fiery crash of his fighter in Nashville, the Governor of Tennessee called him a hero for staying with his plane and avoiding a school and a department store. I think that's worth getting on the record, Governor Sundquist's comment.

I am not going to speculate about, I'm not going to talk about the details of the flight profile. There is an investigation going on now. It will be a very thorough investigation that's being monitored closely by Secretary Perry and by the Chief of Naval Operations, obviously. When that investigation is finished, we'll be able to talk about what happened, but I don't think we have the facts right now.

Q: Can you confirm what the Governor said?

A: The Governor has based this from his reports, I don't have independent reports of what happened, but this was the Governor's perception.

Q: A Congressman from Nashville is going to introduce legislation later this month to prohibit risky military maneuvers at civilian airports in heavily populated areas. What does the Pentagon think about that?

A: We're against risky military maneuvers. We're for safe and effective military maneuvers. So we would not oppose anybody trying to make military maneuvers safer and more effective. I say that without any prejudice about whether this military maneuver was risky or not.

Press: Thank you.