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DoD News Briefing: Captain Mike Doubleday, USN, DASD (PA)

Presenters: Captain Mike Doubleday, USN, DASD (PA)
March 13, 1997 1:45 PM EDT
Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon. I have just a few announcements.

First of all, I'd like to welcome Mr. Kim Yeong-Jun who is the assistant foreign news editor of a newspaper in Pusan, Korea. Mr. Kim will be traveling throughout the United States for a month under the auspices of the U.S. Information Agency.

I think some of you are aware that following my briefing today there will be a background briefing by senior Army officials. This was originally scheduled to commence at 2 o'clock, but we're now going to start it at 2:30. They are going to be here to speak about the Army's investigative and military justice system as it pertains to rape, consensual sex, fraternization, and superior/subordinate relationships.

Following that, there will be another background briefing, this one actually not a backgrounder, a briefing conducted by General Howell Estes who is the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Space Command. He has been on the Hill earlier today testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. That briefing by General Estes will be here in the studio at 3:30. With that, I'll be happy to answer your questions.

Q: Do you have any update on military activities in regard to a potential evacuation of U.S....

A: Indeed, I do. This has to do with Albania. I can report to you that a short time ago there were four helicopters from the U.S. amphibious units that were operating in the region there which flew into the embassy in Tirana. The purpose of their trip was to take what we call a forward command element along with some communications equipment which will enable the ambassador there to communicate directly with the commander on board the ship. In addition, there were a number of security personnel accompanying the group.

When those helicopters left, they brought out about 50 U.S. citizens to the ships. We will be working with the embassy there and with the State Department here in Washington to determine the best way to proceed to bring out all non-essential U.S. government employees plus their dependents, as well as Americans who want to leave the area.

Q: How many individuals do you think will be asked to be taken out, and what will happen to them after... Is this a Marine ARG that they're on?

A: These are the amphibious units which are operating in the region, I think they're in the Ionian Sea at present. These units are USS NASSAU, USS PENSACOLA, and USS NASHVILLE.

Q: Do you know where the helicopters were from?

A: I don't at this point. This just happened. We'll try and get that level of detail for you, but I don't have it...

Q: Marines went in on...

A: Well, when I talk about security, that's what I'm talking about. The security is provided by the Marines.

Q: Again, what's happening to these individuals?

A: They're going back to the ships. They're being evacuated from the capital to the ships, and then we'll figure out from there where they're going to be taken after that, but I don't have that level of detail at this point.

Q: How many individuals do you think will be...

A: I think that at this point it's not possible to give a very good prediction on the number of U.S. citizens who may want to leave. I think that the estimates are that they're up to about 2,000 U.S. citizens, some of whom have dual citizenship. It is because of that situation that we're not certain how many will want to leave.

I think the points that the State Department is emphasizing to people who are in Tirana, to U.S. citizens who are in Tirana is to one, stay at home; keep their heads down; and maintain contact. They have, of course, as you know, a system established in most countries where there is a U.S. mission to contact U.S. citizens, and they'll be using that plus the Voice of America to provide any kinds of instruction to the people who may want to leave.

Q: Did the ambassador ask for this evacuation, and are these government employees?

A: Yes. The people who were evacuated so far, I don't have a firm handle. I understand that quite a number of them were children, but I can't give you any kind of a proportion on that, of the 50 that have been taken out.

Q: Captain Doubleday can you give us an update on what the situation is like in the capital?

A: I think it's best described as chaotic. That there are, that the situation has deteriorated throughout the country, and it is not possible at this point for the U.S. representatives there to forecast exactly what is going to happen. As a result of that, we have started a plan and a process which will take out those American citizens who want to leave.

Q: The NEO is underway, isn't it?

A: We certainly have started taking out some U.S. citizens, and that will proceed.

Q: Mike were there any attacks on Americans, any specific threats on Americans?

A: No. As a matter of fact, I am told that at this point, at least, there is no danger to American citizens, other than the overall kind of chaotic situation that exists.

Q: Can you say how many American government employees there are in the embassy and...

A: I think the number is in the vicinity of 170, 180, but I would refer you to State for an exact figure on that.

Q: Does it have a name yet, this evacuation operation?

A: We'll have to get back to you on that one. I think it probably does, but I just haven't learned it yet.

Q: The situation at the airport?

A: I don't have a good fix on that. The helicopters themselves landed in a housing area which was near the embassy, not at the airport, as I understand it.

Q: Mike is the thinking now that they would leave part of a Marine security detachment at the embassy to protect the facility and whatever personnel remain?

A: I would just like to leave it at the fact that we have security people who have accompanied the forward command element. I think those of you who have been through these operations before know that we always, whenever we send any kind of these advance elements in, we like to make sure that there is an appropriate level of security that accompanies them, and we've done that in this case.

Q: Normally when we run a NEO, the first priority is American citizens, but then we normally extend that to other non- nationals working with the other embassies, if anybody wants out. Do you know whether...

A: I don't have a good fix yet. I do know there is a meeting that is going on in NATO about a coordinated approach to this thing. I'm sure that we'd like to see that occur.

Q: I'm unclear as to where we are in this operation. You say we have started taking out some U.S. citizens. Were the four helicopters that went in there and then -- they're back out now, is that it or is that the start of a shuttle now and there are other...

A: I don't want to give you exactly what the flow is going to be here. What I am telling you is what has occurred. There were four helicopters that went in with the command element, forward command element, plus some communications equipment and personnel, plus the security people, and on their way out they brought about 50 U.S. citizens.

Q: Has the evacuation operation begun, or was this the pre- positioning of the forward command element with the security people and, while you're at it, you took out 50 Americans?

A: I'm not sure that I can characterize that. I'm not sure that we can make that fine a distinction at this point.

Q: Has there been an order issued to commence the evacuation of Americans from Albania?

A: The ambassador has certainly asked that U.S. citizens, those non-essential personnel at the embassy, plus those American citizens who want to leave be evacuated by military aircraft since commercial aircraft are no longer available to get people out of Tirana.

Q: So the evacuation has begun?

A: That's what I would say.

Q: In the NATO discussions of this whole thing, are they also talking about...

A: I want to stop you right there. I don't know anything about the NATO discussions other than the fact that there are discussions going on.

Q: ...talk about a NATO intervention in this situation in addition to any kind of...

A: I can't characterize that conversation at all. I just simply don't know at this point.

Q: Is the United States making any preparation to handle a large flood of refugees perhaps heading towards Greece from Albania? Are there some serious problems, worried about this drifting over into...

A: Our goal in this effort is, first of all, the government employees, the embassy employees who are non-essential to the mission there. Plus American citizens who want to leave the country. And there is no other focus to our operation at this point.

I also want to point out, the ambassador plus what are considered the essential embassy personnel are remaining at the embassy.

Q: Can you focus in on the neighborhood of the embassy. Is it...

A: I don't have a good picture... You mean the environment there? I don't have a good picture of that, but I'm sure over at State Department they have kind of an idea of that.

Q: What's your best summation of why Americans are being evacuated? Because of uncertainty, turbulence, danger? What's...

A: You may recall that yesterday the State Department initiated an ordered departure of non-essential government personnel from the embassy, and they also put out a notice that U.S. citizens should depart the country. I think the reason that the actions that have been taken up to this point have been taken is that the commercial aircraft that normally get in and out of Tirana are unable to do so, so the ambassador has asked for military air support to get out those people that she feels need to depart.

Q: I'm just trying to get clear what the rationale is. The uncertainty or the danger? How would you phrase that? The reason for doing this?

A: I think the uncertainty about what is in store for that part of the country.

Q: Could you clarify the type of helicopters used in the operation, and if all four...

A: I believe they were Sea Knights, and there were four of them -- CH-46s.

Q: Did they all take individuals out?

A: I don't have that level of detail. I think certainly we can check with the European Command and see if they have that.

Q: What was the timing on this? When did this happen?

A: I just received word of it as I was coming in here, but I can't give you a time frame, so let me see if we can get more specific on that also.

Q: Was there any hostile fire against the helicopters?

A: As far as I know, none.

Q: How large is the Marine security...

A: I want to kind of fuzz that up on purpose, because I think it's not to our advantage at this juncture to talk about how large the security detachment is that went in there.

Q: Can you check further on this issue of whether there was any gunfire? Because the reports from stringers in Tirana were that the helicopters were landing and that there was gunfire.

A: We'll check.

Q: As I recall, the embassy is in a residential area, and the people tend to live in areas somewhat separate. Have they been asked to come together at any spot, or...

A: I don't know what the instructions on the ground have been up to this point. I'm sure that as this evacuation proceeds, we'll have a little more detail on it, but at this point I just don't have that level.

Q: Will you be able to give us an update later today on the...

A: We may have more information later today, certainly more detail about what has happened so far, yes.

Q: The evacuation is from inside the embassy?

A: No, I said that they landed near the embassy, but it wasn't, as far as I know it was not inside the embassy.

Q: Where were the people who got aboard the helicopters? Were they in the embassy compound and then...

A: As I understand it, the ambassador had gathered together a group of people, many of them were children, and then got them to the helicopters when they brought in this forward command element.

Q: Will you get us the designation of the Marine units when you have a chance?

A: Oh, yes. And actually, I may be able to give that to you right now. It's the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Special Operations capable, has over 2,000 Marines, and I think I mentioned the names of the ships that were involved: USS NASSAU, which is an LHA; USS NASHVILLE, an LPD; and USS PENSACOLA, an LSD. All of those ships are homeported in Little Creek, Va. The Marines also include Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365, and they have 53s, 46s, UH-1s and AH-1s available.

Q: The Marines are out of Lejeune?

A: Yes.

Q: Those 2,000 Marines are spread among those three ships?

A: That's correct, right.

Q: Where is the THEODORE ROOSEVELT in all of this? Is it nearby?

A: The THEODORE ROOSEVELT is in the Mediterranean, but as far as I know, it is not up in the Ionian at this point.

Q: Is it heading that way or no?

A: At this point this is the Marine units that are involved in this.

Q: How many helicopters in total are there to bring Americans out then?

A: The total number of helicopters that are available on the ships is, I believe, 22.

Q: This evacuation was anticipated to occur not as quickly as you're characterizing it now. Perhaps by this weekend. Was there something that triggered this? Was there a certain emergency about this beyond the closing of the Tirana airport? Was there gunfire around the embassy? Why did she call these choppers in so early?

A: I don't have a good answer for you on that. We'll try and see if we can get something for you.

Anything else on that one?

Q: Can you do Mr. Salinger's... [Laughter]

A: I think Ken Bacon covered this issue very well on Tuesday. I might want to reiterate once again that there were no secret missiles, no secret missile tests. We've certainly cooperated with all the agencies involved in this -- the FBI, the National Transportation and Safety Board. They have interviewed people, they've investigated, they have looked at all of the materials that we could provide to them. I think this is a bunch of baloney. [Laughter]

Q: Where was the NORMANDY at the time this tragedy occurred? How far away was it?

A: I think that you need to talk to the Navy on the position of all the ships. They have all that. They can provide you an infinite amount of detail if you want to get into that. But the overall picture that I would just like to say, there were no Department of Defense assets, either air, ground, sea, or under sea, which launched any missiles or ordnance.

Q: Therefore, Mr. Salinger's assertion that there was a secret test going on where it was being attempted to hit a Tomahawk cruise missile with another missile is incorrect?

A: Is incorrect.

Press: Thank you.

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