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Transcript : DoD News Briefing : Lt. Gen. Howell M. Estes,J-3/JCS

Presenters: Lt. Gen. Howell M. Estes, J-3/JCS
April 19, 1996 1:30 PM EDT

Thursday, April 18, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.

[This is a special DOD News Briefing providing updated information onOperation ASSURED RESPONSE in Liberia. Also participating: Mr. Kenneth H.Bacon, ASD (PA)]

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

General Estes is down here to fill you in on the latest facts about theoperation in Liberia, and after that, I'll be glad to take your questions. Ihave several announcements, and then I'll take your questions on otherissues.

General Estes: Thank you, Ken.

The authorized departure of U.S. civilians from Liberia is complete, so Ithought it would be a good opportunity to come down and spend a few minuteswith you and sort of update you on what the tasks were again, where we are inrelation to those tasks given us by the Secretary of Defense, and talk a littlebit about the way ahead and what we see happening there in terms of U.S.military forces.

Recall the tasks the Ambassador gave us initially are shown here on thisparticular slide. He asked for a survey and assessment team, and again, thepurpose of that team was to go in and take a look at the various aspects ofevacuating Americans from Liberia. So that was done. That team went in alittle more than a week ago. He also asked for some additional security peoplebecause of the situation in Monrovia. He had only a handful of Marine guardsat the embassy, did not feel like this was sufficient to ensure protection ofthe people inside the embassy complex, so he asked for some additionalsecurity. That was provided as well.

Then at the time, and this was the weekend before last, he asked us toposition forces to prepare for an evacuation. Not knowing at the time whatkind of an evacuation would be ordered. And recall, what's called anauthorized departure was ordered, and not an ordered departure. An ordereddeparture would mean everybody leaves; an authorized departure basically meansvolunteers leave. But he asked us to, in fact, position forces. That wasdone, and subsequently they conducted the authorized departure, and we'll talkabout the numbers and how many people, how many American citizens here in justa minute.

Lastly, the embassy, because of the situation here in Monrovia, sitting outhere on the end of a point, being cut off, really, from the normal sourcesbecause it was unsafe to travel outside the embassy, was running low on foodand water, so he asked us to conduct a resupply of the embassy as well, and ofcourse that's been ongoing now ever since we had forces arrive.

To put the size of the force in perspective again, we ended up with about1,400 total, located at three locations. In Monrovia itself, at the embassy, alittle short of 200 people went in -- the assessment team, security forces,[the] command element for the security forces, and people who were helping withthe orchestration of the authorized departure -- assisting U.S. embassy people.So that was what we put into the embassy and that's about what is in theretoday.

In Freetown, which is where we conducted the primary operation from and wherewe located the helicopters that conducted the operation, remember the distancehere was about an hour and a half flight by helicopter, so we had 11 totalaircraft: nine helicopters -- five MH-53s; four MH-47s involved. Initially,the 53s went in, and then subsequently -- as it became a little unclear as towhat the situation was going to involve and how many people we were going tohave to bring out -- the commander on the scene asked for additionalhelicopters, so those came from the States. The 53s came from Europe, theMH-47s from the United States.

In addition, the command element was there; the Special Operations Forces,and this is the group that did the initial security at the embassy. They werethe security force initially. The SEALs, of course, were also part of thatinitial security force. This Initial Ready Company is a company of lightinfantry that was to serve as the reserve force back here at Freetown in casethe SOF people that we put in and the SEALs were not sufficient to providereinforcement. We had ready reinforcements here to move forward; and in factas we sit today, as I'll show you in a minute, it's this Initial Ready Companythat is currently providing the security at the embassy. The SpecialOperations Forces and the SEALs have been withdrawn and are now all back inFreetown. I'll talk about their disposition here in just a moment.

The airlift element is nothing but a group of people who go into a location --you see it here at Freetown, and also at Dakar. The purpose of the airliftelement is to do nothing but facilitate the movement of the airlift aircraft asthey come through, to be sure if we have a minor problem with an aircraft wecan fix it, and more importantly, to help assist in the flow-through of thoseaircraft as they make their deliveries.

At Dakar we had a little over 500 people -- closer to 600. These are thekinds of aircraft, that was the total number of aircraft. Again, because ofthe lack of space here, we really needed to put the assets here that needed toconduct the evacuation, and the support for those helicopters was positionedback here at a much larger runway with the ability to handle the number ofaircraft we needed to put in.

The other thing we were trying to do was to keep the ramp here fairly clear sothat we could bring airlift aircraft in. If we positioned all these forward,we'd be taking up all the ramp space and we couldn't have operated the airliftaircraft in and out of Freetown.

So that's the disposition: About 200, around 650, and close to 600 here for alittle over 1,400 people.

Q: Can you give us the breakdown on the number of aircraft later?

A: On exactly how many of each?

Q: Yes.

A: If it's useful to you I can do that, sure. We had a couple of AC-130s,and, of course, the AC-130 is an aircraft that has guns mounted in it that canbe used to protect people on the ground. Of course, as we were going in andout, especially when we initially had some people firing at some of ourhelicopters, we had those aircraft positioned overhead, and to be honest withyou, it stopped the firing. We only had that one firing incident that Ibriefed you on the last time I was down here. So that was the purpose of theAC-130, is to provide overhead protection.

The P-3s were down there, and as I recall the number of those was about three.We had a couple of KC-135 tanker aircraft providing assistance there. TheMC-130 aircraft, of course, are the Special Operations Force aircraft. Therewere, I think, four of those. They serve as refueling aircraft for thehelicopters as well as providing other assistance for the Special OperationsForces. So that's the approximate number. If that doesn't add up to 14, it'srelatively close.

I've given you the breakout here of five, four, and two MC-130s.

The current situation in Monrovia is shown here. Most importantly, at ourembassy, I've mentioned to you that the Initial Ready Company.... The U.S.Army forces are now doing the security mission at the embassy, along with theMarine guards. We have the nine helicopters currently at Freetown. Most ofthe evacuations were done by the MH-53s, although the 47s got there a littlelater, but they got into the act at the end. The combination of flightsbetween the two was 83 to conduct the evacuation. You can see the total numberof people evacuated: seventy-three countries represented in the evacuation, ofwhich nearly 450 were American citizens -- that's just about the total numberof Americans that were there, and I'll try to give you a feel for what we thinkis left here in just a second.

The embassy is reporting that everything on the embassy compound is fine.There was an incident that's been reported in which, late last week, there wasa break-in to the Ambassador's residence which is not right on the compounditself. They were chased off, nobody severely hurt in that exchange. No shotsfired by any U.S. military forces. But since that incident we've not had anyproblem anywhere with any U.S. facilities. So that's all going well.

Obviously, medicine, food, water, things of those kind have been important tothe embassy because right now that is one of the primary sources -- although myunderstanding is that there has been some movement of food around the city now,since things have quieted down a little bit. Although I think we cancharacterize the situation there as remaining tense, we don't think thesituation is totally resolved, and it could very quickly turn back to be assevere in terms of exchange of gunfire as it was before, if not more so. So weneed to stay prepared. The embassy forces.... The forces at the embassy needto remain there to provide adequate security until the situation resolvesitself, one way or the other, with the warring factions.

Since the authorized departure is complete, we really have excess capabilitythere now. In terms of numbers of people, we have less than 20 Americancitizens at the embassy. They're all part of the embassy staff. It's thenumbers that the Ambassador elected to have remain behind.

In terms of Americans that we haven't contacted, that number is also in theneighborhood of less than 15 in terms of people that are out in the countrysideor in the city that we have not been able to contact. When I say "we" I'mtalking about the embassy, obviously. So it's a very small number that havenot been contacted. There are less than 50 Americans who have been contactedand they elected to stay; they elected not to be evacuated. So again, I thinkwhen we talk about the number of about 450, that was the original number wethought we had in the first place, so we're down pretty close to that now witha small number electing to stay, an even smaller number who we've not been ableto contact, and then the embassy staff itself. That's the substance of that.

With that in mind, the MH-47s and the security forces provided by the InitialReady Company are sufficient to do any future missions that we see there interms of evacuation, so the CINC, General Joulwan, has elected to take theMH-53s and the Special Operations Forces and redeploy them back into Europewhere they have other tasks they need to get on with.

We will retain the MH-47s and the security forces that I described until theAmphibious Readiness Group arrives on Saturday, approximately Saturday. Andonce it does, the Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the Amphibious ReadinessGroup -- aboard the ships -- will assume responsibility for the mission and wewill end up redeploying the rest of the ground-based forces, the MH-47s, thesecurity forces, and any other land-based units that went down as part of theinitial evacuation.

So the ordered departure is the only thing that would remain, and that wouldbe very small numbers of Americans; possibly some third-country nationals atthe direction of the U.S. Government. That is one mission. The second missionwe have at the current time is to provide security at the embassy until thatordered departure takes place, assuming that happens, or hopefully, thesituation resolves itself to the point where the Marine guards can assumesecurity for the embassy again.

That's a run-down on what I had for you today in terms of the currentsituation, where we're going, and what the force changes are going to be herein the immediate future, and with that I'll take your questions.

Q: Can you tell us exactly how many U.S. security forces are left in Monroviaitself?

A: I don't want to give you an exact number for obvious reasons. If somebodyknew what was there and they had any designs they might say, Well, if that'sall that's there then we only need this many more. Let me say, it numbers inthe hundreds. Why don't I just leave it at that.

Q: You said the AC-130s discouraged any kind of firing or firefighting on theground. Did the AC-130s fire any rounds at all?

A: No, they didn't have to. We had the one incident I described to you when Iwas down here last week, and that was it. We haven't had any other incidentsinvolving U.S. forces. So the AC-130s were there. Whether or not they servedas a deterrent or not, we have no way of knowing, but we had no furtherincidents after the first one we described to you.

Q: Is anybody talking about, or looking at the issue of, whether the Marinesmay do anything more than just protection? Is it strictly an American citizenprotection operation or protection of other nationals who want to leave, or isthere any talk about moving beyond that to aiding Liberians who may be inneed?

A: You're asking me policy questions that are something to be decided. I'mtelling you what the situation is right now. The purpose of our securityforces in Monrovia right now is to provide assistance to the Ambassador and the18 people who remain in the U.S. Embassy, to ensure that embassy can stay openas long as the conditions are such that the Ambassador feels he can retain thestaff there. So that's the purpose of the security force that is resident atthe U.S. Embassy, and they're all inside the compound.

Q: Does any other mission remain "undecided" as opposed to "decidedagainst..."

A: I'm telling you that's the mission as it's stated today. What happens inthe future.... I'm not saying that there are plans to change it, I'm nottrying to hedge my bet here, don't get me wrong. I'm telling you what themission is. I can't read what's going to happen a week, a month from now. Idon't know what the situation will be and what decision will be made by thisgovernment, but I'm telling you what the mission is as I stand before youtoday.

Q: Are there considerations to deploying another ARG from the States to takeup position in the Mediterranean?

A: That's a good question. We're deploying five ships now, and you say, "Mygoodness, five ships, that sounds like a lot of ships for what we have left todo here."

The reason that's happened is, when we deploy the Amphibious Readiness Groupto go to Europe, it goes for a specific set of missions for a six month period,so it configures for those missions. Recall that the GUAM Amphibious ReadinessGroup has been associated with the operations in Bosnia, and, in fact, itserved as the theater reserve for the early phases of the operation and will,in the later phases of the operation, whatever Amphibious Readiness Grouphappens to be there. The ESSEX is the one to replace the GUAM here in a littlewhile. So it configured to do that mission as the primary task.

That configuration in the ships was not set properly for this kind of anoperation, so we needed some helicopters, we weren't sure what we needed interms of the amphibious type vehicles they have as well as the wheeled typevehicles, all of which were resident on different ships. So, not knowing atthe time, we asked this unit to move down, they took a little of everythingwith them, and it happened to be on different ships. So that's why you see thenumber of ships going down that you see going down.

Now, does it make any sense to retain this group of ships off the coast basedon the mission we have? Probably not. We're in the process of looking atother options now. This will be up to General Joulwan and his staff in Europeto determine what alternatives are satisfactory to them to accomplish themission that's been passed to them by the Secretary of Defense.

Q: What about early deployment of another ARG though?

A: I can't tell you what the options are going to be. We try to stick verycarefully to what we call the deployment schedule. We call it the Global NavalForce Presence Policy. We want to be sure that we don't get that out ofkilter, because if you do, it affects other deployments later on. If it needsto be done for operational reasons, we'll do it. No question about that. Anoption is to deploy the next Amphibious Readiness Group early, but there aremany, many other alternatives. I would think that would be the least likely.The next Amphibious Readiness Group going to Europe is going specifically to bethere in the Mediterranean area, and will serve, again, in Bosnia as thetheater reserve, it will be configured to do that during the withdrawal phasein Bosnia. So we want to keep them on course for the training. They've got avery important mission coming up during their deployment, and we want to makesure they get all the training necessary to get that done. If we deploy itearly, it cuts back on the training schedule that they have available to them.So I would say there are other alternatives available. Those are being lookedat. When it's decided -- if, in fact, we decide to bring the GUAM ARG out --we'll be down here telling you what we're going to do.

Q: Just a clarification. I'm a little confused. Will the PAVE LOWs wait forthe ARG to get on station before they deploy back to Europe, or have theyalready deployed?

A: No, they're in the process of breaking down for deployment. GeneralJoulwan has determined that the MH-47s he has there are sufficient to do themission that he has, and the security forces that are there as well, and thathe can redeploy the MH-53, the PAVE LOW helicopters, and that's in the processof going on right now.

Q: At the risk of asking kind of a dumb question.... The people you haven'tbeen able to contact, do you have any idea what happened to them?

A: I wish I did. Again, the embassy has made every attempt to contacteverybody, and they may have the numbers off a little bit. They think thereare people there. With the situation we had in Monrovia, there's no questionthat some people decided it was safer to go somewhere else while this war wasgoing on, so they may be off in various places hiding, or they may be withfriends, so there's just no way to find them at this point in time. Theembassy is making every attempt and has been since the beginning of thisoperation with their people at the embassy who have been able to go out, makecontact with Americans where they know they are, and try to get them to a placewhere they can be picked up and withdrawn, those that choose to leave.

Q: Do you have any information that any of them are dead?

A: Absolutely no evidence of that whatever. We know of no condition thatwould say that that was the case.

Q: Have any of the Americans you've evacuated been hurt in any way by theviolence?

A: Again, I know of no incident involving an American in which an American wasinjured in any way. I know of none. And I would have seen reporting if thatwere the case.

We had a number of people who were evacuated and most of these, in fact Idon't know of any that were American citizens. Most of them were third countrynationals -- many of them women and children, who had traveled some distanceunder very, very difficult circumstances, that were very dehydrated and neededmedical attention when they got to the U.S. Embassy. Fortunately, the SEALsare trained in providing that kind of assistance, as well as some people at theembassy, and they were able to give medical attention to these people. You sawa lot of them getting off of helicopters and they looked pretty shaken, as youwould expect from going through this kind of a situation. But that's the onlyelement I've heard of any.... And that was just the fact of the heat and thedistance traveled, lack of food, lack of water.

Q: The Initial Ready Company, who are they and where are they based?

A: They're based in Italy. It's the 3/325th.

Q: ...from Bosnia?

A: They are.

Q: A company down there?

A: A company.

Q: Did all the troops who ended up in Liberia, were they all from Europe ordid any come from stateside?

A: No, all of the troops that ended up down there, be it Special Forces or theInitial Ready Company of the unit in Italy, they're all based in Europe.

Q: You have the guys from Italy, you had some Navy SEALs, and you said someSpecial Forces?

A: Right.

Q: Were there any other guys? Were there any Delta people deployed oranything like that?

A: They would have come from the States. Everybody came from Europe.

Q: You've implied this but you haven't said it. Since there are hundreds, asyou put it, or several hundred security troops in Monrovia now, when the ARGarrives, will several hundred Marines go ashore to replace those troops?

A: Exactly. The intent will be to provide the security in exactly the sameway that it's being provided now. The security requirement is what it is, sowe will make that change. The Marine Expeditionary Unit has sufficient forcesto be able to carry out this task; has sufficient Marines on board to do thissecurity mission.

Q: Did you plan that all the Marines on board -- I think it's 1,400 or 1,500-- go ashore?

A: No. We've got the same mission now, and that's to protect the embassy,really to protect the people in the embassy. I keep saying the embassy. Theembassy's not what's important, it's the people in it. So that takes "X"number of people. That's what we'll put ashore. No more, no less. That's theintent. It's the commander's judgment as to what that entails, so we'll waitand see what happens.

Q: Properly configured, could a single ship perform this mission?

A: Again, that's not for me to say standing here. I could easily make aguess, but the assessment process of what it takes to do the mission is up tothe CINC. That's what we have the CINC out there for. I sit back here inWashington behind a desk. I don't know what's going on down there. We leaveit up to the people there to make the decision.

I can tell you we will try to do this in a way that makes sense with theminimum force, in terms of making sure we have enough there to do the job, butthere's no sense in putting a force down there way beyond the capabilityrequirements that are laid out to do the mission as it's stated now.

Q: The 53s and 47s, did they fly all the way down from Europe or did they...

A: No, no. We took them down, we used the Transportation Command's airliftand they were moved by C-5 aircraft. In fact, the C-5s were very, very busyand flew a utilization rate higher than they normally do in carrying out thisparticular mission of moving these helicopters. We don't talk much about ourtransportation command, but I'll tell you, from where I sit, we watch theoperation go on and all these people arrive and they do this great job andthey've gotten a lot of praise for the work that they did in support of thisoperation. But we've got to remember, there were people moving all of thesefolks, delivering them, and it's done with the C-5 aircraft, the C-17, and theC-141. In this particular case, there's sealift involved in other operations,but in this particular case it was airlift. They did a great job of gettingtheir assets positioned, TRANSCOM did, Transportation Command, in making thishappen.

Q: Do you know what the schedule right now for the ESSEX group is? Do youknow when they're scheduled to go out?

A: I don't have it here. It's some time in the summer. You can almost figureit out. If you know the time that the GUAM deployed, it will run six months onits deployment. I've even forgotten the exact date, but it's some time in thesummer. And I'm saying ESSEX. My recollection is that's right. If it isn't,I'll come back and correct that for you. [NOTE: The USS SAIPAN ARG, not theESSEX, will replace the GUAM ARG in the Mediterranean]

Thank you. Press: Thank you.