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DoD News Briefing: Lieutenant General John Sheehan

Presenter: Lieutenant General John Sheehan
October 13, 1994 4:00 PM EDT
Mr. Dennis Boxx

Saturday, October 8, 1994 - 4:00 p.m.


Mr. Boxx: Our briefers for this afternoon will be Lieutenant General John Sheehan, who is the Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Major General Pat Hughes, who is the Director of Intelligence for the Joint Staff, will also be providing some information. The intent here today is to give you an update on where we are in terms of the Iraq situation and try to let you know what the response has been so far.

With that, General Jack Sheehan.

General Sheehan: Thank you very much, Dennis.

What General Hughes and I would like to do for you is kind of review the situation over the last 48 hours and use this graphic first to reflect that fact that over the last 48 hours elements of two of the Republican Guard divisions have moved from positions north of the Baghdad area in the central part of the country down to within 20 kilometers of the Kuwaiti border. This force has, as you know, the most capable equipment that the Iraqi army has. It also includes 130mm field guns.

I will let General Hughes answer your specific questions as to the disposition of these forces and what this means in terms of net increase along the border.

What I'd like to review for you now is what the current in-theater force capabilities are and what we have reflected here, as you can see, are those combat aircraft that are in the peninsula area and are capable of responding as we stand here right now.

In addition to that, the ARG, as you see reflected here, the TRIPOLI with 2,000 Marines is currently en route to Kuwait, off the Kuwait City area. We have also moved the battle group GEORGE WASHINGTON with two escorts. You can also see the HEWITT and the LEYTE GULF en route. This gives us the capability of having over 200 T-LAM missiles that can reach downtown Baghdad. You can also see the combat aircraft that are in the area, that are currently on an increased alert posture.

In addition to those steps we have taken, the President has also authorized the deployment of additional forces. We have increased our intelligence surveillance reconnaissance platforms in the region. As I indicated, the battle group is en route to the area. We are deploying tonight the 4,000 man Army Mech task force from Fort Stewart, Georgia, to the region to fall in on the equipment that's already there. In addition to that, we are increasing the Patriot batteries that are there, so there will be two additional Patriot batteries that have that capability. We have also raised the alert status of the Maritime Pre-Positioned Ships and the Army Afloat Pre-Positioned Ships, and those forces are moving into the region. We have also put on alert combat aircraft out of Europe; and we have also put on alert the remainder of the 24th Mechanized Division; and also an additional composite wing. The decision to deploy those forces will be made by the President after consultations with the Chairman and the Secretary of Defense.

The Secretary of Defense and the Chairman, as you know, are down at Haiti today reviewing the situation with the troops. They will stop by CENTCOM tonight, and both will receive a briefing from General Peay as to how they see the situation from a CENTCOM perspective, and receive a briefing, and I suspect after they arrive here in the building tonight there will be additional discussions.

With that, I'd like to close and give you an opportunity to ask questions.

Q: You spoke about 200 missiles which could reach downtown Baghdad. Is it possible that Saddam Hussein may believe that America--America's political leaders, are so concerned about collateral damage, loss of civilian life in an attack against Baghdad that the threat of 200 missiles capable of reaching Baghdad, may have no real impact on him?

General Sheehan: I can't tell you what's in Saddam Hussein's mind, but clearly I would suspect his deployment of these forces would indicate to us that he has learned nothing from the last time that this war was conducted.

Q: When will the 4,000 Army force arrive in Kuwait? And did I understand you correctly, that no additional war planes are being sent at this point in time?

General Sheehan: The GEORGE WASHINGTON has 75 combat aircraft on board.

Q: CONUS-based....

General Sheehan: No CONUS-based. We have changed the alert status so they are ready to move, and as you know, aircraft can move very quickly from the European theater. So we have not moved them. We are clearly capable of moving those right now.

Q: The 4,000 man Army to Kuwait. When do they....

General Sheehan: They will start moving tonight. The execution order for them to deploy went out about an hour ago.

Q: When will they all be there?

General Sheehan: They should start moving within a day.

Q: Can you tell us, based on what you've seen, of what the Iraqi Army is doing over the past 24 hours, can you give us some idea of what you think it actually is doing, and what has occurred in the last 24 hours since then?

General Sheehan: I can't tell you what they may do. I do know, what we have to deal with is what their capability is. This is similar to previous deployment patterns that we saw when they did go into Kuwait. Clearly, it's the intent and the hope of the UN and the U.S. Government that Iraq respect the territorial integrity of Kuwait. I can't speak to what their intent is, but clearly, they have the capability to attack, and clearly, for prudent response reasons, the U.S. is deploying forces. And, as you know, the Kuwaiti government is putting its forces on a mobilization status starting tonight, and there are consultations with the Gulf Coordination Council for additional actions by those forces also.

Q: Are the Iraqi forces postured in such a way that they could go at any time? Or do you still have a lot of warnings and indicators that you're looking at that they have not crossed yet?

General Sheehan: I'll leave that to Patrick.

General Hughes: I believe the warning time should be considered to be very short. The distance between the leading edge of the Iraqi forces and the Kuwait border is fairly short, some 30 miles. For main line forces, leading edges of those forces may be as close as 20 kilometers to the border. I believe that characterizes the situation. I can't state any further information about the warning time because of our own intelligence interests.

Q: What are the current numbers that you see? Has the buildup been taking place over the past several days?

General Sheehan: In terms of capabilities, there is an additional capability of some 14,000 combat forces. As this chart reflects, these forces, this is a mech division that's ordinarily there and the other forces are infantry forces, there's ordinarily a mech division in the rear. This is a plus-up of two Republican Guards front line unit organizations. In round numbers, normal bases are about 50,000 Iraqi forces there; this is an additional plus-up of some 14,000-plus people, and there are additional forces on the move.

Q: Will we allow the Iraqi forces there to build up as high as they want without taking action?

General Sheehan: We do not get into any discussions of intent of what we will do tomorrow or the next day.

Q: Are you saying that both Republican Guard divisions are now 20 to 30 kilometers from the border?

General Sheehan: No. The advance elements are elements of both Republican Guard divisions. Some elements are there, some are closing on those forward elements that are there right now.

Q: Do the Iraqi forces appear to be preparing to invade Kuwait?

General Hughes: There's no indication right now that they are preparing to invade Kuwait, specifically. However, their mere presence is considered to be a threatening and menacing circumstance.

Q: Where are these 4,000 troops that are leaving tonight, where are they from? And how many additional U.S. ground troops are on alert at this time?

General Sheehan: The 24th Mech Division of Fort Stewart is where the 3x3 brigade task force is coming from. Clearly, the rest of the 24th Mech is in an alert status, as is First Marine Expeditionary Force out at Camp Pendleton, California, and other combat organizations I indicated.

Q: What's the total number....

General Sheehan: We're not going to get into total numbers involved in the alert package right now.

Q: You mentioned other elements on the move. What are those and where?

General Hughes: I don't believe that I should discuss details except to say that we do have broad indications, just as General Sheehan related, of other movements in Iraq. Basically, supporting forces for these additional combat forces that have moved into the southern sector.

Q: In your opinion, the fighting capability of these units after Desert Storm, have they come back to full strength, command and control? What can you tell us about their capability?

General Sheehan: I think the simple fact that there are two Republican Guard forces there speaks unto itself. They are there. It is important that Iraq respect the territorial integrity of Kuwait. That is part of what the UN has asked them to do at the end of the last war, and I think it's up to the Iraqis to do that now.

Q: The fighting condition of these units....

General Sheehan: They clearly present a threat to Kuwait.

Q: How soon will it be before the United States and allies in Kuwait have enough forces in place to repel a possible invasion by a force of this size?

General Sheehan: I'm not going to get into a discussion about repelling an invasion, because that gets after the intent of what they intend to do. I would not get into a discussion right now of what we know about what their intent is, or trying to figure out what's in Saddam's mind.

Q: Are you comfortable with what's in place there now? How soon will you have enough forces in there to feel that you have appropriate deterrence?

General Sheehan: We are clearly in a position right now that if Saddam Hussein does something, we can punish those forces.

Q: Punish or stop?

General Sheehan: Punish those forces does not restrict this to just a southern theater operation. We clearly have the capacity to go downtown Baghdad. And as I said before, that's one of the lessons I hope Saddam learned last time we did this.

Q: General Hughes, are you aware of any other event within Iraq that might account for this troop movement?

General Hughes: No, I'm not aware of any other event. The only apparent reason was to posture forces, to bring some kind of threatening condition to bear, to leverage on behalf of Iraq's interests. That's all I can use to explain this and account for it.

Q: Do you have any indication to give you cause to believe the story of some army vote, or a vote by some unity army in the last several weeks inside Iraq?

General Hughes: No, I have no information about that.

Q: You told us the delta in personnel, the change, the increase. Can you give us a net increase for armor and for pieces of equipment in the southern sector?

General Hughes: Can you restate that question, please?

Q: We went from 50,000 to 64,000, roughly, in troops down there. What has been the parallel increase in hardware?

General Hughes: Each of those divisions carries with them a complement of tanks, artillery, infantry fighting vehicles, and other combat equipment. I don't think it would be right for me to characterize the exact condition of combat power because I don't have a good enough picture of exactly what's there yet.

Q: Is it substantial or just leading elements?

General Hughes: It is substantial. It is a major threatening condition because of the combat power of these units.

Q: Are the allies sending military equipment there? And what is Saudi Arabia doing in response to this?

General Sheehan: Saudi Arabia has been extraordinarily helpful over the last day, allowing the bed-down and discussions of additional bed-down capability that will be required. A member of the Royal Family is at CENTCOM tonight with General Peay, discussing this. As you know, there has been a Gulf Coordination Council meeting to discuss this particular issue. As I indicated before, the Kuwaitis are going to mobilization.

Q: How about the British or French or other....

General Sheehan: We are in consultation with our allies who participated in the Gulf War with us.

Q: What member of the Royal Family, sir?

General Sheehan: I think you need to deal with the Saudi Embassy on that one.

Q: Based on the previous invasion, how much time do you estimate it will take before the Iraqis are in a position comparable to last time, to go....

General Sheehan: That gets into the issue of intent--what their intent is. There are all sorts of scenarios. Our concern right now is that these two divisions clearly present a threat, and we are taking prudent military action to make sure that we can deter them.

Q: About the 4,000 troops, where are they going?

General Sheehan: They're going to fall in on equipment in Kuwait. Pre-positioned equipment that's already in Kuwait.

Q: They start arriving tomorrow?

General Sheehan: We sent out the deployment order about an hour or an hour and a half ago. They're packing their gear. The ready forces should start moving tomorrow.

Q: Do you know whether they'll be combat ready?

General Sheehan: I'm not going to get into that discussion.

Q: Can you comment on the report that was carried in some press reports that the Kuwait military forces in numbers of 20,000 in tanks and about 50 have been deployed along the border? Can you tell us anything about the deployment of Kuwaiti forces?

General Sheehan: I have not seen the disposition of Kuwaiti forces in the last couple of hours.

Q: Do the Kuwaitis have the M1-A2 battle tank now?

General Sheehan: I can't tell you off the top of my head. I'll take that and get back to you, and let you know what they do have.

Q: An extra 14,000 troops, heavily armed, but any new kinds of weaponry down there are especially worrisome?

General Hughes: New kinds of weapons is an interesting question. They have standard kinds of field artillery. They also have some self propelled guns. They have T-72 tanks and the main line infantry fighting vehicles of the Iraqi army. They are the best trained, best equipped, and best led units. Their proximity to the Kuwait border is one of the ingredients that makes them so threatening--not only their combat capability, but their placement in relation to Kuwait.

Q: What about biological or chemical weapons?

General Hughes: I have no knowledge of any biological or chemical weapons, or even capabilities being involved in this matter.

Q: With the terrain and the condition, how long would it take them if they decided to move, to do those 30 klicks, would you say? Are there good roads up in that area, or can they move pretty quickly?

General Sheehan: A very short period of time.

Q: Any information about the morale of the Iraqi troops? Either the ones on the southern border or the ones now reinforcing that.

General Sheehan: We have no indication of their morale, but clearly it would be unfortunate if Saddam did make a decision, because those are the soldiers that would pay the price, much like they did the last time. I think there is enough of the Republican Guards still on active duty who were there the last time, who will clearly understand what will happen.

Q: Any plans to put the Marines ashore?

General Sheehan: Right now we are holding the Marines afloat off of Kuwait City to see if the situation happens.

Q: Where are the Patriot batteries being deployed, and how many are they adding?

General Sheehan: They are moving into Saudi Arabia where the equipment is, they'll fall in on the equipment, and then depending, as the situation unfolds, we will either move them forward or move them to central locations.

Thank you.

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