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DoD News Briefing, Friday, April 23, 1999, 10:05 a.m.

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
April 23, 1999 10:05 PM EDT

Mr. Kenneth Bacon

Mr. Bacon: Good morning. I can see that the way to fox you people is to keep changing the briefing time, and the audience gets smaller and smaller. If I change it enough, nobody will show up.

Let me just give you a run down of what happened last night. NATO forces flew a total of 434 sorties of which 96 were combat strike sorties.

Q: 434?

A: 434 in all, of which 96 or approximately 22% were combat strike sorties. They hit 17 targets.

The weather was poor, and it threatens to be poor again today and maybe for the next several days. Despite the bad weather, however, there was several very significant targets hit. First was the headquarters of the Serb TV, Radio Television Serbia. Second, allied forces hit two electric power transformers in the Belgrade area. These were connects with command and control facilities, and they were both severely damaged.

Q: In the Belgrade area?

A: In the Belgrade area, yes.

In terms of dealing with the forces on the ground in Kosovo, despite the bad weather, there were several significant sorties. These come from mission reports. These are the mission reports that pilots file when they come back, and we will have to confirm through later intelligence analysis exactly what happened, but the mission reports show that they took out four artillery pieces in the western part of Kosovo right along the Albanian border. This is near the area where the Albanians have sometimes fired artillery into Albania from Kosovo -- I mean, where the Serbians troops have fired into Albania [from] Kosovo. Second, NATO aircraft destroyed, they believe, seven military vehicles down near the Macedonian border and also destroyed a mobile command post, also near the Macedonian border.

I think the lesson of last night's strikes is very clear and it contains two messages for Milosevic. The first is that the air campaign is intensifying, hitting a broader range of targets throughout the country and also hitting targets on the ground in Kosovo. The fact that this is happening during the NATO summit shows that NATO remains highly committed to the air campaign, to intensifying this campaign and, in fact, to making it clear that there is no sanctuary for murderers and their forces in Yugoslavia. Second, it should also be clear that this campaign can end as soon as Milosevic decides to stop the killing and depopulation of Kosovo, as soon as he withdraws his troops, as soon as he allows a NATO-led international peacekeeping force in so that the refugees can return. The choice is his.

On another matter, POWs, I know that you've seen reports out of Belgrade that the Serbs are prepared to allow a representative of the International Committee for the Red Cross to visit the three American POWs being held. To the best of my knowledge, there has been no visitation yet, in complete violation of the Geneva Convention. By contrast, a representative from the ICRC is having at least a second and maybe a third visit to the Serbian soldier who is being held by allied forces. This soldier got prompt visitation from the ICRC as well as prompt medical care. So we have yet to see any delivery on the Serb promise that they plan to abide by the terms of the Geneva Convention.

And finally, before I take your questions, I just want to clear up one thing from yesterday. One segment of the gun camera video that was shown yesterday misidentified an aircraft as being a Canadian F-18. In fact, it was a U.S. aircraft, so I just want to clarify that. I can't remember which video it was, but I'm sure you can go back and check the transcript and find that out.

Charlie.

Q: Ken, (inaudible) Milosevic is prepared to allow foreign troops, foreign troops into Kosovo, military troops. Do you have any reaction to that? And also, you knocked Serb TV off the air last night. It was back on the air in six hours. Do you know where the other towers are? Do you plan to knock it off the air for good?

A: Stay tuned is all I can say.

Q: How about the Russian report that (inaudible) now says Milosevic is ready to allow troops --

A: I haven't seen that. Obviously, we welcome the Russian efforts to try to achieve a diplomatic settlement here, but so far, we have not seen much Serb flexibility. We've seen very little Serb movement to our terms. I--the fact that he's prepared to allow foreign troops in does not say nearly enough. He has to be prepared to take his troops out. He has to stop the killing, and he has to allow a significant, [as] we have always said, a NATO-led international force in. I don't think that anybody should believe that an unarmed force of observers or a force that isn't [a] well trained and a solid combat force can go in and enforce the peace in Kosovo after all of the killing that's gone on there. What we have always said is that we need a force that's similar to the force we sent to Bosnia under Dayton. And I haven't seen anything coming out of Belgrade yet that suggests they're ready to meet those basic requirements.

Q: Just one quick follow up on your "stay tuned," could I ask do you know where the other broadcast facilities are?

A: It's not difficult to track down where TV signals emanate from.

Yes.

Q: Ken, the Serbs, I believe, are saying as many as nine people were killed in that strike on Serbian TV. How would the issue of possible civilian casualties play into the planning of such a strike?

A: It plays in, but we've always been aware -- we basically have two goals and sometimes they compete. The first goal is we want to make these strikes as effective as possible. The second goal is we want to hold collateral damage and civilian casualties as low as possible. Some -- these goals are not -- sometimes they can't both be satisfied at the same time. We have worked very hard to hold civilian casualties as low as possible by using highly precise munitions against specific targets, by attacking at times we don't think there are many people in these buildings frequently. But we have never promised that we would be able to eliminate all civilian casualties.

Yes.

Q: What impact does the strikes on the two electrical power plants have? Are there lights out in parts of Belgrade?

A: According to press reports, there are, yes.

Q: But not completely or?

A: Not completely. These were -- if I said electrical power plants, I misspoke. They are transformer facilities that basically put power into useable form for transmission to businesses and residences. And I have seen press reports out of Belgrade today saying that portions of the city are without power.

Q: (Inaudible) rationale behind these kinds of strikes? Is that what you were referring to when you said you were stepping up targeting of other targets?

A: These are a new class of targets. And the philosophy behind this was that these were dual-use facilities that powered command and control and other military facilities in the area.

Q: (Inaudible) increasingly going after what's going to more directly effect the civilian population?

A: The reason that these were selected was because we believe that they are directly tied to powering command and control centers and other parts of the military infrastructure.

Q: (Inaudible) can you clear up, please, where we are on discussions and/or plans on ground troops? President Clinton seemed to indicate yesterday that American ground troops could go into Kosovo without a ceasefire and perhaps a less than permissive environment. Could you try to straighten that out today?

A: The short answer is I'm not going to have much to say about that. Obviously, this is one of the things that's being discussed right now. President Clinton also made it extremely clear yesterday that he is committed to making the air campaign work, and that is what NATO is pursuing right now and will continue to pursue with increased vigor. And I think the actions of the last few days show that we are pursuing the air campaign with a great deal of energy.

Q: I'm not asking if this is an either/or, I'm asking if this can be done in conjunction with air strikes? Is it possible now, as the President seemed to indicate yesterday, that American ground troops would go in without a ceasefire in a less than permissive environment? Has the ground shifted here?

A: We are a long way from anything approaching a permissive environment right now, and I think that the task is to continue the air campaign. And that's what we're doing.

Q: And one more follow up. If, in fact, Milosevic, should end the war tomorrow and pull all his forces out, as I add them up, there's not enough ground troops in that region now to even go in in a permissive environment. What sort of planning is being done, what sort of actual on-the-ground preparations are being made to mobilize the kind of ground force it would take to even go in as peacekeepers?

A: Well, as much as I wish he would stop the fighting, the killing and take all his troops out tomorrow, we don't have any evidence that's about to happen. Should it happen, it would take him some time to get the troops out, and I think we would have plenty of time to mobilize. But to go to the broader question, yesterday I pointed out that when Secretary General Solana announced that he was taking plans off the shelf, the assessment off the shelf and re-looking at them, one of the things that we're going to re-look at is what the peace force, peace enforcement force would involve in light of the changed circumstances. So one of the things we'll be looking at is how quickly we could move in, what sort of force we would have to move in and how to better position ourselves to do that should the opportunity arise. I hope it does arise soon, but we don't see any signs that it's about to.

Q: And are peace enforcers different than peacekeepers? You just used the term "peace enforcers."

A: Well, we've used the peace enforcement term or peacekeeping term. I think the Bosnian model is the one that stands here. When we went to Bosnia after the Dayton Accord, even though there was a peace agreement, we sent a fully armored, highly trained combat force. And the reason we did that was we didn't know what sort of challenges the force would face. And we felt it was better to send a force that could deter attacks and mischief rather than invite it. And that's the same model we would follow in Kosovo.

Dana.

Q: I have two questions. There have been credible reports that Russia, Ukraine and Greece have been supplying oil through (inaudible) to Yugoslavia. Given that Greece is a member of NATO, has this come up in any NATO forum either between defense ministers bilaterally --

A: Maybe I should have seen those reports, but I haven't, so I won't comment on those specific reports. But the whole question of oil through Montenegro to Yugoslavia will be high on the agenda at this summit conference. It will be one of the topics that's discussed. It may be under discussion at this minute.

Q: Secondly I wanted to ask can you tell us what you see, what Serb forces are actually doing today or yesterday in terms of their offensive? Are they continuing with the same level of offensive? Have they pulled back?

A: Well, the offensive is sort of like a fever line. It bounces around in part in response to what the UCK is doing. They are continuing. Most of our reports about this come from the KLA or come from refugees. And the Serbs are continuing to fight particularly the UCK. I don't have new information on attacks against refugees from yesterday, but I do know that there is continuing fighting going on between the UCK and the Serb forces.

Q: Ken, you spoke of a new class of targets earlier, and when you were asked whether or not you meant that there might [be] targets that affected civilians more, you said that the reason these electrical transformers were attacked was because they were part of a command and control structure. Well, that's the reason you've been attacking targets all along. Is this new class of targets that are more likely to affect how civilians live?

A: No, the new class was narrowly defined as part of the electrical transmission system.

Q: Ken, can you bring us up to speed on three issues (inaudible)? The three issues would be the additional 24 Apaches that we understand are on standby, the 300 aircraft requested by SACEUR, the call up of the Reserves. And the question is do you plan to brief tomorrow and/or Sunday?

A: No decision on additional helicopters. No final decision yet on the 300 aircraft. No decision yet on the call up of the Reserves. And right now, I have no plans to brief on Saturday or Sunday. That would be subject to change if there is compelling news to require it, but one of the reasons the time of this briefing kept shifting is that Washington has suddenly become the briefing capital of the world. And there's so many people briefing that I think there will be many other people who will be able to talk with great authority, greater authority than I, on many of these issues. And I think we should let them talk.

Q: Ken, can you just clarify for me the terminology of updating the assessments. Someone described this to me as a scientific wild guess on how many troops it would take under various scenarios. Is it really just numbers or is it a more detailed plan? Is it a really a plan or what is it?

A: No, Secretary General Solana made this announcement just as he was leaving Brussels. And he's over now in the middle of these NATO meetings. I think when he gets back and talks to the military committee, he will give them clearer guidance or maybe clearer guidance will emerge during these meetings. But my understanding is that they will re-look at the assessment, and the assessment was, in fact, a guesstimate. It was not a complete battle plan that laid out in great detail page after page after page of exactly what would have to be done to send an invasion force into Kosovo, for instance. It was more in the guesstimate category. I guess one of the questions NATO will have to answer is how much to change that, how much time to spend on revising those plans or firming them up. But I can't give you any guidance on that now.

Q: Is that why the NATO military committee is --

A: Yeah, it was done by military officials because they would have the best estimate of what it would take to subdue to Kosovo with a military force or to enforce a peace agreement in Kosovo with a military force.

Q: Didn't SACEUR earlier get firm commitment from countries under the previous peace plan, peace enforcement plan, or would he still have to do that even after they decide --

A: He had firm.

Q: He had firm commitment?

A: For instance, our share was 4,000. People had made firm commitments to the peacekeeping force.

Q: But after a new plan is formed either --

A: If there is a new plan. One thing we should know for sure is that under a peace agreement, a force, a NATO-led force will go into Kosovo. And the question is how big does that force have to be.

Q: He would have to go back and poll countries again, I take it?

A: They may decide that the plan on the table is completely adequate. I don't think we should forecast what they'll come up with.

Q: Ken, last week on the Hill, Gen. Shelton in his briefings had a briefing slide with two sets he said were small groups of categories that had not received NAC approval for targeting. Are these the targets, this new class of targets you're now talking about? Has NAC now approved all classes of categories?

A: I think you can assume that any target we've struck has been approved by -- has been approved.

Q: (Inaudible)

A: I'm not going to get into any more detail than that.

Yes, Neil.

Q: In the New York Times this morning, there was a report that prior to the attack on the Milosevic residence in Belgrade, there had been an attack on a nearby building which had caused as many as 30 casualties involving what were described as bodyguards, I guess of President Milosevic. Is there anything you can tell us about the date of that attack or whether it happened or what the target --

A: I will check into that and get back to you on it.

Q: Question about the Apache helicopter. Secretary Cohen a couple of days ago said in his Hill testimony that the Apache is not a silver bullet weapon system. Yet, among the leaflets NATO is dropping over Kosovo to the Serb army are leaflets with the Apache image, a bull's eye and a tank saying "get out or we'll get you," the implication being the Apaches are here, and we're going to destroy you. Can you give a sense of why the Apaches are kind of highlighted on propaganda leaflets to the Serb army?

A: Well, that's--their job is to kill tanks. That's why they're being sent there. Having said that, it doesn't mean they're going to be able to kill every tank and quickly subdue the Serb army forces. I think we've made it very clear from the beginning--and I said early on, and this has been repeated--I said it repeating Secretary Cohen that there is no magic or quick solution to this. This is a slow, determined effort to grind down the Serb military forces, particularly in Kosovo, but throughout the country. And that's what we're working on. I think that should be clear from the way we proceeded over the last month or so.

Q: The military planners after the detailed review we got yesterday of the damage inflicted, Serb forces in Kosovo, desertions are continuing and that kind of thing, do military planners foresee a time where the forces there will be so degraded that it would be fairly easy for NATO troops to move in without express permission of Milosevic?

A: Our goal from the beginning is to make the price so high that Milosevic decides that he should declare a ceasefire and pull his forces out. And that continues to be our goal.

Q: Ken, could you talk about how the environment in Kosovo has changed so that you would need to update the plans for sending a peacekeepers in, meaning how it's different, whether you're concerned about land mines, whether because of the impacts of the bombing, more troops might be needed versus less troops or what kind of things you're taking into account to update the plan?

A: First of all, the infrastructure in Kosovo has been severely degraded, destroyed, I should say, by the Serbs. So it would be a much more difficult environment in which to support troops now than it would have been a month ago. You recall yesterday that Adm. Wilson showed a chart of villages or buildings that had been destroyed by Serb forces. We estimate that more than 32,000 buildings in 550 villages or settlements have been damaged by the Serbs. Fifty percent of that damage occurred prior to October of 1998. And 37% of that has occurred since mid-March of this year. So you can see that this is something that's been going on for a long time. But we would have to look at--yes, the mining certainly would be one thing. The infrastructure would be one thing. The degree of confidence we can have in the withdrawal of the VJ or MUP forces would certainly be another. As I mentioned yesterday, these forces are digging into defensive positions. We'd have to assure ourselves that they were out of those positions. So there are a number of things that we'd have to look at in making a determination.

Q: On the Reserve issue, I was told that the hold up initially was transferring the number, which was put at about 33,000, to specific units to be called. What's the delay at this point since it was widely expected that the recommendation would go the White House probably a week ago. What status is it right now?

A: The -- sending a significant number of new airplanes to the theater both from the U.S. and from other allied countries will require new basing arrangements in new places. You have to figure out where all the planes are going to go and then once that's figured out, you have to decide what the support, force protection and other facilities are at those bases. Clearly, if all the planes were to go to some place like Aviano, where there is already significant support and force protection capability, we would have to supply far fewer people than if they go to a new place where there is currently no NATO planes stationed and a significant support sustainment and force protection packages have to be brought in to keep the planes flying. That's the issue. This issue is where they're based and what the requirements are of the various basing configurations. Once that's determined, then we will know with precision--or as precise as numbers ever are in this building since they seem to change constantly just to keep you guys on your toes--then we will be able to determine with some precision exactly how many people have to be called up. So in very simple terms, that's the process that is underway now, and I would hesitate to say this after all the predictions, but my guess is that we're getting into the final chapters of that process.

Q: You were asked earlier about foreign oil supplies going into Serbia. My question is, is there any foreign military assistance going into Serbia?

A: I'm not aware that there is.

Q: Good deal of the electrical transmission system that is, in fact, dual use?

A: Yes, that's what I said. That's true with most electrical transmission systems.

Q: Doesn't that suggest that there may be a great deal of civilian -- powered homes and businesses that may be affected if this is a new, acceptable target list?

A: What I pointed out was that we believe that these particular facilities are tied to command and control installations in the Belgrade area. And it is clear that almost all electrical power facilities will have some dual use to them. I don't think there's any way to avoid that, but these were chosen among other reasons because they were related particularly to command and control assets.

Q: Are you saying they supplied electricity to the command and control facilities?

A: That's what I'm saying.

Q: (Inaudible)

A: Yes. There's nothing scientific about this. One of their customers happens to be the military.

Q: In that category would also be other things that supply, that allow those command and control facilities to exist like water --

A: I don't think that I'll talk about potential future targets.

Yeah, Chris.

Q: I would assume that critical command and control facilities would probably have auxiliary power if they are so critical, but as far (inaudible) to conclude that this is a turn to going after civilian -- inconveniencing civilians more than the critical command and control things, which would presumably have ways of powering their things.

A: Of course, much auxiliary power is fueled by oil, and we've been going after oil for some time.

Q: Why not just go after the bunkers instead of going after a power grid that serves an entire neighborhood?

A: Who says we're not?

Q: (Inaudible) handful --

A: I'm not going to talk about new targets.

Q: How long in terms of weeks or months would it take to translate NATO's assessment into a military plan and actually start deploying troops in a non-permissive environment?

A: I don't know the answer to that.

Q: Ken, if this supplied military power to command and control, why didn't you hit them before? Is the reason why you've waited is because you want to see whether he would cave in and capitulate without having to hurt civilians or not having to deprive civilians of power? Is that why you've waited to hit these now? Because the object all along has been to degrade his command and control.

A: Yes, and you can't hit every target at once. And I think it's clear to anybody who's watched this operation over the last 29 or 30 days that we have been progressively increasing the number of targets and the types of targets we've been going after. We've always said from the beginning that this is a systematic, progressive campaign. Gen. Clark said that in his first briefing. Secretary Cohen said it in his first briefing, so you should not be surprised to see that the campaign is growing as it ages.

Q: These new targets imply that the command and control facilities themselves, which, you know, I would guess, are not mobile targets are more difficult to hit, or you haven't succeeded in hitting them all at the moment. Why is that?

A: We have hit many command and control facilities, and we will continue to go after ones we haven't hit. But there are a number of things that are run by electricity. This seems like a fairly basic concept to grasp. Some of them are military and some of them are civilian.

Q: But it would also seem basic that you would hit the building that houses --

A: We have been hitting buildings.

Q: Why do you need to hit the power supply rather than hit the --

A: Because one of the things we found is that the Serbs are very adept at repairing certain facilities and creating work arounds for facilities that we've hit. So that has forced us to go after a broader set of targets and to look at other ways to interdict communications or command and control. So there are many paths to stopping a fairly robust and duplicative, reiterative command and control system, and we're trying to hit as many of them as possible.

Q: Ken, would it be safe to say that because of this new target list (inaudible) bridges and transport (inaudible) Serbs themselves should brace themselves for escalating inconveniences, if you will, no electricity, no water, no transport, no roads, no bridges?

A: I think the Serbs should try to put pressure on their leadership to end the killing in Kosovo so that all sides can go to the peace table and figure a peaceful resolution to the dispute.

Q: This is a political goal, then, at this point.

A: The military goal -- the military goal has always been to degrade and damage, and this is part of that goal. The military goal is a step to broader political goals.

Q: Yeah, but you said you're looking for the Serb population, it seems to me, to put pressure on the leadership. So doesn't that transform itself into a political goal of attacking dual-use or civilian facilities as an effort to politically persuade the Serbian people to pressure its leadership to end its --

A: He asked me what the message was. I told him I think the broad message is that they should put pressure on their leadership to end this.

Q: In the last several days as I think we've all tried to assess the, where various governments and also various parts of this government are on the question of ground troops in a nonpermissive environment, the Pentagon seems to be in that mix, more reticent than other governments and other elements within the U.S. government. Can you explain why that is?

A: I think the point here is that we are far away from a permissive environment. And we are determined, as are all the other allies, to continue using the air campaign to achieve our military goals. And the military goal has been very simple. It's been to reduce the military capacity of the Third Army in particular in Kosovo, but more broadly, the Serb military and security forces throughout the country. And we're going to continue to do that. We are a long way from anything approaching a permissive environment or even a semi-permissive environment, whatever that is. So we're going to continue the air campaign until we achieve our military goals.

Chris.

Q: On the very detailed targeting charts that Adm. Wilson had yesterday, I think all three of the main charts were notable for the fact that the defense ministry and the general staff offices were white rather than red for being damaged or destroyed. Why is that?

A: That's just the way the charts came out. Somebody asked Adm. Wilson a question about that yesterday and he said he wasn't going to talk about potential targets, so I think that I'll follow Adm. Wilson's lead on that.

Q: I'm talking about past targets, why haven't they been past targets? They are the top of the command and control.

A: It's not a question I'm prepared to answer.

Q: (Inaudible) has the NATO summit in any way affected the operations in the Balkans? And are there any plans for any kind of a pause during the summit this weekend?

A: No. No.

Q: Ken, point of clarification. The power stations last night, they were hit by Tomahawks as opposed to manned aircraft?

A: They were hit by Tomahawks.

Q: Any decision on the (inaudible) to divert the Enterprise into the operational allied force?

A: Yes. It's not going to be diverted. She's coming home.

Q: Ken, what was the bottom line message of hitting Serbian TV last night?

A: Serb TV is as much a part of Milosevic's murder machine as his military is. It has stirred up nationalist passions in the country. It has misreported on what's going on in a way that has, I think, made it extremely difficult, impossible probably, for the Serb people to grasp the full magnitude of the problem in Kosovo. I'll give you one example. During the Rambouillet talks, it always referred to the Kosovar-Albanian negotiating team as terrorists and drug dealers. It always dismissed the talks as having any possibility of success. Now, it has not reported at all on the type of ethnic brutality that's taking place in Kosovo and driving people out. It has been--I said before that the media is one of the pillars of Milosevic's power machine. It's right up there with control of the security and military forces.

Q: Do you expect that Serb TV is one of those targets that will be on the air over the next day or two, and you'll have to keep re-striking?

A: I think I addressed that issue earlier and I said "stay tuned."

Q: I hope bad reporting is not the only criteria.

Thank you.