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DoD News Briefing, Tuesday, January 13, 1998

Presenters: Captain Michael W. Doubleday, USN, DASD (PA)
January 13, 1998 1:30 PM EDT

Capt. Doubleday: Good afternoon.

Before I try and answer any questions, let me just run over a few of the things that have been going on up in New England.

I think many of you have already reported on the storms that swept through the area on the 9th and the 10th. And right now, the reports are that there are about 500,000 households, in three states in New England that were hardest hit, that are without power. And so there is an extensive restoration process for power that's ongoing right now. That restoration process, of course, is being led primarily by local community power authorities, but it's also being assisted by FEMA. And the department, along with National Guard units, are supporting FEMA in this effort.

One of the areas which was hardest hit was a part of New York State, and it happens that that area is very close to Fort Drum, where we have focused a lot of our attention. You may be interested to know that the housing situation at Fort Drum -- this is government housing -- involves not only on-base houses but also government housing that is off base. There are about 14 of these housing areas. And so we have an interesting situation where those that are being called upon to assist in the restoration effort are in some cases victims of the storm itself.

We've got a coordinated effort involving FEMA, active duty units from Fort Drum, which as you know, is the home of the 10th Mountain Division, and the Army Corps of Engineers, along with National Guard units. They are doing a lot of reconnaissance work utilizing air assets. They are also providing some power generation. They are helping with power generators and with, in some cases, door-to-door visits of individuals who may be affected by the storm.

In addition to that, the people at Fort Drum had set up a program in advance of the storm which enabled them to designate their brigade commanders as kind of leaders for each one of the areas around the city where they would take charge. And so that program has worked very well.

The soldiers there also are involved in a local program called Adopt a Family. More than a hundred soldiers up there have essentially brought some of their local neighbors into their homes to help out -- as everybody is trying to get back on their feet after this storm. The total number of people involved in that effort up there in New York, on the DoD side, is about 2,700 people.

Now, the National Guard in its state role is also helping out in similar projects in the states of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. In those states, they are again helping with power generation, with debris removal from roads, with traffic control, transportation, shelter and security. And there are about 800 guardsmen in those states that are involved in that effort.

I think there has also been some report in on the fact that the department has been supporting Canada in their efforts to provide assistance to people who are affected by this storm. We are doing that in two ways.

One of the primary requests from the government of Canada to the United States was to provide cots. And so far 41,000 cots have been delivered to the Canadians. They were shipped on trucks on the 11th to Montreal, and they came from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and also from Richmond, Virginia. There are an additional 20,000 cots that are being -- heading up toward Canada right now. They are coming from a warehouse in San Antonio, Texas, and they're going to Ottawa.

In addition to that, we've got a C-17 with a crew that's providing support to the Canadians in moving -- in flying equipment between Montreal and Edmonton. They are involved in transporting supplies and equipment. So far that aircraft has flown four sorties.

And with that little rundown, I'd be happy to answer questions.

Q: Could you update us on the assets in the Gulf?

A: Yes. Presently, in the Gulf we have a very robust force that is on hand. That includes, of course, assets from all of the services. The Navy has two carriers in the Gulf. And as Ken indicated last week, our intention is to maintain two carriers there until there is no further need to do so. That includes the NIMITZ battle group and the GEORGE WASHINGTON battle group, and there are a total of 21 naval vessels in the Gulf area.

In addition to that, on the aircraft side -- this includes aircraft from those two carriers -- we have a total of approximately 350 aircraft. And the total number of personnel in the region right now is about 28,800 people. So it's a very robust force, and it's been in place there for some time. We'll continue to maintain that force.

But let me also remind you that the approach that is being taken right now is one that is taking place up at the U.N. in New York, where this situation is being reported on by Mr. Butler of UNSCOM -- the United States feels it is very important to pursue a diplomatic solution to this situation.

Q: Have our allies increased their support in the region?

A: I am not aware that there are any further allied assets in the area, but let us take a look at that and see if there is anything that we have to report.

Q: Could you provide, in a general way, a status of forces, if you will, of Iraqi forces. Have they been moving out of garrison, or is anything that would link his military forces to his actual rhetoric?

A: No. In fact, I can tell you that the disposition of Iraqi forces has not -- not changed much. In fact, there's been some movement back into garrison.

Q: Can you clarify that a little more?

A: I don't want to go much beyond that, but I think that in the past, we've talked about the fact that, for defensive reasons, frequently the Iraqis will move their military assets away from garrisons, again, as a defensive move. But in recent weeks, we have seen a move back into garrison, which might be reflective of either the fact that they -- this is Ramadan. It might also be a reflection of a lessened concern for attack.

Q: Mike, are the U-2s still flying at that schedule or whatever, is that still continuing as it has been in the last several weeks?

A: Yes. U-2s continue to fly. And I just want to point out, as we've said from the podium here before, that the U-2 inspection flights are just that; they are part of the overall UNSCOM effort to enforce the sanctions regime.

Q: How often are the U-2s flying?

A: It is on a fairly regular basis that occurs about every seven to 10 days, and sometimes more frequently, but the UNSCOM people actually make the call on that.

Q: Picking up on your "very robust" comment, the number of naval ships

  • how many Tomahawk missiles might you estimate might be in the area? And how would you -- could you put that in perspective -- in terms of, say, how many might have been used in the Persian Gulf War?

A: I'm not going to get involved in specifics, but I can tell you that there are a fairly large number of ships that are Tomahawk capable, and that we certainly have a robust capability on the Tomahawk side.

Q: And also, if the NIMITZ is going to be -- is about to get -- be rotated out, has the INDEPENDENCE been put on notice to take over?

A: What has happened on that, there's no final decision yet on exactly how the carriers are going to be maintained at this level of two in the Gulf Region. Although I can tell you that the INDEPENDENCE has been preparing in the last couple of days for deployment to the Gulf, but no deployment order has yet been signed out. As soon as that happens, I'd be glad to let everybody know.

Q: Do you still expect NIMITZ to get back on time?

A: I do indeed expect NIMITZ to get back on time. I think you know that people in this building, people over in the White House, and certainly the Navy are very anxious to maintain the personnel tempo that the Navy has established.

Q: Do you see any kind of war in the near future in the Gulf?

A: I think that, first of all, it's -- this is not something that I want to speculate on. I think that, as I said a few minutes ago, we should emphasize to everybody that this situation is being pursued through diplomatic channels and that's where I would expect it to stay.

Q: Can you say where the INDEPENDENCE is right now?

A: Oh, yeah, it's operating not -- I guess you'd call the area the East China Sea, which is in the western Pacific area. It's an area where the carrier normally conducts what you call "carrier qualifications" -- getting the air wing back up to full capability for any operations that it might be called upon to do.

Q: It hasn't moved towards the --

A: No, it has not moved.

Q: Yes, Mike, can you shed any light at all on the mission of the Ritter team? I understand it was an augmentation of personnel. Were they put together and put into Iraq for some specific type of inspection or --

A: The composition of the Ritter team?

Q: No, no. The mission -- the nature of --

A: The mission of the Ritter team? I think you should talk to UNSCOM about that. I mean, in general, the purpose of UNSCOM inspectors is to go out to sites where they believe they need to either reassure themselves that there is no activity related to the sanctions that have been imposed by the U.N., or to gather information that would help them gather a clearer picture of what it is that the Iraqis may be doing on weapons of mass destruction programs.

Q: Mike?

A: Now, I will -- let me just take a minute here to stress one thing that's been said by others before. The composition of the UNSCOM inspection teams is actually a function of two things. Most importantly, the teams are made up of individuals who have expertise in the areas that they are inspecting. And the second thing is, they are put together by UNSCOM, and that is exactly what's happened. The individual who you named, Mr. Ritter, has actually, as I understand it, been employed by UNSCOM for the last six years.

Q: Are you surprised by today's --

Q: President --

A: Yeah?

Q: President Clinton has said that he expects the United Nations to issue a firm reprimand to Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Short of that, is the United States prepared to go it on its own?

A: Well, I'm not prepared to get into that. What I think that everybody has said today -- it's been very clear that we're going to look to the United Nations to provide an indication of the solidarity of the Security Council in its belief that there should be unfettered access for UNSCOM in order to do the work that it must do regarding the sanctions that the U.N. has imposed. This is something that we've been talking about for a long time. The secretary has said in the past, and he said again today, that it is inappropriate for the parolee to dictate who his parole officers are going to be. And that's kind of the situation that we have in this case, and have had in the past, also.

Q: The Iraqis continue to insist that Mr. Ritter is a spy for the United States. Is Mr. Ritter a spy for the United States?

A: I -- I don't believe that -- first of all, he does not work for the Department of Defense. I have certainly no indications that Mr. Ritter is anything but an employee of UNSCOM and an expert in the area that he has been called upon to inspect.

Q: Secretary Cohen is in Asia. Is anything to do with his visit with the situation in Iraq or in the Gulf? And also he is in China. Any discussion on this -- on where China stands on this issue?

A: Yes, his visit actually had been planned some time ago. In fact, it was postponed once because of activities that were going on in the Gulf. But it has been scheduled for some time and the purpose of his trip there -- as we indicated in a background briefing last week, and the secretary has indicated in talking to the news media -- is to meet with his counterparts in that region of the world, to discuss with them matters of security that are of mutual interest to both the United States and to those countries of that part of the world. And also to indicate through his visit that we consider our relationship and our presence there to be very important, and that we continue to play a very important role in the security of Asia and the Pacific.

Q: But where does China stands on this Gulf matter...?

A: I think you should talk to the Chinese on that one.

Q: On another topic, there are some advocacy groups that are --

A: Just -- before we do that, does anybody else want to try another one?

Q: Yes, just one more quickie question. You said it was a robust force, but is there any thought about expanding that force in any way whatsoever -- ships --

A: No, I'm not aware of that -- that there is any thought. In fact, the Secretary today indicated that he felt that the forces already in the Gulf region, those that have been there for some time now, are adequate to do anything that they're called upon to do.

Q: One quick related question on that issue.

A: Sure.

Q: Has the Pentagon determined a price tag yet for keeping all these extra forces in the --

A: No, and it's not surprising. These operations normally don't get a price tag until after they're completed. So, I wouldn't anticipate that we'd know the incremental cost increases in this operation until after it's over and done with.

Q: If it extends much longer, would there be a possibility that the Pentagon would seek supplemental funding from Congress for maintaining these forces?

A: I am not certain that I want to commit to exactly what our approach would be on the budget front. I'll see if we can get you an answer on that one. Now back to you -- your question.

Q: There are some advocacy groups who are saying the Navy violated the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy in discharging Timothy McVeigh, a senior enlistee, from the Navy. Is the Pentagon, or the Secretary of Defense going to get in and review the Navy's handling, and review these charge that the policy was violated by the Navy?

A: Well, as you point out, at this point, this is a Navy issue that's being dealt with by the Navy and it has not reached the OSD level. So if you have any questions about the details of the case, you really need to talk to the Navy. But it is certainly not a case at this point that's being reviewed by anybody at the OSD level.

Q: The Secretary said yesterday that Iraq cannot go on indefinitely in this stall posture that is going on. Have any of the sites that have been denied access -- that the U.N. has been denied access to -- have any of those sites been inspected, or attempted to be inspected, and did that have anything to do with what Ritter and his team were doing there -- to test, knock on those doors of denied access?

A: Let me just -- first of all, let me say that for details about what the UNSCOM inspectors do, you really do need to talk to UNSCOM. They actually have somebody who's in a position to talk to you.

But let me also point out, in kind of a generalized way, that in the past and in this particular situation, what appears to be the case is that the Iraqis are pointing -- are kind of diverting attention from the issue at hand, and the issue at hand is one of inspecting sites where UNSCOM inspectors believe there may be work either progressing or evidence of, or weapons of mass destruction. And in order to do the work that they must do to enforce the U.N. sanctions, the UNSCOM inspectors need to have unfettered access. And that's what we've been saying from the very outset of all of this, and that's what we will continue to say.

The point that the secretary made earlier today, as he was discussing this, is that until UNSCOM is satisfied that there are no weapons of mass destruction, that the programs have been dismantled in accordance with what the sanctions call for, until that occurs, the sanctions can't be lifted; the sanctions will remain in place.

And so we have believed from the outset that the inspectors need to have the capability to go where they feel they need to go, to do the inspections, to get an accurate reflection of the program.

Q: And if Iraq continues to deny access, as they have to all of these sites they've called off-limits, then the U.N. and the U.S. will have to consider another step.

A: Well --

Q: Is that correct?

A: What will happen is that the sanctions won't be lifted. Now other steps I'm not willing to predict, other than to say that the president has not ruled out anything at this point.

Press: Thank you.

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