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DoD News Briefing 8/6/96

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
August 06, 1996 2:15 PM EDT

Tuesday, August 6, 1996 - 2:15 p.m.

Good afternoon. Welcome to the Pentagon. Welcome back, Charlie. It's always good to see you here tanned, rested and ready. I don't know ready for what, that's the question, but I'd like to start by welcoming two journalists from the Republic of Korea, the first is Mr. Chung from Joong-Ang Ilbo in Seoul and Mr. Kim from the Chosun Ilbo, also in Seoul, welcome. They're here visiting the U.S. for four weeks as participants in the USIA's international visitor program.

I'd like to start by bringing you up to date on our efforts to move forces from the Dhahran and Riyadh air bases to more secure positions at the Prince Sultan Air Base at Al Kharj, which is a large Saudi air base that was used during the Gulf War. We're in the process of moving in about 1200 personnel, mainly engineers, security personnel and people to do refueling, provide air traffic control services, etc., to the Prince Sultan Air Base in order to prepare the way for the airmen coming down from Riyadh and Dhahran.

They will be assembling Harvest Falcon tents where the airmen will live once they arrive and providing security services and setting up other services that are necessary for the forces moving in there. The first group has arrived already and the rest will be flowing in soon. They are mainly Air Force personnel and as I say, they're well on their way preparing to enable us to make this move as soon as possible from Dhahran and Riyadh. Yes, Susanne?

Q: The 1200, are those people that will remain there, are they part of the forces that will --

A: No, they're going temporarily. These are temporary people. They're mainly people to prepare the Prince Sultan Air Base at Al Kharj -- to receive American airmen moving down from other air bases in the kingdom. And, as I say they're -- they're primarily group engineers over -- almost 350 will be engineers. There is a large combat communications team of over 100 people. There are security police, close to 200. And, a variety of others including weather forecasting support, fuel support, various types of services personnel as well.

Q: Are they coming from bases in the United States or --

A: Yes, they're mainly coming from bases in the United States. The engineers, a Red Horse, coming from Hurlburt Field. The security basically coming from Tinker and Dover. There is a tanker control element that's coming from Travis and Dover and Charleston -- elements are coming from Travis, Dover and Charleston. So, they're coming from a variety of air bases around the country. Bill?

Q: You said security units will be there. Will these, as these people are moved, will they be protected especially from any kind of terrorism or attack on them while they're mobile? Especially, would we have the capability of stopping any mobile type of bomb, stopping vehicles, and stand- off weaponry, do we have that capability to protect the group?

A: Well, that's obviously a very pertinent question and the answer is yes that we're taking security very, very seriously. The advantage of the Prince Sultan Air Base at Al Kharj is that it's very isolated and it's also very large. So, its very size and location make it a more secure facility and the Saudis are providing external security at all of these places and we're providing the internal security. That's similar to what happens now at Khobar Towers and the other places where we have troops in Saudi Arabia.

Q: What about during the moving process when they're exposed?

A: Well, during the moving process, we will provide security at all points. The point from which they leave, the route over which they travel and the point -- the arrival point as well.

Q: We will have the capability of stopping a truck bomb or something remote? Something --

A: Well, we are looking, as I said, I don't want to get into specifics here but we're taking security very, very seriously and you can be sure that we're doing everything we can to protect these troops where they are now, where they're going, and en route between the two places. Ivan?

Q: Just a follow-up question, then. Roads are not abundant in Saudi Arabia. Will the troops move from Riyadh to Al Kharj and from Dhahran via aircraft? If so, are special, you know, are special transport aircraft being brought in? Will they go by camel, how will they go?

A: They are all going to go on foot. And, they'll be supplied with a lot of water. [Laughter]

First of all, we're talking mainly about airmen, so, I think you can assume that they'll travel by planes but I don't think you would expect me to get up here and give you very specific movement plans and techniques --

Q: I meant will they be moving say from Europe "X" number of C-130s, 141s and do this -- is the base at Al Kharj -- is the runway capable of having that type of aircraft?

A: Yes, the runway is -- it has very extensive landing facilities and -- and plane storage facilities. So, they'll be going by a variety of means at a variety of times. Charlie?

Q: When will the first -- when will the first permanent effective troops move in and two, what about the status of the dependents, when are they going stop moving out? Have they stopped moving out?

A: Well, I can't give you a precise date when the first troops will begin moving permanently from Dhahran and Riyadh down to Al Kharj. We, as I said, we said last week in Saudi Arabia, we were beginning this, the preparations and we -- the movements as soon as possible and we hope to get them moved as soon as possible within a matter of weeks, not months, so the movement will come relatively soon. The dependents should be moving out of Saudi Arabia, dependents of military families should be moving out of Saudi Arabia by about mid-month and in fact should all be back in the United States by about the middle of this month. They'll come back by charter aircraft and they'll come into Charleston.

There will be about 750 dependents coming back and of those there will be about 300 children. Also the dependents will be bringing back pets and we've set up veterinary facilities for them in Charleston to care take of their pets as they come back. They'll be welcomed by teams of experts including logisticians, counselors, travel advisors, people to help them with their children, public affairs officers, and veterinarians when they return to the United States from Saudi Arabia. Jamie?

Q: Secretary Perry today, again, labeled Iran a growing threat to oil traffic and regional stability in the Persian Gulf. Along those lines there is also a report in Jane's Intelligence Review detailing a couple of more items of build-up of some on those islands in the mouth of the Persian Gulf in the Strait of Hormuz, can you tell us to what extent there has been any continuing build up in that area and what it says about Iran's potential to disrupt oil traffic through the Strait?

A: Let me start at the back end of that lengthy question. It would be foolish for Iran to seek to disrupt oil traffic in the Gulf because most of its oil, and I believe all of its oil, flows through the Gulf. We don't anticipate that Iran would try to do something like that because it would be the first victim of any such program.

We do have a very substantial naval force in the Gulf. In fact, today, even as we speak here, there is the USS CARL VINSON carrier battle group operating in the Gulf. There's the USS TARAWA amphibious ready group operating in the Gulf and there are several other combatant ships in the area. So, we have a naval force alone of about 14,000 -- more than 14,000 sailors and Marines in the area now. They're doing exercises as they do regularly throughout the year in the Gulf. We have a carrier there about nine months out of 12 on an average and ARG about half the year in an average year. And, they just happen to be there at the same time, now.

The Iranians have been building up their forces in the Gulf for a considerable period of time. They've been building up their forces on these three islands you spoke of one Abu Musa. There's also a Greater and Lesser Tumbs Island. They've been building their forces up there since -- at least since 1994. And, they have, I'm not aware that they've made significant changes in their force posture in those islands recently. There was a period of considerable attention paid to these islands back in '94 and early '95, when we discussed what was going on there in this room. I can run through some of what they have on islands again if you want. Some of those are encountered in Jane's, but largely what is mentioned in Jane's article from what I can see is not particularly new or startling compared to what's been going on there for the last couple of years.

Q: Were Silkworms there before?

A: Pardon?

Q: There were Silkworms missiles there before?

A: Yes. They do have some anti-ship missiles there.

Q: Well, Jane's also reported that the Iranian exercises in recent months have seemed to center around scenarios -- practicing scenarios for blocking passage through the Strait. Can you confirm whether or not?

A: Well, as I said, I -- I don't think it would make any sense for Iran to -- to attempt to block the Straits because they would be the first victim of this. I can tell you that their activities and build-up in the Gulf seem to go far beyond their defensive needs particularly, on those three little islands. But, having said that, we have a very strong naval force in the area. A much stronger naval force than any other country in the Gulf area can field singly or in combination with other countries at this time. So, I'm quite confident of our ability to protect our interests in the area with our naval forces. Patrick?

Q: Will there be any interruption in SOUTHERN WATCH?

A: No. The entire movement is designed to occur without interrupting OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH.

Q: Speaking more of Iran and its potential or real threat beyond its borders. I believe they have over 5,000 terrorists training at 11 bases. They're developing biological weapons. They have been also developing nuclear weapons according to many reports. If, indeed, the finger for the Khobar bombing points toward Iran as the supporter, the sophisticated supporter of terrorism and also possibly the TWA downing, does the United States have or can you discuss any contingency planning regarding punitive military action that might be taken to take out some of the assets they're so proud of.

A: No.

Q: New subject?

A: Yes.

Q: Defense Authorization Conference Report has been out on the street for about a week now. Does the Department have any comment on the, you know, the sort of net assessment of the final version of the bill?

A: Well, we're still going through it. There have been a number of important improvements made in the Bill. The Bill is still more than we asked for, but we hope that it's an authorization bill, that after it's reviewed, will be found acceptable. As I say, there's still problems. There is more money than we asked for. It's not going for all the things we asked for. Clearly the --

Q: But you're not prepared at this point to characterize the merits of the hardware add-on as the Secretary did earlier this year regarding last year's add-on? You're not ready to do that at this point?

A: Well, most of the hardware add-on brings forward into the future year defense plan purchases that were in the out years -- most -- not all. And, as the Secretary has said many times, those are the most acceptable add-ons because they don't saddle us with vast new costs for which we hadn't planned. They essentially accelerate spending we had planned to make otherwise. So, in a sense, it saves us from, you could say that it may save us from spending money in the out years.

Indeed, as you know, the recovery, the geometry of the Republicans' spending plan is almost the mirror image of the Administration's spending plan. The Republicans' spent more in the first part of the five-year defense plan and it tails off in the end. The Administration plan starts more slowly and grows to a higher level in the end, so at the end of the five-year defense plan, we're spending more than the Republicans plan to spend under theirs.

One of the reasons that we had planned to spend more at the end and in the future years was to accelerate procurement. The Republicans have been more anxious to have that procurement here and now rather than in the future. If money had to be added to the bill, that's the best way to add it.

Q: Okay.

A: Yes, Ivan?

Q: Returning to the Middle East just briefly. Do we know anything in addition about the background, cause, effect, what have you, not effect, but background cause, of the Khobar Towers bombing? And, when the Saudi report is supposed to be on the table, do we have a firmer deadline on that yet?

A: I don't know when the Saudi report will be out. As you know, the FBI is the primary -- is the agency that's dealing with the Saudis on that, and I'd refer your questions to them? Jamie?

Q: Can you say anything on the record about the accuracy about the USA Today story about the 11 terrorist training camps in Iran? Is that report accurate or can you say anything better?

A: Well, those numbers were quite inflated to my knowledge. I don't think there's any doubt that Iran does run training camps for terrorists but those numbers were larger than the numbers that I've seen or can confirm. Having said that, I think I'll leave it right there.

Q: Can say whether there's -- are you aware of any evidence linking the Saudi bombing or the TWA flight to Iran or any other country in the Middle East?

A: I think we just have to wait for those -- those investigations to finish before we can talk about what or who might have been involved. It doesn't make sense until those investigations are over.

Q: Can you comment or confirm about in this same report in the USA Today, two Saudi terrorist groups being trained in Iran? Is there any accuracy to that or can you?

A: I can't comment on that, no. Charlie?

Q: Can you give us some details on the training --

A: Do you have something?

Q: More decisions on further movement of families or force protection issues in the rest of CENTCOM other than --

A: We're still -- that is under review now. I expect they're will be some movement of dependents out of Kuwait but the exact -- the exact numbers and make-up of that is still under review. Susanne?

Q: Just to clarify, I believe last week some senior officials were saying that actually some members or some individuals involved in this movement had already begun to move. You were specific about those in Dhahran moving within the next couple weeks. Were those references to those in Riyadh?

A: Yes, they were.

Q: Okay.

A: Charlie?

Q: Can you give any details on the training accident at Fort Campbell?

A: Well, I don't have many details. My understanding is that there was a hand grenade explosion on Training Range 52 at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, at 8:40 this morning. Sadly, one soldier was killed. I don't have his identity and I don't believe his family has been notified, his or her family. There were 11 soldiers injured and three of those were taken to Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville and the others are being treated for multiple shrapnel injuries at the Fort Campbell Hospital. They were in the Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment and the accident is under investigation.

Q: Okay? It was on the 52 training what?

A: Training Range 52 at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. It's a hand grenade accident.

Q: Can you describe what kind of training it was?

A: It was hand grenade training.

Q: This is the first chance we had to ask you, the Sunday Times of London reports that the United States is considering a plan to capture Karadzic with an airborne assault and is meeting some resistance from our allies, particularly Britain. Can you comment at all on that report?

A: No. Typically, we don't comment on any reports involving stories like that. But, as you know, the White House, my friend Mike McCurry strongly denied it, as not accurate, and I have nothing to say that contradicts that. Yes?

Q: One more issue. The policy as far as the Defense Department sees it, is enough being done, should more be done, to deter terrorist attacks organized as -- as they have seen in Saudi and against our foreign air carriers, is punitive action necessary to deter this kind of action, more than is being done?

A: You're trying to draw me back into the same question I didn't answer before. I'm not going to let you draw me there a second time. I hope you'll excuse me. But to answer the first part of your question, we are doing our level best to protect our forces and all American citizens against terrorism. We're working extremely hard on that. That's the reason for the moves of our forces in Saudi Arabia -- that consolidation of our forces into safer more secure areas.

We're reviewing -- one of the things General Downing has been doing -- did on his trip throughout the area and other countries as well in Europe, is to review security procedures and anti-terrorist techniques in various parts of the world -- Israel, England -- two countries that have had extensive and successful experience in dealing with terrorists, but also are still prey to terrorist attacks.

I think terrorism, unfortunately, is like disease. You can wipe out some illnesses, perhaps you can contain them, but you can't wipe out disease altogether. You can do your best to stay healthy. You can do your best to take medicine. You can do your best to follow the proper procedures. You cannot be disease- free. I'm afraid we live in a world where it's going to be impossible to be free of terrorism, but we can do the best we can to make their jobs difficult, to make their attacks costly on them, and we will.

Q: No matter what the penalty, there will be attacks, is that correct?

A: Well, I don't think I should get into the balancing act of comments like that, but the President has said that we will -- we will respond when we have -- if we have appropriate information. Dave?

Q: Has he -- Perry met with Downing?

A: Sorry?

Q: Has Perry met with Downing?

A: Well, he met with him at the very beginning of this mission.

Q: No, he said on Saturday he was going to meet him this week?

A: He has not.

Q: Is that scheduled yet?

A: They -- I anticipate that they will meet sometime this week.

Q: A follow-up for that, I believe the schedule was that General Downing's report was due to the Secretary by the middle of this month. General Downing said it might slip somewhat. Will the report be on time or will it slip, receiving the report?

A: That's one of the issues that will be determined when the Secretary and General Downing meet and I don't want to forecast what the -- what may come out of that meeting.

Q: [inaudible] -- advance copies, as usual?

A: Well, Ivan, see me afterwards and I'll do my best on that.

Thank you.