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DoD News Briefing - 15 August 1996

Presenters: Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
August 15, 1996 1:30 PM EDT

Thursday, August 15, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.

I'd like to welcome several groups here who are augmenting the ranks of the depleted August press corps. First, there are 22 visitors from the Ukraine, here. They are press secretaries from different agencies. In Ukraine, I guess, are you all from Kiev or are you from different cities in Ukraine?

Speaker from Ukraine: All from Kiev.

Mr. Bacon: All from Kiev. And, they're here as part of a USIA distinguished visitor program. We also have the officials - - that were -- they liked that first briefing so much on Tuesday, they've come back for the second time, the officials from the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary, who were here on Tuesday. All of this shows that the Partnership for Peace is a -- is a very living operation that extends well beyond military exercises and includes working with new friends in a variety of ways to help strengthen the roots of democracy throughout Europe. Welcome. Pardon?


Q: It shows they like you.

A: Well, I don't know about that Ivan, but I note they're not here as often as you are. Whatever that means.

And, also, there are 15 reserve officers here from the Defense Information School, a mini-PAO course, I assume that doesn't mean you're small PAOs, it means it's a short course. Welcome.

Finally, I'd like to announce that the -- there's a media flight next week to cover Operation COOPERATIVE OSPREY which is the Partnership for Peace exercise going on now at Camp Lejeune and if you need more information on that, see Joe March -- is that right? Joe March in DDI. That will -- it's for Saturday after next, August 24th, leave at about 11:00. Can't do better than Camp Lejeune in August, so, I urge you all to go down there and watch this important -- important exercise. With that I'll take your questions. Yes, Bob?

Q: In light of the Washington Post story today about John Deutch yearning to come back to the Pentagon, is -- can you tell us whether Secretary Perry plans to leave office at the end of this term or is he open to the possibility of staying on a second?

A: Secretary Perry has announced no plans to leave his post as Secretary of Defense.

Q: It's -- short of an announcement, is he open to the possibility of staying for a second term?

A: He has not discussed this with the President and he has a lot of tasks to accomplish, many goals he'd like to accomplish and that's all I can say about it right now. Jamie?

Q: Bosnia. In light of the fact that U.S. troops are at a heightened state of alert in Bosnia for possible attack, how is it that this inspection team that was sent to the Bosnian-Serb military headquarters consisted only of seven lightly armed mostly U.S. troops?

A: Well, I think you're talking about apples and oranges. The attacks that -- possible attacks that worry us seem to be aimed primarily at American bases at this stage. And, this was an inspection team that was off on a pre-planned mission following a course that had been followed hundreds of times before inspecting barracks and cantonments and command and control areas in Bosnia, in the Serb part of Bosnia. They did -- they felt that the team was adequate for its job of -- adequately protected for its task which was to inspect a bunker.

Q: Well, I was under the impression at one point that there was a four-vehicle convoy rule, that U.S. troops weren't going out unless they were in convoys of at least four vehicle for their own protection. Was that not the case in this?

A: I don't know. I assume they did go in a four-vehicle convoy. But, I don't know that for a fact. We can find that out. I'm sure they did. But, you can have seven people in a four-vehicle convoy.

Q: The -- now, this -- the sensible task of this team was to inspect the headquarters where Mladic's headquarters... why didn't they go in with a heavier, better armed team if there was a potential for encountering Ratko Mladic?

A: Well, first of all, I don't know whether there's a potential or not. It's one of the things that Admiral Lopez is looking into. As you know, General Joulwan, yesterday, asked Admiral Lopez to look into the circumstances behind this visit to find out exactly what happened and Admiral Lopez has not finished his report yet. And, I would expect that soon in the next day or so. And, we probably should wait until Admiral Lopez completes his report before I deal with those questions.

Q: Do you have any indication though that Ratko Mladic was in fact at this location when -- when --

A: I have no indication that he was. And, that's one of the issues that Admiral Lopez may be able to shed some light on. Ivan?

Q: Just a follow-up in a sense on... I want another subject later but a couple of weeks ago Secretary Perry told us that after the bombing at the Khobar Towers in Dhahran that troops in the Middle East, in Turkey, and in Bosnia were placed on the "highest state of alert." If they're at the highest state of alert, how can security be enhanced or advanced or whatever you want to call it now? If you're at the pinnacle, how do you go higher?

A: Well, first of all, in a relative sense, you can always improve security. You never get to an absolute infinite level of security beyond which you can't go. I think, everybody would accept that. Secondly, the alert status of forces in Bosnia varies from place to place and from time to time so, they can be at one state of alert one day and a lower or higher state of alert another day. And, that, in fact, is what has happened in Bosnia, that the state of alert does change from place to place and from time to time.

Last Tuesday, there was underway Operation FEAR NAUGHT which was, as General Joulwan explained yesterday, an operation that was basically part of battening down for possible military action. That was to pull NGOs out, to consolidate troops into more defensible positions and that explained the very high, partially explained the very high state of alert last Tuesday.

Operation FEAR NAUGHT has now been rescinded because the inspection which had been blocked, has now taken place. So, that -- that particular exercise has been stood down and that has led to some adjustment in the alert status in some places.

Q: A follow-up, if I may. Do you still take seriously the perceived threat of a possible bombing against our forces in Bosnia or do you now feel that perhaps, a hoax?

A: We still take seriously the possibility of -- of -- the possibility of attacks. I can't declare whether that was a hoax or not. As you know, one of the frustrating aspects of intelligence is that it is not -- it doesn't always give you a time and place. Intelligence is many strands of information being woven together and frequently it doesn't give you the most important information you'd like, which is that at such and such a time tomorrow, a bomb will go off at a certain place.

So, we have to be vigilant and I think that there -- we have been very vigilant. I think vigilance has paid off in the safety of the soldiers and our low casualty rate, so far, and we will continue to be vigilant. Bill?

Q: Yes, thank you, Ken. Can you react to the New York Times article today August 15th, by Youssef Ibrahim which states one, that U.S. officials here in the Defense Department have not been informed of any confessions coming from any suspects in the hands of the Saudis? And, I have a follow-up.

A: Well, as I said many times, this Department is not conducting the investigation. The Saudis are conducting the investigation and the FBI is working with the Saudis, so questions about what we know or don't know of the investigation are really better directed to the FBI.

Q: And, the FBI will say absolutely nothing. I tried this morning, Ken.

A: Well, I guess the FBI and I are together.

Q: Yes, but another -- a follow-up on this. The editor of -- quotes a Saudi dissident in exile in London saying that Saudi authorities are still refusing to let the United States investigators see these suspects. I don't know what that refers to exactly, can you comment on that particular part of the report?

A: Well, once again, I'd like to just direct those questions to the FBI because I think they're the appropriate agency to answer questions on the investigation.

Q: Okay, then, you can make no comment whatsoever as to the cooperation between the FBI and U.S. officials in Saudi Arabia with regard to any suspects they may have in custody?

A: That's right. That's a question the FBI should answer.

Q: What Defense agencies are involved in the investigation? That could be working along with the FBI?

A: I'm going to let the FBI handle all questions on the investigation.

Q: Can you offer any praise from the podium about Saudi cooperation?

A: I will praise you for the persistence of your questioning. You and Bill Eicher and I've actually been trained, I've received media training from the FBI and I may have to go back -- I don't want to fail the course. So, I'm going to stick with my current line here as unsatisfactory as it is. Yes?

Q: Now are you aware of the lawsuit by the wives of three of the Gulf War veterans alleging the Defense Department negligently exposed them to dangerous chemicals and pesticides while they were over there? They're claiming $60 million dollars in damages.

A: I have read the -- I have read an account of the suit. That's all I know about it.

Q: To follow-up. Can you say anything in general at all about the level of exposure of the troops over there to any pesticides or chemicals used for immunizations?

A: As you know, this is a matter of very intense scrutiny now at the Pentagon. And, we are in the process of going back over information we have previously collected. So far, we have not found clinical evidence of wide-spread exposure to chemicals -- chemical elements, chemical weapons in the Gulf. I'm very much aware of what various -- of the symptoms veterans are suffering and we are providing the best medical care we can to those people and we're working very hard to look at the evidence and re-look at the evidence.


We've hired outside analysts. We've hired -- we've sent reports to peer review and we've done a number of things to try to see if we can discern new patterns. So far, we haven't been able to but we're still working on it and we're not ruling anything out at this stage. I can't really say anything more than that. On that specific case, I think we just have to let that -- leave that to the courts. It will be in litigation if it isn't now.

Q: Ken, one more thing on the -- on that. On the findings by Duke University in April that individually some of the immunizations given to the troops were not harmful but in combination they could be. Are you familiar with that study?

A: I'm familiar with that and that's one of the things we're looking into. I mean, we are -- as we announced here in June, we're revisiting parts of this. We aren't trying to sweep this under the rug. We're trying to look at it as aggressively as we can. Unfortunately, we have not found the -- we have not reached the conclusions that some people have reached already. And, I can't explain -- explain the difference but our evidence just doesn't lead us to the same conclusion that theirs does. But we're continuing to look at it. Just let me ask, Joe, here.

Q: Ken, can you explain what you meant when you just said we have not found wide-spread exposure? That would indicate that you did find exposure?

A: Well, I'm not aware that we found -- there is one case I'm aware of where a soldier put his hand in some water that was tinged with mustard gas. That was clearly exposure to a chemical agent. I'm not aware that was atmospheric exposure to a chemical agent. But, that's what we're looking at. That's what we're doing at Khamisiyah.

We talked about that on Tuesday and we're re-examining all the evidence we have that is part of the President's effort launched last year to, as he said, leave no stone unturned in trying to find out exactly what happened to veterans who were suffering from a variety of symptoms left over from the Gulf War.

Q: These wives stated their children were suffering from Goldenhar Syndrome, have you ever heard that?

A: I'm not aware of what that is. I mean, I hadn't heard of it before or read the article. I, you know, there have been a number of reports on this. There have been reports on television and there have been newspaper reports and it's tragic. The problem is we have not been able to isolate a Persian Gulf illness syndrome yet. We have not been able to tie -- to tie, bundle up a whole bunch of diseases and say they are -- they were caused by X or Y. But, we're continuing to look.

Q: Is this -- the lawsuit is one which the plaintiffs say that they're filing a suit because of birth defects in the children of the Gulf War veterans. Are you aware, is there any statistically greater incidence of birth defects of children of Gulf War veterans than in the general population or do you have any -- are there any indications that there might be an abnormal or unusual number of birth defects?

A: I'm not aware, but I must I have not looked at these epidemiological figures. I don't know how good they are. You might well ask Jim Turner to look into that. I just can't answer that question. Ivan?

Q: Has the United Nations and/or the Department of Defense found any other ammo depots or sites such as Khamisiyah or possible shell casings or something of chemical agents?

A: Well, we know that there were other -- other areas were chemical agents were destroyed. The Khamisiyah case is a little different from earlier cases because it actually deals with weapons that were destroyed after the war was over, a week or so after the war was over, I can't remember the exact date. That's, in fact, one of the reasons why this case was not focused on until just this year because almost all of the effort initially was devoted to looking at chemical weapons that were destroyed during the war and not very -- it's just sort of how people allocated their time and divided up the task. This was a case, as I said, where weapons were destroyed at bunkers were destroyed after the war was over and it received attention relatively later in the pipeline.

Q: After the war it was destroyed?

A: I believe it's the only place after the war where weapons were destroyed. But, I'll check, I'll confirm that for you. Yes?

Q: On the Khobar Towers bombing. One of the key points of the House Report released yesterday was that there was a mentality surrounding the whole Operation SOUTHERN WATCH mission that treated it as a temporary thing when in fact it's been there four years. It shows no sign of leaving any time soon. We have a permanent presence in Saudi Arabia. It's time for the Defense Department and the government to acknowledge that and to give them all the resources and capabilities they need. Do they have enough resources and capabilities that they need there at the new air base in Al Kharj and shouldn't we just say that we're a permanent presence in Saudi Arabia and we're going to be there awhile and we should give them everything they need to defend themselves and to do their mission?

A: First of all, we have told Saudi Arabia that we would stay there as long as we were invited to stay there. As long as we performed a valuable function in the area. And, so, it is not a permanent stationing by -- I mean, you might have said 10 years ago that we would permanently have 300 or 350,000 in Europe and we don't have 350,000 troops in Europe, now. So, I guess permanent is a word we shouldn't throw around lightly. But, I do not call it permanent.

Secondly, I think it's very clear that we've always had the resources necessary to do the job that is to carry out Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. I think it's also very clear that we've always had the resources to do other parts of our protective mission in the Gulf and we have, in fact, bolstered those resources considerably in the last couple of years by pre-positioning armor, equipment in the area by moving an air expeditionary force first to Jordan now at Qatar. We have dramatically shortened our response time if we're faced with another military contingency in the Gulf and we've done that in the last couple of years and we've had adequate resources to do that.

Third, we have had adequate resources to go to force protection. Force protection was not seen as a huge issue prior to November 13th, 1995, and as the House National Security Committee report itself points out, Saudi Arabia was seen as a generally low-threat environment until the OPM-SANG bombing on November 13th, 1995. From that date on, we realized we were living in a different threat environment and a number of things changed.

Intelligence was enhanced. We began to make a number of very significant security improvements. There were 130 alone at Khobar Towers made between November and June 25th. There was never -- there were a number of messages put out by the Secretary and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs alerting commanders in the field and indeed around the world to the need to pay adequate attention to force protection and to take whatever steps were necessary. So, I don't -- I do not accept their assertion that there were inadequate resources devoted to force protection.

Does that mean that every possible step was taken? No. Obviously, more could have been done. We were working on a process with the Saudis to accomplish a number of force protection measures. We had taken many. We were still -- we had more to take and we've taken a number more, of course, since June 25th as the report itself points out. Yes?

Q: Are you satisfied that the new location chosen for the troops for their safety, is the best that could be available in Saudi Arabia?

A: I'm satisfied that people more qualified to make that decision than I, reached that decision. Yes.

Q: The reason I'm suggesting this is because there is some criticism even voiced today in the Washington Post that this is near the capital and this may create more sensitivity and more criticism from the people who they don't want the American presence to be there?

A: Well, I've been to the Prince Sultan Air Base at Al Kharj and by my definition it's pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It's 130 miles away from Riyadh. All you can see for miles around is desert. We flew in and we flew out and they are vast deserts on all sides of it. It is a huge area that will be -- that affords a large security perimeter and I think that it will be a very secure base.

Will it be the most secure base ever? I can't say that but it will -- we will certainly do our level best to make this base as secure as we think we need to make it.

Q: Has there been any decision on the families in Kuwait or Turkey and towards their shortened tours there?

A: The decision that's made on Kuwait is basically to -- applies to military families and it's to gradually reduce the number of military families in Kuwait. And, I'm afraid I don't know from what to what. And, I don't think we've decided to what at this stage, but over the next year or so, rotations will be adjusted in a way that will reduce the number of families in Kuwait. But some military families will remain there.

Q: Why is that again?

A: Sorry?

Q: Why are they being reduced?

A: We felt it was appropriate to reduce the foot-print, the American military foot-print somewhat in Kuwait, not in a way that interferes at all with our mission but in a way that just reduces somewhat our visibility in the country.

Q: In Iraq, there have been some reports that there's been somewhat of a purge of Iraqi military in recent weeks. Do you have any information that would confirm that or can you tell us anything about what might be going on inside the Iraqi military?

A: I'm tempted to say if it's June it must be time for another purge -- if it's August it must be time for another purge in Iraq but no, I don't have anything for you on that. I've read the reports and I can't go into great detail. Yes, Dave?

Q: Ken, the Chinese are saying that a pending sale of the Avenger missile system violates the relevant communiques and they're demanding that the U.S. back off this plan. Do you have any reaction?

A: Is Avenger their word for Stinger?

Q: Apparently.

A: Everything we've decided to sell to Taiwan is perfectly consistent with the 1982 U.S.-China joint Communique and that is we are selling modest amounts of defensive weapons to Taiwan. We also think it's consistent with the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act which does give us the right to sell defensive equipment to Taiwan. Yes?

Q: Could you even -- could you cancel that now if you wanted to? I mean it's already approved and going isn't it or is it not?

A: Well, I don't think cancellation is anything we're thinking about.

Q: Well, that's what they want. China has demanded that you scrap the plans to sell the weapons?

A: Well, as I said, we think this sale is perfectly consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act and with our Joint Communique with China.

Q: My question is what stage is it in. Even if you wanted to could you stop it?

A: Well, I believe this was announced in June. I'm sorry, in March. But there have been a series of sales to Taiwan and I'd have to go in to the -- I'd have to check the exact details on this. But, we plan to -- I'm sorry this -- the Stinger missile was approved for sale to Taiwan in 1993. I don't know what phase it's in now, but as I say, we think this is completely approved. I'm talking about Stinger missiles. Any other questions? Yes, Tammy?

Q: What date does Secretary Perry expect to receive Downing's report?

A: Well, I can't give you a precise date but it will be some time the week after next. Bill?

Q: Have you any more you can share with us about the security threat in Bosnia as to who might be the perpetrators of these surveillances?

A: Well, I -- I would rather not get into details on that. There are a number of -- there's more than one suspect. But, we're trying to be vigilant on all fronts.

Q: Okay. And, back to the subject of sales of missiles to Taiwan. A reliable Chinese resource yesterday reported that -- that Tony Lake had promised an arms embargo to Taiwan by the United States for at least the end of the year. Do you have any comment on that report which seems to have veracity?

A: My understanding is that when Mr. Lake went to China earlier this year, it was a month or so ago, he assured them that the U.S. will continue to abide by the statements that had been made after the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act and after the U.S.-China Joint Communique and that is that we reserve the right to sell appropriate amounts of defensive weapons to Taiwan. That's my understanding of what Mr. Lake said, but it might be more appropriate for you to check with the National Security Council on that.

Q: So, what you're saying as far as you know, there was no pledge to withhold sales of missiles to Taiwan by this government?

A: My understanding is that -- that Mr. Lake said that we will abide by the current rules that have governed our dealings with Taiwan really since 1979. Jamie?

Q: One last question, the -- just back to the situation at Han Pijesak, what would you say to critics who said that NATO, by sending such a small force to the headquarters of the Bosnia-Serb military, demonstrated that it really has no interest in encountering and therefore detaining Ratko Mladic which NATO troops have said they would detain if they encountered?

A: Well, I would say that -- that people should look at what the IFOR missions are. IFOR has more than one mission. I think many people in the press would like IFOR to have only one mission which is the collection of indicted war criminals. In fact, that's not its primary mission.

Its primary mission is to enforce the peace in Bosnia. And, it has performed that mission brilliantly. There -- a year ago there was killing going on in Bosnia. Now, they're campaigning for elections. There's been a sea-change in the attitude in Bosnia. It was actually at the end of August that there was a mortar attack against the market in Sarajevo that killed 30 people in 1995, and now we've got generally very peaceful conditions throughout Bosnia. That's the primary job of IFOR and it's doing its job very well.

The specific mission that IFOR was undertaking over the weekend was to inspect the bunker in -- in Han Pijesak. And, they went to do that. They were told that there would be a condition on their ability to inspect that bunker. They said they were going to inspect without conditions. They left. They took steps designed to move a substantial force into the bunker, if necessary, to inspect it.

It turned out that wasn't necessary and they were able to do the inspection without invoking significant force. So, I think the mission was successful in achieving its goal and the goal was to inspect the facility.

Q: If they had had to move in with that substantial force to inspect the bunker, and they encountered Mr. Mladic, would they have detained him?

A: I have to assume that Mr. Mladic has read what we've said and that Mr. Mladic, General Mladic, does not spend his time hanging out in places where he expects large concentrations of U.S. forces to show up. Yes? Joe?

Q: On the heightened sense of security in Bosnia, are you confident that there will be no mission creep, that there will be no need for U.S. troops to stay there longer with NATO IFOR forces?

A: Well, I'm confident that we will complete the IFOR mission on December 20th and that's what we're aiming to do. The election campaign seems to be going relatively well. I mean this is a war-torn, damaged psychologically, physically damaged country and we can't expect it to operate like Charles County, Maryland.

It's going to be a dicier place. But, I think, that given that, it's going extremely well and I have every confidence this mission will end on December 20th. That the IFOR mission as constituted will end on December 20th.

Press: Thank you.

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