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DoD News Briefing, Tuesday, March 30, 1999

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
March 30, 1999 2:00 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. This afternoon at approximately 4:30, Vice Admiral Scott Fry and Rear Admiral Thomas Wilson, who are respectively the director of the Joint Staff for Operations and the director of Joint Staff for Intelligence will brief here and give you an update and sort of an overview of what's been going on. They'll have some imagery to show you, and we'll get copies of that to you, if you want it, after the briefing. With that, I will take your questions.

Q: A few minutes ago, the President said that when this operation in Yugoslavia is over, that Milosevic's military will be, quote, seriously diminished. Can you bring us up to date on how seriously it's been diminished at this point? In other words, give us a little bit more specifics on damage?

A: Well, that's exactly the type of thing Adm. Wilson will do later. Let me just walk through quickly, and he'll give more detail. As you know, the military goal has always been to degrade or diminish his ability to carry on repressive activities in Kosovo. We always realized this would take some time and that it would not be easy to do. We also, I think, have strong unity on the part of NATO that we should continue as long as necessary to complete this mission. We've focused on a range of targets, including the air defense system, which of course, involves missiles as well as interceptor planes. We focused on command, control and communications. We focused on the VJ and MUP targets, that is the Serb army and the Serb special police, and we've also focused on some industrial targets that sustain the defense industrial base in Yugoslavia. And [with] each one of those targets, we are making progress. We have basically shown through a combination of strikes and electronic-suppression flight tactics that we can achieve a degree of tactical superiority, air superiority with acceptable risk which allows us to carry out our missions as planned, if the weather permits.

In terms of the command, control and communications, we are having an impact in reducing his ability to communicate throughout the country quickly, although that's not -- we have not totally cut the nervous system. He does have a very redundant command and control system. But we are seeing a degradation in that. In terms of the army and special police forces, Adm. Wilson and Adm. Fry will say more about that. But the principle impact we've had so far is to reduce their ability to sustain themselves, to cut into their supplies, into their logistics. We are now beginning to focus more precisely on the troops on the ground in Kosovo and the troops stationed just outside of Kosovo. And that began in earnest last night with attacks on staging areas and other places where troops gather or pull together their equipment to be serviced, to be refueled, et cetera. And in terms of the industrial base, attacks that we made against various aircraft repair and missile repair and manufacturing facilities, we think, have cut into his long-term ability to sustain a potent military force. But there has not been a knock-out punch. We knew the knock-out punch would not come quickly. We're in now to the seventh day. I think it will take much longer to degrade the forces as much as we need to do.

Q: How much longer?

A: That is really mission dependent. We're not making any predictions about that.

Q: Weeks, months?

A: No prediction means no prediction. We're prepared to go as long as it takes.

Q: The French foreign minister said in a speech that half of the air defense of the Serbs had been taken out, which seems extraordinarily fast if you have, in fact, accomplished that. Do you have an assessment of how badly damaged the air defense is?

A: I think that it's better to look at the impact of our strikes on our own ability to operate. We believe that we are achieving, or have achieved in many cases, tactical air superiority that allows to operate in places we need to operate at the times we need to operate with acceptable risk. Does that mean that the air defense system is gone? No, but it does mean that we're able to operate to carry out our plans.

Q: Three-part attack question if I may. One, with the A-10s. I believe there are eight operating out of Aviano. Any requests for more, or any intent to send more? Two, the Marine MAGTF offshore has some Harriers and some Cobra attack helicopters. Any plans to use those? And third, Army Apaches and Cobras, any plans to use any those? They're very effective against armor.

A: Well, as I said yesterday, taking your questions in reverse order, the possibility of moving Apaches into the area for use in the Kosovo front is currently under consideration. There's no decision yet on that, but it remains under consideration. In terms of the Marine helicopters, they, of course, are on-board ship now. There has been no decision to deploy them into this operation at this time. The question of A-10s, Gen. Clark has moved, I believe, six or eight more A-10s from one part of his theater to another down to Aviano. He can make these intra-theater changes in force on his own, and he's done that. I think, in the last day or two, he has augmented the A-10 supply in Aviano.

Q: How many do we have roughly? Any idea?

A: Let me check here. I can get you a list. We'll get that for you. I don't have it right here at my fingertips.

Q: Just a quick follow-up. Is the decision to deploy Apaches or Marine Cobras conceivably -- is that Gen. Clark's decision, or would he have to go to NATO to get political --

A: It would eventually be a NATO decision, as I understand it. It's one that we'll look at in our government, and NATO will look at as well.

Q: Are the A-10s engaged in offensive strike packages at this point?

A: I don't believe the A-10s have engaged in an offensive strike package.

Q: Why is that?

A: Some of it's weather-related. Some of it's where we are in the mission right now.

Q: But there is still considered a high degree of risk regarding the A-10s to do a low-level mission?

A: When it's appropriate for the A-10s to engage, they will. They have not engaged yet in ground attack missions.

Q: Is there any indication that the intensity of the air strikes are going to change given the meeting between Mr. Primakov and Milosevic?

A: I think it's premature to address that, because I don't think we have a good read-out yet on what happened at that meeting. It's something that obviously we and our NATO allies hope to learn more about, but we don't know yet.

Q: There's a disaster relief team that's over right now checking out the refugee situation, I think in Albania. And when they come back, a decision will be made on sending maybe several thousand troops. Could you talk about how many troops would possibly be involved and compare that to the effort that we have had with the Kurds in Iraq?

A: I think it's premature to answer that question.

Q: Can you explain why NATO would have to decide on a deployment of Apaches? Is that because Apaches are essentially a ground system?

A: This is a NATO operation. And all parts of it --

Q: (Inaudible) political decision as opposed to a decision by the NATO commander.

A: Excuse me?

Q: I thought you said there would be -- had to be a political decision by NATO rather than a decision by the commander to deploy --

A: The North Atlantic Council is considering -- which is basically the council of ambassadors or ministers assigned to NATO by the member countries -- is reviewing all parts of this operation. So this would be in the normal course of the operation something they would review.

Q: Is there going to be a phase three in this operation? And how close to it are you, if so?

A: I think, as I've been trying to explain for the last week, [it's] probably not profitable to stick with the phases. It's clear that the North Atlantic Council has made a decision to carry this air campaign out as far and as long as necessary to complete the goals. And Secretary Cohen has spoken today with Secretary General Solana. He's spoken to his counterparts in a number of countries about just that and has found that there is that determination. So, we will proceed as necessary to achieve the goal.

Q: If I may, humanitarian groups are reporting that they are hearing from eyewitnesses they are talking to on the phone that eastern Pristina, a neighborhood in eastern Pristina, is being cleared of people, that a column several miles long of refugees is moving towards the Macedonian border as we speak. Is there any -- if such a large thing is true, that you ought to be able to see it by various means. Have you seen any such activity?

A: I'm -- first of all, I don't doubt that that's happening, but I have not seen any pictures that would suggest that's the case. That would be a good question to ask Adm. Wilson, because he's the man who deals with that. Let me just say that there have been a number of reports that we're getting from refugees. We don't have reason to doubt these reports at all, although we don't always have an immediate confirmation of them.

Q: You say that the campaign against the ground forces is under way. You're not using the A-10s; the B-1s are not deployed. What are you using, and is the weather, the weather allow you to use the laser-guided precision munitions from F-15s, F-16s?

A: The short answer is yes, the weather has not been great, but there are pockets of better weather or less bad weather that allow us to attack certain targets under certain conditions. So we are using those precision-guided -- yes.

Q: Are we going after, like, staging areas at the present time? What impetus is there to go after individual units in the field, given reports that some refugees have actually been shelled by Serb artillery?

A: I hope there's considerable impetus to do that. The question is finding them and attacking them accurately. That's exactly the type of force we're trying to go after, and it's exactly the type of brutality we're trying to stop.

Q: You mentioned the conversation between Secretary Cohen and Solana. Can you give us a little more detail on what they discussed? For example, did they talk about the possibility of introducing ground forces into this operation?

A: That is not something that's under consideration in this government.

Q: If one of your targets is command and control, as you've repeatedly said, could you tell us why no attack has been made as yet on the defense ministry or the interior ministry in Belgrade?

A: I'm not going to discuss any specific target.

Q: You mentioned you were going to be precisely focusing on troops on the ground. What's some of the resident technology that's going to allow this more precise attack? Are we talking the Predator and some of these unmanned --

A: Well, certainly one thing will be UAVs, when they're deployed. And we hope the weather will allow them to be deployed quickly. This is a difficult and daunting task. The stuff moves around quickly. Particularly, the armor can be moved quickly. So it's something that requires a very good marriage between intelligence and operations, between surveillance and shooters. And we are working on that. I think we've had some success in this operation so far in using intelligence and responding to it very quickly. And obviously, we will strive to do even more of that in Kosovo.

Q: Is there a new system in place to do that, to couple together intelligence assets with targets on the ground and getting it back to the shooters in the air?

A: This is something that has been an issue of considerable emphasis, I would say, since 1984. Gen. Ryan, when he was in Aviano and then later when he moved to Ramstein, made huge strides forward in bringing together intelligence from all sources in figuring out ways to get it very quickly into the cockpit, and so that attacks can be as efficient as possible, vectored to the right place at the right time. This is something that the entire military has spent a lot of time on, but particularly in this theater, because it was in response to problems in Bosnia that we began this entire effort in late '94, early '95.

Q: This system is in place. There's something rudimentary to get targets to the cockpit --

A: It's more getting the process to work better, to eliminate glitches, to improve communication, to improve the focus of the intelligence-gathering assets, and then to figure out how to get very precise intelligence to the right person at the right time.

Q: Ken, can you point to any signs that the attacks have in any way blunted the Serb offensive in Kosovo?

A: I think right now it is difficult to say that we have prevented one act of brutality at this stage. This is being done very up close and personal by the Yugoslav army and special police forces in small groups of armed, vicious people going out and shooting people at close range, frequently burning them, shelling their houses. And we always knew that this type of action -- on the ground, highly localized -- was going to take a long time to stop. What we have tried to do is start on the outside and work in, first by destroying logistics, by making it more difficult for these forces to sustain themselves, to gain enough capability to fly and then be able to vector our attacks at smaller and smaller units. And that's what we're working on now.

Q: I'd like to precede a short question with two very short sentences out of the GAO rather exhaustive post-audit of the bombing campaign for Desert Storm. And just briefly, it says, "Even under generally favorable conditions, the effects of air power were limited. After 38 days of nearly continuous bombardment, a ground campaign was still deemed necessary." Unquote. My question -- I did hear you say that ground troops were not under consideration -- is the use of ground troops in Kosovo completely ruled out, however?

A: I think the President has been very clear. The circumstances under which we would deploy troops into Kosovo are a peace agreement. That we would not go into a hostile environment, we would go into a permissive environment to enforce an agreement that has been reached by the two sides. The President has said that time after time.

Q: Just follow-up. If your objectives are not reached, does that still mean no ground troops?

A: Well, I think it's a hypothetical question that I won't answer. We assume that we'll be able to reach the objectives, but it will take time.

Q: What about ground troops -- when you say no U.S. ground troops, you mean no ground troops period, or could that possibly open the door to NATO ground troops other than U.S.?

A: I think that's a question you'd have to ask NATO. I can only speak to our policy.

Q: F-117 -- latest on all U.S. and allied planes as of this moment that you're aware of? Has any been damaged? I know that Brussels this morning said none was damaged yesterday, but anything at all?

A: I'm not aware that there's been any damage beyond the F-117.

Q: What about the F-117, any further word on what brought it down?

A: It's still down.

Q: At the outset, I think Secretary Cohen emphasized two things: minimizing the risk of air crews and civilian casualties. Is it under consideration to take more risks with the air crews to directly attack these MUPs and Serb forces who are doing this to the ethnic Albanians, to even take chances with this continuing lethal SAM system?

A: Our goal has always been to find ways to contain or suppress the air defense system so that we can fly as necessary. That's why we started with a primary emphasis on the integrated air defense system, and we are continuing to hit at the integrated air defense system. It's never been an either-or set of targets. It's "yes and". Yes, and we are going after air defenses, and we are focusing on army and special police targets. It's been that way from the first day. And it continues that way. What's happened is that as we made some progress in suppressing air defenses -- and I say there are three keys to suppressing air defenses -- we have been able to shift more emphasis onto the army and to the special forces.

Q: Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security advisor to President Carter, said today in a column that tactics should be more deliberate, even more dangerous. Our pilots are professionals, volunteers; it's time to take the risk with them. That's the issue I'm asking. Is this under consideration? Press ahead despite the continuing threat of SAM systems?

A: I think it's a ludicrous question. Are you saying are we looking for ways to increase the risk to our pilots? Is that what you're asking?

Q: To press home low-level attacks in the face of continued SAM threats. That's the question.

A: We have always from the beginning looked for a way to perform this mission that finds the proper balance between the mission effectiveness on the one hand and pilot protection on the other hand. And we'll continue to do that.

Q: What remains, and how active is the Yugoslav air force?

A: Well, the Yugoslav air force has been relatively inactive. In fact, not very active at all since it took heavy losses in the early stages of the fight. We believe that we have reduced the force of MiG-29s by about half. There have also been losses of MiG-21s as well, some helicopter losses as well. I can't give you a percentage in how much the air force has been degraded, but the fact of the matter is they are not challenging our planes as they did in the first day.

Q: How about the low fliers?

A: I'm not aware that low fliers have been a problem.

Q: There are reports along the border of Macedonia that there's a problem -- the refugees getting into Macedonia, there's -- tens of thousands, if not more, are now hiding in the hills in Kosovo or in the no-man's land that apparently is set up between them and that they are hungry and that they are pleading for air drops of food. Is there any thought being given to try to do something about what looks like a sort of secondary humanitarian problem?

A: I'm not aware that there is at this time, but it's something that we could clearly think about. On the question of food, a huge amount of food had been prepositioned in this area for fear that there would be humanitarian disasters. At one point, there was enough food in the area to feed 400,000 people through September. Unfortunately, a lot of that food was in Kosovo itself, and some of it was in other parts of Yugoslavia. And, obviously, the access to that food has been lost. Now, we estimate that in Albania alone, there's probably enough food to feed 100,000 people for maybe a month or so. But clearly, we need to get more food there, and we need to figure out a way to get it into Kosovo as well. But I think it's something that we have to address. We are addressing the humanitarian issue, but I can't respond directly to your question about air drops at this time.

Q: Yesterday, the reports coming out of the region said that refugees were coming out of Kosovo, 4,000 per hour. Given those reports and the reports you've heard today about entire towns being cleaned out, at what stage does a strategy based upon protecting Kosovar Albanians from Serb attacks become irrelevant because a break-even point has been passed at which there aren't enough Kosovar Albanians left to protect?

A: Well, the history of conflict in this region is that people have moved in and out of Kosovo in response to waves of Serb violence. Our hope is that over time as we're able to complete the military mission of repressing, degrading Milosevic's ability to kill and pillage, that we will eventually reach an agreement that will allow these people to go back in. That's clearly not going to happen any time soon. But you're right. More than 100,000 people have left since March 24th, and more are leaving. And we will do out best to create a set of conditions that will allow them to go home some day to a much more stable and safe environment than they have lived in for the last 10 years.

Q: Is ethnic cleansing a fait accompli at this point?

A: Ethnic cleansing is certainly a goal and is certainly something Milosevic is working on. I think you saw Jamie Shea speaking this morning from NATO saying that he has put together long convoys of buses to take Kosovar Albanians out of Kosovo. This is clearly something he had planned. He had made arrangements to do this. It's not by chance that these buses just happened to be sitting there to move people out of Kosovo into other areas. And he's clearly hoping to create a situation that will never allow them to return to their homes. And we are determined to prevent that from happening.

Q: Temporary or not, is ethnic cleansing half accomplished, mostly accomplished?

A: I can't give an estimate. You should ask Milosevic how he thinks he's going in his campaign to ethnic cleanse Kosovo.

Q: Ken, I seem to be hearing a mismatch in words. The other day, Clark talked about essentially killing off parts of Milosevic's military and just terminating it, and you keep talking about suppression of his capability or degradation of his capability. Are there any parts of the Serb or Yugoslav military that you want to simply eliminate and take out, or is the goal that we're satisfied with just degradation or suppression (inaudible)?

A: I think that we've always been conservative in our descriptions of what we wanted to do, and we've used words like "degrade" and "diminish" and Gen. Clark has used exactly the same words.

Q: The attacks against the troops and armor, are these now mostly daylight air strikes?

A: They vary. Some are in daytime, and some are at night.

Q: Where are you bedding down the B-1s, can you say?

A: I'd rather not say until they're bedded down, which will probably happen today or tomorrow. Probably today it will happen.

Q: Can you give us the total numbers again for aircraft, where they currently stand for the NATO force and personnel, American and otherwise?

A: The number of American personnel is somewhere in the 7,300 to 7,500 range. The number of American aircraft now is probably about, around 210. It goes up and down depending on swap-outs, etc. For instance, some of the B-52s that are there now will come back. And the total number of aircraft in the NATO force would be probably around 370, 380, but I can get a more precise number for you.

Q: Do you have any concern over the limited supply of air-launched cruise missiles?

A: Yes, that's something that we do worry about. We have a supply now, but it won't last forever. But we certainly have enough to continue striking important targets.

Q: Are you using drones, and have you lost any?

A: I'm not aware that we've started using drones, and I'm not aware that we've lost any. I've seen the reports out of Serbia on that.

Q: How much ordnance has been used in the first six days? Do you have any sense how many cruise missiles, how many bombs?

A: We're not really keeping score in that way. We're not getting into the business of listing munitions that have been used.

Q: In the hundreds, though, for cruise missiles or more in the scores?

A: It's more in the scores.

Q: On one of the Sunday talk shows, Mr. Solana, when asked a direct question as to whether stopping the massacres had a higher priority than keeping NATO ground troops out of Kosovo basically said yes, stopping the massacres was the higher priority, implying that if it took ground troops to do that, that would be okay. Is there a difference of opinion between Mr. Solana and the United States government on this issue?

A: I'm not aware that there is, but you'd have to ask Mr. Solana. Our policy has been clear from the beginning.

Thank you very much.