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DoD News Briefing, February 4, 1999

Presenters: Captain Mike Doubleday, DASD PA
February 04, 1999 1:50 PM EDT

Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon.

I'm sorry to keep you waiting. Welcome to the brief.

Let me just start with an announcement that there will be a ceremony commemorating the National African American History Month on Monday. That will be at 2:00 o'clock in the Pentagon Auditorium which is up on the fifth floor. The program will include musical selections and an essay reading by an elementary school student from a local school. The keynote address will be delivered by Lieutenant General Joe N. Ballard, who is the Chief of Engineers and the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. So that's Monday of this coming week.

With that, I will attempt to answer your questions.

Q: Mike, the President indicated that they were seriously considering sending some U.S. troops to Kosovo. Can you elaborate on that? Where they might come from? Who they might be? How many? And so forth.

A: I can't provide much more detail. I think the President's words speak very eloquently to the situation we have right now.

The points that I would emphasize from his remarks are that one, we're considering this. I think you've seen that the Secretary as well as the Chairman have been spending quite a bit of time up on the Hill in recent days consulting with members of Congress. There have also been consultations with allies on the situation in Kosovo.

Secretary Albright has just given a speech on the subject of Kosovo and has indicated that she likewise has been very heavily involved in the consultations along with National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, so this is a process that's going on.

The elements that the President mentioned that he is looking for in any kind of -- before any decision is made, are first of all, a strong commitment by the various parties that are involved in a peace agreement.

Secondly, the parties have to demonstrate a commitment to implementing the agreement and to cooperating with NATO and with any other nations that go into Kosovo to help implement the agreement.

The President also said there would have to be a permissive environment. That means the environment there would have to be non-hostile.

Then we would also have to have a well defined NATO mission with a clear exit strategy.

I think you've seen in past operations that the military, of course, is always very conscious of the end state that we are hoping to achieve through any kind of military action, and that certainly is the case here.

Now with regard to the planning that's going on, as the Chairman indicated yesterday, since there is no agreement, there is no plan at this juncture. I think you can imagine that NATO is certainly looking at the full range of possibilities that may be involved here, but at this point they have not come to any of the NATO nations with any kind of a plan. As a result of that, we have no specifics that we can offer at this point absent an agreement.

Q: Is it the Department's view that it is not necessary to get congressional consent for this? And if not, was yesterday's closed session, was that an example of consulting with Congress anyway?

A: Well, certainly I think the actions of the Secretary, the Chairman, the Secretary of State, the National Security Adviser have already spoken to the fact that we feel it's very important for Congress to be consulted and to hear their views on this before any decision is made.

With regard to the actual mechanism that would be required to trigger a presidential decision, I think the Secretary yesterday indicated he did not believe it would require any kind of affirmative action by the Congress.

But certainly the process of consulting with Congress is a very important part of this, and the President indicated today that that would continue.

Q: About numbers, some numbers are being thrown around, 4,000 is one, a small contingent of American troops. Are any of these numbers actually coming from planners here in the Pentagon? Are they being used as trial balloons for public opinion? What can you say about this?

A: If you've read the transcripts closely you know the numbers that appeared in some of the reporting this morning came from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs who was asked repeatedly yesterday during his testimony to provide a range of figures, which he did. But he also pointed out in his testimony that this was based on a lot of hypotheticals without any real agreement and without knowing not only the parameters of the agreement, but also the mission that would be required of any kind of a peace implementation force that NATO might undertake.

So the one thing I would caution is that at this point there is no number associated with this.

The other point I would make is that both the Chairman and the Secretary have pointed out that certainly there is--as we go through the considerations that are all a part of making a recommendation to the President and ultimately seeing a decision by the President on this issue, one of the questions is our role in NATO.

I think if you look very closely at the words that were spoken earlier today by Secretary Albright, our leadership role in NATO is certainly a very important part of this. As the President has said, this has led to our serious consideration of having U.S. participation in any kind of a NATO peace implementation force.

But the size of the force is certainly not determined, but we do feel that this is an issue, given our very important role in NATO, that we have to consider.

Q: A little further. I'm not up to date on what was said yesterday or what was said by Madeleine Albright today. I was just wondering, once again, with the commitment the United States has made to the Balkans, all the forces that we've committed, all the resources we've committed. Is this the same for Kosovo? Is it absolutely necessary for the United States to participate for some kind of a buffer force to go from NATO into Kosovo? Or is the United States (inaudible), will it fly?

A: Secretary Albright was much more eloquent than I can be on this subject, but basically I think we have found over the history of our recent years in the Balkans that the violence of that part of the world is not necessarily restricted to national borders. We certainly do have very important interests not only in the Balkans but also throughout southern Europe.

We feel that that, together with the important role that NATO plays in our overall security arrangements, are factors in an ultimate decision that will have to be made on this subject.

Q: The figure thrown around by the Chairman, even though it was a tentative figure of let's say 2,000 to 5,000, yet some of the European leaders are saying that given the importance of the U.S. role, leadership role in NATO, 2,000 to 5,000 is woefully inadequate. They want to see a much larger U.S. force on the ground.

A: You know we could have an endless debate on this, but absent A, an agreement, and B, any kind of parameters of a peace implementation force, it's kind of just pointless debate.

I think the point the Secretary made in this is he feels it's very important, given the fact that we play a very heavy role in the air component of the NATO military force that could be brought to bear on this issue, that our participation in any kind of a ground force should be in proportion to the Europeans, smaller rather than larger.

Q: Another subject?

A: Are we finished with that one?

Q: I have one more on Kosovo.

The Secretary met with the Prime Ministers of Albania and Macedonia yesterday. Did he get any kind of new commitments from them and can you bring us up to date on what was said?

A: I think I may actually have kind of a readout which I could go through for you if I actually brought it here with me.

He did yesterday meet with Albanian Prime Minister Majko and discussed a wide range of issues including regional stability, national security, and the U.S./Albanian bilateral defense cooperation relationship. Prime Minister Majko is in Washington this week to attend the National Prayer Breakfast and to meet with senior U.S. government officials.

There was a 30 minute meeting yesterday with Secretary Cohen during which Secretary Cohen applauded Prime Minister Majko's early accomplishments including a national referendum approving Albania's new constitution. He discussed the situation in Kosovo and voiced his appreciation for Albania's support in solving the Kosovo crisis. Secretary Cohen also encouraged Prime Minister Majko to follow through on his reform agenda to promote internal stability.

Prime Minister Majko discussed the difficulty of the Kosovo situation and the implications of a possible NATO intervention. He committed Albanian support for solving the year-long conflict between Serbian forces and the Kosovar rebels. Prime Minister Majko also committed continued Albanian support to NATO.

Secretary Cohen additionally discussed issues related to Albania's internal stability including U.S. defense assistance, Albania's defense strategy and military reorganization plans, and Prime Minister Majko's stated plans to fight graft and corruption.

Currently the United States provides about $2 million in defense security assistance to Albania. This is being directed toward Albania's critical and near term problem of explosive ordnance disposal. Albania has 11 highly volatile ammunition storage sites known as hot spots which pose great risks to the local population and to military personnel who guard these sites.

Q: Do you know when the next joint [exercise] of the U.S., Turkey, and Israel will take place in the Eastern Mediterranean?

A: I can't give you a date when that is going to take place. Let me just see, I think somebody handed me some material on that one also.

This exercise called RELIANT MERMAID II is still being considered -- no details yet on where it will take place, when it will take place, and who the participants will be. They have some regularly scheduled bilateral scheduling meetings that occur from time to time where they discuss this issue, but at this point there is no date that has been set for the exercise.

Q: Are they going to invite Greece to participate?

A: As I say, they have not gotten to the point that they've decided on participants or that level of detail.

Q: Are you planning to propose for Greece to participate in that exercise?

A: I think we will await to hear from those who are involved in the planning of the exercise.

Q: It was reported today by the New York Times that the U.S. asked the Greeks to install the Russian S-300 missiles to the Island of Crete instead of Cypress. Why in Crete and not Thrace? Is any particular reason?

A: We think that the decision not to deploy the missiles on Cypress was the right thing to do. Deploying them on Crete was a Greek option. We appreciate the helpful role Greece has played in resolving the S-300 issue. The decision to place these missiles on Crete is something you'll have to ask the Greek government about.

As you recall, the U.S. has long opposed the deployment of the missiles to Cypress. Our longstanding view is anything that increases the tensions between these two allies does not serve the interests of Greece, Turkey, the United States, or NATO.

Q: The question is that the New York Times states that you asked the Greeks to do that, to go the missiles, instead of Cypress to the Island of Crete. So what is your answer?

A: I cannot tell you whether we played that active a role in this issue or not.

Q: In the same story the New York Times are thinking about a phantom military alliance consisting by the United States of America, Turkey, and Israel and (unintelligible) Greece not to form (unintelligible) with Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the emerging Palestinian state.

Since you are involved, according to the story, do you know what type of alliance is this, and do you have any information on the formation of such of a (unintelligible)?

A: I know of no such alliance.

I do know, and as everyone else does, that we consider both Israel and Greece and Turkey our allies, but I know of no alliance.

Q: And the last one. It was reported in Italy that you have nuclear weapons in Greece and Turkey. Do you know what that is all about?

A: I think you know our longstanding policy is we neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons in any location.

Q: If we could turn to Iraq for a second?

A: Sure.

Q: Have you figured out what happened with the AGM-130 that hit that neighborhood outside of Basrah?

A: I don't have any further detail on that incident. I should just leave it there.

Q: Is it still being investigated, do you know?

A: We certainly want to know as much as we can about any incident that has such a result, but at this point I just don't have any detail about where we have progressed in our review of that situation.

Q: There have been reports of Iraq pulling out some of its air defense assets in the no-fly zones. Have we seen any indications of more of that going on?

A: I think I would describe the situation as mixed. So that I can -- I don't think we can characterize any kind of move one way or another.

Q: Mike, you've been hitting anti-aircraft artillery sites much more often lately than you have in the past. Would a prudent and reasonable person draw the conclusion that they've moved the missiles out of harm's way, and these are the next most tempting targets?

A: First of all, in a very specific sense, I don't want to get into the whys and wherefores of the targets that we strike as a result of threats that they pose to U.S. forces.

What we have been doing, what we will continue to do is to enforce the no-fly zones and to strike those targets that we feel are a threat to coalition forces, both in the north and the south.

I can't say what may be in the thinking of the Iraqis with regard to the various threats that they have posed to us from time to time except to say that certainly over the last several weeks they have been very aggressive in exhibiting these threats, and that we will continue to answer them with strikes.

Q: Could you in a general way say there is anything different or unusual about the disposition of Iraqi air defenses? Traditionally you guys have been able to say something about that from the podium.

A: I have seen nothing that is particularly unusual about it other than the fact that I think you've heard General Zinni [and] , you've heard from others that they have integrated their air defense systems, they have utilized these AAA associated radars and others into their air defense system. They have used a variety of command and control assets in ways that are very provocative, and they have been much more aggressive in attempting to push the envelope in the no-fly zones.

Q: For the record, is there any activity today over there?

A: No. There was a violation in the south. Our units in the south were not flying in the box today and it was a very brief excursion.

Q: Isn't, in fact, the action of the Iraqis to harass, to perhaps shoot down a U.S. plane, isn't that in fact giving the United States a great deal of opportunity to practice and to prove themselves against this air defense system? In fact isn't it a matter of diminishing returns for Saddam?

A: That is certainly not the way I would characterize it. I think that Saddam's actions over the recent weeks since OPERATION DESERT FOX have shown a level of frustration, have shown -- have not been particularly well considered militarily. But the important thing is that for the last eight years since the end of the Gulf War, coalition forces have been enforcing these no-fly zones. We have flown nearly 200,000 sorties in connection with this effort, and we will continue to do that. And we will continue to respond to the threats that we see to our pilots and crews as they go about this task of enforcing those no-fly zones.

Q: What I meant is in fact hasn't his frustration been increased by the fact that he's doing no good whatsoever against the U.S. air forces?

A: I can't say what his level of frustration is.

Q: I have two questions. Could you bring us up to date specifically on the latest battle damage assessment from our attacks in Iraq? And second, can you confirm that the Iraqis are still using their aircraft to lure ours or the British aircraft over air defense sites?

A: They certainly have had aircraft that go up into the no-fly zones as recently as today. This technique has been exhibited over and over again. As General Zinni indicated when he met with you about ten days ago, his assessment was that indeed they were attempting to do that, but that our air crews are well trained and are not going to get lured into any of those kind of SAM traps, essentially.

What was the other part of your question? The assessment on damage?

I can't give you any kind of a percentage except that I can say that we believe that we are having a very grave impact on the Iraqi air defense system. We have diminished his abilities in that regard. He has lost a variety of air defense components. He has lost a variety of missile components. And as long as he keeps up these threats to our coalition forces and as long as he continues his repeated violations of the no-fly zones, we will go about in our very deliberate way the enforcement of the no-fly zone and responding to the threats as we see them.

Q: What is BDA on the strike on the anti-ship missiles sites?

A: I think I'd best characterize it as those targets are out of commission. There was evidence of secondary explosions, which indicates that the target and associated ordnance were hit.

Q: About that, is there any threat posed to our fleet in the Gulf by anything now that's near shore or off shore of Iraq?

A: Let me be kind of circumspect in my answer. I don't want to provide to you a very detailed intel picture on the threats that we see, but I will tell you that our forces over there are well armed with the best intelligence we can provide so that they can respond appropriately where these threats exist. I think that all of you are aware that we have a very significant capability to identify threats and to deal with them in a variety of ways.

Q: Do they still have Exocet missiles and other anti-ship assets?

A: I have not seen anything recently that addresses that. You might...

Q: (inaudible)

A: Let me see if there's anything we can give you on that one. We'll take that as a question.

Q: Just one more subject. Korea. North Korea is making overtures to South Korea, they want to cut in, get in the middle of our good relations with South Korea. Is there anything in this besides propaganda?

A: What are you referring to, the...

Q: I'm referring to something that the North Koreans offered, offered talks with the South if they would give up having, the South would give up having joint military exercises with the USA and there were some other stipulations that were pretty wild, but I'm just wondering if it's taken seriously or if it's taken as propaganda?

A: I can't address the specifics of what you're talking about. I can tell you that we certainly support President Kim's policy of engagement. I think you've seen that that policy has resulted in some conversations that take place directly between the North/South, and we supported the Republic of Korea government's urging that the North/South talks take place without preconditions.

Press: Thank you very much.

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