DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD (PA)
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
Four U.S. bombers completed a bombing exercise at the Udairi Range in Kuwait -- two B-1s and two B-52 bombers flew from the U.S. and dropped 110 MK-82 bombs totalling about 55,000 pounds of bombs. This was part of a long string of exercises we've had to test our strategic bombing, our long range bombing forces. The last time we did this in Kuwait was August 12 (August 2), 1994, which happened to be the fourth anniversary of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
The B-1s were launched from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, and the B-52s came from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.
That's it. I'm prepared to take your questions.
Q: What is the situation in Iraq now? Is there any sign that Republican Guard troops are coming back? Are they all cleared out?
A: The situation remains calm in Kuwait. We don't see signs that they're moving back.
Q: Can we get an estimate of Iraqi troops below the 32nd Parallel, and also the latest situation on U.S. troops in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and the region?
A: Sure. The total ground troops now in the Gulf area, 10,102; total U.S. personnel in the region, 28,952. That's as of yesterday. That's up from 12,125 on October 6th, so you can see the size of the buildup since we first started getting signs of Iraqi troop movements.
We're still aiming for a total of approximately 34,000 U.S. ground forces (34,000 includes all forces) in the area, but I want to point out that we're now at a stage where troops are beginning to come out. The Tripoli and the Amphibious Readiness Group will have either left today or will leave very soon, taking out about 2500 Marines. The elements of the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division are still flowing in. They'll complete their movement by November 11th, and then start training exercises before they come back.
In terms of the Iraqi forces, there has not been much change below the 32nd Parallel since we issued our demarche. In fact, there's been really no change since we issued our demarche. That was after the Republican Guard units who had flowed into the southern part of Iraq moved back out above the 32nd Parallel.
Q: So there are about 30,000 to 40,000 now?
A: I don't have the exact figure now, but we can get it for you... I think Dennis is right, I think it's close to 50,000.
Q: Back to the bombing exercise just for a moment, how much did that exercise cost, and was it purely a routine exercise or was it in some way altered or reconfigured in light of events in Iraq to send a message to Saddam Hussein?
A: First of all, I don't know the cost, but it's not an incremental cost because these are routine training exercises. These are done pretty much on a quarterly basis. They have been regular events in the Gulf since 1992. I don't know the cost.
Q: Did they hit the shack, so to speak? How was the accuracy of the bombs?
A: I think the accuracy was pretty good.
Q: Was this within earshot or within sight of the Iraqi troops on the other side of the border?
A: I'm afraid I don't know exactly where it was in relation to the Iraqi border.
Q: Is that a guesstimate, Ken? The reason I'm pressing, because the accuracy has been questionable in past bombing runs. It doesn't do much good to drop 55,000 pounds if you can't hit anything.
A: It seems to me, Ivan, that our planes proved their ability to hit their targets during the Gulf War, and I have no reason to believe that it's gotten any worse. I have every reason to expect it's improved.
Q: Do these bombing runs involve precision-guided munitions, or were these dumb bombs?
A: The 82's are dumb bombs.
Q: The stories from there say that the U.S. fired artillery to help mark the targets.
A: That's true.
Q: Is this the first time the B-1s have flown to the Middle East region or the first time to Kuwait?
A: I will have to take that question.
Q: Are there any plans to base any B-1s permanent in the region, or semi-permanently?
A: Not that I know of.
Q: These came back, right? They bombed and then came back to the States?
A: I'm not sure they're back yet, but they will be back.
Q: What was the length of the flight?
A: The B-1s flew 25 hours and the B-52 mission was 29 hours.
Q: Can you take the question about what the cost of the training exercise was? Even though it's not an incremental cost.
Q: Any plans to do other bombing, particularly with the
A: I don't know.
Q: Is the Pentagon satisfied with the response of West Point to the groping scandal, if you will?
A: Yes, we believe the Superintendent of West Point has reacted very quickly to these allegations, and he has started a review, and will take appropriate action.
The position of the Pentagon is very clear. We don't tolerate sexual harassment in the Army or any other part of the Defense Department. We do think he's acted appropriately here.
Q: Does this incident indicate anything about the state of the problem of sexual harassment in the military? Or does it tell us anything at all?
A: It tells us that we have to be alert to instances of sexual harassment in the military and all parts of our lives.
Q: I'd like to talk about Haiti. We're seeing reports consistently now, two days in a row, from some of the troops who are in Haiti who say they feel they've been forgotten by the President. Also other indications that the troops may be in Haiti longer than we were led to believe in the beginning because the Parliament isn't moving as fast as the U.S. thought it would. Can you give us an update on how long you think the troops will be there now, what your best guesstimate is at this point? Earlier we thought they'd be out by Christmas. Now it looks like it may lapse into January, February or March.
A: First, on the question of troops being forgotten, I think the Commander-in-Chief and everybody in the military command makes it clear at every opportunity that we do not forget our troops anywhere in the world. President Clinton has spoken many times about the great job that the troops are doing in Haiti. They are doing a great job. They continue to do a great job. And they are not forgotten.
Secondly, I can't give you a run-down on the redeployment plans. Those are among the questions that will be answered in the next couple of weeks.
Q: Is it likely that adjustments will have to be made, that it will have to be fine tuned?
A: We're always fine tuning. If you look at the Haiti operation, the whole Haiti operation has been one of fine tuning and adjustment from the very beginning, and will continue.
Q: I'm referring more to the fact that the mission may be lengthened rather than shortened.
A: I don't think there's any reason to say that right now. I think the mission has gone extremely well. All of this will be evaluated and we'll make these decisions in the coming days, but I wouldn't leap to any conclusion about the length of mission right now.
Q: ...these types of Third World peacekeeping missions are creating unusual stresses and morale problems on troops. Is there anything the Pentagon is planning on doing beyond things that they have done for the troops in Haiti, like opening the commissaries and things like that?
A: On the general question of the operations tempo, that's one about which Secretary Perry and General Shalikashvili are very aware and have spent a lot of time thinking about. It's an important issue.
You know that the Secretary has worked very hard on a number of personnel issues ranging from readiness to quality of life to pay, and operations tempo is one of those issues that's under constant review.
Q: Does the pay issue that the President announced while he was in Kuwait, does that also affect the soldiers in Haiti?
A: The soldiers in Haiti already had that pay. What it did was put them on a comparable basis with the troops in Haiti.
Q: The B-1s that went to Kuwait, were they modified in any way?
A: I can't answer that question.
Q: On the situation at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo, has that changed at all? I understand that attorneys for some of the Haitians have asked that their clients be added to the suit that previously affected just Cubans. Can you update us? And have the voluntary repatriations resumed, or is that still basically on hold?
A: You are right. The Haitian Refugee Center has asked that the suit be expanded to include Haitians at Guantanamo Bay. The court has not ruled on that yet. Our view on the suit has been clear from the beginning. We think the suit is without merit. We're convinced that when the suit is appealed, we will win and that we will return to the status quo. In the mean time, you are also right, that the suit has had a chilling affect on the flow of volunteers from Guantanamo Bay -- the volunteers who want to return to Haiti. There are approximately 6,000 Haitians there. Of those, about 1,300 have been recruited as part of the police force, or are dependents of those people, and they, of course, are waiting to go back. But the flow of other volunteers has dried up temporarily. We think when the suit's resolved, when the confusion over the suit goes away, and when people realize what improvements are underway in Haiti and the quality of life there, that there will be a steady stream of volunteers wanting to go back.
Q: In those suits, some of the attorneys have charged that the United States is holding those migrants under "harsh conditions." Are the conditions there harsh conditions for those refugees?
A: I don't think they're harsh conditions. I think we're taking a number of steps to feed them well, to provide recreational opportunities, educational opportunities, etc.
Q: Has the flow of the refugees from Cuba stopped or dried down to almost a trickle? I'm thinking of the boat people in the Florida Straits.
A: I'm not aware that that's been a problem recently.
Q: Are you aware of any plans of the United States considering to build any sort of permanent refugee processing center at Guantanamo?
A: I am not. Refugees are handled more by the State Department than by the Defense Department, at least the legal issues are, but I'm not aware that we're building a permanent refugee center there.
Our effort is, we hope to resolve the refugee problem by getting them out of Guantanamo Bay.
Q: Back in the summer there were a number of skirmishes, melees in the camps. Has there been any report of that in the last few days?
A: I'm not aware that there have been significant problems in the camps recently.
Q: How about insignificant problems?
A: We like to deal with significant problems, not insignificant problems.
Q: Bosnia? Two questions. First, can you tell us anything about plans by NATO to use air power to stop the shelling on Sarajevo? And the second question would be, conversely, are there any plans, what is the policy, for that matter, of NATO or at least that of the United States, about the offensives by the Muslims, by the Bosnian government, against the Bosnian-Serbs? Are we going to get involved in any way there to stop that conflict?
A: I'd first of all like to call your attention to the remarks that Secretary Perry made about that several minutes ago. You can get a transcript of those remarks. He addressed these questions. I think the best thing you can do is just get ahold of those.
Q: It was clear from the Secretary's remarks, and Secretary Rifkind as well, that there's a clear agreement on more robust air strikes if the United Nations requests those air strikes. But what was less clear is whether or not there would ever be a request for air strikes and whether the United Nations has overcome its reluctance to call for those strikes.
Is there anything the United States is doing in order to pressure the United Nations to ask for the air strikes so that NATO can then respond?
A: You're right, that the two-key approach remains here. The United Nations has requested air strikes in the past, and I assume they'll request them in the future.
Press: Thank you.