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DoD News Briefing, Tuesday, September 10, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.

Presenters: Kenneth Bacon, ASD(PA)
September 10, 1996 1:30 PM EDT

Tuesday, September 10, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.

I'd like to start out by welcoming 19 Air Force public affairs officers from bases and installations all around the U.S. They are at the Pentagon attending the Air Force public affairs leadership conference. So these young officers behind you are the future "Doug Kennetts" and "P.J. Crowleys."

Q: (Off mike.) (Laughter.)

A: Now, I can see that you're not taking this topic seriously. (Laughter.)

Today, President Perry appointed -- sorry -- Secretary Perry.

Q: (Off mike.) (Laughter.)

A: Well, you're a little more serious than I thought. (Laughter.)

Q: File break!

A: I'm always trying to promote my boss. No one can accuse me of falling down on this job. (Laughter.)

All right, I'll try again.

Today, Secretary Perry appointed retired Vice Admiral Donald Engen to head a team conducting an independent review of the Department of Defense Executive Support Air Fleet. As you know, the White House asked for such a review on Friday after two incidents involving Marine Corps helicopters. Vice Admiral Engen is also the former head of the Federal Aviation Administration and he ran the Air Force safety review that General Fogleman called for last year.

This review will examine all relevant practices and procedures affecting the reliability and safety of the executive air transportation by this Department. It will look at training, operations and maintenance.

Admiral Engen was a Naval aviator and held a number of important posts including commander in chief of the U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, and this study should be done in 30 days.

He will be heading a team of undetermined size. The team is in the process of being put together and they will as I say review all aspects of the executive air support.

And I would just like, before we get to questions, to call one thing to your attention. The IFOR forces in Bosnia have been working side by side with the OSCE in preparing for the elections this Saturday. They have devoted 46 civil-military information center officers to the OSCE to assist in planning for the elections. They have printed and distributed voter lists, voter registration and educational material. They have provided transportation for OSCE members, communications support, mine- awareness training, and emergency medical support for the OSCE. They've also used the IFOR information resources to educate voters.

And they have -- the troops in the American section have surveyed over 1,500 polling stations. And they have posted more than 7,500 voting posters in the American sector. So the involvement has been long-standing and fairly extensive. And this, as I say, is all for the preparation of the voting this Saturday. So with that, I'll take your questions on IFOR or anything else.

Charlie?

Q: Ken, how many Iraqi SAM missile sites or command and control centers have been repaired, reconstituted, whatever you want to call it, in southern Iraq? And will they be attacked whether or not they illuminate U.S. and allied aircraft, considering the fact the Pentagon has warned Saddam not to try to rebuild this?

A: Well, I am not prepared to go into details at this stage, except to tell you that we have made it very clear to Saddam that if he rebuilds air defenses and threatens our missions over the no-fly zone -- now the extended no-flow zone going up to the 33rd parallel -- that we will take action. I think we've shown our determination to protect our pilots in the past, and that determination remains undiminished.

Q: But you say if he rebuilds the system and threatens -- you don't mean if he rebuilds or threatens? What if these -- what if they rebuild the system and they don't illuminate aircraft; in other words, don't physically threaten -- (inaudible)?

A: I think the main fact to focus on is that we're committed to taking every step we can to protect our pilots. And we will do that.

Q: Ken, what -- has the United States given Saddam a specific warning about rebuilding any of these facilities in the south? When was that warning or ultimatum issued? And did -- has any of this activity that has been reported on -- did it take place before he received this formal warning?

A: We have, as I said, warned Saddam Hussein that we retain the right, and will in fact take actions necessary to protect our pilots. And we will do that.

Q: Well, did he receive a formal --

A: We have warned him, yes. We have warned him both -- we have warned him in three ways. We have warned him with our actions, primarily. We have warned him in written form. And we have also warned him through statements, such as General Shalikashvili's statements and Secretary Perry's statement last Sunday.

Q: When did the written warning go out?

A: There have been several written warnings to Saddam Hussein, and I'd rather not get into the details of them. It's more of a diplomatic question than a military question.

Q: Does the reconstituting of these three or four SAM missile sites that we heard about this morning constitute the criteria, which would needed to attack?

A: Do you want me to lay down specific criteria? Do you want to know what the specific criteria are for attacking?

I will repeat again we will protect our pilots. We will take necessary actions to protect our pilots. I want to point out that we have made this very clear. We have acted twice already. And I think you can expect that we will take whatever action is appropriate to protect our pilots.

Susanne?

Q: Can you give us a description of the activity in the no- fly zone? How many sorties are being flown? How -- Air Force, Navy -- any kind of breakdown; any details on how that --

A: I can't give you a breakdown by service. But I can tell you that today there were about 120 sorties over the no-fly zone 123 sorties I think; but about 120; not all over the no- fly zone as part of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. Of those, about 60 -- a little more than 60 were over the no-fly zone. And of those, I believe seven planes flew over the extended no-fly zone today. Yesterday, the figures were roughly comparable. In fact, they've been roughly comparable for the last several days. The number of total missions has ranged from 120 to about 135, 140. The number of missions over the no-fly zone have been in the 60s. And we've had, on average, oh, I would say a range of seven to 12 planes flying over the extended no-fly zone.

Q: Can you say if any of the aircraft have been painted? Have they picked up any signals at all from --

A: I'm not aware that any of our aircraft have been threatened over the extended no-fly zone or the old no-fly zone south of the 32nd parallel. This is, of course, beyond the first day we resumed flights when we fired a HARM missile at a radar.

Q: Is the rebuilding -- to flog dead horse here -- is the rebuilding of these sites considered in and of itself a threat to these aircraft?

A: Our aircraft have not felt immediately threatened in the last few days since they were -- since they faced, one, a challenge by some MiGs, and then two, were painted by a radar, to which they responded with the HARM missile.

Q: How long have these sites -- without going into detail, which you say you won't -- have long have these sites been reconstituted, unquote?

A: Well first of all, I didn't say they'd been reconstituted. We're watching the situation very closely there. It's -- you know, Saddam Hussein has a range of missile assets. He has Rolands, which are highly mobile. He has other missiles that are less mobile. And there is no doubt that we have -- that one, he has always been able to move missiles around and he has moved them around. He seems to be moving them around with much more frequency now than he was before; and, secondly, that his air defense system in the no-fly zone has been degraded, significantly degraded -- in its ability to integrate, in its ability to fire on more than one plane at a time, in its ability to track aircraft -- has been severely degraded from what it was before the strikes last week.

Yes?

Q: B-52s were, as we all know, were used in the first attack last week. Are there any negotiations going on as far as maybe stationing them closer to the area of operations rather than Guam, Diego Garcia perhaps?

A: Well, that's always an option and we're looking at a variety of options now to strengthen our forces in the area.

Yes.

Q: Can you give us some clarification on the thing we discussed Friday about missiles that did and did not go. There seems to be some confusion since the Friday briefing about what may or may not have gone on B-52s and on the ships in terms of missiles that were supposed to fire and then didn't fire.

A: There were three of the 16 CALCMs, I believe, that did not fire and there were two TLAMs, I believe, that did not fire. There were back-up missiles for the TLAMs in particular and the targets were hit with missiles from other sources.

Q: Did any of those CALCMs fall into the sea rather than - -

A: None of the CALCMs that didn't fire fell into the sea.

Q: I mean any of the ones that did fire -- do we know that of all the missiles that were fired from B-52s, did any of them fail to ignite and proceed to their target? Did any of them fall directly into the sea?

A: I believe there was one that failed to ignite after it was ejected from the rack.

Yes.

Q: Of the -- what we have now is four missiles that didn't actually proceed on route. How many of those four were assigned? I mean, did they have 16 assigned missiles or 14 or 12?

A: I can't get into that detail. I mean they -- I don't know the -- I would have to go back and trace every missile and I just haven't done that.

Q: Do you have any more update on exactly the BDA missile by missile breakdowns than you had on Friday?

A: Not that I can share with you, no.

Q: Ken, what --

A: Phil.

Q: Can you give us some sense of the time that if action is taken against Iraq, is it more likely to be sooner rather than later?

A: I cannot give you that.

Q: Okay. Can you give us some idea of what's happening now with Operation PROVIDE COMFORT in the north, which was set up to aid --

A: Operation PROVIDE COMFORT had two components. The first component was to run a no fly zone in the north. That's to monitor a no fly zone, and we have done that, and that's continuing today. There are missions going every day, or have been recently over northern Iraq. And that, of course, is designed to suppress Iraqi air traffic, military air traffic. Secondly, it provided -- it was to assist in the provision of humanitarian aid, and it did that for a while. And then that mission was turned over to other people. That's basically in a summary Operation PROVIDE COMFORT.

Q: But what's it -- so what's happened to the second component? Is there any --

A: Well, we got out of the provision of humanitarian aid and I believe turned it over to NGOs and others more than a year ago. [Five years ago.]

Q: But wasn't the U.S. assisting to -- the U.S. military assisting to make sure that they went through and -- in providing liaison? I mean, wasn't there a U.S. function upon --

Q: A military cooperation council.

A: We did have a military cooperation commission which was based in Zakhu. That has moved now to Turkey and is no longer operating in Iraq. That was a small -- I think it was 20 to 30 Americans working there.

Q: Do you have an assessment of the number of refugees that are supposedly pinned against the Iranian border at this time? Do you have any feel at all for the magnitude of humanity that's flowing up in the north?

A: I don't have a good assessment of that. I mean, I've seen reports that have been all over the map, and I just don't have an accurate assessment at this time.

Yeah, David.

Q: Ken, you said that our planes have not felt immediately threatened in recent days. Can we infer from that that whatever reconstituting Saddam Hussein has done, it pushed us over some trip wire point where we would respond?

A: I think you should listen to what General Shalikashvili said and what Secretary Perry said and what I've repeated today and draw your own conclusions.

Yes, Charlie.

Q: There are reports from Dubai that Shi'ite groups are claiming that Iraqi forces are massing in the south around Basra --

A: We have no confirmation of those reports. I've seen the reports and I've seen no confirmation of them.

Now, you do understand that south of the 32nd Parallel now we enforce not only a no fly zone but a no drive zone, which is designed to prevent a massing of Iraqi troops -- in other words, moving into the area south of the 32nd Parallel. And we have not noticed such a massing there.

Q: I'm sorry, you have not witnessed such a massing?

A: We have not.

Q: Okay. Can you tell us about -- can you just address the overall perception by some that what's happened here is that the United States has lost the north of Iraq to Saddam and he now controls that area and, therefore, that what's happened here is a setback for U.S. policy in the region?

A: First of all, the United States never had the north of Iraq.

Secondly, if there's been any change in strategic or tactical position there, it's because of the result of Kurdish fighting, Kurdish factions. It's been Kurd against Kurd that has led to the change in the situation there.

And third, I think the United States has strengthened its strategic position in the area that matters to us most, which is the area south of Baghdad, the area that borders on our oil-rich neighbors. That's the strategic heart of the Gulf region, and that's the region where we have expanded our ability to protect our interests.

Yes?

Q: When you say he's reconstituting, I want to make sure, is he moving things like SA-8s back into the area, or is he rebuilding, take the SAM sites like SA-2s and SA-3s?

A: Well, I don't want to get into a lot of detail about this, and I think that's pretty clear from the way I've dealt with this question so far. As I say, he has the ability to move missiles around, and he's always had that ability and he has been moving missiles around.

Q: Has he also been rebuilding the fixed SAM sites?

A: We're watching very closely what he's doing, and as I say, we do not believe we're in a position where we've been threatened by what he's done so far.

Q: Ken, could you give us a yes or no answer to whether or not he has made any attempt to repair any of the sites that were struck in the raids last week?

A: As I said, we're watching it very carefully. We have certainly seen signs that he's attempting to reconstruct his air defense abilities north of the 32nd parallel.

Q: North of the 32nd parallel?

A: North of the 32nd parallel, as well as south of the 32nd parallel. Remember, our strikes were on both sides of the 32nd parallel.

Q: So you've seen signs that he's attempting to reconstruct his air defenses in the southern no-fly zone? Has he -- is he trying to repair the sites that were hit?

A: He's trying to repair a variety of sites, including some of those that were hit; yes.

Q: So now, if you tell us to draw our own conclusions from what Shalikashvili said: "We have warned Saddam Hussein that any attempt to repair those sites or to reinforce them will be taken very seriously, and he must understand the consequences of such an act."

A: You're a very good reader. (Laughter.)

Q: Well, what -- I mean what's the mystery here?

A: I don't know what the mystery is.

Q: I mean, he's made an attempt to repair, and --

A: I think that I've -- I think that you have analyzed very carefully what General Shalikashvili said and what Secretary Perry said.

Q: Well you just told us that he is making an attempt to repair those sites.

A: Yes. And General Shalikashvili said that we saw signs that he was making it on Sunday; that we saw signs that he was making attempts to repair.

Q: Well then, you had the question of whether he's continuing it. You're using the present tense now. But the issue here is, did he continue his attempts to repair these sites after the demarches were made? And you're saying you are now seeing signs so that, after the demarche was made, he is still attempting to repair the sites that were hit.

A: Yes, we are seeing a continuing effort to repair sites.

Yes?

Q: Ken, is launching air strikes against Iraq from Saudi Arabia an option for us now, or is that ruled out by the Saudi sensibility?

A: Well, the Saudis remain supportive of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. They know it's crucial to the security of the region. And I expect they'll continue to be supportive of it.

Q: How about like, actual air strikes though against Iraq?

A: Well, I don't want to get into tactical details. We've shown that we have a lot of options for protecting our interests, and we retain those options.

Yeah?

Q: Could you --

Q: (Inaudible) -- Just a quick clarification on what you said before. You said that none of the cruise missiles fell into the sea, correct?

A: I didn't say that.

Q: I thought you said that.

A: I said "one."

Q: One. Okay --

A: I was asked a question if one fell in, and I said yes.

Q: So it's safe to assume that that's the one that didn't ignite; the CALCM that didn't ignite? Correct ?

A: Well, I don't know exactly when what happened to it happened. But I -- it -- one cruise missile fell into the sea.

Q: Can you --

Q: Is the reason -- when you --

Q: Go ahead, Bradley. (Laughter.)

Q: Is the reason for maintaining the northern no-fly zone changed from its initial purpose? I mean, initially, it was explained as an attempt to protect the Kurds from renewed repression by Saddam. Now those Kurds are ruled by a leader who's aligned with Saddam. So why do we continue to enforce a no- fly zone there?

A: It's unclear -- you may understand the political situation of the Kurds better than I do. There are several Kurdish factions, and it's unclear who rules whom at this stage. Barzani, who has allied himself with Iraq, has been publicly quoted as saying that he wants to break the alliance with Iraq. I think we just have to wait and see what happens.

But in the meantime, maintaining the no-fly zone over northern Iraq does provide -- does prevent Iraq from using its airpower in a way to take retribution against one Kurdish faction or another.

Q: Now that the faith has been broken, though, is there a consideration of eliminating the no-fly zone in the North?

A: Not that I'm aware of at this stage.

Q: A related question: There was some talk that among the options considered before this one was moving the no-fly zone not just up to the 33rd, but to the 34th Parallel. Can you tell us whether that was an option that was considered? And does it remain an option -- further expansion of the no-fly zone?

A: I'm not aware that that was an option, a live option. But we do consider many options in this building, and I wouldn't rule anything in or out. But I'm just not aware that that's one that's been under consideration.

Q: And can you give -- characterize the current -- to what extent Saddam Hussein has been able to rebuild his military into a formidable force? Can you give us any sort of assessment of whether he's been able to -- since the Gulf War -- put back together a -- what kind of a force he's been able to put back together?

A: Well, he has an aging air force. He has a military that is sharply divided between Republican Guards, which are quite capable, and ordinary units which are much less capable. His military is severely degraded from what it was during the Gulf War both in losses of equipment and obstacles to good organization and movement. But it still remains a significant military force. It's a large military force for the region. It's one that is certainly battle tested. It's one that he's certainly shown a willingness to use, and we have responded to this in a variety of ways over the last couple of years.

Every part of our response has been designed to reduce the amount of time it takes us to mobilize in response to movements of force by Saddam Hussein. And that involves maintaining significant air power as part of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH and enforcing the no fly zone. It involves a prepositioning of nearly a division's worth of equipment in the area so that our troops can fly in and marry up with the equipment and move off into battle positions very quickly. It involves keeping equipment at sea. It involves keeping a substantial naval force in the Arabian Gulf. And all of -- that we have used this deterrent both in October of '94 and we've used it again in August of '95 when we were afraid that Saddam might be planning a move against Jordan after the defection of his late lamented sons- in-law.

Charlie.

Q: Are British planes flying north of 32?

A: I believe the British have flown north of 32, yes.

Q: Are the French flying north of 32?

A: The French have not yet.

Q: Has there been a discussion with those two important allies on the evolving position here that Shali articulated and the Secretary articulated and now you have on the reconstitution of these air defense systems? Is there a dialogue, and is there disagreement or agreement on the stand that the U.S. has taken?

A: There has -- there is a continuing dialogue, and if conditions change, that dialogue will reflect those changed conditions. I can't go into the substance of the diplomatic dialogue, but we have kept our allies very well informed of what we're seeing and what our intentions are.

Q: The French have expressed not a small amount of reluctance to get into shooting in the first place. The obvious question would be, are they expressing that same reluctance in preparation for what may be a second round?

A: Well, I think I should let the French speak for the French. They do it with great clarity, and I'm sure much more clarity than I could bring from this platform.

Yeah?

Q: Have we at all increased our forces in the south to monitor the expanded no-fly zone?

A: Well, we have certainly increased our ability to monitor the expanded no-fly zone, and we're looking at a variety of other measures we might take to do that.

Q: Can you say what we may have deployed in addition to what we had there?

A: Well, I think right now the monitoring -- I mean, an increase in monitoring is mainly an increase in assets designed to keep us informed about what's going on there, and we are looking at other changes as well.

Q: These are assets that weren't in theater that have since been brought in?

A: I think the important thing is that we're looking at a variety of options to carry out our mission there.

Q: Have more fighter planes been moved there, or are being considered to be moved there?

A: I think that, as I said, we're looking at a number of options, and when we -- if it becomes appropriate to discuss those options, I'll be glad to discuss them with you.

Q: Might that include moving another carrier into the area?

A: You guys are very good at coming up with these options.

Q: Might it include that?

A: Well, that's certainly something we've done in the past, and I wouldn't rule out doing it in the future.

Q: Thank you.

A: You're welcome.

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