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DOD News Briefing, Tuesday, October 1, 1996 - 3 p.m.

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
October 01, 1996 3:00 PM EDT

Tuesday, October 1, 1996 - 3 p.m.

Mr. Bacon: Happy New Year.

I've already anticipated your first question, and the answer is, "Four-to-three: Orioles; at the top of the fifth." [Laughter]

Because it is the first day of the Fiscal Year we have, as you've probably seen, a Blue Top on the new National Imagery and Mapping Agency being established today, which, if you haven't gotten, you can get.

Another announcement is that tomorrow Secretary Perry will address the National Academy of Engineering at 11 [a.m.] at the National Academy of Sciences Auditorium. He will talk about the Department's technology strategy. We will, I think, broadcast that back here if we can, and save you the trouble of leaving the building to cover your beat. [Laughter]

Since I mentioned the National Academy of Sciences, I'd like to make one announcement about the Academy, which is that Dr. White, the Deputy Secretary, has asked the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences, to evaluate the Defense Department's overall approach to the Gulf War Illness -- both its treatment patterns as well as the way we're assembling information about the Gulf War Illness. They have agreed to do this. The details haven't been worked out yet, but they should be worked out in the next week or so.

This follows on Dr. White's letter, last week, listing several steps he was taking to redouble our efforts to figure out what happened during the Gulf War and if we can explain some of the symptoms of what people call Gulf War Illness.

They will actually undertake two projects. The first project is to review our approach. The second is to look into the future and to advise us on a long term strategy for protecting the health of military personnel deployed in unfamiliar environments. This would involve environments including all sorts of possible toxins -- including chemical and biological weapons, but perhaps environmental or other toxins that they might encounter as well. So there are two parts of that study and, as I said, the details will be worked out as to timing, cost, scope, etc., I hope in the next couple of weeks.

I anticipate that we'll have a briefing tomorrow to go into some details about this and some other studies that are currently going on about Gulf War Illness, and I'll give you more information on that as it becomes available.

Q: Who might be the briefer?

A: Well, it will probably be a background briefing by a senior defense official.

Q: Is this the CIA model?

A: No, we don't yet have the CIA model. The briefer may be able to answer generic questions about models, but we don't yet have the latest CIA model.

Q: What's the delay?

A: I don't know what the delay is. I anticipate we'll get it relatively soon.

Q: This week?

A: I don't know whether it will be this week or not. Relatively soon. Once we get the model, then, of course, we have to run information through computers against the model, and I have no idea how long that will take.

Q: Has Dr. White asked the Academy to work its study within a certain time frame? I know you said "scope" is unanswered at the moment, but ...

A: No, that's the type of ...

Q: Would he allow them to ...

A: No, we've got to negotiate the details, and I believe this will not be something that will take several weeks or even several months. We could be talking in terms of a year or more to complete this entire study. There may be parts of it that can be done more quickly, but that's the type of detail that will have to be worked out between the Department and the Academy.

Q: Has there been a tentative agreement for them to do it?

A: They've agreed to do it. What hasn't been worked out is exactly what they'll do and when.

Q: Is this outside review an attempt to combat the Pentagon's credibility problem on this Gulf War issue?

A: It's an attempt to try to get to the bottom of questions that have been raised about the cause of Gulf War Illness and to see if we can explain these symptoms, if there are ways of doing a better job of putting together the information we have in the building. And also, to review the extensive medical studies that have been completed or commissioned on this, and to make sure that we're on point.

One of the issues here, of course, is that -- as you're very well aware -- since June 21st, when we first announced the explosion of nuclear weapons at Khamisiyah, there is now ...


Q: I'm sorry, I thought you said, "nuclear weapons."

A: Sorry, I meant chemical weapons. I don't mean to introduce another terrible variable into this already ... I don't want to make news in that way. Thank you for catching that. Chemical weapons at Khamisiyah. We now have to pay more attention to the possibility that there was exposure to chemical weapons.

No study has found -- in the Pentagon or in the CIA or any part of this government -- that Iraq employed chemical or biological weapons during the war. And we know that we exploded - - that we blew up ammunition depots containing chemical weapons that were north of Baghdad and, we believe, with no exposure to our troops. But the Khamisiyah detonation of chemical weapons does raise the possibility of low level exposure. So we have to go back and relook at work that's been done with that in mind. That's one of the things we're doing. That was, in fact, one of the points of Dr. White's letter, last week.

Q: When you said you expected the number exposed at Khamisiyah to go higher, was that based on your assumption that you would find that there were more troops within that 25 kilometer radius, or was it based on the assumption that the CIA computer model is going to show a much larger fallout cloud that covers a greater area?

A: First of all, I don't have any specific information about the CIA computer model, but my expectation is that based on the amount of chemical weapons in the pit, and what we've been told about wind patterns on that day and the disposition of forces, that there could be substantially -- there could be a very large number of troops included in a possible cloud area.

Q: When you say, "a very large number," are you talking like going from 5,000 to picking up 15,000? Or are you talking about going from 5,000 to 100,000?

A: I just don't think we know at this stage, but I think we have to think in terms of big numbers. Bigger than 15,000, certainly.

Q: So in the 100,000 range?

A: Well, I don't know. We'll have to wait and see. But I think we have to be prepared for the possibility of big numbers. Then, the question will be, What was the level of exposure, if any? But when we get the model then we'll, as I say, run the model against our geographical information data of where troops were, and that will give us a sense of ... We, one, have to get an idea of how big the cloud was or the plume; and then two, who was in that area.

I don't know whether you saw this or not, but there was a report that the CIA put out in August that actually went into a fairly detailed description of modeling that was used after Khamisiyah I to evaluate the possible dispersion of chemical agents. This is a publicly available report that you can get from the CIA. I would assume that what we're talking about is a similar methodology, but applied to a somewhat bigger area. You can go through and look at this methodology and get an idea of what we're talking about here. But, as I say, this looks at a much smaller area of two-to-four [kilometer] radius, I think, of about up to five kilometers, and we expect that the radius will be significantly larger for Khamisiyah II.

Q: Why is that? Simply because it was in an open area when it was exploded?

A: We think there was more to be exploded and that the wind patterns were different.

Q: Can you explain, "more to be exploded?" What do you mean by that?

A: There was more in the pit. More stuff. It's an estimate, and that's one of the things that will determine what the model shows.

Q: What is that estimate?

A: I don't know what the estimate is right now.

Q: Testimony up on the Hill was 550 Katyusha rockets filled with sand in the pit, but that's a half of what was in Bunker 73. McLaughlin's testimony ...

A: I don't know the figures. This is one of the things that will have to be determined. There are a number of variables.

If you read the CIA report, you'll see that the variables are very complex: they deal with the rate at which chemicals were burned off; they deal with how far rockets were thrown out of the bunker or out of the pit when they were detonated; they deal with the temperature of the air, the degree of cloud cover, etc. So there are a whole number of variables that have to ...

The only reason I raise this is that it's not an easy calculation to make, and there are a number of assumptions that have to be made, one of which is the amount of explosives or chemical warheads in the pit.

Q: But is there some reason to believe that there may be more than 550 rockets?

A: I do not have with me the figures that have been revealed on that. I can give them to you, I just don't have them with me right now.

Q: Is there reason to believe that whatever those figures that have been revealed are, are you saying there may be more in the pit? You now believe there's more?

A: Let me get the exact figures. The analysts I've talked to have told me that they believe the dispersion is probably going to be greater from the pit than it was from the bunker.

Q: Since the Khamisiyah briefing, when you had Bunker No. 73 with chemical munitions in it, as well as the open pit, has any new information come to light that other bunkers may have also contained chemical weapons?

A: Not that I'm aware of.

Q: Can we just clarify, so I understand what you were intending to say in answer to David's question -- and I understand you don't know the specific number that the CIA is going to project, but you think whatever that number is will be significantly larger for the number of American troops that may have been exposed.

David posited the theory, are you talking 100,000? You seemed to be saying it could be that high. Is that the impression you intend to leave?

A: The impression I intended to leave was that I don't know how large it is and I won't know until after the model is run. I think, from everything I've been told, it is likely to be considerably more than 5,000. That's the number of people who could have been exposed to this. How much larger, I don't know. It would be speculation. I've seen figures reported in the press. I have no idea whether they're accurate. I don't think anybody will know what an accurate figure is until after the model is run. And even then, it will be a technological estimate. It will be a computer estimate based on a reconstruction of weather patterns and other assumptions about a day in 1991.

Q: Has anybody told you that it could be as many as seven divisions -- 130,000?

A: No one has told me that. It will not be ... Once we have an idea of the size of the cloud, if we have accurate information on the number of people who were there, and one of the problems is that the mere fact that a unit is listed in being in one place doesn't mean that everybody in that unit was in one place. Sometimes these units are quite spread out. It's not as easy to pinpoint where people were as it might seem.

Q: All during the Gulf War we were being told of the marvels of GPS and how companies and individual tanks could locate their position within tens of yards, and now all of a sudden ...

A: But that's different, isn't it, from telling how many people are in one place. For an individual or a tank to be able to say where it is, is an entirely different proposition from being able to tell, five or six years later, how many people were in a certain area at one time.

Q: Well, if you can find a company commander ...

A: That's true, and we will do our best. We're not trying to low ball the numbers here, we just don't know what the numbers are. I can't give you a number.

Q: Aside from this incident, chemical weapons have been around in the inventory for decades and decades. Is there any evidence that you're aware of that, throughout their existence, anybody who has been exposed to low levels of chemical weapons, has had long term effects? People that have handled them in the warehouses or anything like that?

A: Can you ask that question again, please?

Q: Is there any evidence that, aside from this incident, throughout this century or the history this building is aware of with chemical weapons, that anybody has been exposed to low level and has ...

A: I have no idea. We'll try to find the answer. You're asking me a question about a whole century. I can't ...

Q: Was there ever a study done or anything like that?

A: I'm sure there have been studies done. I just don't know. We'll try to find out.

Q: Is the Pentagon currently seeking a waiver from the FDA for the use of investigational drugs on U.S. troops in the future, and if that's the case, will this independent review take a look at that policy -- the wisdom of using those kinds of drugs on troops as was done in the Gulf War?

A: I'm not aware that we're seeking a waiver, but I will find out if we are -- and yes, one of the things we will look at is not only how to protect soldiers, but also how to inform them of the type of treatments or protection they're getting.

Q: A Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War illnesses has a membership, a very distinguished medical membership, including, I think, two members of the National Academy. Did White check with them before asking the National Academy to get involved in it? Isn't this sort of duplicating what they're doing, the Presidential Advisory Committee?

A: I think we have a lot of people looking at the same information for answers, and it's not surprising that there will be duplication. This is a complex problem. Usually complex problems require more than one group of investigators, so it wouldn't surprise me at all.

I think that the drift of your question is that, perhaps, we shouldn't be doing this. I think it's a very legitimate step to take, to try to review what we've done so far and determine if we can do a better job in the future.

Q: The one thing, it's not that you shouldn't be doing it. Of course you should be doing the right thing. My question is whether we're going to delay this past November 5th.

A: I think that is a shockingly cynical question and the answer is "No." And the reason the answer is "No," is that we're continuing to go ahead with studies; we're continuing to go ahead with providing care; we're continuing to go ahead with releasing information as soon as we get information. We will, I believe, release information about the model. If we can run it before November 5th, I would expect that we'll release it as soon as we have good information on that. So I don't see any reason to hold this up. I don't see any desire to hold this up. In fact, everything that's happened here since June has shown that we're interested in trying to get information out. We're trying to find out what happened and we're looking at new approaches.

Q: Go back to the issue of what personnel were where and when they were when this release took place. Does not the U.S. Government have satellite photo records in that particular zone, on an almost hour-to-hour basis? Are these not in the archives? Are they being studied in the archives? Are there other types of reconnaissance photos that you could draw from?

A: There's a lot of information we're drawing from, but the first thing we have to do is get a good estimate of the dispersion of chemical agents from the pit. Once we get that, we can lay that over what we think -- the picture we think we have of where people were.

Q: You have a picture of where ...

A: We're assembling that picture. I haven't seen it myself, but I think that this first step will be to get the size of the cloud, and then we'll figure out who was underneath it.

Q: But you can't tell us about the source of that picture, of where people were?

A: No.

Q: Can you say why Dr. White looked to the Academy as a body? And if there is an individual there that has been chosen to head it up yet, or who it was that gave the approval? Why not the NIH? Why that group?

A: He has been talking with the President of the Academy, who is Bruce Alberts; and with the Institute of Medicine, who is Kenneth Shine. They were the ones who said that the Academy and the Institute would be ready to help in this effort. He went to them because they're thought to be objective and skillful and able to conduct studies like this. The Institute of Medicine conducts a whole range of studies on everything from contraception to smoking, and it puts out big books of studies every year so it has quite a lot of experience in doing things like this.

I was looking here in my notes to see if I have anything on a comparison between the amount of ordnance -- chemical ordnance in Bunker 73 and the pit, and I don't, but perhaps somebody could get that by the end of the briefing and we can answer that question for you.

Q: I wanted to just ask about this report in Canada about a U.S. Army Special Forces captain who has apparently been quoted as saying that he wore Canadian uniforms, and said it was routine for American troops to wear Canadian uniforms in Somalia to assist in gathering intelligence. Can you tell us anything about this particular soldier and whether or not U.S. troops were wearing Canadian uniforms while they were serving in Somalia?

A: On the face of it, it seems a very bizarre report. We're checking into it. That's all I can tell you.

Q: Do you know anything about this particular soldier, about whether he received an honorable discharge from the Army or whether he was ... I understand he's no longer serving in the U.S. Army.

A: I can't comment on the circumstances under which he left the Army right now, but he did leave the Army in September of 1995.

Q: Is the Secretary going to meet with Netanyahu or King Hussein or possibly even Arafat while they're here?

A: I'm not aware of what's been scheduled on that. This is a presidentially called summit, and the President will, is heavily involved in the negotiations. The Secretary is ready to do whatever he's asked to do, whatever will be helpful in trying to restore momentum to the peace process in the Middle East.

Q: Evidently the Secretary was asked to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week, and he said he was unable to do so. Is there any specific reason why? Evidently there's some heartburn on the Hill over this?

A: I could never comment about heartburn on the Hill, but they wanted the Secretary to testify tomorrow. Tomorrow is a day when his schedule didn't allow that to happen. Beyond that, for precisely the reason Charlie brought up, he wants to be available if necessary to be involved in the summit.

Q: Senator Thurmond said that they'd attempted numerous times to schedule Secretary Perry, and they still wanted to schedule a time for him to testify. Will Secretary Perry in fact appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee?

A: Last week when the Secretary was out of town, Deputy Secretary White was scheduled to go up before the Armed Services Committee and testify on Bosnia, and they canceled the hearing. They tried to reschedule the hearing for a day when it was not possible for the Secretary to go. The Secretary has talked with the committee about the possibility of coming up and briefing members of the committee. He also has been talking to members on the phone about last week's NATO Ministerial meeting at which the question of Bosnia arose and, as you know, at which they discussed ways of looking at the options, at looking at a possible post-IFOR force.

Q: In the letter that Thurmond sent to Perry he said he thought it was really important that this be a public, not behind closed doors session, so that they could ask very important questions about the options for U.S. troops in Bosnia next year. Just to take a shockingly cynical approach, is it possible that Perry just doesn't want to talk about those plans at this point?

A: As I said, the schedule didn't allow testifying yesterday. You know as well as I do that there's been no decision made by this government about participation in a post- IFOR force. That's what NATO is looking into right now ... is looking at four options, and once they draft those options and flush them out; write mission statements; figure out how many soldiers might be required to carry out these missions; then NATO will decide which of these options makes the most sense, and at that point, the individual countries in NATO will have to decide whether they want to participate in whatever the North Atlantic Council decides to do. At that time, we'll have to review what recommendations are made by the North Atlantic Council, and we and other NATO members will then decide whether to participate in the mission. I would guess that that wouldn't happen until the end of October, sometime between the end of October and the middle of November, I would guess.

Q: The Secretary said he was going to fully consult with Congress. Will this consultation come after these recommendations are made by the Military Committee and presented to the NAC?

A: They'll come at the appropriate time. Right now there's -- as I say, the action is really in NATO trying to flush out the options, but we will definitely consult with Congress at the appropriate time.

Q: Is it conceivable that the United States would not go along with the NATO recommendation?

A: I think we have to wait and see what the recommendation is, and what our response to it is. We've made no commitment. All we've said is that we will consider.

Q: I understand. On a very much related subject, it's been in the wires that the U.S. was making an announcement about the withdrawal force, the covering force of the troops in Germany, to bring out the U.S. troops that are already in Bosnia. Is there any validity to that? Will that decision be made soon?

A: I don't know whether you were here when General Joulwan spoke about the covering force several weeks ago, but I anticipate that before the end of the week we'll make an announcement about the covering force. But basically, we'll be sending about 5,000 troops into Bosnia to help the current people in IFOR come out. That whole process is scheduled to be completed early next year. The IFOR people will be out and the covering force is scheduled to depart some time in March.

Q: That would be a force that might remain behind if a decision ...

A: As I said, it is scheduled to depart in March.

Q: There was a story in the Wall Street Journal today in which a reporter is talking to U.S. Army officials in Europe. He made it sound like the first mission of that covering force will not have anything to do with withdrawal, but will have to do with beefing up the present forces to oversee the municipal elections, which may or may not occur, in late November. Is that going to be part of their mission, to help maintain order and get access to polling places for the November municipal elections?

A: Yes, but basically what's going to happen is that the covering force will slide in over IFOR. There are about 15,800 Americans now in IFOR, and that number will rise to about 18,000 for a brief period of time as the covering force flow in before more IFOR units start flowing out. I think actually the peak will come some time before the elections. But when the deployment order is signed, we'll have a briefing that will lay all this out. But basically, they will take over some of the security and IFOR functions as IFOR is beginning to turn its attention to withdrawing. That's the whole point of a covering force.

Q: There was a suggestion in the story .... This is a beefing up, not just a sliding in, but a beefing up because perhaps the 15,000 is not sufficient to maintain order during the municipal elections.

A: We don't see it that way. In fact, I believe there will not be significantly more American soldiers in our sector at the time of the elections than there are now. It's just a function of one force flowing in before the other force starts flowing out that you'll have a temporary blip, but that blip will occur before the elections and I think will be back down to about the current levels by the time the elections occur. This whole plan is based on the assumption that the municipal elections occur in late November.

Q: When do you expect the 5,000 will start going in?

A: I would expect the next couple of days. The deployment order has to be signed first, and after that's signed, they'll start going in.

Q: Do you know anything about radar, American radar in Colombia being pulled out under extremis -- plans to do so, partly pulled out because of threats to American troops that are running that radar?

A: I do not. We'll check on that.

Q: Back to Bosnia. You said the covering force you expect to be there through March. Does that mean the last of IFOR won't be leaving until March?

A: No, the last of IFOR will leave before that. You've had a number of briefings on IFOR, and if you go back over the last year, initially we had hoped to start drawing down IFOR some time in the summer. We didn't do that. We decided to keep a heavier force there through the elections. When the elections were bifurcated and the national elections were divided from the municipal elections, General Joulwan and also the NATO Defense Ministers decided that it was appropriate to keep a large force there until the municipal elections occur -- now scheduled for the end of November. So there won't be very much of a drawdown until after those elections. Then the IFOR mission ends on December 20th. There will be a fairly rapid drawdown between the end of November and December 20th, but not rapid enough to get all of IFOR out. So there will be some IFOR soldiers there into January and possibly into early February.

The covering force will remain after IFOR goes. The rule we're working on right now is that no individual soldier will spend more than a year in Bosnia. So some, as you know, some tank units from the 1st Armored Division left about a month or six weeks ago and they were replaced by MPs. In addition, we estimate that about a third of the soldiers in the 1st Armored Division deploy out because they're reassigned or they get out of the Army or whatever. Of course, in a year or so, naturally a third of the soldiers would leave in the course of a year. The other two-thirds we're approaching on sort of a first in/first out basis and trying to get those who came in around December and January out first, so we make sure no one spends more than a year in Bosnia.

The covering force is what will allow that to happen -- will help that happen. It will go in and perform certain security functions while the IFOR is packing up and getting out.

In connection with that, we're opening a second bridge in the next couple of days over the Sava River -- a pontoon bridge. It's really a redundant bridge, but it will probably be the bridge over which the tanks go as they leave.

Q: The same location as the other one?

A: Yeah. The same location as the other one, I believe.

Q: In other words, you're replacing 1st AD soldiers with 1st ID soldiers -- infantry soldiers?

A: Right, but smaller numbers. There are now, as I said, about 15,800 soldiers in IFOR, and the force going in will be about 5,000. But, until the very end when IFOR closes down, there will be some IFOR people there.

Q: So it will be 1st Infantry Division soldiers replacing 1st Armored Division.

A: Right.

Q: The covering force is not a part of IFOR? It's a separate force? You're making a distinction between the two?

A: Well, the covering force will not be part of IFOR because the IFOR mission is ending December 20th. The IFOR mission as described in the Dayton Peace Accords is ending on December 20th. There is, right now, no plan for us to be involved in another force after December 20th except the force ... It will take us a while to get out. In other words, not everybody is going to be poised at the border ready to leave on December 20th. So the covering force will help the IFOR people get out.

Q: Does that mean that the covering force has an entirely different set of dates for withdrawing?

A: Yes. That's what I've tried to say.

Q: So it could be beyond March?

A: No. It will have ... Its mission will be a defined period of time which will get it out some time in March.

Q: Could the covering force form the U.S. representation in a second Bosnian force? Could this conceivably be it?

A: That's not what it's being sent there to do. It's being sent there to help IFOR get out, and it itself is supposed to leave in March.

Q: Then I don't understand why it's going to take three months to get the force out. It didn't take them that long to get in under the most difficult situations. Normally, a covering force, like coming out of Somalia, the Marine covering force went out 15 minutes after the last force they were covering.

A: This is what will be explained when we bring somebody down to brief you on the covering force after the deployment order is signed.

Q: To clarify what you said earlier, do I take it from what you said, that Secretary Perry has no plans to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee any time soon?

A: Secretary Perry, as I said, was not able to appear tomorrow, and he has offered to go by and brief them. I don't know what their response to that has been.

Q: But not to testify in public?

A: As I said, the Secretary will testify at the appropriate time. He wasn't able to fit it into his schedule tomorrow.

Q: Not to beat a dead horse, but the committee has expressed interest in having him testify in a public session some time soon. I'm just trying to get a "Yes or No" question about whether Secretary Perry is considering doing that.

A: I'm dealing with what you asked me about, which is the invitation he got to testify tomorrow and was unable to accept. I can't project what will happen in the future, but at the appropriate time he will testify. I suppose that will be decided by the committee and by Secretary Perry getting their schedules to match.

Q: [inaudible]

A: There's nothing to say about that. No decisions have been made on the VINSON. We're watching the situation in the Gulf very carefully. I don't have anything to say about the B- 52s now.

Q: How come when they go we get it right away. When they come back ...

A: That is puzzling. I've often asked that myself. You guys always seem more interested when they go than when they come back.

Q: Here's official expression of interest when they come back.

A: When we can make announcements about deployments from the -- redeployments from the Gulf we'll do it, but now isn't the time.

Q: Can you describe in a general way what type of mission profiles the F-117s are flying in Kuwait?

A: I cannot.

Q: Is it apparent Saddam is standing down and behaving himself?

A: We're continuing to watch what Saddam Hussein is doing, and that's --when we, as I say, when it's appropriate to talk about our forces there we'll talk about them. Now is not the appropriate time. We're watching him, and our forces are there.

Q: Why is this not the appropriate time?

A: Because we're continuing to watch what he's doing.

Q: So you're not at ease enough yet to pull the forces out, is that what you're saying?

A: I'm saying that we are continuing to watch what Saddam Hussein is doing. We're continuing to monitor his activities. And while we do that, our forces will stay there.

Press: Thank you.

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