DOD NEWS BRIEFING, OCTOBER 29, 1996 - 1:30 P.M.
Tuesday, October 29, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.
Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon.
I'd like to start by welcoming Mrs. Marie de Robillard of Mauritius to the press briefing. She is the spokesperson and adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister of Mauritius. Welcome.
Also, just to update you on a release that was made last week, a C-141 departed Guayaquil, Ecuador early this morning bringing five burn victims from last week's plane crash to Houston for further medical care. You may recall we flew a surgical unit of 25 Air Force medical specialists to Ecuador late last week to provide assistance to victims of the civilian cargo aircraft crash in a residential area of Manta. They provided a level of care that exceeded the capabilities of local facilities because of the lack of burn specialists. Lieutenant Colonel Owens in DDI can provide you additional information if you need it.
And with that, I'd be happy to try and answer your questions.
Q: Have military planners of NATO finished their proposal for a possible IFOR II and turned it back over to the Defense Ministers or to the NAC? And can you give us any progress report, if they have it?
A: Charlie, they have not completed their work, and I can't give you any kind of a timetable for that. As you know, they are currently considering four different options. The first is the complete withdrawal of IFOR; the second is the deterrent force to prevent an outbreak of fighting; the third one is a sustaining force to provide security in Bosnia; and the fourth one is a continuation of the current IFOR mission. As Secretary Perry indicated in a statement that he made over the weekend, he anticipates that it will be some days to come before those proposals are presented to the NAC and to the individual nations.
Q: What would the process be, Mike, after the NAC?
A: In the process of having the NAC look at them, the individual countries would also look at them. I can't really predict exactly how it works, but my guess is it probably would be done similar to others, which is the "silence procedure" would follow. Essentially, that gives every nation an opportunity to look over the proposals and [then] react to them.
Q: Would there be, say, a Foreign Ministers meeting some time in November in advance of the one that's already planned for December?
A: Again, I don't think there's been any kind of a timetable that's been laid out on this thing.
Q: Will the Administration discuss with the Congress some of their proposals once you are evaluating the NAC recommendation?
A: The plan is to consult with Congress on this matter. That's correct.
Q: Would that be an open session or would that be a closed session?
A: I don't know at this point.
Q: Gulf War?
Q: Is there any update on the notification process or the letters having gone out?
A: There is. Let me give you a run-down.
Before I get to that, let me just say that the days following the expanded notification announcement have been the busiest in the history of the Defense Manpower Data Center hotline service for Persian Gulf incident reporting and for the Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program. The Center has received 3,334 phone calls since the 22nd of October. The average before this was approximately 100 telephone calls a day since the summer of 1995.
To give you some basis of the overall scope of this thing, the total calls between June 1994 and October 28, 1996 is about 43,000 telephone calls. There are... On the Persian Gulf incident hotline -- this is the one where individuals can call in if they have information relating to any experiences that they had in the Gulf -- the telephone number, just for your notes, is 1-800-472-6719. So far, since the October 22nd announcement, there have been 772 phone calls to the incident line.
The other toll-free number, which is called the Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program -- that telephone number is 1-800-796-9699. There have been 1,137 phone calls to that telephone line since the announcement.
The difference in that line and the other one is, this is the telephone line that individuals use to sign up for the Clinical Evaluation Program.
You may ask why don't those two add up? The reason for that is that at times the number of telephone calls have exceeded the number of operators available, so that there have been about 1,425 calls which have been handled by what we call roll-over operators. Those are individuals who are in the facility but don't have the questionnaire, and have not received training on the questionnaire. All they do is take down a telephone number and a name so that they can then have a qualified operator call back at a later time. Those call-back calls are made either after hours or on Saturday.
So that program is moving along.
With regard to the letters, those letters in their signed and finished form were delivered to the Defense Manpower Data Center last Thursday, the 24th [of October]. They're now in the process of being reproduced and addressed. Let me give you the rundown on what's going to happen with those.
The first letter to go out will be mailed to that group of individuals who were assigned to units that were actually involved in the destruction. The total number in that group originally was 1,168. Some of those were not contacted by phone -- could not be contacted by phone. They're the ones that are going to get the registered letters. That's 647. We anticipate that those registered letters are going to be the first ones to go out and they're going to be going out on Thursday of this week.
Then there was the group of 20,000. The first of those letters are DoD-affiliated. In other words, there are 20,000 individuals. Of that, 13,990 are still DoD-affiliated, still on the active duty roles or on the active reserve roles. We anticipate that those letters will go out by the 6th of November. The second group are no longer DoD-affiliated, and we're awaiting addresses from the Veterans Administration on those individuals. And they will go out about a week after we receive those addresses.
You may recall that for the 20,000, the letter is essentially an advisory that, one, we want to get further information from them; and secondly, we want them to call in to the Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program hotline if they need some additional medical treatment. But there is a questionnaire, a written questionnaire, which follows on to the letter. That questionnaire is being developed now.
We will coordinate the questionnaire once all the questions have been completed with the Veterans Administration, with Health and Human Services, with OMB. Then we'll show it to some people in the academic community. We'll pre-test it some time during the first week in November to make sure that it does what we expect it to do, and then we anticipate that we will be able to mail out the questionnaires some time in the early part of December. So that is a rundown with a lot of numbers on where we stand.
Q: Is there any indication whether the 700-odd calls to the incident line have produced any useful information?
A: There have been... I can't cite any specific examples for you at this point. Actually I would have to check with the people over at the investigation team to see if there have been any specific leads that have been uncovered as a result of that, but we'll do that and see if there have been any major developments as a result of that.
Q: Is there an estimate of -- this may have come out before and I missed it -- but is there an estimate of how many munitions, what sort of volume at Khamisiyah was destroyed?
A: There are two events at Khamisiyah that we're aware of. The first one was on the 4th, the second one was on the 10th. The one on the 4th, we have more information regarding the direction of the wind, which basically was in a northeastern direction. As a result of that, and because of information that we got from CIA, that one is somewhat less in question.
There is, however, the event on the 10th which occurred in the pit area, and in that one, there were a maximum of 550 pieces of munitions which were destroyed. There was a briefing here last week, a background briefing, in which the briefer went through in considerable detail all of the unknowns regarding that destruction. The unknowns are as follows:
One, we're not certain that that number of munitions were actually destroyed. Secondly, we don't know what the concentration of the sarin or the cyclosarin was at the time of the destruction. The third thing is, we don't know how many munitions were destroyed at a single time. All of this is important because it... The size of any kind of vapor that would have been produced as a result of the destruction activity would be determined, to a large extent, by what happened at the site. Because of all of these unknowns, there are a lot of questions. That is why we are going through this rather lengthy process of trying to get in touch with individuals who were actually at the site and can perhaps provide us a greater insight into numbers and the procedures that they use to explode the ordnance. And whether the ordnance was all exploded at one time, or whether it was exploded at several different times.
Q: And it's still not known?
A: Still not known. There are still a lot of unanswered questions.
Q: The number 550 is then an estimate?
A: The 550 is an estimate based on the best information that we have, and that information comes from -- basically the Iraqis -- and from the munitions that were found by the UN observers who went in there after the destruction had taken place. They've been in there on three different occasions, and they actually have, on one occasion they destroyed some of the munitions themselves which contained mustard agent.
We have transcripts of that briefing which has, as I say, infinite detail on this.
I want to correct one thing I said. The letters to the 647- -I said that they were going to go out registered. They're actually going to go out certified, not registered. A minor detail, but we want to correct everything that we can here.
Q: Back to Bosnia. Some Reservists have been participating in Operation Joint Endeavor, and now their units just got called up, nine additional Reserve units got called up. Will they be allowed to participate in another 270-day call-up, or is the rule of law, Article Title 10, that these Reservists can't serve more than 270 days?
A: That sounds like a technicality that I shouldn't guess on, so let me look into that. I do know there are some Reservists who are replacing those who are already on duty, and this was required because, as many of you know, there are certain specialties that exist only in the reserve component and that have to be called up when their qualifications are required, but let's take that question and see if we can get the exact answer for you.
Press: Thank you.