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DoD News Briefing - Updated Comments on Rwanda/Zaire - Nov. 19, 1996

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William J. Perry
November 19, 1996

Tuesday, Nov. 19, 1996

 Comments on Zaire

(The following question and answer and subsequent^M announcement follow remarks before the Department of the Army^M Procurement Conference in Alexandria, Va.)

Q: Mr. Secretary, Army contracting elements are now deployed with advance elements in Africa. What do you see [as] our strategic interests there?

Secretary Perry: In Africa?

Q: Yes sir.

A: I try to divide our strategic interests into three categories. Vital national security interests -- an example of that was Desert Storm. We our vital national interest was threatened and we were ready to go to war. We did go to war.

In June of '94, when we saw North Korea developing nuclear weapons, we saw our vital national security interest [threatened] then, and we took actions which could have led to military conflict. Fortunately it did not. Those are examples where vital national security interests are involved.

There are other interests where national interests are involved but they are not vital. There we use military forces, but we're not prepared to go to war. An example of that was Bosnia, where for several years, the war in Bosnia raged on and we were asked to send U.S. forces over to get involved in that war to settle it, and we refused. Finally though, when we able to get a peace agreement we were willing to send U.S. forces over to sustain that peace agreement; and that's why they've been there for the last year.

So we had national security interests there. Mainly we did not want to see war extended beyond Bosnia. We were willing to use military forces to do that, but we were not willing to commit our forces to a war.

Finally, there are... Situations develop where humanitarian interests are challenged, and we want to provide some support to humanitarian relief. Two years ago, in Central Africa, there was a cholera epidemic among the refugees that had left Rwanda. We sent almost a thousand American soldiers over for the specific purpose of providing humanitarian relief. They took water purification equipment, distributed it [the water] to the refugees, and in three days time, stopped a cholera epidemic that had been killing 5,000 people a day. Our interest then in Central Africa -- the problems we see there today and the action we're taking on that that, which we may be taking this week -- are humanitarian based.

When we look at a humanitarian situation, we have to ask ourselves several questions. I've said before, and I will say it again, the U.S. Army is an Army. It is not a Salvation Army. We're not in the business of providing humanitarian relief. When do we decide it is important to do that? What are the exceptional cases?

First of all it has to be a catastrophe of large proportions. That was true two years ago, during this cholera thing -- 5,000 people a day were dying. It appears to be true today in the refugee problem in Rwanda and Zaire. Secondly it has to be something where the United States military forces have something unique that they can provide. Two years ago we were the only organization that had the combination of airlift, water purification equipment and engineers that could get in and solve that problem in time. So we did. And finally, it has to be an operation which is acceptably low risk, and in which we have an exit strategy.

All of those have applied to operations where we send forces to assist in humanitarian operations. Those are the criteria that we would be applying to any humanitarian operation which we get involved in Africa. (Additional unrelated question taken.)

...Before I leave, I want to take the opportunity to bring you and the media up to date on the ongoing developments in Rwanda and Zaire.

As you know from following the media, there have been more than 500,000 refugees that have peacefully returned to Rwanda in the last few days. This is a very positive development. And we are modifying our plans based on this dramatic change. We are still planning for a Canadian-led operation authorized by the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1080.

The focus however, will be the Security Council's call for a multinational force to facilitate the voluntary, orderly repatriation of refugees by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. This force will require considerably fewer troops that originally envisioned, and will operate chiefly in Rwanda.

Our current thinking, is that the U.S. contribution to this effort will be less than a thousand troops and these will be support, logistics troops, rather than combat troops. We must still work with other participants -- both European and African - - to complete the necessary planning; and this will take a few days. Detailed planning will be led by the Canadians, later this week. Currently they are planning a meeting in Stuttgart on Thursday for that purpose.

Meanwhile, between now and then, our small team of less than a hundred personnel, will remain in Kigali. They will continue to assess the situation there. They will run a civil-military operation and will maintain liaison teams. We have deployed three additional advanced elements of what we call TALCEs (link to http://www.af.mil/pa/Nov96/an111896_18nov96_ 961156.html -- no longer available). TALCE is a Tanker Airlift Control Element for air traffic control. We've deployed those at three airfields -- In Mombasa, which in Kenya; in Kigali, which is in Rwanda; and Entebbe, which is Uganda.

These actions permit us to provide assistance to the repatriation effort in Rwanda pending completion of the details of this multinational force. These actions also proved the basis for a larger mission, should that become necessary.

I must emphasize that this situation remains fluid. For the moment, the peaceful return of so many refugees is a very positive development, but there still remain hundreds of thousands of refugees displaced outside the camps in Zaire. We do not have precise information on their number or location. The approach that we are taking is designed to help those that have returned, while at the same time leaving the multinational force prepared to help inside Zaire, if that were to become necessary.

Thank you very much.

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