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DoD News Briefing, Thursday, February 25, 1999

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
February 25, 1999 1:30 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

Usually I try to sound better than I look, but that will be impossible today. Somebody has nicely left four glasses of water here, but they all have different labels on them. The reason they have the labels is because after my briefing I'll be followed by Dr. Edward L. Warner, III, who is the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Threat Reduction. He will report to you on his talks in Moscow over the last two weeks on the Y2K issue. Some of you have been interested in that. Tammy Kupperman in particular was interested in that, but I gather she's left for some foreign land, East Africa or something like that. But he will be here at the end of this briefing or at 2:00 o'clock, whichever comes sooner.

After Dr. Warner, the Marines will arrive. In fact a Navy/Marine Corps team will arrive to give you a briefing on their urban warfare exercise, Kernal Blitz. That's Kernal: K-E-R-N-A-L. I know it's a little corny, but they chose the name. (Laughter) That will happen at about 2:30, or after Dr. Warner's briefing.

There are several important visitors here today. First, Fred Eckhart is here from the U.N. He's a spokesman for the Secretary General, Kofi Annan. We welcome you. Thanks for coming.

We also have a group of Air Force interns, 50 captains. There are not 50 of you here. Some representatives of 50 captains are here. That's an important group, a representation of 50 captains from the Air Force.

Let me bring you up to date on two scheduling things. First, on Monday, March 1st at 10:00 a.m. right here in our studio, Secretary Cohen will appear to update you on his Defense Reform Initiative. He'll bring you up to date and answer questions on where we stand and where we're going on that. Obviously, he'll answer questions on other issues should they come up as well, but it will be mainly on defense reform.

Finally, I want to bring you up to date on our support for the avalanche dig-out and recovery in Austria. The U.S. Army's V Corps from Europe has provided 55 soldiers and nine UH-60 helicopters to support the rescue efforts in Austria, and they are working with the Austrian army to help recover victims and provide transportation and other necessary actions in response to that disaster.

With that, I'll take your questions. Charlie?

Q: You said a couple of days ago, you said on Tuesday you were going to take a couple of days to make a decision on whether to bring some of these planes back that were sent over to Kosovo. Have you made any decision on bringing back any of the B-52s or the F-117s or the EA-6Bs?

A: The Secretary has not signed any orders to redeploy any planes yet. I anticipate he will fairly soon. I anticipate that the redeployments will be relatively minor, but that hasn't happened. Until it does, I won't talk about it. But as soon as he does that, I'll let you know.

Q: But there will be a redeployment...

A: It will be fairly minor, a fairly small redeployment that will concentrate primarily on what we call the low density/high deploying assets that are in demand all around the world. But until that happens I think I'll just not talk about it.

Q: By that do you mean, is this likely to be more support aircraft or attack planes? The low density planes that you...

A: I think I'll wait until the Secretary signs the order, and then we'll explain it to you. But there will be a fairly minor reduction of our force. We have now I believe 252 planes in Europe ready to participate in any air action should that become necessary -- 252 American planes. A small number of those will be redeploying back, but before getting into details, I'll let the Secretary sign the order and then we'll explain it.

We will maintain a highly ready force and a large force in Europe despite the minor redeployments, and that force will be ready to act if called upon by NATO.

Q: Could you explain the Secretary's position on what to do about replacing or not replacing remains in the Tomb of the Unknown to Vietnam?

A: First of all, let me be clear, as the New York Times was clear today, that Secretary Cohen has not made a final or formal decision on this because it has not reached his desk. But after consultations with the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii we have determined -- Under Secretary Rudy de Leon has determined that it is very unlikely that we will find any more remains that we can say beyond a shadow of a doubt we cannot identify, in other words, remains that will be truly unknown given the advances in DNA analysis and other techniques. We think that over time we will be able to identify all these remains. I think there are somewhat over 2,000 sets remaining unrecovered. Every day they're identifying new sets of remains.

So in light of that, it is very likely that a decision will be made not to put a new set of remains, so-called unknown remains, in the Tomb of the Unknowns from the Vietnam era.

Q: It's very likely...

A: It is very unlikely that we would put a new set of remains in. In other words, the Tomb is likely to remain empty.

Q: (Inaudible)

A: The decision has not been made, but it is likely that when the decision is made the decision will be that the Tomb will remain empty.

Q: Are you saying that the paperwork has not been done because the Secretary is convinced that that's the way...

A: The Secretary has been kept abreast on the findings, and he was very much involved in this at the time we removed the remains, the then unknown remains which were subsequently identified as Michael Blassie's remains. At the time I think he felt, as did Mr. de Leon and the technical experts, that we were unlikely with confidence to be able to say we can put in a set of remains that are truly unknown.

So now the question is, how do we deal with this empty Tomb in a dignified way that represents the sacrifices that men made during the Vietnam War? It's likely that we will end up putting on an inscription of some sort that remembers the men who died during the war and whose remains have not been found. In other words, those who remain lost.

But as I said, we're a little ahead of the program here because we haven't completed all of the steps, and one of the important steps is to consult fully with the veterans service organizations and other interested groups, family groups, etc. We want to make sure that everybody is comfortable, as much as possible, that everybody is comfortable with this decision. This is a sacred place. It's a very important symbol of American sacrifice. And we want to make sure that in leaving the Tomb empty an appropriate recognition is made of the sacrifices that were made.

Q: Is it likely to remain in place kind of like a monument, but not be moved...

A: Yes, it's likely to stay there where it is now, but remain empty with the proper inscription on it. That inscription hasn't been written yet. That's the type of thing that we'll discuss with the veterans organizations as we get closer to making the final decision.

Q: When you refer to consulting with other groups, are you talking about what type of appropriate inscription, or are you talking about whether or not to leave it empty?

A: I think both. We'll consult in both. But I think anybody who's looked at the science here comes to the conclusion that given the advances in DNA analysis techniques, that it's -- I don't think we'll be able to have complete confidence that any set of remains we put in there would remain unknown forever. So we would face another Michael Blassie situation. We want to avoid that.

It was painful. It was awkward. We did the right thing. We were able to identify one more missing soldier or airman, sailor, Marine from Vietnam. I think everybody agrees we did the right thing, but we don't want to create another problem for ourselves by putting in a set of remains that at some time in the future may be identified.

So that's basically the outline of where we're going. We haven't made the final decision. The Secretary hasn't signed off on it. He hasn't been presented with a decision paper, but he clearly has been kept abreast of what Under Secretary de Leon is finding.

Q: Is it correct to say that he concurs with those findings?

A: Yes, I think he's very comfortable with these findings. Now, as I say, consultation is not just something we're talking about, it's something we did extensively before we made the Blassie decision, and it's something we will do extensively this time because this is a shrine to all Americans who have been lost in war. It's only appropriate that all Americans, in particular veterans groups and family groups, feel that they have some ownership of the shrine and some say in how we resolve this rather unusual issue.

Q: Kosovo? A: Any more questions on the Tomb of the Unknowns? Because it's an important issue.

Q: Ken, Madeleine Albright yesterday said she believes the Serbs in Kosovo are preparing for a spring offensive -- not only in Kosovo but in Serbia. Does this tally with the view of the Defense Department? And can you elaborate?

A: I thought what Secretary Albright said was there was a possibility. Our view on this is very clear, that we have appealed to both sides -- the Kosovar Albanians and the Serbs -- to show restraint, not to retrigger fighting, to work toward a diplomatic and peaceful situation to this conclusion. We have made a very important start at Rambouillet. Unfortunately, the journey's not over, and there's more work to be done. That work will be done over the next several weeks. As you know, we'll start again discussions on March 15th.

I hope that both sides will show restraint. So does Secretary Albright, so does Secretary Cohen, so does President Clinton. All have made that clear. The price of not showing restraint could be very high. So we hope that people will try to look for a diplomatic solution and not rush to a military solution, which I think will not succeed in this case.

Q: Is there evidence of a lack of restraint by either side?

A: There have been some skirmishes reported in the press. I'm sure you've seen them, and we hope even those small skirmishes stop.

The Serbs have moved some troops around and we don't know exactly what their plans are at this stage. They at one point were probably preparing to oppose a NATO move into their country because they have not yet supported the idea of NATO peacekeepers in Yugoslavia. But we don't know why they've moved these troops or exactly what they plan to do with the troops they have marshaled around the borders of Kosovo.

Q: How many troops have they moved into Kosovo? A: They've moved about 4,500 troops to near the borders of Kosovo.

Q: What about into the province generally? How far over the limit that was put in...

A: I don't have good figures on those. But what's most important is that troops show restraint. The conduct of the troops is much more important than the numbers of the troops at this stage.

Q: Have you also seen large numbers of tanks moved to the border area? A: Yes.

Q: What are the numbers on those?

A: Over 60 tanks have moved in. Around 50 armored personnel carriers and about 60 artillery pieces have been moved around the borders of Kosovo. That's with the 4,500 troops.

Q: Has NATO given up on the limits that were negotiated in October that capped the level of Serbian military units there? And if there is a large violation -- you said they're near the border -- if they go into Kosovo, is NATO prepared to respond even before the March 15th resumption of talks?

A: No. Secretary Solana, Secretary General Solana made it very clear yesterday. I think that Under Secretary Slocombe made it clear today on the Hill. Secretary Albright made it clear yesterday that we will take appropriate and necessary action to protect people from humanitarian disasters, and we will also take any needed action to promote peace. Beyond that I don't want to get into any specifics about hypothetical operations.

Q: We're not necessarily going to stick, or make them stick to that level that was negotiated in October?

A: As I said, the important consideration is the behavior of the troops, not the number of the troops. Obviously the peace agreement that we still hope will be adopted by both sides next month contains some very clear requirements for disarming Kosovo, and those requirements apply to both sides -- the Kosovar Albanians as well as the Serbs.

Q: Within Kosovo, what have you seen in terms of Serbs in garrison or out of garrison and the cantonment of weapons that they had to do back in October?

A: I don't have a good fix on the numbers right now. There are about 1,500 border guards, and there are -- they do have many more tanks, artillery pieces, and APCs in garrison than they do deployed in Kosovo right now -- probably about twice as many in garrison as they have deployed. But they do have under 70 tanks deployed, they have about 70 APCs and maybe under 50 artillery pieces deployed.

Q: 150 or under 50? A: Under 50 deployed at this time. But they have twice as much in garrison now.

Q: Another subject? A: Yes.

Q: In answer to my pending question on any U.S. involvement against PKK forces, national leader Abdullah Ocalan in Nairobi and Athens under any capacity or cover operation?

A: I have nothing to add to what I said on Tuesday. There was not any U.S. military involvement in the arrest or transportation of that terrorist leader, and I have nothing more to add to that.

Q: Any deployment to secure the residence of the Greek ambassador in Nairobi?

A: I told you that American Marines are sent to protect American installations in countries all around the world. That's what they did in Nairobi.

Q: ...been transferred from Nairobi to..

A: You asked me this on Tuesday. I have nothing to say. My answer was no and it remains my answer.

Q: Can I come back on Kosovo for one second? When you were talking about the 170 tanks, 70 APCs and 50 artillery pieces, am I understanding you correctly, that's border guard units within Kosovo?

A: No, no, no. Sorry. There were 1,500 border guards. Also deployed within Kosovo by the Serb army...

Q: So all...

A: There are about 70 tanks, about 70 APCs and under 50 artillery pieces. Those are deployed within Kosovo. I don't know how many soldiers go with those. That's what I don't have here. Those are actually deployed within Kosovo.

Q: I just wanted to clarify, so all the equipment, in both categories you listed army equipment. A: Right.

Q: Do you have anything on deployment of equipment by security forces, internal security forces, and whether or not they have moved any equipment up to the Kosovo border from...

A: I have not seen any reports on that.

Q: The number of tanks and APCs in Kosovo, is that in addition to the ones that have moved to the border?

A: These are in Kosovo. The others have been moved to the border. They're not in Kosovo. The first ones I listed with the 4,500 troops, they are surrounding Kosovo. They are outside of Kosovo. The second group that I mentioned is actually in Kosovo. And there's twice that amount in garrison in Kosovo.

Q: What were those statistics again, the equipment outside of Kosovo on the border?

A: Outside of Kosovo there are about 4,500 troops, close to 60 tanks, close to 50 APCs, and under 70 artillery pieces. Those have moved...

Q: 170? A: Under 70. Less than 70.

Q: A question on the decision to go to green ammunition. Can you tell us about that and how that compares in terms of cost and performance to good old lead bullets.

A: I'll have to get back to you on that. I know we're always looking for environmentally sensitive military equipment, but I'm not up to date on that so I'll get back to you.

Q: SFOR forces in Brcko have come upon some civilians with a rather motley bunch of armaments including 18 SA-7s, some anti-tank systems and so on. Is this thought to have been a terrorist thing or a threat to U.S. forces in any way?

A: I understand that these people have been disarmed.

Q: Right.

A: That's, of course, what the NATO forces have been doing in Bosnia, been disarming groups when they find them to have weapons. I don't know what our assessment of these people is, but now they are disarmed, and that's the important thing.

Q: Has there been any decision on what to do about the Marines in the Aegean, whether they're just going to stay there or whether they're going to be landing?

A: They're not going to land until there's a peace agreement. The idea was that they would be the phalanx, the first group in, the first Americans on the ground to enforce the peace agreement, and we don't have a peace agreement yet. We hope we have one next month. They'll remain in the area. I don't know when the Nassau Amphibious Ready Group is set to come back, but they'll be replaced by another one when they redeploy. But they'll stay in the area, and they'll be able to get to Greece at the appointed time if that time arrives. I hope it does.

So whether they stay right there in the Aegean for awhile, I don't know. They may go other places and exercise. They may have some liberty. But they'll be available if called upon.

Okay, thanks. I don't know whether Dr. Warner is here yet, but why don't we just check.

Q: Have you got a cold? A: Do I have a cold? One doesn't take voice lessons to learn to talk like this.

Why don't we reconvene in ten minutes. You'll have a ten-minute filing break and Dr. Warner will be here.

Thanks.