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DoD News Briefing, Tuesday, January 26, 1999

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
January 26, 1999 1:50 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

Let me start with a small handful of announcements.

First, on Thursday Secretary of Defense William Cohen will visit Illinois and address the Illinois House of Representatives at 11:45 Central Standard Time. This is part of his plan to reach out and explain the military to people across the United States. As you know, there are a number of bases in Illinois. The Transportation Command is headquartered there, and there are other bases as well, [e.g.,] the sole naval basic training center, Great Lakes Naval Station. I know some of you will be going with him on that. We hope to have a copy of the speech available for those who are not going.

Second, tomorrow afternoon at 2 o'clock, 1400, the Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig will announce a new Internet service not just for sailors but for people in the military called LIFElines which will provide a shopping list of information about quality of life over the Internet. Many local installations do such a thing already. This will try to provide a much more comprehensive package of information about housing, about counseling services, about Tri-Care, the medical service program, and it will also initiate some chat rooms into which military people can go at certain times to carry on conversations with experts on a variety of personnel and quality of life or other issues. So that will be launched tomorrow at the Washington Navy Yard at 2 o'clock by Richard Danzig.

Finally, I know that this morning Samuel R. Berger, the National Security Advisor, made some remarks about reducing force levels in Bosnia. Let me just bring you up to date on what's happening there.

All NATO countries have agreed to a ten percent reduction in the Bosnian force levels going from approximately the current 32,000 down to just below 29,000. That will take place this spring.

The American part of that reduction is 700 people, and that will take our force from 6,900 to 6,200. When that happens, we will close one of our camps, Camp Bedrock, which I believe is about 60 kilometers from Tuzla.

This is another sign that our mission is successful, that we've found that we're able to carry on the same mission with a slightly smaller force. As you know, at one time we had slightly more than 20,000 American soldiers in Bosnia, and this will take us down to close to 6,000.

There will be another review of the size of the Bosnia force this spring. The review is every six months. So we will be, again, looking at force size in the spring along with our NATO allies.

There are currently 36 countries with soldiers in the Stabilization Force in Bosnia.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: What is the latest word from Central Command on the whereabouts of the missing AGM-130 and whether there were any American missiles that hit the residential area in Basrah?

A: As Gen. Zinni explained yesterday, we have been responding to provocative attacks against our airplanes by Iraq, and we have been responding appropriately by targeting elements of the air defense system that he's using against our planes.

We have analyzed yesterday's information and found that an AGM-130 did miss its target and explode in a residential neighborhood several kilometers away from its target. We do not have any independent estimate of casualties or fatalities that can back up what the Iraqis have said about this.

I want to repeat that we are not targeting civilians. We are in fact taking every step we can to avoid targeting civilians or avoid creating collateral damage in civilian neighborhoods, because we are not attacking the people of Iraq. We have no animus against them whatsoever. In fact, we have a lot of sympathy for the people of Iraq, but we are attacking a large air defense system that's being used in an attempt to defeat the policing of the no-fly zones.

Q: The reason for the mistake?

A: Well, CENTCOM and the Air Force are still looking at that. I don't think they have a definitive report yet on why it happened. I will point out that precision guided munitions, while highly accurate, are not infallible. And precision creates a great chance of accuracy but does not ensure accuracy in every case.

Q: Where was it that we believe the stray bomb hit? Was it in central Basrah? Was it south of Basrah?

A: It was in a district of Basrah called the Aljemeriyah district.

Q: The Iraqi authorities yesterday said that several missiles hit in residential areas of Basrah. Do you have any evidence that any other ordnance other than this one AGM-130 struck any civilian targets?

A: No. We believe that the other ordnance hit the military targets at which they were directed.

Q: One of the other things that Sandy Berger apparently had to say was that the rules of engagement have been changed for American pilots, which, as I recall from this podium, has been denied in the past. Are American pilots operating under a broader mandate than they have been?

A: First of all, I don't think we've denied anything about rules of engagement. What we've said is that our pilots have adequate authority to protect themselves and to protect their missions. That authority has been expanded by the President within the last month, and that's been done at the request of Gen. Zinni and his military commanders. Beyond that, we don't discuss details of rules of engagement.

But as I said earlier, the Iraqis are aggressively trying to defeat our patrols of the no-fly zone. They're trying to shoot down coalition aircraft, and our pilots have adequate authority to respond against the entire air defense system.

Brad?

Q: If Gen. Zinni doesn't have authority over the northern operation, did Gen. Clark request similar permission and receive it?

A: In the north and the south our planes are operating under the same rules of engagement.

Q: When was this change made, by the way?

A: I think it was made about three to four weeks ago.

Q: Can you...

Q: On the AGM-130. Do you know if there's been any guidance preventing the forces from using them until you determine what in fact went wrong?

A: I'm not aware that that's the case. There are a lot of reasons that an AGM-130 might not hit its target. They're generally very accurate missiles, but as I say, these are very complex systems, and there's always a chance that one can go slightly off target.

Q: Have the AGM-130... I forgot what I was going to say now. Has it been used in combat before?

A: Yes, it was used in Bosnia in 1995 [sic]. {NOTE: There were nine GBU-15s that were dropped in Bosnia. The first use of the AGM-130, which is a GBU-15 fitted with a rocket motor, was in Iraq on Jan. 11, 1999.}

Q: Is this a TV, visual guided munition? Is it radar guided? Or could it have been misguided by the Iraqis?

A: I'm not going to speculate on what happened. It can either be guided through a TV camera or an infrared image finder.

Q: Yesterday, Gen. Zinni said that the air defense system was centralized and coordinated. Taking those words, so far the retaliation for the paintings and the AAA and the SAMs has been fairly localized. But if the air defense system is centralized, say in Baghdad, does that mean that we're going after the system there?

A: I recall in December we did attack the nerve center of some of Saddam Hussein's military systems, and we are going after parts of the system that we think we can successfully attack and degrade, and I won't go beyond that, but we are attacking the system quite broadly.

Q: Can you, under these rules of engagement, can they attack parts of the system that are outside of the no-fly zone in central Iraq?

A: I don't think I'll get into any details of the rules of engagement.

Q: A point of clarification, Ken. Did you say earlier that you could not correlate where this missile landed with where the Iraqi casualties were found in Basrah?

A: I didn't say that. What I said was we have no independent confirmation of the reports that Iraq has made about casualties or fatalities.

Q: But there is a correlation between where it landed and where the buildings were destroyed?

A: Yes, according to their accounts. It appears to have landed in that neighborhood.

Q: What I'm trying to get at, is there any reason to think that this missile didn't kill some number of Iraqis?

A: I don't think that I have any independent confirmation whether it did or it didn't. It is a powerful missile with a 200,000 pound warhead. A 2,000 pound warhead. Still a powerful missile. (Laughter) So it created some damage. We realize that, and we regret any civilian casualties. But this was done in response to a provocative attack against our planes by Saddam Hussein, and I think that should be clear.

Q: Without getting into details of the ROE, can you talk about the broader tactical goals of expanding the number and types of targets that American pilots are allowed to strike? What are you trying to do? Send a different kind of message to Saddam Hussein than we had been sending before with the more tit for tat kind of response?

A: The message we're sending has not changed. We are determined to patrol the no-fly zone which we do pursuant to U.N. Security Council resolutions. We are determined to do so in a way that protects our pilots, and we're determined to do so in a way that prevents Saddam Hussein from organizing his troops to attack his neighbors or his own people. Those are the goals of the no-fly zone. They remain the goals.

What's changed here primarily is that for the first time since the imposition of the no-fly zone, Iraq is mounting a very aggressive, determined, day-in and day- out attack against the planes patrolling the no-fly zone. We are responding appropriately to a higher level of aggressiveness from Saddam Hussein, but our goals are exactly the same, that is to patrol the no-fly zone that was set up to prevent Saddam Hussein from attacking his own people as he has in the past, or from attacking his neighbors as he has in the past.

Q: In the initial reports of yesterday's attacks in the south from the U.S. Central Command, U.S. F-14s were listed as part of the planes that took part in the strike. Later information didn't include the F-14s. Can you just clear up what happened there? Were any F-14s involved in this action?

A: Which action are you talking about?

Q: The attacks against air defenses in the south yesterday, the same attack which resulted in this one errant missile. Initially, are you aware that...

A: The attack that... F-14s do not launch AGM-130s. They're launched by F-15Es, and this one was launched by an F-15E.

Q: But initially Central Command put out the list of planes that took part in military action in the south yesterday and listed F-15s, F-14s, and F-18s. And subsequently, they amended the list and omitted the F-14s. I'm just curious what...

A: I saw the initial list. I'll go back, or somebody will go back and double check. I'm not...

Q: I'm just wondering if there is a story there that we should be asking about.

A: No.

Q: What happened to the F-14s.

A: No. I mean we use a variety of planes. We use the EA-6B Prowlers as well. We use a variety of planes.

Q: Still, it seems like this is a day, as you said, it's a day-to-day operation. They target us, we respond on a day-to-day basis. With the expanded rules of engagement in place now, why then are we not taking out the increased Iraqi equipment in the no-fly zone on a more comprehensive basis? Why are we letting them sit there and only deal with it on a day-to-day basis?

A: I think that we are having a grave impact on the Iraqi air defense system, and a grave impact on the number of weapons they have to bring to bear against our planes, and we will continue to do that until the threat goes away.

Q:...7,000 missiles that they could direct against us from ground to air?

A: Without getting into specifics, they do have a large number of missiles. They have a much smaller number of radars and associated equipment.

Q: But coming back to that very point then, if you continue to do this on a day-to-day basis as it is going on right now, is it not the case that this could go on for months ad nauseam?

A: I think you've put your finger on the real issue here. This is a choice for Saddam Hussein to make. So far, he is suffering losses on a daily basis. If he chooses to continue suffering those losses, we will continue to inflict those losses on him. If he wants to honor the no-fly zone and return to his previous status of not attacking our planes, we will be pleased, and we will see that as a sign of good sense on his part. But right now he's attacking our planes, and we are attacking back broadly in response to his aggression against our planes, and we will continue to do that as long as the attacks continue.

Q: Have we ceased firing AGM-130s while we find out the reason this one misfired?

A: Not that I'm aware of, no. In fact I know we have not ceased firing AGM-130s. The AGM-130 is a weapon that has performed well and will continue to perform well. As I said, we used it in Bosnia [sic], and we've used it a number of times in Iraq.

Q: When you said this was used in Bosnia, are you sure it was the AGM-130? Is this similar to the SLAM missile? It's not similar?

A: No, it's different. This is actually an evolutionary weapon. It started as a MK-84 2,000 pound bomb, gravity bomb. Then it was upgraded to become the GBU-15 when fins and wings were applied, and a guidance system. And now the AGM-130 has a rocket engine attached to it which gives it greater range, greater speed, and greater accuracy.

Q: Do you recall the instance in Bosnia it was used?

A: I do not specifically recall.

Q: Could you take that question, though, because I believe we were told the first use of the AGM-130 in combat was in the northern no-fly a few weeks back.

A: I will check that, but I was briefed by a pilot today who claims to have used one of these in Bosnia, so I'll go back and check with him.

Q: What date he used it...

A: I'll definitely go back and check with him.

Q: There were a limited number of operations in Bosnia in which U.S. planes actually dropped bombs, so it shouldn't be too difficult to figure out what...

A: We will check that out. Jim?

Q: I just want to clarify what you mean. Earlier you said that we would continue to hit these missiles sites essentially until the threat goes away. Does that mean the goal now is to destroy Iraq's air defenses, or to just continue these strikes until the Iraqis cease threatening American war planes?

A: I think I began that remark by saying this was a choice for Saddam Hussein to make. As long as he continues to threaten our planes and to attack our planes, we will respond.

Q: So the immediate goal is not to destroy his entire air defense system, it's simply to end the threat, the current threat against American pilots.

A: Our goal is to be able to execute the patrols over the no-fly zones without threats from Iraq.

Q: Does the U.S. consider the mere existence of these SAM missile sites along these no-fly zones a threat to our pilots, and, therefore, is it open season on all these missile sites, whether they pose an immediate, active threat to pilots in the air?

A: I understand your question. As you know, we've been flying around and among Iraqi missile sites for years without striking them because they have not posed a threat to our planes, they have not attacked our planes. Now they are attacking our planes, and we are responding appropriately to those attacks.

Q: Under the new expanded rules of engagement, does that mean now the U.S. mission is to take out all these air defense systems along a no-fly zone whether they light up the planes, whether they actually fire? Is it open season... Are we going to launch preemptive strikes against all these missile sites in the north and south?

A: I'm not going to discuss the specifics of the rules of engagement except to say that we will take whatever action we think is necessary to protect our pilots.

Q: And the U.S. considers the mere existence of the SAM missile sites in these no-fly zones an active threat to American pilots?

A: As I said to you before, we've been flying around and among missile sites for a long period of time unchallenged, and we did not respond to them at the time. Now we are facing an entirely different and more aggressive modus operandi by Saddam Hussein's forces, and we are responding appropriately to that heightened aggressiveness by Saddam Hussein's forces, and we will continue to respond if he continues to attack our planes.

Q: Let's take this one step further, I think, if I can expand on what Jim was saying. Let's assume that today there were incidents in the northern no-fly zone in particular in which radar was used against our planes. Does this mean that if tomorrow we should fly we don't have to wait for a similar painting? We can hit targets if we feel they "threaten"?

A: Ivan, I understand all these questions. I'm not going to answer them. It ought to be clear; I'm not going to give details about how we're going to operate in the no-fly zones except to say we will take appropriate action to protect our pilots.

Q: Any movement of Iraqi ground forces?

A: Not that I'm aware of, no.

Q: You and other officials have talked about the Iraqis moving additional surface-to-air missile assets into the no-fly zone. Is that not a violation of the no-fly zone?

A: Yes, it is a violation, and we are responding to those violations.

Q: So is it not logical that the ones they're moving in, in violation of the no-fly zone, would be open targets? Whether they're turned on or not?

A: I don't know how many times I have to say this, but I'll say it one more time so you can all get it down. We will take appropriate actions to defend our pilots. We are doing so.

Q: Does it appear that Iraq is continuing to keep this conflict alive for propaganda purposes? I know Madeleine Albright was having a pretty bad time in Russia yesterday on the subject of Iraq. Is he stringing this little conflict out, going to draw us back into the interior of Iraq for propaganda purposes, do you think?

A: I can't psychoanalyze what the Iraqi military is doing. Maybe somebody should go to one of Tariq Aziz's press conferences and ask him that question. But the issue here, I think, is that they are attacking our planes, which are flying to protect the people of Iraq as well as Iraq's neighbors from attack. We are going to respond to those attacks appropriately, and we are.

Q: Do you have confirmation that Iraq has moved special water-borne commandos to the Basrah or the Shatt al Arab area, posing a new and higher threat to American ships that might be standing by just off territorial waters?

A: Without commenting on any specific intelligence organization, we take seriously the possibility of attacks against our ships. Our ships are prepared to deal with such attacks if they were to occur, and we are prepared to deal with any assets that might be used to launch such attacks.

Q: Have you seen any interesting movement of Iraqi troops in the Basrah area that might be more threatening, or the upgrading of systems that might be more threatening, a land threat?

A: We have not seen, I do not believe we have seen a significant increase in the land threat.

Q: Another threat to ships question. At one point Iraq had Exocet anti-ship missiles. Do they still have those?

A: I'd have to go check on that. It's not something I've looked into recently.

George?

Q: Hopefully this question might inspire a threat briefing at some point, but this morning Sandy Berger said that North Korea has no missiles that can hit the continental United States. Earlier, Robert Walpole was quoted, a national intelligence officer, as saying that North Korean missiles indeed could hit the continental United States. What is the threat as best you know it?

A: First of all, my understanding is that Robert Walpole of the Central Intelligence Agency was talking about the Taepo Dong II missile. I don't believe the Taepo Dong II missile has been tested yet. They have tested, as you know, a Taepo Dong I missile, but not a Taepo Dong II missile. So I believe, and I have not read his complete remarks, although I will, prompted by this question, but I believe he was talking about the possibility of a future threat. I think I'll let him comment on his own remarks about future threats.

Q: You are right, he was talking about that missile. He said "could soon threaten the continental United States." My question to you is, as of this moment, does North Korea have a missile that could hit Alaska, Hawaii, or the continental United States?

A: The fear we have about North Korea is that it's working on such a missile. Without getting into specifics, our fear is primarily of the future, not of today.

Q: But certainly North Korea now has the capability of hitting any place in Japan, Okinawa, any of the U.S. bases there, correct?

A: North Korea does have a significant missile capability, and our primary response to a missile capability is called deterrence. It's served us well for nearly 50 years, and we continue to maintain a very, very significant deterrence. Anybody who would use long-range missiles or weapons of mass destruction against us or our forces or our allies would have to expect a very significant response from us.

Q: Is that the principal or only deterrent? Is deterrence the principal or only means of defense against North Korea's missiles?

A: I guess I don't understand the question.

Q: As far as Japan is concerned, is deterrence the only means of keeping North Korea from firing missiles into Japan?

A: I don't anticipate North Korea is going to fire missiles any place. I don't... It's something we have to worry about in theory, but I don't think we're worrying about it in fact right now. We don't anticipate that. We maintain a very significant deterrence that could be invoked against anybody who attacks us, our forces or our neighbors or our allies.

Q: Can you confirm or perhaps comment on the Washington Times report today that quoted intelligence sources saying that China conducted an exercise that included mock missile targeting against U.S. troops in the region?

A: I was quoted in that report as saying we have no evidence that that's the case. I think the report contains some misstatements as well as some incomplete statements.

Q: A question on Kosovo?

A: Sure.

Q: Can you bring us up to date on forces in the region, any other additional forces that might be going, including aircraft to Aviano.

A: First of all, no forces have been deployed from the United States or been put on alert for deployment from the United States -- no deployment orders have been signed. Second, the Commander-in-Chief of American forces in Europe, Gen. Clark has moved some forces within his theater closer to Kosovo, some naval forces and a small number of planes. That is within his authority to do. And beyond that, there hasn't been really any significant change from the forces we listed last time.

We've got the carrier air wing and we've got a couple of dozen planes in Aviano, as I recall. But of course there are many more planes we could bring in there from Europe or from the United States if necessary.

Q: Is the U.S. considering or discussing with NATO allies the use of ground troops in some kind of peacekeeping capacity in Kosovo? And would that include American ground forces? And under what conditions would the U.S. commit ground troops to Kosovo?

A: First of all, the issue on the table now is the activation order for an air campaign, and that's what most of the discussion has been about. We have said since last fall the same thing about ground troops that we're saying today, which is that in the context of a settlement that created a non-permissive environment -- a permissive environment. If peacekeeping forces were necessary under the terms of the settlement to patrol or enforce that settlement, we would discuss the possibility of participating in that with our allies and with Congress, but we've made no decision on that.

Q: But there are discussions underway in that regard.

A: As I said, it's premature to say that because there is no settlement. That's the issue. We wish there were a settlement, and we've been urging both sides, the Yugoslav side and the Kosovar Albanian side to agree to a settlement. There have been a number of settlements discussed, and we continue to work. I think Ambassador Hill was working yesterday. But we don't have a settlement. All of our talk about the possibility of participating in a peacekeeping force would come in the future after there's a settlement, and it would come in the context of discussions with our allies and with Congress.

Q: In the current discussions, does anybody believe that air strikes could bomb both sides into reaching a settlement?

A: I can't speak for everybody, certainly.

Q: Does the U.S. believe that air strikes could force both sides to reach some kind of settlement?

A: We believe that air strikes could play an important, perhaps even decisive role in leading to a settlement. We would much rather resolve the situation politically without the use of military force. Everybody would like to find a political solution. So far that's eluded us because we can't get the sides to agree to terms, but we continue to work on that. As I said, Ambassador Hill was working on that yesterday and will continue to work on it.

This is one of the issues the contact group will discuss on Friday, how to move the two sides toward a political settlement that would allow a resolution of these problems without the use of military force. Military force is rarely the best option, and it certainly isn't in this case, but it may be the only option left if we cannot get the sides to move forward politically.

Q: Just to make sure we're clear on the issue of the U.S. position on ground troops, are you saying that the U.S. won't even consider the prospect of contributing ground troops to some kind of peacekeeping force until there is an actual peace agreement to enforce?

A: Our view has always been that should there be a peace agreement that requires the commitment of ground troops, we will then discuss the possibility of American participation with our allies and with Congress. We have not held those discussions because we are far away from such an agreement at this time. We hope there will be such an agreement, but there is not one now, and therefore, we have made no decision about ground troops except to proceed in this orderly way that I've laid out.

Q: Wouldn't such an introduction of peacekeepers into Serbia, into Kosovo and Serbia, require an invitation by Serbia for that to happen? This would be a new precedent that I'm aware of, for that to happen. They would have to basically say, "come in."

A: Sometimes old problems produce new precedents. That's what we're hoping for. We're hoping that this old problem can produce a new solution that will lead to a political settlement and peace.

But I want to be very clear. We've made no decision about the commitment of U.S. ground troops, and that would only be considered in the circumstances I've outlined.

Thanks.

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