DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth Bacon, ATSD (PA)
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
I'm going to start with a few remarks about Japan. At the request of the Japanese government, we, as you know, are providing some support. The primary support so far is the airlift of 37,000 military blankets, which were already in Japan, to earthquake victims in the Kobe area. They're being flown on C-130s.
In addition, the 3rd MEF in Okinawa has volunteered to send 15,000 blankets, so there will be a total of 52,000 blankets that we're providing over the next few days to earthquake victims.
We've also volunteered to provide a range of additional support, but so far we haven't been asked to do so, but we stand ready to do that.
Q: Such as what?
A: Such as all sorts of transportation support, helicopter lift. We can provide personnel, water, fuel, ground transportation, water purification and storage facilities, engineering support, casualty care including the provision of generators and tents, medicines, burn and trauma units, surgical equipment, field hospitals generally, medical advisers.
Q: They've said zip to all of this, right?
A: It's not a question of their saying nothing to it, I think they're evaluating their own needs and their ability to cope with what's before them. As they find out what their needs are, and if they can't fill those needs themselves, I'm sure they'll ask us. we're not trying to force ourselves on the Japanese, we just stand ready to help them.
Q: Have you told them that A, B, C, D, and E are available, or are you just saying that it is available. Have you told them this is available if you need it?
A: I can't tell you for sure what we've told them, but Ambassador Mondale and the State Department have been in constant touch with the Japanese authorities, and they've made, I'm sure, a full list of what we can provide available. I'm sure we would provide anything within our ability if they asked for it, including help from our 47,000 troops in Japan and in Okinawa, but they have not asked for that. This is an unfolding and terrible tragedy, and I'm sure they're still trying to gauge the dimensions of what they have to deal with.
Q: If Japan would request assistance from the United States in these areas you've just outlined, like water purification, transportation, and personnel, how long would it take to mobilize the equipment, the personnel, and get it there?
A: I can't answer that. I don't know how much of it is on site in Japan, and how much of it would have to be brought over, but I think we could mobilize it pretty quickly.
Q: Has there been any change in the estimate of either damage to U.S. facilities or any injuries or loss of life of Americans or American personnel?
A: The first part, there's been no change in our estimate of damage to military facilities. Now we believe that, we have reports that two Americans have died. They were both teachers. As far as we know, the military personnel have not been hurt in this earthquake.
Q: Are you aware at all whether the Japanese provided any assistance to the United States during the earthquake last year in California?
A: Why don't you check with the embassy. I'm sure they'll be able to tell you.
Q: Do you know where the two Americans died, under what circumstances?
A: One died in a collapsed building, and her name was Ms. Wong. I don't know exactly where she died, and I don't know where the second died. I understand they were not in the same building, but I don't know that for sure. The State Department are really the lead people on information about this. I'm just trying to give you the military side of the help picture.
Q: Can you elaborate on the military facilities and the damage. You say it hasn't changed. What do you know about damage. What are you looking at cost-wise?
A: This is what I said on Tuesday, and I'll say it again, today. There is no damage to military facilities reported as of yet, and all bases are operating normally. We have no reports of personal injuries to American military people in Japan, or their dependents.
Q: Has the DoD or other segments of our government, that you know about, consulted with the Japanese about predictions of future quakes, what the seismic situation is in that particular area, and what the predisposition to follow-ups to after-shocks and large follow-up quakes?
A: I can't answer that question. I do understand from reading and listening to the radio over the last couple of days that earthquake prediction is very difficult, but I'm not an expert on seismology, or any other type of "ology" probably.
Q: As far as you know, the Defense Department is not involved in analyzing and predicting...
A: I just can't answer that question, Bill, because I don't know.
Q: Can we turn our attention to Turkey for a moment, and the attempts to find the missing Lieutenant Colonel Couillard and his ten year old son? There have been additional phone calls, apparently, from groups claiming that they have got him. Do you know anything additional?
A: I probably don't know a lot more than you know. Lieutenant Colonel Couillard and his son were seen having lunch at 2:30 [correction - 12:30] on Sunday, and they were supposed to be back at a bus that was carrying a Boy Scout group at 4:00 o'clock. They didn't show up, obviously.
The mountain on which they were skiing was in blizzard conditions. It's been described as a white-out, very heavy snow. Since Sunday when they did not reappear at the bus stop, it snowed five or six feet in that area.
There are extensive search efforts going on involving embassy personnel, U.S. Special Forces people who have been specially trained to operate in snowy climes and mountains, and a large number of Turkish troops are all involved in rescue efforts. So far, these efforts have turned up nothing. There are also four helicopters involved.
As I say, the weather conditions are very imposing. Heavy snow and fog makes it very difficult to see. Also, we had hoped to use infrared sensing devices to try to locate warm bodies, and that has been impossible because of the weather conditions, as I understand it. So, some of our location exercises have been frustrated. That's the first track, is trying to find them.
The second is following up on the phone calls. You correctly point out there have been a number of phone calls now, several phone calls, I'll say -- I don't want to blow this out of proportion -- all contending to be from the same group. Our operating assumption here is, and it's just an assumption, but our operating assumption is these people were lost in the snow. That the father and son were lost in the snow. The first phone call didn't come until Wednesday. This is not a quickly recognized group. In fact, it's the first we'd heard of this group. I'm still not sure we have anything on the people purporting to be from this group.
We're using every conceivable and standard method we can use to find out about this group and find out if their claims have any validity to them, but so far these efforts have also been unavailing. But as I say, our working assumption is that they were lost in the snow.
Q: Initially, the phone calls came to various Turkish news agencies. Has the U.S. Government received any of these phone calls now that time has passed?
A: I believe there has been at least one call.
Q: Where was that to, the embassy?
A: I believe it was to the embassy, but I'll double check on that. That's my belief, that there was one call to the embassy.
Q: The embassy in Turkey?
A: Right, in Ankara, Turkey.
Q: The phone calls came Wednesday, even to the Turkish newspapers?
A: There were calls Wednesday and there were calls today as well.
Q: No calls before Wednesday?
A: No calls before Wednesday.
Q: They were last spotted at 2:30 [correction - 12:30] and they were supposed to be at the bus at 4:00. Is there any knowledge whether they were going to go skiing during that hour and a half period between the time they were having lunch and go to the bus? My point is, you said that the supposition is they were probably lost in the snow. In a skiing accident or what?
A: I don't think they were lost getting to the bus. I don't think they were lost walking from the restaurant to the bus.
Look, there are many things we don't know here. If we could answer all these questions, we would be able to tell you much more. But we're trying to piece this together ourselves. They were seen at 2:30 [correction - 12:30] having lunch, they were supposed to be at the bus at 4:00, they didn't show up. At 4:30 they were declared lost.
We base our assumption that they were lost in the snow on the fact that one, there was a blizzard; two, it would be easy to get lost on this mountain, apparently, because the trails aren't marked in the same way as they are in some other ski areas; and three, it seems like a very unlikely place to go to kidnap somebody, a ski area in Turkey. But we're still trying to find out what happened ourselves.
Q: In these phone conversations has any evidence been offered that these two people are, in fact, being held by whoever this group is?
A: No. In fact, the recipients of the calls have specifically asked for some sort of evidence that the people are alive, which, of course, would be evidence that they're being held by the group, and the group has refused to provide any sort of evidence. So once again, we're left with calls that we think may be opportunistic calls by somebody trying to get something out of news reports that they've read about a tragedy in Turkey.
Q: Do you believe that these phone calls were made from an overseas telephone connection like outside of Turkey? Apparently, there was some such contention.
A: I don't know the answer to that question.
Sorry. Two calls were made to the consulate in Istanbul today. This is to correct what I said earlier about going to the embassy in Ankara. Two calls were made to the consulate in Istanbul today.
Q: How many Special Forces troops are involved?
A: I believe there are 16 Special Forces troops involved.
Q: Can you inquire about whether there is skiing, the skiing equipment that belonged to the colonel and his son was gone, what evidence might there be that they may have gone out on the slopes?
A: I can inquire. I have to assume that if somebody had found their ski equipment, to the extent they could identify it, that we would know this by now. I haven't heard any signs that their ski equipment has been located. I have no idea whether they rented equipment, or whether they owned the equipment. But I assume the embassy has sorted all this stuff out. There is a large military contingent, I think there are 3,500 U.S. military personnel stationed in Turkey, and I'm sure they're all doing what they can to sort this thing out.
Q: Can the Department inquire about the evidence that might have been left behind, or the whereabouts or the...
A: We will, of course, inquire. I've heard nothing about that. I'm not trying to dodge the question. I'm trying to tell you that I assume we've made all those inquiries, and that we have followed up on those, that those details are being properly and reasonably followed up on in Turkey, and that somebody sorted this stuff out, probably, on Sunday. There's been a fairly massive effort to find these people, and I have to assume they've checked all the logical first sources of information.
Q: You said that your initial impression was that this was a group that you hadn't heard of. After searching further, does the U.S. Government now recognize this group of being some sort of Hezbollah-linked terrorist group?
A: It's my understanding that we do not. They call themselves the Lebanese Freedom Fighters.
Q: But that's not a name that rings any bells anywhere.
A: That is my understanding.
Q: Was the colonel stationed in Turkey?
A: Yes, he was.
Q: What was his job?
A: I believe he was an air attaché, attached to the embassy. Office of Defense Cooperation in Ankara.
Q: A published report today says that U.S. Army troops in Haiti, male and female, are sharing the same tents. Is this something that is addressed at all by DoD policy, or is this up to the discretion of local commanders, or is this even an issue that has come up?
A: One, I do not consider this to be an issue. It's up to local commanders. Troops were stationed together in Desert Storm just as they are in Haiti. It's nothing peculiar to Haiti. This is a fairly standard operation where troops are deployed.
I just wanted to bring you up to date on Chief Warrant Officer Hall. He's leaving to go back to his unit in Korea on January 26th, and will arrive back on January 27th. We've promised to give you a read-out on the final reports of the downing of the helicopter, and we will as soon as we have it. It's not entirely done yet. General Shalikashvili is in Korea now, and meeting with General Luck, and presumably also General Flowers who is the general delegated by General Luck to do a report on the helicopter incident.
One thing that I can tell you is that there was a question about adding GPS equipment to the helicopters. That was actually being done at the time, and all of the helicopters, all of the Army helicopters in Korea will have GPS installed by March 1st. All the Air Force helicopters already had it, but the Army helicopters are in the process of getting it. The addition of that was accelerated after the incident.
The navigational techniques of flying these helicopters will still be primarily maps, sight, and compass. But the GPS will be an additional navigational aid.
Q: The reason he's being sent back to his unit is because he's been absolved of any personal culpability at all?
A: I assume that's the case, but I have nothing to say on that one way or the other. But yes, I assume that's the case. He's always said that he wanted to go back to his unit as quickly as he could.
Q: And he will resume flying?
A: Yes. He's a helicopter pilot. That's his job.
Q: You said this process of adding the GPS systems to the Army helicopters was already underway at the time this incident happened, and it was accelerated or speeded up as a result of the incident. How long had the program to upgrade the helicopters been underway?
A: I don't know exactly when it began. At the time this incident occurred, about half... The helicopter that crashed was an OH-58A helicopter. At the time this incident occurred, about half of those had been retrofitted with GPS and the other half hadn't.
Q: Do you by any chance have what the cost of those GPS systems is per helicopter or something?
A: The cost, depending on the type of upgrade, ranges from $2,000 to $10,500 a helicopter. I think we're dealing with the low-end here, the so-called slugger kits, about $2,000 is the cost of the equipment, and then they have to be installed. There's a cost of installation. But I gather it's a relatively uncomplicated exercise.
Q: Floyd Spence and Bill Young, Republicans, House Republicans, have proposed an increase of up to $126 billion over the next five years for defense spending. What is the reaction of the Department and the Administration to this proposal?
A: I think you asked me a similar question in December when Senators Warner and McCain were also proposing an increase in defense spending.
Q: To this specific proposal?
A: I don't know whether it's the same proposal, but first of all, we share with Congress a commitment to readiness, a commitment to improving military quality of life, and a commitment to force modernization. We believe that our budgets provide those. Budgets are basically lists of priorities and lists of choices. In reaching our budget decisions, we've made a lot of tough choices, and we've set our priorities. We think our budgets adequately meet those priorities. We think that we are asking for enough money to provide a fully ready, capable force, and we think the deployments we've made over the last year show that our force is ready and capable.
The Defense Department does not finally decide what its budget is. Congress decides that. We will work with Congress to try to come up with the most sensible and reasonable budget we can. We're ready to work with them. We worked with the Democrats, we'll work with the Republicans.
Q: Is this proposal excessive or unwelcome?
A: It's not a proposal that we have made. It's a proposal we'll consider. I'd like to tell you I think that it's very premature to think that this proposal will become much more than a proposal. I wouldn't bet on all this money coming into the Defense Department budget. There are divisions within the Republican party over how much money should be spent on defense, whether more or less should be spent on defense. There are real budget deficit hawks in the Republican party, and I think the Republican party will have to sort out, the leaders of Congress will have to sort out what their own priorities are, and whether they want to put a lot more money into defense.
From our purposes, we think our budget is adequate to do the job we face. We will work with Congress to come up with the best possible budget. We look forward to debating all the issues with them.
Press: Thank you.