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DoD News Briefing - Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

Presenters: Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
February 24, 2000 3:15 PM EDT

Thursday, February 24, 2000, 3:15 p.m.

MR. BACON: Well, I apologize for being late to this evening briefing.

First, I'd like to welcome some students from the Army PA Advance NCO course. They're the good-looking men and women in the back of the room. Welcome.

Second, I'd like to announce that at the conclusion of this briefing, the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, Bernie Rostker will be releasing -- or we will have at the end of the briefing -- close-out reports and information papers on several issues. As you know, Bernie Rostker set out to look at a whole range of potential causes of Gulf War illness and has been systematically working his way through various issues, and he has four reports that will make for light reading -- here they are -- at the end of the briefing.

QAny news in them?

MR. BACON: Well, I mean, you'll have to figure that out for yourself. But I don't think you'll find them particularly newsworthy. They're basically following up on some loose ends, tying up some loose ends. And if you have any questions, you can talk to him after you read the reports.

QWell just to clarify, do the reports bring us any closer to understanding the causes of Gulf War illness?

MR. BACON: We have not yet been able to find "a" single cause for Gulf War illness, and I don't think that we're any closer to thinking that we will find "a" single cause for what's known as Gulf War illness. But we will continue to concentrate on, one, taking care of people who are suffering from the consequences of service in the Gulf War. Two, continue aggressive research into any likely cause for Gulf War Illness, and we've initiated many, many research projects which we're continuing with.

And three, we'll continue to follow up on a series of issues that have arisen, ranging from the type of paint that was used on armored personnel carriers and tanks to the performance of Fox chemical detection vehicles, to the type of water that was used during the Gulf War, and those are topics of three of these close-out reports, for instance. So, we are not closer to finding an explanation for Gulf War Illness.

QHave you ruled out those items?

MR. BACON: Well, you'll have to look at the papers and make up your own mind here. There is a report on chemical agent-resistant coating, which is basically painting on some of the vehicles, which raises some questions about the paint, but it does not constitute an explanation for Gulf War Illness, because only a small number of people were involved in the painting of these vehicles. It doesn't begin to explain the series of symptoms that numbers of people have encountered.

Charlie?

QKosovo?

MR. BACON: Yes.

QAny closer to making a decision on whether U.S. troops will go? And what are the prospects that U.S. troops will be sent -- additional U.S. troops?

MR. BACON: Well, as you know, the North Atlantic Council, which is the NATO decision-making body, tomorrow will take up a request from General Clark that they reduce the deployment time for two battalions in the NATO strategic reserve, and that will be considered, probably, tomorrow.

That's when the meeting is scheduled for.

Assuming that NATO decides to change the deployment time for battalions in the strategic reserve, then NATO generals will determine what sort of battalions might be necessary to be put on a shorter call. And after that decision's made, we and other countries will decide how to respond to a specific request. But there has not been a specific request yet.

Remember, what General Clark has asked for is basically two things: one, that the French deploy an additional battalion, and they've agreed to do that; and then that other battalions, two other battalions, be put on a shorter tether. And that's what --

QSorry. What's the current tether that --

MR. BACON: Well, we don't -- this is complex because we don't release this operational detail, but it would cut the call time by about two-thirds.

QHow quickly could they be there? We can figure that out from there.

MR. BACON: Thanks, Charlie. I think this is great; you guys can add and subtract.

QWell, how quickly could they be there? Within a week?

MR. BACON: I'm not going get into this.

QI mean, a week or a month?

MR. BACON: Quickly.

QAre you saying were battalions that were already scheduled to rotate in? Is that what you're suggesting?

MR. BACON: No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying that NATO has a strategic reserve force. The ground portion of that force is comprised of forces from seven countries, I believe. And these are forces that are on call, a specific call time for them to be able to respond to an order to move. And what would change is the amount of time they have to respond to an order to move, and that amount of time would be cut by about two-thirds.

What General Clark has asked NATO to do is to vote to shorten that response time, and that's what NATO will take up tomorrow.

QWhat are the seven countries? Excuse me.

MR. BACON: The seven countries with forces in the strategic reserve are France, Italy, Argentina, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, and the U.S.

QIs the 22nd MEU the U.S. part that is on standby?

MR. BACON: Yeah, the U.S. contribution to the strategic reserve, the forces allocated to serve in the strategic reserve, come from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.

However, that unit is about to leave. It's supposed to leave the Mediterranean on March 2nd, and a new Marine Expeditionary Unit, the 24th, will arrive, and that will arrive on the Wasp, as part of the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group. That will chop into the Mediterranean on March 2nd.

QWhat is the 22nd on? What ships?

MR. BACON: The lead ship is the Bataan.

Yes.

QGiven that turnover situation that the Marines find themselves in right now, in this period of time are there any other U.S. forces currently allocated to the reserve such as the SETAF [Southern European Task Force] to fill that gap while the Marines are doing the turnover?

MR. BACON: No.

QCould other U.S. forces besides the Marines be tagged to go if the U.S. got a request, or is it only Marines that would go?

MR. BACON: Well, you're asking a theoretical question. I think that we will always be able to fulfill our responsibilities to NATO.

QYou had 50,000 troops there initially, NATO did, and they were pretty quickly cut down to 30,000. Is NATO now thinking maybe we pulled out too many troops too quickly?

MR. BACON: Well, Secretary Robertson says he believes there are an adequate number of troops in Kosovo today. But I think one of the issues that the NAC will look at is is the number adequate, are they deployed properly? They'll also look, of course, at the current conditions on the ground in Kosovo, and the conditions in Mitrovica, which have attracted attention in the last several days, have been calm recently. The U.S. troops left yesterday, for instance, and returned to Camp Bondsteel. But I think NATO has shown that it is ready, willing and able to flow more troops into Mitrovica, and by implication, other tense areas when necessary in order to maintain order.

QWho will make the decision --

Q (Off mike) -- the strategic reserve was originally intended to be used? I thought the idea of strategic reserve was in case there was a sudden massing of the Yugoslav Army and you had to be ready to deal with a conventional ground assault, as opposed to finding yourself with not enough troops to deal with a particular domestic situation, an ethnic situation.

MR. BACON: Well remember what we're talking about here. We're talking about the possibility of putting two battalions on a shorter tether, a shorter response time. It doesn't mean that they will be directed to go.

QBut the reason for putting them on a shorter tether is so that they will be ready to go. Was it the original intent of creating the Strategic Reserve --

MR. BACON: Yes, it was the original --

Q-- to wake up and find yourself with too few troops to deal with the ethnic situation?

MR. BACON: The original intent was to protect KFOR and SFOR, actually, because I think it's a dual added -- it works for both SFOR and KFOR, to protect them in case of dire need, such as an outbreak of conflict in the area.

QWho will decide to send in part of this battalion? I mean, does the NAC decided to shorten the tether, and then will it be left up to NATO generals to decide who makes up this force, or will it be a political decision in the countries involved?

MR. BACON: Well, NATO generals, General Reinhardt, who is the KFOR commander, and others will decide, if forces are needed, what kind of forces are needed, and that will determine what they'll request from the Reserve, if they were to request any. They may not request any.

QAnd then it will be up to the countries themselves to decide whether they will send those troops?

MR. BACON: Yeah. But the assumption is, if they're in the Reserve, they're ready to go, if called upon.

Yes, Dale?

QAs I understand it, none of the ships in the Bataan ARG are in the immediate vicinity of Kosovo right now; none of them are in the Adriatic. Has any order been given to any of those ships to begin moving in that direct, or to the Wasp ARG to speed up its transit?

MR. BACON: I'm not aware that there's been any change in the turnover dates, which are March 2nd, as I said. But you're right, the current Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, the three ships are spread out in the Mediterranean.

Yes?

QCan you bring us up to date on VJ and MUP troop build-up in Serbia along the borders? Do you see it continuing?

MR. BACON: Well, as I explained last time, there has not been a significant buildup in recent weeks in the Presevo Valley. Presevo Valley, which is in the south, is basically east of Macedonia and south of Kosovo, the part of Serbia that is there.

There are VJ troops that have been there since they left Kosovo in June; 4(000) to 5,000 VJ troops in the area, basically garrisoned there in several cities, several towns. And there are several hundred MUP that have been there pretty much since November. The numbers of the MUP do fluctuate some from time to time, but it's been relatively steady.

The fear is that there could be tension between the very substantial Albanian community living in Serbia, outside the borders of Kosovo, and Serb forces. There are about 75,000 Albanians living in that part of Serbia. That would be in the Presevo Valley area, just outside of the Kosovo borders. And so -- there have not been new buildups -- the fear is how the troops could be used, if they were used against Kosovar Albanians.

QAnd do you see any evidence of unrest there just yet?

MR. BACON: Not significant unrest at this stage.

QSo what was Robertson talking about?

MR. BACON: Well, there have been -- as I said, there was a buildup of MUP troops there in November, and that basically has stayed the same. There are some inflows and some outflows. But this has been an area of concern since November. In fact, the possibility that there are going to be flash points or friction between Kosovar Albanians and the Serb troops, or special police, remains wherever you have Albanians living near Serbs, whether in Kosovo or out. This area of concern happens to be outside of Kosovo.

Pam?

QThe two battalions that will be on the shorter tether, are they solely intended for Mitrovica, or are they a more general signal to Milosevic that more troops could flow in if those troops in the south started doing something?

MR. BACON: Well, I think the lesson of what happened in Mitrovica is that NATO is willing and able to increase troops in any part of Kosovo where more troops are necessary. That's what we did in Mitrovica and can do again. It's been calm fairly recently in Mitrovica, so there hasn't been a need for immediate deployments of more troops.

Obviously, General Clark and General Reinhardt want the flexibility to be able to put in more troops if necessary, and that's why they've made this request.

QTo put them in wherever they want, not just Mitrovica.

MR. BACON: Yes. Right.

QSo these two battalions could go anywhere.

MR. BACON: One of the issues is you wouldn't want to be forced to draw down troops dramatically in one area to deal with a crisis in another area, therefore opening yourself up to the possibility of a new crisis emerging where the troops had left.

QHow many U.S. troops actually went over into Mitrovica? I know the -

MR. BACON: Three hundred fifty.

Yes?

QKen, could you tell us about getting more civil police personnel into Kosovo? General Clark was on the Hill last week talking about how this is lagging behind, and again, more civil personnel in there, civil police personnel in there may free up some of the military troops.

MR. BACON: Well, that's true. And Secretary Cohen has made exactly the same point. He's made it on the Hill and he made it in Munich at a security conference in early February.

QWell, I'm thinking in light of now having to call -- you know, with the strategic reserve. Is there anything going on talking to other countries about we need to get your civil police personnel committed --

MR. BACON: Yes.

Q-- and we need them in there now?

MR. BACON: Yes. There has been considerable pressure from the U.N. and from NATO and elsewhere on this. The United States has agreed to -- we are at the number -- at or above the number of police we've said we'd provide, which is about 450. We're in the process now of providing another 100. And I think we've said that we'd be willing to provide another 100 beyond that, going from 450 to 650.

QThat's U.S.

MR. BACON: That's the United States. There are other countries that have smaller amounts, but every country is in the process of trying to figure out ways to increase the number of police there. The problem is that the police force is not as large as it's supposed to be. And in the last few weeks, there have been pledges to increase it be about 50 percent from the current level of around 2,200 up to over 3,000, I think, 3,300, 3,400, somewhere around there. So there have been pledges to increase it. Not all those police have arrived yet. And the U.N. has said that the force should be higher than that. So the U.N., which runs this police force, is in the process of trying to find more police.

QMadeleine Albright today apparently talked about -- I wasn't clear on this, but I thought she was talking about creating some sort of quasi-police/military force that would respond, that could fill in the gap in instances like this, where the military is being forced into police missions. Are you familiar with what she was talking about? Can you explain briefly what --

MR. BACON: Well, there was a whole White House news conference on this, wasn't there -- where they announced a new Presidential Decision Directive dealing with peacekeeping? And that's where she spoke, along with some other people. I have not had a chance to read what she said, so -- but I'm sure whatever she said was very clear. (Laughter.) And I'm sure she answered your question, and I'd recommend going back and re-reading the transcript, or looking at the fact sheets that the White House put out on this.

Yes?

QMr. Bacon, the White House said today that it's concerned about the Army Corps of Engineers, and that the secretary of Defense is looking into the issues that have come up in the last couple of weeks. I was wondering what specifically you guys are doing about it, and what the secretary thinks about this program growth initiative?

MR. BACON: Well, the secretary has been briefed on this by the Army, or has been kept apprised of developments by the Army, but this is an issue that the Army is moving to look at, and they have issued a statement on this today from the secretary of the Army, Louis Caldera.

That statement says that they take allegations of misconduct by the Army Corps of Engineers very seriously and that the Army inspector general has begun a review of these allegations. And it makes several other points in the statement, as well, but I urge you to get a copy of that statement and to discuss it with the Army.

QWhat about those budget implications? I mean, one of the things in this slide show said that one of the dangers and risks of their growth initiative was that -- I forget the exact wording, but it says the administration's not on board. Is that -- do you guys have any comment on that?

MR. BACON: Well, what they proposed, as I understand it, was a five-year plan that has a number of assumptions built into it, and -- it's the job of agencies to plan for the future. They are in the process of showing this plan to Congress and it's a plan that they have developed working within the Army, and now they're in the process of testifying on it to Congress, which they did today, as I understand. Isn't that correct?

QRight, but isn't -- usually, don't they, when they tell the civilians who are supposed to be running the agency about it before they went to tell Congress about it?

MR. BACON: Well, I think that there is conflicting testimony on this, as I understand it. And this is exactly one of the things that the IG will be looking into, trying to find out exactly what the facts are.

Yes, Bob?

QOn that observer force that the U.N. Security Council voted to send into the Congo today, could there be or would there be any U.S. participation in that force?

MR. BACON: No. The United States has agreed to put up, I believe, $40 million to help finance this phase two operation. And the phase two operation is to monitor a cease-fire that is -- has been agreed to and is holding to some degree. But we have made no commitment of troops to this phase two monitoring or support operation.

QThank you.

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