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DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
September 09, 1997 2:10 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. It feels strange to be back behind this small podium.

A Participant: (Inaudible.)

Mr. Bacon: That's right. Well, I'll be allowed to and you won't be able to tell whether I've done it or not behind a podium this big.

It's the ninth day of the ninth month, so I thought I'd give a 90-minute briefing and then allow each of you to ask nine questions and we'll be out of here by 9 o'clock.

(Laughter.)

First, I'd like to welcome 44 students and faculty members here from the Defense Information School which is at Fort Meade, Maryland. It is actually one of the more important but least known aspects of the Public Affairs operation at the Pentagon, that is, that we train soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines in the mechanics of journalism so they can write for base newspapers, take pictures, do broadcasts, et cetera. So welcome to our briefing.

We also have 23 foreign service national press and information assistants here from around the world who help us in our embassies. Welcome to you as well.

I would also like to announce that today -- yesterday, actually -- Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall informed Secretary Cohen and President Clinton that she plans to resign her post as of October 31st and return to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from whence she came. She's been on a four-year leave of absence to serve as Secretary of the Air Force.

We have an exchange of letters from Secretary Widnall to Secretary Cohen and then a response today from Secretary Cohen to Secretary Widnall praising her for her service.

I'd like to highlight just several particular contributions that she's made as Secretary of the Air Force.

She worked very hard in the early days of her job to clear up the C-17 problems and to get that program and plane off the ground and into the fleet. The C-17 now has become a workhorse of the air mobility command, TRANSCOM, et cetera, so she's worked on that.

She's worked extensively on space issues and she's also done a lot of work and planning on helping to promote the doctrine of global engagement, the Air Force's doctrine of global engagement.

These letters are available to you afterwards, if you want them.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Charlie?

Q: Ken, can you fill us in on the incursion into South Korea by North Korean troops? How many might have been involved, what happened and whether U.S. troops were involved in any way in that?

A: First of all, we believe this was an isolated incident involving a North Korean soldier who appeared to be confused.

This is what happened. At about 9:30 in the morning today, Korean time, a North Korean soldier was spotted in the demilitarized zone and he made what was interpreted by -- he was spotted by two South Korean soldiers and I believe he was apprehended by two South Korean soldiers. One South Korean soldier then left to get reinforcements and so the North Korean was under the guard of one South Korean soldier and, at that point, he made what was interpreted to be a move for a weapon or a threatening move toward the South Korean soldier and the South Korean soldier shot him in self-defense, as he was allowed to do by his rules of engagement. The North Korean soldier is confirmed dead.

This incident is now under investigation by the United Nations command because it took place in the demilitarized zone which is United Nations territory. There was a brief mobilization at a machine gun post or gun post on the North Korean side of the DMZ, but there was no further aggressive action from the North Korean side.

Of course, there are a number of incidents that occur from time to time in the DMZ. Infiltrators routinely pass across into the DMZ in an effort to try to get through. Sometimes these are agents trying to penetrate into the Republic of Korea. Sometimes they're people trying to defect.

We regard this as, as I said, an isolated incident by a soldier who seemed at the time to be somewhat confused.

Q: And it only involved one solider? There was not more than one soldier?

A: My understanding is that it only involved one soldier, yes. One North Korean soldier, two South Korean soldiers.

Q: What do you mean by referring to him as confused? What was he --

A: Well, those are the reports that we got at the time, but this is still under investigation, so, I think that right now, it's probably safest for me to await the results of the investigation and probably safest for you to await the results of the investigation.

Q: You don't know what they're talking about by the word "confused"?

A: That's just the accounts that I saw, that he seemed to be confused in his actions.

Q: The man did not have a weapon? The North Korean.

A: He did apparently have a weapon because the report -- the initial report we got and initial reports sometimes are revised -- but the initial report we got was that the South Korean soldier thought that he was going for a weapon, thought that he was making a threatening move.

Q: Did he have a rifle?

A: I don't know what kind of weapon he had.

Q: And then there were no other North Koreans in the DMZ at all?

A: Well, there usually aren't a lot of people in the DMZ.

Q: No accompaniment of any kind that could be detected?

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

Q: Could you pinpoint that location? Is that near the "Bridge of No Return" there in the DMZ sector where the incident occurred? You know, where the Koreans stare at us and we stare at them?

A: We'll get the exact place. I've seen it on the map, but I don't have it right here.

Q: Near Yanggu, up that way?

A: We'll get it for you. I believe that it was actually north of there and that it was beyond the Peace Village, but we'll get you the exact location.

Q: When you say that a machine gun post mobilized --

A: Well, there was a little activity. We spotted some activity, but there wasn't firing, there were not shots fired. There was some activity around the gun post, but then that receded.

Q: Have there been any statements made by the North Koreans?

A: Not that I'm aware of. I believe that the North Koreans have been relatively quiet about this.

Q: Any indications that this soldier was trying to defect and was more than just confused?

A: Well, that's one of the things we don't understand and we're still trying to --

Q: (Inaudible.)

A: Pardon? I don't think he had a suitcase and he wasn't driving a (inaudible) into the DMZ with his goods attached to it. That's, as I said, among the types of things that the U.N. will try to find out when they investigate this.

Q: Does the U.N. now have control of the body or has it been returned to the North?

A: I'm afraid I don't have an answer to that question, but I assume they do, but I don't know that. We'll try to find that out.

Jamie?

Q: New subject. Bosnia.

A: Are we through with Korea?

Q: Yeah.

A: Okay.

Q: Can you just give us your assessment of where things stand in Bosnia now, given the events of the last 24 hours? And how would you characterize what happened in Banja Luka yesterday and today?

A: First of all, events have calmed down considerably from yesterday. Yesterday, there was an attempt to hold a large political demonstration in Banja Luka opposing the duly constituted president of the Serb Republic, Mrs. Plavsic. There were large numbers of people traveling toward Banja Luka in buses, more than 100 buses.

Many of the people, some of the people in those buses had been paid, they said, to go to an anti-Plavsic rally, as much as 200 marks, 200 Deutsche marks, which is about $111. Some said they were going to be paid to go and they would also get another 200 Deutsche marks when they got back from the rally.

There were reports that some of the people in these buses were armed or carrying weapons of some sort on the buses and that some of them had false IDs and that some of them might actually be members of the proscribed special police brigades which SFOR has been working to disarm and suppress. Paramilitary groups that were masquerading as police groups but were actually paramilitary groups.

As a result of these reports and rowdy disorderly activity by some of the people on the buses, a number of the buses were stopped at several SFOR checkpoints, both in the American sector and in the north and also in the British sector. They were stopped by local police backed up by SFOR troops at the checkpoints. And these blockages occurred after some of the buses, the people on the buses, had thrown rocks and other objects at SFOR troops as they were driving down the roads.

The roads in Bosnia are such, many of them are thin and windy, that if you stop one bus at a curve or at a bridge, you stop the whole convoy because they are single-lane or narrow, two-lane roads. And this is basically what happened, that they would be stopped at police checkpoints, backed up by SFOR, and this would stop the whole convoy, 30, 40 buses in several cases. And as a result of this, many of the buses did not reach Banja Luka. There was a relatively small demonstration in Banja Luka, maybe 250, 350 people. There were many more people on their way to Banja Luka who didn't reach there.

They basically spent the night because the demonstration was supposed to be at 6 o'clock yesterday evening, spent the night on or near their buses and, starting this morning, police and SFOR went in and started inspecting the buses, which they didn't have time to do yesterday, as they were basically monitoring and patrolling the stalled convoys. They went in and started checking the buses for weapons, for fake IDs, improper identification papers, and also checking for names of people on the rosters of the Special Police Brigades. And so, starting this morning, that checking was happening, and as the buses were checked, they were released.

Some of the buses, actually, at the end of the convoys, had turned around and left anyway before this happened. When they saw they weren't going to get to Banja Luka, they turned around and disappeared. That's basically what happened, and that incident is largely over now.

Q: A senior NATO official categorized what happened there as an aborted coup attempt. Do you agree with that assessment? Do you have any evidence to support that?

A: I know that senior NATO officials and some people on the scene have used that characterization. I don't know enough to be able to characterize it that way. What I can tell you is that this was clearly an orchestrated demonstration designed to either oppose the Plavsic regime or to weaken it; and it was the feeling of SFOR, based on what it knew about the demonstration, based on what it observed from the convoys going into Banja Luka, that it could be violent, and it could be very harmful to the forces in the Republic of Srpska who are working to implement the Dayton Accords. We saw this as a clear assault against the people trying to -- the Plavsic supporters -- trying to bring the Dayton Accords into play and make them succeed.

Q: As you look ahead toward the weekend elections, are there flash points that you have to be aware of? Are there any events that could possibly result in confrontations? What should we look for in the coming days?

A: Well, I think that the lesson of this proposed demonstration in Banja Luka should be very clear to the people in Pale who are opposed to President Plavsic, and that is that we will not allow security to be compromised, we will not allow disorder to reign on the eve of the elections, and that SFOR and the Office of the High Representative are united in working towards maintaining a calm environment for the elections.

Q: One last thing. Who can you point to as the instigator of this rally? Can you point a finger at Radovan Karadzic?

A: Well, I think that his supporters are very much behind this. He is strongly allied with Krajisnik, who is the elected president from Republic of Srpska, to the tripartite presidency, and Krajisnik was in Banja Luka for these demonstrations, was actually detained in a hotel for a while by angry mobs and, in fact, had to be rescued by local police supported by SFOR troops from the (inaudible) Hotel in Banja Luka. But there is clearly strong evidence that the Karadzic forces in Pale were behind this disruptive demonstration that they tried to mount in Banja Luka.

Q: Doesn't it show more than ever that something needs to be done to bring Karadzic to justice?

A: The view of the United States and of all the NATO allies is perfectly clear on this. We stated time after time -- Gen. Clark stated it here last week -- that the place for Radovan Karadzic is in The Hague, being tried for war crimes. He is an indicted war criminal and he ought to be there. We've made that clear to President Milosevic in Serbia. We've made it clear to Karadzic, and we will continue to work with the International War Crimes Tribunal to get him to trial in The Hague.

Q: I understand that the pro-Karadzic television in Pale today is calling for another demonstration somewhere else in the country and that some two dozen buses have been stopped in the Russian sector of the demilitarized zone. Do you have anything on that?

A: I don't have anything specifically on that. As I said, the lesson of what happened in Banja Luka, or what didn't happen in Banja Luka, was that the local police, supported by SFOR, will do everything they need to do to retain calm on the eve of the election to prevent disruptive demonstrations.

Yes, Brian?

Q: In General Shelton's confirmation hearing this morning, several members of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee raised concern that the U.S. lacks an exit strategy in Bosnia, and at one point General Shelton actually said that he was not aware of what the exit strategy was. Does the U.S. have an exit strategy and, if so, what is it?

A: I was not at the hearing, and I didn't hear what was said there. I was told that that topic came up, and what General Shelton was talking about was the phaseout. You know that we've talked from time to time about ways to schedule for reducing the number of U.S. troops in Bosnia and the size of the SFOR force in Bosnia, and it's my understanding that that's what he was referring to.

It's also my understanding that he said, time after time, that we are committed by the NAC, by NATO, to complete the SFOR mission in June of 1998 and that we are currently on that schedule. That remains our goal, and I think it should be clear to everybody that SFOR and the Office of the High Representative are working very, very aggressively together to try to build a foundation for peace beyond June of 1998. We are pressing ahead with the elections. We are working very hard right now, still, to try to curb the rowdy, disruptive broadcasts by the Serb media, and we will continue to do that.

Q: Is the agreement on the television station working, or indications that it is not working at all?

A: The indication, as it is, is that it is working somewhat but not well enough, and I expect that soon we will issue a warning to the Serbs telling them that if they do not comply with the agreement, we will take unspecified but strong action to enforce the purpose of the agreement, which is to get the Serbs to stop using Serb radio and television to broadcast anti-Dayton, anti-SFOR invective that is contrary to the purposes of the Dayton Agreement.

Q: What has the SFOR gathered from the confiscations and the interviews that are going on with the Pale Serbs about the use of the weapons? Were they intended to be used against the SFOR?

A: I'm sorry. What are you talking about?

Q: The weapons that were captured from those in the buses. Were those weapons intended to be used?

A: Those people on the buses were traveling into Banja Luka to participate in anti-Plavsic demonstrations, and the fear was that, to the extent that they were carrying weapons, that the demonstrations would turn violent and be damaging to the people of Banja Luka as well as to the Plavsic regime.

Q: Well, was there any evidence that the intention was to use those weapons against SFOR forces or just against other Serbs?

A: The intention appears to have been to use them as part of the demonstrations against other Serbs. I think that if you go back over the entire history of the NATO mission in Bosnia, it's worth focusing on how force has been used or not been used.

When IFOR, the predecessor to SFOR, went in in 1995, the end of 1995, early 1996, we did not know what to expect. The forces of Serbia, Bosnia were well armed because they had been fighting a war for years, and we went in expecting that we might face armed resistance.

Fortunately, the NATO forces did not face armed resistance but, as you remember, the initial job that the IFOR had to achieve was to divide the former warring factions and then disarm them and to take away their tanks and their artillery, their mortars, et cetera, and to put them into storage or cantonement areas. That's what we did, and we went in heavy because we wanted to be ready for anything we faced.

We have lightened up the force some since then, substituting -- taking out some of the tanks, reducing quite significantly the number of tanks and putting in Bradleys or Humvees, replacing purely combat or armored troops with military police units, et cetera. But we have maintained considerable combat power there, and we have always shown that we were willing to protect ourselves and to do whatever we had to do to maintain security in Bosnia. We are still prepared to do what we need to do to protect ourselves and to carry out the SFOR mission.

Q: Granted that SFOR --

A: We have not -- as result of that, I believe that our troops have not been significantly or seriously challenged by either the Serb or the Bosnian forces.

Q: Granted though that SFOR has the weaponry to face down the Bosnian Serbs, far superior, they also have the element of surprise that is not in favor of the Bosnian Serbs. And General Clark told about all these events last week about this time that were coming. So basically SFOR has read their mail. They can't really succeed. Is that correct?

A: SFOR is doing what it needs to do to maintain a safe and secure environment in Bosnia, so the rebuilding can continue.

Q: And -- okay.

A: Mark.

Q: Do you consider the rhetoric from the television stations to be a threat to SFOR? And you talked about strong action; do you also include in that -- could that be military action?

A: Well, I think I'll let events define what strong action is. We will take what action is necessary. We have already shown that we are prepared to use forces to surround broadcast towers, and I think you can assume we will be prepared to do what we need to do to force an end to these disruptive broadcasts.

Yes?

Q: How heavily armed were these protestors? Do you know? Do we have some fix on what type of weapons there were? Are you talking shotguns, assault rifles, hand grenades, rocket launchers? Hundreds of them or just dozens of them? Do we have some sense of that?

A: I can't get into a lot of detail. There were clearly some illegal long-barreled weapons, that is rifles or other long-barreled weapons, in Banja Luka that had gotten in.

There were some weapons but not a lot on the buses, but we think that there were weapons going in by other means, not on buses, perhaps to marry up with people who were going into Banja Luka.

Q: So this would have been a pretty heavily armed protest?

A: I think it's hard to tell because the important thing is that we stopped the protest from occurring and we stopped violence from occurring when we had pretty good evidence that there was going to be violence there.

Q: Are we talking about weapons that would have armed hundreds of people?

A: I can't get into those details.

Q: And on the broadcast ban; you said it was working well but not well enough. Could you be a little more specific on that?

A: Yeah, basically there were three parts. There were three parts to the broadcast agreement. The first part was that Serb radio and television cease it's anti-Dayton, anti-SFOR broadcasts.

Q: Are they doing it?

A: They have toned down their broadcasts significantly, not completely. But they have toned down their broadcasts. They are less incendiary than they were a week or 10 days ago. But they haven't done enough.

The second part was that they give the Office of the High Representative, Ambassador Westendorp, half an hour of time to make a broadcast directly to the Serb people. They got a tape. It was supposed to be broadcast on Sunday night. It was, in fact, broadcast on Sunday night, but they voiced over it and they sandwiched it between two anti-SFOR pieces.

The half-hour tape was basically a tape talking about the contribution that SFOR is making and its effort to bring peace and economic security to the people of Bosnia. But it was -- as I said, they interfered with it and they certainly violated the spirit of the agreement by sandwiching it between two anti-SFOR pieces.

The third part of the agreement was that they give, every day, one hour of prime time to views that are alternatives to the Serb Democratic Party views, the SDS, and they have not complied with that part of the agreement so there has not yet been a full broadcast of alternative views that has started.

So as a result of that, we plan to send a letter to them notifying them of their lack of compliance with the agreement, and also notifying them that we will take some appropriate action if they do not comply with the agreement.

Q: Just to be clear, are we talking about -- is this a single transmitter, a single station?

A: No, there's several transmitters.

Q: Or is just sort a network of transmitters?

A: There's several. Yeah, there's several around.

Q: And where is it? Where is the headquarters? This is the one at --

A: Well, we're basically talking about broadcasts orchestrated out of Pale.

Q: Is there going to be a time frame attached to this letter, you must comply within?

Q: June 98.

(Laughter.)

A: I heard the question. Fortunately, I didn't hear the response.

(Laughter.)

A: It will be -- they will not be given forever to comply. They will have to -- I don't know the exact time. But it will be timely compliance. We will demand timely compliance.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Wait a minute. I have a question. Wait a minute. Not Bosnia, though. No. Just going back to Secretary Widnall -- it's obviously been known for some time that the Secretary was leaving. Can you just give us an idea of where the Secretary is in naming a replacement or recommending a replacement, rather, to the President?

A: Work has begun on that. I can't give you an exact schedule of when that's going to happen, but I hope it will happen relatively soon.

Q: This month?

A: This month, September? I hope so. But it may be -- it could be slightly later than that, but I hope there will be an announcement relatively soon. The White House is not prepared to make an announcement today, I know that.

Q: Any reaction on the House vote on deploying up to 10,000 U.S. troops on the Mexican border, that particular measure?

A: We're strongly opposed to that and we have voiced our opposition to that clearly and consistently from this podium and elsewhere. We think it is the wrong way to use U.S. troops.

I was asked a question earlier about the location of the incident in the DMZ. It was in the southern region of the DMZ, but it was north of Yanggu, which is a town or a village in the Kang Won province. And we will be glad to show you that on a map. LCDR Jeffries will be glad to take out our map on the DMZ incident.

Q: Spell it?

A: K-a-n-g; new word, W-o-n. Oh, that's the name of the province. And the name of the town is Y-a-n-g-g-u.

Q: One word, Yanggu?

A: Yes, one word.

Q: That was the town, Yanggu?

A: Spell the town again?

Q: That's the town, Yanggu?

A: Yes, north of it.

Q: Thank you.