United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share

Transcript


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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
September 16, 1997 1:15 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome.

I'd like to begin with the announcement that I am not General Clark. General Clark went to the Hill suddenly, and will not be able to brief here, unfortunately. We will try to get him back at another time. He was here, as you know, about two weeks ago, but we will get him back.

Let me start with a brief announcement about the C-141 tragedy in the Atlantic. We have recovered, or search and rescue workers have recovered some pieces that have been identified as parts of the C-141. I don't know which parts, but they have now recovered, several parts of the plane, pieces of metal with numbers on them which have been identified as parts of that plane. The call sign for that mission was Reach 4201 -- that's what it's known as in the Air Force. The search and rescue work is continuing.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Do you now assume that it was a collision, or what is the Pentagon waiting for in order to be able to say it was a collision?

A: We don't have any firm evidence yet that it was a collision, but the circumstantial evidence is very strong that it was. It looks as if this is what the Air Force calls a catastrophic event. One of the reasons that it looks like a collision is that all of the wreckage that's been found so far appears to be in a small area, which is characteristics of a collision. If they had been separate accidents or one plane had nicked another plane and knocked it off course or sheared off a wing, the wreckage would have been spread out over a much larger area. So the initial indications are that it was a collision, but no final decisions have been made on it yet. They're continuing to look.

Q: There are reports that it took the Air Force about 14 hours after the actual accident to start the search and rescue mission. Is that correct? And if it is correct, why is that so?

A: Let me talk a little bit about that. I think as the investigation continues, one of the questions that will be answered is the state of communications in this part of the world. That figures into why it took so long for the Air Force to figure out what had happened.

The plane initially was supposed to have left Namibia -- this is according to its initial flight plan at 1411 Zulu -- all these times are in Greenwich Mean Time -- on the 13th of September. It was supposed to arrive at Ascension Island at 1902 Zulu. That was the initial flight time. In fact it left later than that, and... Wait a minute, here...

Oh, I see. Sorry. So it's actual departure was 1411 Zulu. Initially its flight plan had it departing -- I'm sorry, you're right -- at 1545 Zulu on the 13th and arriving at 2125 Zulu at Ascension Island. In fact it left earlier.

When it didn't arrive at Ascension Island, or when Ascension Island did not receive a standard departure call, which it often receives, should receive, when a plane takes off, they began making some calls starting at 1600 Zulu from Ascension Island. And between 1600 Zulu and 1700 Zulu they made about five calls to try to confirm its departure. No one answered the phones, so they were unable to confirm the departure of the plane.

Then from about 1700...

Q: You mean called Namibia?

A: Yes, this was Ascension Island calling Namibia to find out if they could learn if the plane had departed. They were unable to confirm that.

Q: Military on the other end? Americans?

A: Yes. There were three Air Force officers assigned to Ascension Island, and they were calling to the Windhook Airport or to other places to find out, if they could, if the plane had departed. They made the calls. The calls were unanswered.

So what we have is starting at 1600 Zulu on the 13th, they had not received... They realized they had not received a departure call from the plane. The plane had been scheduled to depart initially at 1545. That was the initial flight plan. So 15 minutes after that, they began making calls because they didn't receive any notification of departure. They made five calls between 1600 and 1700 Zulu. Nobody answered the calls.

Then from 1700 Zulu to the next morning, 0820 Zulu, they made approximately 50 calls to determine if the aircraft was airborne or if it had never left Windhook or if it had diverted to another airport. So they were making other calls to Windhook, to air traffic control centers, and to other airports to find out if they could locate the plane. They were unable to locate the plane.

So they basically spent the night trying to locate the plane with phone calls and other communications and weren't able to do that.

They then decided to contact the Air Mobility Command. They did that in the morning, 1055 Zulu on the 14th, which was Sunday morning. At that point, at about 1100 Zulu the plane was declared missing because they'd been looking for it over a period of time. A crisis action team was formed, and they began to check their systems for other data, and also began to set up a search and rescue operation.

They declared the plane missing at 1100 Zulu on Sunday morning, the 14th. At 1110 Zulu on the 14th, the Air Force Operations Center was asked to coordinate a search and rescue operation. It was after that time that we began contacting the South Africans and others, because we didn't have any assets in the area for search and rescue.

So basically what you have here is a long period of time trying to locate the plane, not succeeding in locating the plane, then declaring it missing and starting search and rescue.

Q: Is that considered standard, a problem like that in Africa, given the difficulties in communication, that they would let it go so long, not knowing where a plane was before they, so to speak, raised the red flag?

A: I don't know what the standard procedures are. This plane had flown over and delivered some demining equipment and a team of demining experts to Namibia, and then had taken off and come back. Clearly the people at Ascension Island felt something was wrong. They attempted to locate the plane. They were unable to, I think, largely because of communications problems. People didn't answer the phone, or they couldn't find people who had any information. So all of this will be reviewed as to whether they did the right thing at the right time. But clearly, they had realized the plane was missing, or at least was not...they didn't have the proper information about the plane at the proper time. They realized that 15 minutes after the plane was supposed to have taken off, and they began a series of procedures to locate the plane.

Q: I was told by (inaudible), this plane apparently radioed Windhook about 60 miles offshore after it had left with a position check. It could not, it didn't then radio Ascension Island, or could it have contacted Ascension Island to let them know they were on the way? And did it, in fact, radio Windhook after it left with a position?

A: I don't have a record of that, but what I do know is that the people at Ascension Island weren't able to raise anybody at Windhook who had information about the plane.

Q: Could you say something about the mission the demining equipment was meant for in Namibia?

A: We carry out demining missions around the world, and there have been a lot of mines... As you know, there was extensive fighting over time in Namibia, and there are many mines there. One of the areas where we've been doing demining is in Namibia. We've also done some in Angola. I can tell you precisely what was delivered there. It was a series of detectors and other devices and some people to teach Namibian soldiers how to use the demining equipment. I think more equipment is scheduled to go to Namibia in the next couple of weeks. But it's part of a regular demining mission.

Q: Can you clarify on the radio issue, is it not possible for the Air Force to just radio one of these airplanes any time?

A: Clearly at Ascension Island they were trying to locate this plane and they weren't able to do it. I don't know what the capabilities of the Air Force radio system is, but they weren't able to locate the plane or anybody who knew anything about it, but they were continuing to try.

Q: Can you speak to what seems to be an alarming rate of military air crashes over the last several days? Is there a concern that possibly the cutback in funding is the result, is causing this problem?

A: First, let me say that every crash is a tragedy and every crash is thoroughly investigated. The air safety record of the military has been improving over time quite dramatically, and it continues to improve. We believe that the safety rate this year will be about what it was last year. That is 1.5 accidents per 100,000 hours of flying. That was down from 1.53 in FY95. The rate was 1.50 in FY96. This is all military aircraft.

As of July 1st of this year, the rate was 1.40, which was running at below last year's rate. We estimate now, or the officials who follow this estimate that the rate this year will be about 1.5.

I hasten to point out again, one accident is one accident too many, and we work very hard to prevent accidents from occurring. That's one of the reasons accidents are investigated as thoroughly as they are. In the Air Force this year, as of today, there have been 28 Class A mishaps, and a Class A mishap is either a destroyed plane or a plane that sustains an accident that causes more than a million dollars worth of damage. In all of last year there were 27 Class A mishaps for Air Force planes. in FY95, there were 32; and in FY94 there were 36. So that's the absolute number of Class A mishaps.

If you translate that into a rate, that is Class A mishaps for 100,000 hours flown, as of September 16th this year, the rate is 1.38. That's through September 16th this year. We're two weeks away from the end of the fiscal year.

Q: The earlier rates you mentioned, the 1.50 accidents and 1.53, these were all Class A's you were referring to, even the original ones, right?

A: These are Class A mishap rates. The one I gave you, the 1.50, that was for all services, but that referred to something else. That was the number of aircraft lost, so they're slightly different bases here. A plane that's lost is lost -- it doesn't fly again, obviously. The F-117 that crashed is lost. The C-141 is lost. They'll never fly again. The Class A mishap rate is a slightly different base. That's not only planes that are lost, but planes that sustain damage. Some of those planes can be repaired and fly again, so these are slightly different.

Q: Is the Secretary concerned about... These crashes seem to occur in spates, even though there might not be any particular link between them, is the Secretary concerned about this and does he plan to put out any kind of safety reminder to the services, or...

A: The Secretary is very concerned about all accidents. Any Secretary is concerned about accidents. The defense guidance this year makes safety a priority, and it speaks to the need for all services to work to reduce their accident rates to zero. We will not achieve zero, but we work to do that.

I think it's important to focus on the overall numbers, not on what happens in any small period of time. We went through this last year where we had a spate of accidents. Sometimes there is a grouping of accidents. They attract a lot of attention in the press. Every accident -- whether focused on by the press or not -- attracts a lot of attention in the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines or the Army. The safety records of services and the accidents... Every accident is reported to the Office of the Secretary of Defense. I dare say every loss is reported directly to the Secretary of Defense shortly after it happens, so he's very aware of what's happening with airplanes in the military. And we will continue to work as hard as we can to reduce the accident rate.

Q: It was about 20 hours after the plane was supposed to leave Namibia that it was declared missing. Can you say whether or not you think that really they looked at this; the officers should have acted earlier, and if they had, would it have made a difference?

A: To answer the second question first. If this was a collision, and we don't know that for sure, but that's certainly an assumption, if it were a catastrophic collision, I think it's quite unlikely that anybody could have survived this collision. Even if somebody had survived in presumably an injured state, the... Remember these planes were flying at about 35,000 feet, so it was a long way down. Had they survived, they would have been in water that was between 47-48 degrees to maybe 53-55 degrees Fahrenheit. I think it would have been difficult to survive in that water for more than a couple of hours if they were healthy, but they might have been injured. So I'm not sure that it would have been possible, given the remote location of the crash, to get people there in time.

But I want to point out that although this did happen on Saturday, we have a long way to go to reassemble all the facts. For one thing, some of the... We believe the depth in this area is about 6,000 feet. It's pretty deep, but we hope that we can recover the black box of the plane, and maybe some other equipment from the plane that will give us more information. We've recovered black boxes and flight data recorders from depths deeper than 6,000 feet, but it's going to take time and it's going to be tricky and we may not succeed.

Q: How long after the plane was declared missing, I think you said it was 10:00 o'clock the next morning, or 11:00 o'clock. How long after that point before any U.S. planes or any resources were able to get to the area?

A: The initial search and rescue operation was conducted by the South Africans. They actually have a good maritime rescue operation, for obvious reasons. The first U.S. planes were able to start looking at first light this morning, I believe. They arrived overnight and started at first light this morning. They came from Europe -- from England and from Italy. But the South Africans were busy with a C-130 and a specially configured 707. There were some boats in the area, some Namibian fishing boats, and there was also a French plane in the area. Actually, the French were first on the scene. They were on the scene... They got the request to begin search and rescue in the afternoon of the 14th, which was Sunday. There was a French C-160 in Lieberville that was the first to receive a call and was on the scene. There were also some South African planes.

Q: Are you, is the United States sending any divers or any of the remotely piloted vehicles to try to find the black box?

A: I assume that we will, but I'm not aware that we have yet.

Q: What the German public has a hard time understanding is that two modern military planes who do combat missions, that should be aware of their environment, are unable to realize that they are approaching each other and are in danger of colliding. There doesn't seem to be on either one of the two planes some kind of TCAS or some kind of collision avoidance system. Is that correct?

A: There was not a collision avoidance system on the U.S. plane. I do not believe there was one on the German plane which, of course, was a Russian plane they had inherited from East Germany. But I know there was not a so-called TCAS system -- Traffic Collision Avoidance System -- on the American plane.

Q: Why is that not standard equipment?

A: The Air Force is in the process of installing this system on the 1400 planes in the Air Mobility Command. This is in response to an action taken last year after the crash of the T-43 -- the Ron Brown plane crash. At that time the Air Force set out first to put this equipment on all planes that carry VIPs, official travelers. They have done that, I believe. Now they are turning their attention to working on the larger cargo fleet. They're in the process of doing that. However, I should tell you that this plane was not scheduled to have TCAS put onto it in any event because the Air Force is not installing it on planes that are within five years of retirement. This plane would have been retired in several years. It was a fairly old C-141. So this plane would not have had it.

Q: There were no other planes in the area, or no other radar stations picked up any communications from the plane that you've discovered so far?

A: Not that I'm aware of. That's one of the things we're checking. But we are not aware that there were radio signals picked up. These planes were on different radio frequencies, so they weren't hearing each other talk.

We don't know what the weather was, we don't know why they weren't able to see each other, whether it was because of the angle of approach. They were probably at 35,000 feet flying in cirrus clouds, but we'll have to reconstruct as best we can what the weather was. We may never be able to answer some of these questions. As I said at the very beginning, we are not yet positive that this was a collision, but that's what the circumstantial evidence suggests at this time.

Q: Have the Namibians given you any explanation for why no one answered the phone, or...

A: All of that is in the process of being checked, and I don't have the information about that. But obviously a large part of the investigation will look at the air traffic control -- will look at the communications generally.

Q: Was the U.S. plane being tracked by radar during that period?

A: I'm not aware that it was. I've heard nobody mention that. There is one thing that has been reported and I might run through it, which was a bright flash was detected by a U.S. Space Command satellite, one of what we call the Defense Support Program satellites that have been put up to detect ballistic missile launches around the world. And these satellites are designed to detect long duration hot plumes of the type that are created by ballistic missiles when they're launched.

They do, from time to time, detect bright flashes that are of very short duration. These are the types of flashes you might get if a plane explodes, if a rail tank car filled with flammable material explodes. You might get it if there's a flare-up at a gas well or oil well, something like that. It did detect a bright flash in this area at 1110 a.m. Eastern time on the 13th of September.

Q: Would that have been the approximate time...

A: Yes, that would have been the approximate time. We don't know what time this event occurred, but it would have been at the approximate time.

Q: What time would that be local time?

A: Well, the Zulu is five hours, isn't that right? We'll get the conversion. Our clock men will get the conversion for you. But it would have been the approximate time.

However, a brief sort of incandescent flash detected by satellites are not routinely passed on because these occur around the world on an irregular basis, but they occur with enough frequency so that they don't trigger any particular concern on the part of the monitors of the satellite system.

This was passed on the next day when the Air Mobility Command began pulsing the system for information that could help it determine what happened.

Q: Just out of curiosity, was any such flash monitored with the crash of the TWA Flight 800?

A: I can't answer that question.

Q: Do you have the exact coordinates from the flash? Did you get a pinpoint location?

A: 18.8 South, 11.3 East.

Q: Do you happen to know if either plane had IFF equipment on it so they could squawk and interrogate each other electronically?

A: I understand they did not have equipment that could be picked up like that. That's what I've been told. I do not have the 100 percent complete case on this. A lot of that is emerging now and it always takes longer for this information to come out than some of you would like.

Q: Why were the two aircraft on different radio frequencies? Is that a national air force differentiation?

A: I think it is national, but I don't know that for a fact. They were on different courses, for one thing. But I don't know why they were on different frequencies.

Q: From the satellite photo, etc., is there any way to tell which of the planes would have been off course given where it happened?

A: No. What the satellites registered was a flash. A point of light, essentially.

Q: Back to the F-117s for a moment. What's the status of the stand-down of that aircraft? Will it be lifted any time soon? And is there any consideration, given that we've had a cluster of accidents for the moment, any sort of general safety stand-down?

A: There have been four crashes -- one Air Force cargo plane, one stealth fighter during an air show, one Marine plane during a training mission, and one Navy plane during a training mission. I'm not aware of any plans right now for a general safety stand-down. These appear to be totally isolated events. We will look at them, obviously, to learn any lesson we can from them, but right now I don't think anybody believes there's a commonality linking these events that would call for a stand-down.

In terms of the stand-down of the Stealth, that continues. I don't know when the Air Force intends to end it. I assume it will depend, in part, on how fast they're able to recreate what happened with the one over Maryland.

The Air Force, I understand, does plan a news conference this afternoon at Martin State Airport to give their latest readout on what they're finding there. So they may have more information on that.

Q: Virginia Senator John Warner said that he intended to introduce legislation barring the use of B-2s or F-117 Stealth aircraft at future air shows. He said he thought the assets were too expensive to be used that way. Could we get your general reaction to that proposed legislation, and then also, could you explain the rationale about why these expensive planes or any U.S. Air Force planes are used in air shows?

A: First of all, all our planes are expensive. Obviously, we fly in air shows because the public enjoys air shows. It's one way for the military to demonstrate what it does on a day-to-day basis in places like the Middle East and Korea and Europe, to American citizens who support the military in many ways -- particularly as taxpayers, but also the moral support that they give the military every day. This has been going on since the beginning of the U.S. military, demonstrations of various sorts, and I think it's something actually the American public enjoys, and to a certain extent, expects.

I think it's too early to tell right now what our response will be in terms of F-117s. Obviously the planes fly many, many times and almost always they fly safely. The expectation is that the planes will fly safely. Sometimes there are fluke accidents. I'm not sure that whole policies should be based on occasional flukes, but the Air Force will look very carefully at what the proper course of action is in the future with the F-117.

Q: ...the possibility of pulling these from air shows is being examined...

A: I said the Air Force is in the early stages of investigation, and it will... I have heard no talk in the Pentagon that suggests we want to stop using F-117s in air shows. But it has been raised by Senator Warner. It's certainly something we will look at carefully, the Air Force will look at it carefully, but I have heard no indication that we plan to do that.

I want to point out, though, that this is still in the early stages of the investigation. The Air Force will have to decide whether this is the best use ofF-117s.

Q: In this early stage, are there any preliminary indications that would suggest any sort of structural problem with the F-117?

A: I'm not aware of anything that suggests a general structural problem with the F-117, but it's in the early stages. I think the Air Force should address that issue.

Q: Can you tell us anything about the maintenance history of this particular aircraft?

A: I can not tell you anything about this particular aircraft that crashed. I can tell you that it is one of the older F-117s. It was built in 1981. It was one of the first ones built and in the force. But the Air Force flies many old planes, and it flies them... Many old planes have extraordinary safety records, so age alone is not a weakening factor. Age with proper maintenance can be controlled.

Q: On Bosnia. Yesterday's article in the Washington Times, Jacques Klein stated he believes that Secretary William Cohen had gotten the word in recent days and has now agreed for a need on a longer U.S. commitment in Bosnia. Is that complete bunk?

A: Yes. Secretary Cohen has not... I think the word is bunkum, actually, isn't it? Rather than bunk? But Secretary Cohen has not changed his view on this, and that is the view of the President. The current mandate, the SFOR mandate, will end in June of 1998.

Q: Has he been getting the word from Mr. Frowick and from Mr. Klein about this particular point of view of theirs to extend SFOR?

A: I am not aware that he has spoken with Mr. Frowlick or Mr. Klein about the future of the SFOR mission.

Q: Finally, I wanted to ask, is SFOR ready to implement the results of Saturday's election in Bosnia? I would say specifically with regard to enforcing the change in housing ownership in certain areas, and some of these hard issues.

A: SFOR's job is to provide general area security and to create a safe and secure environment. It's done that extraordinarily well. I think that's one of the reasons the elections succeeded as well as they did. That will continue to be its primary job.

Q: Is Serb radio and television now following its agreement any better, and have the EC-130s that we sent over, have they in any way been used to jam Serb broadcasts or to broadcast Pro-Plavsic messages?

A: My information is that Serb radio and television has been complying with the September 2nd agreement. This compliance has taken several forms. First, they have not been broadcasting inflammatory, anti-SFOR or anti-Dayton peace process programs as they had earlier. Second, they are providing one hour of prime time daily to the international community and the international community is using that time. Jacques Klein has used some of the time, for instance; I believe the British Ambassador has used some of the time. Third, the office of the High Representative, Carlos Westendorp is the High Representative, his office has used the half-hour slot that was granted to them so that the High Representative could make a broadcast to the people over Serb radio and television.

So the agreement seems to be working. They seem to be complying with it. From our standpoint, the anti-SFOR and vitriolic anti-Dayton broadcasts have ceased.

Q: There's been no jamming or...

A: To the best of my knowledge we have not used the specially configured Commando Solo planes. We have not had to.

Q: Can you just clarify that? You mean the agreement seems to be working after, remember. Mr. Fowley over at the State Department, gave us two examples last week of when they weren't working. So is this compliance as of the letter being sent, or...

A: No. There was another meeting on Thursday, the 11th of September. Something called the Media Support Advisory Group, met with Serb radio and television officials and talked about... And we said we were going to do this. We sent them a letter. We said we were going to pinpoint our complaints. We are going to demand compliance with the agreement. And if they did not comply with the agreement, we would take appropriate action.

One of the things we did to position ourselves to take appropriate action was to send over the C-130 planes, the Commando Solo planes, that could jam or could broadcast -- make their own broadcasts.

After the meeting on September 11th, Thursday, they have been complying with the initial September 2nd agreement. There was a period of time between September 2nd and September 11th when they were out of compliance, or they were only in partial compliance. Now we believe that over the last few days they've been complying. So far, so good, and we'll continue to monitor their compliance.

But one of the things that's happened, for instance, was that on Saturday night, the 13th, Ambassador Frowick had a 35 minute live interview on Serb radio and television. That was followed by some video footage provided by SFOR. So they have been allowing us to use that one hour of prime time every night, and we've been using it...

Q: With all respect, NATO forces or U.S. forces, have shown great restraint over the (inaudible) when challenged by Serb (inaudible) crowds. So why have they been so restrained if you agree with this assessment? And what would be your message to the Bosnian Serbs about how you will deal next time, you know, that I'm talking about... I'm talking about transmitters and these events maybe 15 days ago.

A: Let me just deal with the transmitter, which many of you have asked about over the last few weeks, which is the Udrigovo transmitter. SFOR forces did seize that for awhile, and then they moved away from it. We are maintaining a presence around the transmitter. There are about 40 personnel near the site, but the site has been calm. We have achieved, through agreement, what we wanted, which is a cessation of anti-SFOR broadcasts by Serb radio and television. The agreement, obviously, is a more desirable way to achieve our goal than through force. I think that we showed at Udrigovo and elsewhere, that we were prepared to use force if necessary. That's one of the reasons the Serbs have honored the agreement. I think they believe that SFOR is capable and willing to use force if challenged. I think that the elections were one sign. The calmness with which the elections were held was one sign that they've gotten that message; and I think what's happened over the last couple of days following the elections was one sign.

Will SFOR be challenged again? Of course. I think it's clear that we'll be challenged again. Will SFOR rise to the challenge? Yes, I think that SFOR's past actions have shown that it can rise to the challenge, and will.

Q: It's clear (inaudible) implementation is more difficult than the election itself. What would be the SFOR role regarding returning refugees or freedom of movement?

A: As I said, the main SFOR job is to maintain a safe and secure environment that allows freedom of movement. I think SFOR has done that. I don't think we should anticipate specific problems that haven't occurred yet, but SFOR is willing to maintain a safe and secure environment that allows people to move freely -- as long as they don't move for violent or disruptive purposes.

Q: Talking about Serb media. Democratization is just if they don't have anything against SFOR in the program, if I understood it correctly. What would be your goal regarding Pale television?

A: Well, our immediate goal, which is now being achieved through the agreement is to one, get them to stop broadcasting programs that are hostile to SFOR and to the Dayton process; and two, to allow other forces, other political parties and political voices, to broadcast their points of view. So if Mrs. Plavsic wants to use this for programs, she can do that. Right now we've used much of it for SFOR or NATO people to make broadcasts to the Serb people explaining what Dayton is trying to achieve, what's being accomplished in terms of economic rehabilitation, in terms of restoring peace and stability and normal life to the people of Bosnia.

Q: Just to go back briefly to this airline crash, the apparent collision, just to get the times straight. You said that the plane left at 1411 Zulu on the 13th, which is GMT, and there's four hours difference. So the plane left at 1011 a.m. Eastern time on the 13th, given the fact that there were four hours difference. And the flash occurred at 1110 a.m. Zulu, which would be just about exactly an hour later, right? And when was the plane declared missing on the 14th? At what time officially declared missing? What time Zulu?

A: Let me just run through this again.

1600 Zulu. The scheduled departure, which differs from the actual departure.

Q: It left at 1411 Zulu.

A: It's important to realize that the schedule was driven, to a certain extent, by the scheduled departure. The scheduled departure was 1545 Zulu. Standard procedure would dictate that the plane announce its departure, call ahead to Ascension Island, tell them that they had departed, that they were on the way.

Q: Mainly I'm trying to establish the difference in time between when it took off and when the flash was seen, which was just about exactly an hour.

A: That's right.

Q: Again, we know when it was supposed to have taken off, a little later. We've got the time. When was it declared missing Eastern time, officially?

A: The plane was declared missing at 1100 Zulu...

Q: Which would be 7:00 a.m.

A: ...on the 14th.

Q: 6:00 a.m.

Q: Oh, there's five hours?

Q: Five.

A: On the 14th of September at 1100 Zulu.

Q: Can I ask a landmine question? Two, maybe. The U.S. has asked for an extension, a 24-hour extension, to talk about something, and if you can fill in the blanks and see if there's any movement on the U.S. side, I'd appreciate that. And secondly, if you could comment on the report in Defense Week citing a JCS study.

A: I'm sorry, what was the report?

Q: The second one is, can you comment on this report in Defense Week which cites a JCS study on casualties.

A: I can't comment on that. Let me just tell you about the negotiations in Oslo.

The Administration has made a proposal that's designed to do two things. The first is to continue with President Clinton's promise to move toward an eventual banning of the use of anti-personnel landmines. While we are working to negotiate that, we have set in motion a number of unilateral actions to reduce our own supply of landmines and we have destroyed 1.5 million landmines in the last year and a half. We are continuing with demining. The Namibia trip was part of that. We're doing it in Cambodia and other places as well. We're also working on developing alternatives to anti-personnel landmines. Of course most of all, we have stopped deploying the landmines that are of concern to the humanitarian world and to the United States, and that is these landmines that lurk as hidden killers in the ground years after a conflict is over. We no longer deploy those landmines. We no longer make them and we no longer export landmines of any sort.

First, press ahead with the humanitarian goal.

The second is to do this in a way that continues to protect our forces in situations where they may be under attack. The U.S. has made a proposal that we believe balances those two goals. The Chiefs, the military leaders, also believe -- contrary to some press reports -- that our proposal appropriately balances those two goals.

We have asked for, or we have gotten another 24 hours at Oslo to try to build support for our position, and that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to explore a way that we can achieve an agreement that makes a real contribution to eliminating the threat of landmines over time, but does it in a way that does not put our soldiers and Marines at risk.

Q: Is the U.S. offering any other policy changes...

A: I think that because this is under discussion now at Oslo, I think we should let our people there do the discussing and do the negotiating. It's not appropriate for me to discuss from here what's happening.

Q: Back to Bosnia for a moment. General Joulwan, shortly after he retired, said that if we got through the elections safely in Bosnia, the municipal elections, which were just held, that he thought it would be very safe to significantly reduce the amount of troops that are in SFOR. Is that a live possibility under study in this building at this point, or is there no significant reduction planned between now and June '98?

A: That is a question that will be considered. Right now there are about 9,800-9,900 American troops in Bosnia. That number will rise a little, to about 10,500 over the next week or so as the transition continues. New troops will come in and then troops will start coming out.

When President Clinton announced the SFOR mission and our willingness to participate in the SFOR mission, he said that we will review our troop levels every six months. I think the next review will be in November or December. We'll decide then whether we should stick with approximately 8,000, or slightly fewer is what we had before we started the buildup for the elections, or come down. That is something we will look very closely at.

Q: No leaning towards Joulwan saying we could have 20 percent of what we had... That's ahead of your game at this point?

A: All I want to say right now is that we will look at the appropriate troop level toward the end of the year and decide whether we should pull down more.

Q: Can you describe what's on the agenda for General Clark while he's in town?

A: General Clark has talked with officials in the building, and he's spending a lot of time this afternoon on the Hill.

Q: Is he meeting with the President while he's in town?

A: I'm not aware that he is.

Q: Any idea when he might meet here?

A: I don't think it will be on this trip, unfortunately, but it will be on some future trip.

Q: Can you describe the agenda for discussions for officials in the building?

A: He's giving a general update on Bosnia policy after the elections. There are many things to discuss. It's just a general... It's an opportunity for him to talk about where we are now and where we're going.

Q: Does that include exit strategy?

A: He is right now focusing, along with every other American official, on what we can do between now and June of '98 to make the mission succeed. I think we've made significant progress in the last couple of months, and we want to build on that progress. That's the main thing that General Clark is focusing on. When I talked to him earlier today he said I'm going from minute to minute, from day to day, trying to make this mission succeed.

Q: Could you just go back to landmines for a moment? There are some U.S. military commanders who believe that having smart mines is an essential part of warfare, particularly for the protection of Special Operations troops or troops in the field of maneuver warfare. Mines only active for a short time to protect troop movements and that sort of thing. Doesn't this, the current proposal from the Clinton Administration, sort of undercut those commanders if they're trying to protect U.S. troops?

A: No.

Q: Why not?

A: Because it allows for... The main concern of our commanders is that we be allowed to deploy anti-armor mines. This, remember, is an agreement that will deal with anti-personnel landmines, not anti-armor or anti-vehicle mines.

The anti-armor mines have to be deployed in packages with devices that prevent them from being tampered with or moved or picked up by the enemy -- even if they're going to be sown for a short period of time, laid out, and remain active for 24 or 48 hours. It doesn't do any good if soldiers can come in and move the mines out of the way of tanks.

So they are armed with what are called anti-handling devices that prevent soldiers from coming into minefields on foot or in small vehicles and moving aside the anti-tank mines so that the armor can charge through.

What the Clinton Administration has proposed, and what the Chiefs have agreed to and support, is a package that defines anti-handling devices in a way that allows us to deploy short-lived mines for the amount of time necessary to protect our forces in tactical operations. So the Chiefs have signed on to this. They think that the proposal is adequate, and that's what's on the table now.

Q: Can you update us on the Secretary's decision whether or not to test fire the MIRACL laser?

A: I cannot. Except to say the decision is pending. He has not made any decision yet. I assume that he'll address this issue in the next couple of weeks, but he has not made the decision yet.

Q: Also, I know the Secretary -- I'm not sure whether he has yet or not -- but he's going to be briefed or at least provided with some initial recommendations from his Defense Reform Task Force. Has he received that yet?

A: He has not. He did meet with the Task Force in July or August for a progress report. He has not had an update yet on what they're doing.

Press: Thank you.

Additional Links

Stay Connected