DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
Welcome to the Pentagon.
I have one brief announcement, which is that tomorrow morning Secretary Cohen will host a full honors review and welcoming ceremony for General Hugh Shelton, the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That is here at 9:00 a.m. You're all free to cover that at 9:00.
Q: Can you fill us in on... Are they going to make remarks? Is he going to make remarks?
A: Sure, they'll make remarks as they do at ceremonies like this.
A: Actually, General Shelton is going to ask questions of Secretary Cohen... (Laughter) ...and then Secretary Cohen is going to ask questions of General... No, no, no.
They will make remarks, and you're free to listen to the remarks. They will be graceful and appropriate remarks, and I hope you'll take good notes and report them.
Q: Can you fill us in on the line item vetoes?
A: The White House has not yet announced its line item veto decisions.
Q: They're doing it as we speak.
A: My understanding is it's been delayed. I think I will let the White House make that announcement. My understanding is that at the White House there will be Franklin Raines, the head of the Office of Management and Budget, and he'll be accompanied by John Hamre, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and perhaps Erskin Bowles, the Chief of Staff as well, to comment on that. I think I'll let them make that announcement.
Q: Was the Pentagon consulted on these... You and the SecDef said on the trip that the Pentagon was not consulted on the MilCon...
A: The Pentagon was actively involved in helping to seek information about what was at stake. Let me just explain to you one of the things that Dr. John Hamre, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, did. He sent a list up to the Hill of approximately 40 items that had appeared in the conference report as if by immaculate conception. They had not been in either the House or the Senate bills as they were going through the process, but they appeared suddenly in the conference report. Many of these items were items about which the Department and the White House needed more information -- what was the money for, etc. So he did ask staff directors on the Hill and others to provide him with information about this list of 40-odd items.
In addition, he also asked for more information on several items about which the Pentagon lacked as much factual information as it needed to make recommendations to the White House.
Then the White House asked the Defense Department to... Basically asked the Defense Department after seeking the information from Congress to submit or be able to comment on the White House list with observations about the military effectiveness of certain programs, where they appeared in the five year plan, if they did, the programmatic explanation for certain programs. So we provided advice to the White House.
They have made the decisions, are in the process of making the decisions, which they'll announce later today. But they did it on advice, or information that we provided them from the Hill. So in that respect, Dr. Hamre was more actively involved in seeking information and providing it to the White House.
Q: Can you update us about whether or not the periodic violations of Iraq of the no-fly zones have continued, and what difference the arrival of the aircraft carrier NIMITZ has made?
A: There have not been any no-fly zone violations for the last several days. Actually, since about the time we tightened our procedures in the area by flying further north and taking some of the other steps that I talked about last Thursday.
The period of no-fly zone violations actually began before the NIMITZ got there and has continued since the NIMITZ has been there. I think Admiral Nathman was quoted on CNN as saying that there had not been any no-fly zone violations recently, and he attributed that both to the presence of the NIMITZ, and before that, to the job the Air Force had been doing over the southern no-fly zone.
Q: When you talk about no-fly zone violations, are you referring just to the southern no-fly zone, or does that apply to the northern no-fly zone?
A: No, I'm referring to the southern no-fly zone.
Q: Have there been any...
A: There have been some intermittent violations in the north, but let me just say about both the north and the south, we don't see any signs now that Iraq is trying to take particularly provocative action, or is trying to confront us in any way. To the extent that there have been some limited violations in the north, they've occurred at times when our planes have not been there, and they seem to be designed not to put them into direct conflict with our planes. That is also true in the south. Because of the size of our force and the geography and some other issues, we fly with much greater frequency in the south than we do in the north. So the opportunities for violations are much more limited in the south than they are in the north.
Q: Just for the record, when was the last violation in the south and in the north?
A: I don't think we'll get into specifics, but it's been a number of days in the south.
Q: Last week?
A: It's been a number of days since there's been a violation.
Q: What are the factors that restrict U.S. ability to enforce the no-fly zone in the north?
A: As I mentioned last week, there's a much smaller number of combat aircraft in the north than in the south; they fly a longer distance to get into the area; and the operations they perform in the north have to be deconflicted with Turkish operations in the area as well. So for those three reasons we don't spend nearly as much time in the area in the north as we do in the south.
Q: Are the north fixed wing or helicopter violations?
A: They've been fixed wing recently.
Q: Let me just ask you about a comment that was carried in a wire dispatch today from an Iranian admiral, identified as the Commander of Revolutionary Guards for the Navy who said, "The Iranian Navy has full control over the U.S. aircraft carrier NIMITZ in the Persian Gulf through unique methods."
Any clue what they're talking about there? (Laughter)
A: I'm clueless on that. I think you'll have to go back and interview the Iranian admiral for more information on that.
Let me just say a word about Iran. Iran at this time of year carries out annual naval exercises in the Gulf. Those exercises are currently ongoing. They're called "Victorory 8" this year.
We have seen nothing unusual in these exercises compared to past years. We've seen no new military capabilities that we hadn't observed in the past as a result of these exercises. The exercises were planned long before the NIMITZ went into the Gulf and they have, the best we can tell, proceeded according to plan.
The Iranians observe our ships in the Gulf with some regularity, just as we observe ships around the world with some regularity. That surveillance has not increased in any way outside of their normal patterns. They have a P-3 which they fly around, and they also have some patrol boats.
We have seen no suggestion that they want to confront us in any way; no suggestion that they want to cause any problems with our regular deployments throughout the Gulf. Remember, we have a carrier in the Gulf approximately 270 days out of the year, so the normal state of affairs is for us to have a carrier in the Gulf. They're very used to the carrier coming in and out. They're very used to the carrier patrols; and they're responding accordingly.
Q: Since the NIMITZ arrived and the exercise began, have there been any incidents or encounters, any communication between...
A: There has been nothing unusual in our relationships with Iran since... There's been some rhetoric out of Tehran, but as far as the... Rhetoric is cheap, as you all know from coming to these briefings. There's been a lot of rhetoric out of Tehran, but there's been no unusual action in the Gulf; no unusual deployments; no unusual deviations from their exercise.
Q: They have also said earlier that this may be, there may be too many ships. It may be getting too crowded for safety, and that the Gulf isn't big enough for both... I gather they're really not in the same space as the U.S. ships?
A: I don't know whether that's a comment on their seamanship or not, but we're perfectly able to navigate through the Gulf with our ships, and we don't have an unusually... As I say, we have a carrier battle group in the Gulf 270 days out of the year. We're well used to operating in the Gulf. It is a busy area. It requires vigilance and training and good seamanship and we're up to that.
Q: Could you characterize the violations of the no-fly zone in the north? What appears to be the intent of those violations? Do we have any idea?
A: There has been a resurgence of fighting among Kurdish groups in the north, and some of it may just be an effort to survey what's going on by Iraq. But I think that there does not seem to be any effort on their part to confront us directly. Beyond that, I can't speculate on why they might be doing what they're doing.
Q: Are they, or have they engaged anyone else?
A: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: Are we to take from everything you've said then, that the original concern that led to the detour of the NIMITZ to the Gulf, that that concern is much lower now? And that there may, the NIMITZ may not be needed much longer...
A: Remember I said we have a carrier in the Gulf 270 days out of the year. That's three-quarters of the year. The NIMITZ arrived in the Gulf five days earlier than it was planned to arrive initially. So this is not a major acceleration by the NIMITZ in the Gulf. The NIMITZ was to be there on a normal deployment. It will now carry out that deployment and return when that deployment is over, so it will be there for some time.
The answer is we maintain a significant military force in the Gulf. Two-hundred and seventy days out of the year a carrier, or sometimes slightly more, a carrier is part of that force. Also we have Marine Ready Groups there a significant portion of the year as well. These assets come in and out. Most of the time we have a carrier there. Sometimes when we don't we have an Air Expeditionary Force to cover the carrier -- to make up for the air power that went away with the carrier.
We have Marines going in and out to exercise in the Gulf. We also have Army units going over all the time to exercise with equipment that's prepositioned in Kuwait and elsewhere. So we have a regular series of deployments in and out of the Gulf all the time, and the NIMITZ is just part of that series.
Q: Just quickly tell us, I know the NIMITZ is enforcing the no-fly zone today. Are there other nations also enforcing OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH today?
A: I don't know about today. Typically the British and the French fly with us, but I don't know what happened today. But they're regular participants in the coalition.
Q: Are the British and the French flying further north, these missions further north?
A: I'll have to check on that.
Q: Any attempt to respond to the Iraqi violations in the north by the U.S.? Will there be any retaliation or warning?
A: We've made it clear that we're prepared to enforce the no-fly zone and we are. We've already taken action in the south. Time will tell what happens in the north.
Q: Is the AEF going to be held over for a brief period in Bahrain? You said you were going to hold the B-2s over...
A: The B-2s actually have left.
A: B-1s, sorry. The B-1s left.
Q: When did they leave?
A: They left, I believe, on the 12th. But they're out of the theater now.
Q: How about the AEF?
A: I don't know exactly when the AEF will leave.
Q: They were supposed to be there I think about a month, weren't they?
A: I just don't know. We'll find out.
Q: Can you say where the B-1s went?
A: They're returning home, but the last I heard they were in the Azores.
Q: Hadn't the B-1s been extended for 30 days? Why bring them home just after you extended them 30 days?
A: They're on their way home. That's all I can tell you. The military authorities feel we have adequate deployment -- deployed power in the Gulf.
Q: Was it part of this assessment that the Iraqi planes do not seem to be looking for a confrontation? They're just... There's no need to keep them there if there's...
A: I think the assessment was that we have plenty of military assets in the Gulf right now and it was appropriate to bring them home. I think we've shown over the years, and you've chronicled, all of you have chronicled this, that we have a variety of assets that we move in and out of the Gulf. And we're very comfortable with relying on B-1s for awhile or an AEF for awhile or a carrier for awhile or a Marine Readiness Group for awhile, or our normal naval deployments in the area. We are always exercising with various parts of our force in the area.
Q: You said time will tell in the northern no-fly zone. Is the U.S. doing anything in order to increase the number of flights, the frequency of patrols, or anything up north?
A: All I want to do is reiterate what I've said before. We are serious about enforcing the no-fly zones, and I'll just leave it at that.
Q: Wait a minute. We got chapter and verse on what was being done in the south, flying further north, increasing the number of sorties, putting the NIMITZ in. What's happening in the north?
A: I've said as much as I'm going to say right now.
Any more questions on this issue? Mr. Lambros.
Q: It was reported extensively in Athens by my newspaper that the Department of Defense has planned to deploy 600 U.S. soldiers in the Greek Island of Rhodes over the [Greek] chain south of the Aegean Sea.
I would like to know, number one, the reason and the procedure for such a deployment. And number two, if this deployment is going to take place unilaterally, or in the framework of NATO?
A: I have checked into this and I can find no one who knows anything about such a reported deployment. I'd have to tell you based on what I know now that we are not in the process of deploying Americans to Rhodes or planning to deploy Americans to Rhodes. I can't find exercises where that may be happening, either. I will continue to check, because it's a big place and sometimes these things slip my note, but I'm not aware that we are deploying 600 Americans to Rhodes now.
Q: So far you are not sure...
A: No. So far the answer is no.
Q: Has the Pentagon formally asked for reimbursement under the supposed tobacco deal? And what's the reason for that request?
A: The reason is not a surprise. On September 22nd Judith Miller, who is the General Counsel of the Defense Department, sent a letter to the White House, to the Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, expressing the Department's interest in potential recovery of expenditure for health care costs attributable to the use of tobacco. We, like states and other entities in the United States, are trying to see if it's possible to get some reimbursement for the additional costs of caring for smoking-related illnesses.
Q: Do you know how the figure was arrived at?
A: We estimate that the costs of tobacco-related illnesses is about $584 million a year to the Defense Department. I guess they made some calculation over a 25-year period. I think that's what they did, they looked back over 25 years and came up with about $15 billion, as I understand it.
I don't know whether they used time/value/money in this or not, but that's how they came to the figure.
Q: Does the Pentagon, the military, shoulder a certain amount of responsibility, perhaps even culpability, for subsidizing cigarette sales to military personnel for years?
A: As you know, we've changed our policy over time, but the military has been working very hard to reduce the incidents of smoking. As you know, the Pentagon itself is a smoke-free environment. Most military buildings now are smoke-free environments, I guess all. Thirty-two percent of the active duty personnel in the military continue to smoke. That's slightly more than the population as a whole. The number is 31 percent for the population as a whole. It's down significantly from 51 percent of the number of uniformed military who smoked in 1980. We're aiming to get that down to 20 percent by the year 2000. We've made significant progress, and we've done that by distributing health information, by making it more difficult to smoke on active duty, and by reducing the subsidies for cigarettes we're hoping to make more progress.
Q: I wanted to ask you about Latin American arms sales, since the President's in South America. I guess it was about two or three months ago that the Clinton Administration announced that it would allow sales to Latin America on a case-by-case basis. I'm just curious if since that change in policy was announced, has it resulted in any inquiries or any actual sales? Are there any pending arms sales to Latin America?
A: My understanding is there are no firm sales to Latin America under the new policy, that we did allow some manufacturers to provide pricing and other data to Chile on fighters, and that they are considering that information, as I understand it. But right now, I'm not aware that there are any changes or new sales under the policy.
Q: What kind of fighters?
A: I think they asked for information on the F-16 and the F-18. They're also getting information from other countries.
Q: Would it be fair to say at this point that the impact of the policy change has not been great to this point?
A: I think the impact has been great in one respect, which is that we've signaled a willingness to consider sales to specific countries for specific weapons that we hadn't signaled before, as I say, on a case-by-case basis. So far I'm not aware that there have been sales made under this new policy, but certainly Chile is looking at information that it wouldn't have been allowed to consider under the old policy.
Q: Do you know if this at all is one of the topics that President Clinton is discussing on his trip? Or is that something...
A: He's not going to Chile, as I understand it.
Q: But the general topic of arms sales to the region.
A: I suspect that will come up, but that's more appropriately a question for the White House and the National Security Council staff.
Q: Has there been any guidance to companies or Chile whether U.S. manufacturers would actually be allowed to deliver hardware if U.S. products are selected?
A: I assume that all of this is under consideration right now and I can't get into the details of it. For one thing, I don't know the details. But I assume that the fact that the companies were allowed to provide information was an indication that should they be selected they'd be able to go ahead if other standards were met. I think we just have to wait and see what happens here.
Q: What is the level of the Pentagon's concern over Chinese cooperation with Iranian missile programs? And has there been any determination that China has refrained from supplying nuclear components to other countries outside of our safeguards?
A: The Administration as a whole, the U.S. Government, is very concerned about any cooperation with Iran that would advance its nuclear program or make it easier for it to develop other weapons of mass destruction including chemical or biological. We're also concerned about cooperation with Iran that would improve its ability to manufacture longer range missiles.
We've been very clear in our dealings with Russia, with China and other countries on our concerns about this and our belief that we aren't the only people who should be concerned about this. Clearly we believe that any increase in the strength of the Iranian force could ultimately hurt countries in the area such as Russia, as well as countries who are becoming increasingly dependent on Middle Eastern oil such as China. China is importing more and more oil from the Middle East, so they have a real stake in stability in the Middle East.
So we have been discussing this with China and we'll continue to discuss it with them.
Q: Is it still an ongoing concern, or has there been any determination in the building that this is...
A: It is an ongoing concern. That's not to say we haven't had successful talks with them, and it's not to say that we're... I believe we're making some progress with them.
Certainly over the last couple of years China has shown a willingness to join some international arms control and technology export restraint regimes which is a good sign because it gives us more leverage over them, and it shows that they're interested also in stopping proliferation and the spread of high tech weapons. But we have a ways to go and our negotiations with them are continuing.
Q: The victims and families of the victims of the Khobar bombing -- I think they're largely Air Force personnel and their families called the Khobar Victims Group -- made a statement on Friday after a hearing... a fellow from Saudi Arabia that might have provided some information about the bombing. Mr. Joe Asanti, their representative, said "We are asking the government." He didn't say specifically whom, and he said, "Nobody is telling us about this case." And further more he said, and I quote, "Nothing is happening in this case."
Is the DoD reaching out to these victims to try to keep them informed and comforted about the investigation?
A: After every tragedy like this the Department sets up teams of people to work with family members. We have done that in this case. Unfortunately the investigation into who's guilty, who's responsible for the Khobar Towers bombing is still continuing, and that's being conducted by the Justice Department, so it's not something that we can talk very much about. It's up to the Justice Department to do that.
But we are working with families to address their needs as well as we can. This, unfortunately, is not one we've been able to address as much as they'd like.
Q: Can you comment on a published report in Time magazine that says Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Defense Secretary William Cohen are feuding over whether U.S. troops should remain in Bosnia past the deadline of June of next year?
A: The secretary of state and the secretary of defense, the national security advisor, and the President of the United States have all said that the SFOR mission will end in June of 1998, and that the job right now, the challenge facing us and facing NATO is to figure out how best to use the time between now and June of '98 to strengthen the foundation for peace in Bosnia. That's what we're doing.
If you followed the reporting from the NATO Defense Ministers Meeting in Maastricht in the Netherlands a couple of weeks ago, that was the message from that meeting, that we're concentrating on what to do today, tomorrow, next week, and next month, and every month until June of 1998. There is total agreement that that is the right strategy.
Q: (Inaudible) ...feud, just to be clear?
A: I'm not aware that there's any feud, no.
Q: But you keep saying that the Administration, everybody in the Administration agrees that SFOR will end in June. The question is, a horse of a new color, what will the force that replaces it entail? Whether or not it will contain U.S. troops. There have been consistent reports that Madeleine Albright would favor U.S. troops going in there under any guise, a Western European unit or whatever, and the Secretary of Defense does not favor that.
A: This is a decision that the President will make. What the Administration said about this, all the people I've mentioned before -- the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the national security advisor, and the President -- is that we will have a continuing interest in Bosnia after June of '98, and we will work with the international community, and that no decision has been made yet on what the form of our engagement will be. That's something that will come later. Right now I think there's total agreement within the Administration that the challenge we face today is to make the Dayton process work as well as possible today.
Q: Is there a discussion within the Administration over what would be the proper force after June of 1998? No decision, but discussion?
A: A decision hasn't been made on what the U.S. stance will be after June of '98. I think now isn't the appropriate time to discuss that because no decision's been made.
Q: Doesn't your statement sort of beg the question of whether or not the U.S. has an exit strategy? It seems to me that there isn't one, that this exit strategy hasn't been decided upon yet. Is that a fair question?
A: It's certainly not an original question. (Laughter)
Look, our strategy right now, today, tomorrow, next week, next month, is to strengthen the foundations for peace in Bosnia. I think it's very clear that we have been moving aggressively to do that. We have been trying to subdue the anti-Dayton hostility in the Serb media. We have tried to, and succeeded in helping to break down paramilitary police forces on the Serb side that were impediments to the peace process. We are pressing ahead with elections. We're pressing ahead with the democratization. We're pressing ahead with economic rehabilitation. We're pressing ahead with trying to build up indigenous police forces in the area who can enforce the rule of law there, and we'll continue to do that.
This is not something that can be done immediately. It's taken time and a lot of effort, and we're continuing to press ahead with that.
Q: What do you say to those who look at that list you just laid out and say this is a lot different kind of mission than was laid out initially? Those folks say the economic rehabilitation, if that's not mission creep, what is?
A: Well SFOR isn't doing economic rehabilitation. The broad international community is doing economic rehabilitation. SFOR has assisted with some dual purpose projects such as improving transportation that benefit military forces and may also have a subsidiary civilian benefit as well. If you restore a rail line, improve a road, replace bridges so the military can move, you're also increasing freedom of movement for civilian forces as well. We have done some of that. We have rebuilt some infrastructure -- electric power facilities and things like that -- that help the military, but also have a subsidiary benefit for the civilians.
Q: More to the point, things like intervening in the media, things like...
A: That's basically something that the Office of the High Representative is responsible for now. But that was a force protection issue, because the Serb media was making very hostile comments about Dayton and about SFOR, so it was an appropriate force protection response by SFOR in connection with the OHR.
Q: Can you give us an update on the non-lethal weapons that were requested I guess the beginning of September? Have they all arrived?
A: I think they've all arrived, and we can get you those details. I haven't followed them... Most of them had arrived the last time I spoke to them which was about a month ago. I think one was still on the way, but we'll get you all that information.
Let me answer two questions that were asked earlier. The first is when is the AEF scheduled to redeploy to the U.S. It is scheduled to return home at the end of October, which I gather was its initial return date.
The second question you asked, are the French and the British also flying. Are they flying in the southern no-fly zone? The answer is that they are. The British are flying in the southern no-fly zone beyond the 32nd Parallel up to the 33rd; the French are not, and they have not from the time we expanded the no-fly zone last year.
Q: Is the Pentagon funding a study to determine whether women in combat roles are more prone to infection than men?
A: The Pentagon funds health care studies all the time, and we have funded a number of studies that deal particularly with women. These have dealt with nutritional issues, physical performance issues, various clothing issues, and we are now in the process of funding one that deals with basically urinary and vaginal tract infections. That study is only about 60 percent complete, so it's premature to talk about its results at this stage.
Q: But is the idea here just to gather more information about... As women assume a larger role in the U.S. military in order to improve health care...
A: Absolutely. Just to give you an example. According to the American Medical Association, in an average year, 25 to 35 percent of the women between the ages of 20 and 40 in the nation at large have urinary tract infections. So you can imagine that a similar number of women in the military would have urinary tract infections. So there is a study ongoing to find ways to provide better diagnosis and better treatment, and maybe to change things such as clothing or other procedures that can be changed to reduce the prevalence of such infections.
Press: Thank you.