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DoD News Briefing, Thursday, March 2, 2000 - 2:15 p.m. EST

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
March 02, 2000 2:15 PM EDT

Thursday, March 2, 2000 - 2:15 p.m. EST

MR. BACON: Good afternoon. Nice of you to join me here on such a Sunday afternoon -- sunny afternoon. Let me bring you up to date on the details following the president's announcement yesterday of providing more aid to Mozambique.

The first thing to know is that there are actually five countries in the area that have declared a state of emergency. And while our aid efforts will focus on Mozambique, where the problems are most acute, it's possible that we may provide aid to some of the other countries as well. Obviously, South Africa is one that we've already aided. But Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Botswana as well as Mozambique and South Africa are having trouble from the floods.

These floods actually started with extra rain, unusually intense rain in early February. And then there was a cyclone -- Eline, I think -- on February 22nd. When Secretary Cohen went to South Africa he offered President Mbeke aid in the form of water purification machinery and crews. That was on February 15th. South Africans took some time to evaluate whether that's what they needed, or they needed other types of assistance. They came back and decided that they needed other types of assistance.

Between February 15th and February 22nd it actually looked like the floods were dissipating and the problem was getting better. But then they were hit by a cyclone on the 22nd, and that exacerbated the problem. Now another cyclone -- Gloria -- is anticipated to hit over the weekend. So the problem could worsen if the cyclone as currently projected goes over the island of Madagascar and comes back and hits Mozambique.

So in Mozambique, the waters from the current flood have not yet crested. They are anticipated to crest tomorrow or Saturday, but if there's a new cyclone hitting the area, of course that will complicate issues even further.

Now, the United States has already, before the president's announcement, committed $12.8 million of aid from USAID and also from the Defense Department, and as the president said yesterday, we are going to dramatically increase our assistance primarily by sending down search-and-rescue helicopters, the MH-53 helicopters, which are uniquely suited for this type of operation because they are heavy-lift helicopters, they can fly in all types of weather conditions. They can fly at night because they have infrared systems, and since these are the helicopters that are used to rescue downed pilots and also the types of helicopters that are used when we go into evacuation operations, noncombatant evacuation operations in dicey areas of the world to rescue embassy people, for instance, we use these MH-53 helicopters.

They are manned by Special Forces and these groups train to take these helicopters apart, put them into C-5s and ship them to distant destinations, and that's exactly what will happen here. The C-5s will arrive in Mildenhall, where the helicopters are stationed, and take them down to Africa. It's about a 20-hour flight from Mildenhall to Africa, with several refueling stops along the way.

QDo you know when they're leaving?

MR. BACON: They will leave over the weekend, and they should be reassembled and operating early next week.

QHow many, six?

MR. BACON: Well, there will be up to six helicopters, as the president announced. The first group will be two or three helicopters and they will get established and start operating, and then the next group will come down after that and join them.

There are still a number of details --

Q (Off mike.)

MR. BACON: sorry?

QI'm sorry. Where will they operate out of, Ken?

MR. BACON: Well, I was just going to get to that. Because this is a multinational problem -- as I said, five countries have declared a state of emergency -- it's likely that our forces will be operating out of several locations. The precise locations have not been identified yet.

As you know, we're in the process of enhancing a team called the Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team, that will be the coordinating team that will set up this operation. And we're sending down 12 more people on that team today, bringing the total team up to about 30 people. And then we'll send down Major General Wehrle, who is the commander of the Third Air Force in Mildenhall, will be the joint task force commander. He'll be leaving tomorrow and setting up the headquarters. It's likely that some of our operation will be out of South Africa and other parts will operate from Mozambique. But we have not nailed down the precise locations yet. That will happen very soon, obviously. And then the helicopters will depart over the weekend and, we hope, begin operating early next week.

QCan you tell us precisely what you anticipate these helicopters doing in the rescue effort?

MR. BACON: They will be rescuing people from trees, from the tops of buildings, rescue people who have been stranded. Each helicopter can carry 38 passengers. They have room for 14 litters. They can lift 20,000 pounds with hooks that go down and pick things up. They will have highly trained Special Forces people on them, including Navy SEALs, who can go into the water and help get people out. We will also send two boats, Zodiac-type boats called rigid-hull inflatable boats, each with a capacity of 11 people. And they will be used as well to help pick people up. Now, there are many boats down there already. The British alone are sending 69 boats. So there is quite a flotilla of little boats mobilizing down there.

QAre those dropped from the helos, are they --

MR. BACON: Well, they can be dropped from the helos or they can be dropped from C-130s. We're also sending down, I believe, C-130Ps that are in-flight refueling planes for the helicopters. And this will allow the helicopters to operate over longer ranges and longer periods of time without returning to be refueled.

QHow big is the team of people that will be going to accompany all this equipment?

MR. BACON: Sorry?

QHow many people will be accompanying all this equipment?

MR. BACON: That remains to be determined. My guess is there will be up to -- probably four to -- between four and six hundred, I think, will be associated with the helicopters.

And then there's also -- as you know, we were supposed to have a medical exercise in Cameroon. But part of -- and that will take place. But part of those people, some of those people will be diverted to South Africa and Mozambique to help provide medical and other support -- headquarters support, medical support and communications support to the operation.

I misspoke about the countries that have declared state of emergency. Swaziland has not; Zambia has. So the countries are Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe have all declared states of emergency.

So there are two groups of people going, essentially. The first will be, the first to get there will be these people coming in from this medical exercise we're going to have in Cameroon. And they will be arriving in the next -- I think they're leaving tomorrow. And they will set up headquarters, provide some medical care. They will be supported by six C-130 transport planes.

Q (Off mike.)

MR. BACON: The -- hold on here. That's the first group.

Now, the second group -- just a minute, I'll get there. The second group will be the MH-53 helicopter group and their support. And they, as I said, will start arriving over the weekend, and then will continue to flow in in phases over the next couple of days.

Now, the medical exercise will have between 200-300 people, according to our current estimates. And the, as I said earlier, the joint special operation task force that will run the helicopters will have 400-600 people.

QSo you're looking at 600-900.

MR. BACON: That's about right.

Yeah. Vanessa.

QDo you have a location yet on where the medical people will actually set up their headquarters?

MR. BACON: I do not. We're in the process of working out all of the headquarters.

QThink they'll -- (inaudible)?

MR. BACON: I said I suspect they'll operate someplace out of -- in South Africa, yeah, is my guess.

QWhere's the survey team been operating out of?

MR. BACON: Well, the survey team has been moving around. It's been going mainly between Mozambique and South Africa. It's been relatively small, though, and it will be folded into the headquarters once we get that up and running.

QIf the cyclone hits over the weekend, will these forces still be able to get in there?

MR. BACON: Well, my sense is that the MH-53s should be able to operate during most of that bad weather. And so, yes, I think that it won't throw off the schedule dramatically.

Anything more on this?

Yes, Chris?

QI have a new subject.

MR. BACON: Okay, do you have --

QI just sort of have one more question. Could you reconstruct for us, it seemed the other day that the Clinton administration and the Pentagon was really not rushing to get involve in this. What changed everybody's mind to go ahead and expand this operation? And do you anticipate any further expansion at this point? Are you looking at yet another stage to this?

MR. BACON: Well, I think on Tuesday when we talked about this I was asked specifically why we weren't sending helicopters, and I said no one had asked. Since then, we got a request for helicopters. It's very clear that we were aware of the problem and willing to help in mid-February, when Secretary Cohen met with President Mbeki and the South African Defense Minister Lekota and made the offer of water purification. Then it took some time for the South Africans to sort out exactly what they needed, and when they came back with firm requests, we began moving to meet those requests.

There were groups in the government operating, looking at this project, assessing it, working with Mozambique and with South Africa and our embassies there, and the assessments got worse and worse. And as they worsened, it was clear that more help was necessary and we began looking at other types of help we could provide.

Now, one of the problems that we have is, as I said earlier, that the water has not yet crested in Mozambique. The worst is probably over in Zimbabwe and Zambia, but not in Mozambique, and if there's a new storm, of course, that will make a bad situation even worse.

So it's clear to us that -- it became clear to us that more help was needed.

They issued a plea for help to the international community, and the international community is responding.

Yes.

QWhy only six, if there's 105,000 people?

MR. BACON: Well, first of all, there are many helicopters already there operating, and other helicopters are on the way from other countries. We're not doing this alone; there are other countries involved. We have some unique capabilities to transport helicopters and people over long distances. But there's four helicopters from Malawi, two from Mozambique, seven from South Africa, including some fixed wing aircraft. Sweden is sending -- has sent inflatable boats. The U.K. has four helicopters on standby. Five were due yesterday. I don't know whether they're there. And there are other helicopters being provided by non-government organizations that are participating in the relief process. The airport of Maputo, which is the capital of Mozambique, is very congested now. And it was about to become more congested as more traffic comes in. But this is something that people have been responding to. And there are helicopters there, but there are about to be more.

Yes.

QOn Kosovo, according to --

Q (Off mike.)

MR. BACON: Just a minute. I think -- let's finish on this.

Q (Off mike) -- could we get the names?

MR. BACON: Yes. The name of the operation right now is Silent Promise. It might be more appropriately called Noah's Ark, but it's Silent Promise. And the reason is that these names are computer- generated to meet certain standards. So we're trying to do our best to make it a loud promise, but it's called Silent Promise.

QWhat's the name again of the 3rd Air Force commander?

MR. BACON: His name is Major General Wehrle.

QHow's that spelled?

MR. BACON: And it is spelled -- I have a -- we can give you a biography of him.

QJoseph Wehrle?

MR. BACON: Yeah. Joseph Wehrle.

QW-O-R --

MR. BACON: No, no. No. It's spelled W-H-E-R -- hold on here. We'll get you the spelling.

QAll right.

MR. BACON: (To staff.) Do you have his biography there? I thought I had it, but --.

Wehrle. W-H-E-R-L-E (sic). Joseph Wehrle, Jr. 3rd Air Force commander.

QThanks.

Q3rd Air Force. Is there --

MR. BACON: Yeah.

QAnother question on Mozambique.

MR. BACON: Right.

QIs the United States prepared or expecting that it will get involved in feeding these people that have not been fed for days and days? Are we going to have anything to do with airlifting food supplies or --

MR. BACON: We already have airlifted food supplies, and we're in the process of airlifting more food supplies. We've had food supplies shipped out of Italy.

I think that the State Department Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance has begun shipping food. I read somewhere that we're in the process of shipping 14,000 high-nutrition biscuits in one shipment, and I anticipate that we'll do more of that as we get a better idea of what's needed.

QAnother subject?

MR. BACON: Are we -- hold on. Are we finished on this one?

QGo to the next one, yes.

MR. BACON: Yeah, go ahead.

QTwo questions. One, tension is still there between India and Pakistan because three weeks ago Pakistan tested another missile, and now India's new budget is going to be increased, and they are in the market to buy new weapons. Pakistan will follow the same. One, how much do we have a military-to-military relationship between India and the United States today? And two, intelligence agencies have suggested that President Clinton should not visit Pakistan. What is the Pentagon's advice to the commander in chief?

MR. BACON: Well, we'll let the White House sort out its own travel schedule. And as you know, a trip to Pakistan is still under consideration. No decision has been made yet.

In terms of the military-to-military relationships, they are extremely limited -- in fact, I'd say minimal -- with both India and Pakistan, and they have been since the nuclear tests several years ago.

Yes?

QOn Kosovo, according to the Washington Post, Kosovar Albanians from the eastern section of Kosovo in the recent days are crossing the borders in an effort to annex some parts of south Serbia to Kosovo. Are you making any effort to prevent such a move, since the eastern sector is under U.S. control?

MR. BACON: What did you say in the end about U.S. control?

QI'm saying that some Kosovar Albanians from the eastern sections are moving to the south part of Serbia, in an effort to annex part of south Serbia into Kosovo. And I was wondering if you are making any effort to prevent such a move, since this sector is under U.S. control.

MR. BACON: Yes, we've talked extensively with the Albanians about this. We have made it very clear that we don't want either the Albanians or the Serbs generating conflicts in the Presevo Valley area of southern Serbia. And I think we've been very direct, particularly with the Albanians, about this.

QAnd it was reported also that the Department of Defense built up 300 military units by wood, $170,000 each, for the stations of your troops at least for the next 10 years, despite the reaction from the Congress. Do you know what this is all about, Mr. Bacon?

MR. BACON: Well, I don't think that's a very accurate description of what we've done. We had a choice of building -- we have to obviously shelter our troops in Kosovo, and we did it by building C-huts, which are more solid and commodious residences than tents. And as General Shelton explained yesterday before the House Appropriations Committee, in the long run, and even the short run, these huts are a lot cheaper than tents, because tents wear out and have to be replaced, and the tents are expensive. So in both Bosnia and in Kosovo we have built semi-solid structures for our troops, and we feel strongly that we should produce the best possible living conditions for our troops, particularly when they're going to be deployed for long periods of time.

Yes?

QSecretary Cohen in San Antonio today was at Kelly Air Force Base. Can you tell us what he said about -- or what the decision was regarding forgiving part of the debt or all of the debt that the redevelopment authority is there on the --

MR. BACON: Yeah. As you know, Kelly Air Force Base was covered in the last BRAC process, the base realignment and closure process. And Kelly is being turned over to private or local authorities. They've set up a very successful and imaginative redevelopment authority down there to work on the conveyance of Kelly from the Air Force to non-federal government operation.

And the initial requirement, as I understand it, or arrangement, was that the redevelopment authority was going to pay $108 million for Kelly Air Force Base -- a bargain, but still a hefty price.

And under legislation passed last year, the Pentagon has the ability to forgive debts that have been incurred for these purchases. And Secretary Cohen announced that we are forgiving all but $5 million of that cost or debt. So the cost will drop from $108 million to $103 million (sic). This is part -- is one of many steps that we've been taking in local communities to help ease the transition from military properties to either locally run properties or privately run properties, but to ease the transition --

QYou say the cost will drop -- excuse me -- from 103 million -- from 108 to 103, or from 108 to three?

MR. BACON: From 108 to five. So it's a savings of 103. If I misstated that, the price went down from -- he forgave all but $5 million.

QIs this going to set the standard for the practice that the Pentagon will follow in the future, or is this just a one-time deal?

MR. BACON: Well, I think that we will -- we're always looking for ways to help communities make the transition under BRAC. And our view has always been that there's life after BRAC and that we're willing to work with communities to make the transitions as easy and as painless and as cost-free as possible. And the legislation gives us flexibility to do this, and we will exercise that flexibility as appropriate.

QCase by case, or across the board for every community that --

MR. BACON: I can't talk sweepingly about this, but obviously the point of the legislation was to ease the cost of transition. So I think we'll use it as aggressively as we can.

QDo the communities pay any other price besides that to DOD? Do they assume the economic costs of cleaning it up?

MR. BACON: Well, they -- no, the Pentagon pays for various cleanup costs that we're required to meet under the law. I'm sure there are a number of legal and other costs that the community has to bear. But we try to make these transitions as easy and as low-cost as possible.

Chris?

QKen, a number of senators were over at the White House last night getting a briefing on the Kosovo supplemental, on $2.6 billion, I think is the figure that has been used. And they were pretty concerned that this was not going to fly, and particularly that the European allies were not doing enough in Kosovo. What is your assessment of whether the European allies are doing enough?

MR. BACON: Well, I think the European allies comprise the vast majority of the force there, and I think we've worked very well together with the Europeans. The recent tensions have arisen in particular sectors, and I think NATO is working very hard to resolve these problems. And throughout all of these questions that have been raised in Europe and in the United States, I think NATO has continued to function very well in Kosovo.

QLet me ask you a specific follow-up. The French, after the problems in their sector, pledged that they would basically take their battalion that was part of the Strategic Reserve and then they would somehow fly that to their sector. Isn't that sort of robbing Peter to pay Paul? And I don't know whether any troops have set foot on the ground following that pledge, but does that really change the numbers?

MR. BACON: Well, yes. It puts more troops on the ground. And that's important.

QIt lessens the Strategic Reserve and puts more --

MR. BACON: The issue was troop levels in Mitrovica.

And what the French Defense Minister Alain Richard said when he was here last week was that they would put another -- I think he said another battalion -- on the ground in Mitrovica. I don't know whether they have done that yet, but that's their intention. He said it would come out of the strategic reserve, but the strategic reserve isn't in Kosovo, so it would have the good benefit, the good impact of putting more troops into an area that has had some problems.

QWhat about the bad benefit of diminishing the strategic reserve right --

MR. BACON: That's true, and I don't know enough about NATO's rules to know whether the French would be required to devote more troops to the strategic reserve. That's a question that I'll have to look into. In other words, to replace those they took out, would they have to put more in? I don't know.

Yes?

QThis is a different quick subject. General Zinni was on the Hill this week, and he said that in his opinion, Iran now poses the greatest long-term threat in the Persian Gulf. Since the recent elections in Iran, what's the sort of military assessment here about their weapons development program? Do you still see them actively pursuing nuclear and missiles and do you anticipate a new missile test fairly soon?

MR. BACON: Well, first, I'm not aware that the election results have changed their military programs in any way. They are working aggressively to develop weapons of mass destruction, they are working aggressively to purchase or develop longer-range missiles. They are working aggressively to build up their offensive and defensive capabilities in the Persian Gulf area, which of course, is a very crucial shipping lane for us and all oil consumers. And while they're doing that, they remain also sponsors of terrorism and they remain inalterably opposed to the Mid-East peace process.

We have made it very clear that we would like to have better relationships with Iran, but there are some fundamental preconditions that have to be met, or changes that have to be made, before we can have any dramatic improvement in relationships, and those are: stop work on weapons of mass destruction, stop sponsoring terrorism, and stop trying to interrupt the Mid-East peace process.

QWhat's your assessment on where they stand on their nuclear weapons development?

MR. BACON: I don't think I can give a detailed assessment of that here.

QThank you.

MR. BACON: You're welcome.

This transcript was prepared by the Federal News Service, Inc., Washington, DC. Federal News Service is a private company. For other defense related transcripts not available through this site, contact Federal News Service at (202) 347-1400.

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