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DoD News Briefing - Mr. P.J. Crowley, PDASD PA

Presenters: Mr. P. J. Crowley, PDASD PA
March 16, 2000 1:30 PM EDT

Thursday, March 16, 2000 - 1:31 p.m. EST

MR. CROWLEY: Welcome to March Madness. I can report to you that the [former] defending champions are defeating St. Bonaventure by 13. Perhaps maybe the biggest news of the day.

Secretary Cohen is currently in Tokyo continuing with his Asian trip. As you know, earlier today he visited the naval facility at Atsugi to take a first-hand look at the Shinkampo incinerator that has caused concern for both Navy families and personnel assigned there as well as Japanese citizens who are in the vicinity of both the base and the incinerator. This incinerator is producing dangerous carcinogens that affect the health, the welfare of our American citizens, our Japanese friends. And earlier today the secretary had a chance to meet both with service personnel and their families. He met with Prime Minister Obuchi. And during the course of that meeting Prime Minister Obuchi presented a course of action that we are very pleased with that will involve the installation of bag filters on these smokestacks that are in this incinerator. It will call for a protocol for a joint monitoring of this operation, the construction, starting immediately, of higher smokestacks so that these will rise to about 100 meters in height. The Japanese government will join (sic) [has no objection to] the pending lawsuit that the Navy is ready to file in the Japanese judicial system that we hope will result in a halting of this operation until the incinerator meets all Japanese environmental standards. And finally, for those families in the region, in the direction of the plume that has been of concern to us, if any of those families want to be temporarily relocated to other facilities while this action is being taken, the Japanese government will support that effort.

So this has been an issue of great concern for the department. I know the president last year raised it with Prime Minister Obuchi, and we are very pleased with the action that the Japanese government is taking in concert with our command on that issue.

The secretary is scheduled -- and this is always a difficult dateline issue, today-tomorrow -- later today our time, tomorrow their time, he will have a breakfast speech at the Japan Press Club in which he will discuss the importance of our rock-solid relationship and security relationship with the Japanese, the importance of our friendship to the region. He'll talk about this Shinkampo incinerator issue as well as relate some of his experiences thus far during his Asia trip in his stops in Hong Kong and Vietnam.

After the speech he will travel to Seoul to meet with senior government officials on issues such as North Korea and the status of our alliance in the peninsula. He'll return to Washington on Saturday afternoon.

This weekend approximately 1,100 Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is part of the USS Wasp Amphibious Ready Group, will join approximately 900 military members from four other nations to participate in NATO exercise Dynamic Response 2000. The exercise is designed to test our ability to commit to the Balkans area combined and joined strategic reserve forces into the Kosovo area of operations. So you'll see in the coming days the beginnings of staging actions, deploying into and conducting field training exercises in Kosovo. Other countries participating will be Argentina, the Netherlands, Poland, and Romania.

It demonstrates NATO's resolve to maintain a secure environment in Kosovo and exercise the strategic force's ability to rapidly reinforce KFOR, if this is required.

This has been a long-established and long-planned exercise. It's not related to any current situation in Kosovo. We have done this exercise for five years and have -- and previously had these forces into Bosnia as well. So I wouldn't -- don't read anything into the timing of this. It's been planned since last September.

Q: (Off mike.)

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you, Jud.

Q: Knowing full well, of course, that spring would come in April -- (laughter) -- March, April.

MR. CROWLEY: I have it on pretty high authority that spring comes in March.

Q: Okay.

MR. CROWLEY: Every year.

The U.S. and the Republic of Korea have reached a tentative agreement on a broad range of provisions to enhance combined operations in South Korea to recover the remains of American servicemen missing in action from the Korean War. Meeting in Seoul with officials from the Korean Ministry of National Defense earlier this week, a high-level team from DOD's POW-MIA Personnel Office and the Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii agreed to procedures and discussed several occasions for combined recovery operations, expected to begin in early June.

Between 1951 and 1955, Army graves registration teams recovered approximately 25,000 remains in the South, all but 400 of which were identified and returned to their families.

CILHI, the laboratory, has conducted 10 recovery operations over the past two decades, in the South, leading to the identification of three missing American servicemen.

And last but not least in my opening announcements; primarily for our internal audiences, we are in the process of finishing the Military Photographer of the Year Competition. And it's a two-day competition recognizing military photographers and videographers for their achievement. There are awards in nine still and seven motion- picture categories.

And those who are interested can log onto a website, www.dinfos.osd.mil -- our training operation. And as the judges complete their work on each category, they post the winners on the website.

With that, I am available to answer your questions.

Q: Can we clean up some of the details of your announcements?

On the weekend troop exercise, will most of these forces actually set foot in Kosovo? Will it be primarily in the American zone? How long will they stay?

MR. CROWLEY: They will stay until early April. They will be operating throughout Kosovo, not just in the American sector. My impression is that the majority of -- speaking for the American contingent -- yes, the majority of these forces will set foot -- they'll be staging out of Macedonia. And then, you know, the vast majority will move into various sectors and conduct their field training in Kosovo itself.

Q: Would you grant us that it's conveniently timed to bolster NATO presence there -

MR. CROWLEY: I mean -- we are approaching spring in the Balkans.

Q: Great.

Q: It's hot.

MR. CROWLEY: And you know, certainly this should be an unmistakable signal to all parties in the region that we will in a very evenhanded way, continue to make clear to them that any kind of violence, or a return to the conflict of ethnic hatred that we have seen in the past, will not be tolerated.

This is a time to continue to stabilize the situation in Kosovo, put the violence behind them, and see that the various civilian institutions that we are trying to put in place are done so, so that they can look forward to greater peace, stability, prosperity, and to put ethnic conflict behind them.

Jim?

Q: Where is this exercise? Who will be in command of this contingent of 2,000?

MR. CROWLEY: It's a NATO exercise, so the NATO chain of command continues to have control of the strategic reserve, and they will, as they're operating in Kosovo, be under the tactical control of General Reinhardt in KFOR.

Q: So obviously, they would be at the disposal of any commander for use in any contingencies?

MR. CROWLEY: They are there to provide field-training exercises. I don't think -- you know, right now I think we have a situation where we have appropriate levels of forces in Kosovo to handle the situations that we've encountered thus far. This is first and foremost to test the ability of NATO for its strategic reinforcement, which has been a provision that we've had for our operation in Bosnia, our operation in Kosovo, to test our ability to come ashore and reinforce those units if necessary.

Q: What exact day does this start? Are they coming from Macedonia, the Marines? And you said there were 1,100 Marines and 900 from those other countries that you mentioned? And what will they be doing?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, they'll be doing field training. I mean, you recall that these -- you know, the strategic reserve is made up of forces from Argentina, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, United States. In the case of the United States, our strategic reserve is the amphibious ready group that currently in the Mediterranean is constituted on board the USS Wasp and its associated ships. So in our particular case, it tests our ability to stage through Macedonia into Kosovo, you know, so that we would be able to reinforce KFOR, you know, should we have a contingency at some point in the future. I think that they are in the process. I think the advance team is already in Macedonia. You'll see a greater number of troops starting to come ashore this weekend, I think starting around Sunday, March 19th, and this exercise will run through the first part of April.

Q: How are they getting to Macedonia from the ships?

MR. CROWLEY: An amphibious ready group has its own capability to come ashore. And (inaudible).

Q: (Off mike) -- come through a Greek port.

MR. CROWLEY: They'll probably come through the Greek port, as they did before; that's true. Thank you.

Q: How many militarily take part in these exercises?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, if I add up the 1,100 Marines and 900 military members from other nations, that brings us to roughly 2,000.

Q: Yesterday's operation in -- I guess along the Kosovo-Serbian border, could you describe that in a little bit more detail? Did U.S. forces ever go into Serbia or how did they carry this out?

MR. CROWLEY: No, the operation was conducted in Kosovo proper. It was directed against five cities that are in the vicinity of the provincial boundary. And, you know, these villages were Rusta Mahala, Surlane, Slubica, Stublina and Dunavo. But I'm not aware that -- our forces did not cross into -- they did not cross into the security zone, nor did they cross into Serbia. These villages are along the provincial border. You know, a clear indication -- you know, we were acting on specific information that we had, and found in multiple locations caches of weapons, ammunition, supplies.

Q: Is there any indication that these five villages are connected to this Albanian operation front that's, you know, supposedly defending Kosovo --

MR. CROWLEY: Clearly, one would presume that these are -- this is equipment that the extremists, insurgents were building for possible use. I have no information that ties it to any specific group. As a senior military official told you a couple of days ago, we think there are multiple small insurgent groups that are operating in this general vicinity.

Q: Any shots fired, injuries --

MR. CROWLEY: No shots fired. Well, I mean, as this operation was unfolding, I understand that there were shots heard. I'm sure in a typical day in Kosovo that's true. There were no shots directed at American forces, no injuries that I'm aware of.

Q: Was this the first time that our forces had targeted ethnic Albanian groups since we've been there?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we -- I don't know the answer. I'm not aware of something of this scale that we have done before. I'm sure that we have encountered weapons when we went through the demilitarization of the KLA last year. We didn't for a minute think that we had removed every weapon from Kosovo.

But clearly, the information that we gained that there was a specific cache of weapons being built in and around these villages obviously is a sign and a threat to our ability to maintain a secure and safe environment in Kosovo and is something that, with respect to all of the factions in Kosovo, we will not tolerate.

Q: Were there any arrests at all?

Q: What does this tell you about the intentions of the Kosovar Albanians, especially those extremists who, apparently, are now rebuilding a military?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think, overall, the demilitarization of the KLA and its transition to the Kosovo Protection Corps has been a success. By the same token, we understand that there are undoubtedly hard-liners within the Kosovar Albanian community that want to continue to carry on the fight and, certainly, in that part of Europe there is no shortage of weapons available that can be smuggled into Kosovo.

But again, we will not tolerate this kind of weapons cache and potential activity that could threaten our ability to maintain a secure and safe environment. We took decisive action yesterday, in this case against a Kosovar Albanian region, and we will be prepared to do so again against either a Kosovar Albanian insurgent group or against a Serb group.

Q: Will this fairly large-scale operations in the far eastern part of the U.S. sector continue for a few days? And if so, does that leave you light in the rest of the American sector?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, this happened -- I mean, this is a mainstream mission of KFOR overall and our forces in the American sector. This is about maintaining a secure environment for civilian implementation to move forward. The existence of a weapons cache -- I wouldn't characterize it as really large, but it's a noticeable number of weapons, ammunition, supplies -- you know, is the kind of activity that we think could potentially threaten our ability to maintain a secure environment. We had information that we acted on. And this, I would think, is an ongoing activity that we would be able to conduct and willing to conduct as we get specific information of the type that we had yesterday.

Q: How many --

Q: Are you saying that there were no shots fired by U.S. troops yesterday?

MR. CROWLEY: Our troops did not fire any shots, nor did they perceive that any shots were directed against them.

Q: And can you tell us what the status is today? Have there been any confrontations today?

MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge. I mean, this is -- we are still in the -- conducting this kind of activity. I'm not aware of any specific activity today, but this is an ongoing operation. I think that, you know, Task Force Falcon will have a press opportunity tomorrow, where General Sanchez will have the chance to bring your colleagues over there up to date on where we stand.

I think during the course of yesterday's activity, nine people were detained. As far as I know, they are still being held by Task Force Falcon.

Q: There were documents seized, I understand. Do you have any information on what those were?

MR. CROWLEY: I do not.

Q: Can you --

MR. CROWLEY: It wouldn't surprise me. I just don't know if there were documents.

Q: Can you tell us how many of our troops were involved in this --

MR. CROWLEY: Roughly 350 of our forces were involved. This was a simultaneous action against multiple locations, you know, synchronized and using a combination of soldiers on foot, in wheeled vehicles and helicopter support.

Q: What can you tell us about the prospective deployment of aerial -- unmanned aerial vehicles to the area?

MR. CROWLEY: I've got nothing specific to announce to you, but obviously, to the extent that a separate activity that KFOR has asked us to do, which is to increase our surveillance of the provincial border, we are in the process of doing that. We've established some checkpoints at the main roads, routes that lead across the provincial border. We are looking at the prospect of providing additional UAV capability, but I have nothing to announce at this point.

Q: Is there any concern amongst the commanders there or any sense that you get that now that you have had this major operation against ethnic Albanian enclaves, that the local -- that there might be a change in attitude towards our troops, maybe more hostility or --

MR. CROWLEY: Not at all. Not at all. I think we fully expected that we would encounter situations such as this. I mean, we -- you know, a year ago we were about to launch a 78-day air campaign. Every spring in the Balkans you are concerned that after a winter chill, there might be a resurgence of violence. We certainly see the kinds of isolated ethnic conflict that you've seen up in the Mitrovica area, for example.

And certainly, the Kosovar Albanian community is not a monolithic kind of entity. You have those who certainly want peace, and we are doing everything that we can to maintain a secure environment so that the civilian institutions that you need for a normal society -- a judicial system, more police, better health and education, and the other kinds of things that we take for granted here -- that you want to be able to put those ingredients into place. We've certainly -- given the history of ethnic conflict in the region, going back, you know, more than a decade, you can't expect that spigot to be turned off overnight. So we are not in any way surprised that you would have hard-liners within the Kosovar Albanian community that don't want to give up the fight. But both on the Kosovar Albanian side, on the Serb side, we're going to continue to approach this in a very even-handed manner.

Right. So, in short, I don't think it reflects the broader view of the Kosovar Albanian community, it just reflects that there are undoubtedly within that community hard-line insurgents that perhaps have a different view than the Kosovar Albanian leadership overall.

Q: Was this operation carried out by Special Operations forces or regular troops?

MR. CROWLEY: It was carried out by the troops assigned to Task Force Falcon.

Q: Two days ago a senior --

MR. CROWLEY: And they have multiple capabilities. So I can't tell you what --

Q: So there are Special -- presumably there are Spec Ops people in it.

MR. CROWLEY: There are Special Operations forces that are assigned to Task Force Falcon.

Q: (inaudible) region was slipping into violence this spring and that American forces may well have to draw down and shoot on the ethnic Albanians, there may be a confrontation between them. Is that the official view, or just the view of one individual? What is the level of concern about this slipping away?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think you ignore history at your peril. I mean, clearly, a year ago we were seeing a campaign of ethnic terror that Milosevic had unleashed against the Kosovar Albanian people. I think we have made great progress since then in terms of stabilizing the situation. But as I've indicated earlier, this is very hard for communities on both sides to turn a corner. We are certainly giving them opportunity to look to a different kind of future, one that offers peace, prosperity, economic opportunity, and social stability.

And we recognize, particularly from our experience in Bosnia, that this is something that takes time, to put that kind of ethnic conflict behind you and look forward to a different kind of future.

But, you know, do we have concerns every spring? We've had concerns every spring in the Balkans since we have been there. We still have those concerns. Does this foreshadow a specific conflict? I would say not necessarily. But it's something that clearly we are going to take decisive action to continue to eliminate those tools that a hard-line group could use to fuel tensions and conflict in the region.

Q: This same Pentagon official used the word "confrontation" -- you were headed for a confrontation, when the State Department keeps on saying they feel we're not headed for a confrontation. Is there a difference of opinion between the State Department and Defense Department on what's happening on the ground there, a different reading?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I don't think so. I think it's a matter of the difference between -- you know, when you have troops on the ground that are responsible for maintaining a safe and secure environment, they are going to have practical concerns, day in and day out, as they're, you know, at the pointy end of the spear and could face a conflict at any moment. So we have to maintain our guard to make sure that we are prepared to take swift and decisive action, where we see threats to the KFOR mission.

Overall, I think on the diplomatic side, we certainly see that the Kosovar Albanian leadership has condemned the ethnic incidents that we have seen periodically and sporadically throughout Kosovo, and they are committed to a path of peace. But really, you know, from a practical standpoint -- we have to maintain our vigilance and our guard in the event any one of these conflicts pop up on any given day.

Q: Any of the weapons confiscated of American origin?

MR. CROWLEY: I don't know.

Q: Can I switch the subject to the Japanese incinerator?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

Q: What are the incinerating?

MR. CROWLEY: They incinerate trash.

Q: How many of these folks are subjected to this? How many people is it affecting?

MR. CROWLEY: We have upwards of 6,000, I think, personnel and family members in the area. I can't give you a specific indication of how many are affected on any given day.

Q: And when is the lawsuit going to be filed?

MR. CROWLEY: The lawsuit, I think, will be filed, you know, very, very soon. In a matter of days.

Q: How deadly is this material and why are we still there?

MR. CROWLEY: You know, we think -- you know, we think that it -- currently the owner of the Shinkampo incinerator violates Japanese environmental regulations and we have been encouraging the Japanese government to take specific steps. They are now putting forth a course of action. We are very gratified that they are going to join (sic) [not object to] our lawsuit that will seek an injunction to shut this plant down until such time as he is in full compliance with Japanese environmental regulations.

Q: How long has it been operating? How long has it been in operation?

MR. CROWLEY: Oh, I don't have that history. We'll see if we can find that.

Q: It's supposedly been operating for more than a decade, and one might ask, where has the U.S. government been for all of these many years, because families have complained about children become deathly ill, it's difficult for the Navy to get people to go do this base because of these environmental factors here?

MR. CROWLEY: This has been something that we have been pressing for some time. I think part of the issue has been that environmental -- the enforcement of environmental regulations in the Japanese system is something that is done at the prefecture level, not necessarily at the national level. Obviously, it has been a concern to us, it's been something we've expressed on a regular basis to our Japanese interlocutors, the president raised it with Prime Minister Obuchi last year, and we are very pleased that the prime minister has set forth the course of action that he has, and we believe that very quickly we'll be able to start to mitigate the effects of this through the use of those filters, the construction of the higher smokestacks, and, hopefully, we'll also have the ability, through this lawsuit, to shut this plant down until they're in compliance.

Q: You said the Japanese government will help relocate the families who so desire?

MR. CROWLEY: To the extent that -- you know, we recognize that this will still take some time to put these long-term remediations into effect, that for any family, any service member, who is within the plume that has given us concern for a number of years, the Japanese government will relocate them to other apartments in the region if that is something that they want to do.

Q: How soon is soon, P.J., in terms of when these filters will be in and will --

MR. CROWLEY: The filters are in the process of being in now, and I think they will be fully installed by the end of the month. The construction of the higher smokestacks could take months or even a couple of years, potentially, to put into place.

Q: Does the plume stretch over the base itself or just neighborhoods where people live?

MR. CROWLEY: That may be a function of which way the wind is blowing, but I think both of the -- you know, both of the above. It's of a concern -- it's a concern both for our troops, our sailors and families, also for the Japanese workers that work on the base, and for those Japanese citizens who live in the area as well. This has been a long-standing issue for -- from both an American health standpoint and a Japanese health standpoint.

Q: Then why didn't the United States government take stronger action earlier to force this owner --

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I think it's a matter that we have repeatedly brought to the attention of the Japanese government and have just worked through a process, you know, to try to put appropriate pressure on this individual. I think that the owner of the Shinkampo incinerator, over time, has been able to take advantage of the regulations that have been written in Japan to circumvent the true intent of those regulations also, you know. So -- but we're gratified that at the national level there now is the commitment and support and the joint effort that we think will correct this problem.

Q: And could you just describe what kind of health problems folks over there are experiencing?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, to the -- you know, to the extent you have concerns about the long-term health effects of the burning of trash that produces known carcinogens that are clearly beyond both American health standards and Japanese health standards.

Q: Well, but do we have -- we have troops who have been -- or families who have actually been sick and that military doctors have said this sickness is linked to --

MR. CROWLEY: I can't cite for you any particular health statistics, other than to say this has been a long-term concern for those who have been stationed at this base.

Q: What's the name of the base?

MR. CROWLEY: Atsugi.

Q: Could you spell it?

MR. CROWLEY: A-T-S-U-G-I.

Q: Thanks.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. Thank you.

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