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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA
May 02, 1995 1:30 PM EDT

Tuesday, May 2, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.

(NOTE: Also participating in this briefing was General John Sheehan, CINCACOM.)

 

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

Here's the announcement. General Sheehan doesn't do policy. He does Ops. But he's here to take your questions on what you can expect to happen in Guantanamo Bay over the next few weeks and months. He has about 10 to 15 minutes, and then he's got to go back and do his real job in Norfolk. But here he is, General Sheehan. He's talking on the record.

General Sheehan: Thank you, Ken.

I meant this very sincerely when I talked to you about, in a sense, the courage of Janet Reno to take this issue on, to regularize the migration process. This is a very, very complex process, as you know. I think from a military perspective, having some 6,000 U.S. Forces down there, there was a distinct possibility that we were moving down a trail in which civil disturbances would have taken place. So from a safety perspective of the U.S. Forces down there, I really applaud the action on the part of the Attorney General.

Second, it's costing us a million dollars a day. Clearly, that comes out of the O&M dollars of the services that are funding the operations in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Third, I was about ready to release a contract for $100 million to turn the camps into something that was going to be more permanent, and now that $100 million does not have to be spent. Once we move the Cubans through the process, we will be able to return the 6,000 forces back to the United States for duty otherwise, and the $100 million clearly can be put in the readiness accounts.

Let me just tell you what that 6,000 troops really do. That's basically one-third of Air Combat Command in the Air Force's military police capability. The security force down there numbers about 2,800 people on a rotational basis. That was about one-third of the rifle companies are available to [MEF] at Camp LeJeune, and about one-third of Forces Command's forces. So we had them in a cycle that, very frankly, affected Pers Tempo and also affected the O&M account. So this is really a welcome relief for the military.

The second part of that is, now that we've regularized this process, what are we going to do in the camps different? Clearly, we're going to halt the major construction that was going on in terms of making this a permanent camp facility. We will recover as much as we can in terms of the hardened tension fabric shelters. We will not build the camp to a full capacity. But we also need to now go out to the PVOs and NGOs that we've worked with in the past to build up our educational system in the camps, to prepare these Cubans to come to the United States and be integrated into the United States, with English as a second language skills, etc. As I've said before, many of these are very, very talented people. Better than 50 percent of the people in these camps are high school graduates; about nine percent are college graduates; two percent have advanced degrees; we have over 100 doctors. So we have all of the capacity in the camp now to turn this talent in a constructive way to prepare these Cubans to come to the United States.

I will stop talking here and answer questions.

Q: How were the people in the camps informed of this decision, and what was their reaction?

A: I don't know the answer to that. We had a meeting with General Allen and all of the 100-plus other civilians down there representing Community Relations Service, INS, etc. They had a meeting to go over the statement, what we really meant. This was embargoed information until noon-time today, and now they're going to go out and inform the people. I suspect the Cubans will be very, very happy once they hear this.

Q: Janet Reno says it's going to continue at a rate of about 500 a week to bring them back. When will it start, and how will they be brought back?

A: We have been bringing about 500 back a week now for about two months. We have about 6,000 who have already become parole-eligible in the United States, so we will then put the rest of the people, as Janet Reno indicated, into the review process and start bringing them to the United States. It will take a number of months, about 30 weeks or so, to get the camp down to where it's zero or almost zero. Clearly there are categories of people in the camp... People who are not eligible for parole in the United States will be returned to Cuba.

Q: How are they going to be brought back?

A: They'll come in by airplane. The INS contracts an aircraft, and it's ordinarily flown from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, into Miami.

Q: What will keep them from getting paroled? And aren't there 400 Haitians still...

A: There are still over 400 Haitians there, but those are unaccompanied minors. INS is working with UNHCR to find appropriate sponsorship back in Haiti for those unaccompanied minors. We are sending back to Haiti about 15 a week, on the average. It varies. But we will also eventually get down to zero once we've satisfied all the requirements.

Q: Is there any chance some of those have relatives in the United States? Is there any attempt being made to parole them...

A: I can't answer the details of what the CRS and INS is doing. But it is my understanding the vast majority of those are going back to Haiti.

Q: Part of the point of keeping them in Guantanamo Bay was to discourage other Cubans from leaving. If you're going to let them into the country now, are you afraid there may be another exodus from Cuba?

A: I think there are two parts of this, as the Attorney General indicated. Number one is there's an agreement that any additional rafters that come out or people that cross the fence line into Guantanamo Bay... For example, in 1994 we had 2,285 Cubans come across the fence line or swim into Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. If they come in this afternoon--any time after this agreement has been announced-- we will put them in a separate facility and repatriate them directly back to Cuba. The modalities of how they go back is still being worked out with the Interest Section in Miami and the Cuban government. But if you are also a rafter and the Coast Guard picks you up, the same thing will occur. You'll go back, as the Attorney General indicated, you will be met by the Interest Section and processed there in Havana.

Q: Why did it take so long for the realization of potential violence and the cost of $1 million to provoke this decision?

A: I think it's a two-sided dialogue. Clearly, there had to be some assurances on the part by the Cuban government that the migration process would be regularized. That's a relationship that requires the consent of the Cuban government. So I would defer to the Department of State and the Attorney General as far as the length of those discussions.

Q: When do you expect Guantanamo Bay to be a fully functional U.S. military facility again?

A: I don't think GITMO is ever going to be a fully functional military facility as has traditionally been characterized as a fleet training center, etc. We're going to move the fleet training center out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, because we can do the same things in the continental limits of the United States at lower cost. But I think you'll see GITMO being put in a caretaker status because it's essential for strategic reach reasons.

Q: Will the dependents--the family dependents--be going back, the ones that had to be moved out?

A: That is under discussion with the Chief of Naval Operations and the Secretary of the Navy. I would not want to foreclose any options. But my suspicion is that the dependents would not go back to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the near term. It's going to take us some 30 weeks to get the migrant population down to zero, so I think they'll stay out of there until that takes place.

Q: Can you define what caretaker status means? Will that still mean it becomes a logistics base for Caribbean operations, or does it become a mothballed...

A: Clearly the airfield and the support facilities are essential. It is still an excellent anchorage. But it will not be the primary place where we do fleet training, refresher training for ships. But it is a place where you can do small arms training, where you can do maneuver training. The Marines will stay down there on the fenceline for the near-term. So I think that's what I refer to as a caretaker status.

Q: Can you talk about why it's essential for strategic reach since the U.S. has other bases in the area--at Rosie Roads and then in Florida?

A: Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, offers a place that you can go to some place like the Dominican Republic or Haiti by helicopter. As you know, one of the problems we have is that the process of democracy in Haiti is still ongoing. The elections are on progress--going well--but still you never miss the opportunity to keep that kind of capability in place should you need it for some other part of the Caribbean.

Q: You proposed training Haitians in Fort McClellan in Alabama, up to 1,500 Haitians to be policemen. What is the status of that, and when do you think you'll be able to execute that?

A: I don't know what the exact status is. It's going through the inter-agency process. The issue is that the professional security force in Haiti has a production rate of a couple of hundred for the first class, and then we produce about 3,000. Clearly you need that done faster, because the IPSF... There's a mixed report card on them. It seemed to me when they broached the problem to me, rather than sending engineers to Haiti to build a new facility, the fastest, most efficient way to do it is to train them here in the United States. I expect that to start within weeks, no later than June, but hopefully the end of this month.

Q: How many would you train?

A: I don't know. I think that's a function of what they can recruit. They have about a nine percent acceptance rate for those that they screen. So there will be two facilities. One, the primary facility at Camp d'Application. That's a scheduled class. We also have to get [ICITAP] trainers, and bring in people from the United States. My guess is that the initial class would not be more than a couple of hundred.

Q: The last time there was... And I don't mean this most recent case, but a couple of years ago when there was a large refugee camp at Guantanamo... After that was resolved, the Pentagon vowed that it wasn't going to allow that kind of thing to happen again, but it did. By the way you're formulating the base now, are you keeping open the possibility that it could be used as a refugee camp again in the future?

A: We have always had a surge capacity in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Even after the first surge some couple of years ago, we kept a capacity in terms of tents and cots and those kinds of things--of 6,000 people capacity. So I think what we need to do now is go through the engineering piece. The facilities down there are far more permanent, and we need to decide what's salvageable, what we ought to retain, and how we ought to retain it. But this is a very kind of fungible resource, that you can move these tents and tension fabric shelters just about anywhere. So I think they've got a great utility in humanitarian operations, they've got a great utility in disaster relief operations, all of which I'm responsible for as part of my job. So this is a pool of resources we hope to use.

Q: You're not going to make any rash predictions that never again will you allow Guantanamo to become overrun by refugees...

A: Never is not a word in my vocabulary.

Q: You spoke at the beginning of your statement about the cost savings and all to the armed services. Had you recommended to the White House or to Ms. Reno that they ought to look at a way of ending this because of the cost?

A: I think that Secretary Perry, if you look at some of his most recent statements... He also has raised the issue that the cost of maintaining a migrant facility run by DoD is a very expensive way to do business. So it's not just me, it's the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary Perry. I think even Ken has spoken to the issue.

Q: Correct me if I'm wrong, General, but I believe last week I saw an article where you were quoted saying there was unrest in the camp.

A: No, I said there was going to be unrest in the camps as long as there was no exit strategy. We've had two minor civil disturbances in the camps in Guantanamo in the past, and we had one major one in Panama because of frustration in the camps. So I think this is a distinct possibility.

Q: As head of USACOM, you're in charge of coordinating plans to send troops elsewhere overseas now. Are we at any heightened state of readiness because of Bosnia and Croatia or the possibility of...

A: The whole planning process is 40104, 40103 plan for Bosnia. That right now is going through the NATO chain of command, SACEUR. They have not come out with a NATO process of ACTWARN which is essentially requesting troops and warning troops they're going to deploy. That's still in the gestation period.

Q: Could you move quickly? Say this thing just goes to hell next week, are we ready to...

A: I think the plan all along is, if there is a requirement to withdraw UNPROFOR Forces from Bosnia-Herzegovina, it will be done through the UN. The UN is the operational arm for the execution of this. As I said before, the NAC over at Brussels has not approved in totality the plan. They've approved some of the annexes. I think we have not seen, from the U.S. side--USACOM, and I'm further down the food chain--a request for forces at this point in time.

Mr. Bacon: Thank you very much.

I'll be glad to take your questions on other issues.

Q: Can you just expand a little bit on the Pentagon influence on the policy decisions?

A: The main role the Pentagon has played is to make it very clear to the government, over a long period of time, that this was both a costly and a somewhat risky proposition--maintaining large groups of refugees in Guantanamo Bay. The Secretary has spoken about this, General Shalikashvili has spoken about this, they've spoken about it publicly and they've spoken about it privately and what they said privately is almost exactly what they said publicly.

Q: Can we go back again? The General said, unless I misunderstood him... He said almost 5,000 had already been sent back, or did he say they'd been OK'ed to come back?

A: All of these figures were made available from the White House, but my understanding is there are now about 5,000 people at Guantanamo Bay who are either qualified or will be qualified to be paroled back to the United States. These are people who fall into several groups. They're elderly, they're ill, or they're unaccompanied minor children, or they're the caregivers for the elderly and the ill. These are the groups. It's from these groups of people that they're bringing back 500 people a week.

If you look at the figures that were put out by the White House, they said they would bring their policy--the policy calibration here--to bring back the 15,000 people as part of the 20,000 people a year who can come in from Cuba. There are about 21,000 people now at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The remaining people are those we believe either would have been paroled, or will be sent back to Cuba because they have criminal records or they have done something to stir up opposition to the American troops there--they've led demonstrations or something like that and have proven themselves unworthy to stay there and will be sent back to Cuba. Those, I understand, the Cubans have agreed to accept back.

Q: How many is that?

A: All of that was laid out by the White House, and I would really urge you to get the information from them, because they have fact sheets. My recollection is it's around 500, but please check with the White House for the more accurate figures because they did put out a lot on that this morning.

Q: On the situation in Croatia, are we in any way approaching the point where there might have to be a U.S. or a NATO intervention in order to protect or extract UN peacekeepers caught in the fighting over there in Croatia?

A: I think right now it's premature to talk about that. Obviously, the idea of an extraction has been on the minds of our allies and on our minds since late last year and we've been working on an extraction plan since late last year. And that plan has evolved considerably since then. Our hope is that UNPROFOR Forces will be able to stay in that area. There are now almost 23,000 UNPROFOR Forces in Bosnia. There are about 15,000 UN Forces in Croatia. That's coming down. That's about twice the number called for in the agreement with Croatia, so it will come down to 7,000 or 8,000 over time.

We believe that these forces are serving a valuable purpose of two things. Humanitarian aid. They're helping to bring in humanitarian aid, and they're helping to limit the fighting--both the fighting within Bosnia and Croatia and, more importantly, to prevent the fighting from spreading out beyond those areas into other parts of the former Yugoslavia.

Q: What about the protection or evacuation of U.S. personnel, say at the embassy in Zagreb which I understand they had to stop and take cover today.

A: We are evacuating non-essential personnel from the embassy in Zagreb and dependents as well. I believe we're pulling out today five non-essential personnel from the embassy and 28 dependents.

Q: Out of how many?

A: I don't know what the total is. You should ask the State Department about this. It's their decision to pull them out, obviously, but we are cutting down on our staff.

Q: Pick them up by helicopter or how?

A: I do not know how they're leaving. They said they're leaving today, I doubt if they're going by helicopter. They're probably going by train or airplane. You can fly in and out of Zagreb.

Q: Yesterday the wires reported that some of the UNPROFOR troops in Sarajevo were being confined to barracks and, I believe, over in the Croatian fighting, some other UNPROFOR people were being used as hostages. With a possible trend toward hostage-taking again--like we had in Bihac--who, and by what criteria, specifically who will be making the decision as to when it gets too hot and too dangerous for UNPROFOR?

A: It's a decision that will be made... There are 26 countries with troops in the former Yugoslavia now, and there are about 39,000 troops there all together. Those countries individually and corporately--and also the UN--will make the decision--if the decision is made--that it's too difficult to stay. Right now the UN believes that UNPROFOR should stay there. That's our belief as well. They will make the decision. This is not an American decision because we have a very tiny number of support personnel in that area. We are not contributing troops to UNPROFOR, as you know.

Q: Can you delineate the criteria that will trigger...

A: No, we're not making that decision. That's a decision that the 26 countries and the UN will make. It's not a decision we will make, and it's not a decision NATO will make. What NATO has said is that if UNPROFOR or the UN decides to come out, then NATO will help in the extraction.

Q: Can you detail the U.S. troops? Where they are, how many?

A: Yes. The first part and probably in a way the newsiest part of those troops, are... A very small number of communicators are in the process of moving into Croatia now to assist in a NATO effort to set up a communications network that could be used to support a withdrawal, if a withdrawal comes to pass. Now there are five or six, I believe, Americans who have gone in as part of a group that will eventually be 20 in the first phase of that group to set up a communications network.

In Croatia there are, I believe, about 300 people, many of them medical personnel. There are 136 assigned to the Air Force--the 60th Medical Group. They operate a hospital that provides support for UN Forces in the former Yugoslavia. That hospital is in Zagreb, I believe.

There's a group called Joint Task Force PROVIDE PROMISE (Forward) or if you want to abbreviate that, JTFPP(F). There are 300 people there in that task force. As I say, most of them are Air Force medics -- 136 or them are Air Force medics. They do communications and other support operations.

In Bosnia, there is a much smaller number of Americans. The biggest group we have--of about 500 or 600 peopl--is part of the UN Force in Macedonia which is designed to keep the war from spreading into Macedonia. We have in Bosnia 45 people assigned to UNPROFOR: the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, NATO, and EUCOM are basically liaison people. Some are communications people. The people in Croatia--aside from the 136 Air Force people assigned to do medical work-- they're assigned to UNCRO--which is the UN force in Croatia--the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and NATO, basically as liaison people.

Q: Are they all military or are there some civilians?

A: They're basically military. Predominantly military.

Q: The five to six Americans you mentioned. The communicators, eventually 20. Is that a NATO group? There will be eventually 20 Americans, or are the five or six Americans part of a larger...

A: The 20 Americans will be part of a larger group. They should all be... I think there are 80 in the first group going in to set up the communications operation, and they should be in by the end of this month.

Q: Are they associated to NATO?

A: Yes. This is a NATO operation and they're operating under NATO operational command to set up this communications operation.

Q: The 80 is the NATO total?

A: Yes. And 20 will come from the U.S.

Q: You said 80 as the first group. Does that indicate, therefore, there are additional groups?

A: There could be more later, depending on how quickly and how extensively we need to set up a communications operation there. But so far the only deployment of communicators to Croatia to set this up, approved by the U.S., is 20.

Q: Late last year the United States and other NATO warplanes bombed an airfield in Croatia at Udbina because it was determined that aircraft there had been used for cross-border attacks. Given the fact that there was a report this weekend of another such bombing raid in Bosnia from that airfield, is there any contemplation of an airstrike on that field again?

A: The answer to that question is it's a decision that has to be made first by the UN, and secondly by NATO. I'm not aware of that right now, if that's being contemplated, but I'm not a spokesman for either the UN or NATO. I think it's their call.

Q: Can you give us a little rundown on the Perry-Tamazawa talks?

A: I don't know. I've been so busy preparing for this briefing, and I believe they were still meeting when I came down here, so I cannot give you a readout, but I'll try to get something later on for you.

Q: Is it fair to assume that North Korea is on the agenda for those talks?

A: You can assume that. But since I have not talked to anybody about what happened at the talks, I would be reluctant to make any public assumption. But of course you can assume anything publicly you want.

Q: And often do. [Laughter]

Q: Are you aware of a policy stance on the part of the Department in terms of the position of whether [taggant] should be put in explosives used by the military? Evidently the NRA is claiming that the military has a code...

A: I'm not aware of that. I'll check into it.

Q: Along those lines, has the Pentagon checked whether the two gentlemen detained today in the Oklahoma City thing are connected in any way...

A: Give me the names of those who have been detained.

Q: Michael Land and Robert Jacks.

A: I have the name of Gary Allen Land. Is that the name?

Q: Oh, I'm sorry. Yes.

A: We have not found any records, any military records so far, and the second name?

Q: Robert Jacks.

A: I'm sorry, Commander Franklin has told me that the number of advanced NATO communicators is 50, not 80. So anywhere you have 80 in your notes, turn it to 50.

The other, Robert Jacks, we are still checking on Robert Jacks.

Q: When you say Land, you have not found any military records, you're talking about active military records?

A: No military records.

Q: No indication he served in the military?

A: No indication he served in the military. But this is--I don't want to get your hopes up, but this is preliminary. This is our first check. I don't expect that to change, but we're trying to be open to the true facts here, as always.

Q: A high level Department of State official yesterday, expert in Iran, did verify that the Iranian Hezbollah was responsible for many troubles in Algeria, and--indeed, shipped weapons in violation of the embargo to Bosnia--is thought very definitely to be involved in the explosion in Argentina, the Israeli facility there, and other atrocities.

Does the Department of Defense believe that it should be a part of our policy to interdict, to somehow embargo arms shipments from Iran, especially the export of terrorism?

A: First, as you correctly point out, Secretary Christopher and other people in the State Department did detail many of the reasons why we worry about Iran today.

The Department of Defense carries out the policies of the government and if the policy of the government is to interdict shipments, we will carry that out. But I don't want to speculate right now about what the policy may be.

Q: That is not part of policy?

A: I'm not aware that it is.

Press: Thank you.

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