United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share


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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
November 18, 1997 1:45 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

First, at the very beginning, because this is important, I want to announce today that we have 10 Air Force Public Affairs officers here from around the world as part of the Air Force Public Affairs Excellence program. These are captains who are learning the trade and working their way up through the Public Affairs hierarchy, and we welcome you here today.

Second, let me... I usually don't have the privilege of having Samuel R. Berger, the National Security Advisor, set me up for a briefing, and I attribute the crowd to that good work by him. Let me give you the details that he promised.

The President today approved the deployment of additional military aircraft to the Gulf to strengthen our forces already there. We will be sending as many as 40 to 45 additional combat aircraft to support Operation SOUTHERN WATCH and other forces in the area. Let me tell you what specifically is included in that package.

First, six F-117 stealth fighters from Holloman Air Force Base, and they will go to Kuwait where they'll be based at Kuwait City Airport. Second, six B-52s from Barksdale Air Force Base. These will be air-launched cruise missile capable B-52s, and they will be based at Diego Garcia which, as you know, is a British territory. There will also be some tanker and support aircraft accompanying these that will come from TRANSCOM, the Transportation Command.

Finally, the President has given the Commander in Chief of the Central Command, General Anthony Zinni, the authority to send in an Air Expeditionary Force of approximately 30 combat aircraft if he thinks that's necessary. So he has the additional flexibility to augment his force over the next several days or weeks beyond the F-117s and the B-52s. That Air Expeditionary Force would contain F-15s, F-16s, and two B-1 bombers. He could send in the entire force or parts of the force depending on what he thinks his needs are.

As I say, the decision to send in the AEF which would be based in Bahrain has not yet been made, and that will be left up to General Zinni.

We anticipate that the F-117s and the B-52s will arrive in the theater by the end of this week.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Ken, how much is this deployment costing -- the B-52s and the F-117s? Why the decision to send these if the diplomatic course seems to be running well at this time?

A: To answer your first question, I have no idea, but we'll get the information for you.

As you know, these planes move in and out of the Gulf on a fairly regular basis. We had an Air Expeditionary Force in Bahrain until about the first or middle part of October, and that did include F-15s, F-16s and B-1s.

This additional package, which of course augments the carrier GEORGE WASHINGTON which is on its way -- that carrier and its battlegroup should arrive and be ready to fly this weekend -- basically gives the CINC more power and more flexibility to carry out his mission. We are carrying out intense diplomatic efforts now to try to end the crisis created when Iraq spurned the U.N. and threw out the U.N. Special Commission's weapons inspectors. Those diplomatic efforts are continuing, perhaps even accelerating. At the same time, we continue to need to preserve the option, if necessary, of military force -- particularly in light of threatening actions that Saddam continues to take against the planes that are already flying in the area.

As you know, the U-2 flew successfully last night, early this morning Iraq time, over central Iraq, just west of Baghdad. It was west of Baghdad for about an hour. Saddam Hussein continues to threaten to shoot down U-2s flying in support of the U.N.

Second, we have extensive air operations going on every day under SOUTHERN WATCH. The patrols which are south of the 33rd Parallel over southern Iraq are designed to prevent Saddam Hussein from marshaling his forces for use against his neighbors. What we have seen is extremely active activity by his air defense system. The air defense system is actually on a higher state of alert today than it was before he invaded Kuwait in 1990. There is extensive movement of his air defense system. We assume this movement is for two reasons. Part of it is defensive so that it's harder for us to target his air defense missiles, particularly SA-6 missiles, but also SA-2 missiles and Roland missiles. But we also think some of it is offensive, that it's designed to set up what is known as a trap or a SAM trap -- surface-to-air missile trap -- and that occurs when, particularly when SA-6s are brought to bear which can be optically targeted -- so you would try to set up a situation where a plane is painted by a radar say off to the left, by one type of missile of shorter missile, a Roland missile, for instance, and then optically tracked with a longer range SA-6 missile and lured into a situation where it could be shot down.

Given what we've seen, the active redeployment of his air defenses, the high state of alert, we think that he is interested in much more than diplomacy, that he has ulterior motives to moving these around, and we need to be prepared.

So we are following, aggressively, with diplomatic efforts, to resolve this problem. The problem will be resolved when Saddam Hussein decides once again that UNSCOM inspectors can come in to monitor his weapons of mass destruction program and the destruction of that program as required by the U.N., and given free reign to set up the composition of their inspection teams and to operate as they're supposed to under U.N. resolution in Iraq.

Q: Is he adding missiles in the southern and northern no-fly zones, or simply moving them around actively?

A: The missiles have been moving around fairly actively.

Q: In both zones?

A: Mainly in the southern area.

Q: Is he illuminating any of the SOUTHERN WATCH aircraft with search or fire control radars?

A: He has not recently, no. And actually, there have been no violations of either the northern or the southern no-fly zone for about a week. But we do spot extremely active movements of his missile defenses.

Q: Do you have any understanding or any grasp of any of the elements of the understanding that Russian Foreign Minister Primakov announced today in Moscow after the meeting with Tariq Aziz?

A: I'm afraid I don't. I know that Mike McCurry is going to make some remarks about that at the White House today, but I do not know the details of what he said, and I'm not sure that anybody in our government knows the details right now.

Q: While you point out that his air defense system is at a higher state of alert than it was when he invaded Kuwait, there's no other sign at this point that you can see that he intends offensive activity, is there? Do you see troops moving in the direction of any of its neighbors? Do you see any other offensive-oriented movement on the part of Saddam?

A: The offensive-oriented efforts we see are primarily directed at our aircraft, and that's what concerns us the most. The most active containment policy we have, or element of our containment policy is Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, and that's where we see the most worrisome preparations to respond, and that is the movement of his air defense systems.

There have been vast movements of his ground troops, but they have been movements to disperse out of the center, out of their barracks, out of their bases, with their equipment into broader areas. We consider this to be defensive in nature to make it more difficult for anybody to target his forces.

Q: Two questions, really all part of the same thing. One, when is the next U-2 window or scheduled flight? And two, there is no mention of the Air Force's new B-2 bomber. Is that going to be used or tried at all? Would the Air Force like to have the B-2 sent over there?

A: The U-2 window that is currently open lasts into early next week, and I anticipate there will be at least one more U-2 flight during that period. There is a possibility that the frequency of U-2 flights, if requested by the U.N., could be increased to make up for the lack of on-the-ground inspections, but that's a decision that hasn't been finalized yet.

In terms of the B-2 bomber, I think the decision is that we have adequate forces there or on the way or on call, such as the AEF, and that the B-2 isn't necessary at this time.

Q: The Air Force and the Pentagon is sending B-1s. Why the B-1, which is almost obsolescent in view of what the Air Force tells us about the capability of the B-2?

A: These are commanders' decisions, and the decision was made not to send the B-2 at this time.

Q: Were the last U-2 flights threatened in any way by radar illumination or any other way?

A: They were threatened only rhetorically.

Q: The 40-45 aircraft, that is in addition to the AEF that's on standby?

A: No. That would include the AEF. Let me run through the numbers again so there's no confusion here.

There are six F-117s that will be sent for sure; and six B-52 bombers will be sent for sure. In addition, the AEF, which would be comprised of F-15s, F-16s, and B-1 bombers, is on call, and can be sent if General Zinni, the commander of our forces in the area, decides that it's necessary. There will also, as I pointed out, be various support aircraft that will go as part of this package.

Q: How many tankers are going with the 117s and...

A: I believe four tankers will be going.

Q: How would you characterize the aircraft that are being ordered there? It's a powerful B-52. And the stealth bombers that did such a good job in the Persian Gulf War. Is it being sent mostly to send a message to Saddam Hussein that this is another reason that you should resolve this peacefully? Or is it being sent mostly because the U.S. is taking this precaution because of fears of the buildup that you cited?

A: It's being sent for two reasons. One, to protect our own forces in an environment that remains threatening, and in fact has become more threatening than several weeks ago; and two, to send a message that while diplomacy continues, we have not ruled out any other option. We hope not to have to invoke military force. We've been very clear about that. We've been very aggressive at following diplomatic efforts. But we want first to be able to protect our own forces there; and second, to protect our options.

Q: So that Saddam Hussein gets this message, how would you characterize these new planes? Is this like a very strong... How would you characterize this message he should be hearing about this latest order?

A: I think this is a show of determination on our part to protect our forces and to see this affront to the U.N. end as quickly as possible.

Q: We keep being reminded that this is a U.N. operation. Obviously the U-2 has U.N. markings. Give us some insight into the dialogue between the U.S. and the U.N. today and the President's decision to do this. Or is this completely unilateral? How does that work?

A: Well, we have a very capable ambassador, William Richardson, at the U.N., and of course he's dealing with U.N. officials all the time. Our Secretary of State, Mrs. Albright, has been traveling over the last couple of days, talking to her counterparts both in person and by phone. And President Clinton has talked to several of his counterparts as the White House has announced and described. Secretary Cohen has talked to a number of his counterparts. We are following, I believe, every conceivable diplomatic avenue open to us at this time.

Q: But U.N. approval, obviously, is not required. Or U.N. agreement with this buildup of forces.

A: No. This is something... As I say, we are reacting in part to a graver threat that we spot in the area.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about other air forces that may be interested in participating in this? There are a few British aircraft that are participating in SOUTHERN WATCH. Are there any French aircraft that are participating in that any longer? And have any countries said they would like to contribute additional aircraft in a show of support to what the United States is doing?

A: In SOUTHERN WATCH, the U.S. has approximately 120 aircraft, and the UK has six Tornados, and the French have five Mirage 2000s, and one F-1, and one cargo aircraft or tanker aircraft in the area. In NORTHERN WATCH, which polices the northern no-fly zone, the U.S. has a total of 53 aircraft; the United Kingdom has six Tornados and one VC-10 tanker; and Turkey has four F-116Cs participating.

I'm not aware right now that other countries are anticipating increasing their forces in the area, but I will point out that the British have put a squadron of fighters on heightened alert, and that was announced within the last couple of days by Prime Minister Blair.

Q: You're not soliciting additional aircraft at this time?

A: I'm not aware that we are at this time, no.

Q: What about the INTREPID [HMS INVINCIBLE]? What's the latest on the Intrepid heading to the area?

A: The INTREPID [HMS INVINCIBLE] is going from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean.

Q: Is there a rift between Secretary Cohen and Secretary Albright in regards to carrots and sticks and some background briefings on Secretary Albright's plane regarding offers to Saddam Hussein?

A: I wouldn't characterize it as a rift. I think the United States government is very clear and very unified in what's at stake here. What's at stake is getting the U.N. inspectors back into Iraq on an unfettered basis so they can continue monitoring work on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program.

Q: But the Secretary said yesterday that the United States was offering no deals to Saddam and was dangling no carrots, and yet obviously, this, whatever you want to call it, this (inaudible) by the State Department, is in fact a deal that's being offered. It's an incentive that's being offered to Saddam...

A: The Secretary yesterday and Mr. Berger, the National Security Advisor, today both made it very clear that Iraq must comply with U.N. Resolution 1137. That is a necessary precondition to any other developments in this area. Until that happens, we can't talk about other steps.

Q: But the United States is talking about...

A: We're demanding compliance, and that's what we hope Iraq will do soon. Comply.

Q: Speaking to that issue, the most dangerous issue of say germ or biological types of weapons being loaded into artillery shells... If there was an indication of that, or if those artillery shells were being moved to some forward area -- Ken, would that constitute reason to use air power?

A: I can't talk about what specific actions would trigger the use of force except to say we have made it extremely clear through past behavior as well as through current words and current deployments that we are prepared to act quickly and aggressively to protect our forces should they come under attack. Beyond that, I don't think it profits me or anybody else to talk about specifics.

Q: Is there any indication that he's doing such, loading any of these agents?

A: We don't have indications of that, but I must tell you that this is precisely why we need U.N. inspectors back on the ground, because they have done a magnificent job under very difficult circumstances over the last six years, and it's only with people on the ground who can go into suspicious sites that we're able to have any assurance that he is not moving forward with his weapons of mass destruction program.

Q: You said our planes are going to get there by the end of the week. Just to clarify, when are the first ones leaving? As soon as tonight?

A: I can't tell you that. When we know... The commanders are in the process of working this out now. I would guess it wouldn't be tonight, but when we have the precise details, we'll get them. But this is exactly the type of thing..

Q: Regarding the expeditionary force that's been authorized to go to Bahrain, what kind of signal would it be if that force is sent? Would that be a signal event?

A: I think it would signal our continued determination to maintain a prudent and strong force in the area, but this will depend on what General Zinni decides is necessary as he responds to the threats that he sees in the area.

Q: But you understand the thrust of the question, this is a large force you're holding in reserve. The threat is there and the authorization to send the force. Would that signal some new phase of the buildup of the military if its force is sent?

A: Obviously it would signal that we feel we need a stronger force to protect our interests in the area. This will be left up to the CINC to decide. I think the lesson, or the message here to Saddam Hussein is that we are prepared to commit the forces we believe are necessary to protect our interests in the area, and we are prepared to do what we believe is necessary to continue efforts to contain his program to build weapons of mass destruction. The preferred method for doing that is very clear and should be very clear to everybody. It's to get UNSCOM inspectors back into Iraq as soon as possible so they can do their job in compliance with U.N. mandates.

Q: Has General Zinni asked for these airplanes?

A: Yes. This is based on a plan that the CINC, Commander in Chief, General Zinni sent to the Joint Staff I'd say about a week ago.

Q: The 117s, the B-52, as well as the AEF?

A: That is my understanding, yes.

Q: Have the governments of the countries involved given their consent that if the United States feels it's necessary to launch strikes from their territory that that's agreeable?

A: The governments of the countries involved clearly support this additional deployment. They understand what our policy is, they understand what the goals of our policy are, and they very much support the goals of that policy which is to get U.N. inspectors back into Iraq so we can continue -- that is we, the U.N. -- Iraq's work on weapons of mass destruction.

Q: But have they given permission for strikes if the United States decides that's a necessary step?

A: Our hope is that we won't have to employ military force, and we're trying to use a combination of diplomacy and strength to guarantee that we won't have to use military force.

Q: How big a factor was the Pentagon's concern about the movement of the surface-to-air missile systems as far as the decision to send additional F-117s and the B-52s?

A: It was a significant factor, but there are other factors as well.

Q: Have any other U.S. forces been given a heads up that they might be deployed within the next week or two?

A: Not that I'm aware of, no.

Q: Any discussion about, can you rule out that ground troops were even discussed...

A: I'm not going to rule anything in or out at this stage. We do have a battalion in the area now working on one of the INTRINSIC ACTION exercises in Kuwait. We, of course, would be able to enlarge that to a brigade or more if that were considered necessary. Right now that's not an option that is next in the list of options, but it could happen if it were necessary.

Q: What about calling up reservists?

A: I think we're not close to that at this stage. But obviously, when you're in a posture of not having ruled anything in or out, that could remain possible in the distant future. But I don't want to encourage you to think that it's on anybody's list because it isn't right now.

Q: When did the GW enter the Gulf?

A: I don't know the exact time it enters the Gulf, but as I said, we expect it to be able to commence flight operations in the Gulf this weekend.

Q: You painted a rather grim picture of Iraqi air defenses, the way that they're actively moving around. That's been the case, though, for at least the last week. Has there been any change in the last couple of days that caused the President to make this decision?

A: It's their determination to remain at the highest possible state of alert; it's the active movement of their air defenses, and the feeling of the commanders that we have to have maximum capability to respond to that that's led to this decision.

Q: But there's been no change in the last day or two, no worsening?

A: I've not seen any worsening in the last day or two, no. But that's because it's been at a very high level of alert for some time.

Q: Just to recap, we're sending 16 planes, right? Six F-117s...

A: At this stage we are definitely sending the six F-117s, the six B-52s, four tankers, and there may be a few other support planes as well.

Q: KC-135s?

A: I believe the tankers are KC-135s, yeah.

Q: On Sunday Secretary Cohen made a pretty forceful case regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and in particular the biological weapons, that he still has enough to kill millions of people. Isn't he sort of putting you in the position where they're going to have to be destroyed one way or another, whether the U.N. does it, the U.S. is going to have to do it?

A: I need a pronoun test here. Who's the "he?" Secretary Cohen or Saddam Hussein?

Q: The Administration, I should say. Now that you've made such a (inaudible) case for the destruction of these weapons -- if the U.N. hasn't done it in six years, doesn't that leave the United States to do it if they're so worried about them?

A: First of all, the U.N. has done an extraordinary amount of work in the last six years under very difficult circumstances. It has discovered and assured the destruction of 53 SCUD missiles. It's discovered missile gyroscopes imported after the Gulf War and either taken them out or destroyed them. It's discovered and destroyed 38,000 chemical munitions, 6,990 tons of chemical agents. It has discovered and destroyed a custom built biological weapons factory that could make botulinum toxin as well as anthrax, and it has discovered and destroyed various Iraqi weapons, research and development activities. It also, through its cameras -- some of which aren't being operated as completely as we would like due to the absence of the UNSCOM team -- through its cameras, it continually monitors 63 missile sites, 160 chemical sites, 90 biological sites, and a number of dual use facilities that can make agricultural or pharmaceutical goods and also be flipped over to make weapons of mass destruction which are, of course, very difficult to monitor, and the cameras help immensely. So there is, I think, an enormous accomplishment and credit that we should give to UNSCOM for the last six years.

Q: As Secretary Cohen said, there's still enough to kill millions of people.

A: And that's why we need to have UNSCOM inspectors back on the ground so they can continue this good work.

Q: But are you willing to commit to the destruction of those chemical weapons one way or another, whether the United Nations does it or the United States?

A: We are willing to commit to UNSCOM's continuing program to destroy weapons of mass destruction and their production facilities in Iraq. That's the job of UNSCOM. It's done a great job. They have to be back there doing that job not just for our safety, but for the safety of the Middle East.

Q: You may have covered it, I had to duck out to file, but going back to ground forces for a minute, have any of the U.S. Army or other ground forces -- 82nd Airborne, etc. -- been put on a state of alert?

A: No.

Q: Have any countries, maybe the French, said that the F-117s are not to overfly their territory on the way to the Gulf?

A: Not that I'm aware of. I believe that our allies are quite supportive of this action that we're taking, but I have not asked that question specifically.

Q: The French are quite supportive of the buildup of aircraft?

A: The French are very supportive of the goal to do what is necessary to get UNSCOM inspectors back into Iraq policing weapons of mass destruction.

Q: You don't mean to include that they specifically have commented in a positive way about our military buildup, the American military buildup.

A: Secretary Cohen has had several discussions with his counterpart, Defense Minister Richard. I can't recount the content of those discussions, but I don't anticipate that this will raise problems.

Q: Can you help us understand some of the apparent confusion around the decision to send these aircraft today? The entire Pentagon was caught by surprise by the decision of the White House. What happened?

A: I think that's a misreading of what happened. The military commanders, General Shelton and General Pace, the J-3, have been working on plans for some time, along with Secretary Cohen. These plans have been at the White House since last week. They were discussed in detail last week. There was a decision made to send the GEORGE WASHINGTON first, and this morning, after reviewing the situation with his advisors, the President took these plans, part of the plans off the shelf and decided to do what I announced to you.

I think there's not confusion, there's always... When a decision is made to do something you have to work out a package of logistics, you have to get the right tankers, you have to sequence when they go, how many tankers are going to go with them, which tankers are going to go with them, and that's what we've been working on. That's what the Joint Staff has been working on this morning.

Q: The plans have been in the White House for a week. What was it that forced the President's hand today?

A: The President has been traveling for the last couple of days. When he came back and sat down with his advisors I think it was a combination of one, the threat that our planes face in the area -- I've described that several times already -- and two, the belief that we need to give our commanders in the area the full range of flexibility and power necessary to them should any contingency occur.

Q: Are these movements of anti-aircraft missile batteries, are they in themselves violations of any of the U.N. resolutions regarding the no-fly zones?

A: Some of them, if they stand, could be -- yes.

Q: Haven't we in the past taken military action just because of those violations? Could we take military action against these batteries that are being moved around?

A: We believe we have full authority to do that, yes.

Q: The United States warned Iraq after an attack in, I believe it was '96, not to reconstitute its air defenses in the southern zone, so this is not violating that warning?

A: I think there have been some violations of that warning, but, as I say, equipment is moving around quite rapidly. So it depends on what day you look at the situation.

Q: There's some U.S. Navy admiral briefing the U.N. today on violations or smuggling by Iraq through the Persian Gulf of oil and arms. Can you tell us anything about that?

A: I know that the smuggling goes on. I don't have specific details. We could probably get you some details on that and we could probably give you a briefing similar to what's being given at the U.N. But there is smuggling, and the pace of that smuggling has increased.

Somebody from one of the many schools I've attended in my life called me to raise money last night and he told me that he'd recently been in Kuwait, and there's an active sheep smuggling trade across the border from Iraq to Kuwait. He told me that an Iraqi sheep will sell for $300 in Kuwait, so there is smuggling going on. Some of it's more serious than sheep. [Laughter]

Q: What does this have to do... Why is he up there today? What's the relationship of this to everything else that's going on?

A: I don't know. In fact, until you mentioned it, I didn't know he was up there talking about the smuggling. I assume he's talking about the Maritime Interdiction Force. We'd be glad to get somebody down here to talk to you about what that force is doing and the smuggling that takes place, much of it right along the Iranian coast which is difficult for us to police in and out of Iraq.

Q: One thing on UNSCOM inspectors. I still don't understand it. If they're needed so badly now, why were the inspectors, excluding the Americans, not left in the country and the fight then would be over getting the American inspectors back in the country, one; two, don't the inspectors run the risk of being in areas that might be targets if they're there?

A: First of all, to answer your first question, I think Secretary Cohen and others have made it very clear that we don't believe the dog should be able to select his own dog catcher.

When you're sending a group of people in to monitor activity, they have to be able to choose the composition of their own teams. This seems fundamental to everybody on the Security Council. That's why the Security Council has voted unanimously to enforce Resolution 1137.

Secondly, Iraq has interfered with the activities of UNSCOM inspectors in the past. It kept them under guard in a parking lot at one point, and in the last 10 or 15 days it's aggressively obstructed their ability to do their job by preventing them from going on inspection trips when their teams included Americans. But generally, they have protected the safety of those inspectors.

I think it's because they are U.N. inspectors, they are operating under the aegis of an international organization that's trying to bring improvement to that country.

Q: What about their safety if they go back in?

A: We have to assume that they'll be treated as safely, if they go back in, as they were before. I think that even Saddam Hussein realizes that jeopardizing the safety of United Nations personnel would be extremely dangerous.

Q: Do you anticipate if this turns offensive on the part of the United States that allied aircraft that are in the region, or allied aircraft that are being held back, would participate with the United States in offensive operations?

A: Our goal is not to go into combat. It's to secure compliance with U.N. resolutions diplomatically.

Q: Have you discussed with our allies whether or not should this go south in some fashion that they would participate in operations with us offensively?

A: I think it's clear that the British and the French have supported military operations in the past; their planes are at risk. They're put at the same risk by the aggressive air defense activity of Iraq that our planes are. So I have to assume that they would be as interested in protecting their pilots as we are in protecting ours.

Q: Bosnia. Can you give us a quick update on numbers of troops there? Have we shrunk that force down since the elections? I know it was built up a little bit. Other than that, is there anything going on in Bosnia?

A: There are about 8,400 American troops in Bosnia right now, and yes, there actually is an extraordinary amount going on in Bosnia. Let me just cite two things that are happening right now, even as we speak.

First, there has been substantial progress made in the area of arms reductions, which is one of the requirements of the Dayton Accords. We believe now that all factions have met their agreed arms reduction limits for tanks, artillery, armored combat vehicles and aircraft, and the OSCE will review the status of the arms reduction activities on Friday and determine whether in fact these provisions have been met. But I think if you'd asked anybody several months ago if all the sides would meet the arms reduction goals by the end of October, there would have been a great deal of skepticism, but, in fact, they have.

Second, there are very important elections about to occur in the Republic of Serbska over this weekend. Those are elections for the Serbian Parliament or Assembly, as it's called. As you know, SFOR will provide some area security for those elections and has been preparing to do that. They'll be run by the OSCE, the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe.

So far the preparations for the elections seem to be going extremely smoothly. So those are two important events -- arms control and elections that are occurring in Bosnia now.

Press: Thank you.

Additional Links

Stay Connected