United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share


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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD/PA
May 31, 1995 1:15 PM EDT

Tuesday, May 30, 1995 - 1:15 p.m.

Mr. Bacon: Hello. Welcome to our briefing.

I thought I'd begin with just a quick review of the disposition of ships in the Adriatic.

There were two destroyers participating in SHARP GUARD last week. They were the ARLEIGH BURKE and the JOHN RODGERS. When the THEODORE ROOSEVELT carrier came in on the 26th, they joined it and are now functioning with it. There's also the amphibious ready group which came into the Adriatic on May 29th. That consists of the KEARSARGE, the NASHVILLE, and the PENSACOLA -- and that's carrying the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

As you know, carriers and ARGs -- which, when they operate in the Mediterranean are called MARGs for Mediterranean Amphibious Ready Groups operate in the Adriatic from time to time. We last had a carrier there at the end of March, and we had a Marine amphibious ready group there until about mid-March. So these ships move in and out according to their deployment patterns.


We have a fact sheet on the Naval and Marine assets in the Adriatic which we'll hand out at the end.

Q: Is it the policy of the Clinton Administration -- still the policy of the Clinton Administration -- not to put any U.S. troops in Bosnia unless there's a peace agreement or to help oversee the withdrawal of any UN troops?

A: It's the Clinton Administration's policy not to commit combat troops to the peacekeeping operation. That's right.

Q: The Secretary this morning talked about possibly sending helicopters and APCs to the area. Would they just be turned over or would they be manned by Americans?

A: They would be turned over. We would send the equipment only -- without pilots or maintenance people.

Q: You say it's Administration policy not to commit troops to the peacekeeping operation, but what about committing troops to either the rescue of elements of the peacekeeping operation, or to assist in redeployment of the peacekeeping operation?

A: We have troops there who, if we are asked to help NATO, we will consider those requests. The President has already said that we will assist NATO in an evacuation from Bosnia if requested by the UN. I can't go into details about what else we might do, but we have already expressed a willingness to help NATO in that situation, and we would consider other requests if they came. None have come.

Q: So if NATO requested the U.S. to help with American ground forces or helicopter units and the redeployment of UN peacekeeping troops in Bosnia, the Administration would consider that request?

A: I said we would consider it; I didn't say we would do it. I said we would consider requests from NATO. We've expressed from the very beginning -- or certainly from last year -- we've expressed our willingness to help our allies evacuate from Bosnia. If we get other requests, we'll consider them. I'm not ruling anything in, I'm not ruling anything out at this stage.

Q: Then it might have changed? Because previously the United States has said that if there's a redeployment of UN troops, that the United States would only provide equipment and not troops. Now you're not ruling out providing troops?

A: I said I'm not ruling anything in or out. I want to be very clear about that. We have made a commitment to our NATO allies to help them evacuate. We will consider other requests. We would always consider requests they gave to us. We wouldn't spurn their requests.

Q: Does this represent a change in policy?

A: I do not believe it represents a change in policy.

Q: Because?

A: Because I'm not making a change in policy. I'm telling you we would consider a request. If we'd gotten a request two weeks ago we would have considered a request.

Q: You're making it sound like... First you describe these ship movements as well, they move in and out of the Adriatic all the time. And now you say well, we're always willing to consider a request from NATO. The situation hasn't fundamentally changed here, and the situation seems to have fundamentally changed.

A: I'd say the most fundamental change in the situation so far is that the events of the last four or five days have solidified the views of the participant countries that UNPROFOR should be strengthened. Several weeks ago there was a lot of speculation about withdrawal -- a lot of speculation in the press about withdrawal. But the message that's come out of the meetings that Secretary Perry began in London on Saturday, and that Secretary Christopher held yesterday in The Hague, and the meetings today also all stress that the countries participating in UNPROFOR -- particularly England and France -- have expressed a determination to strengthen UNPROFOR and to stay. They think UNPROFOR is serving a valuable purpose. That's what our view has been for a long while -- the view of this government.

Q: Are you maintaining, that in the past, Ken, you have said that we are always willing to consider other contingencies for putting American troops into this situation? I don't recall that you have...

A: We've only made one commitment, and you're very aware of the commitment we have made. That's the only commitment we've made right now.

Q: ...caveats behind that? Like saying...

A: We received one other request, and the request we received at the end of last year was to come up with a plan -- participate in planning -- for strengthening UNPROFOR. We agreed as part of those plans to provide some equipment. We offered to provide helicopters, APCs, night vision equipment, and heavy construction equipment. That offer was not accepted by the UN. That offer could be made again. But we have made basically, two commitments in the course of, vis-a-vis, UNPROFOR. One is to help evacuate under a NATO command structure following NATO rules of engagement; and the other is to help strengthen UNPROFOR should the UN want to strengthen UNPROFOR. Now, in the last couple of days, there seems to be renewed interest in finding ways to strengthen UNPROFOR.

Q: Are the air strikes on hold?

Q: The Secretary was asked about this in London on Saturday and he said he wasn't responsible for UN actions. Both the United States, NATO, and the UN have expressed concern for weeks that, if air raids are launched, that UN forces on the ground might be taken hostage. Why wasn't that taken into consideration, and why were these observers left unprotected before the raids were launched?

A: As you correctly pointed out, that is a UN issue. The UN, after all, requested these air strikes. It's, as you know, a dual-key approach. The UN requested the air strikes and NATO agreed, and we participated in those air strikes as part of NATO.

Q: Are the strikes on hold now indefinitely, or at least until there's some kind of dialogue to get the hostages released?

A: NATO retains the right, if requested by the UN, to continue with air strikes. There has not been a request since Friday.

Q: Is the U.S. at all surprised that this crisis has developed? The Secretary himself said in Rome on Friday that he didn't think even tough air strikes would bring the Serbs to heel any time immediately. Are you surprised that this crisis has developed?

A: The Serbs have proven themselves adept at taking hostages in the past. Remember late last year they had several hundred hostages under their control. It was that time, and it's interesting to recall this because it runs somewhat parallel to today's situation... At that time, there was talk of UNPROFOR withdrawal. It was that talk that made the participants in UNPROFOR realize that they didn't want to withdraw, that they were serving a valuable function, and that the UN did not want them to withdraw. It was that talk that triggered two things. One, President Carter went to Bosnia and negotiated the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement; and two, UNPROFOR began thinking about ways it could consolidate its mission and strengthen its operations in Bosnia. In a sense, we're doing that again five months later.

Q: What happened in the interim on those thoughts about strengthening and making UNPROFOR better and tougher? What happened?

A: As I said to you, and as I said to you before, the UN decided not to do it. You might ask why did they decide not to do it? Well, one reason possibly was that they had the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement and there was, for awhile, some uplifted hope that there might be a successful peace negotiation. Those negotiations have not yet turned out to produce a peace agreement, but there will be, and there are now plans underway for renewed negotiations given the current situation.

Q: Just to be clear, the United States has clearly said in the past that it would not put combat troops on the ground in Bosnia except in some very specific circumstances that were spelled out, which I think Charlie mentioned. Now it would appear by your statements today that the United States is opening the door to at least the possibility of a third condition: some sort of role in helping the redeployment of UN troops in Bosnia. Is that your intention? To give that impression?

A: It is not my impression, and I have said, I thought, clearly, that I do not want to give that impression. We are not ruling that in. I did not come down here to change our policy. Our policy remains the same. I want to be very clear about that.

Q: But you did say, you used the word "repositioned." We would have said in repositioning UNPROFOR. That's different from withdrawal.

A: We have made one commitment, and that commitment is to assist NATO in an evacuation of UNPROFOR Forces. That's our commitment. I'm not making a new commitment here.

Q: No, but you're saying the door's open today to helping reposition...

A: What I said I think is perfectly reasonable. If NATO had come to us with a request a month ago to do something, we would have considered that request. We might have rejected it. We'll consider a request if they come to us again.

Q: What about the arms embargo? Any change in the policy on that? Any attempt to get congressional change or...

A: We remain opposed to a unilateral lifting of the embargo.

Q: What steps are going to be taken to strengthen UNPROFOR?

A: Those are still being worked out. The French have asked us again recently to provide heavy construction equipment, and since that's one of the things we've been prepared to provide before, I assume we'll be prepared to provide it again. There are a number of balls in the air right now, and that's one of them. What is going to be the future shape of UNPROFOR? How will it be changed? That will be worked out over the next few days or weeks.

Q: One of the things that's mentioned, I think, in one of those communiques from The Hague was a rapid reaction force for UNPROFOR. Would the U.S. be part of that rapid reaction force?

A: The French are positioning themselves, or have, because they've sent a carrier down there, and the British have announced that they're doing the same thing. We clearly are in a position, if the need arises, and if we choose to, to participate in that. But we have made no decision to do it. We have had no request to do anything.

Q: So the Marines are our potential contribution to the rapid...

A: The Marines are there to respond to contingencies if they're needed. We have not so far been asked to do anything nor have we made a decision to do anything beyond what we've said we'd do in the past. It's also clear that the Marines can help in any eventual evacuation from Bosnia.

Q: Would the rapid reaction, or the French Forces that are there now at sea, and the Marines... Would they operate unilaterally? Or would they operate as part of NATO? Can you help sort of sort out how these different triggers...

A: I can't sort that out because I don't think decisions have been made on exactly what will happen to those forces at this time.

Q: So there is a possibility that the U.S. could operate in some ad hoc configuration as opposed to any of the existing relationships?

A: The U.S. does not have forces on the ground in Bosnia. It is unlikely that we would do anything outside the NATO umbrella as part of a NATO policy.

Q: In regards to whatever equipment might be provided, is that something that would come through NATO channels and be handed over elsewhere? Or would U.S. Forces be required to take it into Bosnia to deliver to the different groups there? Is there any...

A: I can't answer that question because I don't think we've gotten down to that level of detail. I assume we would turn it over to UNPROFOR and UNPROFOR would take it to where it was supposed to. But I want to be clear that I don't know the answer to that question, and I'm not sure there is an answer at this stage.

Q: You mentioned the Marines and Navy, the aircraft carrier. In addition to those carrier-based jets, are there any plans to bring in any more Air Force aircraft to, say, Aviano or any of those?

A: There's already a very substantial U.S. air presence in Aviano, and that has been enhanced slightly in the last couple of days at the request of NATO.

Q: How has it been enhanced? Can you give us a number?

A: Well, this is subtle, so you'll have to pay attention here. There already were some EF-111's assigned to Aviano temporarily, and they were supposed to come back. They're going to stay. There are six that will stay there now indefinitely. There were two AC-130 gunships assigned to OPERATION DENY FLIGHT, and there were two on-call. The two on-call which are at Brindisi have been, in fact, called. So instead of two there and two on call, there are four assigned. There also has been some enhancement of tanker assets, more tanker aircraft.

Q: Those four are going to be at Brindisi or at Aviano? The four AC-130s?

A: I think they operate out of Brindisi.

Q: You said we could get a listing of kind of order of battle stuff. Can we also get the jets, too? Is that included in...

A: I can tell you there are eight Air Force F-15Es at Aviano; there are 12 Marine Corps F-18Ds; there are 12 Air Force F-16Cs at Aviano -- and the Marine F-18Ds are also at Aviano; there are 12 Air Force A-10 ground attack planes some are O/A-10s, observer planes, but they're also at Aviano. There are three Air Force EC-130 airborne battlefield command and control aircraft at Aviano. There are 10 Air Force KC-135 refueling planes -- air-to-air refueling planes operating out of Piza, Italy and Istres, France. To that, at the request of NATO, we have added five additional tanker aircraft, or are in the process of adding five additional tanker aircraft.

The close air support operation is continuing and on some days may actually be intensified, so that explains in part the assignment of these tankers.

Q: I want to see if I understand this clearly. The British are considering repositioning their troops in the area, pulling them out of the enclaves and falling back to Sarajevo. As I understand what you said, if the British government asks us for combat ground troops to support this repositioning, my understanding is we will now consider that?

A: You are all trying to get me to say we are going to assign combat ground troops to Bosnia. I'm here to tell you I'm not going to say that.

Q: I know that. But would we consider...

A: I said we would consider requests. I'm not saying how we would act on the requests. From the very beginning one of our principles here has been -- and President Clinton articulated this principle clearly last year -- we will support our allies. We have made two tangible moves to supporting our allies. The first is we've said we would participate in a NATO run evacuation or withdrawal from Bosnia; and the second is that we have agreed to work with our allies in strengthening UNPROFOR.

Q: There's a lot of feeling in London that this is the prelude to the withdrawal. Are we in the preliminary stages of a withdrawal and we're going to support it?

A: As I said earlier, I think one of the changes that has come out in the last couple of days is that what has happened in Bosnia, the terroristic act of taking hostages, has galvanized the UNPROFOR participants into deciding that they're one, needed there; and two, if they're going to stay they should strengthen their operations. The question is, how are they going to do that? There are a number of things up in the air. I cannot give you answers to a lot of questions because they haven't been answered yet. One of the questions that hasn't been answered is what UNPROFOR will do to strengthen itself.

Q: On the request, has there been a request from NATO for U.S. special forces to be ready for rescue operations?

A: No.

Q: If you have 2,000 Marines -- which you say are from the KEARSARGE and the other ships in the ARG -- that could be used to help in an evacuation and that we were talking about a commitment of up to 25,000 U.S. troops to help with the evacuation, where are the other 23,000 coming from and when? Will there be staging areas?

A: Most of the troops would come from Europe.

Q: Have any other troops, in addition to the Marines in the Adriatic, been put on alert or been told that they might be needed to support a retrenchment of UNPROFOR's withdrawal? Have you put any other troops anywhere on alert?

A: No.

Q: I think what we're trying to get you to acknowledge is that there's been a change in the conditions under which the U.S. might put ground combat troops into Bosnia. You've stood up there now and allowed as how it's possible that U.S. Forces could be part of this rapid reaction force; and it's possible that U.S. Forces could assist in the relocation -- repositioning -- of UNPROFOR. Why isn't that a change?

A: I said we would consider requests. I didn't say how we would react to requests.

This situation is very complex. One of the things that makes it complex is that there are now a series of discussions and negotiations going on to determine what the future of UNPROFOR will be. The outcome of those discussions have a lot to do with how all the countries involved in policing the situation in Yugoslavia will respond. We do not have troops on the ground. We do not plan to put troops on the ground to engage in peacekeeping. We have said we would be willing to put troops on the ground to help as part of an evacuation.

We have a very substantial commitment in the area, however. We have in the carrier battle group 9,000 troops. We have -- in the Mediterranean Amphibious Readiness Group -- we have 2,000 Marines and probably 2,000-odd crewmen on the ships -- another 4,000. And we have about 4,000 assigned to DENY FLIGHT. So we have a very substantial commitment of people and assets to this operation. So we have an interest in what happens there and how it comes out. But I can't tell you right now what we will be doing in a week or two weeks, because we've gotten no request to do anything.

Q: The problem we're having, and I know you're wearying of this line of questioning is...

A: It's not nearly as bad as the problem I'm having. [Laughter]

Q: On the one hand, you're saying that you'd consider deployments -- you'd consider these requests. On the other hand you're saying it's no change in policy. But the first part certainly sounds like a change when you consider that the United States clearly laid out the positions under which it would consider troops and clearly ruled out some conditions, such as ground troops taking part in peacekeeping. Now we have a condition we haven't heard of before and it sounds like a change of policy, but at the same time you're telling us it's not a change. We're having trouble reconciling those two parts of what you're saying.

Q: Can I come at it another way, if I may?

A: Sure. [Laughter]

Q: It seems from what we hear from London that the British elite forces are going in to take care of their own and to try to free up the British hostages. I would assume the French are doing the same thing. You just alluded to there may be a change in UNPROFOR -- there are discussions going on. Can we extend that to say that the scenario I just spelled out takes place and that UNPROFOR is really no longer? The French will be operating independently, the British will be operating independently?

A: I think you can't say that.

Q: The United States started out its policy a year ago that there's no way on God's green earth you'd put troops in on the ground except with a signed, sealed, and delivered peace treaty -- to help oversee that. Then it kind of softened to, well, we'll put some troops in, or put a lot of troops in, maybe, to help get these UN troops out. Now you're saying, well, maybe we'll put some troops in to help realign things.

When is this going to change to well, we'll just put peacekeepers in on the ground?

A: It's not.

Q: Well, you said before that the only grounds that we'd put ground troops in would be to cover a peace treaty. Now it's changed twice.

A: I do not anticipate there will be any change in our resistance to putting U.S. Troops on the ground to enforce the peacekeeping operation in Bosnia.

Q: Do you have any thoughts on how the British are going to get their reinforcement troops to their troops which are now surrounded by Bosnian Serb forces? The roads are not open, the airports are not open. Might that be something the U.S. could assist them in...

A: Well, the British are sending troops down there. There have been situations in the past where troops have been surrounded and the situation has changed and they've gotten out.

Q: So they have to wait for a change in the political temperature?

A: I'm not saying what they have to do or don't have to do, but you asked me a question that I can't answer. It deals with British Troops. I assume they will work that out as best they can and as quickly as they can.

Q: Would the U.S. be willing to assist the British Forces in getting from Split to Sarajevo?

A: The British have substantial air and transportation assets. It's a major military power.

Q: So they'll be operating independently from NATO again, is that correct? If they use their air power for strikes along the highway, those would not be NATO strikes but British strikes. Is that what you're saying?

A: I'm not saying that at all. I don't know why you thought I said that.

Q: That's what I'm hearing.

A: What I've tried to stress is, and it's clear to anybody who listens to television or reads the newspapers today, is that the NATO allies and the UNPROFOR participants are trying to work out what they're trying to do. They have not worked that out. That's what they're in the process of doing right now. That's why Mr. Christopher is over in Europe now. It's one of the reasons he's over in Europe, to work this out. It's one of the reasons Secretary Perry has met with his colleagues from Britain and Germany on Saturday. This is in the process of being worked out.

Q: The Secretary said over the weekend that he was trying to reach Pavel Gracev to talk about these issues. Has he been able to talk with him at all?

A: My belief is that he has not talked with him yet. I'll double check on that.

Q: Secretary Perry said in Rome last week that he thought air attacks would be effective and would achieve the desired results. In the lead-up to...

A: I'm sorry. I don't think you're accurately representing what he said.

Q: He also said they wouldn't achieve that result immediately.

A: That's the crucial caveat.

Q: Okay. My question to you, though, is in the lead-up to the decision to go ahead with air attacks. Can you describe the coordination that went on between the Administration, NATO, and UNPROFOR in examining not only how you carry out air strikes, but looking at the consequences that those air strikes might unleash?

A: The decision to call for air strikes is a UN decision. The next step is that NATO has to decide whether to agree with that. As you know, Rupert Smith, after the first round of shelling against Sarajevo, against the first violation of the safe areas... General Rupert Smith -- the UNPROFOR ground commander requested air strikes and the UN turned him down.

Later on as the shelling continued -- and it's important to realize the sequence, because the air strikes were really a response to a gross violation of the safe areas by the Bosnian Serbs... As the shelling of civilians continued, then the UN did request air strikes and NATO agreed to participate in air strikes, and that's what happened on Thursday and Friday.

Q: ...working and operating in a vacuum here. As you said before, the Serbs have taken hostages when there have been air strikes before, so everybody must have been thinking about the consequences. What type of coordination and communication is going on between the Administration that was urging air strikes as well as UNPROFOR that has to request them, and NATO which is going to carry them out? Or was there somehow a breakdown perhaps...

A: The responsibility for the welfare of the troops is the UN's. They did alert their troops to the possibility of air strikes before the air strikes occurred.

Q: They did. So the UNPROFOR commanders failed in safeguarding them? There wasn't any way they were going to protect them adequately enough, or what?

A: This is a complex question that gets into Rules of Engagement and a number of other things. I cannot give you a complete answer to this. My understanding is that it wasn't always easy for the military observers to move around; that it was not easy for them to move back from where they were towards Sarajevo all the time. I think that's part of the answer. The other answers deal with the rules of engagement, I believe.

Q: Britain and France have repeatedly admonished the United States about calling for air strikes because they had troops on the ground. In retrospect, should perhaps...

A: Charlie, you know that the U.S. does not unilaterally decide to use air strikes.

Q: No, but the U.S. has been pushing harder for these air strikes than anybody, and the U.S. is the only...

A: General Rupert Smith, who first requested air strikes and was turned down, and then requested air strikes again. This is, it's a dual-key approach as we've talked about many times from this podium. It's an approach that requires one, the UN to request air strikes; and two, NATO to agree. The U.S. is one part of NATO.

Q: I've got one question on the air strikes. I use a word often used surgical. One target, albeit two bunkers or half a dozen bunkers, but one target as opposed to multiple targets. Has there been recently any threat implied or otherwise that this would only be the prelude to much wider air strikes if something didn't stop?

A: I can't answer the question. It's hypothetical.

Q: What is the Pentagon's assessment of the effectiveness of air strikes in Bosnia?

A: Certainly the strikes from a narrow standpoint achieved their goal of attacking the targets they set out to attack. But the question of how to strengthen UNPROFOR remains a question of open debate among the allies now. Air strikes have always been one of the tools that could be used to strengthen UNPROFOR. There are other tools as well. Those tools are all being evaluated. Every tool is being looked at now.

Q: Is it your assessment that the air strikes have effectively -- as a tool; have effectively -- strengthened UNPROFOR or have actually weakened UNPROFOR?

A: The statement that's been cited several times by Secretary Perry Secretary Perry in Rome last week -- is that air strikes over a period of time can have an impact. But obviously it requires a longer period of time than has exerted so far.

Q: I believe you said NATO has not made any requests to the United States to mount a special forces rescue operation. Is it possible for 2,000 Marines as part of that KEARSARGE ARG to mount a unilateral rescue operation for two dozen peacekeeper grouplets in Yugoslavia?

A: I don't want to get into discussing what the Marines may or may not do. They're very well trained. They're trained for a number of contingencies. In fact there's a paper on the training of this MEU in the Navy release we're going to give you at the end.

Q: Is there any way that they would embark on a unilateral operation at that time?

A: I can't discuss what they may or may not do.

Q: Has the crisis that these air strikes precipitated, is this in some way...

A: The crisis was not precipitated by the air strikes. The crisis was precipitated by the merciless shelling of safe havens by the Bosnian Serb army. That's what started this. I think it's worth remembering what happened here. They were firing shells into Sarajevo and other safe havens. That's what precipitated this current string of events.

Q: I'll correct that then. The taking of hostages, which was precipitated by these air strikes: has that, in effect, played into U.S. hands, because the United States wants UN troops to remain in Bosnia -- and that seems to be the thrust now, to keep those troops in there and realign them? This has happened without threatening any U.S. troops on the ground? So has this played into U.S. hands?

A: I think that the outrageous hostage taking has made the world realize how difficult the Bosnian Serbs are to deal with.

Q: I'm sorry to keep going back to this. Your comment, quoting Perry, or paraphrasing Perry earlier, "Air strikes over a period of time could have an impact." Air strikes over time could have an impact to do what? Have a positive impact after hostages are taken? You keep striking? I don't understand how they could have a positive impact.

A: This story is not over, obviously. And he stated at the time in Rome that our air power could have an impact on advancing the goals of UNPROFOR over a long period of time, but he wouldn't expect them to have an immediate impact.

Q: Does he mean a wider use of air power, which is what I was driving at, or these little surgical...

A: I didn't answer the question before, and I'm not going to answer it now.

Press: Thank you.

Additional Links

Stay Connected