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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD/PA
June 06, 1995 1:45 PM EDT

Tuesday, June 6, 1995 - 1:45 p.m.

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

Tomorrow, as you know, the Secretary is testifying both before the House and the Senate on the situation in Bosnia and the NATO withdrawal plans. It's going to be a busy day. In the middle of that day, Joseph Nye, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, will hold a briefing here at 1:00 to discuss the third of our regional reports -- this one on Europe.

Following that, there will be a background briefing by a senior defense official on the upcoming NATO Defense Ministers meeting in Brussels. The Secretary will be leaving for Brussels tomorrow evening, and he'll be meeting in Brussels for two days: the first day on NATO matters, one of which will be Bosnia, obviously; the second day will be discussing primarily Partnership for Peace issues, and meeting with a number of the countries that are in the Partnership for Peace and learning how the Western defense alliance and NATO operate.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: The European Command told the Franklin Bureau today that 1,500 troops were going to be moved to northern Italy -- I believe they said from southern Germany -- in the coming days, coming week, to join 2,000 that are already in Italy. Is that where the 3,500 figure was coming from yesterday? Or are more than 1,500 being sent? Could you clarify the whole troop movement?

A: They have announced an exercise in Europe to send down 1,500 troops to join 2,000 already there. The numbers that were in the press this morning -- 3,500 -- were widely reported. Yesterday there were some comments by a defense official who stayed away from firm figures. I think the firm figures will emerge over the next couple of days, but they're still looking into the exact size of this operation at this time.

Q: Other defense officials clarified the number at 3,500. All I'm asking is that this movement of troops... Can you tell us that this movement of troops will not be limited to 1,500?

A: I don't think I can tell you anything about the ultimate size of the movement of troops at this stage.

Q: Are the 2,000 that they're talking about that are already there referring to the troops at Vicenza?

A: I believe so.

Q: Who are those troops, those 2,000? Are those ground troops? Where are they from?

A: I think that's the SETAF -- the Southern European Task Force -- that's already in Vicenza.

Q: Is this just an exercise, or are these troops going to be on standby for emergency evacuation operations in Bosnia?

A: Under the NATO -- the evolving NATO -- plan for the possible withdrawal of the UN Forces from Bosnia, we are providing, as you know, the emergency evacuation component, or part of an emergency evacuation component. The issue here is whether the size of that U.S. component will remain the same, given what the Europeans have done with their quick reaction force out of Paris. That's what's being considered now. I think it's a dynamic situation. It's premature to talk about firm numbers at this stage. But as this evolves... And I can't give you any prediction on how this is going to come out, but when we have the final numbers we'll give them to you. Right now I'm not in a position to give you final numbers. What's been announced in Europe is an exercise that would train and prepare troops that would be involved in a possible UN evacuation if UN asked for that. Our position is, of course, we hope the UN will stay in Bosnia, and that they will not request any assistance in withdrawal.

Q: Would you expect the troops to remain in position in northern Italy after the exercise completes? To remain on standby?

A: Some troops will remain there, but I'm trying to tell you that this is being worked out now. I cannot give you firm figures. When the firm figures are available, you will get the firm figures.

Q: This defense official specifically said that this was not training -- not an exercise. This was prepositioning. If this is in fact the same movement that was being talked about yesterday, now we're calling it a training exercise. This whole thing seems to be not just the numbers in flux, but the whole thing seems to be redefined so that...

A: Nothing has been redefined. The question is whether it will be redefined. That question has not been answered. Until the question is answered, I can't give you firm figures.

Q: What are the possibilities here? The thing that we were told about yesterday which is this prepositioning? Or simply an exercise where you go down and say okay, we did that, now we can go home?

A: There are a range of possibilities starting with the current plan which is to send a major force down there and have it stay there until it's no longer needed. What I'm trying to tell you -- what I have told you -- is that that plan now is being reevaluated given some of the commitments made at the Paris meeting. That's not to say that the plan will be changed. The plan is being looked at in light of the events in Paris over the weekend. The plan may continue. It may not be changed at all. I can't tell you that right now. When we know, we will tell you.

Q: So this senior official spoke prematurely yesterday?

A: I don't believe that's the case. The facts reflected by the senior official yesterday... And the senior official, as I said, was never quite as pointed in the use of numbers as some of the reports were, but spoke based on the facts at hand at the time. But things change. It's a dynamic situation. I'm not trying to signal to you how this will come out because it's premature to say how it will come out.

Q: But when the senior official was talking yesterday the results of the Saturday meetings were known and they...

A: Sometimes planning takes longer than you might think. All I'm saying is that this situation is being looked at. You should not look at this as any reduction in our commitment to meet our NATO requirements. We will meet our NATO requirements and possibly exceed our NATO requirements, but we will certainly meet every requirement NATO asks us to meet.

Q: But one possibility here is that, with a serious rapid reaction force in place somewhere in the former Yugoslavia, there will not be a need to preposition an emergency evacuation force of U.S. troops and equipment?

A: I can't comment on that because we don't know how this review will turn out. I think the important thing to focus on is whatever our requirements are under the NATO plan, we will meet those requirements.

Q: Is this review at all prompted by resistance from any of our allies to basing specific forces in an area? Has there been any resistance to that or...

A: Our allies have granted every request we've made of them in this regard.

Q: You said that the rapid reaction force might determine what you need in terms of the emergency evacuation force. You're talking about the initial troops that you've been talking about sending. You're not talking about the 25,000 that might be required under 4104.

A: That's a very good point. I'm glad you brought that up. The NATO plan which is still evolving does have a massive withdrawal element to it that contemplates bringing out all of the UN troops -- 22,000-23,000 of them -- by land. That would require a substantial commitment of troops and equipment on our part and the part of our allies. That plan still exists. What we are talking about here is the emergency evacuation option of that plan. The question is, given what happened in Paris, what is the geometry of our commitment under that emergency evacuation plan? That's undetermined.

Q: The official who talked to us yesterday also declined to rule out the possibility that these troops might be used to move UN peacekeepers around within Bosnia if an emergency arose. Is that not true? These troops might be sent there under the guise of removing UN troops?

A: The Secretary has spoken about this many, many times. What he has said and what I will say is that we have a basic NATO evacuation plan, and contained in that plan is an emergency evacuation option. That's what we were talking about right here: what sort of commitment the U.S. will make under that emergency evacuation option. As I've said many times, we'll make the commitment that NATO asks us to make.

Q: There's a difference between evacuating troops and moving them around within Bosnia. The Secretary said on the way to Paris last week, the United States in no way is contemplating moving UN troops around within Bosnia. He said it probably wouldn't even be required.

A: We do not believe we will be asked to move troops around within Bosnia.

Q: But you're not ruling out the fact that these troops might be used to move UN Forces...

A: I'm telling you that the troops we're talking about right now are to meet the demands of NATO for an emergency evacuation plan.

Q: Therefore, they would not be used to move troops around within...

A: We have not received any request to move troops around within the former Yugoslavia, and we don't believe we will be. That is one of the things that the European rapid reaction force could do very well.

Q: Where is the reevaluation being done? Is this just by the United States looking at this, or is some NATO cell trying to...

A: This is a NATO plan, and NATO makes the decisions.

Q: It's not the U.S. looking at other things and...

A: No.

Q: Where does the U.S. now stand on trying to put some portion of its troops in the emergency evacuation part of the plan into place? The original plan. The plan before Saturday.

A: We are waiting to see what the NATO requirement for us will be, and we will respond to that requirement. This is an evolving and dynamic situation. I've told you I do not know how it's going to turn out. There's a very good chance it will turn out exactly the way we first thought it would turn out. Planning is a system of considering alternatives. It's a system of looking at changed conditions and adjusting to them. This is what people in the military do, it's what people in real life do, it's what we're doing now.

Q: When you talk about the massive plan, you talk about, as Perry did today, 24,000 American troops. What was... Before you began the reevaluation process, what portion of that would have been devoted to this emergency evacuation scenario?

A: You're saying what portion "would have." It could well "still be." I don't want to get into numbers. I think getting into numbers is a trap here. I choose not to get into numbers. I think it would be safer for you and safer for me to avoid numbers until we have actual deployments.

Q: A couple of questions on the enforcement of the no-fly zone. Is any consideration being given to adjusting the rules of engagement for the no-fly zone in order to provide more flexibility? Is that something that might be discussed at the upcoming NATO meeting?

A: It doesn't help our troops to have me or anybody else talking about rules of engagement.

Q: Can you give us a better sense of what happened overnight here? Somebody has clearly said whoa, wait a minute. We're moving too fast here. All of a sudden, U.S. Army Europe puts out, I guess, a press release or whatever it was, calls Reuters or Reuters calls them, whatever, and gives a totally different version of what just the day before was the plan. Something clearly happened here where people decided this thing didn't necessarily have to happen or what. Who raised the flag on this thing?

A: There was a plan in place. There is a plan in place. That plan is being studied.

Q: But who said wait a minute, we're not going to rush into this thing? We're not going to just send these people down there to preposition them, or we're at least going to rethink sending all these people down there just to preposition them for something that we hope doesn't happen.

A: We've always hoped that this wouldn't happen. We still hope it won't happen. We know our allies hope that it won't happen as well.

Q: Where are these second thoughts coming from?

A: As I said, when circumstances change, people reevaluate plans. That's what planners do.

Q: How did circumstances change overnight?

A: They didn't change overnight. There was a meeting in Paris. The Europeans are putting up a quick reaction force. In light of that force NATO and the members of NATO are asking what is now the best geometry of the emergency evacuation plan? It may remain exactly as the plan was. I can't tell you. So given that -- given the fact that it's under review -- it's best to stay away from numbers. It's best to wait for the review process to end. And when the review process ends and there's a policy, you will know about the policy.

Q: What David's asking is how did this evolve from a deployment yesterday -- a deployment and not an exercise -- to an exercise today?

A: That's something that when we get this sort out, we'll be very clear. But there were ways of describing what was happening... Look, the whole thing's under review. I don't know how many times I have to tell you this. When the review is complete, we will have a plan. It may be exactly the same plan we had yesterday, but it's unclear right now how that will emerge. There's no more I can say about it. You can ask me from now until doomsday and I'm not going to give you more details.

Q: Was it under review yesterday?

A: No.

Q: So the review began today?

A: It was not under review yesterday.

Q: When did the review begin?

A: I choose not to say anything more about this. I'm finished talking about this. You can ask me more questions. I'm giving you no more details.

Q: Just one thing. Can you tell us what day the first troops would go? Can you tell us that? You said within a week.

A: No.

Q: Is it still within a week?

A: We never gave, at the Pentagon, precise dates about when these people were going.

Q: I think a senior official did say within a week.

A: That's not a precise date.

Q: But the movement of the troops is currently on hold while this plan is under review?

A: No troops have left Germany as of this moment.

Q: But they're saying that troops will go as an exercise, right? Or is that...

A: An exercise has been announced under which troops would move to Italy. The last I was told, no troops have left Germany.

Q: Right. But they would move... Moves it into the future. The idea is that they will move as part of an exercise. But is it potentially the case that this exercise may not go forward?

A: I think the most important thing to focus on here is that whatever our commitments are under this NATO plan, we will be there meeting our commitments. That's the important thing to recognize. We made this commitment to our allies last year. The President made the commitment to support our allies, and we will support them to whatever extent they ask us to do.

Q: Is it possible that a senior defense official might be able to meet with us later to provide some more clarity on this?

A: When clarity is available we will give it to you, but right now there is no clarity -- as I think you probably have gathered -- no greater clarity to be gathered from this beyond the fact that we will meet our NATO commitments.

Q: Are our NATO commitments under review?

A: Whatever the commitments require in the plan in terms of staging time, etc., we will meet.

Q: Will you advise us when the troops move, since you said that you didn't want to give us any numbers until the deployment. Will you tell us when troops begin moving?

A: I will tell you what I can tell you when I can tell you. That's a pretty clear statement. [Laughter]

Q: What can you tell us about the downed American pilot -- prospects or otherwise?

A: There's not much new to report. Unfortunately, the beacon signal has not been picked up today. We continue to look vigorously, but we do not have anything we can tell you on this.

Q: The Serbs are now apparently claiming they do not have him. Is there any...

A: I understand they're claiming that. There have been a number of conflicting statements about this from the very beginning. My goal is to try to not make any conflicting statements about this, so we're going to just tell you that the search is continuing.

Q: Did you receive the signal long enough to try to hone in on it in a certain way?

A: I don't think it benefits anybody to go into the character of the signal.

Q: In the wake of the shootdown, can you tell us if all the U.S. planes enforcing the no-fly zone now are equipped with electronic jamming equipment, or accompanied by jamming aircraft? And was that the case before the shootdown as well?

A: The DENY FLIGHT missions have always been structured to respond to the threat at hand. They were prior to the shootdown, and they are after the shootdown.

Q: During the shootdown?

Q: That doesn't specifically answer the question of whether or not they had electronic jamming capability on all the planes.

A: I repeat what I said before. All of the DENY FLIGHT missions from the beginning -- all 60-odd-thousand of them -- have been structured to meet the appropriate threat. The perceived threat.

Q: But there was a threat that wasn't perceived that resulted in the shootdown of the F-16. Has there been any change in the way these planes are deployed in order to increase their capability -- since we now know the threat isn't always where we think it is?

A: The missions that are being flown are appropriately protected.

Q: Was the plane shot down despite electronic jamming in the area at the time, and are searches now protected by electronic jamming at all times?

A: All the missions flying over Yugoslavia are accompanied by appropriately robust air defense suppression packages.

Q: Including the mission which the plane was shot down?

A: The plane that was shot down was an F-16 that had a warning system and countermeasure pods on it.

Q: Was it a surprise to the F-16 pilots last Friday that this particular missile battery had been moved to that location? Apparently in their tactical briefing it was not there.

A: Every time there is a tragedy like this there is a very thorough review that goes into every conceivable element of the mission -- the preparation for the mission, how the mission was carried out -- every conceivable component of the mission. That review is going on now. I don't think it's appropriate for me to discuss parts of this mission until that entire review is completed.

Q: Are U.S. planes still flying over Bosnia as part of DENY FLIGHT?

A: We have not stopped flying... DENY FLIGHT missions have not stopped flying over Bosnia.

Q: But are the U.S. planes flying over Bosnia, or are they avoiding Bosnian airspace?

A: DENY FLIGHT planes are continuing to fly over Bosnia.

Q: Have they changed the altitude?

Q: Back on the beacon again. The people that look at these signals, are they confident that this was "the" beacon?

A: There were always reasons to doubt this signal, but we're dealing with a situation where very little is clear. That's been the case almost from the beginning. There have been a series of indicators and counter-indicators including quotes and statements made by Bosnian Serb officials from the very beginning. That's one of the reasons it's been hard to sort out what the situation is. We're continuing to work as hard as we can to figure out...

Q: So it could have been from some other kind of beacon, the signal?

A: There are a lot of beacons around, yeah.

Q: Do we have any photo recon on the F-16?

A: I'm sure you've seen what's on CNN. I don't want to talk about what we have -- what we've discovered in the course of our investigation of that.

Q: Do you want to talk about what it might reflect as far as the pilot?

A: No. This is an ongoing search and the less said about it by me the better.

Q: Could I go on to the topic of the release of the hostages? There have been reports that some guarantees have been given by NATO to the Bosnian Serbs. Are the Bosnian Serbs getting anything for the release of these hostages?

A: First of all, there should be no hostages held. They should all be released. They should be released immediately and unconditionally.

Q: With regard to where does the buck stop on this whole air operation? The part of it where the UN had people who were vulnerable to Bosnian Serb capture but were not withdrawn before the air operations began... Is there any point where the buck stops on this that you can enumerate? Is it NATO or is it the UN?

A: It's a UN operation with UN troops, subject to UN command. I think you should be asking that question of the UN.

Q: Did the United States government object before the sorties were flown over the ammo dumps at Pale about this vulnerability?

A: The issue of potential hostages was well known from the beginning. That's one of the reasons the UN has been wary in the past of airstrikes. But what you have to remember here is the chain of events that led to the airstrikes. The Bosnian Serbs launched a series of attacks against Sarajevo, against innocent civilians in Sarajevo. Their attacks intensified. The number of civilians they were killing intensified. One of the purposes of UNPROFOR is to prevent the killing of civilians and to contain the violence -- contain the spread of the war.

General Rupert Smith, the commander in Sarajevo, after evaluating the situation, issued an ultimatum in which he said if the Serbs do not return heavy weapons to a weapons collection point and stop using them to shell Sarajevo, that there would be consequences to pay. They did not, and these airstrikes were a response to a dramatic increase in the violence that had been triggered by the Bosnian Serbs.

Q: Will in the future, before any further airstrikes, UN personnel be extracted to places of safety so that they might not become hostages?

A: That's a UN operational matter that you'll have to take up with them.

Q: Have the Bosnian Serbs been promised anything for release of the hostages they claim that they have made a deal?

A: Our position has been clear from the beginning: that we demand the unconditional and immediate release of the hostages, and that's still our position.

Q: That's your position, but is there any other part of your condition? Have you agreed to any...

A: Our policy is unconditional release. Unconditional release means no conditions.

Q: When you say -- that's the U.S. policy, right? But you can't speak for whoever made the deal, if there was a deal. You can't speak for whoever was arranging the release, correct?

A: I can't speak to whether there's a deal or not. A Bosnian Serb statement that there's a deal doesn't, to me, necessarily mean there is a deal.

Q: But all you're saying is, if there is a deal, the U.S. wouldn't approve it?

A: I'm saying our policy and the policy of our allies is unconditional surrender of the hostages. And an immediate surrender of the hostages. The hostages should not be held.

Q: Is Secretary Perry perturbed about General Fogleman deciding to make public remarks yesterday about the pilot beacon?

A: I haven't had a chance to discuss that with Secretary Perry.

Q: Do you know if he's discussed it with General Fogleman?

A: I do not know that. I haven't talked to Secretary Perry about that incident.

Q: You said there was always reason to doubt that this was "the" beacon. What was the reason to doubt that this was the beacon?

A: I think I just don't want to answer that. I don't want to get into any details about what we know or don't know about this pilot, and about the type of signals we've been getting.

Q: Beacons have certain characteristics about them which distinguish them from all other beacons. In other words, what I'm trying to get at here is how is it that you couldn't be sure that what you were hearing was the beacon?

A: It's not always a question of being sure about one beacon. It's a question of how certain you can be that a beacon is "the" beacon. As I said, there has always been a lot of ambiguity here. I don't choose to discuss it further.

Q: Has the beacon been heard ever since last Friday when the plane was shot down, or did it suddenly begin on Monday or Sunday? Is that one reason to suspect...

A: There was never a steady beeper signal.

Q: Did it begin on Friday, though?

A: There was never a steady beacon signal.

Q: Should the United States be called upon to provide air cover for the Task Force Alpha in an anticipated engagement to open a road -- an engagement with Bosnian Serbs -- would the United States be ready to provide a C-130 gunship or other air cover before some further consultations with the Congress, other consultations within this government? Or can you say?

A: Secretary Perry said in Paris that we would support the European rapid reaction force in a number of ways, one of which was the continual provision of close air support. The makeup of what our close air support package would be -- will be -- determined by the conditions at the time.

Q: We're committed to...

A: He has made that commitment.

Press: Thank you.

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