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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA
June 09, 1995 1:30 PM EDT

Thursday, June 15, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.


Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Thank you for coming.

First I'd like to announce that tomorrow the Secretary will accept an award and speak at the 3rd Annual International Citizen of the Year Awards Dinner in San Jose, California. He will give a speech on Bosnia which will basically, as he has in the past, talk about our Bosnian policy, explain what it is, explain its successes, and talk about the challenges that face us.

On Sunday, he will deliver the commencement address at the graduate and undergraduate schools at Stanford University. His speech will be entitled "Engaging the World," and it will talk about the perils of isolationism and the need to avoid isolationism.

We do not yet have copies of those speeches, and I can't assure you that we will have copies before he gives them because, as you know, he tends to improve them up to the last minute. A long plane ride offers many opportunities for change and improvement.

I'd like to make one announcement about Haiti, which hasn't been on anybody's mind, but probably should be. Earlier this week, the first 400 members of the Haitian National Police Force were deployed in Haiti. These are the people who have undergone the 12 weeks of training. They've gone through an intensive selection process, and they are the beginning of what is a professional civilian police force in Haiti. They're replacing the previous security monitors who were brought together from, they were former army members who were given quick training and always had problems providing the security and the stability that we went to Haiti to provide. This is the group that will work to ensure a stable and secure environment in Haiti.

Most of them, the largest group, 162, have been deployed to Cap Hatien; 126 are in Port-au-Prince; 60 are in Limbe; and 60 are in Grand Rivier du Nord. That's 408 in all.

We plan to have 6,000 of these trained and on station by the end of February when the United Nations mission in Haiti is supposed to end. Future classes will be trained, in part, in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

They so far have been well received in Haiti, but they've only been on station since June 2nd. So that's that.

Finally, I'd like to welcome Sam Grizzle, who is taking over as Colonel Kennett's deputy in DDI. If you haven't met him yet, I hope you will meet him. He is a veteran here, and we're glad to have him aboard.

I hoped also to introduce Mike Doubleday today, but I think he'll be on board tomorrow. You all know him as well, and he's trying to fill Dennis Boxx's shoes.

With that, I'll take your questions on these issues or anything else.

Q: Could you give us a rundown on what you'll confirm or not confirm on what's going on in Iraq, and the scope of it, and whether or not the opposition forces are exaggerated?

A: We have reports from Iraq. We don't know all the details. But from what we have heard and have been able to confirm, we can tell you that there was apparently a mutiny by a small number of Republican Guard armor troops in a town about nine miles away from Baghdad. That's about as far as Tysons Corner is from the center of Washington. The town is called Abu Ghraib.

Our understanding is the troops attacked a radio transmitter in that town. The incident appears to be over, but the situation is not entirely clear. The mutiny apparently involved tanks from the Republican Guard, and it was apparently put down by other Republican Guard units.

We believe that the rebellion was led by members of the Dulaimi tribe, which is one of the major Sunni tribes of Iraq, and a group that traditionally has been a strong supporter of Saddam Hussein.

We think this is the second incident of unrest in recent weeks involving this tribe. There was some unrest reported west of Baghdad in May involving the same group. We think it was sparked by Saddam Hussein's government's torture and killing of a senior tribal official who had been accused of attempting to plot a coup against Saddam Hussein.

That's basically all we have right now.

Q: Do you know of any connection to the prison, any connection to the presence of the American... Is this coincidental...

A: This actually happened close to the prison, but we don't think there's any connection between the imprisonment of the Americans, the unfair imprisonment of the Americans, and unjust imprisonment, and this uprising.

Q: This senior tribal official, is that the air force general who is apparently the brother of...

A: I believe it is, yes.

Q: The Republican Guard are normally the most loyal to Saddam Hussein. What does this say about Saddam Hussein's grip on power?

A: It suggests there is increasing tension within his army. I think our information now is early and it's fragmentary. I wouldn't want to go too far on this, but it certainly appears that Saddam Hussein is facing increasing pressure from groups that have been loyal to him in the past. But as I say, our information is preliminary. It's what we have now, we hope to learn more later. A lot of this is based on reports from people coming out of Iraq. People who have gone to Jordan, etc. We've obviously seen press reports and other things.

Q: Does this have any implications for the U.S. and coalition enforcement of the no-fly zone and other restrictions that are on Iraq now? Is there any implication to that at all?

A: We'll continue to enforce the no-fly zone rigorously.

Q: What can you tell us, switching over to Bosnia for a moment, about the pending alleged massing of troops and maybe a large offensive about to begin. Can you confirm the massing of troops? Can you give us any idea of what the U.S. believes is happening?

A: We can confirm that there is a concentration of troops around a town called Visoko which is north and west of Sarajevo. Our indications are that the massing, a word used in the press, is not as massive as has been reported. The numbers used in the press have been 20,000 to 30,000. Our numbers are more around 15,000 or so right now.

It's not clear to us why this is happening. There is speculation that this group is being brought together to try to break the siege of Sarajevo. That could be the case, but we don't know at this stage. We don't know what the intentions are behind this concentration of troops.

It also could be that they're just trying to seize and secure some roads. About 90 to 95 percent of the fighting in Bosnia seems to be over roads. It could be that that's what they're trying to do. Now whether that would be the first step in a broader military action is difficult to tell right now.

Q: If there is a broader military action and there's an actual assault or an attempt to lift the siege of Sarajevo, and UN peacekeepers in Sarajevo are caught in the cross-fire between the Bosnian government and Bosnian Serb forces, is that a situation under which the U.S. would consider missions to rescue UN troops if they were in immediate danger?

A: First, I think it's important to note, and for you to note, that we don't think a military solution is possible in Bosnia. We think only a diplomatic solution will work there. We want the fighting to recede, not increase or intensify. We want to see more diplomacy and less fighting.

I think you've listed a hypothetical situation that I can't address.

Q: Hasn't Secretary Perry said the U.S. would considered limited rescue missions if troops were in immediate danger?

A: We have said we would consider missions under certain circumstances, and I don't want to speculate right now under whether these would be such circumstances. I think it's premature to suggest that we'll be in that situation, that the UN troops will be in that situation right now.

Q: Is there routine contingency planning done on this possibility?

A: We have contingency plans for almost every contingency imaginable, as you know.

Q: Is there an attempt being made now to move UN peacekeepers out of that area?

A: I'm not aware that there is, but you shouldn't take that as meaning anything. You should check with the UN on that.

Q: Does the Pentagon have a general assessment of the changing strengths and weaknesses of the two sides in this fight? Have you seen a change in the Bosnian military's ability to mount this kind of offensive, the way that they are armed, trained, etc.?

A: That's an interesting question. Obviously the Bosnians seem to believe that they have a better ability now to succeed in a military engagement than they did before. Presumably that explains the timing of what they're doing.

The Bosnian government army is considerably larger than the Bosnian Serb army -- about twice or more the size of the Bosnian Serb army. Its disadvantage has always been that the Bosnian Serb army has far more armaments, particularly artillery, heavy artillery and tanks. The balance is less decisive, and in fact may be in the Bosnian government army's favor in mortars now.

The Bosnian Serbs have succeeded in controlling a lot of high ground around Sarajevo which has given them great power to terrorize the civilian-terrorize and kill the civilian population in Sarajevo. I wouldn't want to get into much more of an assessment, comparison of the two armies, but I think it should be clear from what's happening that the Bosnian government army must believe that it's achieved enough improvement to attempt some sort of military action, although as I said earlier, we can't be sure that this is what it's been reported in the press as being, which is an attempt to break the siege of Sarajevo.

Q: Would you buy the notion that there has been a significant change in the capabilities of the Bosnian army in the last six months?

A: The Bosnians themselves have reported that their army is better trained and better equipped, and I think I'd like to leave it at that. That's their own assessment of their army in comparison to the Bosnian Serb army.

Q: During the discussions between Secretary Perry and Prime Minister Silajdzic, was the issue of pending fights and the pending offensive raised? Did Perry either encourage or discourage the Bosnian Prime Minister from going ahead with those military operations?

A: That was not an issue of their discussion. They discussed for an hour and fifteen minutes basically one topic, and that was the topic of the arms embargo. The Prime Minister repeated his well known view that the embargo was unfair and should be lifted. Secretary Perry said that one, we believe that a diplomatic rather than a military solution is the way to go in Bosnia, the only sure path to peace; and two, that lifting the embargo would be damaging to our interests, which are to contain the fighting, contain the violence, and retain the flow of humanitarian aid. He also pointed out that he did not think that lifting the embargo would prove to be a solution, would prove to lead to a military solution for the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian government.

Q: You said that the Bosnian government forces may have more mortars now than in the past. They may outnumber the Serbs with number of mortars. With this embargo, how can they get all this material?

A: That's a good question, and I don't know for a fact what's changed in their mortar force. But as you know, there has been some leakage on both sides. We think the embargo basically has worked both against the Bosnian Serbs and against the Bosnian government. It's part of our effort, not our effort, but the effort of the UN to attempt to limit this fighting and prevent its spreading. There have been many reports of the leakage on both sides.

Q: Can you give us a rundown now of who knew what before O'Grady was shot down? Or when do you think you'll be able to do it?

A: There's a fairly intense after-action review taking place now. I wouldn't guess that we would be able to report anything soon. I think a reasonable target would be to try to have something that we could report to Congress when it returns from its 4th of July recess.

Q: It seems to me, didn't Dr. Perry indicate in a speech out here to welcome O'Grady, that among the forces taking part in this rescue, did he say a French AWACS?

A: I think he did. I would have to go back and check the...

Q: My question is, was that the only AWACS guiding this thing, and...

A: Charlie, that's exactly the type of detail that will become clear when we finish the after-action assessment. I don't think it helps anybody right now to get into partial detail about what happened, because all of that will become clear when the report's finished.

Q: Is there also a separate after-action review, or is this all part of the same thing? Are you also looking at the actions of the pilot O'Grady before the shootdown? Also, is there a review being conducted of the rescue operation itself, and whether anything should be done differently there? Are those also being reviewed?

A: Secretary Perry did say yesterday on the Hill that we were conducting a review of the search and rescue operation, but I want to put this in the proper context. After every military action -- successes, semi-successes, and clear failures -- there is a very thorough after action review. It's a very detailed process that starts from the beginning and goes to the end; talks to all the participants; reviews everything that happened. The purpose of these reviews is not to assess blame, it's to find ways we can improve our effectiveness and improve the safety of our military personnel and reduce the risks of their military missions.

People generally believe, and I think correctly, that the search and rescue operation was a remarkable success that brought together technology, teamwork, and individual spirit, and it was a wonderful example of those three powerful forces working together. But it doesn't mean that we can't do it better. It doesn't mean we can't learn something from it, and it doesn't mean there aren't ways to improve our general operations. The same with the DENY FLIGHT operations. We're looking at every conceivable aspect of that operation to figure out what we can learn from it and what we can do better in the future. It takes time.

Q: Is it looking at the decision not to allow the rescue force to strike back at the SAMs who appeared to be targeting them, would appear to go against our doctrine of self defense for those forces?

A: Yes, it is looking at that. That decision was made, the decision not to strike back was made by the tactical commander running the operation at Vicenza. It was made because he decided that the striking back would increase rather than decrease the risk to the mission. Part of that calculation was that he did not believe that the SAM posed a worrisome threat to the operation, and that calling attention to the operation by striking back might endanger it more than not responding.

Q: The SecDef said coming back from Brussels that he expected a recommendation from Admiral Smith shortly, and he would make a decision on whether or not to send additional EF-111s, given the shortage there. Has any decision been made on that?

A: No. No decision's been made, and the Joint Staff is still looking at that.

Q: Do you have any reaction to the generosity of the Republicans in the House with regard to your...

A: Yes, I have many reactions to it. In terms of the B-2 bomber, I think we've made it very clear that we don't think this is something we need right now. Our military effectiveness would be improved much more by spending money on more precision guided munitions rather than more B-2 bombers. The Secretary addressed the issue of national missile defense yesterday. He said that it is not his top priority for spending additional money. We don't believe we face a threat now. We believe we have a program in place to address a future threat should one develop, but he pointed out that if Congress is going to give us additional money, it's better for them to put money into programs that are already underway, that is to accelerate those programs rather than to create new programs that we haven't requested.

I would say although the B-2 was not a new program, because we have a fleet of B-2s already, we have not requested new B-2s, and this would be an addition of weaponry that we don't think we need, rather than an acceleration of the development and purchase and possible deployment of a weapon that we already plan to buy anyway.

Q: How about the increased construction spending?

A: We submitted to Congress a budget that we thought was adequate to meet our needs. Obviously, we would like it if Congress embraced the budget and said this is a terrific budget, fellows, you've done a wonderful job and we're going to give you exactly what you've requested. That hasn't happened. It's early in the process. We will continue to fight to spend the money the way we think it should be spent. We understand these things are open to negotiations, but the Secretary made it pretty clear yesterday in testifying before the House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on National Security, that his priority for spending additional money given to us by Congress would be first, to devote that money to paying for unfunded contingencies; and second, would be to buy more of certain things we think we need such as ammunition -- precision guided munitions would be part of that. Trucks was one of the things listed that he would spend more money on. So we have a list of ways we'd like to spend more money. Congress has its own list. We hope we can come to closer agreement on that as the budget works its way through the process.

Q: Is this the first incident of a Republican Guard mutiny that you're aware of?

A: I don't know enough to answer that question. We'll try to find out.

Q: Could you comment on a report in today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer that claims that in 1985 an elite team of commandos, U.S. commandos, was dispatched to El Salvador to wipe out a guerrilla camp? The newspaper claims it has evidence that this raid took place and has been a secret since 1985.

A: You're referring to the newspaper article based entirely on unnamed sources?

Q: This would be the Ed Offley article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

A: We've checked this allegation with U.S. Southern Command in Panama, with the Special Operations Command in Florida and with the Army. We've found no information to substantiate the report.

Q: So you believe this raid didn't happen?

A: I just told you we found no information to substantiate the report.

Q: That goes back to the question if there was information that substantiates the report that you just didn't find.

A: You can look for that.

Q: Any medical update on O'Grady?

A: Other than that he's resting comfortably. He has described his own health as good, except for his feet, and he's trying to stay off of them. That's the only update I can give you.

Q: Do you know when he will go to Fairchild?

A: We don't know. When he and his doctors decide that it's appropriate for him to go. I don't have a firm schedule for him. I don't think a firm schedule exists at this stage.

Press: Thank you.

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