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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD (PA)
July 18, 1995 1:40 PM EDT

Tuesday, July 18, 1995 - 1:40 p.m.

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

I don't have any opening statement. I'll be glad to take your questions.

Q: Could you tell us what the situation is on Bosnia, and whether the Pentagon opposes use of U.S. helicopters to ferry British and French troops, and whether you support increased airstrikes instead, or the use of airstrikes?

A: I think we should start a new strategy and get all the questions queued up all together, and then we can answer them in blocks...


A: The President met this morning with his advisers for 90 minutes. Before that, his advisers met for about an hour over breakfast in Tony Lake's office to discuss how to respond to the situation in Bosnia, and also the proposal made by the French in London last weekend.

They agreed that it's extremely important for the U.S. and its allies to forge a common approach. The President is going to talk with Prime Minister Major and President Chirac over the next couple of days to see if we can all agree behind a unified approach for strengthening UNPROFOR. Until those discussions take place and we agree to a uniform approach, it's probably not too worthwhile to talk about the details of these discussions.

Q: Could you tell us specifically what the French have asked for? Have they asked for the use of U.S. transport and attack helicopters to help shore up Gorazde, or to use in the rapid reaction force? How does the Pentagon feel about that?

A: I'm not going to answer those questions because I think it's premature to get into the details of plans that may not take place -- may or may not take place. It's too early to discuss these right now.

Right now the job facing the President and the job that he's undertaking is to craft a consensus among the U.S., France, and Great Britain to move forward on a unified plan to strengthen UNPROFOR. That's what we're going to be working on for the next couple of days.

Q: Just as a follow-up, are the French asking that troops be put into Gorazde to shore it up now, or that the rapid reaction force be made quickly mobile with U.S. helicopters to answer any threat to Gorazde?

A: The French can describe their own proposal, and I think it's best left for them to describe it. It's a French proposal, the French ought to describe it. You have bureaus in Paris. The French have spoken extensively about their proposal, and I think they should be the ones to describe it.

Q: The French have also said that the meeting Sunday was an absolute failure, and that nobody can come to any agreement, and everybody seems to be pulling in four different directions. The President is saying, and his advisers say, that it's important for U.S. allies to "forge a common approach." That just seems impossible right now.

A: Well, the world is made of efforts to conquer seemingly impossible problems. This is not an impossible problem. The British, the French, and the Americans and, indeed, other countries agree that we should make the United Nations Forces in Bosnia more effective. The issue is how best to do that. Can we agree on a way to do it? That's the challenge the President has undertaken -- that's what he's going to be discussing with his colleagues over the next couple of days. That's also what Secretary Perry and Secretary Christopher will be discussing with their colleagues over the next couple of days.

Q: Is it your hope that there will be a consensus beginning to form by the time that Secretary Perry and Secretary Christopher arrive in London for talks at the end of this week?

A: We certainly hope that a consensus will begin to emerge, either before or at that meeting.

Q: You said it's for the French to talk about their proposal. Can you talk about the U.S. proposal?

A: No, because what we're doing now is trying to find areas of common agreement for ways to strengthen the UN Forces in Bosnia.

Q: But you're putting proposals up?

A: We're discussing a number of approaches to this. Because we're discussing these in private conversations with our allies, I think the conversations are best left private at this stage.

Q: As I understand it, the United States is continuing to rule out the use of U.S. combat troops on the ground in Bosnia, is that correct?

A: Yes, that's correct. That's been our policy from the beginning.

Q: Has the United States ruled out the possibility of using U.S. helicopters in some way to assist the quick reaction force?

A: We've ruled out committing ground troops as combatants to this conflict. I think I'd like to stay somewhat vague on other issues because they're in play now.

Q: Some would argue that U.S. Army helicopter crews are, in fact, ground-based troops, even if they don't actually set foot on the ground. Is that your understanding? Do you call those ground troops?

A: The issue about not committing ground troops as combatants to Bosnia has been a fundamental part of our policy from the Bush Administration. As you know, both the Bush and the Clinton Administrations have determined that Bosnia is not a vital national security interest -- one that would warrant the commitment of U.S. combatant troops on the ground, and the possibility of significant possible casualties. So we have not made that type of commitment in Bosnia. It is very important to us for a number of reasons, though, to work for a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to the problem in Bosnia, and that's what we've been trying to do over the years. Obviously, it's been incredibly difficult.

But one very vital national interest to us is maintaining the strength and the unity of the NATO alliance. There's no alliance that is more important to us and to peace and stability in the world than the NATO alliance, and that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to work with our allies to find a solution.

Q: All I was asking is if soldiers who fly helicopters are ground troops?

A: I understand what you were asking.


Q: You say there is a consensus with the French and British to strengthen UNPROFOR?

A: Yes. I believe... That's certainly what we're working for, but I'm just looking here today at what Malcolm Rifkind said -- the new Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom. He was describing the meeting that's going to be held in London on Friday, and said that its first objective is to reinforce the humanitarian effort of the UN in Bosnia. The second objective of the meeting is to chart a course for the political and diplomatic efforts to end the war. And the third, and most important, objective is to establish a clear international strategy for the future role of UNPROFOR. He said that it had to be based on sound military judgment. Everybody wants to make UNPROFOR more effective. The question is how to do it. That's what we're trying to find agreement on.

Q: My understanding is the French position is either you reinforce Gorazde or they're pulling out of UNPROFOR.

A: The French have stated a position, and we are trying to find a unified position, because obviously the French position differs from what the British have said. We're trying to see if we can broker a common position -- one that the three of us can stand behind, and we hope other countries can stand behind as well.

Q: That's my question. By Friday, if we have no consensus on reinforcing, strengthening UNPROFOR, is it evacuation time?

A: I think it's premature to be talking about evacuation. The effort now is finding ways to make the UN Forces more effective so they can do their jobs better. The main goals that they're serving over there are providing humanitarian aid and trying to contain the fighting. We'd like to have them contain the fighting better.

Q: Dr. Perry was very specific Sunday on television -- either we fix UNPROFOR or we pull them out. Is that what Friday means?

A: We're attempting to fix UNPROFOR.

Q: Dr. Perry talked about strengthening UN Forces there and using more robust NATO airstrikes, if necessary. What's his view on the dual-key aspect if you have to strengthen the UN Forces there?

A: The dual-key has clearly made it difficult for the NATO allies, and it's the NATO allies who carry out the air support operations over Bosnia... Has made it difficult for the NATO allies to carry out some of the operations they have been asked to do or have proposed to do. That's an issue that will have to be discussed. But I don't want to prejudge the discussion of that issue right now. It's an issue that involves the UN as well as NATO. One of the key factors here that makes solving the Bosnian crisis so difficult is that it does involve dealing with a number of... Not only a number of sovereign national governments, but a number of organizations such as NATO and the UN. So there's room for discussion and negotiation on this. I don't want to prejudge the discussions in any way.

Q: Do you understand what I'm saying? That an accelerated airstrike around a safe area is an option that is under active consideration?

A: I didn't say that.

Q: What would you say about it?

A: I'd like to say that I'd like to leave the options open at this time so that they can be discussed by the President and his colleagues. I'm not telling you what the options are. That's clearly something that's been written about, but many things have been written about that are not going to come to pass.

Q: So it's not true?

A: I'm not discussing that. I'm not discussing details. I tried to avoid it with the helicopters, and I'm going to avoid it with airstrikes.

Q: Is your answer to Pat that you're trying to fix UNPROFOR? Does that mean that evacuation is not on the table at this time and will not be on the table on Friday?

A: Our goal has always been to avoid having to help pull the UN Forces out of Bosnia. We've said that from the very beginning. We think that the UN Forces should stay in Bosnia. We would like to see more effective UN Forces stay in Bosnia -- forces that can do a better job in delivering humanitarian aid and a better job of protecting the Bosnian people. That's what the President is attempting to work out with his allies.

Q: Ken, even as this is being discussed, 1,800 U.S. Marines began an exercise in Albania today -- not a peacekeeping exercise, but a rescue exercise to rescue troops that are trapped. Is this specifically pointed at nearby Bosnia, in case they're needed to remove UN troops on an emergency basis?

A: One of the great and really amazing changes that's come about in the world after the end of the Cold War is that we and the French and the British and other NATO allies have been able to work together with forces that used to be our enemies. We have set up, as you know, a fairly ambitious program under the Partnership for Peace, and programs that are in the spirit of the Partnership for Peace, to work with the militaries of countries like Albania, Lithuania, Ukraine, Poland, etc. in a variety of exercises. Almost all of these exercises are either search and rescue exercises or peacekeeping exercises. I think you went on a trip to the Ukraine, to L'viv where we watched joint U.S./Ukrainian peacekeeping exercises. This is a rescue exercise, and it's being done, as many of these other exercises are, to sharpen skills and help our militaries learn to work together.

Q: But this is not just being done in passing, is it? Is this just an accident? These 1,800 Marines, some of whom we used to rescue Scott O'Grady...

A: These Marines are from the KEARSARGE -- as you know -- and this exercise wasn't planned yesterday. It began yesterday. It's been planned for some time. It's a way for the Marines to get off the ship and do some work on land.

Q: But they're going to rescue two units -- a U.S. and an Albanian...

A: I think the Marines have already shown that their rescue skills are highly sharpened.

Q: So this has nothing to do with Bosnia? This is not a practice...

A: This is a practice search and rescue exercise with a military we're learning to work with.

Q: Have the Predator unmanned aerial vehicles started operational flights yet over Bosnia?

A: Yes, I believe they have.

Q: Can you describe something -- what they've done?

A: No, I can't.

Q: Can you tell us when they began?

A: I don't know the exact day that they began, but they have started flights.

Q: Over Bosnia?

A: Yes.

Q: Can you describe at all, in a general way, the kind of useful information that these UAVs provide? For instance, are they helping to monitor the situation in Zepa?

A: I cannot tell you the flight pattern of the Predator. One, because I don't know it; but two, if I knew it, I wouldn't disclose it.

Q: Could we use your good offices to try to get some video back from what the Predator sees that is no longer of such a nature it would be operationally classified?

A: We have spoken to the European Command about that. At the current time, they would like to. They do not want to release this for operational reasons, but we will keep checking and see. If the situation changes, we'll let you know.

Q: What's the status of the rapid reaction force? How far along are they?

A: We've moved 160 Dutch troops and about 1,500 English troops by air to Split. We are continuing to move British troops. We plan to move a total of almost 4,500 British troops by air to Split. They'll be coming from Brize-Norton to Split. The French, as I said earlier, will get there on their own. Other equipment is being shipped by sea, and that will go to the port of Ploce.

Q: What's the timetable in the next couple of weeks?

A: The 1,500 British troops are arriving, the last of them should have arrived, they were supposed to get there today, of that group. All of the British... The equipment for the British is supposed to be there by about August 6th. I also think the equipment by the Dutch will be there around that time as well. That is ten armored personnel carriers. The other British troops -- the remaining group of the 4,500 -- should be there by the end of July.

Q: You mean 3,000 more coming, or 4,500 more coming?

A: I'm sorry. We will begin airlifting the remaining British troops -- about 2,500 -- at the end of July, about July 28th. We should complete getting them there by August 6th. That's the remaining 2,500 British troops.

Q: Are any American troops, weapons, or vessels moving closer to the Bosnian area?

A: We have the aircraft carrier THEODORE ROOSEVELT in the Adriatic. The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit is on the KEARSARGE, but they're now deployed doing exercises in Albania, as we discussed earlier with Charlie. There is also, I believe, a cruiser participating in OPERATION SHARP GUARD. Those are the maritime assets that are in the area right now.

Q: Are there plans to deploy additional UAV systems?

A: My recollection is that we are going to deploy four Predators. I'll check on that number, but that's...

Q: Other UAV systems, something like the Hunter or the Pioneer?

A: I don't know. I'll take that question and try and get an answer for you.

Q: You've got another [MEU] coming into the Adriatic from LeJeune?

A: They switch in and out. I don't know when it's scheduled to arrive. Does anybody back there in the Navy know...

[Brig.] Gen Murray [USMC]: I think around the second week in September.

Q: What are Perry's plans for the rest of the day? He's up on the Hill briefing, and then he goes back to the White House?

A: I don't believe he's going back to the White House today. I think the meeting that was scheduled for this afternoon took place this morning. He has a series of meetings. He has a meeting on the trip to London. He has a meeting on the Defense Ministerial of the Americas which is going to be held next week in Williamsburg -- a meeting with his colleagues from 34 hemispheric countries to talk about common defense and security issues.

Q: Who is he briefing up on the Hill?

A: There were two meetings on the Hill today. The first was a Christopher/Shali meeting with the Senate Republicans; and the second was a Perry/Christopher/Shali meeting with the Senate Democrats. The topic of those meetings is the Administration's opposition to proposals to lift the arms embargo against the government of Bosnia unilaterally. We think that lifting that arms embargo unilaterally as proposed by some would be damaging in a number of ways. One, we think it would lead to an Americanization of the war in Bosnia; and we also think it would drive out UNPROFOR, and therefore end whatever humanitarian benefits UNPROFOR is bringing -- the UN presence generally is bringing.

Q: Could you elaborate? How would it lead to the Americanization of the war?

A: The fear we have... I think I have to sort of address this in two ways. The first is what we fear would happen; and secondly, what the expectations of the Bosnian government are. Let me start with the second.

The Bosnian government clearly hopes that if the arms embargo will be lifted by us, we will start shipping them weapons, and that we will also provide air support. Officials of the Bosnian government have discussed the provision of airstrikes and air support with American government officials. We feel that this would get us drawn into the war, that we would have to also provide trainers with the equipment; that it wouldn't do a lot of good to ship over sell -- sophisticated equipment if we sold it. There is no guarantee that we would sell a lot of equipment quickly. But gradually, this would be a way of making the war look like our war because we had taken an action to support the Bosnian Muslims; and, therefore, we would have to make a greater... We would be pressured to make a greater investment in making them an effective fighting force.

We think this is what we call an Americanization of the war -- that would drag us into a war -- we've tried to stay out of.

That is a big problem. Another problem is that it would end the job that the UN Forces have been performing in Bosnia over the last couple of years -- and those forces have made many mistakes and have failed to do many things, as Secretary Perry and other people have pointed out, and as is obvious to anybody who reads the newspaper. The fact is, they have had an impact on limiting killing, on providing humanitarian aid. They help support about two million people in Bosnia by food that comes in through convoys, etc., so we think this would be a real setback and lead to a much wider war.

We also think, coincidentally, and have discussed this with Bosnian government officials, that in the period of time between the lifting of the arms embargo and the actual arrival of any arms that flow into Bosnia, the Serbs will use that as an opportunity to clobber the Bosnian government on the theory that they'll only get stronger later, so the sooner they act, the better their chances of success. We think this would backfire in a number of ways.

Q: Given what's happened to the Dutch troops in Srebrenica, is there the possibility that if the Ukrainians are released first by the Bosnian government troops and then by the Serbian troops in Zepa, that they would be rescued by U.S. Marines and pulled out?

A: First of all, you've pointed to a clearly odious event that's taking place now which is the taking of hostages by the Bosnian government forces. We strongly oppose, condemn, deplore the taking of hostages by either side, and ask the Bosnian government forces to release these Ukrainian troops if, in fact, those news reports are true. I've read those same reports.


Secondly, it seems in a way you're missing the lesson so far of Srebrenica, which is that the Dutch troops are likely... The Dutch troops will leave on their own steam. They will get themselves out. They are out of Srebrenica, and they will get themselves out of Bosnia on their own without having to be rescued.

Q: But there was a very dicey period there when no one knew what would happen to them as the Serbs were moving in...

A: That dicey period has been concluded. It's my understanding that they've negotiated a way to get out and will, in fact, get out.

We would hope that the same would happen with other troops as well.

Q: You're saying there are no plans that you know of...

A: We're received no request to rescue anybody -- either Dutch or Ukrainian troops at this stage.

Q: Do you have a summary statement on the prevalence of gangs in the U.S. military, or the numbers of gang members in the U.S. military? Is it an ominous trend? Is it any type of trend whatsoever?

A: We do not believe it's a trend. We do not have firm or even uniform figures on the number of gang members in the military. We believe it to be very, very small.

A number of the... You're referring to the report in Newsweek. A number of the examples in Newsweek I think were overstated. For instance, the lead involved an example in Rapid City, South Dakota. We have no substantiation that that incident occurred, as a matter of fact. That's not to say it didn't, we just don't have any substantiation that it did occur.

We believe this is a problem of society. It's a problem that affects many aspects of society. Most problems in society creep into the military at one time or another. We're dealing with this very well, and we don't regard it as a large problem.

Q: ...grounds for automatic separation, membership in a gang, or some other form of discipline? Not that a person commits any violent act, just the fact of membership.

A: I'm not a lawyer, and I'm not going to speak authoritatively about the law. It is not my belief that membership in a gang would be grounds of dismissal from the military. The military is interested in actions, and that's what we'd be concerned with. But every person joining the military takes an oath of office to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the country. To the extent that gang actions contradict the Constitution, that would be a problem. But the main point I want to stress is, we do not consider this to be a major problem in the military.

Q: The Pentagon recently reminded everybody in the service of the prohibition of membership in some of the things like the militia groups which they consider a problem. Why would not the gangs be equivalent to that?

A: First of all, many of the same rules, I believe, would apply that apply to the participation in militia groups. We've reissued guidelines that cover dissent and protest activities, for instance, to the extent that some gang actions may fall under that. But I think you're going off track with your question, because we do not consider this to be a major problem. We don't consider it to be a pervasive problem by any means. What incidents have occurred, appear to be very isolated. I would warn you against thinking that there is a trend of increasing gang membership in the military. In fact, the evidence is that, to the extent that gang members join the military, they do it to get away from their gang life. They do it to get a new start in life. They do it because they want to work in the military team and improve themselves.

Q: Last week when you were talking about the overall NATO withdrawal plan for Bosnia, you gave an upper range of troop strength -- it could go as high as 70,000 or 80,000 troops. Later that day Secretary Perry, in referring to it again, used an-up-to 60,000 number. I'm just curious if those numbers still hold. Is that still the upper range of the withdrawal...

A: The first thing I said, I warned you that you were going to be frustrated in your quest for precision. There is a number of 82,000 that has been used by General Shalikashvili in testimony before the Hill on June 7th. He talked about a force that was 25,000 Americans and the balance would be from the other countries. And it added up to 82,000. So there has been some upward creep in the number of people, primarily, I believe, because as we looked at the plan, more logistics tail has been added over time. So that's the explanation of the 82,000.

Q: That number refers to people on the ground in Bosnia? Or is that an all-encompassing number...

A: No, it would not all be on the ground in Bosnia. It would be people who...

Q: ...people, for instance, in Italy?

A: One of the problems here, David, is that there are going to be all sorts of definitional considerations, and that's one of the reasons that makes getting a precise number so difficult. But the fact is that we have not received any requests from the UN to withdraw anybody at this stage, and that all the numbers for the plan 40104 -- the so-called NATO withdrawal plan -- are planning numbers at this stage, because it's only a plan.

Q: Back to the gang question for just a moment. The report also cites other instances, gangs taking out turf areas on aircraft carriers. The Naval Investigative Service is opening a computer system to track gang activity. The Army and the Air Force, putting out manuals for officers on how to spot such things. Can you confirm any of those?

A: We have nothing to substantiate the report that there are gang turf areas on naval ships. We have found nothing to that. I can go through the specific allegations in the article if you want to. It is true that the Navy is considering adding what they call a data field to its existing criminal tracking system that would concentrate or collect references to gangs. But no, the wonder of computers is you can find new categories and it doesn't cost you that much to categorize people in new ways. But if they did this, it would identify suspected gang-related criminal activity.

Press: Thank you.