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DoD News Briefing, Thursday, June 18, 1998

Presenters: Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
June 18, 1998 2:30 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. I have one brief announcement that is of great interest to the Reserves and the National Guard. On Saturday, Charles Cragin, who is the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, will present the first green identification card to U.S. military force members.

The significance of this is that for years Reservists have carried red cards which have set them apart from the green cards that active duty soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines carry. Now, they will be carrying the same green cards. The ceremony will take place at 1 p.m. at Fort Dix, New Jersey, on Saturday.

That's another sign of Secretary Cohen's efforts to integrate the Guard and the Reserve better into the total force, working shoulder-to-shoulder with the active duty forces.

With that, I'll take your questions. Susan?

Q: Is the Pentagon raising questions about satellite deals with the Chinese, as (inaudible) in the New York Times reported today?

A: Well, I can't talk -- although a lot of information about various license applications seems to make its way quickly into the press. There are rules and regulations that bar me from talking about specific license applications. But based on that story, I understand the facts to be that a company -- Hughes -- applied for a license several years ago and was granted a license.

Then, according to the story, the company decided to change the technical parameters of the satellite that it planned to launch. And therefore has come in, according to the story, and asked for a new license. And that license is under review now by the entire government. We have, as everybody should know by now, a very rigorous review process that requires the State Department, the Defense Department, and the Commerce Department, all to review applications for this type of technology.

And even though the license is ultimately granted or denied by the Commerce Department, these decisions are made on the basis of a vote by a group of agencies. And there are direct appeals if members of the group don't like the way the decision comes out. So there's adequate opportunity for people to be heard and that, as I understand it, is what's going on with this new license application.

Q: Would you characterize the Pentagon's position as one of an overreaction?

A: I would not characterize it. I believe that the story suggested that this is in the early stages of review and I suspect this will take some time.

Q: Is this a "which came first, chicken or egg?" I mean, did the concerns expressed by --

A: Which did come first? I don't know. I've always tried to figure that out.

Q: Did the decision to apply for a new license application come as a result of concerns expressed by people either in the military or DOD?

A: I can't get into the details of this, but based on what the story said, the company came forward with a new application after it had decided to make some changes in the design of the satellite. And those design changes triggered a need for another licensing review. That's what's going on now. And that has not been completed.

Q: And the company made this decision to apply for a new license all on its own? I mean, it wasn't encouraged to do so by anybody within either the administration or in DOD or in --

A: Jim, I'm in a tough position because I can't comment on any specifics. But you can go back and review the article. I think you'll find that the article came forward -- that the article says that the company came forward on its own and I believe a company official is quoted to that effect in the article. Yes?

Q: I have a question. What is the policy on sales of U.S. satellites to the Chinese military as opposed to other parts of the Chinese government?

A: Well, the issue is -- the issue primarily is what sort of technology is allowed to be transferred and what isn't. And the satellites that have been licensed have been commercial satellites that have been used for commercial purposes. Many militaries, including ours, the Russian military and the Chinese military, transmit communications over commercial phone lines and commercial satellite channels. That's fairly standard in the world today. So our policy has been to limit the type of technology that can be transferred as part of these commercial satellite packages, and to make sure that nothing we transfer can improve the military capability of the Chinese.

Q: And how would a communications satellite handling telephone calls potentially do that? By allowing them to basically monitor all calls that were going through that system, or --

A: The criticism that has been raised about this is that the transfer of the satellites has increased the ability of the Chinese military to communicate with itself. It has produced more communications channels for them.

If that is the case, it has happened because commercial satellites in general have increased the communications capacity, the number of channels available for handling calls. Yes?

Q: Can I just ask one more question? Has anybody in the DoD or the military expressed concern about high ranking Chinese military officials having almost direct contacts or involvement in the satellite program, itself?

A: This entire issue now is under investigation by the Justice Department, as you know. And the amount I can say about it is very limited. Also, today -- maybe still -- members of the administration, including some DoD officials are testifying on the Hill about this. It's probably -- you will probably have a better chance of getting questions answered by monitoring that testimony.

I'm not going to get into details right now of who is concerned about what because this is all in the middle of an investigation. Yes?

Q: Can you comment on whether the U.S. has taken any action, diplomatic, military or otherwise, in response to reports that both Greece and Turkey have deployed armed F-16s to Cyprus?

A: I don't believe we have taken any action whatsoever. This is a matter of concern to us, obviously. We think it is destabilizing to the area. It is not necessary, we believe, and it's an indication of how tensions can mount because of military deployments under that island.

Q: Does Secretary Cohen have any plans to speak to the defense ministers of either country?

A: I'm not aware that he does. I think the position of the United States Government on this issue is very clear. We have signed a special envoy to negotiate, try to negotiate a resolution to the Cyprus issue. He has just been, as you know, named Ambassador to the United Nations, so presumably he will stop doing this and somebody else will take over, but I don't know whether that's been sorted out yet. I am sure he will remain interested in this topic. We have made it very clear that we're against destabilizing deployments in the Aegean and, particularly, on Cyprus.

I think Secretary Cohen has discussed this already with both the Greek and the Turkish defense ministers when he visited those two countries a couple of months ago, and it is something that other government officials have discussed with their counterparts from time to time.

Q: One other quick question with the Eisenhower -- the carrier, the Eisenhower, on accelerated deployment to the Mediterranean. Is it still going directly to the Adriatic or is it going to hang around in the eastern Med for awhile?

A: I can't answer that question. I don't anticipate that we're going to have a U.S. military response to what's happening in Cyprus at this stage. I think the appropriate response is a diplomatic response and the appropriate goal is to try to get people to take actions to reduce tensions, not increase them. Yes?

Q: Is the Eisenhower battle group going to the Adriatic, per se, or just to the Med right now?

A: Well, the Eisenhower isn't in the Med, yet. I think she'll get in on Saturday and I'm not sure that her immediate destination has been determined yet, but when she gets into the Med, she will clearly be closer to the Adriatic and available for any needs she has to meet there. Yes?

Q: Has there been movement on the delivery of those Russian-made missiles to Cyprus.

A: Not that I'm aware of.

Q: What I want to know is I understand that the Navy is receiving new utility uniforms in the fall. I'm just curious as to what made them suddenly change their minds?

A: I think that is a very good question and you should ask the Navy and I'm sure they will have a lot of information for you on "to bell-bottom or not to bell-bottom." Yes?

Q: "The Long Island Newspaper" has another installment in it series of stories about problems with Army trucks. But this one, this latest article says that there's been a number of deaths. I think the last time we talked about this, there weren't any deaths related to the safety problems with these trucks. Are these deaths that they're reporting, I guess it's 60-something, is that related to a problem with these Army trucks?

A: There are two families of trucks involved here and this story today deals with older trucks. The previous stories dealt with what we call the new family of tactical vehicles that are being built in Texas. These are older trucks that have been in service for some time.

My understanding is that the Army, when it discovered this problem back in 1995, did several things. First, it imposed a limit on the speed of the trucks; two, they changed the training that they were giving to the drivers of the trucks; and three, they started a review that has led to two decisions about changes in the trucks. One has to do with brakes and another has to do with tires. I think that part of the problem here was that these trucks were designed primarily to be used off the road, off tarred roads, off highways, and due to a change in mission from off-road operation to more on-road operation, they started driving more quickly. And one of the things that the Army found was that the crews, perhaps, had not been properly trained to do over-the-highway driving with these trucks which, I believe, are 5-ton trucks.

The other thing they found was that they would be safer with radial tires and so they are changing them to radial tires. I think of a total of 32,000 vehicles, about half of them have already been changed to radial tires. They have also learned that the brakes which were designed -- air brakes designed -- air-braking techniques designed primarily for off-road operation didn't work as well on the road, so they have retrained the drivers for on-the-road operations and they are also adding -- they are modifying the brakes with an anti-lock brake system.

They think these changes will eliminate the problem. Obviously, it's something that the Army will keep watching very closely.

Q: Were there deaths associated with the trucks -- this number I think was 69?

A: There were deaths associated with the trucks. I'm not sure of the exact number. But there were at least 56 deaths. And most of these happened between 1992 and 1995. Since 1995, when they changed the operating profile of the trucks, the number of deaths and the number of casualties or injuries has fallen dramatically.

Q: Do you have numbers on injuries also?

A: There have been over 300 injuries since 1992, as I understand it. I refer you to the Army for more precise figures on this.

Q: All military? Or --

A: That's where my -- no, most of them were military. A very few were civilian.

Q: Does that go for the deaths, as well?

A: Yes.

Q: Most military and some --

A: Yes. For instance between 1992 and 1995, there were 37 fatalities. Thirty were military and seven were civilian. Since 1995, there have been 17 fatalities: 11 military and six civilian. And the truck we're referring to here is called the M-939, which is a five-ton truck. And I want to make again the distinction between this older truck and the newer trucks.

Q: Did you say how many of those trucks out there are the older model?

A: 32,000.

Q: Are they all --

A: I'm sorry. This is -- I've been handed -- these numbers I gave you add up to 54 total deaths rather than 56. These are according to the Army figures.

Q: All services drive them; is that right?

A: Sorry?

Q: All services have those five-ton trucks, right?

A: I don't know the answer to that. I can find out.

You know, these figures you gave me -- they don't add up to 54. We're going to have to get you a reconciliation. We'll get our calculators out and get you figures that add up to what they're supposed to -- well, they do, you're right. They do add up to 54. I'm sorry, 54.

Q: Are these fixes that you described considered sufficient to allow these trucks to continue operating at reasonable speeds?

A: Well, that's the Army's hope is to restore them to --

Q: It hasn't been determined, then, yet?

A: Well, as I understand it, they have not yet begun to retro-fit the vehicles with the anti-lock brakes. So I assume until they do that, they'll drive at a reduced rate, which I think they're limited to 40 miles an hour. But my understanding is that when they start retro-fitting the anti-lock brakes, they will be able to lift the speed limit.

Q: Some of these numbers -- 300 injuries -- are quite large numbers. Are these trucks used to carry people in the back? Or are these a lot of different incidents? Or a few with passengers?

A: Well, there have been a number of accidents. I don't know whether all of these were related to a brake problem. But there have been a number of accidents with these trucks. I'm sure that there are a number of causes of these accidents. And I'm sure that some of the trucks were carrying people.

I don't have a description of each one of the accidents. But it's conceivable that all of these fatalities could have been drivers or passengers in the front seat of the trucks.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about the U.S. position on military options in Kosovo? Yesterday, Gelbard was talking about advanced military contingency planning. And today -- no, on the same day, Secretary Cohen was suggesting that any such option was very far away because of the lack of a consensus on whether a United Nations mandate was required. Where does the matter stand now?

A: Well, NATO is working a way to review a list of options. They're looking at nine options right now. And there may be other options added or some of those subtracted as they go along. I think that there is work to be done on a number of fronts. No decision has been made to employ military force at this time.

All NATO is doing is reviewing options or plans at this time. There are some people who believe that before NATO could act it would have to have some resolution from the United Nations. That doesn't happen to be the United States' view. We believe that NATO can act independently.

If NATO settles on a series of options before anything can be done, individual countries will have to make political decisions about whether these options are acceptable and whether they plan to participate.

So there would be, I believe, a healthy debate in our Congress. And certainly we would communicate with Congress and consult with Congress about this. And I'm sure that parliaments throughout Europe would be doing the same thing. So it's a planning process. There are a number of steps. And those steps are being completed. I think they're being completed in a reasonable amount of time.

This is a very complex issue. The commitment of force is always a complex issue and that's what NATO is debating now.

Q: Yesterday, the Post ran an analysis that cited some unidentified Pentagon officials as saying the Pentagon would like to see an all-out bombardment of Serb anti-missile positions and combat aircraft -- or any possible --

A: Let me be very clear. Let me be very clear. What the United States wants is a diplomatic solution. And we are working for that. There's going to be a meeting of the contact group next Wednesday. And, as you know, Mr. Milosevic met with Mr. Yeltsin -- President Yeltsin -- yesterday. We are hopeful that there will be a diplomatic solution to this problem.

If NATO makes the decision to use military force, and if the United States decides to participate in the use of military force we would, as we always do, want to make sure that force was employed in a way that protected our force to the maximum extent possible -- or put another way, minimize the risk of using force.

One of the things NATO is -- NATO is looking at a whole list of options. I don't want to get into those options now. But some of the things that have been talked about are no-fly zones. A lot of these are short of perhaps the aggressive use of force.

All of this is on the table now in Brussels. It's being studied diligently by the military committee. And once the military committee comes with the list of options they will have to present them to the North Atlantic Council which is the political side of NATO. And they'll have to make a decision. And once they make a decision it will have to be further discussed back in national capitals.

Q: But generally speaking, does the Pentagon see the option of air strikes as viable an option as it was in Bosnia?

A: I think it's premature to be talking about any specific option at this time. Our goal is to achieve a diplomatic solution. And we're working diligently to do that. Yes.

Q: Without going into specific options, can you tell me why the nine options and characterize the range of them?

A: No, I can't say why we had nine rather than seven or 23. Those were the ones that the military authorities were instructed to look at. Yes?

Q: Has there been any change for Kosovo since the Yeltsin meeting? Has there been less fighting? Any signs that the Serbian security forces are returning to their barracks or anything like that, that would be a sign of improvement?

A: There hasn't been any dramatic change over the last couple of days. The Yugoslav forces consisting of the special police and the military forces seem to have been more restrained and less active. And that's been going on for several days.

There have been some continuing skirmishes that may have been provoked by the UCK, which are the Kosovar Albanian forces. And I think it drives home the point that this is a problem with two sides to it. And we have urged both sides -- both the Kosovar Albanians and the Yugoslav, or Serbian side, to show restraint.

We don't think violence is the way to end these problems. We think that there should be a political settlement. We're prepared to help with a political settlement through the contact. We've been through the OSEE and other organizations, but it is going to require restraint on both sides to make a political settlement work.

Q: Operation TAILWIND. Yesterday, you released quite a few documents relating to that, but I understand 76 pages were withheld. Can you tell us when those additional pages will be released, and can you characterize in any way what is in those documents that have not yet been released, in some general way?

A: Well, in general, the documents describe a broader CIA operation in the area, of which TAILWIND was a part. I don't think that you will find anything that's out of sync with what has already been released, but there will be more details about the broader construct of the operations in Laos.

I can't tell you when the other 76 pages will be released. We hope in the next couple of weeks. We would like to make that as fast as possible, but it may take -- it may not be until early July.

Q: Have you reviewed those?

A: I have not yet reviewed them, but I will. I just haven't had a chance to.

Q: So do you know if they contain any information that supports either the charge that sarin nerve gas was used or --

A: Well, I haven't reviewed them, and I would like to withhold comment. My understanding is they don't, but I haven't personally reviewed them, and I would rather wait until I do. Yes?

Q: The situation with the 76 pages is that they just haven't gone through the direct --

A: They're in the process of being reviewed now for clearance, et cetera.

Q: What is their classification?

A: I don't know. As I say, I haven't seen them. We produced 305 pages, yesterday, or a report that was 305 pages, and I think there are five additional pages in fact sheets. Yes?

Q: North Korea.

A: North Korea.

Q: First, can you just comment on the Pentagon's view of North Korea's statements earlier this week, acknowledging that they are proliferating missile technology and plan to continue to do so? Is this an event that will cause the Pentagon to take some additional steps in countering proliferation?

A: Well, first of all, we've known for some time that North Korea is a proliferant. It is a country that, while it can't seem to feed its own people, is interested in building and selling missiles around the world, and we've been aware of that.

We've been so aware of it that we have started talks with North Korea to try to end proliferation of missile technology. Those talks have not been particularly successful, but we have been engaged with them, in trying to convince them that this isn't a good thing to do.

We think that this type of proliferation is destabilizing and it increases pressure for arms races around the world, and we've been working hard to slow down arms races, not speed them up. Yes?

Q: What is the U.S. military assessment of the medium-range missile, the North Korean missile, the NoDong, versus the Pakistani (inaudible) medium-range missile?

A: I don't think I'm prepared to give you a blow-by-blow account, a comparison, at this time.

Q: Do they amount to the same thing?

A: I don't think it's appropriate for me to get into that.

Q: Different subject. I just want an update on how many forces are still in the Gulf.

A: Ah, the Gulf. Well, the forces have come down some. On Tuesday, there were 29,800 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines in the Gulf. Today, there are 28,000, approximately 28,000.

There have been some reductions in all services, and we have moved out one Patriot battery and a Marine Chemical-Biological Incident Response Force, a force of five people.

Also, there is one less support ship there than there was on Tuesday, but the number of aircraft has not changed, and that remains at 195, in the theater.

Q: Do you have the number of ships?

A: I do. There were 13 combatants and seven support ships. If you want, I can give you -- there are 5,200 soldiers, 14,500 sailors and Marines, 6,500 Air Force pilots and maintenance people, and there are 1,800 there in joint headquarters, joint staffs, units, et cetera. So it adds up to about 28,000.

Q: I know there is a study that was commissioned just this week to look at Guard and Reserve roles in the future. But is there anything that is going to be done in the near term, to try and lessen the burden as to these deployments?

A: Well, I didn't read the speech, and so I guess I can't say whether the Secretary agrees with it. I'm not sure whether he has read it or not. But he is very concerned about the operational tempo and the impact that it has had on the active duty force, as well as the Guard and Reserve force.

There are a number of projects underway, launched by the joint staff, to try to reduce this strength. And one is what you see happening in the Gulf today, bringing people back from the Gulf. We're also reducing our force in Bosnia to 6,900 from about 8,500. All of these will reduce strains in some ways.

We have also paid a lot of attention to the length of deployments, the frequency of deployments. One of the things the joint staff has been working very hard on is ways to keep forces in the United States on a tether that will sort of allocate them to specific theaters if necessary, but allow them to remain in the United States on some sort of an alert status that will make it possible for them to get to the Gulf or to the Korean Peninsula very quickly.

This, we think, is a way to reduce some of the strain of sending people over there, but having them ready to get there very, very quickly if necessary.

There has been a lot of work in this area. Clearly, work needs to be done. But our force is a very active force today. It is deployed all over the world. The number of demands on our time has increased, while the force has gotten smaller, and that has led to increased deployments for both the active and Reserve forces.

Q: I'm just curious if you've received any sort of legal opinion or advice on whether the release of information from Linda Tripp's personnel file amounted to a violation of the Privacy Act.

A: The IG report or review is continuing, and I think I would rather not say anything about it until it's over. Yes.

Q: Another topic?

A: Sure.

Q: Former Japanese Prime Minister Hosokawa just contributed an article to "Foreign Affairs," latest edition, saying that U.S. military presence in Japan should fade with the end of the century, just saying it's better for the U.S. to withdraw the forces, considering the change of environment, strategic environment in Asia and also the burden, too much burden on Japanese people. For the maintenance of their life, it's better to reduce the presence and pull out from Japan. Do you have comment on this kind of argument?

A: Well, we have about 100,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines in the Asia Pacific region, 47,000 based in Japan. We have an extremely strong security alliance with Japan. We believe, and I believe the current Japanese government believes, that the American presence in Asia, including the American presence in Japan, has been a fundamental building block of stability in the Asia Pacific region. And this stability has allowed the area to prosper. It has allowed an increase in the standard of living. It has allowed an increase in trade flows. And I don't sense that there is a lot of pressure on the United States now to reduce this security umbrella in the Asia Pacific.

So we talk frequently with the current Japanese government. And the Japanese government has been extremely supportive of our current troop deployments in Japan. And I think the Japanese government appreciates the contribution that these forces are making to stability in the region.

Q: Don't you feel any concern about emergence of these kind of arguments from your allies? And also I understand even though it's not a majority, there is some similar argument on the side of the United States, too?

A: Well, I think that it's -- in democracies issues are discussed and they should be discussed. And one of the things that distinguishes democracies from other forms of government is that we have free and open debate on all sorts of topics. And I think it's very appropriate that countries debate the military posture of their governments and of their allies. But I think ultimately, governments have to make decisions about what is best for their own security and what's best for the security of the region.

I think that one of the important points that the U.S.-Japan security relationship emphasizes is that security is not just a question of military security. It involves economic security, as well, and it involves protecting trade patterns. It involves preventing military actions from developing in other countries in the area. So, yes, it's very appropriate that this be debated. At the end of the day, I think we have a strong and profitable security relationship with Japan. Any more questions?

Press: Thank you.