DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA
Mr. Bacon: I want to take this opportunity to announce that on Monday, Joseph Nye, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, will release another in the series of publications on regional security issues. This one will deal with the Americas -- United States security strategy for the Americas. That will be here at 10:30 on Monday.
With that, I'd be glad to take your questions.
Q: A certain network has reported, CNN, that in fact the Serbian air defense network has, in fact, not been destroyed as apparently was the aim of the earlier strikes. Is that true? And number two, might strikes be launched in Banja Luka against Serbian air defenses?
A: Let me just take a minute to talk about the aim of the current air strike campaign that's taking place.
At the London meeting in July, a decision was made to protect Gorazde, and that was then expanded to protect other safe areas. After the London meeting, the North Atlantic Council drew up a broad description of an air campaign describing the types of targets that would be available and setting priorities for dealing with targets.
The local commanders, Admiral [General] Rupert Smith and General Janvier and others sat down and translated this broad guidance into a target list -- a very lengthy target list -- that looked at different sets of targets. One of the primary sets was air defense. They looked at communications facilities, they looked at logistics facilities, and they basically set priorities for dealing with these targets.
One of the high priority targets were air defense systems, in the area where the planes are flying, and that's basically in the area of eastern Bosnia around Sarajevo, around Gorazde, Tuzla. There has not been, there does not now appear to be a very vigorous air defense campaign on the part of the Bosnian Serbs against the allied planes flying the strike missions.
The air defense, the major surface-to-air missile facility in eastern Bosnia is no longer presenting the threat that it once did. As these missions fly day after day, they are finding that they are not encountering much anti-aircraft, and they are not encountering much missile opposition.
Early in the missions, obviously, there was a tragedy involving a French Mirage that was shot down by a missile. Since then, there has been very light opposition from the Bosnian Serbs to these flights.
So I think you have to look at the results. The results have been that increasingly, these planes are able to fly their missions without facing significant threat.
Q: Are they not encountering this because the Serbs choose not to use this air defense, or because the air defense of the military has been destroyed?
A: I think it's a combination of the destruction and the decision not to use the air defense. But the fact is, those two add up to a suppression of enemy air defenses which appears to be working. That's the goal, to suppress the enemy air defenses, and the enemy air defenses at this point do not seem to be presenting a major threat.
Q: Is the report true that with the help of Serbia, the air defense network has been patched up, can be used again, and that NATO is considering whether or not to launch strikes against this renewed ability?
A: Addressing the integrated air defense system just for a minute, the system was designed to serve the country of Yugoslavia. When the country of Yugoslavia broke up into smaller countries, the integrated air defense system remained integrated, in that it remained to serve the area it was designed to serve under one country. Parts of that air defense system are in areas that have been under attack, and other parts have been in areas that aren't under attack, but the system has been integrated and remains integrated. So yes, there are parts of the air defense system that are still functioning.
That's not the point you should focus on, though. The point you should focus on is what air defense threat are our allied forces facing in their missions, and right now, that air defense threat is minimal. Why is that? It's because it's been suppressed through a combination of factors, one of which is the bombing that's been done.
Q: The New York Times reported today that NATO decided to expand and widen the air campaign both geographically and in terms of the number of targets by doubling the 25 figure that we've seen previously. Can you confirm that and discuss that?
A: I'm not going to get into specific discussions about targeting. But I think I described earlier how we got to where we are today in terms of selecting targets. Target selection is something that goes on every day. Before missions, people sit down and select the targets they're going to attack on that day.
Essentially, they're operating from a large menu, and they have to choose based on the conditions -- weather conditions, based on the type of opposition they're facing, based on their tactical objectives of that particular day, what targets to hit. Target selection is not a static process. It's not something that happens and then has to be amended by an act of Congress or something like that. It's something that happens every day. It's very evolutionary. That is what's happening now. Every day, Admiral Smith and General Janvier and General Ryan and others sit down and they look at the targets available to them. They look at the objectives of that particular day's missions, the sorties they're going to fly, and they choose targets.
So the list is in flux. There is not "a list" today, and they do not make a decision to have a broader list of targets tomorrow. They're deleting targets from the list and adding targets to the list every single day.
Q: Is the net effect, though, that a larger number of targets are under attack now than...
A: No. That is not the net effect at this stage.
But again, this is not a static situation. There are targets being added to the list and subtracted from the list all the time. Sometimes targets get added to a list and the list expands.
After every mission there is an assessment of the success of that mission -- a bomb damage assessment. We might have to go back and re-hit a target. We might find that a target has been so destroyed that we don't have to go back and re-hit it. There may be days when we have to hit old targets again, and we add new targets that have been discovered in the course of the previous day's missions, or new targets that the commanders have decided to move to on the long list that they assembled weeks ago before they began the bombing campaign. There has been a long time to plan for this. The London meeting, I believe, was July 21st, wasn't it? So there's been six or seven weeks to plan for the air strikes that began on the 30th of August.
Q: It appears that this air campaign is setting a precedent, unprecedentally successful, in that only one aircraft has been lost out of 2,000 sorties. Does this not mean that this shows the Bosnian Serbs that they have an inability to inflict losses on the NATO aircraft, and that NATO has the staying power, because of the low losses will have the staying power to be in the theater? Doesn't it show that the Bosnian Serbs are impotent to take any offensive action with this air power employed in this successful way?
A: The result of the air strikes so far has been to suppress the enemy air defenses in the area of operation and to suppress the Bosnian Serb army from attacking the safe areas. There are still intermittent attacks against the safe areas -- Sarajevo, Gorazde and Tuzla -- but they have been much less strong, much less regular than they have been in the past. So essentially, the Bosnian Serb army has been shut down in that it's not operating with the same intensity that it was before. That's not entirely because all of their assets have been eliminated. It's in part because they are not striking out so they won't be hit back, either by the rapid reaction force or by the air campaign.
There are three conditions we're trying to win compliance with. The goal of this campaign is not to pulverize the Bosnian Serb military or the Bosnian Serb people. It is to win compliance with the three conditions specified by the UN, and those are stop shelling the safe areas. That has largely stopped, but it is still going on intermittently.
The second is to remove the heavy artillery from the exclusion zone around Sarajevo. They have not complied with that. There are still several hundred pieces of heavy artillery, tanks, mortars, etc., surrounding Sarajevo and they have not been moved back.
The third condition is that they allow free passage of United Nations forces and non-government organization forces into and out of Sarajevo so they can bring in food, water, medical supplies, etc. They have not yet opened the roads and they have not yet opened the airport. So there is still a lot to be done.
Until they honor those conditions, we will continue to chip away at the Bosnian Serb military capability. That's what these air strikes are doing now. That's what we'll continue to do.
Q: What's to prevent the Bosnian Serbs from simply hunkering down and paying the price that NATO is extracting, and simply not giving in?
A: At some point the price will be, I believe, will be too heavy for them to pay. The goal of these strikes is to chip away at their capability, and every chip will remove part of their capability.
Q: One U.S. official was quoted in The Washington Post this morning as saying that unless results are seen soon, that diplomatic support for the military effort may weaken and "We can't keep doing this until Christmas." Is there a limited amount of time that there will be diplomatic support for the military action?
A: I believe right now there is broad support for this action among the allies. There is a feeling that the air strikes have succeeded in suppressing the Bosnian Serb attacks against Sarajevo and the other safe areas. They've succeeded in suppressing attacks against our airplanes and we will continue to chip away at the communications infrastructure, at their logistics system, at their supply system, and at their ability to wage war until they realize they should honor the conditions that the UN has set. These are sensible conditions. These are conditions that allow people to live securely in their own city. These are conditions designed to allow people to be fed, allow people to receive medical care, and allow people not to live under the threat of being shelled.
Q: ...refer to the Bosnian Serbs today as enemy forces. Can you define how the Bosnian Serbs are our enemy now?
A: That's a good point and one where I've, perhaps, been lax. The Bosnian Serbs now are the enemy force in the narrow term that they are opposing actions that would lead to greater security in Sarajevo.
Our goal is not to take sides in this dispute. Our goal is to win a peaceful solution to the dispute in Bosnia. That's been our goal from the beginning. It remains our goal today.
Q: A small three-part question, if I may.
A: I reserve to answer only the first part or the second part or the third part.
Q: Or none, right?
We are led to understand that MC-130s and AC-130s are now being used in Bosnia. The MC-130 is a special aircraft used primarily by the Special Operations Command. Can you tell us what the mission of that aircraft is?
Secondly, are AC-130s in fact being used?
The third part is part and parcel of all the rest. If these aircraft are being used, since they operate low and slow, does this mean, in effect, that these air defenses have been suppressed to the point where no one's really concerned about them? Sort of to follow up on my colleague's question.
A: First of all, we're always concerned about air defenses. A very significant proportion of the sorties being flown are to suppress enemy air defenses. That will continue to be the case until this is over. We are not taking anything for granted here.
Secondly, the planes that have been called upon to be used, there are currently, as you pointed out, some AC-130s on station and they'll be used as appropriate and only under conditions that are gauged to be adequate conditions. At this moment there are not, based on this list before me, any MC-130s assigned.
Q: Since the bombing began a couple of Wednesdays ago, I wonder do you have an estimate or can you get an estimate of cost to the Pentagon for these operations?
Secondly, since this is getting close to the end of the fiscal year, have funds for these operations had to have been taken from other accounts that may have hindered or restricted other U.S. military activities?
A: Those are both good questions, and we'll get you the answers if we can.
Q: NATO has apparently not launched bombing raids right against Sarajevo against weapons around Sarajevo, heavy weapons themselves, whether it's to avoid collateral damage or whether it's to give those weapons a chance to be pulled out remains to be seen. But might in the near future such attacks be launched by NATO planes against the heavy weapons directly, instead of just ratcheting up pressure elsewhere?
A: I think that, going back to my initial remarks about a long list of targets, any targets in those lists remain possible targets. I don't want to foreshadow what we may or may not do, but decisions are made every day on the basis of weather -- which has not been particularly good. There have been, since this began, the first air strikes on August 30th, I think there have been about two days of clear weather during that period of time. Even during the suspension of bombing, we were flying fairly regularly close air support in other missions, air presence missions, over Bosnia.
Decisions are made every day on what the target selection will be, and it's highly possible that we could focus on areas that we haven't focused on yet.
Q: I guess what I'm asking then, have U.S. or NATO planes consciously avoided striking these heavy weapons around Sarajevo to give them a chance to withdraw or to avoid collateral damage?
A: Let me just say that for various tactical reasons, those weapons have not been struck yet, but the tactics change every day.
Q: Can I just get a clarification on your earlier answer? Both CNN and the New York Times were told by U.S. and NATO officials that the bombing campaign was being intensified, or that there was heavier and wider bombing because the Bosnian Serbs apparently are not getting the message. Do you dispute that?
A: It is clear to me that the Bosnian forces have gotten one part of the message, which is that they have ceased the intense shelling of Sarajevo and the other safe areas that has gone on in the past. They clearly have gotten the message that that is dangerous for them to do, and they have curtailed it. In that respect, they've gotten the message.
I want to go back to what I said earlier. There is a list of targets. Targets get eliminated from the list when the targets are taken care of. New targets are added to the list. When one tactical goal is realized, we move on to another tactical goal. In a sense, if you want to say this is an expansion, it's an expansion. I think it's more logical to say there is a list of targets and we are systematically, as weather and tactical conditions and other plans allow, working through that list.
Q: The House today voted down the amendment to take the extra B-2 money out. I assume the Pentagon is still opposed to buying additional B-2s, and you'll work through the Senate and the conference to try to get that money out?
A: Yes. We believe that money could be better spent on precision guided munitions, and that that would be a better way to increase the effectiveness of our bomber force today. We do not believe that it makes sense now to buy 20 more B-2s, or in fact to increase the B-2 force beyond the planned 20.
Q: To follow up on the Senate bill, the Senate passed a compromise amendment yesterday, and then the final bill. Does the Pentagon have a perspective on that compromise? And are you still opposed to the bill as it is now? Do you know if the Secretary would recommend that it be vetoed?
A: You're referring specifically to the ballistic missile part?
Q: Right. In the defense authorization in the Senate.
A: We believe that bipartisan compromise was a significant improvement over the initial Senate bill. There are still elements of the bill that we would like to see changed. As you know, the process isn't over because there's a conference, and we will work aggressively in the conference with both the House and the Senate to try to win improvements.
Q: Is there anything in the Senate bill now that would prompt the Secretary to recommend a veto?
A: I think we should hold off on talking about vetoes until the entire process is over. Because there's still a lot of negotiating to be done.
Q: What is the Secretary's current position on the purchase of up to 80 more C-17s. The Defense Authorization Acquisition Board...
A: I can't tell you what the Secretary's position is. I can tell you that the plan has always been to buy up to 120 C-17s. The Secretary has flown on the C-17. It's a very impressive plane. It operates with a very small crew. It has double the cargo capacity of the C-141. It can land and take off in less than 2,000 feet. It's a plane that has, after a rocky start and a lot of criticism, turned out to work pretty well. I can't tell you how many eventually will be bought, but as I said, the Air Force had always hoped to buy up to 120.
Q: I take it by how I guess primed you for this, that the Department is, at the moment, pleased with the C-17.
A: The C-17 is proving to meet the Air Force's transportation needs. It's working well.
Q: Back to Bosnia for a moment. Since they're not briefing in Naples at all, can you give us any sort of idea about how many targets have been hit in these 2,000 sorties, or the number of things that have been damaged?
A: I cannot. I think the... I talked with Air Force officers before I came down here, also with other officers on the Joint Staff. I think they're quite pleased with how well the bombing campaign has gone.
You have to understand three things. First, the weather has not been good. I talked about that earlier.
Secondly, this is not the desert. It's a much more complex area to bomb.
Third, as Admiral Smith addressed in his briefing yesterday, there has been a real effort paid to preventing collateral damage -- particularly of civilians and civilian facilities. Therefore, the planes have been very careful in their delivery of ordnance.
Given those three conditions, you could call one of them a restriction, the military commanders seem quite pleased with the effectiveness of the air campaign so far. I want to go back to what I said earlier. The goal of this campaign is to chip away at the Bosnian Serb military capability until the Bosnian Serbs agree to allow people to live safely and be fed in Sarajevo.
Q: Is it the policy of NATO/UN that all military action on the part of parties other than NATO and the UN must cease? Is there, in fact -- except perhaps for the Bosnian Serbs, but -- is there, in fact, a ceasefire throughout Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia? A military stand down?
A: I'm glad you raised that point. It's very important to focus on what's happening along with the air campaign. Mr. Holbrooke is now traveling through Europe trying to put together a peace agreement. He's has considerable success on some elements of that agreement. There's a long way to go. He'll be meeting in Geneva tomorrow. It will be a very important meeting with major parties from the area and with the Contact Group. We are working aggressively to find a peace agreement that ends the fighting in the former Yugoslavia, and we'll continue to work hard on that. In the meantime, we would like all forces to stop their fighting and to stop shelling civilians.
Q: Will it not be requisite in Geneva when they meet tomorrow, that all those parties must cease military activity?
A: If we were able to order a cessation to the fighting, we would have done it years ago. It turns out we have not been able to do that. Now we believe that we have a better chance than we've had in a long time. By we, I mean the allies. I don't mean the U.S. I mean NATO, I mean the UN, I mean the Contact Group, the people working to bring about a peace agreement in the former Yugoslavia. That's what we're striving to do.
Q: Is it true that a Predator was shot down?
A: It is not true. Well, two Predators were shot down. Two Predators were lost earlier. There has not been a third Predator lost. There was an erroneous report which was corrected.
Press: Thank you.