Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
First I'd like to welcome Cliff Bernath the Director of the American Forces Information Service and his top lieutenants, Bob Taylor, Mel Russell, Larry Icenogle who's just taken over as the Director of the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Col. Jack Keo, Joan Keftan, Dick Hiner, Col. Gail Fix, Col. Mitch Ross and other members of the team who are here for a manager's meeting.
Most of you know that one side of the public affairs operation deals with the press, but we have a very important side that deals with communicating with our troops all around the world. AFIS, American Forces Information Services, made some terrific strides in the last couple of years doing things like bringing direct broadcasts to sailors at sea; television broadcasts so they can get live feeds of news or the Super Bowl or whatever. We've also expanded the number of channels available to soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and dramatically improved the feed they get for base newspapers by putting it all on the Internet and making it much more speedy, as well as increasing the coverage that goes out over the press feed. So welcome to all of you.
Second, we have with us today Flight Lieutenant Sylvia Jean Darby who is a member of the Royal Air Force Reserve and will soon be the public affairs reserve advisor in the Office of Special Information in NATO headquarters, so we welcome her as well.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q: With the latest signal from Baghdad on the U.N. inspections and given the fact that U.S. military forces have apparently been the main reason that Saddam has backed down before on such moves, have any preliminary considerations been given to building up the U.S. military force in the Gulf at this time?
A: No, we think we have a very adequate force there. We've got a carrier battle group, the USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN; we've got, with that, the planes and the battle group; 167 planes in the theater; we have over 19,000 people in the area; and as you know, after we drew down the force from earlier this year we left behind a much larger complement of Tomahawk cruise missiles, double the amount we had there last year. So we think we have a very strong ready force, ready to, able to defend our interests and to put pressure on Saddam Hussein if necessary.
Q: Does a move like this by Baghdad quickly shorten the force, the prospect, the timeframe for the possible use of military power?
A: I don't think we're at a crisis stage yet. This is a dispute between Iraq and the United Nations and the issue here is whether Iraq is going to comply with an agreement it negotiated with Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the United Nations. That's what's at stake. And the UN Security Council is meeting even as we meet here to look at the facts, get a report from Ambassador Butler, and to decide what to do next.
I think that Iraq's goals are clear. One, it wants to try to end the sanctions, and this is the wrong way to go about that. Two, I think it wants to try to end inspections so it can continue work on its weapons of mass destruction program. The U.N. has made it clear year in and year out that it's not going to allow that to happen. I assume that the U.N. won't allow it to happen this time. That's what's at issue here.
Every time the inspectors make a new discovery, Iraq seems to throw a tantrum of some sort to try to interrupt the inspection process and that's what it's attempting to do at this time. As you know, several weeks ago inspectors found a residue of nerve gas on some warhead components and several weeks thereafter Iraq tried to crack down on the inspections. That's what's happening.
I think this is pretty transparent to the rest of the world. Saddam Hussein is up to his old tricks. I think it's an affront to the United Nations. The United Nations is meeting now to consider what to do.
Q: Does the Pentagon consider Iraq in violation of the February agreement now?
A: That's for the U.N. to decide, and that's what the U.N. is meeting on right now.
Q: You say these incidents happened when UNSCOM usually finds something. Has there been any development that you know of that they have found, or that you anticipate shortly in their WMD program that might have led to this latest tantrum, as you call it?
A: First of all, we do know that they did find some residue of nerve gas a month or so ago. Second, I'd just refer you to what Ambassador Butler has said recently. They were making progress on the chemical file and making progress on the missile file, but they still had a long way to go on the biological weapons file. He has described the Iraqi biological weapons program as a dark hole, a black hole. I think that's true.
There's much more information the U.N. needs to be able to assure itself that Iraq has stopped work on the biological weapons program.
Q: On the biological front, didn't some samples from old destroyed artillery shells that possibly had anthrax in them -- didn't that go to a DoD lab of some kind awhile ago? What were the results of that?
A: I think, I'll go back and double-check, but I think you're referring to some indications of nerve gas.
Q: In other words, the results of an anthrax..
A: I'll have to go back and check on that. We do believe they've had an ability to manufacture not only anthrax but botulinum and some other biological weapons.
Q: Can you review for us the current status of Iraqi troop movements, the routine rotational movements you described some days back, and any more recent movements either in the north or south?
A: There were a series of troop rotations over the last few weeks. We believe those are over now. They seemed to be mainly for mobilization and training purposes, not for redeployments in preparation for any sort of military action. Those troops seem to now have completed those movements and returned to their facilities or barracks. There hasn't been any other notable movements in the last few days or weeks.
Q: Could you describe how the no-fly zone operations continued, at what pace, and has there been any kind of alert that you've noticed from their air defense units, anything along that...
A: We did not notice any changes in their air defenses, and the Operation Southern Watch flights are continuing as normal. I don't think I have a number here, but there's been no change in our sorties to enforce the southern no-fly zone.
Q: What's the flow of forces, if you had to bring forces back, we're talking a day or two to bring robust air forces? What's your timeline?
A: I don't want to get into details on that, but one of the things we did when we drew down the force from last spring was to lay out a very clear plan for rebuilding the force if necessary. Units have been identified and they've been given a timeline. We could have very significant reinforcements over there within 48 hours.
Q: Can you give us a rundown on U.S. troops on the ground in the theater there?
A: Sure. There are a total of 19,650 troops in the theater; 2,300 of those are Army; 11,000 are Navy and Marine Corps troops; there are 5,900 Air Force personnel; 4450 joint people in headquarters units, etc. I hope that adds up to 19,650.
Q: 167 aircraft in...
A: There are 167 aircraft in the area and that includes TAC aircraft, combat aircraft, as well as support aircraft.
Q: Does that include the air group off the LINCOLN?
A: Yes, it does.
Q: When you said that you had increased the Tomahawk force, you meant just by virtue of leaving more surface ships and perhaps a submarine. You're talking about by virtue of having more platforms in the area...
A: I'm talking about the number of Tomahawks in the theater ready for near instant use. Since they have to be on platforms, yes, you figure out...
Q: Can you say how many?
A: No. But it's double what we had there last spring.
A: Last fall and last spring.
Q: In Rwanda, there's apparently an interagency team there to assess military capabilities of the Rwandan military. Can you explain why the United States is looking at training and possibly arming the Rwandan military at a time when it's being accused of invading?
A: We're not. That account is just wrong. That's not why the assessment team is there.
When President Clinton went to Africa last spring he pledged that the U.S. government would do all it could to prevent a resurgence of genocide in the East African area where there's been genocide in the past. As part of that he decided to send an assessment team, a military assessment team -- I think there are 20 military people on the team and one State Department representative -- to Rwanda, to look at the Rwandan military's training, its professionalism, and its human rights policies as a way to assess the possibility of new outbreaks of genocide in the region. That's the team that's there now. It has nothing to do with talking about training the Rwandan military or arming the Rwandan military. It's not there to do that at all. It's there to assess basically human rights issues and the possibility of a new outbreak of genocide. That team is now in Kigali. It came back from its mission when the violence broke out in the Democratic Republic of Congo and is now in Kigali awaiting further instructions.
Q: You say it's there to look at training and professionalism?
A: It's there to judge the training and professionalism of the Rwandan Army. It's part of a broader assessment of the likelihood of outbreaks of genocide. One of the factors is how well trained is the Army in preventing outbreaks of genocide from people within the military or other people in the society.
Q: Including insurgent forces in Northwestern Rwanda?
A: The assessment team was only operating in Rwanda. It did not go outside Rwanda.
Q: I mean is the purpose of the assessment to look at the possibility of training and assisting the Rwandan military...
A: No, it was to assess what I've told you, the professionalism of the Rwandan military and to look at their human rights policies.
Q: For no other reason than simply to assess it?
A: That's right. It's an assessment team of 21 people that was sent in.
Q: What if this assessment team finds this level of professionalism is inadequate?
A: I think it's a hypothetical question. The team hasn't completed its work, it's still in Rwanda. When it comes back there will be consultations with the team and we'll decide what to do next. But this is only to follow up on the President's pledge made in April to do what the U.S. can do to prevent new outbreaks of genocide in East Africa.
Q: Also apparently a JCET team has been called back...
A: There was a JCET team in the area and it has been called back to Kigali. It arrived in Kigali yesterday. It was operating a little south of Kigali. It's scheduled to leave Rwanda today. I don't know whether that's happened, but it was supposed to leave Rwanda today.
Q: Why is it being called back?
A: Well, at a time when there's an outbreak of violence in the area we didn't want any misunderstanding about why we were there. We were there for the reasons of JCET teams which is mainly to train themselves. We didn't think it was a good time to be training in Rwanda, and therefore we've pulled the team out.
Q: The size of the team?
A: I think there were ten people in that JCET team and they were concentrating on things like land navigation, first aid, and the mechanics of patrolling. They were working with groups in the Rwandan military. But as I say, that's all stopped. The team should be on its way out if it hasn't left already.
Q: What do you think about this legislation apparently a one-sentence bill on missile defense that has been moving through Congress that essentially said it should be a policy of the United States to deploy national missile defense?
A: Our policy is to develop a national missile defense program and to deploy it when necessary. As you know, we're supposed to complete the development work on that in the year 2000 and then be in a position to deploy within three years after that. We're moving ahead aggressively on that program. It's a complex program, but as you know, some contracts were let recently as part of the national missile defense program, and we're positioning ourselves to be able to deploy by 2003.
Q: We were going to have a briefing I think it was last week on national missile defense and then that got canceled. What was that all about?
A: I wasn't here last week, so we'll find out the answer. I assume the briefing will be rescheduled sometime.
Q: Kosovo. Do you have a date on planning for Kosovo -- NATO and U.S.?
A: The planning is nearing completion; the planning for military options is largely done. Basically we're looking at two packages of options -- an air package and a ground package. I can't go into details at this stage, but there are packages that cover a range of military actions if necessary.
What the Yugoslav forces are doing today, the Serb forces directed by Milosevic, is wrong. We condemn this activity by him. The violence against the Kosovar Albanians, the burning, the rooting people out of villages, the killings. We've been consulting with our allies about how to respond and at the same time NATO has been completing its military planning. That's where we stand.
Q: There never seems to have been any question about the planning, it would get done in time; but there always seems to have been a question about whether or not there's a political consensus strong enough to take military action in or about Kosovo. Do you believe you're any closer to getting some sort of consensus in that direction?
A: I think every day the violence continues it brings the NATO community closer to consensus on this. But let's be clear; our goal from the beginning has been a diplomatic solution and we continue to work on that. Ambassador Hill has been trying to pull together a group representing the Kosovar Albanians that can sit down and negotiate over a peace settlement. We've been trying to get Mr. Milosevic to sit down and talk about a possible settlement. We'd like a cease-fire that would end the fighting and then find some political settlement to the issues in Kosovo. That's what we continue to work for. If that doesn't work, NATO, on another track, is completing its plans for military action and then, once those plans are complete, and as I say, they'll be complete today or tomorrow, then the international community will have to decide what to do next based on Milosevic's activities.
Q: There's planning underway or very nearly finished for the two ground exercises. What's the goal there? Are you trying to send a message in addition to...
A: Let me be very clear about what you've just brought up. You've just alluded to two Partnership for Peace exercises, one of which is going to take place in Albania and one in Macedonia. The one in Albania is supposed to start on August 17th, I believe. It's called COOPERATIVE ASSEMBLY 1998. This was devised relatively recently, I think after the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting and Defense Ministers meeting early in the summer, late in the spring. And it's basically to show the West's ability to move quickly into Albania and carry out some exercises. It will focus on training at the platoon and squad levels, we'll move some medical and dental facilities into the area. This is not just us. It's a Partnership for Peace exercise so there are a number of countries involved in this. And actually provide some medical care. There will also be some engineering troops there as well to repair infrastructure and maybe rebuild some buildings, etc. Then we'll practice with aircraft, search and rescue, MEDEVAC'ing, that type of thing. So it's an exercise that will cover a broad number of activities. That will run from the 17th to the 22nd of August.
The second has been planned well before and that's an exercise in Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. That will take place September 10th through the 18th. It will basically concentrate on peacekeeping skills. I think there will be 22 participant countries and two observer nations involved in that. That, again, is part of a long-scheduled set of exercises for the Partnership for Peace.
Q: Mr. Milosevic seemed not terribly impressed when this parade of aircraft went by his neighborhood. Is he going to be any more impressed by a few hundred people exercising next door?
A: The point isn't necessarily to impress him, it's to do the Partnership for Peace work in these two countries. But I don't think that he should doubt our ability to move forces in very quickly should we decide it's necessary, and they can be either air forces or ground forces. And whether or not he's impressed by this, it shows our ability to do that and it's good training in case we have to do it in the future.
Q: How many countries or how many participants in the Albanian exercise?
A: The U.S. participants will be from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. I believe there will be more than 1,000 participants -- around 1200 in all -- and they will include people from the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, Greece, Spain, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Turkey, Italy, Albania, Russia, and Lithuania.
Q: Does there have to be an escalation of the violence in Kosovo to trigger a NATO intervention? Or merely a continuation of the status quo?
A: NATO will have to decide what triggers its intervention, but clearly the current level of violence is unacceptable, and we've tried to make that clear in all sorts of communications to Milosevic and to his Army and his police forces.
Q: Can you explain why U.N. authorization is not required for NATO to act out of their area?
A: We don't believe the U.N. authorization is required. The United States believes that the U.N. shouldn't be able to tie the hands of NATO to act in the defense of Europe and its interests.
Q: Two things on the status of the planning. Has the United States yet told NATO in this planning process what forces it would be willing to contribute?
A: We certainly will be willing to participate. The informal pulsing of NATO members is going on now where countries will say what they're able or willing to provide. I don't know what our contribution would be at this stage.
Q: So right now we're sort of telling NATO in this informal pulsing process what...
A: What happens is, if the NATO military authorities ask, really, it's General Clark and his team as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, ask other countries to make contributions, and that's going on in an informal way right now.
Q: When you said it will be completed today or tomorrow, is that a military committee completion or a NAC?
A: There will be provisional NAC clearance.
Q: On that same issue, can you say whether or not any U.S. units in Europe have been alerted?
A: No. None have been alerted.
Q: Back to the Partnership for Peace in Macedonia and Albania, will either of those exercises leave behind infrastructure? One of the things people talk about is how limited the infrastructure is in both those places. Should NATO need to do something will there be anything left behind after these exercises are gone?
A: I think in Albania three things will be left behind. The first is that there will be some repairs to infrastructure which of course will be enduring, if we repair roads or school buildings or clinics.
Second, some medical care will be provided -- dental care and other medical care. This is not a long exercise. It's only five days.
Third, I think will be left behind an indication that the PFP community, the NATO and non-NATO countries involved in the PFP are willing and able to provide help in Albania.
In Macedonia, there we're working mainly on peacekeeping skills. It's no the same amount of infrastructure repair, but there will be a medical aspect to the PFP exercise in Macedonia so there could be some medical care provided there as well.
Q: Who were the participants in the Macedonian exercise?
A: In the Macedonian exercise, I don't know how many people will be involved, but they will come from the following countries: The United States, Canada, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, France, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Albania, Latvia, Azerbaijan, Bulgarian, Estonia, Macedonia, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, and Ukraine.
And just so you don't give up, Finland and Lithuania will be observers, will send observers.
Press: Thank you.