Mr. Bacon: Hello. I have a couple of announcements before I take your questions.
The first is that tomorrow afternoon at 2:00, we will have a news conference here conducted by Dr. Susan Bailey, the assistant secretary of health affairs with support from Rear Adm. Michael Cowan of the Joint Staff to bring you up to date on the program to vaccinate the total force for Anthrax. That's tomorrow afternoon at 2:00.
On Monday, Secretary Cohen will visit Moody Air Force Base in Ga. as part of his plan to visit bases throughout the military to make his own personal assessment of readiness. And he'll be going down there with Gen. Michael Ryan, the chief of staff of the Air Force.
Also on Monday at 3:00, the Department of Defense will dedicate five new exhibitions as part of the series commemorating the 50th anniversary of President Truman's order to integrate the military. And the primary speaker will be Lt. Gen. Russell Davis, who is the newly named chief of the National Guard Bureau. That's here at 3:00, in the building at 3:00. We can get -- it will be held on the 3rd floor, second corridor for those who want to go.
Finally, I would like to announce a visitor from New Zealand, Mr. Murray Short, who has the daunting title of general manager of collections in the Department of Courts. And he is here as part of a four week program, visiting various agencies of the government.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q: Ken, I understand the North Atlantic Council has requested Gen. Clark to do a survey on how many troops, countries are willing to contribute to air operations, troops and assets, possible air operations if it should become necessary to take action in Kosovo. Does the assessment also include possible land operations?
A: First of all, as Secretary General Solana has said, NATO is preparing plans for both air and ground operations if called upon to execute those in Kosovo. Our goal in Kosovo remains clear and remains the same, it is to achieve a diplomatic settlement. And we've actually had some important motion in that direction today with the announcement that the Kosovar Albanians have agreed on a negotiating group that will sit down with the Serb side to talk about the parameters or terms of a possible settlement. So this is something that Ambassador Chris Hill has been working on for some time. The State Department issued a statement earlier today, welcoming the announcement by Mr. Rigova of the formation of a Kosovar-Albanian negotiating team.
But to go back to NATO, should diplomacy fail and should the Serbs continue their attacks, should the sides be unable to reach a peace agreement, and if after that, NATO felt called upon to use force, we now have a range of air operations that have been cleared by the North Atlantic Council and they're also working on reviewing some ground operations as well. Now, the ground operations would only come into play if there were a cease-fire agreement or a peace agreement. So they would clearly be following a negotiating success and would be designed to support a negotiating success. The success that we all hope will emerge from newly started talks.
What Gen. Clark is doing is taking an informal poll of what NATO members would be willing to commit to the air operations. The formal term to putting together a force is called force generation. There has been no order issued by the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Gen. Clark. It is an informal poll now to find out what people are willing to contribute should this need arise.
Q: And does that apply to possible ground operations if a peace agreement just kind of a preliminary...
A: Right now, what they're working on are air operations is my understanding, yeah. That's the first stage.
Q: What is the United States willing to contribute to air ops?
A: Well, I think it's premature to say right now because we're in the process of doing the survey. Gen. Clark is in the process of doing the survey wearing his NATO hat. Obviously, we would participate, if necessary, just as we participated in the air exercise in June.
Q: Do all the potential air operations options include taking out all air defenses?
A: There's a range of options and I don't want to get into them now, but there's a wide range of options that go from short of what would be a show of force right up to significant military action.
Q: Has there been any response that you know of from Milosevic, given today's new developments?
A: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: New subject?
A: Sure. Are we through with this? Are there any more questions on Kosovo?
Q: Would the United States be prepared to contribute troops to a ground force if there were some sort of a cease-fire or peace between the two sides?
A: Well, that's a decision the President would make after consulting with his military advisors and with Congress. I think right now, the primary consideration is on putting together a possible air force, if necessary. And we haven't reached the stage of constituting the ground force yet or NATO hasn't reached that stage yet. I think it's fair to say the United States would strongly consider some sort of participation in a force to enforce a cease-fire or a peace agreement. But that's a decision the President would have to make after discussing this with Congress.
Q: Ken, Iraq is again refusing U.N. weapons inspectors access to sites. Is the U.S. going to let this stand? Is this going to stand?
A: The question is, is the U.N. going to let it stand? Iraq, what Iraq is saying is that it's not going to honor the agreement that was made with Kofi Annan earlier this year. The Secretary General came back and talked about the importance of this agreement. Iraq honored it for a while. Now it's saying that it's not going to honor it. So this is something that the U.N. will have to consider and react to. Right now, there is a representative of the Secretary General in Baghdad talking with Terak Aziz and I believe others about the next steps. I don't know what those talks will produce if anything. But the next step would be for those... let those talks run their course. Mr. Shah, the special representative, would then return and either... would either return and brief Kofi Annan in person or talk to him by phone before he comes back and then the U.N. Security Counsel will have to decide what to do based on his report.
Q: Is the U.S. considering backing up this diplomacy with force at all?
A: Right now, the U.N. has to decide how to enforce the agreement that Kofi Annan reached with Saddam Hussein. And that's the stage we're at right now. We have a very significant force in the Gulf ready to protect our interests and to protect the U.N.'s interest if necessary. But right now, this is an issue for the U.N. to resolve. The integrity of the Security Counsel is at stake. The integrity of the U.N. is at stake here. And I think this is an affront to every country that sits on the Security Counsel today.
Q: What would trigger another U.S. military build up?
A: I think it's premature to talk about that. This is a diplomatic dispute between the U.N. and Iraq. And the U.N. is working hard to resolve it.
Q: Are you saying that the U.S. would not take any action short of a U.N. resolution for some...
A: I am saying that this is a diplomatic dispute between the U.N. and Iraq right now. Obviously, we retain the right to protect our forces in the area should they come under threat.
Q: I don't understand what makes this one a diplomatic dispute when every other time, the U.S. military has directly gone to the scene, making it a military scenario.
A: First of all, we're in the scene. We have now 23,000 people in the Gulf. Since we last talked about the numbers of people there, an amphibious ready group has arrived on a previously scheduled deployment to the Gulf. So, we have 23,000 people there. We have very significant combat force, 165 aircraft, we have a large number of cruise missiles and we have, now, Marines in the area. So, our force is significant. It's highly ready. It's exercising every day in the area.
The issue here is integrity of the U.N. Security Counsel and its ability to negotiate and maintain agreements between the Secretary General of the U.N. and another country. That's what's at issue here. That's why Secretary General Annan has sent somebody to Baghdad to negotiate over the terms of getting inspectors back in to doing their job. The point here is whether or not Saddam Hussein is going to honor a Security Counsel agreement, personal agreement, between Iraq and Kofi Annan to allow the inspectors to do their work. It's only through doing their work that the inspectors will be able to certify whether or not Iraq has met the terms for ending the sanctions that's been placed against it.
Q: I recall that the most recent crisis in the spring, the U.S. position was that as long as these inspections were not going on, that the inspectors were actually getting further and further away from their goal of certifying that he's free of weapons of mass destruction. Is there any period of time in which some action would need to be taken? Obviously, if the inspectors aren't there, he can do things as far as these weapons go that...
A: That is certainly true. And that's why it's important for the U.N. Security Counsel to find a way to get the inspectors on the ground. Every time there's an interruption in the inspections, it leads to suspicions around the world and certainly by members of the Security Counsel that the inspections are being interrupted because Iraq has something to hide. If they have something to hide, it means that they're far away from meeting the terms of the U.N. mandate that requires them to abolish their weapons of mass destruction stockpiles and their ability to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. This is why the U.N. Security Counsel and the members of the Counsel take very seriously this affront to the Security Counsel and this violation of the agreement that had been reached earlier with Kofi Annan.
Q: Referring again to the situation earlier in February and March, the question was raised as to whether military action to enforce the agreement could be taken absent a new U.N. action, as I recall, the U.S. government position at that time was that the U.N. had already spoken, there was a deal in place and that the United States government could decide to take military action to enforce the existing agreement. How does that differ from the circumstance now?
A: Well, I'm not sure that there is a huge difference, but right now, the play, the drama here is between the U.N. Security Counsel and Iraq. It's the Security Counsel that has been, in a sense, jilted by Iraq's refusal to adhere to the agreement that was reached with Kofi Annan earlier this year.
Q: Just to follow that, if the Security Counsel decides that it is now satisfied as a result of these negotiations, that the Iraqis are in compliance, is the United States satisfied in that case?
A: I think it's highly unlikely that the Security Counsel will determine that. If you look at the statements that have been made by other members of the Security Counsel, every time, they're very concerned about this. And they consider this a violation of an agreement that was made with Kofi Annan and they consider this an affront to the Security Counsel. Every time Saddam Hussein has broken off the inspections and has tried to spurn the Security Counsel, he has succeeded in unifying the forces of arms control against him. He succeeded in unifying people behind the need to take continuing action to remove Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program. That's the issue here. That's what the Security Counsel has focused on and that is what has been the progress toward eliminating those weapons of mass destruction has been slowed by this action by Saddam Hussein. Now the Security Counsel has to decide what to do.
Q: New subject?
Q: Are there considerations among high level Pentagon officials, including Secretary Cohen and Gen. Shelton, to seek an increase in defense spending?
A: The budget is in the early stages of review for fiscal year 2000. And certainly, Secretary Cohen and Gen. Shelton are committed to maintaining readiness at high levels and to dealing with readiness problems as they arise. They have not made a decision yet on what the proper budgetary number should be. That's under review and decisions won't be made for some time. So, I think it's premature right now to answer that question directly.
Q: How concerned is the Secretary that there are problems of a readiness nature among the force?
A: Well, he's concerned about the anecdotal reports he's heard and he's concerned about some of the data he's seen. He's convinced based on everything he knows that the first to deploy forces are highly ready. That the forces that are already deployed in Korea and Bosnia and other places are well trained and ready. But he's concerned about what he has called an erosion of readiness around the edges with some of the later to deploy forces. And we've taken a number of steps already to improve readiness. For instance, because of the QDR, we added a billion dollars to operations and maintenance to deal with readiness concerns. We added another billion dollars after that for Air Force spare parts and to address other readiness concerns. The Army has attacked particular readiness problems including a shortage of infantry soldiers that came about because of a recruiting and training problem. The Navy is working hard now to deal with recruiting problems. And both the Air Force and the Navy are working very hard in the face of very tough competition from the private economy to deal with pilot retention problems. So, readiness is a concern. I've said many times up here that there is never... there is no absolute level of readiness. We will never reach a level of readiness at which we can say, ah, we're finished, we don't have to worry about readiness anymore. It's a constant concern.
Now, the Secretary has other concerns. He's made a commitment to increase procurement. And to accelerate modernization. One of the reasons he's concerned about procurement is that aging aircraft lead to repair and maintenance problems which lead to readiness problems. And that, in fact, is what's happening in the Air Force. As aircraft get older, they require more maintenance and they tend to be less ready. Maintaining them becomes more costly. So it's important to bring new planes into the force and new equipment of other sorts as well.
Q: Why specifically is he going to Moody Air Force Base?
A: He has asked the chief of every service to go with him on a trip to look at readiness conditions and he's left that decision to the chief of the service. The first one in line happened to be the Air Force and Gen. Ryan chose Moody. The trip actually was supposed to have been made today, but because of the sad events at Andrews Air Force Base this morning, it was delayed until Monday.
Q: Different subject?
A: Hold on. Were there more questions on this?
Q: Given the state of readiness which has been deteriorating over the last couple of years, at least anecdotally, and given the fact that the force continues to shrink, are there concerns in this building that may not exist elsewhere that perhaps the U.S. has gone too far in trying to run a lean, mean machine?
A: Well, that's a very sweeping question. There are 23,000 people in this building and I suspect that they all have different views and different concerns. I think that there is a concern about the strains that the high operating tempo is creating on the force, particularly in certain very specialized areas such as AWACs, for instance. These sort of low density, high deploying units. The Joint Staff has been working very aggressively to try to cure some of these problems by reviewing the exercise profile of units by making sure that there aren't overlapping unit and CINC exercises, by trying to build more predictability into deployments all over the world. And I think they've had some success in doing that.
Nobody anticipated, I think, that the end of the Cold War would bring as many deployments as our military has seen since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. And we don't know right now in 1998 whether what we've seen over the last eight or nine years is going to be the pattern of the future or if it's an aberrational set of deployments. And I think that we'll have to sort that out over time. But obviously, the military is working very hard to deal with the strains caused by these deployments. And I think it's having some success. Ultimately, if deployments continue at this very high level, policy makers will have to sit down and decide whether the military should be bigger in certain areas. But I'm not sure we're at that stage yet.
Q: Are those strains one of the reasons why the U.S. appears to be taking a pass on this latest challenge from Saddam Hussein?
A: No. This latest challenge is a challenge to the United Nations Security Counsel.
Q: Again, on the budget issue, you said that there obviously hasn't been a decision on whether or not to ask for more funding in the 2000 budget and beyond. It seems to me that the President has already answered that question, that things would stay the way they are according to the balanced budget plan. I know he sent a letter to Senator Lott a couple of weeks ago. Are you saying that the Secretary and Gen. Shelton may or may not agree with him?
A: I'm saying the budget's under review right now and it's premature to talk about how it's going to turn out. The final budget decisions won't be made until the end of the year.
Any more questions on readiness? Yes, Pat.
Q: Let me try it this way. The Secretary was not in any doubt as to what the outyear availability of money was going to be when he was questioned repeatedly on the QDR last year and this year by the Congressional committees. He said repeatedly the responsible thing for him to do is assume roughly $250 billion on up. He couldn't bet on them to come up with more money. Is that certainty that he presented under repeated questioning, is that weakening in his mind? Is that an open question?
A: When he made those statements, he was assuming very significant savings from BRAC. And right now, Congress has refused to vote for BRAC and to allow us the savings that would come from being able to shut down unneeded installations around the country. If Congress wants to force us to pay for installations that the military doesn't believe it needs anymore, than obviously, we have to look for other ways to fill in for those savings that we've been denied. That's one change. So there are new circumstances to be considered and that certainly is one of them.
Q: According to Congress Report, DoD officials are considering now approval for the Popeye second system to be transferred by Israel to Turkey. Any comments (inaudible) and there is a lot of concern in Athens and (inaudible) today.
A: You asked about the Popeye systems? My understanding is that the version of the Popeye system that's produced in Israel is not controlled by the U.S. and does not require any U.S. approval for transfer to other nations.
Q: What about the Arrow one?
A: The Arrow is different. But you asked about the Popeye. And I'm not aware that the Arrow is being considered for transfer. The Arrow hasn't even been deployed in Israel yet. To the best of my knowledge, it's still under development, isn't it?
Q: Why then in the report, in the Congress specifically CRS, says specifically DoD officials are considering now approval for the Popeye system?
A: I can't explain why the Congressional Research Service said that. But my understanding is that the version of the Popeye that Israel is considering does not require U.S. approval.
Q: According to the same report, (inaudible) military agreement with neighbor countries (inaudible) Turkish military agreement (inaudible)...
A: I'm sorry, what was that last sentence?
Q: You've stated many, many times from here from this podium, that use the Israeli-Turkish military agreement as a contribution to original peace and stability.
A: Right. Regional peace and stability. Right. I still think that.
Q: (Inaudible) military agreements with neighbor countries (inaudible)...
A: We don't see this as an agreement against Greece. We just don't see the relationship between Turkey and Israel as being against Greece. In fact, Israel has, my understanding is, Israel has relationships, has military relationships and discussions with Greece as well. And of course, Turkey and Greece are allies in NATO.
Q: (Inaudible) is claiming (inaudible)...
A: They're allies in NATO and the Secretary General has been working very aggressively to try to resolve these disputes through a series of confidence building measures that would apply to the Aegean.
Q: And the last question, (inaudible) in Orlando, Fla., that the U.S. Patriot missile system will be part of Greece's national defense soon. Did you approve this transfer to Greece as Department of Defense?
A: My understanding is that what Ambassador Burns said is, that my strong and fervent hope is that some U.S. systems such as the Patriot missile will be part of Greece's national defenses for the next generation. Ambassador Burns, who is very, very well schooled in saying exactly what he wants, used the word "hope." Now, hope is different from actuality. What's happened is that the United States, in fact, has licensed Raytheon to market the Patriot air defense system to Greece, but that's just a license to market it. Before any transfer can be made, a number of things have to happen. First of all, Greece has to make a decision what to buy. And second, that has to be considered, that request has to be considered, by the United States. So, we're away from that stage yet. We're at the marketing stage right now, is my understanding on the Patriot. So Ambassador Burns' hope for the future remains bright.
Q: Your reaction to the story in the Times on early discharge rates going up, is that correct basically? Are discharge rates skyrocketing and why do you think that is?
A: Well, first of all, the first term discharge rates have been quite high for some time. The standards of the all volunteer force are very high. We require people to be well behaved, well disciplined, well trained and well conditioned, healthy and drug free. And people who can't meet those standards frequently do get out in their first term of enlistment.
Second, there has been some increase in first term discharge rate in the last couple of years. But that increase corresponds precisely with the period that the military has been downsizing. As you recall, a decision to shrink the size of the military was made in 1990, but it was interrupted because of the Gulf War. And it started again in 1993. And the significant downsizing, 36%, in the size of the uniform military has taken place, largely since 1993. And in that context, of course, there has been probably less need to fight to keep people during their first term of enlistment. So there has been a slight increase.
Q: Do you have any statistics handy on what that increase has been?
A: Well, the increase varies from service to service. I read in the introduction to the GAO report, and I must tell you that the GAO report, based on this introduction, points out that they have some complaints about the separation coding -- this is a typical GAO report that looks at issues like separation coding and the type of information that the services are able to produce for GAO investigators when they come by asking for this information -- the GAO report points out that the first term attrition rate has averaged 31.7% over the last 12 years. That it has risen slightly for the Navy, Air Force and Army, but it's fallen for the Marine Corps. And this applies to the enlistees who entered the services in the fiscal year 1993.
Q: Did you just say '93?
A: Yeah, fiscal year 1993. That's what they're looking at here. These are people who enlisted in '93. So they've been in for awhile. In other words, if they enlist for four years and they started in 1993, they're looking at that cohort, that class of people entering the military.
I do not see an overall, just looking at this thing, I mean, you can probably get a copy of this summary here, but my recollection is that the overall attrition rate has increased to 35 or 36% from the average of close to 32% over the last 12 years.
Q: How do you characterize what some are calling a soaring rate?
A: I don't consider that soaring. I don't consider a change of several percentage points soaring, particularly in the context of one, continued high standards for people that serve in the military, and two, the military's reduction in force that really took hold starting in 1993. I think we have to look now at the stable state military and to see what happens to the first term attrition rate now that the military has pretty much reached it's production goals. The military has come down from 2.1 million to about 1.4 million and plans to stay pretty much that size. So the issue is what happens to first term attrition rate in this new stable state environment?
Q: Is there any definition in that percentage increase of what might have caused it? Is there any category at all that increased more than any other?
A: Not that I'm aware of. One of the complaints of the GAO is that the separation coding isn't precise enough to allow that type of consideration. But this is what I can tell you. That about 70% of the men who leave during the first term [prior to the end of the full term of enlistment], leave because of misconduct or bad conduct, medical conditions, performance problems or drug use. Over 71% of the women who separate during the first term leave because of pregnancy, medical problems, misconduct, performance shortfalls or parenthood. So, those are the major reasons why people leave during their first terms.
Q: In descending order?
A: I don't have the order there. Those are the major reasons. I don't know exactly what the order is.
Q: Do you have any new information on the Titan IV explosion yesterday and what might have caused it?
A: I'm afraid I don't. The Air Force will be looking into that and reporting back.
Q: Can you talk at all about how much the grounding of the fleet might affect future launches? Are there ones that are scheduled soon that will...
A: That was the, as I understand it, it was the last launch of the Titan IV-A. And the next launch, I believe, is the Titan IV-B, is supposed to take place in December. I gather that whether or not that launch takes place on schedule will depend in part on what they determine from this failure yesterday.
Q: Do you have any decision yet on the waivers for burial at Arlington for the three people from the Nairobi explosion?
A: This is now before the President and I expect a decision to come out from the White House very soon.
A: Yes, I would guess today.
Q: The decision is not being made by the Secretary of the Army?
A: The decision is being made by the President and I think it's appropriate for the White House to announce what the President's decision is.
Q: Ken, regarding Kenya. Earlier this year, the Central Command did a vulnerability assessment, which I understand found some deficiencies in security of the embassy. Can you tell me what CENTCOM's report said and what the vulnerabilities were?
A: I heard a lengthy commentary on NBC news and it seemed to me you already knew what it said. I have nothing to say about an internal government report, which was classified secret. What I can tell you is several things. First, the State Department is primarily responsible for embassy security. Nevertheless, the military and the State Department work very closely together on making sure that all installations where Americans serve abroad are safe and secure. The commander-in-chief of the Central Command, as do the commanders-in-chief of all the commands, do make assessments from time to time of security conditions in their areas where military people may serve.
Q: Were there recommendations that the military made to the State Department about...
A: I think the State Department should talk about this. They talked about this last night. As I said, embassy security is their job. And they're the appropriate people to discuss this.
Q: Nonetheless, are Secretary Cohen and Gen. Shelton satisfied that the military has enough of a say in embassy security in countries where there are military personnel, even if it is only six Marines? Are Cohen and Shelton looking at this or are they looking as a result of Clinton saying everybody look at everything? Any changes in procedures or something like that? Or are they happy with the way things are?
A: Well, I think everybody in the government realizes now, and realized before this tragedy, that there are some security problems. The issue is how quickly they can be cured in the current budgetary environment. And obviously, Secretary Cohen and Gen. Shelton are working with everybody else in the government, the whole national security team, to find the best way to make embassies secure and to make secure any place where U.S. military personnel serve. Five of the people killed in Nairobi were either uniformed military people or civilian military people. So yes, we have a real stake in embassy security and we work very closely with the State Department on that topic.
Q: On that same topic, Gen. Shelton mentioned here on Tuesday that he sent a message to the commanders-in-chief to tell them to re-evaluate their security procedures and make any changes. Do you know if any of the CINCs in the Pacific, CENTCOM, Europe, have taken any steps in the recent days to beef up security?
A: We don't usually talk about security changes, but the answer is yes, some did respond to that by beefing up security. But the fact is security is a top concern of every CINC every day. And we collect a lot of intelligence which we review aggressively. The soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, in their operations, are constantly aware of security. And CINCs are, every day, making little changes in their security postures to fit the conditions of that day. All Gen. Shelton was doing was taking the opportunity of the tragedy in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam to remind CINCs to do what they are already doing.
Q: Apparently in mid June, the State Department put out sort of a generalized security alert, not very focused. Did the Pentagon, forces around the world, were they affected by that?
A: Well, to the extent that the State Department applied to all Americans, we were affected by it. But every day, military commanders around the world are assessing security threats and risks. And every day, they're making adjustments. These adjustments might be to stop shore leave for Navy sailors. They might confine soldiers or airmen to their bases. They may be to change, to augment the guards. It may be to change the vehicle inspection procedures. It may be to change the patterns that are used by military vehicles that go to and from bases so that people don't drive on the same predictable route every day. There are hundreds and hundreds of little changes that could be made on a daily basis and are made. This is just part of military life and it's a very important part of the military life and it's one that every member of the military takes seriously, but particularly the CINCs.
So, I don't want to -- we are constantly responding to threats we get. Ambassador Pickering said the other day that the State Department receives 30,000 threats a year and considers every single one. The military receives a huge number of threats and we take all of these threats seriously. Not all of them turn out to be credible, obviously. And as I pointed out before, the nature of intelligence and really the nature of security operations is that failures are very public and successes are very private. And it's too bad that we can't talk about some of our successes, but we do have many successes based on our vigorous force protection program.
Q: In retrospect, should everyone have paid more attention to Gen. Zinni?
A: That's a trouble making question. In retrospect, people should always pay attention to CINCs. And they do. I don't think the issue here is whether people don't pay attention to security warnings. They pay attention all the time to threat changes and to warnings. That's the whole point of what I was talking about for the last five minutes. Everybody takes these seriously. The State Department takes them seriously. The military takes them seriously. This is not an issue of not taking threats seriously. It's an issue about staying constantly vigilant and responding to threats as best as possible given the resources at hand.
Q: The terrorism report that was mentioned, what was the purpose of the report, again, you covered it sort of...
A: Are you talking about...
Q: Right. Were changes made as a result of the findings of the report? And was the report not initially intended for release and then not released?
A: I can't answer that question. This report was done before I came to the building in 1994. And I do know that there were extensive interviews given about the report at the time it came out. This report was not a secret. It's findings weren't a secret and it's recommendations weren't a secret. They were, one of my military assistants, LTC Scott, arranged many of these interviews with people who worked on the report, so we didn't hide this at all. Why specifically we didn't release the report at the time, I just don't know.
The fact of the matter is that this report was one in a whole series of efforts that have been underway in the department for a long period of time to adjust to this great new world where the transnational terrorist threat is real and has to be taken seriously. You may remember that President Clinton attended an international antiterrorism conference in Egypt, I believe it was, several years ago. This is an issue that's received top level attention from the President on down for not just the last year, not just the last two years, but for a long period of time.
Q: Were changes made in terms of security posture as a result
A: I don't know what specific changes were made as a result of that report, but changes have been made. The Defense Department has been paying much more attention to the terrorist threat for a number of years. And certainly, since 1994, we have made a significant number of changes in our security posture. And one of the changes is to make sure that all commanders see this as a top level command concern. But we started making, certainly, very aggressive changes after the bombing in Riyadh in November of 1995 and we accelerated those changes after the Khobar Tower bombing in Saudi Arabia 1996.
Q: (Inaudible) how many U.S. troops and what type of forces would be assigned?
A: I'm sure the answer is yes, we've decided both of those things and I probably don't have the information, but we can get that for you. That'll be easy enough.
Q: Could I have a quick return to Iraq?
Q: I'm trying to work out here, what you seem to be saying is there's no difference really between the American response to Iraq's refusal to comply with U.N. inspectors last year and early this year with their refusal, with the same Iraqi refusal now. And yet, when you look at it in public, there is a very big difference in the American response. The difference is that then, it was a major military threat or threat of military reprisal. And now, you're simply referring everybody back to the U.N. There is, on the surface there, a big difference. Can you explain whether there is a difference or there isn't? It seems to me there is.
A: Last fall, Iraq made public threats to shoot down U-2 aircraft and took other actions that led us to believe that they were trying to shoot down planes participating in OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH. As you know, planes from three nations participated in OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH. In response to those threats, we sent a carrier into the Gulf and took other steps to augment our forces there. That was clearly a threat directed specifically against United States forces in the Gulf. This situation is a violation of an agreement between the Secretary General of the United Nations and Iraq. And what's at stake here is the integrity of the U.N. Security Counsel and its ability to enforce or carry out its own mandates. And that's why Secretary General Kofi Annan has sent his representative, Mr. Shah, to Iraq where he is today negotiating with Iraqi officials, trying to get the inspections back on track.
A: Not that I'm aware of, no.
Q: (Inaudible) was largely, was also because of the threat to the rest of the world posed by Iraqi biological weapons?
A: That build up, that threat continues because the international community has not yet been able to prevail in convincing Iraq of the importance of dismantling its entire chemical and biological weapons arsenal and productive capability. That's what this whole dispute is about. That's why it's so important to the United Nations. That's why it's so important to the Security Counsel. And that's why the U.N. Secretary General has a representative in Baghdad today talking to the Iraqis.
Q: Different subject. Secretary Cohen has sent several messages to the Navy leadership over the past several months, or I guess even a year, to the effect that he's not satisfied with what the Navy is doing about countermine warfare. There was a report that he was to receive a briefing on that subject this week. Can you tell us if he got the briefing and what if anything came out of it?
A: The briefing began ten minutes ago.
Q: Can we move to the former Zaire?
A: The Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Q: I understand there's some fairly advanced planning going on in EUCOM about a possible noncombatant evacuation or whatever those things are called. Can you talk a little bit about that? Have some forces been identified, is there some amphibious ships in the area?
A: Yesterday morning, the USS SAIPAN left Marseilles, France, at 4 a.m. local time and started a trip down toward the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo. And it will take nine or ten days for the ship to get down there. It has on it 1,200 Marines. I think there are actually two ships going down. It carries elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.
No decision has been made to evacuate Americans from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We estimate that there are currently 250 to 260 Americans there. That number's down rather sharply over the last couple of days.
There's still commercial air service coming out of Kinshasa. And possibly other cities as well. So it's possible for people to leave. Of the 250 to 260 Americans there in the country, most of them are outside of Kinshasa. Some will be missionaries and others who may decide to stay. Those who want to leave presumably are making their way to Kinshasa now. The State Department, as I said, has made no decision to evacuate Americans at this stage and all we are doing is positioning ourselves to be ready should such a decision be made by the State Department.
Q: Do you know the other ship, what that is? And also, any reports on what's going on on the ground today?
A: I understand that today, from reading the State Department guidance, that things are relatively quiet. But you should go -- I don't have a direct report on that. My understanding is that the two ships are the SAIPAN, which is an LHA-2, and the TORTUGA, which is an LSD-46. They are moving down toward there.
Q: Is there a EUCOM advance team on the ground already?
A: There is an advanced team on the ground, yes.
A: It's in Gabon. If you go back and review what happened last year, it's basically what people are thinking of is the same sort of operation. We sent, we established an air operation in Libreville and ferried assets into Brazzaville and people came out of Kinshasa into Brazzaville and then we took them back to Libreville and out that way.
Q: This is such a small number of Americans, you would think you could just put them all on a single chartered...
A: There may be no need for an evacuation. That's one of the things that the State Department will have to decide. All we're doing is because of the distance, making some preliminary preparations. No decision has been made. Maybe we decide there's no need. However, there are other people from other countries there and sometimes we assist with people from other countries.
Q: Of the 250, how many are official Americans?
A: I think there's a very small number of official Americans there now. They are included in that number.
Press: Thank you.