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DoD News Briefing, Tuesday, December 1, 1998

Presenters: Capt. Mike Doubleday, USN, DASD (PA)
December 01, 1998 1:30 PM EDT

Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon.

First of all I'd like to welcome delegations from Slovakia and Slovenia who are here today visiting. They're in Washington to see how we do public affairs, protocol, and legislative affairs in the three branches of the federal government. We welcome all of you.

Also, I wanted to give you a quick update on the statistics on Hurricane Mitch. We're continuing that effort in Central America with more than 5.55 million pounds of donated relief supplies delivered to Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala to date.

Beginning last Friday phase two of the recovery effort began with a focus on infrastructure repairs. Those are the immediate things that we can do to assist the population such as providing for their own health and basic needs.

U.S. forces in the region total at this point 2,645, and that number continues to grow and will ultimately exceed probably 5,000.

With that, I will attempt to answer some of your questions. Yes, Charlie?

Q: Regarding the CNN report about the Iraqis seeking missile technology, did the Iraqis try to get missile technology from the Romanians in 1995, I believe, and 1998? And were they successful?

A: Charlie, that is an intelligence matter which I'm not able to comment on. I think that you're aware that we in the United States, and certainly the United Nations Security Council, are united in our desire to monitor very closely the activities of Iraq when it comes to their program of weapons of mass destruction development. We look to UNSCOM, of course, to do that through their inspections and also to the IAEA to do that through their inspections. But with regard to the specifics of this, I'm not in a position to provide any details for you.

Q: Without commenting on the specifics, Mike, or details, could you at least confirm whether or not the Iraqis did in fact try to obtain missile technology from Romania?

A: Because this is an intelligence matter I really have nothing for you on that.

Q: Has the Secretary answered Senator Feingold's letter from last week concerning the F/A-18 program? If so, can you update us on what he had to say?

A: To my knowledge there has been no answer, but let me just remind you that the Secretary, with regard to the F/A-18, said some time ago that he felt like he had been briefed by the Navy, that he had been kept apprised of the program, and that as soon as the difficulty with the initial wing drop problem was identified, he was advised. As a result of the briefings he, for a time, withheld funding on the F/A-18 until the Navy could develop a solution to the problem. The Navy did that, briefed the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary, and, as a result of that, the decision was made to proceed with the program.

Q: And the Secretary's not heard anything in the last few weeks that would cause a new review of that situation?

A: Nothing to my knowledge has arisen. I think that the Navy would tell you that that program is proceeding right on schedule. In fact it's slightly under cost and is proceeding very satisfactorily at this point.

Q: If I can follow up on that, the letter specifically asked the Secretary not only to charter an IG review but also to hold up the third tranche of spending, $2.8 billion for 30 more airplanes. When will the Secretary make a decision on that financial portion of it?

A: I am not aware of the timing on any of this. At this point all I know is that the program is proceeding satisfactorily. I'm not aware of any answer that has yet been signed out by the Secretary.

Q: Can you give us an update of what's in the Gulf region? Aircraft carriers coming and going, aircraft.

A: Right now we have in the Gulf region a total of about 27,000 U.S. military personnel. On the ship side there are about 24 ships of which 15 are combatants. That includes the aircraft carrier ENTERPRISE and its battle group. The surface combatants include eight ships which are Tomahawk capable. In addition to those forces, the total number of aircraft that are in the area now number somewhere around 200.

Q: Does that include the ENTERPRISE?

A: That includes those in the ENTERPRISE, and that's air-to-air, air-to-ground, dual role, and support and attack helicopters.

Q: Can you comment at all on the reports about Korea's preparing another test of the Taepo Dong missile?

A: Again, this is an intelligence matter. I think that all of you are aware that we are very interested in any of the developments concerning missile technology in North Korea. We continue to watch that, but I have nothing for you that I can provide with regard to when they may do the next tests.

Q: Is the United States prepared to monitor such a test?

A: I think...

Q: Last time...

A: I think that our past performance speaks for itself in that regard.

Q: The Taiwanese Defense Ministry today said that they were considering the purchase of four Aegis class destroyers. Would the U.S. have any objections to selling Taiwan Aegis class destroyers?

A: The State Department is the lead agency in foreign military sales so I don't really have anything for you. I have just heard of that report, so I'm not really in a position to comment.

Q: Has Secretary Cohen decided to scrap the Army theater missile program as a defense against the lone incoming ballistic missile?

A: I am certainly aware of no decisions with regard to any of the missile defense programs that we have, and there are a variety of those.

Q: I'm referring to one, the Washington Post story earlier this week that said that the Navy wants to double from I think $1.5 to $3 billion the money for its theater missile...

A: I saw that article. I am not aware of any move within the building that would scratch any of the programs at this point. I think that it's generally acknowledged that there are certainly pluses and minuses with each one of the missile programs. Some have capabilities that go beyond others, and we are still in the process of developing all of those programs.

Q: The Army system is pretty much a disaster, and that's...

A: There is another test that is scheduled for the first quarter of next year.

Q: That makes the sixth failure?

A: Well, it's not occurred yet so we can't predict what is going to happen. Certainly we learn a lot, not only with every success, but also with those tests that are unsuccessful. Our goal, of course, is to develop a system which can hit to kill which is a very difficult proposition. We continue to work the very complex technology that is involved in that.

Q: When are you going to draw the line on that? At what point, how many failures do you need before you cancel the program?

A: I'm not aware of, at this point, any kind of deadline that has been put on that program or any end state that would indicate that we're about ready to cancel.

Q: I was told by the White House and State Department officials on a condition of anonymity that your government does not recognize the Greek/Turkish borders in the Aegean contested area. My question is implementing this Turkish position and I'm wondering how from the military point of view your Navy or Air Force is crossing this center without borders? Otherwise do you communicate with Athens or Constantinople authorities to reach your contingency plans?

A: I think that the U.S. government's position on boundaries is very well known. With regard to exercises and transit, we enjoy great cooperation from both the Turkish and the Greek governments at any time we are involved in activities where we have to coordinate air activities or sea activities. I don't think it's appropriate for me to get into the details of exactly how that communication is done.

Q:...to (unintelligible) recognize the borders, that was not specifically (unintelligible), but we do recognize only the two countries. So how do you proceed with the contingency plans in that area?

A: We do it by very good and close coordination with both of the countries involved.

Q: The aid to Colombia today to fight the drugs, do you have any idea of what kind of a training that would accompany such aid?

A: What kind of training would accompany the aid that is provided to Colombia?

Q: Yes.

A: Well, the Secretary, as you know, is in Colombia for the Defense Ministerial of the Americas, but that actually is coincidental to this article that was published today. The United States has provided to Colombia assistance in the counter-drug area. We do that by providing equipment in some cases, helicopters, that sort of thing, repair parts, spare parts, some training of individuals and units in counter-drug activity.

Q: How many American troops are in Colombia now?

A: There are 127 DoD personnel. These include -- that number includes 100 uniformed personnel, seven individuals who are civilians, and 20 contractors. The contractors are under contract to run our radar sites primarily, and to perform maintenance on those radar sites.

Q: The 100 uniformed are primarily Special Forces?

A: I don't have a breakdown. I would not be surprised since they have the language capability.

Q:...the U.S. is going to be massively increasing this. Does the Pentagon have any view on the advisability of getting more deeply involved in Colombia?

A: We certainly see Colombia as a country that provides a significant portion of the drugs that flow into the United States, and as such our effort is focused on controlling that to the extent that we can through this relationship we have with primarily the law enforcement portions of the Colombian government, but to some extent also with the military in Colombia. About 80 percent of our training is focused on law enforcement agencies in Colombia, which are assigned the responsibility of this counter-drug activity that goes on down there.

Our training and activities with regard to military units and personnel are for those units that are designated with a mission for this counter-drug activity.

Q: But leftist guerrillas and narco-traffickers are closely tied together and cooperating in Colombia. Does it bother the Pentagon at all that in the process of going after drugs your people might be getting involved in the civil war down there?

A: Charlie, you make a very good point there. The primary funding for the insurrectionist that is going on there in Colombia, and has been going on for more than two decades, is based on drug money, extortion and kidnapping. But our focus is on the counter-drug part of that situation. As I just mentioned, our focus is primarily with law enforcement agencies and with those military units that have been given the mission of counter-drug activities. We are not involved in counter-insurrection activities.

Q: Are the Special Forces armed down there? Do they carry loaded weapons?

A: I would imagine that any forces that we send into any kind of a situation like that certainly are armed to the extent necessary to protect themselves.

Q: This Administration and previous ones have made a very clear line between counter-drug and counter-guerrilla activity and we were funding the former and we were not funding the latter. Congress in adding the additional $100 million and also the Colombian government, they tend to very much blur that and in fact dump it all together. Are we in danger of...

A: We don't blur it over here because we have no intention of getting involved in any kind of counter-insurrection activities. Our focus is on the counter-drug activities. That's what we've done in the past, that's what we plan to do in the future, and we have no interest in any kind of other operations.

Q: Will any of the training include conventional military training?

A: The training is primarily designed to take down these laboratories -- to do eradication of the fields where these drugs are grown -- has to do with obtaining evidence. I am not aware of any kind of specific training that is involved in military operations except to the extent that any kind of activity like this where you're moving against a force which is very well armed, in fact in some cases armed better than the military, that is actually trying to deal with them -- that there has to be an element of self protection.

Q: Will the U.S. share intelligence with them on things like...

A: Yes.

Q:...locations of rebel forces, that kind of thing?

A: Our intelligence, of course, is designed to focus on the counter-drug activities. But as I said before and as Charlie pointed out, the rebels are very closely tied to the drug culture down there. Indeed much of our radar site, our air activity is designed to pointing out where this drug activity is taking place.

Q: Are the Special Forces supported by the Spectre gunships?

A: By?

Q: Gunships. Do they have Spectre gunships supporting them?

A: I am not aware of any Spectre gunships that are down there.

Q: (inaudible)

A: I am not aware of any down there. Maybe we can take the question and find out if indeed that is the case.

Q: There are a lot of helicopters in this package, this congressional package, like 40 or something. Who's going to be maintaining... That's a pretty large force.

A: Do you mean is it going to be U.S. military personnel?

Q: Yes.

A: My guess is no, it is not U.S. military personnel. I can't give you any specifics on that. I don't know whether it's going to be done by individuals who have been trained and who are Colombians, or whether it is going to be done by contractors that already have the technological expertise to maintain helicopters.

Q:...from the news. A week ago the Secretary said Iraq's compliance with the U.N. was clearly in doubt. What's the latest take from the Pentagon on that? Has progress been made or what?

A: I think the picture there is somewhat mixed. I think you've seen some evidence that the UNSCOM inspectors have done some inspections. I think there even have been some documents that have been turned over. But the cooperation still raises doubts as to whether UNSCOM will be able to do its job as the U.N. Security Council believes it needs to be done.

Q: If an increasingly strong rebel force threatens the Colombian military, do you envision the United States becoming more militarily involved?

A: I think, Pat, I've certainly been attempting to make it very clear that our focus down there is counter-drug. It is not counter-insurrectionist. The question you've asked is hypothetical. We have walked a very careful line in our approach to dealing with this very complex problem down there. We certainly do have a threat that comes to us in the form of drugs that we are very concerned about, and we're attempting to deal with that, but, at the same time, focus on what the issue is and not get involved in any kind of insurrection activities.

Q: What if the stability of the Colombian military police force reaches the point where the government is that shaky, do we have a military role there?

A: I would not care to speculate. Right now I think that that is not the case, and we will continue with this very careful approach that we have been working for the last several years.

Q: Mike, what's the status of Linda Tripp's employment with the Defense Department?

A: Linda Tripp remains an employee of the Department. She is continuing to work under the flexi-place. That is reviewed from time to time. And it continues to be reviewed. It's under very active review. And when there is a change to that I will let you know.

Q: Her work with the special prosecutor has been over for some time. Why is she still on flexi-place?

A: John, that's as much as I have for you today. I am not in a position to go any further than what I have just said.

Q: Linda Tripp, her lawyers say she's finished her project that she was working at home on. Her lawyers also say she'd like to come back to work.

A: A couple of months ago when I was asked that question, I made the rule that I would not comment on projects that are undertaken by individuals in the building here, and I'm not going to break that rule today.

Q: The lawyers want her to come back. They've written to the Pentagon several times.

A: You're certainly free to talk to her lawyers as much as you want to. I am not going to comment on her activities beyond what I've already said.

Q: She was granted a lot of administrative leave to cooperate with the special prosecutor. Now that she may be facing prosecution herself, would she get administrative leave for that, too?

A: I'm not certain exactly how that situation exists. First of all, I would not want to comment on her specific situation. In the broader context, though, of how these things are handled, we would have to probably do a very thorough review and it would probably be done on a case by case basis.

Q: Is there any formal review of the policy on reinstituting the draft and (inaudible)? Or is there any, what's the view of the Pentagon?

A: I think the view of the Pentagon, the view of the services is that we have had a great success with the all volunteer force. I think the service chiefs, the service secretaries, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman would all tell you that this is the finest military force that we've ever had, and part of that is because it's an all volunteer force.

I think the services also recognize they have encountered some difficulty attracting the numbers of young people that they require to replenish the force every year. We have increased the advertising budget for each of the services. We continue to work that issue very aggressively. The recruiters are out there.

I might also mention for anyone who has missed this in the last 25 years, that the military is a great place to work, it offers a wide variety of opportunities. It offers travel that probably no other company in the world can offer, and opportunities for people with a whole range of backgrounds. So the word is, we're hiring.

I have one last thing regarding the C-130 Spectre gunships, and whether our Special Operations people require those. The answer is no, they don't, because our training is all conducted in secure areas. We do not go to the field with these units. All the training is done in an area where the forces are secure.

Press: Thank you.

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