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DoD News Briefing: Lt. Gen. Howell Estes, III, USAF, JCS/J3

Presenters: Lt. Gen. Howell Estes, III, USAF, JCS/J3
February 08, 1995 2:00 PM EDT

Thursday, December 7, 1995 - 2 p.m.

(NOTE: Participating in this briefing were Lt. Gen. Estes, Director of Operations (J3), Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD/PA)

Mr. Bacon: Welcome to our briefing. Charlie, you in particular. It's nice to see you.

General Estes will start out with a statement. He, obviously, has some charts, and he'll have time to take three or four questions. After that, we'll have a senior military official follow up with more questions. We also have somebody here with ASD/SOLIC to answer further questions on mines and demining policy, if that comes up as well.

General Estes: Good afternoon.

What I'll try to do here is bring you up-to-date on where we are and what we see in the future. Then, as Ken just mentioned, I will spend a few minutes talking about this mines issue that you all raised with me last time, and will try to give you a little background on the training that we're doing, and what some of the equipment is, and what the threat looks like, basically, when we get to Bosnia.

I think the easiest thing to do in talking about what happened in the last few hours -- or the last 24 hours -- is to use the first chart here and really start out by talking about the larger issue of what's happened over time so far. Then I will discuss sort of this last 24-hour period.

Again, I apologize, some acronyms on here which aren't too meaningful to you. Where you see this "RSOI," it means the support force going to Hungary. That's Reception Staging Onward Movement and Integration. Just think of that as the support force going to Hungary. You know what the enabling force is -- the enabling force is the force that we are sending into Croatia and into Bosnia.

Again, what you see here is the plan approval: the approval to go ahead and deploy the enabling force and the approval to deploy the support force. So we're up to that point now. You know that the enabling force has started to flow. The coverage of the first C-130 going into Tuzla was yesterday.

So as we move further on... Where we are now is, we're going to start sending some things in over land -- both part of the enabling force and part of the support force. We had hoped to get the overland transient approval back here between the 5th and the 6th. We've got to remember: this is a very fast moving operation. The countries involved for these clearances have done a magnificent job in working this issue. In fact, you can see we planned to start moving the RSOI forces here in terms of rail movement. It looks like, as of today, we're going to get those clearances, and we'll be able to start flowing those when we planned. The enabling force... Some small portions going into Croatia will also start moving by rail as well.

Again, a lot of the coverage has been that the cars are loaded, ready to go. Is there some kind of problem with the countries that we're trying to get transient rights through? No, there isn't. In fact, we've just got to remember this complex procedure we're going through here. And it's a very difficult process. These nations have really gone out of their way to help get this resolved as quickly as possible, and we'll get things rolling on schedule here.

The London Conference you're all aware of. That's to look at the civilian tasks that are part of the overall agreement, and to try to come to some resolution, and get the definition in terms of the civilian tasks and how they're going to be done -- just as we've tried to do with the military tasks.

Let's move to the next one, I'll cover what's coming down the road. The London Conference, of course, is the 8th and the 9th, continues to the next day. The USS AMERICA -- the carrier -- is due back on station in the Adriatic about the 12th. We expect both the enabling forces and the support forces to have closed by about the 13th -- fully closed -- and I'll show you another slide in a few minutes that will show you the sort of buildup over time so you'll have a feel about how that's going to go. The signing of the peace agreement, of course, on the 14th. You all are aware of that.

Then what we show here are some things: the Security Council resolution; the North Atlantic Council's decision to deploy the force; and then our President's decision to deploy the U.S. force and the declaration by NATO of what they're calling G-Day, which is the start of the deployment of the main body. Some of these things could occur here on the 14th, some on the 15th But in this time period we expect to see these sorts of things happen. I show them on the 15th, but it might be a day either side of that, depending on how processes work. But I wanted you to at least have that kind of visibility on the major events we see out about that time.

Let me go back and talk about what sort of happened in relation to the last 24 hours.

As you know, we've been moving the enabling force. The first C-130, as shown here, moved into Tuzla yesterday, taking in about 14 or 15 military personnel plus some reporters as well. They're on the ground now, part of the 1st Armored Division ADVON Team. That flow is continuing today. There will be more aircraft. More people arrived. Again, I'll show you here in just a minute what that buildup looked like. But that was kind of the main event that happened yesterday -- in the last 24 hours.

In terms of the support force, I mentioned to you, this is the next 24 hours now, this rail line that sort of runs through Prague, down through Budapest, and to the railhead at Kaposvar. That flow should start tomorrow. Tomorrow we should also see some air movement into the airhead at Tazar, which is almost co-located with the railhead. They might be five or six kilometers apart. The location of those again, are maybe 30 to 40 kilometers north of the Croatian border. Again, you should start seeing those forces starting to move tomorrow. That's what the plan is.

This, I hope, is going to be an example of how the flow is going to go and give you a feel, again, for the number of forces. Right now, and, of course, you can see we're talking here about the enabling force in Bosnia, the enabling force in Croatia, and this will demonstrate the buildup of the support force in Hungary. You can see this is what the numbers are in those places now. You can see how the ramp-up goes. The intent, of course, is to get to the numbers. We said these forces have to be in place before the main body can flow. So by the 13th, we should have the numbers we've been talking about all along: approximately 700 in Bosnia, the same in Croatia, and about 3,000 in Hungary. So it gives you a feel for when you ought to start seeing more activity in these places. You can see that by about the 11th. You're going to start seeing a little bit more rapid buildup of the over 700 people going to Bosnia, let's say the 10th or 11th here for Croatia, and the big move of the larger piece of the force here going into Hungary will be, again, toward the latter part. Actually, the middle part of next week you'll see a lot more forces flowing. So that's the flow.

I know that some of you were reporting that we thought we were going to get the enabling force in by the end of this week. At that particular time, that's the visibility we had on the NATO plan. We thought that's about the way it was going to look -- the "end of this week" being Sunday, not Friday. And we thought it would be there by that time, but now we have full visibility into it. This is the plan they have, this is about how the forces will flow from the United States. Again, remember that the enabling forces here -- about 1,400 or so that you see here -- is only part of the overall NATO force. Twenty-six hundred overall NATO, of which we're about 1,400. So we are part of the overall NATO operation. You all are covering the U.S. piece of this for obvious reasons, but you're going to see a lot of NATO people in there as well -- working with the U.S. as we set about the business of getting ready for the main body force when and if that decision is made.

Another thing that you're going to see in the next 24 hours that I should mention -- or the next day or so -- the 50th Airlift Squadron departs Little Rock. Twelve C-130s are going to head over to Germany. The reason they're going over early like this to get in position is because they are critical to the initial movement of forces into Tuzla once the decision to deploy the main body goes. So they'll be leaving in the next day or so from Little Rock to go over and assist in the movement of this tactical lift of forces out of Germany into Tuzla once the main body force is deployed.

Q: Is this Reserve?

A: No, it's an active unit. The 5th Airlift Squadron. Twelve aircraft and about 310 people -- in that ball park.

That's the news I have for you, sort of where we are in the overall scheme of things. Let me turn now to the mines issue a little bit and try to address the questions. I can see some of you have questions about what we've covered so far. If I stop now and take your questions, I'll never get to the mines. We know how this works. Let me cover this because I know it's of interest to you, and then I promise you I'll take your questions.

Let me just sort of set the stage a little bit and apologize. I want to give this to you factually, so I'm going to use a piece of paper here to cover it to be sure I don't miss any of the points -- because I think this is important.

We've been talking about there being about three million mines in Bosnia of all types. There's anti-personnel mines, anti-vehicular mines, and that means against vehicles and tanks as well. Most of them were made in the former Yugoslavia.

In the Tuzla area there are three recorded minefields. That's fairly light compared to most of Bosnia, so this area is considered lightly mined compared to other places in Bosnia Herzegovina. But one thing we're going to make the assumption of is, that when we go into an area, there are mines there because the minefields aren't clearly marked.

What we have assembled is a minefield overlay and a database using information provided by the forces of the UN that are there, the so-called UNPROFOR forces -- UN Protection Force forces -- that are there now; intelligence we have already gotten as to where mines might be; and then the local factions have given us some information. So that's going to help us sort out where the mines are.

As I said, we're not assuming that we know where every mine is, obviously. And [when] people go into an area, they're going to assume it's mined until they can prove it different.

I think it's also important to note, remember, the agreement has said that the warring parties have the responsibility to remove the mines. Once this agreement is signed, that is their responsibility. That's not IFOR's or the U.S.' responsibility in the Tuzla area. Our task, as a U.S. force as part of this NATO operation, is to monitor the removal of the mines. But it's up to them to do it. As I mentioned the other day when we were talking about this, undoubtedly in some areas we're going to do some work to be sure that, if it's affecting our mission directly and we're having trouble making sure there's nothing there and we have to do something in that area... We're going to take the proper resources which I'll describe to you in just a minute to be sure we can clear those mines.

Let me turn now to training, if you can go to the next slide. I told you we were going to make sure everybody was trained. I guess the first point I would make is just that. Any soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine -- and right now it looks like soldiers and airmen, but there could be an occasional Marine or a sailor going in -- but anybody who goes to Bosnia that wears a U.S. uniform is going to get mine awareness training. It's required. I'll describe to you what that means here in just a minute.

I might also point out to you before I go into the training aspects of what it covers, that we really have some proven technology on this. We've been dealing with mines a long time as a military, and in recent years, U.S. forces, in a humanitarian demining effort for all the mines that are around the world, have gone out and helped train in nine different countries. Forces to go out and actually remove the mines. Now we don't go out and do the mine removal, but we train the people who are going to go do it. So we've even recently seen a lot of mines. We saw them, of course, in Iraq in a combat situation. I might also add that in northern Iraq where we've had experiences with forces in the not too distant past -- northern Iraq now, not southern Iraq -- but a number of mines in northern Iraq were more substantial than we have in Bosnia. We operated in that area, so we've had recent experience with this.

The training itself, I'm not going to read to you what the slide says. You all are perfectly capable of doing that. Just let me give you a little amplification on it. The techniques in terms of the training involve a series of things. The first thing you try to do is avoid the mines, and we want to make sure that... That makes sense, doesn't it? If you can avoid them, that solves the problem. So you want to avoid known or suspected mines. The way you do that is, you stay on cleared roads or trails when possible.

The next thing they do is they train them in searching for the mines. The way you do that is you look for evidence of mines by craters or scorched earth, scorch marks on the ground, debris, animals that might have been killed by it. You see dead animals laying around. Or the lack of animals or people. If you don't see any animals or people out there, there's a possibility you've got a minefield. So that's what people are looking for, and that's what they are trained to do in terms of searching for mines.

Detection capability. You see an example right here of probably the main piece of detection capability we have. We've talked about in Bosnia that there are three million mines. Somebody has brought up there are a lot of plastic mines. That's true, there are plastic mines in Bosnia. You say what good is this piece of equipment going to do you against a plastic mine? The fact of the matter is, of all the mines that are in Bosnia, there's enough metal in the fusing apparatus of the mine that this piece of equipment can detect them. It's important to note that. On a plastic mine, this equipment is sensitive enough to detect the plastic mine. That's the point. Because there's enough metal in the fuse of that mine, this equipment can detect it.

This is a training situation, so you see some laser equipment these folks are using called MILES. We won't get into that. But the process of what these folks are doing is what they do. If this were a trail that you could not get some of the heavier equipment along -- that I'll show you in just a minute or you were clearing a hillside for some reason that had to be cleared because we had to do something, this is the piece of equipment you'd use to do that.

I'll cover that in just a minute as soon as I get the answer. It's got a nomenclature to it, but I'll tell you exactly what it is as they write it down and slip me a note. We'll get that for you in just one second.

You search for them, you detect them, the next thing you've got to do is identify them. The way you identify it is normally they probe for mines. There's a very careful process when you're doing it with individuals, because you're trying to come in on the side of the mine--not on top of it, for obvious reasons--and once they're identified, either you mark the minefield... The other way to do it is just to breach the minefield with equipment. I'll show you in just a minute. Clearly, we want to make sure that these minefields as they're detected are reported and clearly marked; and when necessary, cleared by special ordnance disposal teams.

That's the training people go through. We go through that process. Obviously, I've given you just a capsule summary of it. The next slide here will show some of the equipment used in this process.

State of the art equipment. You've seen the mine detector on the previous slide, but this is the mine plows and rollers. This, of course, is in the desert, but the equipment still applies.

This is a mine plow, and you can see that there's a plow up on the front of this vehicle. It's a little hard to see, probably, but that's a plow. It's to get mines that are laying on the surface. It just plows them up and moves them out of the way so that you clear a path, so you'd use this going down a road if mines were just laying in the road.

If you've got buried mines, you need to use this roller. And it, again, is mounted on the front of a tracked vehicle and it literally has these large things that sit out in front that roll in front of the vehicle and it causes the mine to explode before the vehicle goes over. So that, again, would be used to clear a path if it were required, going down a road we thought might be mined. You would use these types of apparatus.

Hardened vehicles is another way to do it in which you literally drive a road if you don't think there are anti-tank mines out there--because you wouldn't want to drive just a hardened vehicle down a road that has anti-tank mines on it. You'd want to use one of these types of apparatus, especially this one, which is the one with rollers. But hardened vehicles are also another means of clearing minefields.

Explosives for destruction on-site. That's the special ordnance disposal teams I talked about--to have them go out and do that.

Last, but not least, are dogs that are really mine-detecting dog teams. The dogs are trained to sniff for explosives. We know that, we see them around the country and, in various places, used in airports. It's the same idea. The dogs have a very sensitive nose, they can detect the presence of explosives. They're leashed and they operate as a team with a person. They're not unleashed and just go off into an area looking for mines. This isn't the idea--to have them step on them--the idea is to detect them, and have the dog survive it, obviously. So there's great care taken because of the training that these dogs go through--precisely what you see happening in the states where you see dogs being used by various civilian groups. The same process applies here. But it's a very important part...

Q: How do they use explosives to...

A: If they know they have a minefield they would probably... Maybe the folks from here who are experts on this can explain exactly how this is done. But I would suspect that they shoot things out and it lays down and just blows up an area where we think there are mines. We don't walk out and lay explosives down. The idea is to set them off.

Q: Do they in fact take the explosive and set them on the item and blow it up?

A2: It may be somewhere between half a pound and a pound of high explosive to specifically put on the mine and detonate it -- or do what you said, fire what they call an explosive blind charge out. There are numerous methods.

A: For those that couldn't hear that, the answer to the question was if they find the mine, they put explosives on it and detonate it to destroy the mine. They also do what I described, which is to shoot a line charge out and detonate it to clear a path to detonate the mine.

That, in a nutshell, is the training and equipment they're taking over with them on the mine issue. I think without getting into this in too much more detail -- I know you've got a lot of other questions -- but it sort of sets a framework for you from which we can hold further discussion, so let me take questions now.

Q: You promised to clear up this business about what's going to happen to the U.S. and Russian engineering brigade they were talking about.

A: The question is what's going to happen with the Russians and the U.S. in terms of operations in Bosnia. There were a couple of constructs. One of them had the Russians and the U.S. participating in an engineering group of some kind to do the kinds of work that combat engineers might do, or engineers required in Bosnia. The other possibility was to take an operation in which the Russians became part of a U.S. division.

The issue is almost settled -- not quite. It looks like the engineering piece is falling away, and the Russians are going to be a part of the U.S. division. As soon as we get this thing finalized, and, of course, Secretary Perry, as you all know, has been working this very hard, we will come down and bring you the details. I suspect he will come down and talk to you about it because it's such an important thing.

Q: The SecDef said that if the issue of the military forces serving together was settled, that the other thing will probably follow. Are you assuring us, then, that these U.S. troops will not be involved in "nationbuilding?"

A: If that's the question, your answer is exactly right. Nationbuilding is not an IFOR task. It will not be part of the IFOR mission.

Another part of it is, the Russians, importantly, want to have a role in this that is meaningful. While engineers is a meaningful task, they'd much rather participate directly in the mission in terms of all of the IFOR tasks. So I think this other construct was found, and as soon as we're absolutely positive that this is exactly how it's going to come out, we'll come down and tell you. But it looks like it's going to be the involvement of the Russians and the U.S. division.

Q: How firm or how satisfied are you with the three million number for the mines? It's about half of the speculation that we're hearing over there. From five to six million, is the number that we hear quite often. Is the three million pretty hard?

A: I don't think anybody knows. The question is how many mines are there? Are we sure that three million is the right number? Our speculation, based on intelligence from what we know, says it's about three million. Could it be double that? Yes, sir. It could be. I don't think anybody really knows how many mines are there. The issue is, we want to be sure that anybody that goes is fully aware they could be there, properly trained, take the right equipment, and work the problem.

Q: Presumably the three locations are going to be in areas of separation. Can you say more specifically where those three minefields are?

A: I don't have the details on exactly where they're located, but it's in the Tuzla area. We've heard that there are mines on the airfield itself that need to be cleared on the Tuzla airdrome itself. We know that's the case. So that's obviously one place where there are some mines. As we get more visibility into this... If you really continue to show an interest on exactly where the mines are, I will try to get you some information to display that.

Q: Do you mean just inner Tuzla or the whole eastern sector where...

A: What I'm looking at is the U.S. sector. Generally there are three major minefields that are known there and...

Q: Whose minefields are they?

A: Again, I'd be speculating if I told you. I suspect they were implanted there -- suspect now, I'm not positive of this -- but they were put there by the Bosnian Muslims to protect themselves. Defensive minefield.

Q: Not by the Serbs?

A: Not in that particular area. But I could be wrong, so let me take that question. If I have given you a wrong answer, I'll correct it for you next time I come. There's no sense in me giving you bad poop. I do not know for sure, but just thinking about the construct of the area and who's where they are...

Q: The three million, can you give any breakdown of how many Bosnian Serb, how many government?

A: I wish I had that crystal ball to answer these kinds... Nobody knows. It's like trying to answer the question, " Are there three million?" There could be six.

Q: The Serbs have so much more access to mines and to equipment like that, you tend to think it would be theirs, but maybe it's not.

A: You'd think, except... When the former Yugoslavia broke up, I'm sure that the Bosnian Serbs got a lot of the equipment. That's why they ended up with a lot of the equipment they had. But the Muslims and the Bosnian Croats also ended up with some.

Q: To move backward a few steps to the issue of the enabling force deployment. In your chart and the assumed deployment of the main force, it seems there's going to be maybe five or six days between the time there's a full enabling force there and the first troops arrive. Is that enough time for them to do all that has to be done to pave the way for the full force? Six days doesn't seem like a lot of time for what has to be done.

A: Again, what they're trying to do is get in there and make sure the base is set up that can handle a flow of forces as they go through. You'd like to have a month to do that. But because of the way this thing is flowing and the time lines that are set, we're not going to have all the time that may be needed, but I will guarantee you this: this is an event-driven schedule. We're going to -- just because a date comes up... If things aren't ready, we're not going to do them until we are ready. We're not going to make the mistake of trying to get out in front of ourself and then find out we've got a problem once we get into Bosnia because something wasn't done exactly the way it should have been. So keep in mind that we have time lines set. Every effort is going to be made to meet those time lines, but this is not a fine-built watch, folks. This is a big operation. Look at the problem.

I will speak for myself. I just try to get my family together to go on a vacation, it's a huge event. We're talking about moving a lot of people here, and put it in that kind of perspective. It's not easy.

So please, as we give you these time lines, I'm trying to get you the most accurate information we have; but realize that things are going to move around a little bit, and we're going to make sure we have the right things done in the right order to ensure the safety of this force and the proper equipping and logistical support for this force that's needed on the Bosnia...

Q: Do minefields inside the zone of separation necessarily have to be cleared? Or may they be left in place...

A: Sure.

Q: ...to control movement?

A: Absolutely. They could be. That's a very good point. You don't have to clear every mine. Now eventually, I would hope that they clean this up. There's humanitarian demining going on around the world. This is a huge problem. Years later you could have somebody walking through that area anybody -- and maim themselves or possibly kill themselves. So eventually, you would hope that they will clear all mines out of Bosnia. That's the objective. But in order to do our job -- the IFOR task -- every mine doesn't have to be cleared. You've got to be sure that certain sectors are cleared where we need to patrol, and that's what's important.

Q: Can you give us some insight, realizing, as you've indicated, that it's tough to "get your family together." It's tough getting the enabling force in, according to the original timeframe that was put out. What led to the changes? Was it weather? What caused all this to slip?

A: I think "slip" is the wrong word. Again, as events unfolded, people did things in the order in which they needed to do them. I don't think there's been a slip. The objective of the enabling force and support force is to get it in there before we actually start deploying the main body. That's supposed to happen no earlier than the 14th. So as long as the enabling force and the support force we've described to you are there, they're not late.

Now if I was showing you something that showed it coming in after the 14th, that might be a little late. But as I've said, we're going to be event-driven here. We've got to be sure we do things in the right order. So I don't see anything late on the slide.

Q: You indicated that certain adjustments had to be made as you got a true picture of what was involved.

A: What I said was, we here... You've got to remember, this is a NATO operation. We're a part of it, but my job here is not to run the operation. My job here is to support the operation: to be sure that they have what they need, that we make the right authorizations based on the NATO request. We don't build the plan here, NATO builds the plan. So here in the U.S. in our national position, we did not have the visibility in the detailed NATO plan of movement of forces until yesterday. I just didn't have good visibility into it. We've been trying to get it, everybody's been working hard. But they're working the issue based on what they see happening -- so we got the visibility yesterday, and that's how you see what you see on the chart where I show the ramp-up of forces.

Q: Is that 96-hour deadline going to slip at all that you talked about? After the peace agreement is signed, you said that NATO is currently scheduled to take over 96 hours from UNPROFOR. Is that going to slip like this slipped?

A: That's a question for General Joulwan. He will have to make that decision. I don't see anything that indicates that's going to happen. Everything looks like it's going smoothly. It's going fine. The clearances are coming in to move forces. We don't anticipate that. But that's a decision that will ultimately be made by General Joulwan and Admiral Smith -- the SACEUR and the theater commander -- down in Allied Forces Southern Europe. That's a NATO decision, not a U.S. decision.

Q: If the peace treaty is signed, will you -- or if you're in Pearl, your successor -- be able to come to us daily or twice daily as in DESERT STORM, to brief us? Do you see any...

A: So you're not going to let me get off the hook for not coming yesterday, are you? [Laughter]

I will come as often as there's something worthwhile to tell you about. I promise you that. And I've got clearance that I can come whenever I say come. I don't have to go talk to anybody. They've cleared me to come down here and talk to you. But I don't want to come down here and waste your time and have you all gather and then not have anything to tell you. You don't want to do that.

What we'll try to do when we come down is sort of recap from the last time we were here. We'll sort of tell you what we see coming down the road; the visibility we have, and then I'm going to do something like we did today, and that is cover an area like we did with mines today. It's something that I can see from questions that are coming up that you all have an interest in. We talked about SOF last time we were here. The Russian involvement that Charlie mentioned is another area. I'll come back in...

Q: Foreign forces.

A: As I pick this up, and where I get a lot of it is just by reading what's in the press. If I see an issue coming up, then I'll try to bring it up; or, if you all raise it with me I'll be glad to talk about it.

Q: Selfishly, I'd like to have you here daily. I don't know what my...

A: The problem is, at this point in time, there isn't something to tell you daily. I could come in tomorrow and say another airplane landed...

Q: I mean when the main force gets there.

A: You all know that faster than I do.

Q: I'm talking after the main force gets the green light.

A: If that happens, we'll pop back in and talk to you some more.

Press: Thank you.

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