United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share


DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William J. Perry

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William J. Perry
December 21, 1995

Thursday, December 21, 1995

(Also participating in this briefing were General John M. Shalikashvili, Chairman, JCS; and Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA)


Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our briefing.

Secretary Perry will start with an opening statement, and he'll be followed by General Shalikashvili, and then the two of them will be available to take your questions.

Secretary Perry: Just a year ago, peace in Bosnia seemed like an impossible dream. A month ago when we signed the Dayton Agreement, peace in Bosnia became a hopeful promise. Today, peace in Bosnia is an emerging reality.

NATO forces have taken over authority for their areas and have begun their work without opposition. The United States has established its headquarters in Tuzla. General Nash has met with the leaders of the factions. We'll tell you more about the specific deployment of the American forces when General Shalikashvili follows me.

A month ago when this Dayton Agreement was reached, some predicted that the pact would never be signed, or that the signing would be delayed. They were wrong. Even before the agreement was signed, nations met in London with the World Bank and other international agencies to begin planning for the economic reconstruction of Bosnia. Just days after the agreement was reached, planning started in Bonn for a disarmament program. Arms control is a crucial part of the plan to bring peace to Bosnia. Further negotiations on confidence building measures and arms control will take place in Vienna on January 4th.

I have said this before, but I want to emphasize it again, that the NATO forces, including the U.S. forces, have gone to Bosnia not to fight a war, but to enforce a peace. And that under the Dayton Agreement, the parties themselves have undertaken important tasks in implementing this peace. We are not the only ones implementing the peace. The parties themselves have agreed to take actions to implement the peace. We expect them to comply with these actions.

To date, these expectations are being manifested by actions on the ground. First of all, they have agreed on a cessation of hostilities, and that continues. They agreed to turn off their radars -- they have done that. They have agreed to start marking and dismantling mines, and that has been started. They have agreed to the withdrawal of foreign troops within 30 days, and that has begun. They have agreed to start to withdraw forces and remove mines from the zone of separation, that has started. They have agreed to establish a Joint Military Commission, and just today Admiral Smith met at the IFOR level, and other meetings will follow at the brigade and battalion level. So to date, the compliance has been very encouraging, but there are still challenges ahead of us.

This peace is young and it is fragile, so we have to consider the challenges still ahead of us.

General Nash reports that all sides are committed to the separation of forces, and he expects cooperation. A major test of that will come on December 27th when the Bosnian Serb army must vacate positions in Sarajevo. But the big test will come on January 19th which is 30 days from yesterday's transfer of authority. On that day, the factions must complete the withdrawal of their forces behind the zones of separation. In February, the parties will have to vacate areas to be transferred under the Dayton Agreement. All of these are going to be difficult tasks for the parties. We know that this peace will not be easy, but we also know that a resumption of the war would be much worse more killing, more refugees, more ethnic cleansing. What is heartening is that the parties who have been fighting also understand that.

At the beginning of my remarks today, I mentioned the priority of our forces, the priority of the commanders of our forces, and certainly protection of our forces is at the top of that list. Our troops in Tuzla are taking steps to protect themselves by enhancing security around their bases and working to find and dismantle mines. In addition, we're working to improve living conditions in Tuzla. The base camps, which are a mixture of tents and fixed facilities are being heated and fitted with showers, laundry facilities and toilets. We are working to bring in hot meals, and expect to have hot turkeys on Christmas Day. We have also set up extensive family support for the soldiers that are deployed. This has been a top priority of the entire chain of command from the President to myself to General Joulwan to General Nash, all of them are working on that family support system. And I can report that mail is being already delivered to our troops in Hungary, and should reach Tuzla soon.

Our troops are doing a magnificent job in difficult circumstances. This Christmas, people all over the country, all over the world, indeed, are talking and singing about peace on earth. Our soldiers in Bosnia are making peace on earth happen. I am proud of them, and I believe all Americans can be proud of them.

Now I'd like to introduce General Shalikashvili to give you a report on the status of our deployed forces.

General Shalikashvili: To begin with, let me just take a second and assure our men and women in uniform, wherever they might find themselves this time of the year, of the support that they have from the American people, of the appreciation from all of us for what they are doing, and to wish them all and their families all the very best for the holidays, and a healthy and safe new year.

Having said that, let me see if I can give you a quick update as to where we stand right now in relationship to our operations in Bosnia.

Despite the bad weather that we have experienced their, our movement plans into the region are essentially on track. If you look at the lower left hand corner of this chart, you will see that we have had quite a few airplanes go in, some 350 sorties so far. And an extraordinarily large number of trains some 44 that have closed into the area, and some 33 that are right now en-route into the area. Between those airplanes and those trains, a great deal of cargo has been moved, and quite a few people as well.

We have, today, in Bosnia Herzegovina some 1,450 people, and between Hungary and Italy, 3,800 who are there.

The next chart will show you where it is that we plan to go from here. We have, of course, been concentrating initially on bringing the necessary support forces in, and this will continue. Additionally, we are bringing in those forces that will be necessary for us to open the route from Hungary through Croatia and into Tuzla. That includes those people who will be necessary to construct a ribbon bridge over the Sava River. We now anticipate, unless the weather gets into the way, that the construction of that bridge will actually start sometime next week, and should be completed towards the latter part of next week or very early the week after that.

Shortly thereafter, the elements of the 1st U.S. Brigade from the 1st Armored Division will begin arriving in the area, and then pretty soon you will find that we will have a simultaneous movement of elements of the 1st Brigade, the 2nd Brigade, and our division support troops. All of them will be in the area early in February, at which time we will have approximately 20,000 people in Bosnia, some 5,000 military personnel in Croatia, and an additional 7,000 between Hungary and Italy.

Once they are all in, our disposition in the Tuzla area will be as you see here on this chart. In Tuzla itself we will have the division headquarters, 1st Armored Division Headquarters, with General Nash in command. Also a helicopter brigade from the 1st Armored Division. Two U.S. brigades -- the 1st Brigade and the 2nd Brigade will be located as you see here, up in the north and in the southeast. The Russian brigade will be located essentially here in the northeastern portion of the second. The Turkish brigade will be in the southwestern sector. And a multinational brigade made up of Nordic countries, the three countries from the Baltics, and a unit from Poland will be located as you see here in the western sector.

Let me say a quick word about the Reserves and National Guard and give you an update where we stand with that right now.

The President had authorized us to activate 3,800 Reservists and National Guardsmen. To date, we have mobilized 61 of the eventual 77 units that comprise this number here. Also, if activated, 176 individual augmentees out of an eventual total of 908. So today, out of this number of 3,800, we have activated 2,587. Half of those are already in training at Fort Benning, Georgia or at Fort Dix, New Jersey, or Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and some nearly 300 are in training in Germany in one of our training ranges there, at Hohenfels. These Reservists and National Guardsmen come from these major military skills, and they will eventually deploy into the four countries that you see here. Some of them will go to Hungary, some will go to Germany to backfill some active Army personnel that had to go into the region, some will deploy directly into Bosnia Herzegovina, and some into Italy.

With that, I believe Secretary Perry and I are prepared to answer your questions.

Q: General Shalikashvili, could you get a little more specific about the time table on the initial entry of the U.S. combat forces into Bosnia? In other words, a target date for opening the bridge on the Sava and beginning the movement across the bridge.

General Shalikashvili: I will tell you that obviously, as you have all learned and we have learned, much of it depends on the weather, so our plans have been constructed to be as flexible as possible to take that into account. So I can only tell you that right now it is our hope that if the weather permits, we would begin to construct that bridge sometime towards the latter part of next week, and hopefully, have that opened some place between the 28th and the 30th. Then shortly thereafter, the first elements of the 1st Brigade should begin to utilize that bridge, to move across and into Tuzla. But again, it is not some fixed target, it is really a very flexible target date right now because we are very mindful that the weather could cause us delays. On the other hand, if the weather stays good, we might be able to speed that up some.

Q: The roads to the bridge and out of the bridge coming down into Bosnia, are they in good shape? Also, what have you found or learned about currents in the river? Any major problems putting the bridge together and putting it into place other than the problem of snow and ice and what have you?

General Shalikashvili: General Nash traveled that road yesterday from Tuzla to the bridge site. He reports no particular problems. Other people traveled the road from our operations base in Hungary to the river site, again, no problems reported.

As with any military tactical bridge that you construct, you have to be very careful that you understand the firmness of the embankment, so as you bring in major tracked vehicles, combat vehicles across it, over time you don't wear that out. So the majority of the preparation is making sure that the embankments are firm and that you reinforce them as necessary.

As far as the current is concerned, the flow of that river is less than the Rhine River, and all of these units have practiced putting up that bridge on the Rhine River, so we feel fairly comfortable right now unless something unusual happens, that we'll be able to deal with that current.

Q: The philosophy, as I understood it, was that you were going in with overwhelming force, with substantial numbers. Do you feel that the people who are there now are at a disadvantage because -- for reasons of weather or whatever -- you haven't been able to get your full U.S. force in?

General Shalikashvili: No, I don't think so. I think we understood from the very beginning what winter operations were like. When we needed a certain number of forces. So if you were to ask the commanders on the ground they would, I know, echo what I'm saying. We are bringing in the forces at the rate that we had planned to do so. Our plans have, in fact, been flexible because we've operated in winter weather before and we know how important it is that you build that flexibility into our planning, and I think for what needs to be done right now, together with the forces that we have just taken over from UNPROFOR, there's enough force to do what needs to be done. Clearly, when we get to the 30 day mark, the 19th of January, when those events, by the time those events have to occur that Secretary Perry spoke of, we need to make sure that we have sufficient forces there to oversee that full implementation of the separation of the forces and so on. No, I feel very comfortable that we have sufficient in there now.

Secretary Perry: Two objective milestones, as opposed to just planning dates, the two objective milestones were the transfer of authority -- which already occurred yesterday on schedule; and the second objective milestone is the January 19th zone of separation. Those are both very important dates. We needed to have adequate forces there to carry those out. How we get filled up between now and then, there's a fair amount of flexibility.

Q: Mr. Secretary, supposing, being the devil's advocate for a moment, supposing the Bosnian Serbs do not pull out of Sarajevo by the 27th of this month, and supposing, again, that there is some foot dragging by the 19th. What will the NATO forces do in case there is any problem?

Secretary Perry: I'm not going to try to speculate on that. We have commanders on the ground who will give us recommendations as to what actions to take. We'll listen very carefully to their recommendations if and when that contingency arises. But I would not want to speculate on alternative courses of action.

Q: Dr. Perry, and I'd like to get the General's comments, too. Shifting gears, shifting to another part of the world a little bit, North Korea. What gives you pause at this point in time to give you concern about the situation in North Korea? I'd like for you both to comment. And General, if you can be a little more specific about what we're seeing that gives us concern.

Secretary Perry: Ever since I have been the Secretary, I have placed North Korea at the very top of my watch list, because of the million man army they have, the forward deployment of that army, and their hostile rhetoric. On top of that, we had, a few years ago, and up until about a year ago, an emerging nuclear program to be concerned with.

For the last few months, we have been watching very carefully their winter exercises. They are at a higher level than they were last winter. If we look over the last 10 to 20 years, they are at the upper end of the scale of the intensity of exercises historically, but they are not off the scale. So we are watching, we'll continue to watch them carefully, but are not alarmed by it.

Finally, the compliance with the Framework Agreement for elimination of the nuclear threat there proceeds on schedule.

On balance, both General Shali and I have talked with General Luck about whether he sees sufficient concern there that we should take some actions, change our deployments, change our alert status, and his recommendation to us is no, that would not be necessary.

General Shalikashvili: I am not sure what I can add to that other than to tell you that because of the time of year that we are in, because of some uncertainties about what is going on up north, we're watching the situation very carefully, and want to make sure that we have focused our intelligence systems on the area, which we have done, and that I stay in very close touch with our commanders in Korea and in the Pacific so that we are all seeing the same situation. Secretary Perry is absolutely correct that the commanders who are very watchful and very alert think that our posture is correct for the moment, but this has always been the case with North Korea, that we cannot afford to take our eye off that problem.

Secretary Perry: We are occupied with Bosnia. We cannot become preoccupied with Bosnia. There are many other trouble spots in the world, as well, of which North Korea is one.

Q: Would you gentlemen, on behalf of the armed forces, welcome a spiritual support effort that is basically a global broadcasting supported by the American bishops, multi-religious, already in place in Bosnia, a prayer effort to support reconciliation in Bosnia, protection of our troops, and if I might say, moderation in the weather? Would you gentlemen find that to be something you could support? Could you comment?

Secretary Perry: We, by Christmas time, will have about 10,000 troops in Bosnia [and neighboring countries], but at the same time, we'll have more than 150,000 troops deployed in other parts of the world. So those troops are always in my thoughts and prayers, and I welcome the prayers of the American people not just for the troops in Bosnia, but for all of our deployed forces.

I don't think it's necessary to pray for an improvement in the weather. The weather will come and the weather will go. U.S. military forces do know how to live with bad weather.

General Shalikashvili: I would thank very much all those who would like to pray for the safety and well being of our troops in Bosnia and in all the other places, wherever they might be, during this holiday season. I would thank them for that.

Q: When do you all expect the Russian troops to arrive in the American sector? And is the United States going to provide assistance to Russians or any other member of the coalition going into Bosnia?

General Shalikashvili: An advance party from Russia is already there headed by the deputy commander of airborne troops, approximately a 12 man team. They are now discussing the specific arrangements, and also making arrangements for logistics support because the Russians' going-in position is that they would like to be able to arrange for themselves for their support. Those discussions are not over yet so I cannot tell you, nor is a specific date set up when they would be arriving. We expect it to be the latter part of January or early February when they would join us.

Q: In terms of logistics for other coalition members, there has been some talk this is going to be a bring-your-own kind of a equipment type of show, unless they made other arrangements. Is the United States military prepared to help other countries logistically in getting to Bosnia?

General Shalikashvili: We are now working on the assumption that you just stated, that each nation is responsible for its own logistics support. We might find that in some cases it is advantageous for centralizing the management of that, but ultimately either through reimbursement or by bringing your own logistics support. This operation is based on the premise that you would provide your own logistics support.

Q: Getting back to the pace of the deployment, and recognizing that the milestones you mentioned are the important things to worry about, just the same, on a day-to-day basis we've had the impression that the Sava River bridge would be going up much more quickly, a week more quickly at least than appears to be the case now. There are all kinds of reports from over there that suggest that the troops are running into day to day SNAFUs that perhaps they didn't anticipate, but in any case are slowing the operation. Is this the kind of thing that happens all the time anyway, or particularly in the case of the Sava River bridge was there something we didn't, that the advance parties didn't do thoroughly enough, or what?

General Shalikashvili: First of all, in any movement, there needs to be flexibility. If you build a program where you are moving from many different countries over limited road networks and rail networks and so on, if you try to be too precise, you're not going to make it. Particularly when you're doing this in bad weather. So there's always been this flexibility.

One of the problems is that you have many different layers, many different headquarters that brief and try to anticipate questions. Some of them look at the window from this day to this day when a task would be completed. Some people want to be really very optimistic and give you this date, and those that want to safe-side it give you this date, and the truth is always some place in the middle. Don't take that as somehow something that is going wrong. As you look at what needs to be accomplished, look for flexibility in the planning as opposed to rigidity in it. I will tell you that in all military operations, flexibility is a plus not a minus, and particularly when you're doing it in tough circumstances.

As I look at what needs to be done by certain dates and what you need to have on the ground to get that done, as General Joulwan looks at that, Admiral Smith, we all feel very comfortable, and so report to the President and to the Secretary that we are generally on schedule and we don't have any anxiety that we're somehow falling apart. So this is, I think, simply the normal flexibility that you would see.

Secretary Perry: Let me add a general comment on that. You all probably enjoy sausage. None of you would enjoy it as much if you made a tour of a sausage factory. (Laughter) What you are trying to do now is conduct a tour of the sausage factory that we have underway of conducting this deployment into Bosnia. We'll have a good sausage come out when we need a good sausage, but in the meantime, there will be some pulling and hauling.

Q: Dr. Perry, this part of Europe has not historically been a part that America has been overwhelmingly engaged in, and yet since the Washington Accords, the beginning of the Federation and now this operation in Bosnia, it seems that our engagement in this part of the world is rapidly increasing.

Once you bring the troops home, what is going to be the need for continued American engagements in this part of the world, and how are we going about that?

Secretary Perry: There will need to be a continuing engagement of the whole international community including the United States in Bosnia for a number of years. What we are describing here is our engagement in IFOR, the peace implementation force, which will be for the first year of that activity. We believe that the military tasks can be done within that year, and that not only we can but we should withdraw the military forces then. But in the mean time, the ultimate success in Bosnia hinges on these other activities which are going on in parallel with the military activities for the first year, and then will continue after the first year -- the rebuilding of the economy, the rebuilding of the infrastructure, overseeing elections. All of these functions are very important. The United States will be a participant but not a leader in those activities. The European Union will be the leader in these activities and we will be one of the participants, but we'll continue to participate after the year.

As far as the military effort is concerned, the IFOR, since it's a NATO effort, we consider ourselves in the leadership in the military effort. So there's a big difference between the military and the non-military parts of the rebuilding.

General Shalikashvili: Can I return for just a second to the issue of the deployment and then get off it.

I consider much more right now, much more important right now that those deployments be conducted safely and deliberately, and that we don't needlessly hurt people through some accident on icy roads or foggy weather, trying to meet some fictitious deadline. I'm very happy that they're taking that approach because there is no need for that kind of a specific deadline right now, so I'm very glad in the way they're handling it.

Q: The Bosnian operation will no doubt go down in history as one of the defining moments of the post Cold War era, having to do with the U.S.'s role as a super power, U.S./Russian relations, NATO's role, bringing in considerations of the Partnership for Peace and so on. What sort of implications or ramifications do you think the relative success or failure of this mission may have on the larger scale?

Secretary Perry: I think that's a very astute observation. One of the strong motivations for the U.S. participation in IFOR was not just bringing peace, ending the atrocities in Bosnia, although that was certainly strongly in our mind. But also because we saw the danger of the war in Bosnia spreading and becoming a wider European war with very profound consequences to the U.S. Therefore, we came together to try to prevent that consequence. But not only did we see it that way, nearly every other country in Europe saw it that way. So what we are seeing is a concerted effort, the likes of which really has not happened since the Second World War. Essentially every nation in Europe is participating in IFOR and participating in the reconstruction movement because they see this as the first major test of security in Europe after the Second World War. So the success of this activity, which is your question, is going to cast a long shadow. The first and the most important lesson for us, then, is to get it right, to get it set up properly. It's not just a matter that we're committed to do it, but we have to structure it in such a way that it has its highest probability of success. That's why it was so important that the Dayton Agreement lay out step by step what it is we're being asked to do. It's also important that we had the collaborative effort of the nations who will be involved in the security of Europe for decades to come. That's why in particular it's so important to have the Russians participating in the IFOR, in the peace implementation force, because they are a part of European security and will be a part for decades to come.

Q: The implications of a lack of success if a peace does not hold, what sort of implications might that have for NATO and for the U.S.' role on the world stage?

Secretary Perry: As I said, because we believe the success in this is so important, we are committing an extraordinary effort to ensure that success, and I also want to remind you that the effort is not just the military effort. It is this civilian rebuilding effort that is going on in parallel with it. The success of the military effort, I believe, will be achieved and will be seen in this year's period, but the ultimate success in Bosnia, which is this rebuilding effort, it will take several years to develop that.

Q: To come back to the deployment question, the timing. Can you clarify something? If you had to put that bridge in today, could you? Or are these the kind of logistics problems that are endemic and you can't move any faster than this?

General Shalikashvili: I cannot tell you that right now because I don't know the specific circumstances, why it is that they programmed it during this window.

There are few things in the military business that I have encountered that you could not do faster if you're willing to pay the price for it -- even if that price sometimes might have to be that you take a higher risk.

So I would be surprised if you couldn't do it faster if the need were really there. Again, I want to emphasize that at this stage where we are in the deployment and the requirements that we have, I find a higher requirement that we do it safely and deliberately and don't needlessly endanger someone by rushing it when we don't really need to.

Q: A two-part question, if I may. The first part is, you and the President have announced a pull-out of U.S. forces in approximately a year from this operation. Isn't there an inherent danger there? What is to prevent the former warring parties from retraining, regrouping, and rearming during that year, and then going at it again when U.S. forces pull back? And the second part is, in case I don't get a chance, on behalf of everybody here, I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas!

Secretary Perry: I like the second half better than the first half.

General Shalikashvili: No, no. That was directed towards me, you get the question. (Laughter)

Secretary Perry: See if you can focus that question just a little more precisely, the first part of your question.

Q: We will be pulling out according to schedule now, in about a year. We learned a lesson in Somalia and elsewhere. What is to prevent the former combatants -- the Serbs, Croats, Muslims, etc. -- from waiting us out and going at it again once U.S. forces leave?

Secretary Perry: The reason we're willing to go in is that we believed and we strongly believed, that the parties involved were sick of war and really wanted to have a peace, so that action would be entirely inconsistent with our assessment of what they were trying to achieve. I, myself, believe very strongly that that is a correct assessment from my discussions with not only the leaders, but some of the other people in those countries. They're just sick of war, they're sick of the killing, sick of the atrocities. The want to start building a life for their children and for their grandchildren. Therefore, they have come to an agreement, it was a compromise agreement. Each side gave up something they did not want to give up to reach that agreement. As apart of this agreement, as I've already said, they have agreed to undertake the implementation of this agreement themselves, and we see the first steps of them being able to do it.

So I think that is the best indication that that's not really what's on their minds. They're moving in this direction because they want to build a better life for themselves and their families. I think that's the best answer to that question I can give.

In theory, nothing could prevent this country or any other country from starting a war two years from now or three years from now if they had the motivation and incentive to do that. I just don't believe they have that motivation and incentive. So that's always an uncertainty, you might say a risk. The action we're taking now is that the parties might not be serious and they might be willing to start up a war again in two years. That possibility, which I think is a remote possibility. But that possibility has to be compared with the certainty that if we walked away from this peace agreement, that the war would start up again. So when we look at the uncertainties in life out there, that is an uncertainty -- I think a low probability uncertainty. When you compare that with a virtual certainty, the war would start up again if we walked away from this peace agreement.

Thank you very much.

Q: Any comments on the investigation down at Fort Bragg? Was that completed?

Secretary Perry: Secretary West, I believe, had a press conference on Fort Bragg a few days ago, and he deplores, as I deplore, that action. And more to the point, he and I both believe that there's absolutely no place in the U.S. military for intolerance and that kind of extremism.

The question that was raised by that action, is there some indication that this may be more than an isolated or random act. We believe the answer to that is no. We believe, in fact, that you'll find more tolerance in the military than you will in society as a whole. Nevertheless, we cannot simply assume that. Therefore, he has undertaken an intensive and extensive study to get an answer to that question and to recommend corrective actions, if any, are necessary. This is not one of your classic, let's conduct a long term study just to get it off the front page. We're very serious about that study, and he will be reporting to me in a matter of weeks what the findings are and what the recommendations are. To the extent any actions are indicated on our part, we are certainly prepared to take them.

Thank you again, and Merry Christmas.

Additional Links

Stay Connected