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DoD News Brief: General Wesley Clark Briefing on Bosnia

Presenters: General Wesley Clark, CINCEUR and SACEUR
December 09, 1999 2:30 PM EDT

P.J. CROWLEY: Good afternoon. We are honored to have with us General Wes Clark, the Commander of the U.S. European Command and the Supreme Allied Commander, for NATO Forces in Europe. We try, whenever they're in town on other business, to try to capture them now and again, and we thought this was a very timely opportunity as we approach the 4th anniversary of the, you know, implementation of the Dayton agreement and the first forces going into Bosnia as part of IFOR, and now continuing the outstanding work to bring stability to the Balkans that we are seeing in SFOR.

It has been an area that has been the subject of perhaps sporadic media coverage, for obvious reasons, but we thought we'd use the opportunity to shine a light on the outstanding work that continues to be done in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I'm sure you might also have questions for the general on other aspects of activities in the Balkans.

So the General has basically 30 minutes, so we'll get started.

GEN. CLARK: Well thanks very much, P.J.

Well, it's a great pleasure to have an opportunity to be before you this afternoon, and I'd like to just start by providing some information about where we are four years after the Dayton agreement and look at the situation in Bosnia. And if you want to talk some other issues, we can certainly do so.

As you know, we started with the Dayton peace agreement in December of '95. We put the Implementation Force in there -- (brief audio break) -- in Paris on the 14th of December. We transitioned to a different structure -- SFOR, not IFOR; stabilization, rather than implementation -- and we've kept that force all the way through with our last order being prepared in June of '98. The force started with 60,000 troops. It's down now to under 30,000 troops.

What we're doing today is the following principal activities here, in keeping with our mission of assisting in a selective way the civil implementation, maintaining a secure environment and a stable environment. We're helping to support refugee returns; we're conducting area security and presence missions; monitoring the compliance of the entity armed forces; we're supporting the International Criminal Tribunal in their investigations and their searches; and, of course, we're monitoring the borders with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. We're still in three multinational divisions -- southwest, north and southeast and, as I said, just under 30,000 troops.

We measure our progress in accordance with the June 1998 op plan in a series of areas that help us understand how the progress overall toward mission accomplishment is going. In other words, what we know is that most of the military tasks have been done, but not sustained. The civil implementation tasks have not been completed. We can't, in the military, do the civil implementation tasks, but the civil implementation tasks can't be done without the kind of secure environment that the military provides.

And so, military stability, we think, is good. The entity armed forces are working together in a more cooperative manner now than they have ever done. They've just agreed on a 15 percent reduction in their armed forces, and the initial reductions toward that have been taken.

We've taken 28 war criminals under detention. A number of additional ones have surrendered.

International organizations are working about the way they did -- in fact, a little bit better than before the operation in Kosovo.

There has been media reform. There are still some media problems, but we are making headway here.

The Brcko issue has been resolved. That area is going to be demilitarized by the end of this month. The forces are moving out. A multiethnic administration is being put in place by Ambassador Bill Ferrand, and despite the predictions and fears of some, it's turned out to be a success story in this so far.

We have had elections, but we know also that there's a lot of difficulties in some of the hard-line party connections with other states and other elements. This is still an area that needs work.

There's been police reform, but there are still public security problems.

Economic development and illegal institutions are two areas that are of the greatest concern right now. The unemployment rate's over 40 percent because we still need to move into the post-Cold War Europe. It needs security, it needs investment, but it needs institutions and laws that will enable this investment and development to occur. And that's under way, but it just hasn't happened as rapidly as we'd like it to.

We've made some quite interesting progress, remarkable progress, really, in return of minority refugees to their areas. We had about 60,000 return this year. It's a 40 percent increase over where we were in the past. We may -- when we tote up the figures by the end of the year, we'll probably be above this even.

And this has been done on individual, spontaneous basis, with the SFOR troops in the general area observing this. But this is basically people who say, "Look, it's been four years since the war. NATO is here. We feel secure enough to return to our homes. Let's get on with a normal life." And so this is a real indicator of progress.

(To staff.) Next.

As I indicated, we have been restructuring. In the latest set of restructurings, we completed efficiency reductions, taking it down to under 30,000. We've done a restructuring of the headquarters. Lieutenant General Ron Adams is now the overall SFOR commander there. And then we're going to reduce by about 30 percent by the spring of 2000 to get the force down to around 20,000 troops. And this is the NATO force. The U.S. contribution will be down at the 3900 troop level.

So that leaves us today then in the Balkans. We have our 30,000-man, or just under 30,000-man commitment in the Stabilization Force. Of course, we have a commitment of NATO forces in Kosovo with rear area commitments in Albania and Macedonia, and we are still facing Serb forces arrayed in three armies in Yugoslavia and in Montenegro.

I think this completes, really, what I need to say by way of introduction. I'd be happy to take your questions.

Yes.

QGeneral, just how many U.S. troops are there now? You say it'll be down to --

GEN. CLARK: What we have right now in Bosnia are about 6,200 U.S. troops plus a few hundred more in the various international headquarters that are there. But the number that we're using is 6,200 because that's the U.S. troop commitment that's actually doing the troop business on the ground in MND North. That'll go to 3,900.

Yes.

QGeneral, some U.S. military officials say that when we launched the NATO raids on Kosovo and Belgrade, if we had gone in the first night with everything but the kitchen sink it might have brought Milosevic to cry uncle much earlier. How do you respond to that? And on another tack, General Douglas MacArthur said old soldiers never die, they just fade away. Where are you fading away to next April?

GEN. CLARK: Well, on the first question, which is a good one, let me say that I believe that whenever we cross the threshold from diplomacy into the actual employment of military power that we should do so as decisively as possible, as decisively as politically feasible. That's what we did in this case. Obviously, we were pressing to do more in the way of more effective, more widespread, more intense operations. But we're in an alliance of 19 nations. This was what the alliance agreed with, and ultimately it was the alliance cohesion which was a -- perhaps the critical factor along with other elements in convincing Milosevic that he had no choice but to comply with NATO conditions. But in principle, whenever we go to the use of force, we should be as decisive as possible.

As for my future, I have got more than four months left in that command, and that's what I am thinking about.

Yes?

QGo ahead.

QI was wondering if you could comment on the incident yesterday at the airport in Montenegro --

GEN. CLARK: Well, we watched this with a great deal of concern.

The situation is very tense in Montenegro. And Djukanovic is doing as much as he can do to democratize and westernize Montenegrin institutions. He is trying to better the lot of his people. He has declared the deutsche mark as an alternative currency. He has taken some other measures to try to help Montenegro develop its economy for the benefit of his people.

And we know that there are pressures and intimidations coming from Serbia and Mr. Milosevic. We are watching this very, very closely. It's been made very clear to Mr. Milosevic that he should not, and must not, interfere in the Montenegrin processes.

QGeneral --

QCould this -- (inaudible) -- be part of that pressure?

Q-- do you believe that there is any reason to suspect that Milosevic may have an interest in removing the government there or taking control of Montenegro, given the intimidation that you mentioned yourself? And does NATO have any plans to respond to that should that come to pass?

GEN. CLARK: Well, we are seeing a whole series of low-level but worrisome developments, as we watch the pattern of Serb activities in this area. We don't pretend to know what Mr. Milosevic's final intent is. But we are certainly watching this very closely, and it is a worrisome pattern of activities, as I say.

Now, it's not possible, and I am not going to speculate, on hypothetical or prospective military operations, nor will I discuss any planning that may or may not have been done.

QCould the incident yesterday appear to be part of this harassment, this intimidation?

GEN. CLARK: Well, it certainly was an incident at the airport that was under command and control. It certainly sent a message. How it's ultimately resolved will be a matter of some interactions that we probably can't see from here. But I think the incident itself is indicative of the tensions and the potential instability in that region.

QGeneral, do you foresee a time when American troops will be able to leave Bosnia? And when would that be?

GEN. CLARK: Well, we moved some time ago away from a time-based exit strategy. What we believe is we have to have a success-based exit strategy. That was the basis for the June 1998 op plan and the chart I showed you with the various analyses of progress in the areas of civil implementation and military stability. And so I think that's the best index for how we are doing there.

And I think it's best to recognize that this is a demanding mission. It's really a regional focus that we are interested in now. We recognize that the solution to Bosnia is not only in Bosnia, but it's also in the region, as is the case in Kosovo. And that's the reason why in July, the heads of government of so many nations met in Sarajevo and set up the Balkan Stability Pact. We need economic development, we need democratization and, above all, we need democratization in Serbia.

QGeneral, it's six months since the ending of the war in Kosovo, but NATO still hasn't released any of the details on the air campaign of the kind that were released very shortly after the Gulf War. Can you tell us, is that your decision --

GEN. CLARK: Well, I'm not familiar with exactly what details you want. We've released a number of details and there will more coming. And if you'd like to request these details, we'll be happy to work them for you. To our understanding, all the relevant details have been released. We even did a follow-up study of the effects of the air campaign the mobile targets that the Serbs had in Kosovo. And we released, on a daily basis, the results of the strikes. Those were briefed every day. And so I'm not sure what you need. We gave sorties, we gave targets, and so forth. But if there's something more you need, we'll be happy to take a look at it.

QGeneral, could I ask you to stand back from the forest a little bit and look at what you see coming in the 21st century as far as response to human rights violations, which often pits human rights versus sovereignty? You know, I'm thinking of East Timor, Chechnya. Do you see the evolution of some kind of an international force beyond what we see now, such as NATO or the European force, maybe some kind of rapid deployment force that goes back to the Carter days? What do you think is needed out there, and what do you think will happen in the long term?

GEN. CLARK: Well, you're really asking some very profound political questions, but if you want me to comment as an observer of what I've seen, I'll make a few comments.

Q (Off mike) -- at all.

GEN. CLARK: In the first place, it's clear that European nations do not view sovereignty as inviolable; that there are standards that must be maintained. This is the reason why so many nations have spoken out against Russian military activities in Chechnya. It's not enough that these activities are conducted behind a sovereign border. They must be in compliance with the agreements at Helsinki and the basic standards in the United Nations charter and elsewhere respecting human rights.

As for the appropriate means to enforce or encourage adherence to such standards, that's fundamentally a political question, also, and policymakers and nations have to take those measures. I don't think the solution to that is necessarily military force, although we did use military force in Kosovo as a last resort. In that respect, NATO has a very effective program called a Defense Capabilities Initiative that looks at 58 areas in which allied forces must improve their capabilities to meet the requirements of the NATO Strategic Concept that was approved at the Washington Summit in April of '99. And I think if we follow through on this DCI program to improve capabilities, we'll have the kind of rapid reaction force capabilities that are required.

Now, after the summit, what emerged as a result of the air campaign was a renewed European determination to pick up a greater share of the burden in the European Security and Defense Identity, which would be a European pillar within NATO. They're meeting, as you no doubt know, right now in Helsinki. They're going to be talking about how they move forward with the European pillar. And insofar as that leads to improved capabilities for the alliance and doesn't contribute in some way to decoupling or duplication or discrimination against non-EU, European members of NATO, then it's a very, very welcome development.

QGeneral, can you tell us --

QGeneral?

GEN. CLARK: Let's see, a lady right back here, if I can just call on her.

QOn Montenegro, did you have your troops on alert in Kosovo or anything prepared to respond in case that got out of control? And in Kosovo, could you give us an assessment of how you think the U.N. is living up to its responsibilities to get police on the streets?

GEN. CLARK: Well, with respect to Montenegro, as I said, we watch that very, very closely. I'm not going to comment on any military or hypothetical military activities beyond what I've already said. With respect to Kosovo, we recognize that the United Nations has a very significant responsibility in there to assume an increasing burden for the public security function. Bernard Kouchner has called for several thousand more police than are present on the ground. Not only that, but there has to be a police infrastructure with communications and vehicles and stations and other things developed in there. And so step by step, this is being put in place.

But I think everyone is concerned that the United Nations needs more resources, it needs more programs and staff in there on the ground in order to do its job. This is the first line of effort of the international community in dealing with the Kosovo problem. We need to increase the support provided to Bernard Kouchner and the very small U.N. staff on the ground so they can do their work in a proper fashion in Kosovo.

QGeneral, could you move now to Chechnya, since you opened the topic? What do you foresee as an alternative way that Russia can achieve its goals without what they've done with their military and the encirclement of Grozny?

And the second question is, is NATO concerned about the possibility of Russian incursion into Georgia?

GEN. CLARK: Well, first, let the record reflect I did not bring up the subject of Chechnya. This gentleman did, who asked me this question previously.

Q (Off mike.)

QMy fault, sir. (Laughter.)

GEN. CLARK: Secondly, diplomatic leaders have made -- and political leaders in NATO nations have made it very clear that they see an alternative to Russian methodology -- should be a solution through dialogue, through negotiation, and they should not continue the -- what appears to be a pattern of indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian installations that's gone on throughout Chechnya. They should open it up and allow the OSCE mission that was agreed at Helsinki to come in and fully do its work there.

And so in that regard, there has been an increased awareness of Georgia's situation. There have been charges and countercharges flying there. And Georgia is a sovereign nation, and it has to be respected as a sovereign nation and afforded the due right to present its side of the case. And it is doing -- in our view, is taking a number of effective actions to be a responsible member of the international community.

QGeneral, Chechnya's one of many examples of differences between the United States and Russia recently on major issues, such as NATO expansion and the war in Kosovo, the ABM Treaty, and other things. I'm wondering if you're personally -- your view of whether the United States and Russia are slipping into a kind of -- a new kind of cold war over many -- on many different fronts.

GEN. CLARK: Well, I'm not going to be able to give you a comprehensive assessment on that, because that's really outside my purview as the NATO commander.

I will tell you several things: first, that we do have Russian troops on the ground in Kosovo, as well as in Bosnia; that the relationship, soldier to soldier, unit to unit, is very good in Kosovo and in Bosnia. So I think there's effective teamwork down there, and we've been impressed by the professionalism of the Russian soldiers on the ground in Kosovo, as well as in Bosnia.

Secondly, the Russians have returned to the liaison teams at the various NATO headquarters. I have a Russian liaison team at my headquarters in Mons, Belgium. And consultations have resumed in the Permanent Joint Council, at the military representative level and at the ambassadorial level at NATO. So some of the sting has been taken out of the effects of the air campaign.

So I hope that we can build on this dialogue at all levels and maintain the very, very effective and cordial relationships that the soldiers on the ground have established. Obviously, there are some broader policy implications here, but they're not in my purview as Supreme Allied Commander, so I'd prefer to just tell you what I know directly, and that's what I've explained.

In the back.

QAs the commander of U.S. forces in Europe and a senior Army officer, what's your view of the fact that the commanders of the two divisions from which troops were drawn for Bosnia and Kosovo have declared their division unready for major war, and what steps can you take to help them improve their readiness rating?

GEN. CLARK: Well, first, these division commanders are reporting in accordance with Army reporting procedures. And they go from within Army channels. So they don't directly go through my headquarters. I'm aware of the status of the divisions and kept informed of it, but I'm also aware of their outstanding performance on the ground. Those forces are doing a great job in Bosnia and in Kosovo, and they're fully accomplishing a mission which is a very challenging mission. It's not a full war-fighting mission. But it's a very challenging mission under potentially hostile conditions, especially in Kosovo. So they're doing a very, very good job there. They are also conducting a number of low-level exercises at crew level, squad level and individual level to maintain their war-fighting proficiency in other tasks that they're not routinely doing.

They get a lot out of these missions. They get small level leadership training. They get communications training. They get orders planning at the top. They get to exercise the intelligence system, the logistics system, and the security system that's in place there in both countries. And so this is -- by no means are these missions that don't have benefits that are directly related to combat requirements. But as I said, the reporting that's done is reporting that follows a prescribed Army format. And it's an Army issue that they'll be working on, I'm sure.

QA related readiness question. The Eisenhower and the Wasp groups will come into your theater in February. Are you satisfied that they will be ready should they have to be used, and have you made arrangements or are arrangements being made for them to get the comprehensive training in the theater if they don't have it, and it doesn't appear that they will --

GEN. CLARK: Well, we're certainly looking at what we can do to improve the readiness of these forces. But I have always been very confident in the readiness of the naval maritime forces that have deployed into the theater. We made extensive use of these forces during the Kosovo campaign. They were extremely well-prepared using the facilities on Vieques.

And, obviously, there have been difficulties associated with the use of Vieques. I think the military's views on this have been made very, very clear by many military leaders. And we've got to do everything we can to sustain a very high level of competence and proficiency in the coordination and synchronization of live-fire amphibious operations. It is a key task that these forces have to be able to perform. So we will be working on many different areas to try to make sure they're up to the very highest level attainable in their proficiency.

QGeneral?

QGeneral?

GEN. CLARK: I'm going to call on Tom Ricks, right here, who has been very patient back there.

QThank you from the back row!

The Russians like to say that they're doing in Chechnya nothing more than what NATO did in Kosovo. What do you make of that?

GEN. CLARK: I think they're doing in Chechnya what Milosevic tried to do in Kosovo.

QGeneral, as NATO's commander, what do you think of the plans for a European Reaction Force? And are you at all concerned that it may develop into something that's autonomous or out of the control of NATO?

GEN. CLARK: I think anything that increases the overall capabilities of the members of NATO in the defense area is commendable and we should be pushing it. We'll work the institutions. And the European leaders have been very forthright in saying that they want to develop capabilities that complement and strengthen the transatlantic linkage. We've got to make sure the institutions, as they emerge, and the linkages, as they emerge, in fact do that. We're watching that, working it on a daily basis.

So I think at this point, we should be positive about the European determination to do more. That's the starting point for everything else that can follow. Then a lot of people have to join in to make it work.

QBut will it be detached from a NATO command structure?

GEN. CLARK: I can't tell you the specific modalities of all of this right now. That's something that will have to be worked. But we are working the institutional relationships and how they would emerge between the European Union and NATO and my headquarters and my deputy, who has some specific responsibilities under the European Security and Defense Identity. And those relationships will continue to be honed and then we'll work, I would assume, on how the European corps would fit into that.

QWould you be concerned, sir --

QGeneral, can I --

QWould there be concern, if it were detached from NATO's command structure?

GEN. CLARK: Well, I am not going to speculate on those sorts of issues right now. What we want to do is we want to work in an effective way to make sure that we have reinforced the transatlantic linkage, as we strengthen the defense and response capabilities of NATO nations.

QGeneral, just a brief follow-up on what you said to Tom. Your answer kind of titillated me in that you said -- you said that, "I think what they are doing in Chechnya is what Milosevic tried to do in Kosovo." Are you accusing the Russians of ethnic cleansing or simply trying to --

GEN. CLARK: I am looking at the methodology of unrestricted use of firepower and the apparent actions against civilian targets in there.

We were extremely careful in our Kosovo campaign to -- we took incredible risks with our pilots, and we were very inhibited in the use of air power -- to prevent collateral damage.

I don't see those inhibitions. In fact, I see the opposite in the case of the Russian threats that have been given against these urban areas, in the use of their weapons, and in the way they have generally followed in the campaign.

QBut you --

GEN. CLARK: So I don't say that they used the Kosovo campaign as a model; not the NATO Kosovo campaign, quite the opposite.

QWhat would you --

GEN. CLARK: Thank you very much.

Q-- (inaudible) -- ethnic cleansing? (Laughter.)

QHave a mild winter and Christmas, you and your wife.

GEN. CLARK: Thank you very much.

QA mild winter and -- (end of audio).

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