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DoD News Briefing:Tuesday, September 7, 1999 - 1:45 p.m.

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
September 07, 1999 1:40 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. I'm sorry I'm late, but I'm here.

Let me start with a few announcements.

The first is that tomorrow is Tilt Rotor Day. You may have seen the tilt rotor, the Osprey flying around outside the building this morning. Two will land tomorrow at 9:15, between 9:15 and 10:30 in the morning. One will disgorge General Jones, the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Secretary Cohen will go out and view the landing of this unique technology and make a few remarks.

Q: Where are they going to land?

Mr. Bacon: Where are they going to land? They're going to land at the River Entrance parade ground, right where distinguished visitors are greeted. Secretary Cohen will make some remarks and take a few questions on tilt rotor technology or anything else.

Second, after this event, Secretary Cohen will go to New York where he'll make some remarks tomorrow night before the National Committee on U.S./China Relations which is holding its biennial dinner.

From there he will fly out to San Diego, California, and on Thursday he will visit the USS SHILOH and get a briefing on theater missile defense and meet with the crew, make some remarks there. Then in the evening he'll give a speech to the International Institute of Strategic Studies which is holding its convention in San Diego. He plans to talk about some of the lessons learned in Kosovo in that speech. I cannot promise you that we will have an advance copy of the speech, but we'll do the best we can.

We have a visitor here from Poland, I believe, in the back. Welcome. A Polish journalist whose name I will not massacre on the stand, but she is visiting under the USIA program.

Finally, I want to announce, as you I hope all know by now, that Captain Tim Taylor who did wonderful work at EUCOM running the PA shop has taken over as the Director of Defense Information. So he will be my primary contact and helper. We're very glad to have Tim on board. He's one of a long line of people I've stolen from Europe including his predecessor, Dick Bridges, and before that Mike Doubleday, of course. So Tim, welcome.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Ken, on East Timor, are there any... The United States, as the White House said, is waiting and watching while the UN studies the situation. Meanwhile are there any U.S. military emergency evacuation plans or anything like that underway for possible use of the U.S. military in East Timor?

Mr. Bacon: No.

Q: The United States has three ships, I understand, at Port Darwin, and they may get underway in the coming days and might head for that area. Is that just kind of a precautionary thing?

Mr. Bacon: There are two ships in Port Darwin, two combatants. One is the USS MOBILE BAY, a cruiser; and the second is a destroyer, the USS O'BRIEN. They are actually there for an exercise called CROCODILE '99. They will be participating in that exercise which I think begins on September 15th or so and runs into October.

There's also a third ship there which is a support ship, the USNS KILEAU, and it is in the area but is notĀ¼ is just sailing around at this stage.

Q: Does that ship have helicopters on it?

Mr. Bacon: It does have two helicopters, yes, I think. CH-46s.

Q: Are there any plans to move those ships near East Timor?

Mr. Bacon: No. First of all, let me just talk a little bit about East Timor. Obviously it's up to Indonesia to provide for the security of its own people in East Timor as well as United Nations workers and other foreigners in East Timor. Both President Habibie and General Wiranto have said that they will do that. We expect them to do it. There are some signs that the Indonesian army is beginning to be more aggressive in protecting the UN workers in the capital of East Timor, Dili.

In terms of NEO, obviously if the Indonesian army performs its job then there shouldn't be a need for an evacuation. If there are plans for an evacuation, they would be run by Australia, which of course, is the nearest country, and has taken on responsibility for conducting any sort of an evacuation necessary. But we hope it won't be necessary.

So that's the situation in East Timor.

In addition, the UN is sending a team, supposed to arrive tomorrow, to evaluate the situation and then return to New York, I believe, on Friday to report their findings. Depending on what they report, then the UN will decide what to do next.

Q: Might U.S. troops be used in any UN force? And if not, would U.S. aircraft be used in any airlift that...

Mr. Bacon: I think it's premature to speculate on that. Our hope and expectation is that the Indonesian military will do the job that its President has said it will do, and provide adequate security.

Q: There are no preliminary plans underway for that kind of thing?

Mr. Bacon: No.

Q: Does Australia have the airlift assets in case there is an evacuation? And have they approached us in any way of a possibility of maybe using some of our assets if it came to that?

Mr. Bacon: I believe they have adequate airlift assets.

Q: Is the United States willing -- if Australia were to send some sort of peacekeeping force into East Timor -- would the United States be willing to contribute some sort of support, either logistical or otherwise?

Mr. Bacon: I think the most popular word in this briefing is "if". I'm just not going to speculate about that. Our expectation is that the Indonesians will do the job that their President has said they will do and provide the necessary security.

Q: It's been reported that there's a belief in East Timor that the special forces of the Indonesian military, the Kopassus, are somehow behind some of the violence that's going on there. Do you have any information that would support that? And can you also update us about whether the U.S. participates in any joint training with Indonesian special forces since I think it was cut off last year sometime?

Mr. Bacon: I can't, I just don't know the answer to the question about Indonesian Special Forces. I have no evidence that that's the case.

In terms of training, as you know, our training under the JCET program is strictly regulated by Congress. We report training that we do. I'm not aware of any recent training events with the Indonesians, but I just haven't checked and I'll have to look into that.

Q: Will you check to see if... I remember last year, the last time we were dealing with this subject, that the training was suspended. Can you see if it was ever resumed, and can we just get a taken question about what kinds of training exercises have taken place since then if any?

Mr. Bacon: Sure.

Q: You said there were signs that the Indonesian army is more aggressively working to -- I guess you implied -- stabilize the situation on the ground. Yet, eyewitnesses on the ground say it is continuing to deteriorate, not that it is stabilizing. What are the signs that they are more aggressively or more helpfully intervening in that situation?

Mr. Bacon: My understanding is they have provided a battalion of forces from outside of East Timor, in other words not indigenous forces, but brought in a battalion of forces, and that they were able to turn back an assault by militia groups against the UN people last night.

Q: New subject. There are more reports that U.S. Special Forces were involved in actual operations in Waco. Can you comment on those reports? Are they true or not true?

Mr. Bacon: The reports are wrong.

Q: And is this something that's still being investigated or have you finished looking into this matter about whether the U.S. military had an operational role in Waco?

Mr. Bacon: The U.S. military had a very limited role at Waco. It was... And it operated legally there.

As you know, the military does not get involved in domestic law enforcement. It can provide support under certain narrow conditions to domestic law enforcement agencies, and that's what happened at Waco.

In terms of investigations, obviously we're cooperating with everybody who's looking into this, just as we have from the beginning. There has been extensive testimony before Congress already. The GAO issued a report just last month in which it reviewed U.S. military involvement in Waco and found just what I said, it was limited and legal. That report's available to you from the GAO.

I don't often have a chance to promote a GAO report, so I want to actually pause and do it twice. This report focuses specifically on U.S. military involvement in Waco and as I said, found it limited and legal.

Q: Can we go back to East Timor for a moment?

Mr. Bacon: Sure.

Q: I think you made it clear that at the moment there's no contemplation of direct military intervention into East Timor. My editors asked me why that is. Is there a criteria that the Pentagon or the Administration uses for when to intervene in a crisis like this and when not to? What's the tripwire?

Mr. Bacon: First of all, every situation is different, but this is a situation where the President of Indonesia has promised to honor the results of the plebiscite and promised to provide necessary security to the people of East Timor and we expect him to use his military to meet that part of his pledge. Obviously there have been regrettable and unfortunate problems in East Timor. We're hoping that now that the plebiscite is over, that the Indonesian military can provide protection to the people of its own country -- people who have voted for independence as well as people who voted against independence. The overwhelming majority of the people in East Timor voted for independence, or they voted essentially for independence is the way it came out.

Q: Looking at the Secretary's speech on the coast, can you give us a sneak preview? What lessons did we learn in Kosovo?

Mr. Bacon: I think I'll let the Secretary speak about that. I hate to take any spin off his ball tomorrow.

But obviously he'll look at it from two general perspectives -- what we learned about our own forces during the air operations there, and what we learned about the NATO forces: what we learned about allies' operations. He's not in a position to give a complete rundown of the after-action report, but he'll talk about some of the preliminary conclusions.

Q: Was the fighting that you referred to in which Indonesian troops from outside of Timor turned back an attack, were they fighting Indonesian troops who were based in East Timor, or were they fighting militias?

Mr. Bacon: Militias. It's my understanding they were fighting militias.

Q: Is that fighting more widespread than that particular incident? Or at least action by Indonesian troops against the militia?

Mr. Bacon: I'm afraid I don't understand the question.

Q: In other words, you mentioned one case in which Indonesian troops turned back an assault by militias. Have there been other cases beyond that?

Mr. Bacon: This was an assault against potential UNAMET or UN people, and that's what I was focusing on. I don't know what's been happening elsewhere, but this was against the UN people in Dili.

Q: How sophisticated are the arms that the militia is utilizing? I've heard, it's gone from machetes to RPGs and...

Mr. Bacon: I'm afraid I can't answer that question.

Q: Secretary Albright yesterday seemed to indicate that if the Indonesian government could not establish stability in East Timor then the UN or the world community would have to go in there and do it.

Can you tell me what she's talking about? That sounds like a forceful entry by UN forces. I'm confused. What's she talking about?

Mr. Bacon: I think that's what the UN is trying to evaluate right now, what its role is, if any. That's why Kofi Annan is sending a team to East Timor. I think we should await their report.

They'll look at what the Indonesian military is doing or not doing to provide protection. They'll look at the status of the militia groups including their armaments. And they'll look at the general security of the UN workers there primarily and then come back with an assessment.

Obviously security has been marked more by laxes than successes recently, but we're hopeful that now that the plebiscite is over and it's clear what's going on that the Indonesian military will perform its role in providing security.

Q: Should the violence continue, what's the U.S. position? What is it that the Clinton Administration wants to do should the violence continue?

Mr. Bacon: The U.S. position is very clear. We are going to continue to encourage the Indonesian authorities to provide security. Second, we are going to await the report of the UN survey team. And when we have that information in hand we'll decide what to do.

Q: New subject?

Q: Just one more on East Timor. Is there any American facilities in East Timor? Is there an embassy or a consulate? Are there any U.S. military personnel in East Timor? Marine guards or anything? Do you know?

Mr. Bacon: First of all, East Timor is part of Indonesia and the whole issue is whether it's going to remain part of Indonesia or become independent. The vote was essentially a vote for independence. So we don't have an embassy in part of another country.

Second, there are three Marines attached to the UN Mission there in East Timor. I believe that's the extent of our U.S. military force.

Now three Marines constitute a potent force, but it's there to support the UN Mission.

Q: Have we ruled out -- the United States ruled out -- participation in an international peacemaking force?

Mr. Bacon: We have ruled in waiting for reports from the UN team once it returns from East Timor.

Q: Is anyone from the U.S. military part of the UN team?

Mr. Bacon: Not that I'm aware of. I don't know what the composition of the team is. Obviously, Kofi Annan's office or the UN is the place to go for that, but I'm not aware that there's a U.S. person on that. But we'll double check on that.

Q: Is there a reluctance on the part of the United States to raise its hand on yet another peacekeeping operation with at least part of the U.S. military saying that they are stretched way too thin as a result of Kosovo?

Mr. Bacon: No. We've got a situation now where there are 23,000 Indonesian troops in East Timor that are either unable or unwilling to provide order and security.

I think that the preferred solution on everybody's part -- Indonesia's part, which has not asked for any outside help, has not asked for any UN help, and has not asked for any outside security forces -- Indonesia's part, the part of Australia which is committed and ready to perform NEOs if necessary -- that is evacuation operations if necessary. I think everybody agrees that the preferred solution here is for the Indonesians to provide the necessary security. We are hopeful that that will happen. It has not happened yet, but we are hopeful that it will. That clearly is the best solution. It's the solution that the Indonesians themselves want, but they have to act to bring that solution to bear and they have not yet done that.

Q: That doesn't address my question. Is there a reluctance on the part of the United States to offer peacekeeping forces because the U.S. military has been pushed into so many different peacekeeping operations that the U.S. is beginning to feel the strain?

Mr. Bacon: It's not clear at this stage that peacekeeping forces are necessary. That's what we're trying to find out. I think there's a reluctance to make a commitment until we know the full scope of the facts, and there's a reluctance to make a commitment until the UN has had a chance to evaluate the situation. Then, of course, depending on what the UN determines, we will have to respond to what the UN finds.

Q: Is there an Administration judgment on what our national interest is in all of this?

Mr. Bacon: Well, this is an evolving situation but obviously we've supported this plebiscite, this vote. We've made it very clear to the Indonesians that we expect them to provide security and order in East Timor. So far they have not done enough of that.

Clearly it would be [in the U.S. national interest] -- This has been the focus of international intention for a long while. Two people won a Nobel Peace Prize several years ago for promoting East Timorees' independence, so this has been a neuralgic issue really since the mid '70s when East Timor became a part of -- was left by the Portuguese -- and then ultimately became part of Indonesia.

It clearly is destabilizing in this area, that is this part of Asia. Indonesia is a huge country. It stretches more than 3,000 miles in length. It spans one of the major sea-lanes in the world. It's a country of many peoples and many languages. It's the most populous Muslim country in the world. And it's very close to a number of our important allies including Australia. So we do have an interest in maintaining peace and order in that important part of the world.

But that is the job right now for the Indonesian forces to perform in East Timor.

Q: I'm sorry. One more on Timor. Actually, it's a two-part question.

One, is it the Administration's view that the United States has any responsibility at all for the situation in East Timor given the long involvement with the United States and the Indonesian military?

And the second part of the question, can you define the word neuralgic, please?

Mr. Bacon: The first is, I don't think we have... I just don't think your first question makes sense.

The problem here is the military has refused to act, not that it's acting. We have not had a long relationship with the Indonesian... The relationship we have had with the Indonesian military, particularly in recent years, has been to talk with them about the importance of human rights, talk to them about the importance of professional operations. And I think in general the Indonesian military has performed quite well during a very difficult time in Indonesia's history, but not in East Timor. They have not provided the security necessary in East Timor.

Neuralgic? Troublesome I guess would be the easiest way to describe it.

Q: There have been numerous reports from East Timor that the military has supported the militias and has in some cases been actively involved in some of these attacks. Does that not square with the information that you're getting when you say that the problem is its military is not acting, or is refusing to act?

Mr. Bacon: Let me go back to what I've said several times before. The President Habibie and the Chief of Staff Wiranto have both made pledges that the Indonesian military will do its job and provide security. We expect them to meet those pledges.

Second, Indonesia has not requested outside help. It's said it can take care of the problem itself. We urge it to take care of the problem itself and to provide the security necessary in East Timor.

We're talking about the protection of Indonesian people in East Timor, and that is first and foremost the job of the Indonesian authorities to perform.

Q: There are reports out of China that the Chinese may be buying ballistic missile submarines from Russia. Are you concerned about these reports? Have you verified them? Have you looked into it?

Mr. Bacon: We have no indication that those reports are correct.

Q: Has the Secretary received the Vieques Commission's report yet? And what's the time table for acting on it?

Mr. Bacon: I just don't know the answer.

Admiral Quigley: It's still being written.

Mr. Bacon: There's the answer from Admiral Quigley. It's still being written.

I think that they're aiming forĀ¼ the Secretary's going to be out of town through the end of the week. They're aiming for probably next week, but as soon as possible.

Q: Would he act on it? Does he intend to take...

Mr. Bacon: My understanding is that the President asked him (Cohen) to report, asked the Secretary to report to President Clinton. (sic) [The following misstates the actual sequence.] Now Secretary Cohen had already put in motion a committee to study the Vieques situation, and he did that before he got the request from President Clinton. So he basically said rather than do this twice we'll do it once, but when I get the (special panel's) report I'll pass it on to the President. That's my understanding of how it's going to work.

So he will not be the final review authority here. It will be President Clinton.

Q: Will he make a recommendation on it?

Mr. Bacon: I assume that he will, yes.

Q: There was a report last week that the panel had agreed on the recommendation of a five-year timetable for the Navy to withdraw from Vieques. Has the Secretary received any kind of briefing informally letting him know that this is what's coming, be prepared for it, anything like that?

Mr. Bacon: I can't answer that question. I wasn't here last week. But I would just caution against preliminary conclusions until the entire report's finished.

Q: Does the Pentagon have a position on the release of the Puerto Rican terrorist, the clemency...

Mr. Bacon: No, that is not a Pentagon issue.

Q: The Secretary hasn't weighed in on the issue with the White House?

Mr. Bacon: This is a domestic law enforcement issue. It's not a Pentagon issue.

Q: Back on China, could you update us on what's going on there in terms of flights, sorties between Chinese and Taiwanese aircraft? There seems to have been a lot of activity, hundreds of sorties awhile ago. Is that still continuing?

Mr. Bacon: China did not patrol over the strait on a daily basis. It started to in July. It has been patrolling at a much greater rate over the last month or so than previously. The Taiwanese Chinese forces have also been patrolling more aggressively than before.

Generally, however, I would say the response on the part of China has been restraint, in this case. It's been limited primarily to increased air operations over the strait. The Chinese have been careful not to fly over the so-called centerline down the middle of the strait.

Q: They haven't flown over that line at all?

Mr. Bacon: I didn't say they haven't flown over it at all. I said they've been careful not to fly over it.

Press: Thank you.