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DoD News Briefing - Nov. 13, 1996

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William J. Perry
November 13, 1996
(This media availability occurs following remarks at the second annual Joint Industry/Government Conference on Management & Process Standards in Washington, D.C.)

Q: Has the United States committed to sending troops into Zaire and do you know anything about the conversation the President had with Prime Minister Chretien along this...?

Secretary Perry: The President has decided in principle that the United States will participate in a multinational relief force. Very important details of that are yet to be worked out - - will be worked out over the next day or two. We'll work those out in conjunction with the partners in the multinational force, in particular with Canada which has agreed to lead this force.

Q: Mr. Secretary how many troops will the U.S. be looking to send and in fact, who'll be in charge of the operation? Who's commander of that?

A: There are important details -- including the number of troops that we're still working on. But we are anticipating about a thousand troops in the Goma airfield area. There will be more troops involved -- the number I cannot give you at this stage -- outside of Zaire that are involved in maintaining the air bridge that supplies equipment into this area.

We will have a primary responsibility for maintaining airlift for the supplies and people going into the area. So we will have a particular responsibility for maintaining that air bridge. We will also maintain the Goma Airport, the services there and the security for that area as well as the security for a corridor going from the Goma Airport into [Gisenyi]. That's a corridor that's just a few miles long.

Q: Under who's command and control...

A: Present planning is that this would be a multinational force under the command of a Canadian general and with an American general as the deputy commander of the force.

Q: So American forces will answer to the Canadians?

A: Yes. [As always, U.S. troops would remain at all times under U.S. command. While serving under the operational control of the Canadian commanding officer, the U.S. would provide the deputy force commander, and all U.S. troops in Zaire would operate under U.S. commanders.]

Q: How concerned are you about the risks involved in this operation?

A: Any deployment of our forces involves risk. When I say that the President has agreed to this in principle, one of the issues that has to be worked out, which is more than a detail, are the acquiescence and the cooperation of the countries into whose troops we would be going. This involves Zaire and Rwanda. It involves contact with some of the irregular forces in those countries. Our assumption is that we would have their acquiescence and cooperation. And that needs to be determined before we make this final commitment. So that's one of the differences between making the commitment, which we have not made yet, and saying that we have decided in principle. We need to get that very important issue settled. That's important in order to minimize this risk.

Q: What kind of lessons did you learn from Somalia that could be applied to this mission?

A: There are lessons from all of the other-than-war operations that we've been involved in in the last four years. First and foremost of those is clarity of mission. Secondly is to keep the risk commensurate for the benefits to be gained. That's why it so important to get established immediately, the acquiescence and the cooperation of the parties in whose countries our troops would be operating. A third is to have a clear statement of how... What success is, how we would complete the mission and how we would then conclude the mission and move on. All of those have to be specified at the beginning. All of those are part of the detailed planning. And finally there's an important issue of having clarity of command. All of these details we have been discussing with [the] Canadians and with some of the other nations that will be part of the multinational force. All of those have to be worked out with complete clarity before we make a final commitment.

Q: What sort of force protection are we talking about? Are we talking about helicopter gun ships, armor, light armor?

A: The forces that would go into Zaire, Goma in particular, would have both an infantry battalion on the ground for protection of the force, and there would be gun ships -- pardon me -- armored helicopters that would provide additional support for the force. Again, this is a detail which we are working out and which could be adjusted as the mission went on. But we have force protection front and center in our planning and in our considerations. Any force we send over there we will send over only with the force protection which we consider appropriate for whatever risk they may be exposed to.

Q: What type of armor? M-1s..?

A: No. We're not talking about that now. We're talking about relatively light forces. But we are considering armored helicopters to go with them.

Q: One last question about time. Has there been any discussion about how long the troops would remain over there or...?

A: We expect that the sufficient stabilization could be achieved in about four months.

Q: Sir, on the [issue of] sexual harassment. Have you directed the services to take similar actions in light of the developments at Aberdeen? (Inaudible?)

A: Let me start off by saying I can not comment on the specific cases which you read about in the news today because I'm in the chain of command over the soldiers and I do not want to exercise command influence. So I can not and will not comment on those specific cases. But our policy on sexual harassment is crystal clear. We believe that sexual harassment is wrong, ethically and morally. We believe it is wrong from the point of view of military discipline. And we believe it is wrong from the point of view of maintaining proper respect in the chain of command. And for all of these reasons therefore, we have a zero tolerance for sexual harassment. Now I made that explicitly clear. One of my first actions after becoming Secretary in a message to all the departments... In the light of this incident, I have been reviewing very, very carefully the actions that the Army has taken. I am quite satisfied that the Army is fully on top, fully understands the seriousness of the issue here and is taking appropriate action. I have also asked each of the other service secretaries to look carefully at their training procedures to be sure that there is not some problem there that could cause the same sort of issue in those services that we saw in the Army. They are doing that at this time.

Thank you very much.

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