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DoD News Briefing, Tuesday, Aug 3, 1999 - 1:55 p.m.

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
August 03, 1999 1:55 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Sorry I'm late.

First let me welcome a group of ROTC cadets visiting us today as part of a three-week Army cadet internship program with the Army Staff, so welcome.

Second, on Thursday we'll have another briefing by Brigadier General Craddock from Kosovo. He's about to leave Kosovo. This will be his last progress report on Task Force Falcon and how they're doing. He'll be replaced, I believe, by Brigadier General Peterson next week, I believe. Anyway, at 2:00 o'clock we'll have one of those telephone hookups with Brigadier General Craddock.

Finally, at Eagle Base in Bosnia there will be a transfer of authority ceremony tomorrow morning, Wednesday. The 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, New York, in Watertown, will take over the Multinational Division North mission from the 1st Cavalry Division. Major General Jim Campbell will take over for Major General Kevin Byrnes as the commander.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: What do you have on Iraq? Is there any indication that the Iraqis are moving aircraft nearer to the no-fly zones? Anything like that to indicate a more aggressive operation?

Mr. Bacon: The Iraqis move forces back and forth on sort of an unpredictable basis from time to time, and they do appear to be moving some missiles and other forces into the Southern No-Fly Zone. We obviously watch this very carefully and make every possible step we can to adjust our missions accordingly.

Q: Have there been any violations of airspace of the zone?

Mr. Bacon: There have been some violations recently. I'll have to get you the details on those, but there have been several violations recently, yes.

Q: Today or...

Mr. Bacon: I'm not aware of one today, no.

Q: Just to clarify, when you talk about moving missiles into the southern area, is that a violation in and of itself?

Mr. Bacon: Well, there's an ebb and flow, back and forth, moving them around, moving them in and out. There are fairly...as I say, they have been violating the no-fly zone from time to time both with aircraft -- and I'll get you an accounting of that, of some recent violations -- and from time to time moving missiles. That's why we're patrolling the no-fly zones, and that's why we're responding to these violations.

Q: How about aircraft, moving aircraft near the boundary line?

Mr. Bacon: I'm not aware that that's happening. But I'll check on that.

Q: What do you make of this?

Mr. Bacon: As I said, it's episodic. There's an ebb and flow to this. I don't know what to make of it. But we've found that over time the Iraqis try to employ different tactics. Sometimes they're more aggressive, appearing to try to ambush our planes or preparing to do that, than they are at other times. It is, I think, a signal that they are not taking the no-fly zone seriously and that they are continuing to contest the patrols of the no-fly zones. But there is an ebb and flow to this and it's unpredictable. From time to time we see forces moving one way or another, and this is one time when they seem to be increasing somewhat their forces in the area.

Q: What's your latest view on the Iraqi reconstitution of their WMD production capability? Do you believe...

Mr. Bacon: I don't have good information no that now.

Q: Taiwan?

Q: Can I just ask one thing on Iraq? Does it appear that this is in fact an effort to increase their efforts? Is this an increasing effort to shoot down an allied plane? Would that be the logical...

Mr. Bacon: They don't make announcements about this, but that is a...

Q: (inaudible)

Mr. Bacon: They've set a bounty. They did that last year. They set a bounty on U.S. aircraft. I don't think they've ever lifted that bounty. They have made it very clear that their goal is to shoot down a U.S. or allied plane. So we have to take seriously these threats, and that's one of the reasons we watch very closely the ebb and flow of forces in and around the no-fly zones.

Q: I take it that since the strikes in the no-fly zones have not been limited to the specific weapon system that's threatening the plane at the time that these missiles, if there's perceived to be a threat, would be fair game for future strikes?

Mr. Bacon: We take force protection very seriously, and we are always prepared to do whatever is necessary to protect our pilots.

Q: You're talking about surface-to-air missiles, I assume?

Mr. Bacon: Yeah.

Q: Taiwan?

Mr. Bacon: Yes.

Q: There's increased tensions in the straits between the PRC and Taiwan. There's been a shipnapping of a Taiwanese ship on its way to Matsu. There is air-to-air incidences over the straits, there's a lot of activity in the air. Also, finally, U.S. arms, a supply of arms and aircraft are also being about to flow into Taiwan against the PRC's wishes. So Ken, what's the DoD's take, especially on these incidences?

Mr. Bacon: First on the arms shipments. As you know, from time to time we do sell defensive weapons to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act. There's nothing new about that. We've been doing it for some time. We did announce some sales just several days ago.

In terms of the activities, there has been a pickup of activity by both sides. We urge both sides to show restraint, and we continue to urge restraint. It's, I think, compared to several years ago there have not been extraordinary actions or developments in the strait at this time, and we hope that there will not be.

Q: Would the U.S. go so far as to urge the PRC to turn that ship back over to Taiwan?

Mr. Bacon: We've made it very clear that we want disputes resolved peacefully. We want both sides to avoid provocative acts. We hope that all problems will be solved by dialogue, and that's our policy. That's what we're urging.

Q: Finally, about the military weaponry, the spare parts especially. Is this a good time--perhaps would it be better if the United States delayed the shipment of that military material?

Mr. Bacon: We announced some spare parts for three types of airplanes -- C-130, F-16 and F-5 -- as well as some surveillance aircraft, two E-2T early warning aircraft. As I say, this happens from time to time. There's a process and they just happened to come up to the top and be announced several days ago.

Q: How would you characterize the level of Chinese military activity in the strait? Also, what significance is the test of China's latest long-range missile?

Mr. Bacon: Taking the second question first, we've known for a long while that they have been planning to test a so-called DF-31, a mobile missile. That's the one they tested yesterday. There's nothing surprising about that. The test they announced was successful. We have no reason to question that at this time.

They are not close to deploying a new mobile missile as far as we can tell. If they choose to deploy, it will be several years off.

So I don't think this was a direct response to what's going on in the strait. I think they've been working on this for some time, and it is part of an evolutionary improvement in their strategic force which remains quite a small force -- some 20 or slightly more intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Q: Does this give them a significant, or at the time, would this missile potential give them a significant military capability they don't possess today?

Mr. Bacon: It depends on how many they deploy, and I would say it does not give them a significantly enhanced military capability.

Q: Is there any evidence that this missile employed any stolen U.S. missile technology?

Mr. Bacon: There is not.

Q: Back to my first question, how would you characterize the level of Chinese military activity in the strait?

Mr. Bacon: As I said, we don't see extraordinary developments in the strait. There has been a pickup of Chinese military activity, but I wouldn't say that it has been nearly as intense as several years ago, and we hope it won't be.

Q: New subject?

Q: Would you say that the British Minister George Robertson is the preferred choice for the next Secretary General of NATO?

Mr. Bacon: He certainly is a fine candidate. He did a masterful job in running the British forces, the British defense establishment during Kosovo. He was certainly one of the most articulate and forceful voices of outrage about what was going on in Kosovo. He is eminently well qualified to be the Secretary General of NATO, and certainly a good friend of Secretary Cohen's and of other people in this government.

NATO is in the process of vetting his candidacy right now. I don't anticipate that there will be any problems at this stage, but they haven't finished the vetting process. He's a very fine and commendable candidate.

Q: Can you clarify published reports that suggest that British General Sir Mike Jackson refused an order by NATO Commander General Wes Clark during the Russian occupation of Pristina?

Mr. Bacon: I don't want to get into those details. Suffice it to say that we have worked with the Russians to design a way for them to serve in KFOR, in Kosovo. They are in the process of sending troops in. They're going to send a total of 3,600. They've already sent about 2,500 or 2,600. They're in the process now of integrating into the KFOR force. I think whatever happened in the early days of the deployment was handled in a way that allowed a smooth solution to the Russian desire to be in KFOR.

Q: Just as a general principle, in the NATO, the 19 member NATO alliance, which has to operate by consensus, can any member nation appeal an order that perhaps they don't believe is in their national interest or not wise? Are these...

Mr. Bacon: There is a military chain of command. I'm not a lawyer and I think I'd better not answer that question without some study.

Q: Is it different from the way the chain of command would work in the U.S. military if it's just a U.S. operation?

Mr. Bacon: Jamie, I think I've said enough on this.

Any more questions?

Q: On the case of the Air Force officer, the nurse who wrote a letter to the editor?

Mr. Bacon: Yes.

Q: Can you clarify what, under what conditions members of the military may express their opinion about a public health issue of interest to members of the military and when they can't? And did this officer run afoul of that, and why?

Mr. Bacon: It's been reported that the officer did receive a letter of counseling, a very mild administrative action, from her commanding officer. This is the type of decision that's made by the commander on the ground in response to local conditions.

People do not give up their constitutional rights when they join the military, but obviously they have to accept various rules designed to encourage and maintain good order and discipline. It is sometimes up to the local commander to decide when those standards may be challenged. In this case, apparently, the commander was sufficiently concerned about her letter to counsel her.

I think it's difficult to make a sweeping statement because many of these issue are situational.

Q: Was the problem that she identified herself as a military officer? Or could she have written the same letter as long as she just signed it as a private citizen? Or should she not have written that letter at all?

Mr. Bacon: The commander made the decision that the letter raised some concerns, and disciplined her. But I think he was concerned about what he saw as a paragraph that might encourage people not to take a legitimate force protection measure, that is anthrax shots. And she identified herself not specifically as an officer, but somebody who was stationed at the Kadina Air Force Base. I don't believe she identified herself as an officer. She did not put her rank down in the letter, but she said she was a health professional stationed at Kadina Air Force Base in Okinawa.

Q: It's a fine line, isn't it?

Mr. Bacon: It's a fine line. I've tried to make that clear. That's why the commanders have so much discretion in situations like this. They have to make the decision about what challenges good order and discipline and when they should respond to what they regard as a possible infringement of good order and discipline.

Q: Are you concerned that this kind of action could send a wrong message, that the Pentagon is not interested in a lively debate about an important health issue that could affect people in the military?

Mr. Bacon: There is a lively debate going on now, and I think that it's limited to an extremely small slice of people in the military. Over one million people, over 320,000 people have gotten anthrax shots. Over one million shots have been given. You know the full routine requires six shots. There have been very few cases of objection, even though many of them get a lot of press coverage, but the overwhelming number of the people have seen this as a legitimate force protection measure and have taken the shots.

I think the military is working very hard to deal with questions that arise. There's a Web site that people can send in questions and have them answered. They can certainly talk to their medical officers and their commanders. We have assembled a lot of information about side effects, and we have issued pamphlets, I think, to everybody. You've seen them here, you've been briefed on them, these so-called tri-folds that are written for soldiers and for their families to describe why the anthrax vaccine is important, what the threat is, and what the record of safety of this vaccine is. It's a good record.

Q: Do you have any formal figure on how many people on active duty or in the Reserves have resigned commissions, officers commissions over the vaccine?

Mr. Bacon: I do not have that figure. I'm not sure we do have it, but we'll check for you on that.

Q: Are things going smoothly on the integration of the Russian forces in Kosovo? Are they going according to the agreement? How would you characterize it?

Mr. Bacon: I'd say they're going relatively smoothly. As I've said many times from this podium, the model we expected was the participation of Russian forces in SFOR, in Bosnia, and we're seeing a pretty good integration in Kosovo as well.

Press: Thank you.

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