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Transcript : DoD News Briefing : Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD/PA

Presenters: Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD/PA
February 20, 1996 1:30 PM EDT

Tuesday, February 20, 1996, 1:30 p.m.

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. I want to recognize two invasions into our press room today. First, I want to welcome a group of Canadian journalism students who are here and the second invasion is from the Washington Post. They've tripled- teamed us with three people today to introduce John Mintz to the building. So, welcome.

I have one announcement, which is Lieutenant General Michael Ryan who is well known to many of you for his work over Bosnia from Vicenza is being promoted to the rank of general and will move to Europe. He's in Europe, but he'll take over the Allied Air Forces in Central Europe as commander replacing General Richard E. Holly who will move to the Air Combat Command in Langley to replace General Ralston who is, as you know, about to become vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. With that, I'll take your questions. Charlie?

Q: Does the Pentagon have any comment on the two Iraqi defectors who are going home to throw themselves on Saddam's mercy or sword or whatever?

A: My understanding is that Hussein Kamel and his wife are returning. Is that what you are referring to, the two defectors? Are they going back with family members?

Unknown Speaker: They're all going back.

Mr. Bacon: Is the brother going back to --

Unknown Speaker: Yes. They are all going back home.

Mr. Bacon: I understand they were going back today. Well, that's their choice obviously. They were very helpful in providing information to the United Nations, particularly Hussein Kamel, on the Iraqi program to build the weapons of mass destruction, particularly in biological warfare, provided very useful information to the U.N. which, in fact, helped focus worldwide attention on the Iraqi program and its intentions. And, as a matter of fact, had I believe some triggering impact on forcing Iraq to provide more information on its weapons of mass destruction program than it had provided publicly prior to that.

Q: Does this return though raise any questions about or at least put that information in some sort of new light about whether or not it might have been some misinformation involved in that?

A: I think that we've always known that Iraq had a program in weapons of mass destruction. We think that this information is basically good information. It seems a little counter-intuitive that someone would come out of Iraq and provide a lot of damaging information about Iraq and then return to Iraq and this would be considered a disinformation campaign. That's always a risk. But, the U.N. is satisfied that much of the information was useful information.

Q: Did he not also provide some information which helped to further push the U.S. to deploy 10,000 or 20,000 troops because he said that Saddam Hussein was going to drive south through the Kuwaiti border? That was part of the information that he provided, was it not?

A: The..., one of the..., among the information that he provided to international officials and, of course, much of this information was not secret particularly, Hussein Kamel gave a number of press conferences including at least one on CNN as I recall. One of the -- among the facts that he provided was clear confirmation that in October of 1994, Saddam Hussein was, in fact, thinking of another attack against Kuwait. We did build up our forces very quickly and significantly in the Gulf to deflect that attack. It worked. The returns paid off. Since then, we've continued to build our defenses in the Gulf, prepositioning equipment, etcetera. So, that was useful information.

Q: There's another way to view that, I suppose, and that is that he gave clear information that Saddam Hussein was going to do that when, in fact, Saddam Hussein had no intention of doing it. We flinched. We put a lot of forces in the theater and he maybe wasn't telling the truth in the first place. But you believe what he said.

A: We think this was..., we do believe his explanation at the time, but we aren't basing this entirely on trust. We made the move in October of `94 because we saw what was happening in Iraq. We didn't make up the facts about what was happening in Iraq and then wait for some defector to come and tell us that what we had done was right. We actually had good information about what Iraq seemed to be preparing to do. What he provided was what we couldn't discover on our own. He provided the intentions. We saw the evidence of what was going on. He provided the intentions.

Q: Do you still believe that the accuracy of his information at least in that case, and in the U.N. case?

A: Yes, we do.

Q: So, do you have an explanation for why after double-crossing a ruthless dictator that he would go back and say everything is going to be fine? How is he going to be welcomed back in the fold?

A: Explaining Iraqi politics is beyond my abilities. Iraqi politics have always been a mystery to us for some time. Many strange things happen there. I cannot explain to you why the Kamel brothers decided to return. I assume they felt that they would get..., that they would be greeted with some sort of respect and protection, and for their sake, I hope they're right.

Q: Ken, in the interview that Hussein Kamel gave in particular, just yesterday, he mentions Secretary Perry in the context of saying one of the reasons he was going back was that he was concerned that there were things going on, they're trying to accelerate Iraq's demise, demise of the regime there. What was he referring to in terms of Perry's comments?

A: The Secretary talked..., was asked about that when he spoke two weeks ago to a group. I think it was the Middle Eastern Institute here in Washington. The main issue here is that we are keeping..., the U.N. is keeping pressure on Iraq to meet the U.N. mandates. We believe that meeting those mandates will weaken over time Saddam Hussein's position in Iraq. Those mandates, many of which are unmet, are he has to completely dismantle his weapons of mass destruction program. He has to give a full accounting of Kuwaiti prisoners and POWs, MIAs, etcetera to Kuwait. He has to return substantial amounts of equipment to Kuwait which he's held on to. He's returned some equipment, but he's tended to return the dilapidated, broken down, wrecked, old equipment rather than the newest equipment he still holds onto. There are a number of provisions in the mandate which he hasn't met yet. And also, there were sanctions against Iraq which have..., are not clearly strengthening Saddam Hussein's hand. We think that's one of the reasons he's been negotiating with the U.N. recently to activate the provision which allows him to sell oil in order to generate money for food, medical, and other humanitarian needs subject to proper monitoring.

Q: When the Secretary..., the Secretary said in response to questions after that speech that the United States was working with Jordan and other countries in that area to, in his words, hasten the demise of the current regime. He didn't go into details. He said he wouldn't go into details. Was he talking about actively overthrowing Saddam or getting through to the people that Saddam is now `doing very well now'? What was he talking about?

A: We supported, as I think the U.N. sanctions are working to force Iraq to meet the terms of the U.N. mandate will..., could over time affect Saddam Hussein's political fortunes. We've also made it clear on many occasions, the Secretary has spoken about this publicly in travels to the Middle East and elsewhere, we've tried to highlight the fact that Saddam Hussein continues to put..., to pour money into renovating his palaces, to upgrading his military at the expense of the Iraqi people. I saw a wire service story today that Saddam Hussein just opened up a new palace. This is in a country where people are starving. This is in a country where people can't afford heating materials and they can't eat properly. So, I think that when the facts come out to the Iraqi people and others about how Saddam Hussein is running the country, that it could well lead to a change in his political power.

Q: Is it this building's assessment there's a viable successor to Saddam Hussein?

A: I think that..., I can't comment on what the building thinks about Iraqi politics.

Q: Bosnia. How would you rate the compliance level now following the weekend meeting in Rome and any events of yesterday and today?

A: Well overall, the compliance with the military parts of the accord has been very good. The sides of the former warring factions have honored the zones of separation. They've basically moved their weapons out of areas where they're suppose to take them from. They have handled the transfer of territory well and peacefully. All those are very good signs, and they are very encouraging. They show, I think, that the sides basically want to replace war with peace. They want to replace killing with life. There are other areas where the compliance has not been as good, and we've called on all parties to honor the details of the Dayton accord fully. One area in which compliance is not in total has been the removal of foreign troops, and we've stressed to all sides that we expect them to honor that part of the accord. Also, there is clearly not total compliance with the prisoner exchange aspects of the accord so far. So, we've called on all parties to honor that part of the accord as well. Basically, we're encouraged by the compliance with the military part of the accord. We are putting pressure on all sides to comply in the areas where they have not complied completely yet.

Q: But has NATO been able to reestablish links with the Bosnian Serb forces in the light of the failure of the Serb general yesterday to show up?

A: General Walker met with the deputy commander of the Serb forces today for over five hours. IFOR issued a statement describing that meeting. I'm sure you've seen the statement. In the Tuzla sector, the U.S. sector, tomorrow, there's suppose to be a joint military commission meeting at the brigade level. We believe that will take place as scheduled. Beyond that, there has..., although there has been over the last two weeks or so a breakdown in some of the formal communication between the Serbs and the IFOR forces, there has been informal communication going on, particularly at lower levels. So, we're encouraged by that. We're also encouraged by the meeting that took place today between General Tolimir and Lieutenant General Walker.

Q: Can you confirm this report in Defense Week today about Secretary Perry deciding to add $13 billion dollars to the five-year defense plan for weapons procurement?

A: Well, the details of the budget will come out when the budget comes out, and I don't want to get ahead of that document. But basically, that's correct.

Q: I think it refers to inflation winds up being more than the 2.2 percent OMB is estimating, you're going to lose some of that, correct? If the $13 billion arises from changes in the inflation rate. So, the inflation is higher presumably, we'll lose some --

A: If it turns out to be lower, we will have overshot. Yeah.

Q: The F-14 crash. Can you tell us whether this in any way changes the opinion on the safety of the F-14? Are there any..., does this in any way represent a trend?

A: When talking about the F-14, it's important to talk about them in several ways. One is the rate of the F-14 class A failures--as they're called--which is a crash that causes a death or a million dollars, over a millions dollars worth of damage per 100,000 hours of flying to distinguish the F-14 rate from other planes in the Navy fleet and also the various types of F-14s. And it's important not to mix apples and oranges. The F-14 that crashed on February 18th was an F-14D, and the F-14 which crashed in Nashville several weeks ago was an F-14A. They're planes with different engines and they, therefore, have different performance characteristics. So, I want to point out that the one that crashed on Sunday was an F-14D, and the crash statistics for..., I should say class A mishap rate of F-14Ds has been extremely low. The -- I'm sorry. The number of crashes has been extremely low. You also have to look at these over a period of time. And for a number of years, there were no class A mishaps in the F-14D. The last several years..., there have been some problems. The rate has been higher for the F-14Ds than it has been on an average. It's very difficult when you're looking at various..., but the number of crashes has been extremely small, and it's very difficult when..., well, it's been one each, one class A mishap a year in 1993, 1994, 1995 and now 1996 for the F-14D. It's very difficult to spot trends when you're looking at figures that low. And the Navy has not been able to deduce a trend in the class A mishap rate of F-14Ds.

 

Q: So, you're not overly concerned about the..., of the record of the F-14 in general that 31 crashes in five years?

A: We're concerned, as I said the last time, we're concerned about all crashes of airplanes. They are all investigated twice. There's a legal investigation and a safety investigation. We have looked very, very carefully at all crashes but particularly, the F-14 crashes over the..., whenever they occur. And the Navy says that they have not been able to deduce the trend among the F-14s.

Q: Is there any consideration in the wake of this crash of any sort of safety stand down, either this squadron or a broader safety stand down that would affect all F-14s or all Navy planes?

A: I'm not aware that there is. The Secretary will meet with Admiral Boorda later today and be briefed on how the Navy is approaching this investigation. I don't want to hold out any expectation that there will be a change, but I would not expect that there would be a stand down.

Q: You say you're concerned, Ken. I gather clearly the Navy is not alarmed. This is not out of curve of the statistics that they would expect for this aircraft. You're going to crash a certain number of these. This is not an alarmingly high number as far as the Navy is concerned.

A: I don't want to minimize the concern about crashes, and the way you phrased that question would force me to say that the Navy is not alarmed about crashes. The Navy is very concerned about crashes. Every service is very concerned about crashes. One crash is too many. Crashes occur. They are a fact of military life. The pilots train very, very rigorously, obviously to fly as safely as possible within the high performance envelopes they're trained to fly in. An F-14 pilot gets up to 300 hours of preliminary training in training aircraft such as the T-2, T-45, T-34. Then when they report to their squadrons, they get another 90 to 100 hours of training in the F-14s specifically. They don't..., actually, when they get to F-14 training, they don't actually get into squadrons until they've been able to do ten day carrier landings and six night carrier landings and even then they are not fully qualified to fly all parts of their missions. They have to continue to do work and train in their squadron. Once they're in the squadron and fully qualified as F-14 pilots, they fly another 250 to 300 hours a year. So, we're talking about a lot of training, a lot of emphasis on safety. After every crash, there's as I said, two investigations. And one of the things they do is they look when they get the reason for the crash, they go back and look through the training. They look through maintenance procedures. They look at everything that perhaps could be..., looking for things that could be changed to avoid crashes in the future.

Q: Then, why is the Secretary meeting with Admiral Boorda to discuss this investigation of this crash?

A: He met with him last time after the last crash.

Q: Does he do that on every crash?

A: We take from the top on down, we take crashes with extreme seriousness.

Q: Isn't that unusual that the Secretary would meet him?

A: The Secretary, as I said, met last time and he met this time. He frequently meets with officials of services to discuss disasters like this, tragedies like this. It's not out of the ordinary. John. Charlie. Steve.

A: For some reason, I have you in my mind sitting in that row as somebody else entirely and every time I look at you, I'm terribly embarrassed. Go ahead. [Laughter]

Q: Just for context. How many F-14s are there left? [Laughter] Seriously though, I mean, there's a significant percentage of the fleet has been..., the squadrons have been lost in the 90's. Does it reach a point where the Navy has to look at a successor plane to replenish its --

A: Well, it has a successor plane. The successor plane is basically the F-18. There are 212 F-14As. There are 79 F-14Bs and 47 F-14Ds. Now, the F-14As are being replaced. They're either being modernized or they're being flat out replaced by other planes, and they will be out of service by 2004 under the current program and the F-14Bs and Ds will be out by 2010 according to current plans. And they're being replaced primarily by F-18s. They are about 1,200 F-18s in the Navy now. Yes, Bob?

Q: Do you have anything on the sailor who fell off or disappeared from the America? What the consequence of that would be for safety questions about carriers?

A: I don't have anything for you on that. This was a tragedy where he was searched for and not found as I understand and --

Q: Can you share what happened?

A: I'm not aware that they figured out what happened. It was during a helicopter operation as I recall. Some cargo or something else was coming on board and he fell overboard.

Q: What happened to the..., back to Bosnia--What happened to the foreign fighters who were captured in the raid and the other Bosnian citizens who were taken into custody?

A: Well, the Iranians have been deported, and I do not know--I think the Bosnians were detained and then turned over to the Bosnian government, and I frankly, don't know what happened to them. We can check on that.

Q: Has the Bosnian government ever offered any alternate explanation other than their initial claim that this was not a terrorist training camp? It was rather a facility, an anti-terrorist training facility?

A: They've said two things. That it was an anti-training terrorist facility and that they were training people to arrest indicted war criminals. Those are the two explanations they've given.

Q: One last question on the Dugan investigation. You said before the report was released that the lessons from that would be applied, the lessons learned would be applied to help increase mine awareness. Now, that we've seen the results of the investigation, can you tell us what is the lesson from that and how will it be communicated to the troops?

A: The lesson of that is really to pay attention to your training. I'm not sure that we have to change anything about our training. That was a situation where the, as the report showed, the soldier had wandered into an area where there were mines and attempted to pick up a mine. And that's..., the training discourages that. We are doing a number of things in Bosnia to always keep the training and the mine awareness on the highest possible level. I said earlier that we've put together a pamphlet on lessons learned about mines. That's been distributed. We have a team over there, a mobility team, teaching people how to use new mine elimination equipment and techniques. There's constant upgrading going on. But in the case of Sergeant Dugan, the lesson is follow what you've been trained to do and what you've been trained not to do.

Q: I mean, clearly if he did what he said..., they said he did in the report, he broke a few procedures. But is the message..., I mean, is there a concern about I guess souvenir hunting, for lack of a better term, that might be going on in Bosnia?

A: Jamie, I see no evidence that there's souvenir hunting going on in Bosnia. I don't think you can extrapolate from one unfortunate incident to make a broad statement about all the soldiers in Bosnia.

Press: Thank you.

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