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DoD News Briefing by Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA, Tuesday, August 10, 1999

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
August 10, 1999 12:00 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

I only have one announcement, which is that tomorrow Secretary Cohen will make an award to Steven Spielberg who will get the Department of Defense Public Service Award in recognition of his work in improving understanding of the military through the movie "Saving Private Ryan." There will be an Honor Cordon as Steve Spielberg comes into the building, and then a ceremony at 11:30, and you're invited to that if you're interested in covering it.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: That's the highest award that the Department presents to a civilian, is it not?

Mr. Bacon: It is.

Q: Is this raising awareness of U.S. troops who served in World War II and the contributions they made. Is that what this is all about?

Mr. Bacon: It's for encouraging a national dialogue about World War II. Some of you wrote in this room. I know Steve Komarow and others wrote about the impact that movie had on improving conversations in families about the contributions that veterans made in World War II. It opened up a dialogue about what happened in the Normandy invasion and in World War II generally. The Secretary feels that that, along with Tom Brokaw's book and a number of other books that have come out recently, have had a major impact on understanding -- the increasing understanding of the contribution that our military has made to our nation's security and character. And that's the reason why this award is being given to Steven Spielberg.

Q: Is there an indication that North Korea plans missile launches --imminent? That it might do it quickly? The United States has sent out two ships. I believe they're the same two that monitored the last launch.

Mr. Bacon: First...

Q: Are there indications, I guess is what I'm trying to say, that a missile launch might be near?

Mr. Bacon: We don't anticipate that there will be a missile launch within the next few days or even within the next few weeks at this stage. We're monitoring this very, very closely.

North Korea itself has talked about the possibility of a missile launch so we have to take the possibility of a missile launch seriously. And yes, an observation ship has left Hawaii on its way to the North Pacific so we will be in a position to monitor a launch should one occur.

We are also working very hard in conversations with North Korea to convince them that a missile launch would be a negative step, that it would have a negative impact on relations with us, on relations with Japan, and also clearly relations with South Korea. Those talks are ongoing.

Q: What are some of the negative impacts? What's the range of options there?

Mr. Bacon: I'm not going to get into the range of options. We have a wide range of options in our response to that, diplomatic options, economic options among them. And we've worked very hard to convince North Korea that it's in their interest and in the interest of regional stability not to carry out this missile test. North Korea will end up making its own decision, obviously, and it will have to live with the consequences of that decision.

But clearly already the Japanese are expressing concern about a missile test, and they have begun collaboration with us on research into a ballistic missile defense system. We anticipate that we'll sign a memorandum of understanding sometime this month with Japan outlining the procedures for collaborative research. And if Japan were to decide to go ahead with the ballistic missile defense system for our cooperation during a research and development and deployment stage.

Q: You mentioned several indicators of a pending North Korean missile test. I take it from those indicators that the talks, the three, I think, sessions they had on the periphery with bilaterals -- U.S. and Korea -- did not convince the North Koreans not to test. Is that an accurate...

Mr. Bacon: Maybe I missed something. Could you restate the indicators I mentioned?

Q: The indicators were the concern of Japan, the sending of the ships from Honolulu into the area, and the fact that there seems to be no positive indication about North Korean missile tests based on all those talks. Those are several indicators.

Mr. Bacon: First. What I said was that North Korea itself has talked about the possibility of a missile test. This isn't a secret. They have talked about the possibility of a missile test.

Second, Japan's concern is longstanding, particularly since last August 31st when North Korea launched a missile.

Third, we obviously take responsible actions to position ourselves to monitor tests that countries suggest they may be about to conduct.

Having said all that, I began my comments by saying that we don't expect anything to happen imminently.

Q: Imminently?

Mr. Bacon: Right.

Q: But you are saying, though, if I hear you correctly, that there was no assurance that came across at the four-party talks or the bilateral talks that said, from the North Korean side, that they were going to hold off on tests.

Mr. Bacon: Talks are continuing. I don't think I want to predict the outcome of the talks.

Q: Just to clarify, can you say has there been any -- you say a missile launch is not imminent. Has there been any assurance that there won't be while talks are continuing, or anything along those lines?

Mr. Bacon: Talks are continuing and I don't think any assurances have been given on either side at this stage.

I want to clarify one thing. The observation ships left Japan, not Hawaii, recently.

Q: Jonathan Holmes, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Mr. Bacon.

This morning James Ruben at State described as simply wrong Australian newspaper reports today that the U.S. has had high level military discussions with Australian officials discussing the possibility of inserting up to 15,000 U.S. troops into East Timor following the autonomy referendum on August the 30th. However, the Melbourne Age today reports in detail on a cable from senior Australian officials to the Australian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister following discussions on June the 21st in Hawaii with CINCPAC Admiral Blair, with Marine Generals Lubitti and Fulford, and with Okinawa Commander General Hailston, in which precisely such plans were alleged to have been discussed and proposals put to Australia to help the insertion of 15,000 troops.

Is the Pentagon denying that such discussions took place at all?

Mr. Bacon: The Pentagon is denying that report as complete bunkum. We do not have plans to send 15,000 Marines to East Timor.

Q: Are you denying that CINCPAC and other senior military generals in Hawaii had such discussions with Australian officials on June the 21st?

Mr. Bacon: I am denying that we have plans to send 15,000 Marines to East Timor.

Q: But this may have been discussed on the 21st...

Mr. Bacon: To the best of my knowledge, and I've checked into this, no such plan was discussed.

Q: Sending Marines into East Timor or 15,000?

Mr. Bacon: There are three Marines in East Timor now as part of a UN -- part of a much larger UN mission. We do not have plans to send Marines to East Timor.

Q: The existence of this cable has been acknowledged by the Foreign Minister, Mr. Downer.

Mr. Bacon: The accounts I read had Mr. Downer completely denying this report.

Q: He has...

Mr. Bacon: This is what I read in the paper this morning.

Q: Can you confirm that there have been any discussions about...

Mr. Bacon: I've dismissed this report as bunkum. I agree totally with what Jamie Ruben said about this report. There is no truth to a report that we're planning to send large numbers of Marines to East Timor. I don't know how to be clearer about this than I've already been, nor do I believe Mr. Ruben can be clearer about it than he's already been.

Q: And no such contingency plans have been discussed?

Mr. Bacon: We have no contingency plans to send 15,000 Marines to East Timor.

Q: Any number of troops?

Mr. Bacon: We have no contingency plans to send large numbers of Marines to East Timor.

Q: Can I just come back to North Korea for a second?

Mr. Bacon: Sure.

Q: You say that you have no reason to believe that there will be a missile test within the next few days or within the next few weeks. There were reports I believe over the weekend that some pipes have been laid to a potential launch site. There was, in fact, I think a report also that fuel may have been delivered to the launch site. Any accuracy to those reports?

Mr. Bacon: I can't comment on specific intelligence reports, but I stand with my earlier statement.

Q: What is it based on? Is there a missile at a site? Can you tell us?

Mr. Bacon: If I'm not going to get into the earlier reports, I'm not going to get into more detailed reports at this stage.

Q: A group of Iraqi astrologers asked Kofi Annan to please tell the United States not to bomb during the eclipse tomorrow because they're all going to be standing on Mt. Saddam near Mosul, which is regularly getting attacked by our planes out of Incirlik. Has this request been passed along to you from Annan? And has there been a response?

Mr. Bacon: I'm not aware that that response has been passed along, but if the Iraqis don't want to be attacked, it's very easy for them to arrange that. They can simply not challenge allied planes flying in patrol of the no-fly zones. If they don't challenge the allied planes, the allied planes will not respond.

Q: Can you give us an update on the airstrike situation? Can you give us any kind of numbers on how many airstrikes have occurred since Desert Fox, and how many times U.S. aircraft have been challenged either by no-fly violations or radar illuminations? Do you have any of those numbers?

Mr. Bacon: As you know, the numbers come out of two theaters. First of all, there were attacks in the no-fly zones, both the North and the South, today, by allied planes in response to provocations from Iraq. And you can get releases both out of the European Command on that, and the CENTCOM release just came out several minutes ago. You may not have seen that yet.

The responses in Operation Southern Watch have been running at the rate of about half a dozen a month since January, and that is responses to Iraqi provocations. These are times when allied planes have struck back in response to being fired upon, generally by anti-aircraft guns, sometimes by other -- by missiles -- but generally by anti-aircraft guns.

And in Operation Northern Watch the rate is running slightly higher. It's closer to an average of eight or nine times a month that allied planes have responded to provocation.

As you know, Desert Fox was in December. So starting in January these figures are about six a month in Southern Watch and about nine a month in Northern Watch.

Q: Those are responses in which individual airstrikes are lumped into that one response? That's not eight or nine individual airstrikes. That's just one response per provocation?

Mr. Bacon: Those are times when allied planes have struck back against Iraqi air defense systems.

Q: After six months can you say what the U.S. is accomplishing by continuing these airstrikes which are, half a dozen monthly or nine times a month?

Mr. Bacon: Sure. First of all, these are part of the containment policy, to contain Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi military from attacking his own people in the South, in particular, but also in the North. And also from mobilizing to launch an attack against his neighbors. These attacks, along with the sanctions -- not the attacks, but the patrols over the no-fly zones -- along with the sanctions are a crucial part of the containment policy.

Second, these patrols and the attacks, when necessary in response to provocation, are a message to Saddam Hussein that we take the no-fly zones seriously, and that we plan to patrol them as an integral part of our containment policy.

Third, the attacks are degrading his air defense system slowly and systematically. But they are not by leaps and bounds but by small steps having an impact on his ability to, one, to attack our planes, but also to maintain a strong air defense system.

His communications have been degraded somewhat, his ability to communicate among the elements of his air defense systems. Because he has basically adopted, or the Iraqi air force's air defense system has adopted, a fairly low-risk approach. They have a high chance of failure approach. That is to say, they're not turning on their radars at all or for any length of time. A lot of what they're firing is being fired without radar guidance and therefore has a small chance of success.

In order to avoid strikes against his missile installations and radar installations, the Iraqi forces are moving their radars and missile installations quite frequently, which is wearing on his forces, wearing on his equipment, and generally makes them somewhat less effective because of the wear and tear they're subject to all the time.

So I think when you add this up, the primary contribution that the patrols make is they support the containment policy by responding aggressively and quickly to challenges to the patrols. We are degrading his air defense system and also making it very clear that we take containment seriously.

Q: Does it have any impact at all on his ability to create weapons of mass destruction?

Mr. Bacon: The short answer to that is no, except that it does drain resources that he might otherwise devote to weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam Hussein has not shown much of an inclination to devote resources to the welfare of his people instead of to weapons, and he does seem to be devoting resources to weapons. But remember, he is under economic sanctions, which makes it difficult to import -- or we hope impossible to import -- new parts that he may need to properly maintain his air defense system.

Q: If the Iraqi National Congress holds regular meetings in the northern part of Iraq, what protection, if any, can they expect from the United States and what should Saddam Hussein expect should he try to disrupt such a meeting or attack it?

Mr. Bacon: To the extent that our patrols in the Northern no-fly zone prevent Saddam Hussein from moving military forces or equipment in the area, anybody meeting in Northern Iraq would benefit from that. Other than that, there's no specific protection.

Q: Movement of ground forces is not a violation, obviously, of the no-fly zone.

Mr. Bacon: Not in the North, no. In the South there is a no-drive zone as well as a no-fly zone.

Q: Has the Pentagon ordered, or will it order, any additional alert here or at U.S. bases and embassies abroad ahead of the August 20th anniversary of the missile launches last year -- the missile attacks on Afghanistan? There have been some warnings...

Mr. Bacon: We have not ordered any general alert and I'll check to see if we have plans to do so. But generally force protection is the job of local commanders. They all receive extensive information about threat conditions, and it's their job to react appropriately to that information they receive. So I assume all base commanders and local commanders will be on guard during that period as they are always.

Q: But you don't plan any increase in DEFCON status here, for instance?

Mr. Bacon: What I said was I'm not aware of any but I'll check.

Q: India shot down a Pakistani surveillance plane. Can you -- do you have any new information about the status of tensions between India and Pakistan? And also, does the United States plan on dispatching any new diplomatic initiative, any military-to-military contacts to try to get these two nations to be a little less belligerent?

Mr. Bacon: First, I don't have any information to add about this event beyond what India and Pakistan have already released.

Second, the U.S. believes very strongly that Indian and Pakistan should try to find ways to reduce the tensions between them.

We have in the past sent emissaries to both India and Pakistan to make this point. If we believe it will be useful, of course we will do so in the future.

Until this event took place, the most recent news was relatively encouraging in that they had moved away from the peak tensions in the Jammu and Kashmir area, so there had been a reduction of tensions. There have been some new high-level contacts over the last couple of months which have been encouraging, and we hope that those will continue.

But we also hope that both sides will try to respond as reasonably as possible and as calmly as possible to this latest incident, because we think it would be a shame for them to lose the momentum that seemed to have been building toward dealing with their problems.

Press: Thank you.

Q: Can I ask one more? I have a domestic question.

There have been some calls within the last week by members of the various military committees that it might be time to look at going back to a draft in light of the Pentagon's difficulty in retaining recruits. What's the view of the Pentagon on that?

And also, a second part of that is the House Appropriations Committee has voted to terminate the Selective Service System right before the recess, and that's awaiting the House when it comes back. I just wondered what your view on that was.

Mr. Bacon: My view is Congress seems to be moving in two directions at once in this particular case.

In terms of a draft, we believe that the all-volunteer force now in its 26th year has been a great success. It has produced a highly trained, well-motivated and ready force. I think the evidence of that was over Kosovo, it was over Iraq, and it's on the ground in Kosovo today when you look at how well our troops are doing there. It's on the ground in Bosnia today, it's in Korea, wherever our troops deploy -- land, air, sea. They do a phenomenal job.

We are working very hard to deal with recruiting problems, most of which we think -- many of which reflect the strong economy. At a time when we're blessed with a very strong economy, the military has to show more imagination and hard work to meet its recruiting goals, and I believe it's doing that.

In terms of the Selective Service System, I just think that Congress will have to work that out on its own. Obviously, the Selective Service System, even during the all-volunteer force, has remained as a backup system should there be a need for a national mobilization sometime. We believe that as long as our all-volunteer force does its job well in protecting the national interests, that there should not be a need for a national mobilization. That we should be able to deter -- that is our hope at any rate -- the type of challenge that would lead to a national mobilization. But I think the Selective Service provides a very good backup should that be necessary some day.

Q: Just one more, Ken.

...radical militants from Chechnya have invaded border areas of Dagestan. The Russians are quite concerned about this militarily. Does the United States military have a point of view with regard to the fighting in Dagestan?

Mr. Bacon: This is an internal matter, but it would be much better if the insurgents were not stirring up trouble.

Thank you.