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Transcript : DoD News Briefing : Tuesday, April 9, 1996 - 2p.m.

Presenters: Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
April 09, 1996 2:00 PM EDT

Tuesday, April 9, 1996 - 2 p.m.

Mr. Bacon: I have a brief announcement and then I'll take your questions.The Secretary will hold an Honor Cordon for the Greek Prime Minister CostantineSimitis this afternoon at 4:30, but there will not be a photo opportunityfollowing that Honor Cordon. It's a change from our previous plan.

Q: Why not?

A: The Secretary changed it for scheduling reasons. I'll take your questionson the photo op.

Q: Are they going to take it outside at the entrance like they did oncebefore?

A: I don't believe they will. It will just be a straight Honor Cordon. ThePresident met with the Prime Minister of Greece today. There was a readoutafter that meeting. I don't think anything has changed.

Q: Can you update us on whatever plans there might be underway for theevacuation of Americans from Liberia? I understand you have not had thebenefit of what might have been said at the State Department already, ifanything.

A: Well, I can tell you that the assessment team of six Special Forcespersonnel arrived approximately an hour and a half ago, and shortly thereafterthe security enhancement team of 18 SEALs also arrived in Monrovia. They areassessing the situation, and they will confer with the ambassador and decidewhat to do next.

Now, I should tell you that the helicopters are not going to be returningempty. So some people will go out, probably about 25 passengers per helicopterwill leave when those helicopters return. I don't frankly know whether thehelicopters have left yet. I can try to find out.

Q: But at least two helicopters?

A: Yes, two helicopters.

Q: Can you give us an idea of what the state of the airport is? Is ituseable?

A: The state of the airport, the airport as I understand it is closed, but itis useable. There were two Liberian helicopters or maybe they were U.N.helicopters, I guess, that were damaged at the airport yesterday. The airportcould be used. I understand the landing tower has been damaged at the airport.But these helicopters did not use the airport, and we don't right nowanticipate having to use the airport. But that could change.

Q: Ken, what kind of helicopters were they?

A: They were MH-53s.

Q: Can you tell us -- would you characterize this as less than a full-scaleevacuation at this point? Is this just an absolute voluntarily transportingpeople who want to leave?

A: These people who left, if they have left yet, were volunteers. Now let meput this in perspective. There are 470 American citizens in Liberia, weestimate. Of those, 110 are in the embassy compound. The others are basicallyin Monrovia in several other compounds. One is [the] "To Save the Children"federation compound. Another is the compound owned by a bank. I don't knowthe name of the bank. And there are several other compounds. They are all inradio contact. Of the approximately 470 American citizens in Liberia, 38 aregovernment officials or associated with the government. Of those, five arespouses and five are Marine guards. The Marine guard complement in Monrovia,generally seven but two were on leave. So, there are five Marine guards therenow. Yes, Mark?

Q: Do you consider this a permissive or a non-permissive evacuation?

A: Well, the fighting has died down some. It seems to be a little calmertoday than it was in earlier days. The assessment team is making an evaluationright now. That's why we have an assessment team to evaluate things. As Isaid, the people who either have left, or will leave when the helicopters goout so they won't go out empty, will be volunteers.

Q: Ken, these 18 people, the security enhancement team, as you call them, theyhave to provide security, additional security. Are they also to make adecision on whether more security is needed?

A: Well, the assessment team -- the assessment team technically is doing that,the six people. These are all Special Forces. They're all trained in certainskills and one of which has to be security evaluation. To the extent that we-- I think the way to look at it is that one team will actually take up the jobof providing greater security to the embassy compound and the American citizensin it. And the others in it, those are the SEALs. The other -- while they'redoing that and concentrating on doing what security guards and agents do, theother six will be concentrating on other things, reviewing, talking with theambassador, talking with the employees, surveying the situation, maybe goingout and talking with local authorities, observing the situation. I don't knowhow much they'll travel around, but their job is to help the ambassador todecide what to do next.

Q: What branch of the services are those six from?

A: I believe they're Army.

Q: They're Army?

A: Yes. Joe?

Q: Have you received any assurances from the fighting factions that they willallow safe passage of Americans? To this point they haven't attackedAmericans.

A: It's probably more appropriate to ask that question of the StateDepartment. My understanding is that the two factions -- the two majorfactions -- have made it clear that they are not interested in attackingAmericans. They're interested in attacking each other. Our position is, ofcourse, that they should cease fighting, that they should return to theprovisions of the peace process that was started last August. They shoulddisarm. They should demobilize and they should hold national elections tosolve the country's problems. But, as you know, this country has been troubledfor some time. There were two other evacuations earlier in the last six yearsof American citizens of Liberia. So, it's been a dangerous place.

Q: Ken, what are the numbers and kinds of helicopters and aircraft that are inSierra Leone now? How many helicopters?

A: Well, we have -- it's been reported that there are two C-5As in Freetown,Sierra Leone and there are several helicopters.

Q: Can you tell us how many?

A: I'd rather not right now.

Q: Would you continue the evacuations, the ones that you're calling voluntaryat this point, during the night or would you wait for daylight?

A: I can't answer that question. That's the type of thing that would be moreappropriate to ask of the State Department. Remember, we're essentiallyfollowing the State Department's lead here and a lot of these questions I thinkyou should take to them. We're there to support the State Department and dowhat we can to protect one, diplomats and two, American citizens generally.Not in that order, but those are the two groups we're there to work with.

Q: These 50 people that are going out, are they spouses and children? Yousaid they're volunteers.

A: I don't know how many. There are only five spouses there. I doubt ifthere are a lot of children, but I can't answer the question. Tammy?

Q: Any foreign nationals?

A: Pardon me?

Q: Any foreign nationals to your knowledge or are these all American,these 50?

A: Well, Charlie, the helicopters just arrived recently. They may or may nothave left. This is sort of a real time return at this stage, and I just don'tknow who or even precisely how many people are on these helicopters. I don'tknow what provision Ambassador Milem had made for making the decision on whowill go on the helicopters.

Q: Two questions. Number one, is do you have enough helicopters there toevacuate all the Americans if that is ordered? And then, I'll come back to youwith the second question.

A: Well, I guess the question is over what time. Yes, we have enoughhelicopters there to evacuate all the people should that decision be made ifwe're given enough time. Pardon?

Q: In the time-frame desired?

A: Those are decisions that are yet to be made.

Q: And the second question is the assessment team originally was reported to-- they were suppose to be in around first light today and they didn't getthere until very recently. What's the accounting for the delay?

A: Well, first of all, I don't think there was ever a formal announcement ofwhen the assessment team was going to arrive. But, military operations arecomplex and sometimes in complex operations things happen when they happen.

Q: Are you aware if the United States has received any request from othercountries to assist in the evacuation of their citizens from Monrovia?

A: I understand from talking to the State Department that we have, but youshould probably talk to the State Department about that.

Q: Can you give us your assessment of the situation there? Why an evacuationis necessary, the level of danger, the level of hazard?

A: The situation has been dangerous in that there are basically two warringfactions. There are bullets being fired. There is, as I said, the airport hadbeen damaged. The tower has been hurt. People basically have migrated tocompounds where there is some degree of safety. They've tried to pull togetherand get out of areas where the factions are rampaging around. It's basicallynot a situation where factions are targeting Americans or even any foreigngroups in Monrovia. But it's a situation where security cannot be guaranteed,and in that type of situation, we and other countries will think about effortsto provide better security to our people.

Q: Do you know of any other countries are doing this, have offered to takepart in evacuations?

A: Well, I think the appropriate question is are other countries consideringevacuating their own people. And I think that the other countries should speakfor themselves on that. I don't think it's appropriate for me as a DefenseDepartment person to talk about what other countries are considering.

Q: Would U.S. military involvement be limited to an evacuation?

A: Well, if the State Department decides to evacuate, I believe that would bethe extent of U.S. military involvement. As I say, this is not a situationwhere we're a participant, where Americans are being targeted or sought in anyway. This is a situation where we and other diplomats and NGO officials aretrying to get out of the way, stay out of trouble, stay safe. So, the militaryis there to help Americans stay safe in whatever way the State Departmentdetermines is best. Tammy?

Q: Has it yet been determined, the 50 people who are coming out tonight wherethey will be going?

A: Let me back away from that for a minute. OK. The helicopters are notgoing to leave empty. They have a capacity for about 25. OK. People each. Idon't want to be nailed down to 50 people, and if 53 go, I'm accused of holdingback information or if 43 go. This is approximately. OK.

Q: Approximately. Good.

A: Right.

Q: Has it been determined where Air Force transports will fly them once theyarrive in Freetown or will they --

A: Well, how do you know they'd be flown by Air Force transports? Once theyget to Freetown presumably, commercial air will be available, but I think thoseare second order decisions, and the most important decision right now is takewhatever actions we believe are necessary and the State Department believes arenecessary to protect the people who are there.

Q: Is it likely you will have to set up another regional operating base otherthan Freetown? I understand it's a very small airport and could get congestedeasily.

A: Interesting question, which I can't answer.

Q: Are any ships being moved toward the area?

A: Well, Navy ships are some days away from the area, and I think that ifships were used at all it would be more reasonable that commercial ships thatmight be possible carriage for people out. And all of those issues are beingconsidered now by us and by other countries.

Q: Do you think that it would be necessary to put in additional securitypeople? I understand there is a fairly significant back-up group to the onethat you have actually on the ground.

A: Well, that's always an option. But, of course, we couldn't discuss suchoperational details as that at this time.

Q: Well, you discuss how many are on the ground. What difference does it makehow many may be in back-up?

A: Because the ones on the ground are already there and presumably can beobserved. Ones who might be in, we would just like to let people like youguess.

Q: Thanks.

A: Your welcome.

Q: Can I ask a question, just a quick update on Korea. Has anythingsignificant happened there in the last 24 hours? Has the situation calmeddown? Are you on a lesser state of observation or anything?

A: A short answer to your question is that nothing has happened in the last 48hours or so. There have not been anymore incursions by the North Koreans intothe peace area and it appears now to be calm. But we're watching thesituation. As you know, the only thing we've done in Korea is to increase ourso-called watch condition or watchcon, and we increased it from what's calledwatchcon three to watchcon two which is basically increasing it from asituation of potential crisis -- that's three -- to a watchcon two -- probablecrisis. We continue to survey the situation very, very closely. Butbasically, the last two nights, nothing has happened.

Q: You haven't gotten back to watchcon three?

A: We have not, but we reserve the right to move one way or the other. Butthere's been no reason to change our assessment at this time. I will alsostress there's been no movement, no unusual movement of U.S. troops orpersonnel in response to this. There's basically been no change in ourmilitary posture. What has changed is our security monitoring process, oursurveillance posture basically.

Press: Thank you. Q: Oh, sorry. One more. I had a question. There seems to be [inaudible]North Koreans a new [inaudible] between [inaudible] security area and they alsosome motor launcher[s] over there. What are you going do with that? Isn'tthat a separation of the original [inaudible] over there?

A: Well, I have to check on the status of that. My understanding is theymoved in some material and then moved it out. This, of course, is an issue forthe Republic of Korea and the U.N. as well as for the U.S. to consider. But myunderstanding is they moved some things in and then they moved them out andthere's been no permanent change in the situation. But I will double-checkthat and if you, in fact, check with Major Manuel, he'll find out if they haveleft anything behind.

Press: Thank you. Mr. Bacon: Thank you.