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Transcript : DoD News Briefing : Tuesday, April 16, 1996, 1:30p.m.

Presenters: Captain Michael Doubleday, USN, DASD PA
April 16, 1996 1:30 PM EDT

Tuesday, April 16, 1996, 1:30 p.m.

Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon. Let me start with a few announcements.The first being that following this briefing there will be a backgrounder froma senior Air Force officer to update you on the process that we're goingthrough in the investigation of the aircraft crash in Croatia. We'll do thesefrom time to time when it's appropriate and today seemed like a good time to doan update for you.

Some additional information, which -- all of this by the way is included inblue tops that will be available as you depart the room today -- the Presidenthas nominated Lieutenant General Daniel W. Christman, United States Army, forassignment as Superintendent, U. S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.General Christman has served as Assistant to the Chairman, Joint Chiefs ofStaff since October 1994. He will replace Army Lieutenant General Howard D.Graves who will retire after the completion of more than 34 years of service.General Graves has served as Superintendent at West Point since July 1991.

The Air Force is proud to announce today that Colonel Betty Mullis, UnitedStates Air Force Reserve, will assume command of the 940th Air Refueling Wing,McClellen AFB, California next month. Colonel Mullis, a KC-135 pilot with morethan 5,000 flying hours, is the military's first woman commander of a flyingwing. She'll be here in the Pentagon tomorrow morning. Anybody interesting intalking with her should call Lieutenant Colonel Rob Coffman at 697-1761.

The final element of the U.S. contingent of the United Nations Mission inHaiti will return to their home stations when 74 personnel departPort-au-Prince tomorrow. More than 250 U.S. personnel will remain in countryas part of an on-going bilateral humanitarian and civic assistance trainingmission under the command of the United States Support Group Haiti. We'll havea blue top as I mentioned before that has a lot more detail on that.

The U.S. Atlantic Command is going to be conducting a major joint exercisewith British forces on military installations in the southeastern United Statesand waters along the eastern seaboard from the 25th of April to May 20th. Morethan 53,000 military servicemembers from the United States and the UnitedKingdom will participate in Combined Joint Task Force Exercise `96 or ExercisePURPLE STAR. There are a lot more details in our release, which is going outthis afternoon, and if you're interested in covering any aspect of this majorexercise please contact the Atlantic Command Public Affairs Office at area code(804) 322-6552.

And, finally, I'd like to announce plans to award a 20.7 million dollars to 74academic institutions for the purchase of research equipment. These grants arepart of an ongoing program to seek the benefits of the research base providedby universities and colleges. The 131 programs selected from more than 500proposals will conduct research in selected areas of importance to theDepartment of Defense. The awards are expected to range from 44,000 dollars to570,000 dollars following negotiations between DoD research offices and theinstitutions. And, again, more information in the blue top that is availableafter this brief. And, now, I'm ready for your questions.

Q: Captain, to what extent is the United States concerned about itsunderground facilities that Russia is building in the Ural Mountains?

A: Jamie, first of all, I'd like to point out that we're aware of thisfacility and have been for some time. It's been under development for manyyears. It has been written about on several occasions in the Russian press inrecent years. For the most part, those reports describe an activity of severalthousand workers complete with housing, evidently including an extensive railand road network that supports the system, and it appears to bedefense-related.

Q: Can you tell us what it -- is there an estimate of what this facility is oris intended to be?

A: Although we have discussed the facility with the Russians, the Russians atthis point have not disclosed the purposes of the facility. But we'recontinuing to watch it closely.

Q: Do you have any of your own intelligence assessments of what it couldbe?

A: At this point it is unclear except to say that it is defense-related. Itappears to be defense-related.

Q: When you discuss it with the Russians, what do they tell you?

A: They have not provided, at this point, any kind of description of exactlywhat this facility is.

Q: Did they refuse to talk to you about it?

A: They have -- we have engaged them in conversations on this subject but weat this point have not heard from them any details as to what this facility is. Yes, Charlie.

Q: Mike, by defense-related do you mean a military facility, or to be usedonly for defense or what?

A: Charlie, at this point, I think as much as I should say, from what we know,is that it appears to be defense-related. Now, I must say that the Russianpress has reported on the facility and for the most part we have no reason todispute what the Russians have reported regarding this facility.

Q: Well, Mike, by defense-related do you mean it's not to be used foroffensive purposes against the United States or against any other country?

A: I can't characterize it to that extent.

Q: Well, I think what Charlie's trying to get at is by defense do you meanmilitary or by defense do you mean defensive as opposed to offensive?

A: No, I mean military -- and military in a very, very broad sense.

Q: Would it be fair to say that the Pentagon doesn't know what this complexis?

A: It would be fair to say that the Russians have not told the Pentagon whatthis complex is.

Q: What does the Russian press say it is?

A: Well, I think I would refer you directly to the Russian press for detailsbeyond those that I've already provided which is one, several thousand workersseem to be employed there...housing complex, extensive road and railroadnetwork that appears to be supportive of the installation and the fact that itis large. Some describe it as being vast in size.

Q: Would this be a violation of understandings that the United States hasreceived from the Russians in exchange for our participation in the Nunn-Lugarprogram?

A: Well, we know that the Russians, like we, are engaged in some militarymodernization programs. And, we certainly believe that they have the right todo that as do we.

Q: Do you expect this to be raised when the President is in Moscow?

A: Can't predict.

Q: Is it the facility itself or the secrecy that apparently surrounds itthat's the major cause of concern to the Pentagon?

A: First of all, I'm not sure that I would attach the word concern to this.It is certainly a site that has been observed by the Pentagon and others forsome period of time, but I am not sure that I would attach the word concern toit at this juncture.

Q: Can you say how long that period of time is that we've known about it?

A: More than 10 years.

Q: Could you check and see if various agencies could provide some line-artdiagrams of this facility?

Q: And the latitude and longitude. (Laughter)

Q: Coordinates.

Q: And, the latitude and longitude. (Laughter)

A: I will see if there is any capability or desire to do that.

Q: Mike, you haven't said whether or not it's -- is it apparently anunderground facility that's being built?

A: It is in the Ural Mountains and certainly a large portion of it isunderground.

Q: Does it appear to be affiliated with one of the specific services like theStrategic Rocket Forces?

A: I think it is much broader than a specific service.

Q: Speaking of underground facilities can we switch to Libya for a moment.Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, once again asserted yesterday that the facilityat Tarhunah is in fact some sort of desert irrigation project. Does thePentagon have any reaction to his comments yesterday?

A: I think that others in the government have described his comment as weirdand I think that might be an appropriate description.

Q: If Gadhafi offers an independent tour or inspection, or international touror inspection of this facility, would the United States be willing toparticipate or in any way take part in such an inspection?

A: First of all, I don't want to speculate on that part of it. I do want topoint out however, that Libya is one of the few nations in the last decade tohave employed chemical weapons, having dropped chemical agents from transportaircraft against Chadian troops in 1987.

Q: And, just finally, can you comment on whether or not the Pentagon has themilitary -- the U.S. military has the capability of taking out that facilitywhich is also very deep in the mountainside?

A: I think I'll leave it exactly where Dr. Perry left it the last time hediscussed this issue.

Q: Do you have any comment on the research reported out of Duke University onthe chemicals used in the Gulf War?

A: Well, that's an interesting report and certainly, we're very anxious to gettogether with Dr. Haley who is leading that research effort to hear first-handof his preliminary findings. We here in the department and certainly in theDepartment of Veterans Affairs are interested in that project.

We have for a long time welcomed any kind of assistance from outside agenciesto help unravel the causes of the illnesses which afflict our Gulf Warveterans. The one thing I would say though, that his research wasindependently funded and therefore at this juncture we don't have any knowledgeof exactly what his research uncovered. Yes, Mark?

Q: New subject: Liberia. What policy or military parameters will guide theU.S. Marines on those ships when the Marines get off at Liberia this weekend?Will those Marines, for example, go ashore and do medical assistance in town?Will they go ashore to do convoy patrols? Will they only go ashore if there isa threat against the Embassy? What are the general parameters?

A: At this point, let me kind of recap where we are. We still have the liftcapability, helicopters and some fixed-wing aircraft located at Freetown inSierra Leone and at Dakhar. For the most part, the evacuation of non-officialAmericans and third country nationals from Liberia is completed, and I'd justlike to point out that that effort included 68 helicopter missions. Weairlifted a total of 1,826 persons and of that number, 328 were Americans. Ithink it's also noteworthy by the way that all of the Americans and to myknowledge all of the third country nationals left without injury. As far as Iknow they were never threatened and so we're very pleased with the way that theevacuation took place.

Now, you're correct in pointing out that we have an Amphibious Ready Groupwhich had deployed to the Mediterranean some months ago which has been orderedto take up a position off Liberia and it's presently in the Atlantic steamingin that direction. We expect it to arrive there sometime between the 20th andthe 22nd. And, the purpose of that Amphibious Ready Group will have to do withthe security of the official Americans who are still left in Monrovia. I thinkeverybody is aware that the decision has been made to leave the Embassy therein Monrovia, that is, the American Embassy, open, and there are still, Ibelieve it's 18 embassy personnel who are working there. So, the first missionof the Amphibious Ready Group personnel will be to ensure the security of theEmbassy.

 

The second part of the mission will have to do with the evacuation ofAmericans and others from Monrovia should it become necessary to have what'scalled an ordered departure. We're not there certainly at this point. Itappears that there are some hopeful signs but there is still a lot of turmoil,looting, lawlessness, that is going on in Monrovia. And, lastly, with theAmphibious Ready Group in place there will be a capability to provide somehumanitarian assistance to the extent that that Ready Group is capable should adecision be made at some time in the future that that's appropriate. So, thatwill give you kind of a run-down on what we see the ships of the GUAMAmphibious Ready Group doing. Yes, Steve, did you have a question?

Q: Along the same the lines, if you only have 18 U.S. personnel left at theEmbassy, it would seem that the ARG would not be necessary except forhumanitarian missions. Don't you have enough left in everything to take careof the Americans that remain?

A: Well, there may be a shift of the helicopter assets that are up in SierraLeone at Freetown after the ARG arrives on the scene. So, it's not necessarilythat we're adding to the capabilities, but kind of shifting around assets sothat the unit that first arrived on the scene may be able to redeploy.

Q: When is that other ship scheduled to arrive?

A: Well, they're actually not going to arrive as a group. My understanding isthat the first ships will get there as early as perhaps even very late on the19th but sometime on the 20th. And, then, other ships in that group willarrive there certainly by the 22nd. We've got five ships that are involved init, the largest of which is USS GUAM.

Q: And, how many Marines?

A: The number of Marines is about 1,500 as I recall.

Q: Can I go back to the Gulf War illness for just a moment?

A: Sure.

Q: Hasn't the Pentagon explored this area of possible research and itspossible combined effect of vaccines and drugs given to the troops, whatstudies up to this point that the Pentagon has done? What have they shown?

A: Well, we started ours in October of 1994, and again, what this was was astudy to look at the interactions between certain drugs and compounds that wereused by troops during the Persian Gulf War. It's a $12 million collaborativeeffort involving Departments of Defense, Veteran's Affairs, Health and HumanServices, and there have been some preliminary studies that have been done onthis.

Because of the dosage level, in this kind of research, generally, is far inexcess of the dosages that would be given to humans for the most part at thisjuncture, it's been impossible to say that it would necessarily haveimplications in humans. But, I think that as a result of that there is somefurther research that is underway. Now, Jim Turner in DDI has more details onthis and if anybody is interested in going into it in greater depth, he's veryhappy to help you on that.

I would like to correct one other thing on the last subject that we discussed,the number of Marines on the GUAM ARG is 1,800, vice the number that I used.Okay. Anything else?

Thank you.

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