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DoD News Briefing, Wednesday, June 16, 1999

Presenters: Captain Mike Doubleday, DASD PA
June 16, 1999 2:10 PM EDT

Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon.

Let me give you a quick rundown on some of the highlights, and then I'll try and answer a few of your questions.

I think everybody knows that Secretary Cohen is in Helsinki, Finland. He met earlier today with Defense Minister Sergeyev. We heard briefly from Ken that the meeting was continuing. I think the safest thing to do, since I have not talked to Ken since that time, is to let the news come out of Helsinki where the Secretary was scheduled to continue in the series of meetings with a dinner with Minister Sergeyev this evening, and then additional meetings tomorrow are expected.

You probably have been following the briefings earlier today from Europe, from NATO spokesmen. You know by now that the Serbs have moved the bulk of their forces out of Zone One. Because of logistics problems, clogged roads, fuel problems, there are a few that were left in the zone, so there is a 24-hour extension, up to 24 hours, to move all of the forces out. The expectation is that all of those forces will be out by midnight tonight in European time.

The assessment that NATO has made on the withdrawal is that it's going very well; it's proceeding on course. The Serbs are showing good faith in moving their forces out, in accordance with the agreement.

The total number of Serb forces that have moved out is about 26,000. That's out of a number of, that we estimated initially, of 41,000 total, which include both the regular army forces -- we refer to them as the VJ -- and the special police units, the MUP.

In the U.S. sector, which is, it's going to be in this part of Kosovo, there is a Greek company that has moved into the sector and assumed responsibility for security along one of the major lines of communication, which had been initially conducted by U.S. forces, which are part of the 2nd [Battalion] of the 505th [Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division]. Those U.S. forces, about 800 so far, 800 Army forces so far, have moved up into Urosevac, which is one of the two major cities in the U.S. sector. They will take on responsibility of monitoring and enforcing the cease-fire agreement there.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Marine contingent from the 26th MEU has relieved the French forces that were initially in Gnjilane of their duties there and freed them up to move on through the central part of Kosovo, ultimately up into the northern section where they will conduct their ultimate responsibilities of providing security for that region.

The U.S. Marines have moved into the community of Gnjilane, where they will set up the monitoring of the cease-fire agreement and also the enforcement of it.

That's kind of a rundown of the highlights that have gone on today. I, with that as kind of a backdrop, I'll try and answer some of your questions.

Q: Is there a plan at this point to bring some airplanes home or forces? How is this scheduled?

Captain Doubleday: As Ken mentioned yesterday, this is something that is certainly being looked at. We have quite a number of assets both from the European theater -- that is to say assets were deployed from bases throughout the European theater -- as well as those that were deployed from the continental United States and elsewhere in the world. If the Serb withdrawal continues as it is going now, and if ultimately NATO elects to suspend completely the air operation which is in a temporary suspension as the withdrawal continues, this may enable additional forces -- some of the additional forces that we had augmented the theater with -- to come back to their home bases.

Certainly, the European commander is looking at that very closely, but no forces have moved yet, to my knowledge. We'll make announcements when those movements are about to occur.

Q: I understand the Marines disarmed a couple of hundred KLA fighters. Do you know -- I thought under demilitarization they would just turn in their heavy weapons. They would not be disarmed.

Captain Doubleday: Well, if you were here yesterday for the briefing with General Craddock, who is going to be the general with responsibility for the U.S. sector, he kind of went through that. It is correct to say that the term that we're using with regard to the KLA is that we're going to demilitarize those units. There was an incident which has been reported in the news media involving Marines who encountered a number of, reportedly about 100 individuals who were armed. As the briefing by General Craddock indicated yesterday, if the on-scene unit commander determines that this poses a potential risk to the security of the area that he or she has responsibility for, it is within his authority to disarm the unit. In this case that was exactly what occurred. As I understand it, most of the individuals in that unit turned over their arms without any problems and then proceeded on.

Q: One other thing. There's supposed to be a meeting in Tirane between the KLA and NATO representatives. Do you know anything about that?

Captain Doubleday: I can't give you any further information on that one. I just don't have any.

Q:...reached an agreement by some British officials.

Captain Doubleday: I don't have any detail on that.

Q: There are also reports that Marines actually took into custody some alleged "war criminals." Do you know anything about that? And in the briefing yesterday, I thought it was made clear that we would not be pursuing suspected war criminals because anybody could be pointed out as a war criminal, and we didn't want to get in between that kind of...

Captain Doubleday: I think as General Craddock indicated yesterday, we have individuals whose assigned responsibility it is to look into these matters, to talk with individuals in the area, to get to know the region, to learn something of the climate that our troops are going to be operating in. And he indicated that we didn't want to get into a situation where individuals with unknown intentions could walk up and just point to a individual and identify them as a potential war criminal, but that we did have these other people who were assigned to us who would be looking into allegations of war criminal activity.

I am aware of at least one situation where our forces detained two individuals. But until we know more about whether indeed they are determined to be war criminals, I don't really have any detail on what their disposition is going to be.

Q: But they're still in U.S. custody?

Captain Doubleday: To my knowledge they are still in U.S. custody. Right.

Q: Do you know where that occurred? When that occurred?

Captain Doubleday: I don't have a lot of detail on that incident.

The other disarming incident occurred in a town which is south of Gnjilane called Zegra, spelled Z-E-G-R-A.

Q: Do you know what the two detainees are accused of doing?

Captain Doubleday: I don't have any detail on that one. Until we get more information, I really won't have anything that I can provide you on it.

Q: Will it be the policy that someone who is accused of a war crime would be detained until such time as evidence could be gathered against them?

Captain Doubleday: I think, Jim, we'll have to see as the situation develops exactly how this plays out. I don't think that I can give you a full list of exactly what is going to happen in every situation. I think that in this particular case there was enough reason for these individuals to be detained, at least until there could be a further check on who they were, what their background had been, and until that's done, we won't know all of the why's and wherefore's.

Q: Is that Marines that took them or Army? Or do you know?

Captain Doubleday: I don't know how those first two individuals were detained. The large group of individuals who were disarmed, that was a Marine unit that did that.

Q: The two who were detained, they were not detained because they did something in the presence of U.S. forces for which they were detained?

Captain Doubleday: To my knowledge, that's correct, although they may have had arms of some sort that alerted individuals to some suspicious activity. You may recall yesterday that General Craddock indicated there have been instances where individuals have come through an area at a time that is unusual. [If] they've been armed, they're disarmed, and they proceed on their way.

In this particular case I don't know what triggered the detention, but it may have been that they were armed in a way that drew some suspicion.

Q: And that did happen today, the detention?

Captain Doubleday: That's my understanding.

Q: Mike, do you have anything more on this next Russian convoy that came down?

Captain Doubleday: To my knowledge there is no next...

Q: There wasn't a third one?

Captain Doubleday: That's correct. To my knowledge, the unit that arrived there early this morning in Pristina is the only resupply convoy that has left Bosnia.

Q: Do you see any signals of any other Russian preparations inside Russia or anywhere else to deploy forces?

Captain Doubleday: To deploy forces?

Q: To deploy forces to Kosovo.

Captain Doubleday: I don't believe we've seen anything. In fact, there has been some indication in conversations that they won't deploy any further forces until there's been an agreement worked out. That's, of course, what Secretary Cohen is talking to Minister Sergeyev about.

Q: Does the 24-hour slip in this zone have any implications for the Sunday "do or die" deadline?

Captain Doubleday: No. In fact as the extension was granted, it was granted because there was, certainly, every indication that the Serbs were making a very solid attempt at getting all of the forces out, but it was simply a matter that the roads were clogged. As General Craddock indicated yesterday, there's been a pretty dramatic increase in the ability of units to flow through the areas, because traffic is moving at a better pace now, and as NATO forces move in, there's a greater ability to exercise some ability to flow the forces better.

All of this will not or should not affect the ability of the Serbs to move out of Kosovo in accordance with the schedule that was agreed to earlier.

But you raise a very good question, and that is, I think, that your colleagues over in Kosovo have certainly had an opportunity to see how complex the operation of moving NATO forces into the region, moving Serb forces out of the region, and dealing with refugees at the same time, how complex that can be. And certainly as this operation continues, I think we'll get a better appreciation for how much of a logistics challenge this all is.

Q: What can you tell us about the KLA? How many of them are there in Kosovo, and are they continuing to skirmish with the retreating Serbs?

Captain Doubleday: I can't give you a firm number on KLA. There are some isolated instances of skirmishes with the departing Serb forces. The numbers of these are probably less than a dozen, but they have occurred from time to time. And as the Serb forces move out, there will be less and less reason for the KLA to be in a military sort of a status in any region. So I think it's to everybody's advantage to have the Serbs out and the KLA demilitarized.

Q: Just to clarify on the convoy, it's your understanding that there's been only one resupply convoy, and that's the one that arrived this morning?

Captain Doubleday: That's correct. There was the one that Ken described yesterday, which had not arrived by the time of the brief, but arrived in the very early morning hours. That convoy was actually -- first it requested, and it received escort assistance from the British forces that were already in the region.

As Ken indicated yesterday, the Russian forces at the airport at Pristina were provided some water yesterday by the British. So the British unit that is up there in Pristina now establishing the headquarters for KFOR is in contact with the Russians, and they seem to be coordinating very well.

Q: I think it was on Friday that the Russians flew a big military transport plane into Belgrade. Do you know what was on that? And might they be resupplying from that? What was on that plane?

Captain Doubleday: I don't know. I, certainly, have heard from time to time that there have been resupply flights to the Russian forces in Bosnia, but I am not aware of any flights that they have made to Belgrade, which is not to say that they didn't, but...

Q: A single flight in on Friday before Hungary, or whatever it was, denied overflight rights.

Captain Doubleday: I don't have any detail on that.

Q: When you're done with Kosovo can I just ask a Korea question?

Captain Doubleday: Yeah. Are we pretty much up to... Yes?

Q: On the investigation of the bombing of the Chinese Embassy, where does that investigation stand? My understanding was there was supposed to be a hearing on that tomorrow, and the hearing's been put off. Is this straining military-to-military relations between the United States and China?

Captain Doubleday: I think you know that Ambassador Pickering is in China right now, but I will let that party speak for how those talks are going.

Q: Is this putting strains on relations between, the military-to-military relations that you guys have cultivated so diligently?

Captain Doubleday: I think you're aware that the Chinese have called off a lot of the contacts that had been...

Q: They've demanded publication of a detailed explanation of this. Is this further complicating relations? This delay?

Captain Doubleday: First of all, I'm not sure that I see this as a delay. I'm not aware of any set time table for any kind of hearing that may be forthcoming on this. I know that the United States has provided a very full explanation of what occurred. From all the indications I've heard, what we have said publicly is exactly what occurred. But I can't really tell you about any further steps that may have been taken by Ambassador Pickering in the last couple of days.

Q: Two questions. On civilian deaths from mines, does it remain at four? That's what NATO reported this morning.

Captain Doubleday: Four civilian deaths from mines. The mine awareness campaign, of course, is a very important one. It involves leaflets, involves any kind of communications tools that we can find to make sure that not only the refugees, but also the internally displaced persons within Kosovo are aware of this risk to their safety.

Yesterday, General Craddock went into quite a bit of detail about how they are proceeding to approach the mine problem, but it is one that is going to take a lot of time and effort to get cleaned up.

Q: USAFE. Any word on what they're going to do about airdrops, if they're going to be doing them?

Captain Doubleday: First of all, no, I don't have any word that they would be doing airdrops. I think that right now with the fact that NATO forces are flowing into the region, that the roads, although limited in access, are open, [and] that the most efficient way of delivering humanitarian aid and food is by road rather than by airdrops.

Q: But they were doing CONOPS before, so there hasn't been any further word on that?

Captain Doubleday: There's been no further movement on that.

Just so there's no misunderstanding, although that is certainly one way of doing things, it is probably the most expensive way of delivering food, and it is not very efficient.

Q: You made that clear.

My final question is, can you give us a sense in the American sector how many sites of war crimes evidence are being secured right now?

Captain Doubleday: I don't have the total number of sites within the U.S. sector. One number I've heard so far of grave sites -- this is of mass grave sites -- is over 90.

Q: Is that 90...

Captain Doubleday: Within Kosovo that have been...

Q: Ninety separate locations?

Captain Doubleday: Ninety separate locations that have been identified to this point. And unfortunately, that's about as much as I know about this. I received a number without any description as to where these sites are.

Q: Are those all new ones discovered by forces going in?

Captain Doubleday: As I say, I have a number, and that's about as much as I've got. We'll try and get more detail as the day goes on.

Q: The numbers of U.S. forces doesn't seem to have gone up. It didn't seem to go up much between Monday and Tuesday, and it doesn't seem to have gone up much at all. What are the totals, and why aren't there more people?

Captain Doubleday: I think there are about 2,000 total U.S. forces in Kosovo right now, maybe a few more. Keep in mind that the Greeks are moving into the region. They are going to be in the sector that has been designated the U.S. sector, but it's actually a multinational sector as every one of the other sectors will be. It will have probably Poles in it, and other nations will be represented. And as I mentioned just a moment ago, the whole business of moving forces in is done as General Jackson believes they're required in the areas where they're required. Our units are certainly available to flow in. It's just a question of this very careful balance of moving them at the right time.

Q: Korea?

Captain Doubleday: Yeah.

Q: Can you bring us up-to-date on any movement of U.S. assets to Korea to monitor the situation?

Captain Doubleday: I think I do have a little bit of that.

First of all, I should point out that today there has been no contact between North Korean and South Korean naval vessels -- that is to say, today, Wednesday, the 16th of June. I realize that shortly the new day will be dawning there, but the reports that we have are that the North Korean patrol boats remain north of the Northern Limit Line, although there were some North Korean fishing vessels that ventured into the, below the line. They didn't stay very long and moved back out by the middle of the morning.

The commander-in-chief of U.S. Pacific Command has ordered some naval units and some air assets into the region to kind of monitor the situation. Right now the ships, one of them will be the USS VINCENNES, and another ship that has not yet been designated, they'll move into waters off Korea just to be in a position to monitor what's going on.

Then the CINC has also decided to reposition some air assets, which will be primarily EA-6Bs and perhaps some other surveillance aircraft that can monitor the situation.

Q: What about the CONSTELLATION? Is it leaving early?

Captain Doubleday: It's going to depart from San Diego, it's homeport, on the 18th of June. My understanding is this was a previously planned deployment.

Q: But it's going directly to Korea?

Captain Doubleday: It will be conducting training near Korea during the transit to the deployment that it had already planned.

Q: Are there any other forces in the U.S. which are specifically remaining on alert potentially to additionally be sent to Korea in the future?

Captain Doubleday: There are two F/A-18 Hornet squadrons, 10 B-52 bombers, one Patriot and a battalion headquarters, eight F-16CJ Fighting Falcon aircraft, and some additional EA-6Bs.

Q: Are those...

Captain Doubleday: They're just on alert to deploy if necessary.

Q: Are they in Japan now? Where are they?

Captain Doubleday: They are on alert at various places around the United States.

Q: What would it take to have...

Q: Can I just follow up on this?

Captain Doubleday: Sure.

Q: Were those on alert previously because so many assets had been diverted to Kosovo? Or have they been put on alert in the last period of time because of the situation specifically in Korea?

Captain Doubleday: No, they were previously put on alert, and they were put on alert because as you probably know, we have an aircraft carrier that is normally forward-deployed and operates out of Yokuska, Japan. That's KITTY HAWK. But KITTY HAWK was moved out of the region because of requirements elsewhere. And so these units were put on alert in the event they were required. So this occurred some months ago. They are still on alert. If they are required, they would be called into the theater.

Q: But now they're specifically staying on alert for potential use...

Captain Doubleday: No, I don't think there's any change in their status. All I've provided here is a list of others who would be called into action, should there be a requirement. But I hasten to add, the situation today is markedly different from what it was yesterday.

Q: How long will it take these assets to get there? Is it a week to nine days for the...

Captain Doubleday: The CONSTELLATION hasn't departed its homeport yet, and that transit is across the Pacific. I can't give you the transit time, but the Navy could. It's probably ten days or so before it would be in a position.

The other units are right there in theater. They can move in no time at all.

Q: The VINCENNES, for example, could be there quickly?

Captain Doubleday: They can be there very quickly.

Q: When you say they're going to be in position just, I think you said just outside the...

Captain Doubleday: They'll be in the waters off the coast of Korea.

Q: Right. What will they be doing there?

Captain Doubleday: Monitoring the situation.

Q: What does that mean, though? Can you describe it a little bit?

Captain Doubleday: Well, certainly our ships have a capability of maintaining an air picture, watching out for what's going on from a surface perspective by coordinating with air assets. We work very closely with, in a kind of an integrated way, so that we can maintain a very good picture of what is occurring that is of any kind of military significance.

Q: There's no change in the state of alert for the ground troops there, though, right?

Captain Doubleday: As far as I know there's no change. But like Ken did yesterday, I should always mention that our troops in Korea are always on a pretty high state of alertment.

Q: What do you see in terms of North Korean alert status? I think there was some discussion that there had been some view of increased alert along the southern...

Captain Doubleday: I'd have to go back to see. We'll see if I can give you anything on that one. Off the top of my head, I can't tell you.

Q: Any figures for casualties from yesterday's exchange of fire?

Captain Doubleday: I actually have seen some indications of that, but I'm not sure that I brought anything with me. I think probably the safest thing to do is to refer you over there in theater where they have a rundown on that. From a South Korean perspective, my recollection is that there were five South Korean or Republic of Korea forces, individuals, military people, who were wounded. Although they were not in a life-threatening situation, they were hospitalized.

Voice: Seven.

Captain Doubleday: Seven? Excuse me, I'm corrected. Seven. I can't tell you about the North Koreans.

Q: I want to clarify on the 90 grave sites, are those ones that peacekeeping forces are guarding and are marked? Or are they ones that we just know about and some of them are being...

Captain Doubleday: As you heard yesterday in the brief, the approach that we're taking when we can identify these sites, our procedures are to guard them until the appropriate authorities, forensic authorities, can get there to do the kinds of things that they must do in order to gather evidence.

Q: From that answer should I understand that they are being guarded?

Captain Doubleday: Certainly, the ones that we're aware of we're guarding, but I can't give you a rundown any further than that.

Q: Just to clarify, these are 90 that by all means, surveillance and so on, we had identified before anybody even went into Kosovo? These aren't 90 that they've discovered since going in.

Captain Doubleday: What I think we need to do is to probably clarify what this 90 means. I probably shouldn't have used it until I understood exactly what it was.

Q: Another Kosovo question. Just to understand, American forces are expanding their area of operations to include the whole sector. As they come across KLA units, what has to happen when that happens?

Captain Doubleday: Well, this is an assessment that is made by the on-scene commander. Certainly, if they pose any kind of a threat to the security of the area, the on-scene commander must make a judgment as to exactly what he requires be done to alleviate that threat. If it means disarming, that's what it will be. That was the case today.

In other cases it may be that they should disband and go about their business in a very orderly way.

So I can't stand up here and give you any kind of prescription for exactly what will happen in every case, but one thing I can tell you is that the purpose of all these NATO forces is going to be to maintain security and stability throughout the region so that individuals, all the citizens of Kosovo, will feel like they can move back to their homes and proceed with their lives, and that the non-government organizations, the U.N., the OSCE, the all kinds of organizations that are going to be involved in setting up the infrastructure for this part of the Balkans will be able to go about their work.

But just like we did in Bosnia, until we have this safe and secure environment, those kinds of very important tasks can't proceed.

Q: One quick follow-up on that.

Captain Doubleday: Sure.

Q: If they're not going to be disarmed, if they're friendly and happy and willing to disband, will they be required to turn in their heavy weapons at that point?

Captain Doubleday: I think we made pretty clear that the heavy weapons are not required for a unit that has been demilitarized. So I think there is every expectation that heavy weapons, certainly, would be turned in to the KFOR units.

I think the vision on this thing is that small arms -- rifles, hunting rifles, that kind of thing -- there would not be an attempt to take those from every individual.

Q: Back on North Korea, where are the VINCENNES and the additional EA-6Bs coming from?

Captain Doubleday: We'll give you -- I think the VINCENNES is over in the region.

Q: And the EA-6Bs?

Voice: Whidbey Island.

Q: But none of those, the planes have, the same planes that have been on alert, no additional planes have been added and they haven't been moved since, for the last several weeks as a result of this incident?

Captain Doubleday: For the last several weeks?

Q: They haven't been moved, I mean...

Captain Doubleday: Right.

Q: They haven't been moved as a result of...

Captain Doubleday: They were on alert since the KITTY HAWK had to be, the KITTY HAWK schedule was modified to cover other contingencies.

Q: Mike, was anything additional put on alert after yesterday? I think that would answer the question. Everything that's on alert today was on alert several weeks ago?

Captain Doubleday: Well, that's correct. But the thing that changed was the VINCENNES plus one additional ship plus the EA-6Bs are actually going to be moving over there for some period of time -- not expected to be very long, some period of time -- to just make sure that we're satisfied that there's no additional threat, and also I think as a way of demonstrating to our allies, the Republic of Korea, that we are there to support them.

Q: Did you give a number for the EA-6Bs?

Captain Doubleday: I believe it's going to be, hold on just a second. Is it four? I'm not sure that I have it. Yeah.

Q: Is it the entire battle group that's moving?

Captain Doubleday: Excuse me?

Voice: Just two ships.

Q: Just the VINCENNES and...

Captain Doubleday: Right.

Press: Thank you.