Also Participating: Under Secretary Rudy de Leon, USD/Personnel and Readiness
Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon.
Before we go into the regular brief, we have an announcement that Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Rudy de Leon is making today regarding the Tomb of the Unknowns. Mr. de Leon will have a brief statement then take some of your questions, and then I will come back to pick up on other subjects.
With that, I'd like to bring Mr. de Leon up.
Under Secretary de Leon: In May 1998 Secretary Cohen authorized the disinterment of the remains for the Vietnam Unknown at Arlington National Cemetery. Advances in forensic medicine made it possible to identify those remains as Air Force Lieutenant Michael Blassie.
The key question following disinterment is whether or not to place additional remains in the Tomb. Experts at the Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory report that there are presently no suitable sets of remains for internment.
In the absence of remains, how do we honor those still missing? We've had a task force that has consulted with a variety of veterans organizations, Congress, members of the Cabinet.
Based on the results of this process, Secretary Cohen has determined not to inter remains in the Tomb unless and until it can be ensured in perpetuity that the remains of the American serviceman would be forever unidentifiable.
He has also authorized an inscription on the crypt cover at Arlington National Cemetery above the existing dates which now read "1958 to 1975," and it will so read in the future -- "Honoring and keeping faith with America's missing servicemen."
On National POW/MIA Day, September 17th, Secretary Cohen will participate in a ceremony at the Tomb to formally dedicate the new inscription.
In making this decision, the Secretary reaffirms his pledge and the pledge of the Department of Defense to the loved ones of those still missing from Vietnam that it will continue to strive to make the fullest possible accounting for all of our servicemen.
Q: Does this mean that there are no sets of remains that people are certain cannot be identified? Or they're all in some stage of identification?
Under Secretary de Leon: It means that the remains that are there at the Central Identification Laboratory are in some process of identification. While they are not identified at this point, there are still steps in the identification process that they are following, so their response is they do not have a set of remains that really meet the standards that the Secretary raised.
Q: What is the universe of remains, sets of remains you have now? I realize you're getting more every few years or whatever, but approximately.
Under Secretary de Leon: I guess I would like to get back and give you that number. There are a series of remains that are at various stages in the process. The lab is also, as you know, extensively involved in the identification of remains from the Korean conflict. In fact, there are also some World War II remains with the recovery of an aircraft.
Q: Rudy, is it with technology so advanced now, there's no chance something can remain unidentified in perpetuity?
Under Secretary de Leon: I think it's the technology, and it's also the commitment of key leaders in this Department to make sure that every step is pursued to provide the fullest accounting. And I think that as long as there are living relatives of some of our missing men, there will always be a hope that remains that are now at the lab will be identifiable at some point.
Q: But is it even possible at this point that you would get any Vietnam war remains that would be suitable?
Under Secretary de Leon: As I said, right now there is no candidate. As to whether there would be a candidate in the future is not known. But indeed, given the advances in science and with the commitment to a full accounting, it is possible that the Tomb will be empty.
Q: Is there any possibility that the unknown from the Korean War would be identified?
Under Secretary de Leon: That was a different process, and I think truly, with respect to unknowns prior to Vietnam, as the inscription on the Tomb said, those remains really are known only to God.
Thank you very much.
Q: Will that crypt remain empty?
Under Secretary de Leon: That is the plan, yes.
Captain Doubleday: Before I provide a kind of a general overview of where we stand with regard to Kosovo, I want to make note of the fact that there is a Blue Top that will be available at the end of the briefing that marks the end of the Military Observer Mission Ecuador/Peru, which was a mission that started in 1995 and involved troops from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and the United States. This is a success story in that the observer mission was started in the aftermath of a conflict that had erupted between Ecuador and Peru along their border. This group of countries came together to form a military unit with an eye toward resolving the conflict.
Today, there was a ceremony in Ecuador which brought this to a close. All of the troops which were involved in the operation are expected to be entirely withdrawn from the area by the 30th of June.
As I say, we've got a Blue Top, which provides some background information on this. Many of you who cover military activities in South America may have noted the existence of this group before, but to many throughout the world this is a little-known operation, and it marks a great success today in that it has completed its work successfully.
On the Kosovo front, I think first I should bring you up to speed on what I have just learned from Ken Bacon, who is with the Secretary in Helsinki. That is that the Secretary and Minister Sergeyev have met today. They are scheduled to meet for one more meeting today. There is an erroneous report that indicates that the talks have broken down. That is not at all the case. The talks continue. And as I say, in about an hour Secretary Cohen and Minister Sergeyev are scheduled to reconvene their meetings in Helsinki.
They are in the process of looking at the proposals that they've been reviewing with an eye toward incorporating Russian participation in the KFOR operation in Kosovo.
After this final meeting tonight, the Secretary plans, along with Secretary Albright, to go tomorrow to Brussels to participate in NATO meetings there. Then over the weekend, Secretary Cohen will remain in theater for a series of visits with U.S. troops who have been involved in the Kosovo operation.
On the operation itself, I think you've probably seen reports today that the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces continues. The numbers now are in the neighborhood of 32,000 Yugoslav military personnel, and the special police units have withdrawn from Kosovo. NATO has expressed the assessment that all of the Yugoslav forces should be out of Kosovo by midnight on the 20th of June, which is Day 11 since the entry into force of the Military Technical Agreement.
The present number of U.S. forces in Kosovo is about 3,800. The total number of KFOR forces in place in Kosovo is about 15,000.
The headquarters of the U.S. units has been established at Urosevac. The MEU forces from the 26th MEU of the Marine Expeditionary Unit are in the area of Gnjilane where they are monitoring and enforcing the cease-fire agreement. They are also involved in some mine-clearing operations, as are the Army units that are operating in the vicinity of Urosevac.
These U.S. units are operating with Greek units, with a Greek unit, which numbers about 550 personnel. In the coming days, the U.S. sector will also include military personnel from other militaries including at this point, I believe, a Polish unit will also join.
With that kind of an overview, I will try and answer some of your questions on either the subject of Kosovo or other subjects.
Q: Two questions. First, the report which you say is false, that the talks broke down over the question of the Russians having a separate zone to themselves.
Captain Doubleday: I didn't characterize why there was a report that they had broken down. What I was trying to convey -- was what I have learned from Ken -- is that they have not broken down, and that there is one more meeting.
I cannot get into any of the details for you of what the various proposals are. I think it is best to let those who are actually participating in the talks do that from Helsinki.
Q: Would you say the question of a separate zone for the Russians seems to be the main topic under discussion? That the others have been resolved?
Captain Doubleday: I would say that those who are involved in the talks ought to do that part of it.
Q: You say the Secretary will remain in theater. Whereabouts in theater? Is he going to go...
Captain Doubleday: We are not going to publish his exact itinerary. We'll be glad to go over it as it is progressing, but I don't want to publish in advance exactly where he's going to be. But I think you know where the concentration of U.S. troops who have been involved in this operation are. I'm not referring only to ground forces, I'm referring to air assets, air personnel of the Air Force, the Navy, the Marine Corps who were so instrumental in bringing us to the point where this Kosovo peace implementation force can be moving into the area.
Q: You say there's one more meeting today. I think you used the word "final." Is that the cutoff point? Or could they continue tomorrow?
Captain Doubleday: Again, I'd leave it to them. I never say never. But right now it is shortly after 9:00 o'clock in Helsinki. They went last night until midnight. There is another meeting scheduled tonight. The Secretary's schedule has him, along with Secretary Albright, in Brussels tomorrow.
Q: You mentioned there were 41,000 Serb troops and police units located in or near Kosovo. That was the original number before they started leaving?
Captain Doubleday: Right.
Q: Did that include the paramilitaries, or were they in addition to that 41,000?
Captain Doubleday: My understanding is -- of course, the 41,000 is not a head count. It's an estimate. I think you should probably not get too wrapped around that, but that is the target that everybody is looking for as we provide the figures of those who have left Kosovo. There may be some variation in the numbers. It may be slightly less than 41,000, may be slightly more than 41,000. But the goal is, without getting into the specifics of how many of each there were, it is to have all of the Serb forces -- this is special police forces, paramilitary forces, uniformed forces -- out of Serbia and have KFOR forces in there maintaining the security and stability of Kosovo while all of the civilian organizations set up the infrastructure so that they can establish a running government that will help the people there.
Q: How many Serb forces are left in the U.S. sector?
Captain Doubleday: I don't have a specific number. My guess is that it is not a large number. Most of the U.S. sector was in that Zone One area, and the Zone One area is now, as far as I know, completely free of all of the Serb forces.
Q: All or...
Captain Doubleday: All or nearly all, I would say, have probably left that.
Q: Can you tell us the progress on deployment of other KFOR troops? We have 15,000 in now. What about the rest that hopefully are coming?
Captain Doubleday: I think I should leave that up to KFOR to give you a rundown on that. I made a mistake yesterday in trying to give play-by-play on what's occurring on the ground, and I think in the future that will probably not be the case. It's kind of dangerous, and they will give briefings over there about that.
Q: Is the number right now adequate to deal, or to try to prevent the Serbs from burning down houses and killing people as they leave, and to keep the KLA from retaliating?
Captain Doubleday: I think you know that the ultimate goal, of course, is to have nearly 50,000 troops in there. So I don't want to give you the impression that 15,000 can do the job that was designed for 50,000. But not all of the Serb forces are out, and KFOR has made it very clear that their desire is to move into the areas vacated by the forces of Yugoslavia as they exit, and to move in very quickly so that they can establish these patrols that will monitor the ceasefire agreement and to ensure that there is safety and security for all the people there.
Q: Two questions. On the withdrawal, do you have a count or breakdown yet of the pieces of heavy equipment that Yugoslav forces have...
Captain Doubleday: Let me see. I think I actually may have something that could help on that.
I believe that about 152 tanks, 239 armored personnel carriers, and 226 artillery and mortar pieces have departed as of today.
Q: How many troops have departed? I'm sorry.
Captain Doubleday: So far about 32,000.
Q: Who is, if I can understand, who's counting all of this? How is the count being done?
Captain Doubleday: The count is being done by our surveillance assets that are available to us. Since the withdrawal is occurring through a relatively small number of exit points over agreed-upon routes within this Military Technical Agreement, this becomes a process that is perhaps simpler than it would be in other cases.
Q: Do you know if Mike Jackson has yet signed the agreement, the MTA-2, with the KLA which he was negotiating the last couple of days?
Captain Doubleday: I think I should leave it to General Jackson. I don't believe that has been signed yet.
Q: A couple of war crimes questions. What has become of the Serbs that were arrested yesterday? Also, have there been any more mass graves discovered in the last 24 hours?
Captain Doubleday: I will close that one out as best I can, but this is another one of these situations where I think it's ill-advised for somebody in Washington to talk about what individual units are doing on the ground there.
As I understand it, however, in that particular case, those individuals were detained. They were considered detainees when they were picked up. The reason they were detained is because there was some suspicion that they may have been worth looking into with regard to their past activities. My understanding is that, however, there was subsequent conversations with higher authority, and they were ultimately released.
Q: When were they released?
Captain Doubleday: It was sometime yesterday after they had been detained and after some period of time had transpired where this consultation could occur.
Q: The consultation was with NATO?
Captain Doubleday: I just don't want to get into any more details on that one, since I don't know.
Q: The mass graves question, any more?
Captain Doubleday: On the mass graves, I'm glad you raised that, because I actually -- I think yesterday I gave the incorrect impression that the number that I was using referred to the U.S. sector. That is not correct.
Q: The 90 figure you were talking about?
Captain Doubleday: This was the 90 figure. The 90 figure actually is -- hold on just one second.
The 90 figure actually refers to an assessment that has been maintained by NATO as a result of interviews with refugees, from humanitarian organizations, from various imagery that we have, and it is a figure that is in a database that NATO has accumulated over the last several months.
Q: For all of Kosovo, right?
Captain Doubleday: And it is all of Kosovo. Right.
Q: So I want to make sure I understand it correctly. The 90 figure covers all suspected sites anywhere in Kosovo from any source -- from interviews with refugees, from overhead pictures, from troops, from whatever source.
Captain Doubleday: This is a total number of suspected grave sites, many of which NATO forces do not now have custody of and have not yet laid eyes on on the ground, but a number of which is in the NATO data banks from a variety of sources.
Q: Mike, I believe that some of the discoveries that were already made by NATO troops going into Zone One were not in fact in that data bank. In other words, there were surprises.
Captain Doubleday: That may be the case, and this is not to say that the number will not grow over time.
Q: That's what I'm getting at.
Captain Doubleday: But the number that I used yesterday, -- I incorrectly said that it was, it referred to the number in the U.S. sector. That is not correct. It refers to the number throughout Kosovo, and it is a number that NATO had accumulated over some period of time.
Q: Prior to the enabling force going in and stumbling across things.
Captain Doubleday: That's correct.
Q: Mike, is it possible the number could go down also, if possibilities are eliminated?
Captain Doubleday: It could change, and only time will tell exactly how it comes out. But it certainly is true that as the KFOR units get into position, one of the things they are doing is protecting the various sites that are pointed out to them and that are in this database so that those who have the skills to do proper investigations can get to the sites and examine them in an undisturbed state.
Q: You suspect it's a soft number, isn't it?
Captain Doubleday: It is a number which is based on a variety of sources, as I say interviews with refugees, overhead imagery, a variety of sources.
Q: Can you make any comment at all, Mike, with regard to the announcement out of Moscow that Yeltsin is himself saying that Russia must have a sector?
Captain Doubleday: I'm going to defer to our people in Helsinki to talk about that.
Q: I know you want to defer to the people in Helsinki, but could you characterize if the report on the talks breaking down have been accurate, how would you characterize their state right now?
Captain Doubleday: Their state is that they're continuing. There is one more meeting that will occur tonight in Helsinki. I think that certainly the Secretary and his support crew who are there have shown determination to work this issue very diligently. I think that based on the comments that I saw the Secretary make last night, his assessment was that the Russians are working this very diligently. There is hope that they can reach some kind of an agreement that will make Russian participation possible, but we're not there yet.
Q: There seems to be some heightened alert related to Osama bin Laden. Can you explain why...
Captain Doubleday: Let's just finish with Kosovo.
Q: Have there been any other incidents similar to the one yesterday where NATO disarmed some KLA? And have there been any other notable clashes between the KLA and anyone else?
Captain Doubleday: I can only talk about what I know about U.S. personnel. I am not aware of any that have occurred with U.S. personnel, but I cannot speak for the rest of KFOR.
Q: A related question. When the 100 or so KLA were disarmed yesterday, I believe a few of their leaders were actually detained. What has happened to them?
Captain Doubleday: Those individuals have since been released also. That incident was, as I described yesterday, a situation where the on-scene unit commander, a Marine, who was in charge of his Marines there, determined that because these individuals were moving toward the city and were armed, that that posed a threat to the safety and security of the area that he had responsibility for, and so he disarmed the individuals. For the most part they surrendered their arms without any problems. Those who didn't they detained for a period of time. But as I say, they subsequently were released.
Q: Were their arms returned to them?
Captain Doubleday: No, the arms were not returned to them.
Q: Are you aware of any changes in the types of Army troops or additions to the Army troops that are headed to Kosovo? Any special units or something like that that have been added or substituted?
Captain Doubleday: I think in the future we'll probably have a rundown of the various units that will be deploying. I don't have anything to announce now, but there will be a wide variety of unit types that will be sent to Kosovo, drawing upon the, not only the active component but the Reserve component that the Army so often looks to for support in these kinds of operations -- civil affairs people, public affairs people, military police people. All of those kinds of things are logical additions to the kinds of units that you'd want to have in this kind of an operation.
Q: Mortuary affairs?
Captain Doubleday: Maybe some of those also, yes.
Q: Are there any U.S. forensic investigators or war crimes investigators in Kosovo yet? I know the FBI was in the process of sending some folks.
Captain Doubleday: You probably should check with the FBI. I know they are planning to send some people over there, but I don't know what their status is.
Q: Given the attention from all sources, (unintelligible) intelligence, all in Kosovo, is the DoD confident that we know, roughly speaking, which units of the VJ or MUP operated where in Kosovo at what time?
Captain Doubleday: Are we confident we know which units...
Q: Which units of the VJ operated where inside Kosovo during this 78-day rampage.
Captain Doubleday: I believe that yes, we are -- we have a high degree of confidence in our assessment of what Yugoslav forces and MUP forces operated in Kosovo during this period of time, and an idea of where they operated.
Q: Closing the loop on the Russians, they're still at the airport. The number remains the same. Has the convoy left? And if they did, did they leave behind any...
Captain Doubleday: Actually, the convoy hasn't left. There may have been some vehicles that were in the convoy that departed, but I don't have a full rundown on that. They originally sent in, as I recall, 11 vehicles. I think their original plan was to have at least three of them depart at some time after they had made their deliveries. Some of them were communications vehicles.
Q: And still the airport remains out of use, is that correct?
Captain Doubleday: Well, I'm not sure I would characterize it that way. There are not flights going in and out of the Pristina airport, but then again, it's been some time since flights were going in and out of Pristina airport, so I'm not sure that's a particularly significant factor. The flow of the KFOR units into Kosovo is continuing, and it was certainly not a factor in the movement of the KFOR forces.
Q: I want to go back to war crimes, unless -- do people have other questions about the Russians?
You said that you have a high degree of confidence in your assessment of who was where in Kosovo. Is that information, is there a commitment here to share that information with war crimes investigators in a way that they can use it in court? Or is there going to be a problem here with sources and methods?
Captain Doubleday: We have said to Judge Arbour that we are going to cooperate fully with her as the International War Crimes Tribunal carries out its very important work. The United States has pledged that, and we have cooperated in the past and will do so in the future.
I cannot, however, give you an indication of whether or not the information we have is admissible into a court of law. That is for her to make a determination.
Q: It's a question of not whether it's admissible, but whether you'll give it up in the first place.
Captain Doubleday: I would have to know the specifics of exactly what the individual cases were. What our pledge is to the International War Crimes Tribunal is to be supportive of their activities, to provide them with the kind of information that they need in order to carry on their work, and we have done that.
Q: If I could just follow up one more thing. General Jackson said last week on this subject regarding the behavior of his troops, that his understanding of his mandate was going to be something different than Bosnia. He specifically referred to that example. Would you say that the Pentagon, in terms of intelligence, is committed to doing something different than Bosnia? Or would you not be able to say that?
Captain Doubleday: I'm not sure exactly what you're referring to. All I can say is that we have committed that we are going to be supportive of the International War Crimes Tribunal, and we intend to support the Tribunal to the full extent of our ability.
Q: I want to know if you're willing to say that you're going to -- because there were complaints about the sharing of intelligence information, among other things, in Bosnia. You're familiar with what I'm referring to. I'm curious if you're willing to say if the response will be different here, or if you don't want to compare one to the other.
Captain Doubleday: I'm not sure I can compare one to the other. What I am saying is that we will be supportive of Judge Arbour's efforts and of the efforts of the International War Crimes Tribunal. I cannot get into the specifics, because I don't have any specifics to really offer for you at this point.
Q: Isn't there some type of interagency team that's looking at (unintelligible) taking part in, collating, collecting evidence which is within the U.S. intelligence community which might be of relevance to Judge Arbour's...
Captain Doubleday: I don't have any details on that. That's a question we probably should take and find out if there is such a team. If we can get any further details, I'd be glad to share it with you.
Q: Osama bin Laden.
Captain Doubleday: Yes. Osama bin Laden.
The situation with Osama bin Laden is that he has stated, and we certainly believe, that he intends to conduct further attacks on U.S. civilians and military personnel worldwide. We expect that he will pursue what he has stated that he will do. We are going to do everything in our efforts to protect our forces and protect our U.S. government installations worldwide. But I don't have any specifics as to the timing or the location of any such kind of activity.
Q: But why the heightened alert? What's happened recently that has prompted this?
Captain Doubleday: I'm certainly not in a position to get into any kind of intelligence assessments. We normally don't do that. I would refer you to the FBI and the State Department. I know that the State Department issued a warning, a reminder, to overseas travelers within the last ten days that reminded people that there is a terrorist threat out there, and that individuals who are traveling in overseas locations need to be very sensitive to that and watchful for anything that may look suspicious.
Q: Has the state of alert at U.S. military bases, U.S. embassies, other U.S. facilities around the world, have they been going from THREATCON whatever to THREATCON something more ominous?
Captain Doubleday: First of all, I don't want to speak for embassies. I can tell you that, in general, at U.S. military installations we maintain a very close watch with an eye toward force protection. That is to say, those who are living and working on our installations -- one of the key responsibilities of the commander is to look out for the protection of those people. The commander is responsible for ensuring that that is done in a very systematic and careful way.
We don't get into the state of alert at any particular installation, and I will not characterize for you any kind of change in status. But I will tell you that we are always watchful for this. Certainly we are aware that Osama bin Laden has made these statements in the past, that he intends to carry out attacks on civilian and military personnel throughout the world.
Q: Without getting into Base X or Base Y, have any bases been put on a heightened state of alert anywhere?
Captain Doubleday: I can't delineate for you any bases. I'm not aware of any particular bases that have changed. But I wouldn't necessarily know. It's an individual commander's responsibility to change the status of their alertment, and it is a function of information that may come into his or her knowledge as a result of intelligence.
Q: How is that different than two months or six months ago? Is there something being done differently or not?
Captain Doubleday: I'm not trying to say that it is any different. I think we have certainly been very sensitive to this force protection issue ever since the Khobar Towers attack that occurred, and certainly, the steps that were taken in the aftermath of that heightened in the mind of every commander the role that he or she plays in this force protection requirement.
Q: In Korea, what's the state of tension today between the North and South?
Captain Doubleday: Are we finished with Osama bin Laden?
Q: One more. Is bin Laden still believed to be somewhere in Afghanistan?
Captain Doubleday: I can't tell you. I don't know. I'm not sure that we're in a position to specify that.
Q: The state of tension today between North and South Korea two days after the patrol boat was sunk?
Captain Doubleday: Let me just see if I've got anything on that.
There has been no contact between North Korean and South Korean naval vessels again today. There was none yesterday. This is a situation that certainly we're interested in seeing that it is defused.
Q: Are there any more assets identified to send over to Korea? Yesterday was the four EA-6Bs. Are there any other surveillance airplanes detached over there?
Captain Doubleday: I'm not aware of any additional assets that have been sent to the region.
Q: The progress of the two cruisers that were sent over?
Captain Doubleday: Well, now, first of all, I think that it's probably inaccurate to say "sent over." These are assets that belong in the region. They're forward-deployed in the region. The purpose of forward-deploying forces in the region is to have them readily available for exercises, operations, for any kind of support that may be required. So I don't think that it should be viewed as all that unusual that the USS VINCENNES and the USS MOBILE BAY were put out to sea to kind of monitor the situation.
The situation right now seems to have returned to a more normal state of affairs, and certainly that was our overall goal.
My understanding is that at least in the case of the VINCENNES, it is off the coast of Korea.
Q: Mike, in the course of this mini-crisis off Korea, was there any evidence at any point that the DPRK ground forces or air forces went onto a heightened state of alert or made any untoward movements?
Captain Doubleday: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: Does the DoD feel that this dispute, this off-shore dispute between the two Koreas is rooted in fishing rights, is rooted in a boundary dispute, or it has some other root cause?
Captain Doubleday: I think that is a question that would better be asked to the State Department. I really am not in a position to assess what the root cause is.
Q: Are there fishermen back in that area, or is it just vacant of all...
Captain Doubleday: No. They are separated from one another, and they are above the Northern Limit Line there.
Q: To follow up on Kosovo. You said the American forces now number about 3,800. That, as I recall, was about the total force...
Captain Doubleday: That's right, and I think that's about the number that will be until we start seeing the units that are going to be deploying from Europe and from the continental United States arrive on the scene, but that won't happen for some time yet.
Q: Mike, the Washington Times today had a story saying that the Taepo Dong-2, there will be another test shot of the Taepo Dong-2 fairly soon. That's a significant development, if true. Can the DoD give a sense of whether the thrust of the article was correct?
Captain Doubleday: First of all we, of course, take great interest in missile developments in North Korea. We watch that very carefully. But we don't normally share publicly our assessment of exactly what the status of those developments are.
The one thing we have said, though, is that it certainly would not be helpful to the overall stability of the region to have another one of those Taepo Dong launch tests.
Q: Is the thrust of the article correct? I mean it's not violating sources and methods to give a sense one way or the other.
Captain Doubleday: I think it's clear from everything that we've said in the past that we certainly expect at some point in the future to see additional tests. We watch that very carefully. But I'm not going to pinpoint for you when we think that they may occur.
Press: Thank you.