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DoD News Briefing with Secretary Cohen and General Shelton

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
June 21, 1999 2:35 PM EDT
lso participating in this briefing was General Henry H. Shelton, Chairman, JCS.

Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon.

I've just authorized General Clark to begin the redeployment of more than 300 aircraft back to their home bases in the United States and Europe following the successful completion of Operation ALLIED FORCE. General Clark and his staff will decide the sequence of those redeployments, but some of the planes and the crews, including many Reservists, could start returning as early as tomorrow. General Shelton in a moment is going to outline the redeployment plan, and you can pick up a summary at the end of the press conference.

The crews who flew the bombers, fighters, and support aircraft carried out the most precise air campaign in history. All Americans can be justifiably proud of the skill and professionalism of our air crews. As I told the Air Force crews at Aviano on Saturday and the Navy pilots and sailors on the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT yesterday, they helped to make air power history. Their successful campaign to stop the Yugoslav-directed ethnic brutality against Kosovar Albanians is now being consolidated by a NATO-led peacekeeping force on the ground.

NATO is well on the way toward meeting its goals of getting the Serb forces out, getting NATO peacekeepers in, and getting the refugees back home.

Yesterday, NATO announced that the Yugoslav army and special police forces had departed Kosovo on the schedule that was negotiated by NATO. We estimate that about 47,000 Serb troops and nearly 800 tanks, armored personnel carriers, and artillery pieces have left Kosovo in the past 11 days.

As you know, the Kosovo Liberation Army has agreed to demilitarize and has worked out a schedule with NATO.

Hatred does not heal quickly, but taken together, the exodus of Serb troops and the demilitarization of the KLA offers the hope that the people of Kosovo can live in peace.

Approximately 19,000 NATO-led troops are currently patrolling in Kosovo, and the force will eventually grow to about 50,000.

On Friday, I signed an agreement with Marshal Sergeyev paving the way for Russian participation in KFOR, the Kosovo peacekeeping force. Russia will commit up to 3,600 troops to KFOR, and some of them will serve in the American sector, meaning that the United States and Russian troops will work shoulder-to-shoulder for stability in Kosovo just as they do in Bosnia.

On Saturday I visited the first American units to deploy in Kosovo, Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division. Their firm presence is already helping to replace disorder with order. As I addressed a group of U.S. soldiers in the town center of Urosevac, Kosovo, Albanians chanted, "NATO, NATO" and "USA, USA." But our troops and the people of Kosovo still face a very daunting task in the months ahead. No one can visit Kosovo without being appalled at the destruction.

I flew over a mass grave site at Kacanik that the Serbs have apparently attempted to cover over. The scars of ethnic violence won't be easy to obscure.

In Kosovo the U.S. and its NATO allies fought for good over evil, and since that fighting ended, more than 100,000 refugees have returned home, even though they face the threat of mines and the reality of destroyed homes and businesses. This shows the confidence they have in our troops, and the American people should be justifiably proud of the men and women who are serving in the cause of peace.

Mr. Chairman?

General Shelton: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Good afternoon.

I'd like to add my own congratulations once again to the men and women who made Operation ALLIED FORCE such a success. I was fortunate to be able to deliver that message personally to some of our forces in the region over the weekend, and when I visited troops in Albania and at Aviano. I can tell you, this group is fired up. Their morale is sky-high because they understand that their hard work, their dedication, their unmatched skill in the execution of NATO's air campaign set the conditions for the Serb withdrawal on Kosovo and made it possible for the safe return of the Kosovar refugees to their towns and villages.

From the pilots and air crews to the wrench-turners, the ordnance handlers, the fuelers on the ground and aboard the Navy ships in the Adriatic, to the soldiers and Marines in Albania and Macedonia and now in Kosovo -- both active and Reserve -- this was one, and truly one team fight. It was an outstanding total force operation.

That said, although they are proud of their accomplishments and the superb job that they've done, I can tell you that they're also anxious in many cases to get home. As Secretary Cohen said, General Clark is now authorized to begin the redeployment of the air and other units that we deployed into the region in support of the operation.

The redeployment will take place in two increments. The first increment should begin to move as early as tomorrow and is expected to take from ten days to two weeks.

[Charts available at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/#slides]

Could I have the first chart, please?

[Chart - Redeployment Plan Operation ALLIED FORCE]

Increment One will consist of the forces that are shown here. As you can see, the six B-1s, down through the B-52s, the Stealth fighters, the -117s, on down, that will be coming back, along with some of the EUCOM forces that were forward-deployed that will be going back to their home stations in Europe.

This will probably take ten days to two weeks, and then we'll commence redeployment of Increment Number Two which is shown over here. Again, at the end of completion of the briefing today, we'll give you a handout that will show this.

Next chart, please.

[Chart - Boundaries]

The operation currently is ongoing, as Secretary Cohen said. Down in the American sector we have the 26th MEU, the 82nd's Task Force 505, and the MPs, 793rd MPs that have moved into and spread throughout the American sector, along with the Greek battalion that has joined us there.

In the German sector the same thing applies, and the Dutch have joined them in their sector. The Italians, of course, have moved in as you've read in the media. We have the Russian 200-man company that's currently at Pristina airfield. We have the French that have moved up into their sector. And, of course, the United Kingdom occupies the center sector, which will be theirs throughout the operation.

As you know, about 4,850 soldiers and Marines of Task Force Falcon, which is the U.S. contribution to KFOR, are already in place in Kosovo. Additional Task Force Falcon forces from Europe will continue to arrive over the next several weeks. More than 125 C-17 loads have already arrived in Skopje with the first increment of this force. We expect about another 25 to 30 flights to complete the movement of force package one by the end of the month.

The second force package of U.S. equipment from the European Command for Task Force Falcon is being loaded this week at the German port of Bremerhaven. In fact, the U.S. naval ship BOB HOPE is already loaded and is expected to sail for the Aegean tomorrow.

Also tomorrow in Bremerhaven, the U.S. naval ship SODDERMAN will begin loading the remaining Force Package Two equipment.

We are also identifying about 1,500 troops and their equipment here in the United States to round out Task Force Falcon. We'll have a better handle on the specific units and the movement timelines very soon, and we'll share that with you.

As you can see, the U.S. and KFOR have a substantial military force on the ground already in Kosovo. NATO is working hard to coordinate the arrival of the remaining elements, and U.S. logisticians are doing an outstanding job of making it all work.

One final note. The unfortunate incident today that claimed the lives of two British soldiers should serve as a clear reminder that peacekeeping, like combat, is not risk-free. There are many dangers in Kosovo, and I can assure you that the United States will remain vigilant and that force protection will remain a high priority.

Thank you. Now we'll be happy to take your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, could you say more to characterize the risk that U.S. and other KFOR troops will face in the weeks and months ahead, given what happened today to those two Gurkha soldiers.

Secretary Cohen: As we've indicated, these roads are heavily mined, and it's going to take very systematic, methodical clearing of those mines. This can be complicated by the fact that many of the refugees who are in the camps are insisting on going home. Most of them, having been alerted to the dangers they face, nonetheless, would prefer to get back home rather than remain in the camps, so that's going to put additional pressure on the clearing of the mines. So it will be a considerable task for all of our forces, Americans as well as all of those making up the NATO force, to make sure that they clear the mines for their own protection, but also to make sure that the refugees can traverse those roads with some safety.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you've got one air war that's over, but you've got another air war that's still going on in Iraq.

Can you tell us what happened there today? And is this just going to go on indefinitely?

Secretary Cohen: It's going to go on as long as Saddam Hussein continues to try to violate the no-fly zones. There have been well over 130, or 140 attempts by Saddam to violate the no-fly zone since DESERT FOX. We will continue to contain him.

He clearly understands that every time he illuminates one of our aircraft or fires at one of the aircraft there's going to be a significant response under those circumstances. So it will go on as long as necessary, but we intend to keep him tightly contained.

Q: What happened today?

Secretary Cohen: I can't give you an update on that. I haven't received the latest on the situation today.

Q: After the 300 aircraft have left the area, how many will be left in the theater, and in the long term, how many aircraft do you think you need to continue patrolling Kosovo and the...

Secretary Cohen: I'll leave that up to General Clark, who will make an assessment in terms of what is required and what components of that air force would be necessary. I don't think we have those details just yet.

Q: What kind of stress do either of you gentlemen feel the Kosovo operation has put on the U.S. military and, particularly, the U.S. Air Force? And do you have any thoughts about the Air Force proposal that it's been such a strain that they ought to be given a breather?

Secretary Cohen: We've indicated all along that it has put a considerable operational stress, operational tempo stress upon our pilots, the crews, supporting elements of that. This has been a very high tempo operation. We believe that the air crews, the pilots, indeed, are in need of some respite from that operational tempo, and they should receive it.

But it's been a very stressful campaign. We've indicated it's been the equivalent of a major theater war campaign as far as the air component is concerned.

So it's been high stress. But as the Chairman pointed out, if you talk to the pilots, they, I think, have rarely been as intense and as high level in their morale as they have been in the last few weeks. They have carried this out. They see the success of their mission. They are proud of what they have done. They feel vindicated in terms of those who are critical of the ability of the air campaign to bring about this result in the way it did, and coupled with diplomacy. But their morale is as high as I've seen it.

General Shelton: If I could just add to that, Mr. Secretary, the area that we'll feel it the most in is the high density/low demand that you've heard Secretary Cohen and I talk about -- things like AWACS, U-2s, Rivet Joint, EA-6Bs. It's in those particular platforms that we have a recovery program, and we'll be working very carefully to make sure that we do recover them in a proper manner.

In terms of the force that would be remaining behind, it would be almost the same -- in talking with General Clark over the weekend -- almost the same force that we have currently in the Balkans or in the Balkan region. It's a very small area, as you know. It's contiguous to Bosnia. Therefore, given that small an area, then the same force structure will be able to handle both of those particular areas.

Q: May I just ask you, though, what do you mean by recovery program? Are some of these units going to be excused from the next crisis, or...

General Shelton: Not "excused," but we in fact will make sure that we give them adequate time to recover, to spend time with their families, to take leave, in some cases to get additional schooling if they need it, or to get their maintenance back up on the airframes, etc. So just as we did after DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM -- which, as you know, was a major theater war as well -- we have to move these types of assets back into a recovery period and make sure we bring them back up in the proper manner.

Q: To follow up on that question, there is a larger question, though. The Air Force wants a six-month hiatus, some kind of relief from OPTEMPO so they can organize for the AEF structure that they want to put in place. Now it's going to be December. You said they should receive it, and they need it, but will they get it? And how long?

Secretary Cohen: That's to be determined. Much will depend upon the situation throughout the world and what they're required to respond to.

I think if the circumstances abate as far as the tensions in the region, which we expect will be the case, then they'll be able to have a period of recovery. But much will depend upon the circumstances that exist throughout the various theaters.

Q: What will happen to the Stop Loss program that you put in place for the Air Force?

Secretary Cohen: We would expect as the forces are redeployed that we could remove that Stop Loss.

Q: Do you have a time to do that?

Secretary Cohen: I haven't yet, but I will review that very shortly.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what's the confidence level that the KLA leadership will be able to instill the kind of discipline required for the weapons turnover program?

Secretary Cohen: We'll have to wait and see. The KLA has agreed to demilitarize. The NATO force is there to enforce that agreement, so we will have to take it day-by-day. So far, the leadership has agreed to demilitarize, and we will have that agreement plus the enforcement capability of NATO forces. So there may be periods, there may be some elements who try to break that agreement, but our forces will be vigilant and ready to react accordingly.

Q: Is there an assessment yet of the level of restruction or construction that's going to be required to support military operations in Kosovo?

Secretary Cohen: I don't think such an assessment's been made with any detail yet. It will be a substantial effort that will have to be undertaken to certainly reconstruct the region in terms of being able to operate effectively for the military. I think we're making that assessment as we go, as we're moving in, and then getting the intelligence to make the assessment.

Q: What about the investigation into the bombing of the Chinese embassy? When is that going to be made public to the U.S.? Evidently China already has a copy of the report, and they find it inadequate. They're not happy with what you've given as the reason.

Secretary Cohen: The evidence that has been produced, and what happened, I think, is generally known. We have talked about the failures, the institutional failures. That will be produced in a report to the Congress that we can expect in a relatively short period of time.

We can't change what the facts are. The facts are that a mistake was made. There were intelligence failures and institutional failures, so we're trying to take measures and steps that will prevent that or reduce the possibility of it happening in the future. But I'm not sure how much more can be done to persuade the Chinese that this was in fact a serious mistake, a case of mistaken identity. And it will take some time perhaps for them to accept that, but that is in fact the truth, and it would contravene all logic and rationale for it to be anything but the truth, because we were trying to establish a better working relationship, a better military-to-military relationship with the Chinese, and for the United States to have, or NATO to have done this deliberately is completely contrary to that objective.

Q: Mr. Secretary on the JFK documents, what...

Secretary Cohen: I'm sorry?

Q: On the JFK documents that were given by President Yeltsin. Are you able to talk about them at all?

Secretary Cohen: No. I have no information about that.

Q: Two questions. Is Task Force Hawk going to be absorbed into Task Force Falcon, or are they going back to Europe? And what's going on at the Pristina airfield? Has NATO taken over any positions there yet?

General Shelton: On Task Force Hawk, some of those elements, as you know, have moved into Skopje and have in fact been participating in the Task Force Falcon operation, in fact incorporated into those initial forces, initial entry forces that have gone in. Whether or not elements of that will remain will be determined over the next 25 or 30 days.

The remainder of that element that is at Skopje right now has Brigadier General Paul Eaton in charge. He has been sent in to orchestrate an orderly reduction in the size of the force that is there. They will eventually be redeployed back to their home station, and a small element will remain there for awhile to oversee putting the area back in the original shape that we found it and also helping with some airfield upgrades.

Q: Tirane.

General Shelton: Tirane.

Q: And the airfield?

Secretary Cohen: On the airfield, as you know we had extensive negotiations in Helsinki lasting some three days. As a result of those negotiations, we were able to have an allocation of responsibility between the armed forces and KFOR at the airfield. Basically, we said that once the agreement itself was initialed and agreed to by NATO and by the Russian government, the Russian Federation, there could be a symbolic landing of aircraft, six on each side -- from NATO and from Russia -- and that would be it until such time as they worked out the technical agreement. They are meeting today as we speak.

So they will have six flights each going in, and they will start as of today.

Q: Mr. Secretary, in those discussions did you come away with the impression that the civilian leadership in Moscow is in firm control of its military? And if so, how does that explain the contradiction between what the Moscow political leadership was telling Washington and what the Russian military was actually doing on the ground in Kosovo?

Secretary Cohen: As we have stated before, it was apparent to me that the Russians were eager to participate in the KFOR mission -- a bit over-anxious as it turned out under the circumstances, to get there with a 180-, 200-man force. But it also became clear to me during my discussions with my counterpart Marshal Sergeyev -- also [with] the arrival of the Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov -- that the civilian leadership was clearly in control, working hand-in-hand with the military to help resolve some fairly serious issues in terms of what the extent of Russian participation would be, how many, where they would go, under what circumstances, who would have tactical control. All of those issues were really coordinated between their political power structure, as such, or their political governance, and the military. Those were coming directly down from President Yeltsin to his foreign ministry to the head of his Ministry of Defense.

Q: So it is your impression, then, that Moscow deliberately deceived Washington? Or was this a rogue element of the military? Or they just got ahead of themselves? What happened?

Secretary Cohen: It's unclear exactly what took place, other than to say there was some confusion. They were eager to participate. We wanted them to participate. And from the very beginning, we said this should work effectively with having Russians serve side-by-side with NATO as they are in Bosnia. It added some confusion, the fact that they were not part of the sequencing and coordinating as far as the KFOR commander was concerned. But as Sir Michael Jackson pointed out, it was never a problem or an impediment as far as getting KFOR in to where he had to operate as far as his headquarters and the movement of his forces.

So it was somewhat confusing, but it didn't really impede us in any way.

Q: Does that mean it's not known whether this was a civilian or a military decision to go into Pristina airport initially?

Secretary Cohen: President Yeltsin indicated he gave authority to his military to take action consistent with becoming part of KFOR.

Press: Thank you very much.