DoD News Briefing: General John M. Shalikashvili, Chairman, JCS
Mr. Boxx: Good afternoon. We've invited the Chairman to come in today and update you on the success of the Haiti operation thus far. He's agreed to do that, and also to take a few questions. We would like to keep it to a single subject.
With that, I'll introduce the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili.
General Shalikashvili: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
I'd like to take this opportunity to provide you a very short update on our operations in Haiti so far. As you well know, today now marks slightly over two weeks since our forces were introduced peacefully into Haiti. From the beginning, our mission in Haiti has been to assist in establishing a secure and stable environment that will allow for the restoration of civil order and permit the return of democratic government.
Before I take your questions, I'd like to take a few minutes to fill you in on some of the progress to date.
The deployment of U.S. Forces is essentially complete. Our Forces peaked at the neighborhood of some 21,000. Sunday, U.S. Marines started pulling out our 1,300 Marines from Cap-Haitien, and completed that pull-out yesterday. These Marines, by the way, will now be on standby as an afloat reserve. We expect U.S. troop strength to draw down in the near term to around 16,500; then down to some 15,000 by the end of the month; and down to 6,000 by the time we turn this operation over to the United Nations.
At the same time, some U.S. troops are withdrawing [and] multinational forces are now beginning to arrive in Haiti. Over 200 Caribbean community troops recently arrived in Haiti, and international police monitors are arriving daily, and I'll have a little bit more to say about that in a minute.
Our Forces are establishing themselves ashore in many ways including: development of an on-shore logistics capability; an expeditionary medical facility in Port-au-Prince; and the reopening of Port-au-Prince International Airport to commercial traffic by tomorrow morning.
In the outlying areas of Haiti, our special forces teams are deployed to assist the Haitian people during this transition period by providing a more secure environment in which people can conduct their daily affairs.
Much has been reported about the security environment in Port-au-Prince. Multinational forces, I think, have made significant progress and will continue to act to establish the safe and secure environment necessary for the restoration of democratic government. We have successfully initiated a weapons control and reduction program--collecting, as of today, over 4,000 weapons, including over 1,000 hand grenades. We will aggressively continue all of our programs to this end.
I'd also like to briefly address the notion of mission creep. I simply don't see it that way. Our mission has not changed from the beginning. What has happened is that we have changed our capabilities and adjusted our procedures slightly, consistent with the changed circumstances on the ground, and I don't think you would want us to do any different.
I recently visited our Forces in Haiti, and was extremely pleased with the performance of our Forces. By the way, Admiral Miller, the overall commander of this operation, is in Haiti today conducting a personal assessment and will be reporting back to me later on today with his personal observations.
Let me run through just a couple of slides for you to make some of the points that I had in the prepared statement. First of all, much of the reporting is always focused on Port-au-Prince, and perhaps Cap-Haitien, so we tend to lose sight that there are Americans in all the other locations that you see on this chart--on this map. They are the ones that are providing the very needed sense of security to the people out in the countryside, providing medical assistance, and in general, ensuring that the countryside is in fact very quiet--as it has been day in and day out, but with very, very few exceptions. The countryside has been very quiet. So I just wanted to point out to you that American presence is not confined to Cap-Haitien and Port-au-Prince.
One of the things that I address is the weapons buy-back program. These are catalogued weapons that we have collected so far. This chart is as of three o'clock yesterday. Since then [and] in my discussions with Admiral Miller about half an hour ago--he tells me that the count is now well over 4,000 that they have collected.
I am particularly impressed by the 1,100 or so grenades that we've been able to collect, and some 226 that we've been able to buy back. I would make the point to you, as I have on previous occasions, this is not an all-or-nothing program. I'm sure that 1,000 grenades are nowhere near all the grenades that are out there. But that's 1,000 grenades that are off the street today that weren't off the street just a few days ago and that could have done the damage that we saw earlier in this operation.
The second point I will tell you is that it's often thought that somehow we have expanded our operation, and that we are now going from house to house searching for weapons. We are not. We are not doing that. We are going to houses only in response to specific information that those houses contain caches of weapons or automatic weapons designed to hurt us all, as opposed to weapons that are maintained by people who are properly licensed to have weapons such as guards or private industry and others. So I want to dispel the notion that we sometime have had mission creep and now are searching house-to-house for weapons, which we are not doing.
The other point that has to do with security and the secure climate are the international police monitors. This slide shows you the first group of these international police monitors who started deploying on the 29th of September and who will be fully deployed by the 7th of October. These are the countries and the numbers shown in parentheses where this first batch of police monitors is coming.
The next chart will show you the remainder of the police monitors and when they will be arriving. As of today, we have nearly 200 police monitors in country. And you can see the rest of the dates, until the 11th of this month, when all of them will be in place from this initial group; some 840, 850 police monitors, who are very, very important in the effort now to go along with the existing police, ensuring that human rights are not being violated by the existing police, being able to coach them on proper police techniques. Later on as we begin to introduce the new interim police, they, of course, will be key in doing the same function--particularly then the function of coaching the new police in proper police procedures.
To put it in perspective, these are some 840 police monitors. In Port-au-Prince right now, to the best of our knowledge, there are some 1,700 policemen. That means we will have nearly one police monitor for every two policemen on the beat. So certainly it signals the importance that we attach to this program and how key I think these individuals will be to the restoration of law and order and the conduct of law and order by the Haitian police.
With those few charts, let me finish and open it up for questions.
Q: General, many have made the analogy between Haiti and the U.S. mission in Somalia. And in our observation, much of the reporting is focusing on Port-au-Prince. It's very reminiscent of the criticism that the press received in focusing on Mogadishu and not reporting the story in the outlying parts of Somalia. Why is this Haiti mission not Somalia all over again?
A: I see very, very few similarities.
We are in this country to assist in establishing a safe and secure environment, as I mentioned just a few moments ago, to allow for the restoration of the democratic government, the return of the democratic government. To do so, we rely very much on a structure in Haiti that is in existence that was totally non-existent in Mogadishu, so that meant in most parts of Somalia. Whether you like it or not, there is a functioning government in Haiti. There is a police force, although by our standards inadequate. There is a military, although many parts of that we don't like. But there are these institutions. There is a parliament that is debating the issue of an amnesty law and other things. I think the conditions are very different.
We have an elected president here in this country poised to go back and take over the reins of the government. I think the conditions are very different.
Q: To the issue of the return of Aristide--the transition on the 15th--what will be the conditions of this transition as far as the U.S. military role is concerned? And most especially, who will then have authority after the 15th? Where will that authority reside?
A: First of all, the United States will continue to have the same role that we do now. And that is in assisting to provide a secure environment and a degree of stability that permits the return of President Aristide and his government. The government will be in the full hands of President Aristide.
Q: And the generals, have they been talking to the U.S. military about a way to leave the country yet? Have you heard anything from them?
A: We have been talking to General Cedras almost daily. We have been talking about the conduct of day-to-day business in Haiti today until such time as General Cedras and General Biamby and Colonel Francois leave power. We have not discussed with them the specifics of the 15th. We expect them to be gone on the 15th--the day before President Aristide returns.
I have absolutely no doubt that they will leave power on that day. And as I've said on previous occasions, there's certainly nothing in the agreement that says they will leave the country. It is, for me, difficult to imagine that for practical reasons they would stay, but that's something for them to answer.
Q: Leaving the country is one thing. Going next door to the Dominican Republic is another. It seems that one has already done that, Colonel Francois. Do you get any indication from your intelligence down there organized resistance either on the part of the army or the police. Do you get any feeling that Cedras and Biamby may move next door to the Dominican Republic and sort of continue their political agenda from there?
A: We have the same information that you have: that Colonel Francois family today did, in fact, go across the border into the Dominican Republic, although I don't have that confirmation from the Dominican Republic. I have no indication that General Cedras or Biamby are going to follow suit. We just simply have not had those discussions with them.
As far as organized resistance is concerned, I think we're probably picking up the same sort of rumors and whatnot. We follow every intelligence lead that we get that would indicate that there are some groups that might be planning this--doing it. So far, we have not found any concrete evidence that is so, but we take that very seriously, just as we take very seriously the tension that exists in the country and the possibility that organized groups might form before the 15th or after the 15th. We certainly try very, very hard not to leave one lead without following up on it.
Q: General, the task force has been working with the Haitian police and military for two weeks now. With the departure of Francois, the chief of police, is the security environment enhanced, or is it hurt with his departure?
A: It's too hard for me to tell. I've been told a few minutes ago that some other individual has been appointed as the new head of the police in the absence of Colonel Francois. My sense is that the effectiveness of the police has been steadily degraded. I think that will continue until the 15th and until we begin to stand up a new interim police force. By the way, [it is] a process that Admiral Miller is in Port-au-Prince discussing. It is our hope that we can begin to establish this new interim police in Cap-Haitien within a very few days. To establish this model that we can then also begin to use in Port-au-Prince, if not in the complete town at once; that we can start with some precincts or area of the town--to begin to introduce the new interim police because it is our feeling that the existing police and their effectiveness in many areas have almost totally disappeared, and in others is degraded.
Q: All along you've said that security was an important issue for the return of President Aristide. President Aristide now apparently is having second thoughts about returning as long as General Cedras remains in country. Is this going to present a problem for the U.S. military? Are you going to find yourselves as negotiators with the general in trying to get him to leave?
A: I don't see us in that role. I told you before, that from the very beginning, I have had great difficulty visualizing why he would wish to stay and whether it would be possible for him to stay. You only have to listen to some of those special force teams who have been visiting jails out in the countryside to see that the human rights violations that have occurred while he was in power--whether that by commission or omission is immaterial. Surely there must be a great deal of animosity--hatred--towards him for all that happened. That's why I find it so very difficult to imagine that he or Biamby would stay. Obviously, Francois must have reached the same conclusion.
As far as President Aristide is concerned, I can only tell you that in all of my discussions this issue has never come up and I have never heard it phrased like that.
Q: I believe you are relying on the Haitian police to go house-to-house, searching for weapons to disarm the thugs there in Haiti. But as you point out, the effectiveness of the Haitian police is deteriorating. Would you rule out altogether the notion of United States troops going house-to-house to search for weapons?
A: I would rule it out as kind of a house-to-house search for weapons. That's not what we want to get into. That's contrasted from going after, or following up on information that we have of,significant arms caches. For going out when we have information that certain paramilitary groups have houses where they maintain weapons, or for that matter, might have material that would indicate that they are trying to cause trouble for multinational forces either now or later. In those cases, American Forces have gone in and will continue going in. But I really need to contrast that from this sort of a house-to-house search--random search--for weapons that might or might not be there. That's something that if it's to be done, it's best done by the Haitian police, hopefully now; if they are incapable of doing it, then as soon as we have the new police in place, then they start doing that. The first test of that, I think, will come in a very few days in Cap-Haitien.
Q: Looking at your list of weapons brought in, it's striking how many you've had to capture and how few have come from the purchase program. Are you proposing to improve the incentives in the purchase program in any way? The second question, when you gave your first press conference after the operation began, you talked of the crucial importance of establishing a cooperative relationship with the Haitian army. Do you think you still have a cooperative relationship with the Haitian army? And specifically, do you think Cedras any longer actually controls...
A: Your first question. I think if we were to think of some ways to make the buy-back program more attractive, we will do so. As a matter of fact, we are thinking of something. If money is really the best instrument, or could you offer some goods that are very difficult to obtain in Haiti but that might appeal to young people, because most of them who turn in weapons are young people. We are looking at that.
I remember that day when we first talked about a buy-back program. I said that I was under no illusions that this thing would really pick up "steam" until probably after the 15th, because there is a great deal of question among the people-- whether they at this point ought to get rid of what they probably consider their insurance policy. But I also said we were going to proceed as vigorously as we can. We are going to do that. I think this program is going to improve significantly after the 15th.
As far as our cooperative arrangement is concerned with General Cedras, he has... First of all, I need to characterize that our cooperative arrangement is that we do inform him of everything that we do. If he has some good ideas of how to adjust something, which he has had in the past, we certainly welcome that. He certainly has no veto over anything that we do. He's never asked for a veto of anything we do.
I think over time he and his military are becoming less and less effective. They are caught in a position of recognizing that we're looking over their shoulder and want to make absolutely sure that they do not commit human rights violations, or use undue force. On the other hand, they know that the crowds perhaps perceive them as less capable and less effective, and therefore, they find themselves perhaps in more danger than they would have before. All of this sort of adds up to the fact that they are taking more and more of a back seat.
I think that's something that was a natural outgrowth of this relationship that we established. But I would tell you that when you look at the total country or when you look at Port-au-Prince alone--which is the one that we so often concentrate on and rightfully so, and I understand why--you have to understand that we are now two weeks and one day into this operation. We have had two Americans hurt--no one killed, thank God. That is partly due, I think, to the solid planning that Admiral Miller and his folks did for this operation; the preparations they went through; the very, very excellent training and the discipline of the troops, the Marines, all of them on the ground. But it also has something to do with this cooperative arrangement that we have had with both the police through Francois and the military through Cedras.
So I think it's a combination of all of that that has essentially kept us on schedule, on time. Multinational folks beginning to flow in. We have been, I think, smart enough, when we saw that the security situation was deteriorating slightly because the police and the military weren't doing as much as we thought they would be doing, and thereby increased our police, kept the Marines longer. I know it gave some of you pause because it looked like, and it did, in fact, increase our overall strength. But I think that was a prudent adjustment to the situation on the ground. Now we're beginning to get a handle on it again, [to] start drawing it down again.
The same with our weapons control program--that you adjust to the situation on the ground. We would like all of it to be done by the Haitian police. We now see that there's a limited amount that they can do. Rather than them leaving those weapons out there, I think we are doing what we were always prepared to do. So I don't see any of these things as a kind of a mission creep, or even for that matter, any significant adjustment from how we went in. It was just prudent adjustments to the tactical situation on the ground.
Q: How encouraged are you by Colonel Francois departure? And what do you think his departure signals?
A: I am encouraged by it. After all, the United Nations resolutions and others spoke about three individuals who had to leave the country. If this is true what we are hearing today that he has, in fact, now gone to the Dominican Republic, that's one out of three, only two left. So I think we're on the right glide path.
What does it signify? I don't know. I think that's a personal decision that he made that is best for him. I think that we have to deal with the reality on the ground. We have to get to know the new men on the ground and work with the police as long as they are still there until the 15th when the new government moves in.
Thank you very much.