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DoD PRESS BRIEFING, SUNDAY APRIL 4, 1999

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
April 04, 1999 3:40 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Thank you very much for coming. I'm sorry for the change of plans on Easter.

I wanted to announce that President Clinton has approved the deployment of two battalions of Apache attack helicopters to Albania to help support the air operations of Operation ALLIED FORCE. These helicopters will deploy from Germany in the next several days, and they will be accompanied by a battalion of Multiple Launch Rocket System artillery; a support battalion; one mechanized infantry battalion [sic, company], which is about 120 people with 14 Bradley fighting vehicles; one military police company; one signal company, and other elements such as military intelligence, aviation maintenance, and required support. All together we reckon this will be about 2,000 soldiers on the ground in Albania.

There will be 24 Apache attack helicopters, and there will be some other support helicopters, Black Hawks, Chinooks, etc.

This is being done at the request of General Clark, who wanted a wider variety of weapons to attack tanks, artillery and APCs on the ground in Kosovo. As I say, it's a logical expansion of the current air operation. It gives us greater precision, all weather capability, day or night, to go after the types of weapons that the Yugoslav army, the VJ, is using to not only repress the Kosovar Albanian people, but to drive them from their villages and to shell and crush the villages.

The obvious question you all will have is isn't this a step toward the employment of ground troops in Kosovo, and the answer is absolutely not. This is, pure and simple, an expansion of the air operation. It's to give us the type of tank-killing capability that the bad weather has denied us. It will give us the capability to get up close and personal to the Milosevic armor units in Kosovo and to do a more effective job at eliminating or neutralizing the forces on the ground.

This is very much in line with our stated objective of degrading and diminishing the Yugoslav ability to attack Kosovar Albanians.

Ultimately, of course, our goal is to get them to stop fighting, to withdraw, and to agree to allow the NATO-led force to come in in a peacekeeping role, and to help the refugees get back to their homes and to rebuild their lives. This will be an important step toward that.

Now I should tell you two things. First of all, Secretary Cohen, of course, has signed the deployment order, so these troops can launch any time and start moving toward Albania, but the speed with which they can move in will be determined in part by the humanitarian aid operation in Albania. We have to sequence the humanitarian flights with the military flights to bring the unit in.

In that regard, the plane that left Dover yesterday, the C-17 carrying approximately 30,000 humanitarian daily rations, arrived in Tirane this morning at 0430 our time in the morning and is in the process of unloading that food. Today a contract 747 was loaded with approximately 65,000 humanitarian daily rations -- those yellow, plastic, enclosed rations I held up yesterday. That was supposed to have left about two hours ago, exactly two hours ago from Dover. So that should also be on the way. We will be loading additional planes and sending the food off as quickly as possible.

The second point to make is that while the U.S. has okay'd the deployment of these forces into Albania for use in Kosovo, it still must be reviewed by the North Atlantic Council, the NATO policymaking group. We anticipate that will happen tomorrow.

We are offering these forces to NATO as a way to expand and enhance NATO's ability to continue the fight against the repressive Serb forces. And NATO will consider this and will decide whether to accept this offering by the U.S.

Q: Is that what Mr. Berger was talking about this morning when he said they'll be deployed, but we don't know whether they'll be used?

A: They will be deployed if NATO decides they should be deployed as part of the force package. Before they're used, there will be another reconsideration by the President who will want to assure himself of a number of things.

First, he'll want to assure himself that there are adequate force protection measures for the helicopters should they be used over Kosovo. And that's why we're sending the Multiple Launch Rocket Systems. They are very good at suppressing enemy air defenses. They work in very close sequence with air CAPs, with airborne observers, and with the helicopters to suppress the air defenses before the helicopters go in.

So he will want to assure himself that the force package is adequate, that the force protection is adequate, that it's prepared to do the job, and that the conditions are right.

Q: These Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, do they include the Army's tactical missile system, the so-called ATACMs?

A: Yes, they will include the ATACMs. Now that's a type of rocket, type of munitions essentially, that is launched from the launchers for the Multiple Launch Rocket Systems.

Q: How many launchers will there be?

A: There will be 18 launchers, as I understand it, in the battalion.

Q: Won't these slower-flying attack helicopters be more vulnerable to SAMs than the tactical aircraft?

A: That's exactly why we put in a very robust defense suppression system with the ATACMs and the MLRS. That's part of a program to stop enemy air defenses from operating against the helicopters.

Now the helicopters train in connection with the use of the MLRS, of the ATACMs. This is a fairly well rehearsed, well trained operation by the Army. Obviously, there's a risk to flying low over Kosovo, but the ATACMs are designed to suppress that risk.

Q: Is there a greater risk than there would be with TACAIR?

A: Well, to the extent that the helicopters are lower and slower, yes. But on the other hand, the helicopters fly very close to the nap of the earth. They're fas;, the pilots are skilled. Obviously close-in engagement is, by definition, riskier than more distant engagement. But the Army is trained to cope with that. As I say, it's important to look at this as a package. If you define this as just 24 attack helicopters, you will miss the point that this is a very significant force package going in that is designed to suppress air defenses with weapons that can range almost all over the total area of Kosovo, and suppress air defenses in the path of these proposed helicopter flights -- if they're deployed.

Q: Just because they're in there, the helicopters would not go until NAC approves it, and then they would not be used until the President approves it.

A: That's right, so there are two more steps that have to be taken here. The first is the NAC approval, and they have to accept these as part of the force that will be used. The second is the President -- and the Secretary, operating with advice from the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs -- will make a determination before these are actually deployed.

Q: Do you have Albanian approval to host these..

A: We have been in active consultations with the Albanians, and we do have their approval.

Q: My other couple of questions are, what role will the Bradley fulfill? And will the Bradleys cross into Kosovo?

A: They will not. They are purely there in a force protection mode for the military unit that will be set up because there will be a substantial footprint. So the Bradleys will provide force protection, along with the MPs.

Q: Two other quick questions. Will the Apache stay Long Bow or straight Apache?

A: My understanding is they will not be Long Bows.

Q: The other one I had is just to clarify. MLRS but strictly ATACMs munitions?

A: There could be a mix. There will be certainly ATACMs. Basically you can fire either from the launchers. I don't know what the mix will be, but there will be ATACMs there.

Q: Will those be the long-range ATACMs you now have?

A: I don't believe so. We have several versions, but they will be long enough to do the job.

Q: Will these be the satellite-guided versions of ATACMs, the GPS-guided that the Army now has?

A: I believe that's the case [sic], yes.

Q: And Apaches are trained to fly low and kind of laser-designate targets from two to three miles away. So will weather be a factor with their systems?

A: They have a pretty near all-weather capability because of the altitude at which they fly. I would expect they'd be able to fly in most weather conditions. Obviously, dense fog would be difficult, but in most weather conditions they should be...

Q: You said this isn't a step toward ground troops. At the same time, isn't it beyond the U.S. role that was envisioned at the beginning of this air operation? Or is it not? You said it's...

A: No, I think tank-killing was always envisioned as part of the operation. This will basically help NATO tighten the noose around Milosevic's neck. This will help NATO do more to kill armored forces quick than we've been able to do so far.

Q: Did weather difficulties prompt this decision? Why couldn't the Apaches have been deployed immediately, at the beginning?

A: Weather played a role in it, but frankly what's taken a long time was working out the mechanics of where they would go and how would they go, which is sort of where the package would be based. That's what's taken the last couple of days or so.

Q: Many of our European NATO allies also have MLRS and Apache helicopters. Are we pressing any of our allies to send similar force packages?

A: I'm not aware that we are at this time. Maybe somebody from the Balkan Task Force can answer that question. No, not at this time. We think this would be adequate.

Let me correct one thing. The ATACMs Block 1-A that is being deployed, they are inertially guided, not GPS-guided. So I was wrong about that.

Q: Ken, is NAC approval pretty much a given here? Why would you announce this, if you don't believe you'll get NAC approval?

A: One reason we announced it was because it was in the papers this morning and it's been talked about.

Another reason we've announced it is that we think it's important for Milosevic to understand the seriousness of our efforts and our determination to keep this fight going until we achieve our goals. This is an important new element of enabling us to achieve our goals. I think that -- I can't speak for the NAC -- I have a hard enough time speaking for this building.

Q: When would you expect these, if everything goes right, NAC picks this up tomorrow, approves it, presumably the President would then allow, want to be able to pre-approve these things before they're used. What could be the soonest they both would get there and have approval for the commander in the region...

A: You're probably talking, when you consider the transportation challenges, probably talking about a week or so, maybe seven to ten days, I would guess, before they're...

Q:...coming from the 1st Armored Division or the..

A: These will be coming from the 11th Aviation Brigade in Illesheim, Germany, the attack helicopters.

Q: Is that a corps support group, or is that one of the division...

A: I believe it's a corps support group, an independent corps support group.

Q: Will they deploy by C-17 or will they fly en-masse over, or just fly down there on their own?

A: Those are among the questions that are being worked out, but my sense is they'll probably be flown down in fixed-wing air, then reassembled. That's one of -- it will take many, many aircraft to fly all this equipment down there, and I want to go back to say this has to be carefully sequenced with the humanitarian aid because we don't want to be blocking the inflow of humanitarian aid while we're moving in these helicopters.

Q:...ramp space is like in Albania at Tirane airport?

A: Crowded.

Q: Can they handle...

A: I think they can. I've been to the Tirane airport. It's pretty small. There's a lot of flat space around it. I don't know how quickly it can be expanded. But we're not talking about Dulles.

Q: You said this is not a step inching closer toward deploying NATO ground troops into Kosovo, but at NATO the last couple of days there's been increasing talk about the prospect of NATO troops at some point escorting refugees back home.

Are you anticipating that at some point in the future there will be some, because of these airstrikes, be a permissive environment that would permit those escorts to go on?

A: That is our goal, yes. Our goal is that the escort would occur within a permissive environment.

I don't think that any refugee who was smart enough to leave ahead of this carnage would want to go back until he or she was assured that the conditions were safe enough for rebuilding their lives in Kosovo, and those conditions clearly don't exist now. Our hope is that they will exist relatively soon.

Q: Go back over one point. When you talk about President Clinton going back and redeciding when the equipment is actually used, is that just a condition for its use, or does he have targeting approval?

A: I think the targeting here is pretty clear. These are going to go after military units and their armor and their rolling stock. All he wants to do as Commander in Chief is make sure the circumstances are there for safe, effective operation.

I don't -- without preempting the President, which I'd be the last person to try to do, I suspect that he has every intention of approving the use of these weapons, or he wouldn't send them in the first place. But I think it's a prudential move on his part to want to have one last check.

Q: You spoke of a permissive environment being necessary to escort the refugees back. Does that necessarily require a peace agreement?

A: We went through yesterday, the Secretary of State went through yesterday, and people have talked about this this morning. The elements we require are one, stop the fighting. Two, the withdrawal of the forces. Three, a commitment to democratic government. Four, we want to have a NATO-led international peacekeeping force on the ground to enforce the peace; and five, we want the refugees to be able to return and live in safety. Those are the five elements we're looking for. These basically are all taken from -- they're elements of the Rambouillet accord. We have been saying since this began that we want something that embraces the framework or the elements of Rambouillet.

So those are the five elements we're working for, and we'll continue to work for those.

Q: You do not need an actual peace accord for this scenario to unfold.

A: Without getting into the legalities here, I've just listed the five conditions that we're aiming for, and those will continue to be our goal.

Q: Ken, will Albanian refugees be housed temporarily at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo?

A: That remains to be seen. As Secretary Albright said, some of these refugees will be coming to the United States or to U.S. facilities, U.S.-owned facilities, not in the territorial United States, but elsewhere. Where they will go is still being decided.

Q: Don't you have at least some sort of skeleton facilities already in place at Guantanamo that could house these refugees?

A: We do, but we also have facilities at Guam and other places. So there are other possibilities, and we'll just decide whether it makes sense to put them all in one place or to split them or what the logistics are of moving them.

Now remember, our goal is not to relocate refugees permanently onto U.S. territory. It is to relieve the congestion in FYROM, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, temporarily and then to get these people, create the conditions that will allow these people to return home, which is where we believe they want to be.

Q: Is there any update on the three soldiers who are being held?

A: No update in terms of their condition. There was an encouraging report out of Yugoslavia that they are now being held as war prisoners. We do not think they should be held at all. We think they should be released. We think they were unfairly and improperly detained. But if they are going to be held, they should be held under the rules of the Geneva Convention, those international protections. One of those protections is a protection from trial. My understanding is that the Yugoslavs have said that they will not try them. They will hold them as war prisoners, and they will release them at the end of the hostilities.

Q: I've been talking with some folks who were involved in the planning of the Persian Gulf War. I feel like there's a different attitude going on here.

Before Powell and Schwarzkopf went in, they seemed to have assurances that anything they needed, they got. Yet here we keep hearing about these piecemeal approvals of different weapons.

I understand that NAC is involved and that's political, but am I wrong in thinking that there's a difference here? Why isn't the Defense Department saying, General Clark, anything you want you've got, and then just leave the politics up to NAC?

A: Last week General Clark said on Meet the Press that he has received everything he's requested, and nothing has changed over the last week.

I think if you look at what's happened in just this week -- he requested more F-117s, a doubling, and he got them -- from 12 to 24. He requested the THEODORE ROOSEVELT battle group go into his theater and be ready for the fight -- he got it. He's requested the Apaches and the ATACMs and the multiple launch rocket system, and he's gotten them. I'm not aware of anything he's requested that he hasn't received.

Q: Can you bring us up to date on sorties? How many combat sorties, how many...

A: I'm afraid I just don't have those numbers. The numbers as of Friday were approximately 2,700, as I recall, and I just don't know what's been done in the last couple of days.

Q: Three or 400 combat sorties, though?

A: Of the 2700, about 15 percent were strike sorties.

Q: Last week Air Commodore Wilby bragged about a full scale, 24-hour-a- day sustained operation -- day/night. A week later the statistics seem to bear out that you haven't been able to really do a sustained around-the-clock because of the weather.

In retrospect, was it a mistake to kind of claim you can do that around the clock when the weather was going to be so bad?

A: I think that Air Commodore Wilby has done a fabulous job, and I would not second-guess anything he said.

Q: Are any more U.S. troops going into Albania as part of that relief operation, or...

A: That's a very good question. I don't have an answer. My assumption is there will be some U.S. troops as part of the NATO relief operation. They will be working on humanitarian issues, not on this Apache task force.

By the way, the task force is called Task Force Hawk. That's the official name of the Apache task force.

Q: These additional F-117s that arrived at the base in Germany, will they be operating out of that base, or will they be forward deployed to Aviano or some other base?

A: My understanding is they'll be operating out of Germany.

Q: That's a much longer flight. Is that a problem?

A: It requires more refueling, but that's my understanding, that they'll be operating out of Germany.

I think there are a lot of planes in the theater now, and you can't put every plane in one place. So there's been a very clear effort to spread the planes around.

Q: Ken, at the NATO briefing Commodore Wilby talked about what he described as a remaining pocket of resistance by the UCK forces. Are you encouraged at all that the rebels are going to be able to mount any sort of serious resistance? And is that in any way related to the success so far in the NATO bombing campaign?

A: I think that the rebels are surviving on probably three things -- weapons they had prepositioned in the area, bravery and quick movement, and the bombing. We are doing our best to concentrate on forces when we can find them. I believe the weather is supposed to improve dramatically today and over the next couple of days, and we should be able to prosecute these attacks with considerable greater force and efficiency.

But the KLA or the UCK fighters are really doing their best to fight a much larger, more powerful, more mobile force. They are continuing to do that, and there are pockets of resistance.

I've said before, though, that they have taken heavy losses. It's not so much in terms of manpower or equipment, it's more in terms of position. Like most guerrilla forces or rebel forces, they depend on movement for protection. They know the country well; they know the people; and they've been trying to move out of the way if they've been unable to stop and fight. But throughout this there have been instances of resistance, of attacking the VJ and the MUP forces, of some kills on their part -- both of equipment and people. But these kills are becoming, these successes are becoming less regular and less frequent.

What's been happening is the KLA has, to a large extent, moved either into the hills of Kosovo and out of the way, or they've moved out of Kosovo into neighboring countries.

Our goal, of course, is to create a situation where neither side will need military force, a situation that will be peaceful, and where there won't have to be rebel groups because there won't be opposing forces trying to oppress them.

Q: Two questions. To clarify, would these AH-64s be ranging all of Kosovo? Or are you saying that the ATACMs can range..

A: The ATACMs can range virtually all of Kosovo. I don't know yet what the mission profile of the AH-64s will be. It will depend a lot on the effectiveness of the air defense suppression activity we undertake and where they have to fly to do the job.

Q: A second sort of unrelated question. What gives you hope that there might be a permissive environment some day?

A: Well, I think the goal from the very beginning has been, as announced by President Clinton, has been three-fold. The first was to show NATO's strength, unity and responsiveness. I think we've done that. The second was to deter attacks against the Albanian, Kosovar Albanian people. Clearly, we have not been able to deter these attacks, which have been brutal and aggressive. The third goal was failing to deter, as the President said, we will diminish and degrade the Yugoslav forces to the point where the price of continuing to occupy Kosovo becomes too high. That's what we're working on.

We've always said this will take time. We've always said it will be difficult and challenging. I think the facts have proven us right on those three assessments. But we are determined to keep going.

I believe that with the combination of better weather and continued military determination and force brought to bear on the problem that we will begin to make rapid progress.

Q: There have been credible reports of massacres in Kosovo. There have been -- the State Department has released some credible reports about huge numbers of people herded in different places. I remember in '95 in Srebrenica there was satellite imagery that showed something very suspicious that backed up what you were hearing on the ground. Do you have any sort of satellite imagery that's showing you any place these people are?

A: We do not. The weather has been our primary enemy both in terms of prosecuting the military operations and in terms of getting good imagery. I hope that we will be able to do some of that, but so far we do not have good imagery.

I asked the J-2 -- I would like nothing better than to be able to stand up here and show compelling pictures that illustrate the brutality of the Serb forces. We can see the secondary impacts of it in terms of the refugees coming across the border, but we do not have primary evidence of that in terms of pictures at this stage.

Q: Will the Apaches be operating out of Tirane or somewhere closer to the border?

A: My understanding now is that it will be at Tirane or near Tirane, but that could change. One of the things we have to do is locate them in a place that doesn't interfere with the civilian aid, the refugee support operations. So that's one of the issues that will have to be worked out.

Q: Would you say that given that the UCK is essentially headed off to the hills, that Milosevic has accomplished an apparent objective, which is essentially breaking their back? Has he broken the back of the UCK?

A: No, I don't think so. The UCK has just moved. It is not dead. The UCK actually is having a recruiting boom. It's increasing in size. It continues to train, and it continues to operate in Kosovo. But the operations are becoming more and more difficult. That's, as the Serb forces clear out the indigenous population they can concentrate more aggressively on the UCK, and they've been doing that.

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said today that the Yugoslavs are using refugees, are using human suffering as a weapon, and I think that's clearly true.

Q: Understanding that you're limited in talking about an ongoing operation, is there anything you can say about what's going on tonight?

A: No.

Q: Is in fact the weather better tonight?

A: The weather is better, but I'm going to stick with my old policy of not talking about future military operations.

Q: Have the A-10s flown today? Flying combat missions?

A: I can't answer that question.

Q: Serb TV is reporting once again that they've shot down a NATO jet. Anything to that?

A: Not as of the time I came in here. I didn't have any report of that. Of course, this is what, the tenth such report that they've made so far?

Q:...video, and it says fuel tank on it in English. You know nothing more?

A: I know nothing. I'll check, obviously, but I've heard nothing about that.

Q: Is there any allied help going to the UCK that you're aware of, or any other consideration at all?

A: I'm not aware that there is allied help or that it's under consideration. Remember, our goal is disarmament. We don't want to fuel the fighting and the arms race in Kosovo. We want to end it. Our goal is peace, not continued war.

Q: With regard to overhead imagery, you do have U-2s flying, and they have synthetic aperture radar, which can see through cloud cover. Why aren't you getting any images from that?

A: For whatever reason, I'm told by the J-2, and I don't go down and look at all his images; I'm not in the business of second-guessing the Joint Staff on things like this. I'm told there are not good images.

Q: A point of clarification. Are the Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, there will be 18 vehicles, launchers going over?

A: Yes. That's in a battalion, right? Eighteen launchers in a battalion.

Q: To follow up on the Predator, that can get you better imagery than the U-2 in a lot more real time. Are they flying right now? And will one of their missions be to track down those types of potential mass graves and those kind of...

A: They will certainly be used, first, to help gather battlefield intelligence that can be used to direct attacks. That will be the primary use of the Predator and also the Hunters when they're operating. But we certainly will use what we find to bolster the case against Milosevic and Yugoslavia, the case of brutality.

Q: Are you flying the Predators?

A: The Predators have been flying. I don't know whether they flew today, but they started flying about two to three days ago.

Q: Are they providing the type of targeting material data that you've been asking for?

A: Without getting specific, we've got sort of a multi-layered intelligence- gathering program, all of which feeds information into the targeting system. So to the extent that we gather more precise information with the Predator, we will certainly use it for targeting.

Press: Thank you.