Tuesday, July 16, 1996 - 1:52 p.m.
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon and welcome to our briefing at the Pentagon. I'm glad to see some of the returning vacationists... Some of the vacationing journalists have returned to their duty stations here. We've missed you and since you're back, Charlie, you can ask a question.
Q: Are you receiving full cooperation from the Saudis on the investigation of the bomb blast? Have you received assurances from them that they will fully cooperate on the movement of U.S. troops?
A: We've received assurances from the Saudis that they will be fully cooperative in the investigation and in force protection measures. I think you should talk to the FBI about the investigative side of that. We are discussing with them a variety of force protection measures and we found them very cooperative.
Q: Have they assured you -- you said fully cooperative on protection -- have they assured you that they will cooperate with the movement of U.S. troops -- the planned movement of U.S. troops?
A: Well, first of all, we don't have firm plans yet for moving U.S. troops. Maybe it's good to go back into history here with the Saudis who first recommended the possibility of moving some U.S. troops out of Riyadh to a more remote, less urban location. It was their idea after the bombing on November 13th, in Riyadh, that it would be easier to protect U.S. troops if they were outside of an urban environment. Those plans have been under discussion within CENTCOM and between CENTCOM and Saudi Arabia. I expect that we will have details to announce, relatively soon, on the possible movement of U.S. troops, but we have nothing we can talk about now.
Q: Well, won't most of those troops be removed from Dhahran, rather than Riyadh?
A: Well, I think we should wait until we -- until we complete work on it. We have a concept now -- which is being discussed in the Department. It's been forwarded to us by CENTCOM. This is an area of very high priority for General Peay and for the Department. It's a -- it's a complex issue, but it's an issue in which we're working assiduously. I believe that we will have decisions relatively soon, but we don't have them yet.
Q: Are you talking about things other than movement of troops, as well, perhaps beefing up protective measures elsewhere?
A: We've already beefed up protective measures considerably. We have --- actually started beefing up protection measures in November. As you know when General Estes was here on Friday and went through a number of these issues with you and I refer you, if you missed that briefing, we have both the charts and the transcripts to the briefing which talks about the 130 measures that were taken to beef up security at the Khobar Towers. It talks about what was done in other parts of the theater. It talks about it in terms of when these measures were taken -- the measures that were taken after November 13th, 1995 - - measures that were taken after April 1996, and the measures that we've taken since the bombing at Khobar Towers on June 25th.
Q: Can you give us -- I'm sorry. Go ahead [Inaudible].
A: So -- and those have already been done. And since June 25th, we've -- we've taken a number of other steps to improve force protection. We are now, of course, looking at the whole question of where we can station our forces in Saudi Arabia for maximum protection. And that's what we're discussing now among ourselves. And we have discussed -- we'll continue to discuss with the Saudi government.
Q: Does the Pentagon know what kind of percentage, ball park figure -- of troops we're talking about moving out [Inaudible]?
A: John, I've tried to be very explicit. We are working on a concept. We do not have a firm plan. In the end, I believe, a fairly substantial number of our troops will be moved from their current bases to another location which is easier to defend.
But those details are still being worked out. We're not trying to hide the details. I'm trying to explain that the decision has not been made. And we're in the process of making it. It's a complex decision. It's not something that you can make like that. And -- but I hope that we'll make it relatively soon.
Q: Are you asking the Saudis to assume a majority responsibility for the cost of moving us? Is that a likely scenario?
A: I think I'd rather leave that answer until we know it. As I say -- we have to decide, first, what we want to do, and that hasn't been done yet. When we make that decision, then the next step will be to talk with the Saudis about what we plan to do. In concept, they want this done. They suggested it and we want it done, and we're moving on it. We don't have the details worked out. I hope we'll have the details soon.
Q: Just to clarify, you're talking about, perhaps other areas than just Riyadh, for -- when you talk about a very substantial number will be moved from current bases?
A: I'm talking about moving a fairly substantial -- the possibility of moving a fairly substantial number of our troops in Saudi Arabia from where they currently are to a new location. As I said, we don't have the final details, but I would anticipate that when we get the details worked out, and after we've had a chance to discuss them with the Saudis, we'll let you know what we're doing. Right now, well, as I say, we're right in the middle of making this decision, so I just can't answer all the types of questions you have.
Q: Do you suppose, as your cooperation with the Saudis grows that in the months ahead, you would be able to provide us the kind of detailed troop strength in Saudi Arabia that we have everywhere else in the world where American forces are based?
A: I think that that's a very interesting question. And as our cooperation with the Saudis grows, you'll learn the answer.
Q: So you're not terribly optimistic in the near term that you're going to be?
A: I didn't say that. If I could answer every single question you have today, there'd be no spice in tomorrow. [Laughter]
Q: Have you been playing kind of musical bases here? Are you trying to consolidate these forces in more than one area; move them from several bases to several bases...?
A: Our goal is force protection. Our goal is force protection.
Q: Well --
A: We're looking for the --
Q: Will consolidation give you better protection?
A: Well, we are looking for methods to improve the protection of our forces in Saudi Arabia without impacting on their mission in any way. They are performing an extremely important job there and we can't -- force protection is very important. We have to find a balance between maximum force protection, [and] maximum mission effectiveness. I think we'll be able to do that, but I can't give you the details of it now. Mark?
Q: Does this concept have to do anything with other countries in the Gulf regions; are we talking only Saudi Arabia?
A: We have examined the protective measures for our forces all over the Gulf -- in fact, all over the world, in the last several weeks. And we have taken appropriate measures, not only in the Gulf, but in other countries as well. What I'm talking about right now, about moving forces, is within Saudi Arabia.
Q: Is part of your goal to also lower the profile of the American presence there, to make it less visible as an irritant in Saudi society?
A: Our goal is to protect our forces as best as possible. And that involves a number of things. It involves location. It involves profile. It involves passive defensive measures. It involves active defensive measures such as improved intelligence gathering. We're doing everything we can to -- to improve their -- their defensive and protective positions.
Q: Any additional threats, direct threats?
A: There have been a whole series of threats. We don't know whether they're harassment or real threats. We're taking everything seriously. I don't want to get into details, but clearly, given what's happened, we can't afford to sit back. We have to move very quickly and that's what we're doing. Yes?
Q: Have there been any more incidents of the type we saw before this blast -- people trying to ram the fence -- driving up taking pictures; whatever?
A: Not that I'm aware. But as I say, I may not know everything that's happened. So, I'm not aware that there have been anymore similar to that; but there certainly have been reasons for us to be extremely worried. And we are.
Q: Has the U.N. side been contacted by the Saudi Defense Minister about his reported objections to a move?
A: Well, we've certainly been in contact with the Saudi government and Saudi officials were quoted in the news today. Yes, we've been in contact with the Saudi government.
Q: Not the -- the Defense Minister?
A: I can't say specifically that we've been in contact with him, but we've been in contact with the government. We've been assured that they are -- fully supportive of efforts we're taking to protect our forces in Saudi Arabia. And I want to point out again that it was the Saudi government itself, that first recommended moving some of our forces out of Riyadh to other locations. Yes?
Q: Another subject?
A: Just let me ask, are we through with this? I guess we are. Yes?
Q: Yes, according to the reports from Athens, Greece, the Pentagon with full cooperation from the Greek government plan to deploy U.S. weapons from the Sixth Fleet, or other naval forces in the area, in the middle of the Aegean, between Greece and Turkey, for security reasons in that sensitive area. Do you have any comment on that?
A: We do not have any current plans to send U.S. Navy assets into the Aegean. Yes?
Q: One more question. Last January, during the crisis in the Aegean, the Pentagon monitored the whole area, I'm wondering if you're still monitoring the same area in the Aegean and how?
A: Just let me make a general comment about that dispute over the -- the island or the islet. We've urged both Greece and Turkey to exercise restraint, to settle their issues peacefully, and that remains our position. Both Greece and Turkey are important allies -- important members of NATO -- and it's important that as members of NATO, they work out their differences peacefully.
Q: But do you monitor this [inaudible] this is my question?
A: We're -- obviously very aware of what's happening in the Aegean.
Q: Another subject?
Q: Artwork at Fort Bragg, North Carolina? Hate artwork?
A: Hate artwork is completely unacceptable. There's no room for it in the U.S. military, anyplace, anytime. This incident you referred to is under intense investigation. Brigadier General Bowra, the commanding general of the Special Forces command has met with the soldiers involved to stress the Army's zero tolerance of racism and to ask for support from the unit in identifying those responsible for the incident. It's as I said, under investigation by the Army and by the chain of command. My understanding is also that soldiers in that unit have been restricted to their unit area while the investigation's going on. I want to stress there is absolutely no room for this in the United States Armed Services and from Secretary Perry, General Shalikashvili, and everybody on down, this is a abhorrent; unacceptable. And we will do our best, one, to find who did this, and two, to work with members of the services to make sure that such hateful and insensitive activities don't occur again.
Q: How many soldiers are you talking about that are in the lockdown?
A: We'll get that information for you. I don't know how many are in that unit.
Q: Do you want to describe the incident, so that we're all working from the same term of reference? How many doors got swastikas, and the who lives behind those doors?
A: I'm referring to the -- the abhorrent and unacceptable incident to which I'm referring, occurred this morning, we believe between 3 and 6 a.m. at Fort Bragg, the 1st Battalion of the 7th, Special Forces Group. Red swastikas were painted on eight barracks rooms doors, sometime early this morning.
Q: Didn't the Army report that after the last series of incidents -- this has been Fort Bragg -- the murders and other hate crimes there, that they had gone into those units with a fine tooth comb to try and stomp out this kind of hate crime behavior. Hasn't there been a particular emphasis at Fort Bragg, of all the installations in the country, on this issue to try and end it?
A: Yes, there has been and this is a -- like many problems, not a problem that can be solved immediately. It's a problem that, unfortunately, runs not just in the Army, but throughout society, and not just in America, but in other countries as well. The Army is working very, very hard on this and the point is that to have an -- an effective fighting force, you have to have a unified force. And this type of hate crime, this type of hate harassment, divides the force at precisely the time we need a unified force. It's unacceptable from a command standpoint, and it's unacceptable from a civil rights and -- and humanitarian standpoint. As I say, that command and the Army as a whole is working very hard to get to the bottom of this and do what they can to prevent it from happening again.
Q: I'm sorry. Which general did you say had...?
A: General Bowra (B-O-W-R-A), who's the commanding general of the Special Forces Command.
Q: Is that the only thing that was painted on the [Inaudible]?
A: He's the commanding [general] of the group at Fort Bragg there. What's that?
Q: Is that the only thing that was painted on the door? Swastikas? Were there phrases or anything like that?
A: No, my understanding is they were just red swastikas painted on eight doors.
Q: And -- one barracks or -- you said eight barrack room doors. Are those different barracks, or just one barracks?
A: Eight doors in a barracks.
Q: Behind those doors lived white soldiers -- black soldiers?
A: African-American solders lived in six of the rooms. I believe two of the rooms were empty.
Q: Do we know anything about the other two? Who lived there?
A: I believe that they -- that there may not have been anybody living in there at the time. That's what I've been informed. But we'll double check on that.
Q: Were the soldiers who lived in there members of the same unit that's been put in a lockdown?
A: The solders living in the area where this happened, therefore the soldiers in the unit, are part of the lockdown; yes -- yes, and this is being -- this is -- they can give you the details at the Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg. But I don't know how long this will last, but the idea, obviously, is to help with, one the investigation, and two, general discussions with the unit of how destructive and abhorrent this activity is.
Q: Has Secretary Perry talked to General Reimer about this?
A: Secretary Perry follows -- follows this activity very, very closely and he's stated many times that there's absolutely no place for it the military. I'm not aware that he's spoken to General Reimer about this, but it's certainly the type of thing they would talk about. Yes?
Q: Were the eight rooms all together, or are they scattered [Inaudible]?
A: I really don't know, I'm afraid. We'll -- we'll try to find out whether they were -- whether they were contiguous or not.
Q: New subject. Has there been any glitches in that North Korean/U.S. joint excavation going on in North Korea?
A: Not that I'm aware of. As far as I know it is going smoothly, yes. Now, they're in there for two weeks. This is the second week, I believe. I think they actually were operating from -- I think they maybe got there on a Tuesday, but they are in the second week. And this is the first of two trips they plan to make there. Yes?
A: Yes, Bosnia.
Q: Can you tell us the aftermath of the events on Friday where there was a drive-by shooting and a vehicle blown up outside of a UN observer area of living? Does that tell you that you have a new level of problem? How do you regard the threat in Bosnia as to those kinds of incidents?
A: From the very first day we went into Bosnia, we've taken threats seriously and that's one of the reasons that our soldiers wear, what's called "full battle rattle" -- they're flak -- flak jackets and their helmets. They carry their weapons with them. We always travel in substantial convoys. We have a large percentage of our force devoted to force protection over there. We've known -- I guess feared is another way to put it -- for some time, that the situation in Bosnia could get more difficult as we move into the summer and into the fall. Although the military part of the mission is largely complete -- it's brought peace to Bosnia for the first time in four years -- although people are beginning to sit out on sidewalk cafes and drink coffee and move around much more liberally than they have been able to for years, there's still many risks. And these risks come because we're entering into a period that offers many challenges. The refugee resettlement, the elections coming up, the increased patrols in -- in Pale and Han Pijesak designed to restrict the movement of Karadzic and Mladic are all creating tensions. And therefore, we have accepted that the mission would become more difficult and these are only two incidents. I think it's hard to extrapolate from just two incidents right now, to whether this is the beginning of a more difficult period, or whether these are just isolated events. I can't say right now. We have to wait. But we are certainly prepared for challenges in this mission. And that's one of the reasons that we have not let our guard down in any way and have paid as much attention -- attention to force protection as we have from the very first day of the mission. Yes?
Q: New subject?
Q: A woman -- a DoD civilian was killed in Cairo, at the Semeramis hotel. Can you confirm that she was a civilian working for DoD? Was she living at the hotel? Working at the embassy? Any details?
A: Yes, let me give you a few details. This is a -- a regrettable incident that seems to be a -- from what we can tell -- a criminal act. But Judith I. Goldenberg, who was an analyst for Middle Eastern Affairs, working for the Defense Intelligence Agency, was on a visit, temporary mission, to Cairo as part of a routine trip through her area of specialty. And she was stabbed yesterday walking through the lobby of her hotel. The person who did this has been apprehended -- on the scene. The Cairene are working closely with the American Embassy officials on this. And she was not in a group. She was traveling alone on business. We believe, as I said, that this was a -- a criminal act; that it was not something we would classify as terrorism from what we know of it at this time. It was just a random attack -- a vicious random attack against one person.
Q: Did they try to steal something, or it was just an attack?
A: I don't have the -- it -- it looks as if it was -- I've read reports that the -- that the perpetrator of this may have been deranged in some way, but I don't know that. I just read these reports. And, I'm not aware there was a robbery associated with this. It was -- just seems to be a random act of violence.
Q: On Bosnia again -- I thought we had an agreement signed on equip and train over there? Can we assume that an airlift of the U.S. pledged equipment is underway or will be underway next or will be underway in the next day or two?
A: Well, Secretary Perry has pledged a rapid response. I don't know exactly what the timing of that is, but it's under consideration and we will deliver on this pledge. I just don't know what the exact timing is at this moment.
Q: There are no further obstacles?
A: No, I think we're -- this has been -- since Secretary Perry visited Sarajevo in early July, there's been fairly rapid progress. The log jam on the federation defense law was broken. They passed the -- log jam. The State Department announced today that the contract with MPRI was signed. It was announced in Sarajevo. And this program is -- should be ready to start. Charles?
Q: Can I try you one more time on this Saudi thing? You say that the Saudis have assured you that, in your words they are fully supportive of our efforts to protect our troops. And then you say that they were the ones who raised the issue, originally, on moving the troops. They've assured you they will fully support the effort to move the troops -- including -- I mean, to protect the troops-- including moving the troops. They told you they would support your efforts to protect the troops, including moving the troops. What type of things --
A: Charlie, we have not gone to Saudi Arabia with a firm plan. We hope to do that very soon. I anticipate they will fully support what we propose. But we have not made a proposal to them yet. As I said, they share our interests in protecting Americans and American forces in Saudi Arabia. They proposed this move -- a move -- in the first place, back in November. So we are working along a path that was first charted by the Saudis themselves. When we have more details about what the plan is, we'll let you know. But so far, we just have not reached the point, among ourselves, on the plan, and therefore, we have not had a specific discussions with the Saudis. But I anticipate cooperation from the Saudis.
I have been told here by Colonel Kennett that the first shipment -- this is in response to your question Dave, on equipment and train -- the first shipment of drawdown equipment from the United States will leave in three to four weeks -- will be made in three to four weeks to the federation forces. Jim.
Q: On the Brown plane crash, can you say whether it's true that 15 officers have been notified of disciplinary action against them...?
A: No, I can't. I'd refer you to the Air Force on that. I don't want to comment further beyond what they said yesterday.
Press: Thank you.