DoD News Briefing: General John M. Shalikashvili, Chairman, JCS
General Shalikashvili: I thought it might be useful if I reported to you on the developments in Iraq and our deployments to that region.
As you already know, this morning we had indications that the Iraqi units that had been moved into the area north of the Kuwait border had started to receive instructions that lowered their readiness and alert posture. Then for the rest of the morning as we were monitoring the situation, we started to get indications that units were moving from their combat positions into assembly areas and towards rail sidings for potential loading of their equipment onto trains.
The latest information we have now indicates there is fairly broad movement for most of those units that had been brought down south. However, having said that, there's still an indication that considerable units are still remaining; that we do not have any indication as to where the units that are preparing to move will be moving to. So we are continuing to watch the situation very carefully, and at the same time we are continuing with the deployments that the President had set in motion.
I just wanted to take a moment and summarize them for you since there's been a lot of discussion as to how many airplanes and whatever had been moved.
Let me first of all tell you, if you look at the overall personnel from all services that have been moving or are in the theater now -- I'm now talking of the total personnel status. We have, in theater, some 19,000. We have in various stages of deployment and planned-for deployment, an additional 44,500. And we have on alert, but not yet in any particular form of movement, an additional 156,000. Now let me break that down for you.
Let me first take ground forces. That is, the Marines and Army forces. We right now have in theater some 3,600; in various stages of deployment or planned-for deployment, an additional 36,100; and on alert for potential movement, 15,000.
Let me next turn to ships. You know we have the aircraft carrier now in the area. We have four cruise missile capable ships and seven others. In addition to that, our allies, as part of this operation, have five ships in theater. There are further, 21 U.S. ships that are in various stages of planning and in deployment. There are no additional ships right now on alert.
Finally, aircraft, which for us are the most important ones in the initial stages of deployment, we have in theater, some 200 U.S. aircraft; in addition to some 52 allied aircraft that are part of this operation. Then we have in various stages of deployment or planned-for deployment a further 467; and on alert, but not on any orders for deployment yet, a further 196.
So that's sort of the summary of what is in various stages of deployment.
Q: How far do the Iraqi troops have to pull back before the U.S. is going to be satisfied that the threat is going to be removed? And what conditions are you going to establish so that this doesn't happen all over again?
A: I think it is clear that the issue of where those units have to go to ensure that the situation is not repeated again is something that is now up for further discussion; and also the steps that must be taken to ensure that the conditions aren't recreated here where Iraq can threaten its neighbors once again.
Q: What is your view on the feasibility of having some sort of no tank zone or some sort of exclusion zone in that region for heavy armor?
A: I think Secretary Perry spoke to that issue and so have others. Let me say for now there are probably a number of options that need to be considered. What is important is that conditions are not recreated as they were now in this instance, where Iraq can threaten its neighbors.
Q: How long do you anticipate U.S. forces, U.S. ground troops being there in Kuwait?
A: That depends very much on the actions that Iraq takes. We have had, certainly during Desert Storm, occasions to have to watch very carefully Iraq's statements and Iraq's words and intentions, and as the President said last night, what we're interested in is watching Iraqi actions. So what they do with those forces and what assurances there are that this will not happen again will very much depend on how long we will have to stay there. But I think the expectation is that we bring our forces back as soon as possible.
Q: You still haven't laid down the kinds of conditions that you feel are going to be necessary for you to begin slowing down the deployment. What is it that Iraq needs to do? Is there any way to be specific about that so that they will know and so that the American public will know?
A: Yes, I think there is. I'm not sure I'm the right one to talk about it. But it is clear not only that Iraq must not threaten its neighbors as it did in this instance. That means that those forces need to be withdrawn. It also talks to the issue of what conditions must be set to ensure that this is not repeated in the same way as it was done this time.
Q: Let me play devil's advocate for just a moment here, and if you can be explicit I'd appreciate it. With all this posturing, Iraq did, in fact, move troops within its own territorial limits. What led us to be so concerned? You talked about a combat mode -- mode might be my word, but can you tell us how those troops were deployed? What gave you the feeling that perhaps they might be doing something more such as an invasion?
A: I think very much the similarity between this move and what they did at the time last time when they moved into Kuwait. Secondly, that one does not go on exercises and bring all the ammunition along, and all the logistics things that they brought with them, with clear instructions to be ready to conduct operations for extended periods of time. There's absolutely no doubt in my mind at all this wasn't just some innocent exercise that they were on and that we somehow misread that. Far, far from it.
Q: Will the United States be issuing an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein any time soon? And will the United States and its allies seek further UN approval before doing that?
A: I'm not the right one to talk to those issues. What communications will go on between the United States government and the government of Iraq and negotiations with the United Nations, you really need to ask someone else.
Q: Can I ask you a military question? This is quite a considerable force that's either being sent or on alert. In designing this force, are your goals limited to deterring an attack and defending Kuwait? Or is this a force that is intended to have the inherent capability to push the Iraqis back a safe distance away from the Kuwait border?
A: You cannot deter unless you have a credible force there to do the job. Our task was to deter him from moving into Kuwait or beyond, and if he did, to slow him down, stop him, and then push him back. That's the task that I saw at hand, and what you saw was the beginning of the force necessary to do that.
Q: But my question, sir, is with this force, which is quite considerable, would it have the military capability to force the Iraqis some distance back from the border if they don't withdraw all of their units as they say they will? As a matter of military capability, is it intended to have that capability?
A: The force has the capability to make Saddam Hussein pay the price if he chooses not to withdraw those forces and continue threatening its neighbors, yes.
Q: General, were we in time back when the movements were first noted? And since this weekend, were we in time to deter an invasion by those forces that Iraq had assembled? Do we have enough people on the ground to man our armor, to actually stop them at the border and help the Kuwaitis?
A: Time will tell, depending on what Saddam Hussein does. I am satisfied that considering the time/distance factors, we moved with all deliberate speed, and that when you look at deployments last time and the speed with which they were made and the deployments this time, you will see the wisdom of the resources that were put into, first of all, pre-positioning equipment, making sure we can move aircraft as rapidly as we have moved them. I am very well satisfied with the movement of forces into the area, and I think when you contrast it with last time, we've done very, very well.
Q: You have assembled quite a massive force for Iraq. You also have troops in Haiti. You have this weekend a deadline coming up on Bosnia, there may be expansions of airstrikes in Bosnia. You still have North Korea as a potential threat. What would you say to those who are concerned about stretching the military so thin?
A: I think we need to watch that very, very carefully. The times are clearly such that the demands on the armed forces are very extensive. I will tell you that so far, and I hope you will agree, that we've been able to do the operation in Haiti very, very well, and that there are no indications there that there are any readiness glitches. I think as you look at what we have done now in the case of Iraq that over these vast distances we've been able to move forces with great speed, that there are no indications there of hollowness in any of those forces; that the ammunition stocks are there; that the readiness of those forces, the maintenance, the readiness of the people; all the sort of indicators that you look at, whether the force is ready to do something as demanding as this, those indicators are there.
So on the one hand, I think we've been able to do very, very well those difficult tasks we've been asked to do, but we also watch very carefully to make sure that we don't get stretched out, and it's very important that Congress, as soon as possible, give us the emergency supplemental funds to ensure that our operations and maintenance accounts stay high so we can continue with the normal state of training and buy the spare parts that need to be bought, and I'm absolutely certain that Congress will do so.
Q: What about if there is a North Korea problem, say if that should suddenly pop up? Would you be able to assure the American public that the military is going to be capable to do all of these things all at the same time?
A: I think it is clear that the United States has said from the beginning that we see our task as being able to handle two major regional contingencies occurring near simultaneously. I believe that holds true. I believe we have the capability to do so. So I would not want North Korea for a moment to think otherwise, or for that matter, anyone else.
Q: Given all the concern about, after the last deployment to the Gulf about the so-called mystery illness, Gulf War illness, what, if anything, is the U.S. military doing this time any differently, or what is your concern about that?
A: The concern is obviously there, whenever you have an incident that occurred for which you do not have a plausible explanation. As you know, no one is more concerned or frustrated about our inability to get at the root of that problem than the Defense Department, if for no other reason than that we are facing deployments like we are facing now. So I don't have an easy answer for anyone, because we don't know what really happened, other than that we are going to watch this very, very carefully for any possible signs of repetition.
Q: Have you delayed signing the deployment order for the 18,000 Marines from Pendleton? If so, why?
A: I have not.
Q: Have you signed...
A: It's not time yet. We're watching very carefully when the pre-positioned equipment is supposed to arrive there, and at what time the deployment of the personnel needs to start. I'm in constant communication with General Peay, our CENTCOM commander and with the Secretary of Defense on this issue. We have not stopped it, we are simply not at the point where that is the next action that needs to be done.
Q: Just to follow up, sir, if it does appear that the forces of Iraq are, indeed, moving north, might you decide not to deploy those Marines?
A: That depends very much to what degree we continue to see that, where those forces are going, are they really out of the area. So there are really issues here that I cannot answer for sure, and if we are not satisfied that the conditions set are correct, I have absolutely no doubt that those forces will deploy. If the conditions are right, then I'm also sure we will have cause not to do so. But it's much too early to speculate on that. Right now I'm going on the assumption that they will deploy.
Q: How much do you know about Iraq's military infrastructure? How long do you think it should take them to withdraw these troops? Everyone says we haven't seen moves or we've seen initial moves. What time frame do you anticipate?
A: Again, it depends where they're going. You saw how long it took them to get there. You normally move into an area with greater dispatch than when you start going back. So I would say it ought to take them slightly longer than it took them to get into the area.
Q: Do you have any estimate for what this deployment will cost?
A: Not yet.
Q: Do you have any ball park range?
A: I do, but I'd rather not talk about it publicly until we are sure that we have captured all the costs.
Q: General, it's been several days now since this crisis happened. Do you have any idea yet on what motivated Saddam to move these troops, or is that still a mystery?
A: I don't think it's a mystery. There are a number of theories as to what caused that. I'm not sure that any one of them is better than the other. From our perspective, when someone takes as threatening a step as Saddam Hussein did here, we must go on the assumption that that threat is real and act on it. I think only later on will we perhaps find out what the true reason was for him to have taken such an illogical and ill conceived step as that.
Q: You have some experience doing no armor zones from Bosnia. Would doing something like that in Iraq be feasible? Is the territory easier to patrol, for example, than Bosnia? Or is it too large, or do they have too many tanks?
A: If you ask me in a hypothetical sense is it easier to do a zone in which you would deny the movement of... I would think it would be easier to do in a desert kind of environment than it is in a mountainous, wooded terrain of Bosnia.
Q: General, we've been getting an implication from that podium by several senior Pentagon officials over the past week that any kind of retaliation will not be limited to just Iraqi troops in the desert. There were comments made about TLAM missiles in downtown Baghdad, etc., etc. What is the kind of target you would go after if that should occur? Are we talking about bridges, are we talking about military headquarters? Can you give us some idea of how far you would carry the war to Saddam Hussein if it came to that?
A: I'm not sure it's terribly useful, particularly at this stage now where he's moving back, for me to be speculating, other than to say that you have seen in the past the sort of actions the United States felt it necessary to take in response to unacceptable behavior by the Iraqis. I think you should not exclude such actions in the future, but I wouldn't want to speculate on any specific actions.
Q: Can you give an assessment of what you think the Iraqi capabilities are on the ground? They've been under embargo for quite some time. Certainly you'd think they'd be lacking spare parts and fuel. Are there anywhere, would the Republican Guard units that are in Iraq now be anywhere up to the strength they were two years ago or three years ago?
A: I don't think they are where they were two years ago, three years ago. I think that common sense tells you that an army and a military living under the conditions that they have been living for the last few years must have a reduced readiness. However, you have to remember that they were a huge military, and through cannibalization, you can keep a smaller military force alive and alive quite well.
Finally, I would tell you a good measure of what they are like is, as you analyze the deployment of those divisions from up north into the south, they were done quickly, very well, clearly pre-planned. This was not something that was done on the spur of the moment. And executed as a ready force would execute it.
Q: General, the high end figure of 80,000 was including a division of Iraqi forces that were moving from Mosul in the north, that were presumably going to head to the south. That, evidently, has stopped, that division, and correct me if I'm wrong, if it hasn't. But do you have now a revised figure and number of tanks the Iraqis have north of Kuwait?
A: I don't have the exact number for you. We can get that for you. But I will tell you that not all movements south have stopped yet. But that is perhaps not unusual. When you terminate a movement, some units you just don't stop in mid-stream, so it's conceivable that what we're seeing is just the end of a movement. On the other hand, we must understand that there are significant forces still in place, the might be getting ready to move. There are still units that continue onward movement down south although they are much reduced now. So we still have quite some time to look at the situation before we are certain what their intentions are and where they are moving. I am not at all prepared yet to say that the crisis is over in any way.
Q: Do you have any problem in releasing the artillery and the tank numbers to the best of your estimate at this point? Some round number as to what you think?
A: I would be prepared to provide you...
Q: About the statement you made about them being well prepared and this being well planned, did we have knowledge before last Thursday that they were going to make this move, or could make this move? Was this known, or can you tell us?
A: As soon as it was reasonable for us to identify what they were doing, from what I now know, we in a very reasonable period of time identified that, and very, very quickly acted upon it. So I am satisfied that that system has worked.
If your question goes how far into the planning cycle are we able to look, I'd rather not talk about it here.
Q: To get back to the question of forces being stretched thin, can you tell us why an aircraft carrier wasn't on station in the Gulf, and is there any reason to believe that if one had been that this wouldn't have occurred?
A: The aircraft carrier was simply not scheduled to be there. We do not keep an aircraft carrier in all places around the world 365 days a year. We have selected windows at random during which we keep carriers in various places. It just happened not to be there at that time. You ask me to speculate on something I simply cannot speculate on.
Q: For the size of the force that you have now moving, is there a requirement for calling up reserves, or will there be in the near future?
A: We're looking at that very carefully, but no final decision has been taken by our government on this.
Q: Are you satisfied with the response of our allies? Have they been helpful?
A: I am very much satisfied. All my counterparts that I've spoken to, both in Europe and in the region have been very, very helpful and very supportive, and I think there's absolutely no question that what the United States has done has had broad support from them, and also offers of assistance and participation.
Q: What's the status of their air force and air defense system now?
A: I'd rather let some experts talk to you on that, rather than...
Q: Now that the Iraqi troops are moving back, as you said, is the pre-emptive strike still one of the options under consideration by the Administration?
A: I think Secretary Perry answered that question, that it was neither ruled in or ruled out, and I would say nothing is ruled in or is ruled out. I certainly wouldn't, in this forum, talk about it in any other way.
Q: It seems like the first public warning about this troop movement came from an Iraqi opposition group through their London offices. That was last Wednesday, I believe. Did we know through our intelligence methods about the movement prior to that?
A: I'd rather not get into that, into any specific sources. Time-wise, that's about the time we knew about the move, but I'd rather not get not any particular sources or methods, how we get that information.
Press: Thank you, general.