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DoD News Briefing, January 15, 1998

Presenters: Captain Mike Doubleday, DASD (PA)
January 15, 1998 1:30 PM EDT

Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon.

Let me start by welcoming Karsten Ankjaer to the briefing. He's the Senior Advisor to the Danish Prime Minister. He is in Washington on a USIA-sponsored program on security issues.

I also want to take just a minute to let everyone know that on Monday, which is Martin Luther King Day, the President and also some of the cabinet secretaries are going to be highlighting volunteerism to honor Dr. Martin Luther King. One of the programs that we're going to be highlighting here in the Department is a program called Young Marines which, despite its title, is not associated with the Marine Corps, but is supported by some Marines, although the vast majority of the mentors who work with this group of young people all over the country are not in any way affiliated with the Marine Corps.

The program actually began with some Marine Corps veterans back in 1958 who saw the need of a youth program that would stress discipline and personal growth, academic achievement, and also provide some stabilizing mentoring influence to young people. That program has continued. Some of the Marines that are stationed here in Washington, D.C., have been working with the Young Marines.

So on Monday at 9:50 in the morning, Dr. John Hamre, the deputy secretary of defense, is going to be going over to 8th and I to meet with some of the young Marines and also with some of their mentors, and participate in a ceremony of commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King.

We have a press advisory which we have disseminated which you're welcome to take, and if anybody is interested in covering the event, there are opportunities. Dr. Hamre will actually have a few words to say in connection with his visit over there during the course of the proceedings.

With that, I will try and answer some of your questions.

Q: Has there been any major change in U.S. military assets in and around the Persian Gulf in the past week or so?

A: Ivan, the term I used on Tuesday continues to be operative. That is we maintain a very robust force in the Gulf region. It is centered on the ground-based aircraft which are ashore in several of the countries in the region, also the two aircraft carriers that we're maintaining, and a number of surface combatants that are Tomahawk-capable.

There are some adjustments that we're making because we're interested in maintaining this personnel tempo that contributes to the overall retention figures and morale of troops, and we, in connection with that, you've known for some time that the NIMITZ Battle Group will be returning to the United States on schedule and be replaced by another battle group. The deployment order on that one -- we still anticipate, will be signed soon. I'll be glad to share with you the ships that are going to be involved in that deployment, but I'm not in a position to do so right now.

In addition to that, there is a series of exercises which we conduct in Kuwait called Intrinsic Action. We are going to be commencing another in that series here very shortly. 1,500 soldiers are in the process of deploying to Kuwait to participate in Intrinsic Action. The actual exercise is going to be conducted commencing on the 20th of January and continuing on into mid-April. Those soldiers are made up of elements from the Headquarters of the U.S. Army Forces Central Command at Fort McPherson, Ga., and Task Force 130 made up of elements of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.

Those of you who have visited over there know that we maintain pre-positioned equipment in Kuwait so the units don't deploy with any equipment. They pick it up, take it out into the training areas, and that process is, as I say, going on now.

The ARG, which has been operating in the region, has departed. The Marines on that ARG had conducted late last year a similar sort of an exercise called Eager Mace, and because of this Intrinsic Action exercise that's ongoing, that's enabled the Marines and the ARG units to redeploy on their schedule, too. There are also some swaps that have been made on surface combatants. The USS BARRY has recently joined the two aircraft carrier battle groups in the Gulf and there are four units, three of which were Tomahawk-capable, which have departed the area.

So to give you kind of an overall picture of what we've got there, we've got over 26,000 U.S. military personnel that remain in the area; we've got over 320 aircraft which include all kinds of fixed wing aircraft that remain in the area; we have the two aircraft carriers in the area; and approximately 20 other ships, some of which are support ships, some of which are combatants.

Q: They're not necessarily all in the Gulf?

A: I say in the region because I don't want to distinguish. Some are in the Northern Arabian Sea area, some in the Persian Gulf area, but all in that area.

Q: The 320 aircraft, does not include the B-52s that were sent to Diego Garcia?

A: It does.

Q: It does not include planes in Turkey?

A: It does not include the aircraft that are up in Turkey.

Q: What does the Pentagon know about alleged experiments on Iraqi prisoners using chemical weapons?

A: We don't have any independent confirmation of that, but we certainly are aware of the concerns that Mr. Butler has expressed, and we believe that because of the information that he believes he has and the information that he is seeking, that his inspectors need to have unfettered access to the sites there, to follow up on that information.

Q: The Russians have offered to replace the U-2s with a plane of their own to do the reconnaissance over Iraq. Do you think they have the capability to do this as well as the U-2s do it? How do you feel about this proposal?

A: First of all, I'm not familiar with what kinds of aircraft the Russians might be talking about here, nor am I aware of any kind of offer that has been made. What I am aware of is that the original agreement which was struck regarding air surveillance, was between the United Nations and between the Iraqis and it involved the U-2 specifically.

Q: What's the next step? If Ambassador Butler leaves Baghdad empty-handed, so to speak, without any kind of agreement on unfettered inspections, what's the next step in this process?

A: Ivan, I'm not going to speculate for you where that will go. Ambassador Butler will be departing for Iraq later today. He will, as I understand it, be making a stop in Paris en-route. He is expected to return to the -- to report to the Security Council in about a week. Earlier today the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador Richardson, expressed his position on that, which is that Mr. Butler needed to travel with a very firm indication of the feelings of the UN Security Council. He has that in a very strong letter which was issued by the Security Council President. He feels that we should continue pursuing the diplomatic channel, which we are doing.

Q: Does the Department of Defense have a clear understanding of UNSCOM? Whether the Iraqis are continuing to manufacture their weapons of mass destruction or if the inspection program has halted the current, ongoing manufacture? And a second part of the question would be, wouldn't this be a very critical issue in deciding what steps to take, especially military steps?

A: Your question is a very broad one, and one which really should be addressed to the people at UNSCOM. What we believe, very generally speaking, is that the work that the UNSCOM team does, the inspectors do, is very important so that we can get a full understanding of the extent of various programs that the Iraqis have underway for their weapons of mass destruction.

Now we believe that the inspectors require full access so that the international community can understand where those programs are and be reassured that weapons have been destroyed and programs have stopped if, in fact, that is the case. But we will not know that unless the inspectors have access. For that reason, many officials of the United States Government and many others of the international community have pointed out that until there is this unfettered access and until the UN inspectors are satisfied of the status of the programs, that the sanctions cannot be lifted.

Q: Wouldn't ongoing weapons production by Iraq be a far more egregious violation than just holding onto weapons they've already made?

A: Weapons manufacture?

Q: Ongoing weapons production.

A: As I say, this is... The whole issue of what the status of their program is, what the status of their efforts are, is exactly what we want to see and what the international community wants to see in terms of these inspectors.

Q: Have all the requests for material and personnel by General Zinni out in the Gulf been approved by the Pentagon? Are there any that have been disapproved?

A: I'm not aware of any requests that are pending from General Zinni.

Q: In the McVeigh case involving the Navy, has that issue moved any closer to Secretary Cohen's desk? If not, what is the current status?

A: It has certainly not moved to the OSD level, and my understanding is that the case is being looked at by the Secretary of the Navy.

Q: Can you give us a status on the Pentagon position on whether or not to reinstate border patrols?

A: First of all, there has been no decision on that. That issue is still under review, and I can't predict for you a time when there will be a decision.

Q: On the F-18 notice, this whole ongoing thing with the wing problem, how is that going to weigh in the Secretary's decision on whether to go ahead with buying another 20? And is the Secretary concerned that at the time he ordered the first dozen, the Navy had not notified top officials of this problem?

A: Our secretary, that is to say the Secretary of Defense, learned of this problem in late November 1997 -- the same time that Secretary Dalton and Admiral Johnson learned of the problem.

The Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations briefed Secretary Cohen on the situation, and they are of the opinion that the problem is fixable within the current budget constraints and will not delay the program. Secretary Cohen will continue to receive briefings on the F/A-18.

Q: One source was quoted as saying when asked if on a scale of one to ten where this problem fell, and the individual said a three. That that was not serious. Does the Pentagon agree with that? Should there be any problems with aircraft... Knowing there's a problem, should it be allowed to go out there?

A: I think people need to understand that this aircraft is still in the development stage, and that any aircraft as it goes through the cycle of moving into full production, which we are some ways from at this point, any aircraft, as tests are being made, as flights are being flown. I think that the history of any aircraft is that you uncover problems that need to be solved, improvements that can be made, and this is exactly what happened here.

The Navy has a plan in place, has the right people in place, they believe that they can solve the problem. They have talked to members of the press on this, and I'm sure they'd be willing to fill you in on some of the potential fixes they have in mind.

Q: There have been reports, as John mentioned, that the Navy, if not the Secretary or the CNO, that the Navy was aware of the problem for some time before the Secretary of Defense was made aware of it. If Secretary Dalton and the CNO were also made aware of it at the same time, were there people aware of this problem long before the Secretaries and the CNO?

A: I can't answer your question because I don't know A, when the problem developed; and I don't know how many people knew when it first appeared. But it does not surprise me that individuals are reluctant to run to the Secretary of Defense, or for that matter the Secretary of the Navy or the Chief of Naval Operations, with every problem that arises. I think there is a procedure that goes through on any kind of large weapon system where you look at problems, you see the extent of them, you try to understand the full range of the problem, and then you try and deal with it. In many cases I would not be at all surprised if problems on weapon systems were solved by people within, at a very low level.

On this particular one, I don't know when problems arose, but I'm sure that you can talk to the Navy and find out.

Q: Is anybody looking into whether there was a problem with the information flow there?

A: Not to my knowledge.

Q: It's the Navy's premier fighter for the next century, yet at the same time if there were any problems, wouldn't it be a natural move to tell the CNO that we have some design problems?

A: I don't speak for the CNO in this case. I think you need to talk to the Navy about how that was communicated. I don't know whether there was any knowledge significantly before the CNO was briefed as to how extensive the problem was or exactly what the problem was.

Q: I was wondering if there was a readout of Senator Carl Levin's visit to North Korea? I believe he's there touring some facilities.

A: Certainly not from this building. I've not received any kind of a readout yet from that visit.

Q: Could you bring us up to date on what assistance DoD is giving at this time to the Northeast states as they try to recover from the...

A: I gave a rundown, and I didn't bring one with me today. We'll try and get you further information. But we have a large number of National Guard people who are on state active duty who are contributing to the effort up there. We also have active duty people who are primarily from Fort Drum, but also some Army Corps of Engineers people who are helping out. The range of activity runs all the way from surveillance flights with Air National Guard people to door to door checks by uniformed personnel to check on the status of people who are in homes that are without power to make sure that they're doing well.

We provided, in addition to that, a large number of cots to the Canadians, and that numbered upwards of 60,000. In addition to that, there was a C-17 aircraft that was used to transport equipment and people to two of the areas up in Canada that the Canadians needed help on.

Q: Cuba. Guantanamo landmines. There's currently a planeload of press down at Guantanamo and one of the things that they're seeing is the removal of landmines from along the fence line, the perimeter at Guantanamo. The first question, I guess, is whether this is sort of a one-of-a-kind event. If there's any other situation that can be recalled where the United States removed landmines from a semi-permanent perimeter like this.

A: This is a unique situation. I am aware of no other removal from a minefield that is analogous to this one. The only other minefield that I'm aware of that has been in place for such a long period of time is the one along the border between North and South Korea. Although in the situation with Cuba, back in 1996, then the commander who had cognizance over the region, the U.S. forces commander who was General Sheehan at the time, did a survey to see what the impact, security wise, would be with the removal of the anti-personnel landmines that are in the process of being removed. They actually started removing those mines before the presidential decision was made that we would do so.

Right now we're moving along with that removal process and we anticipate that all the mines will be removed as the President has directed, on or before 1999.

Q: So the removal was not tied directly to the Ottawa situation or the political pressures regarding landmines. This was something that...

A: It preceded that. And it was, as I say, an initiative that was undertaken by the USACOM Commander, General Sheehan, back in 1996.

Q: Was it a purely military decision by Sheehan and ACOM or were there also political considerations taken into account here?

A: All I can tell you is that General Sheehan made the determination that the landmines were no longer necessary for the security of the base; that they could be removed. So he undertook the process that is still going on to take them out.

Q: If they were necessary for decades preceding Sheehan's decision, why is it okay militarily or in terms of security to remove them now?

A: Well one, back in 1961 when the mines were first put in, there was a different situation that existed with Cuba, both in terms of the support that it was getting militarily, and the political climate of the time. The situation changed over the years. Certainly after the fall of the Soviet Union the Cuban government has not received a great deal of military support, and the threat is such that General Sheehan and others came to the conclusion that it was no longer necessary to have the mines.

There still will be methods that they will put in place to monitor any intrusions into the base area and anti-tank mines which are also on the perimeter of the base will remain in place, but these are anti-personnel landmines that are being taken out.

Q: Is there any concern, I've heard from voices in the corridors here that there was also some concern that in the event of Mr. Castro's death that there might be some sort of a massive exodus of Cuban citizens onto the base at Guantanamo. Is that a matter of concern? Is that something that was taken into account?

A: First of all, it's difficult to speculate on what might happen in various scenarios. I think we feel that we can adequately control the perimeter of the base and access to the base. The one thing I do want to point out, though, lest someone misinterpret what is happening here. When the minefield was put in, there was a comparable minefield installed by the Cubans, and to my knowledge, that minefield has not been taken out.

Q: How many mines are you talking about in this case?

A: Back in 1961 my understanding is that there were 50,000 mines that were put in on the U.S. side. As I say, by 1999, all of those will be removed.

Q: Do you know how far along in that process you are?

A: It's quite a ways along, but I'm not in a position to give you a scorecard on the total number of mines that have been taken out.

Q: (inaudible)

A: They started... I'm not sure I have the exact date that it started, but it started sometime in 1996 or early 1997.

Press: Thank you.

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