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DoD News Briefing August 8, 1996

Presenter:
August 08, 1996

Reserve course, is that right, at the Defense Information School this summer. Welcome.

That's the big crowd in the back of the room for all of you who thought these briefings were becoming unusually popular. Does this work or not? Is the microphone working?

(They're both working.)

They're both working, fine. Anyway, welcome. Secondly, I'd like to note that we issued a release today saying that a U.S. Army battalion task force will begin deploying to Kuwait tomorrow to participate in an exercise INTRINSIC ACTION 96- 3.

This is one of the exercises that involves sending troops over to Kuwait to marry up with the equipment we have stored at Camp Doha, tanks, Bradleys, etc. They land and in the first 24-hours there they hop into the tanks and Bradleys and shoot out into the desert to test their ability to mobilize quickly. And, these 1,200 soldiers will be in Kuwait exercising until December 15, 1996, and they'll come back.

 

They are from the Headquarters, U.S. Forces Command at Ft. McPhearson, Georgia, and the 1st Cavalry Division, Ft. Hood, Texas. And, with that I will take your questions. Jamie.

Q: Just sticking in that region for a moment, Iran has complained that the United States' warplanes have violated their air space around the island of Abu Musa. What's the Pentagon's response to that?

A: The Pentagon response is that we have not violated their air space.

Q: And, is there an explanation for -- when did this event that they complained about take place or did it -- or was it simply that it is not their air space?

A: I have no indication that we violated their air space at all. We've been conducting a number of flights in the area as part of exercise RUGGED NAUTILUS which I described on Tuesday, and to the best of my knowledge and the best of the Navy's knowledge and CENTCOM's knowledge, all these flights have been conducted in international air space.

Q: If there was a plane in the air space over this island of -- in the Persian Gulf, is somehow theirs, is there any concern given the fact Iran has anti-air defenses on that island that there may be any sort of attempt to challenge or shoot down a U.S. plane?

A: We are operating in international air space according to the laws and rules of international aviation. And, we do not anticipate any problems from Iran. They understand we're operating in international air space, and they operate in international air space unimpeded, and we anticipate that we will, too. Ivan.

Q: Can you give us the latest on the move to Al Kharj and have you been able to acquire --

Q: Can we stick on this for a second?

Q: Well, we're on this Middle East thing?

Q: Well --

A: Do you have another?

Q: Could you give us a little detail about the RUGGED NAUTILUS exercises? Is this strictly air?

A: No, it's a naval exercise. We'll get you a fact sheet on it, but there are approximately -- it involves the USS CARL VINSON carrier battle group. It involves the USS TARAWA amphibious ready group. They're operating together in the area. There are about, well, there's the naval air wing associated with the VINSON. And, they've been carrying on a variety of exercises. This was scheduled long ago. It was announced some time ago, and we can give you a fact sheet. As I recall, there are about 14,500 naval personnel participating in the Gulf now. Some are permanent -- some are there ordinarily and some have been brought in for this exercise. I -- but we will get you a fact sheet on it.

Q: You don't involve any of the Gulf Cooperation -- from any of those countries or is it strictly a U.S.?

A: I'm afraid I do not know that.

Q: Is the Kuwait exercise part of that?

A: No, the Kuwait exercise is a separate exercise. We have been carrying on a series of exercises in Kuwait all of which follow the same format. About a battalion of troops come over and marry up with the pre-positioned equipment at Camp Doha and they exercise on that equipment. When the exercise is over, they check out the equipment, make sure it's in good shape, put it back in storage and leave. And, this is part of the forward presence we're maintaining in the Gulf that allows us to respond very quickly and forcefully to any emergencies that might arise there. But, in order to be able to do that, we have to exercise constantly to make sure that our ability to respond is at a peak level.

Q: Ken, was this group the one that the Secretary referred to on Saturday or is this a second battalion in Kuwait?

A: This is a -- battalions switch in and out all the time and this is a new battalion going in.

Q: Replacing the one that had been there?

A: Well, I'll have to check on that. There is a -- there are a number of troops there all the time maintaining the area, maintaining security, etc., but the guts of this exercise is to have battalions fly over from the United States, hop on the equipment, exercise vigorously, turn in the equipment and come home. Jim.

Q: The air space over Abu Musa, does the U.S. recognize that as being Iranian air space?

A: Well, the island of Abu Musa and Greater and Lessor Tumb are disputed territory. It is my understanding that we have not violated any air space.

Q: But do you recognize Iran's claim to the air space over Abu Musa?

A: I can't answer that question, I'll try to get you the answer. [inaudible].

Q: I think also the question is whose air space is it by U.S. standards, not only who do we recognize, but whose air space is that?

A: Well, that would be -- that's the same question, it's just asked a different way. But I'll try to get an answer to both those questions.

Q: Well, if you don't recognize it as Iranian air space, whose air space do we believe it is?

A: I -- okay.

Q: But you said they weren't flying over Abu Musa anyway, is that right? Or is --

A: That's what the Navy and CENTCOM has informed me.

Q: May we move to Saudi? Can you give us the latest update, please, on the movement of the 4,000? Have all the 1,200 of the advanced unit arrived in place? What's the status of the air conditioned tent city? And, have you been able to acquire enough camels to make the move and are they single- or double- humped?

A: Well, there are now 711 Air Force personnel at Prince Sultan Air Base at Al Kharj in Saudi Arabia. The primary concentration of troops there is a tanker airlift control element that is about 40% of the total there. They are the people who sort of run the traffic coming in and out, assist in refueling, etc. There are over 200 Red Horse Air Force engineers there to start assembling the tents. There are also some security personnel. Other groups are coming in as needed to flesh out the total number which actually will be probably somewhat more than 1,200 when it's over but I don't have an exact figure. It won't be significantly more than 1,200 but it could be closer to 1,300 than 1,200 when it's all over. But they'll be medical people, they'll be environmental, security people, fuel support people, weather forecasters, maintenance people, etc.

Q: One follow-up. Will the 4,000 wait until all the infrastructure is in place before moving or will they move now, while all this is being done?

A: Well, I think they'll -- I don't have an exact schedule for when they'll move, but when they are enough tents there they'll begin moving people down. Remember, I said on Tuesday, that we're going to make this move without interrupting the operations of SOUTHERN WATCH, so, we have to be able to move in sort of organic units that make sense both from the standpoint of continuing SOUTHERN WATCH from Dhahran before everybody is moved down and also from initiating it from Al Kharj. Remember, people are coming from two locations, Dhahran and Riyadh, and so we bring in people from one air base before we do it from the other. And, I anticipate that's what we'll do, but I don't have the exact schedule. Mark?

Q: Do you have a read out from General Downing's meeting with Secretary Perry yesterday?

A: I do not.

Q: Could you provide [inaudible] some answers on it? Was it an assessment? Was it a report? Was it a preliminary report?

A: He reported on his trip, and that's about all I can say about it.

Q: Will the deadline be extended now until the end of August?

A: I anticipate that the report will not be made public until after Congress returns in September. I believe Congress is supposed to return on the 4th of September, is that right? So it will be sometime after Congress returns in early September that the report will become public.

Q: Where was the meeting?

A: The meeting was here, yesterday.

Q: Is the report essentially finished?

A: No, the report is now being written.

Q: Has there been a decision on whether or not the military dependents in Kuwait will be pulled out?

A: That is -- the details of that are still being worked out. Basically, what's going to happen is that over a period of time there will be fewer military dependents in Kuwait, but the exact details are being discussed still, and that has not been finalized. There will still be some military dependents in Kuwait but fewer than there are now. And, when we get all that worked out, we'll get back to you on it.

Q: Do you have a rough number of how many [inaudible]?

A: I'm afraid in Kuwait, I don't -- at -- let me check here, I may.

Q: How about the 750 out of Saudi, have they come back to CONUS yet? Are they in transit?

A: No, as I said, they'll be coming back in the middle of August and the middle of August is still about a week away. They'll -- they have not started to move yet in bulk. There will be, I think, in the end probably about 800 dependents coming back, including 130 and plus 130 pets returning from Saudi Arabia. But, as I say, that will be around the middle of August. And, while I'm on that, I'd like to just pass on one piece of public service information which is that we are going to -- we have established, I believe this is in operation now, a hot line for families who want to leave messages to people coming back from Saudi Arabia to Charleston. And, they can leave messages, get information, etc. And, that line is 1-800-851-7607. And, that's a number that people can call in order to find out when flights are arriving, who's arriving, etc. Yes.

Q: Could you tell me why with the grenade accident this past week at Ft. Campbell, why an armored vehicle wasn't in to find the lost grenade and what your policy is on finding lost grenades?

A: I think you should direct that question to the Army, I can't answer the question. But they'll be able to give you an answer, I'm sure. Generally, questions about accidents like that are answered by the post where they occurred which is Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. But, why don't you check with the Army, here. Somebody can get you in touch with the right person right after the briefing. Jamie?

Q: New subject. The -- there's a published report in Long Island Newsday which suggests that there's some kind of new information that air strikes in the Persian Gulf War sent clouds of low level nerve gas toward allied positions in Saudi Arabia. They quote CIA computer model projections. Can you tell us if this in fact is new evidence or can you put this in perspective at all?

A: Well, first of all, I'd like to say that the headline on that story was not supported by the story itself, so, I guess that qualifies it as inaccurate. The headline was "Study, Nerve Gas Fell On Troops," and it did not. The story says explicitly that there's no evidence it fell on the troops. And, in fact, the CIA study, which is publicly available and which was summarized in the Internet from a meeting in July in Chicago, also made it clear that we have no evidence that U.S. troops were exposed to nerve gas after the bombing of chemical supplies in Iraq. So, my comment is that to the extent the story gives that impression it is not the correct impression.

Q: What about the cloud -- the basic story that nerve gas was released in bombing and went 200 miles south?

A: Well, that's not what the story said and it's not what the study said. It said that a computer model showed -- a computer model, which is different from actuality, but a computer model showed that the -- that a -- some nerve gas may have dispersed as far as 185 miles from the site of the bombing. The closest American troops at the time were 255 miles away. So, the troops were 70 miles from the outer edge listed in this computer model for the spread of the nerve gas, which I believe was sarin. So, we have still no -- no evidence that troops in this instance were exposed to chemical agents. But, I want to be clear about two things, and I hope you'll be clear about that too. This report came out because it was made public by the CIA as part of the presidential reported Persian Gulf War Illness Task Force proceedings. And, it's the latest of several disclosures that we've made in an effort to get out as much information as possible about what may have happened.

We do not have any evidence yet that U.S. troops were exposed to chemical agents. But, we are looking at all the facts. We're studying all the information that comes out, and we are doing our best to get to the bottom of this as quickly as we can. Yes?

Q: Different subject.

Q: I'll ask one more on the subject. I forget where the answer came from, but when Senator Riegle first proposed this theory that nerve agents were released, came down south, an answer from someplace, I think from the podium, was that it makes no sense that any gas strong enough to go 200 miles south would have to be so powerful at the source or in between where it landed, it would have to kill a lot of Iraqis and there's no evidence of that. Is that still the theory here?

A: Well, former Senator Riegle made a lot of charges about chemical exposure during the Gulf War. We have taken this issue very, very seriously. We're looking aggressively at the information. We're still developing new information. That was what part of this computer modeling was about. So far we have not, as you pointed out, we have not found any sign, we have not found convincing evidence that U.S. forces were exposed to vapors from chemical weapons.

But, as I say, we're continuing to look at the evidence as it becomes available. You were right in pointing out that there are many -- there is no dispute, there is no dispute that Iraq had chemical agents. There is no dispute that these chemical agents were destroyed by American forces at various times during the war. The question is what impact, if any, did these agents have on U.S. troops, and that's what we're continuing to look at. Yes?

Q: What's the Pentagon doing in response to the reported U-2 crash?

A: We are studying the -- the -- did you say reported U-2 crash? Well, I think there's no doubt that it crashed, and we have set up a team to review the circumstances behind that crash. It was a training mission. I believe, they were testing the U-2 after it had received some maintenance, and we are as -- after every crash, we set up a team to review the circumstances of the crash and to not only reconstruct exactly what happened but try to instruct us on how we can avoid future crashes. And, we'll do that in this case.

Q: The Air Force says it has four operational U-2s. I don't know what it is now, or whether it is three. But, can the Pentagon tell us where these aircraft fly on their surveillance missions? Do they go over Cuba? Do they go over Bosnia and where else?

A: Well, I don't think I should get in to describing U-2 missions from here. But, nice try. Yes?

Q: On the Khobar bombing, is there any sense when that investigation of that bombing would be concluded? Is there any new evidence from this investigation, so far?

A: Well, I'm just going to refer you to the FBI on that which is conducting -- which is working with the Saudi authorities on the investigation. Joe?

Q: Is there any sense of the time?

A: I think the FBI is the appropriate agency to talk to about that.

Q: Are the other U-2s continuing to fly?

A: To the best of my knowledge, yes, they are continuing to fly.

I want to go back to Abu Musa and stress again, I've just been handed a note saying that we did not fly over Abu Musa. We'll still check the question you asked, but we have -- we -- one of the reasons we remain clear of Abu Musa is because of the very fact we consider the island a "territory in dispute" and that's between the UAE and Iran. But I'll see if we can get you more information on that. But that's my best shot at answering your question right now?

Q: Has the Pepsi Corporation contacted the Pentagon about the possible purchase of a Harrier jump jet?

A: I'm not aware that they've contacted us yet. According to what I've read, the Pepsi ad wasn't the real thing. And, the dispute continues.

Q: But, in the practical sense, would it actually, I know, that this is something that will be resolved by the courts, I guess, but practically speaking, would it be possible for Pepsi to -- to purchase an unarmed version of this jet and deliver it to a private citizen or are there laws that would prevent that?

A: It would not be possible, now. In order to purchase a military plane, it would have to be demilitarized and that means that it's life would be through with the military. Of course, the Marines are still using Harriers. They're an integral part of their Marine air-ground task forces. When a plane is demilitarized, it's basically rendered unflyable. So, even if the lad were able to get a copy -- get a plane from Pepsi, it would not be one he could fly. My understanding is the Pepsi ad used a computer simulation of the plane landing.

The plane is still in the active inventory and is not commercially marketed to the public here or in the United Kingdom where it's also made or has been made. It actually was designed by the British as I understand it. We are not currently producing Harriers. If the production line were to start again, we would buy -- that -- we would have to start it not just for one plane but for a batch of 12 planes and the planes cost an estimated $33.8 million a piece, so the cost of producing this would be $405.6 million dollars.

If you could get a plane, a Harrier isn't FAA certified and it's quite expensive to operate. It uses between 7 and 11.4 gallons of fuel a minute.

Q: Are you prepared to discuss this?

A: It's funny you should ask. Are there any more questions?

Q: To Bosnia?

A: Yes.

Q: What's the status of the Islamic fighters from other countries there. I thought I recall that the United States decided that they had substantially left. I see a quote in a published account from a NATO officer saying that they're engaged in a broad pattern of intimidation against the local population. What's the status of those fighters?

A: Well, we certified on June 26th, in a statement from the White House that there is no evidence of any remaining organized Mujahadeen units in Bosnia. We still see no organized foreign forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We said at the time that some individuals have remained. They've married into families and that was acceptable under the arrangements we had. So, all I can tell you is we do not believe that there are any organized foreign forces operating in Bosnia, now.

Q: And, what about the -- what about the overall level of compliance with the Dayton Peace Accords, particularly from the Bosnian Serbs? Some Western officials are quoted as saying that they seem to be becoming increasingly non-compliant with some of the provisions and acts that they're requested to do? Have you seen a rising level of non-compliance by the Bosnian Serbs?

A: Well, the first point I'd like to make is that a year ago, there was a war going on in Bosnia and now there is basically peace in Bosnia. A year ago the sides were killing each other. Today, they're campaigning for election, a significant difference. It was on August 28, 1995, that a mortar shell slammed into a market in Sarajevo killing 30 people. That type of wanton violence has ended.

There is still violence in Bosnia, but it's basically interruptions to a peace that's been much more successful than most people imagine, and people now can feel confident about going to markets. They sit in outdoor cafes in Sarajevo and Banja Luka and other cities. Most are in Bosnia. So, there's been an enormous change for the better.

Are there problems? Yes, there are problems but basically the compliance has been solid and we -- the IFOR forces are working very hard to patrol and to see that all sides comply with the terms of the Dayton Peace Accords. We've had a number of very significant steps toward peace, the separation of the forces, the placement of weapons in cantonment areas, the standing down of the -- turning off the air defense systems, the radars, etc., the arms control agreement and generally the compliance has been quite high with the major provisions of the Dayton Accords. Thank you.