Wednesday, September 4, 1996 - 7:10 a.m.
Mr. Bacon: General Joseph Ralston of the U.S. Air Force is the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He'll begin with a brief statement that will not only discuss what happened last night, but the whole mission over the last two days, and then he'll take your questions.
General Ralston: Thank you, Ken.
Yesterday we talked about the operation that we have ongoing, DESERT STRIKE. I would like to give you an update of where we are with that operation.
As you recall yesterday we talked about establishing the new no-fly zone at the 33rd Parallel. Once again, the rationale for this is the fact that our strategic interests of the United States are certainly to the south, and we want to make it as difficult as possible for Saddam in some unpredictable way to threaten his neighbors, certainly, to the south. By increasing the size of the no-fly zone that gives us additional warning; but more importantly, it significantly impacts his training of his armed forces and reduces their readiness.
In order to facilitate our pilots enforcing that no-fly zone, we wanted to do everything possible to reduce the risk to our aircrews. So our strikes yesterday were designed to reduce the threats to our airplanes and our pilots enforcing the no-fly zone. We had targeted surface-to-air missile sites as well as his integrated air defense network.
There were approximately 15 targets on our target list. We struck those targets. And, yesterday, we assessed the damage that was done. We felt that we had a very effective strike. But as you do the bomb damage assessment sometimes other factors, such as clouds, get in the way. And if there was any doubt at all as to whether we reduced the effectiveness of his air defense system, we thought it prudent to go back with a restrike.
In the second strike that we had, we had four targets. After assessment of that restrike, it was the judgment of the commanders on the scene that the risk to our aircrews and pilots was sufficiently reduced. That OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH could proceed.
This morning OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH proceeded, and SOUTHERN WATCH, now, is the enforcement of the no-fly zone. The coalition does this. It's coalition. This morning aircraft, U.S. aircraft as well as French aircraft and British aircraft were a part of the coalition.
At noon Saddam's time -- Iraqi time -- which was 5 o'clock (EDITOR'S NOTE: the actual effective time was 4 a.m. EDT) in the morning Eastern time here, the new no-fly zone went into effect. The no-fly zone from the 33rd Degree Parallel South. The operation is proceeding at this time. Again, as Mr. Bacon told you yesterday, no operation is risk-free, but we are trying to take those prudent measures, including the restrike of last evening, to make sure that we have sufficiently reduced the defenses, that our people were not unduly threatened.
Q: Can you tell us more precisely the extent of damage that has been inflicted? Have all the targets been destroyed? Have a certain number of them been destroyed? Is there any possibility now of a third attack?
A: Again, I don't want to get into future operations, but right now we are confident that the risk is such that we can implement OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH. I might add that just because we eliminated a target doesn't mean that he couldn't move another target into position or that a site could become operational again. That is an ongoing assessment we will continue to make, and we will take those prudent measures necessary to ensure the safety of our crews.
Q: Saddam Hussein has been vowing to defy the no-fly zone. Have you detected any possible intent -- either movement of Iraqi aircraft or the turning on of targeting radar or any sort of action that would indicate that he is following through with his intent to defy the no-fly zone?
A: So far in OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH -- the enforcement of the no-fly zone this morning -- we noted no violations. As a matter of fact, prior to the enforcement of the no-fly zone, we noticed the departure of some aircraft from the airfields.
Q: How many aircraft are still on the ground in that no- fly zone?
A: I can't give you a precise number at this time. That's something that's being looked at. Remember yesterday I told you that he had three choices. He could leave the airplanes on the ground and let them rust; he could fly the airplanes out prior to the enforcement of the no-fly zone; or he could take his chances and fly the airplanes out of the no-fly zone at his own risk if it happened after the enforcement of the no-fly zone.
Q: If you see aircraft departing, heading north and trying to get out of that zone at this point, are you going to let them go, or are you going to engage in hostile pursuit and try and deal with them?
A: If an airplane flies in the no-fly zone, they are violating the rules. The operational commanders on the scene will have to take what action they think is appropriate at the time.
Q: You used the term "ongoing" when you began. That leads us to believe that there may be additional strikes planned. The second part is -- I know we don't discuss rules of operation, but up until yesterday -- if one of the coalition aircraft is painted, it does retaliate with HARM missiles or something else. Is that still in effect?
A: We have always had the right of self-protection of our people. I don't want to get into the rules of engagement that we've got. But the rules of engagement are clear. Our people know what the rules of engagement are, and they're being enforced.
Q: The ongoing part that I asked in the first part of the question?
A: I'm sorry. OPERATION DESERT STRIKE is what I was talking about. Again, OPERATION DESERT STRIKE was to enable the performance of our mission in the no-fly zone. We are performing that mission. I won't speculate as to whether additional actions will be necessary or not. It depends on the reaction that we get from Saddam.
Q: Has anything been shot down? An Iraqi newspaper says a pilotless plane has been shot down. That's what they called it, a pilotless plane.
A: A pilotless plane?
Q: That's the term it uses, but has anything been shot down?
A: We have no evidence that that's true.
Q: General, in the first volley 27 cruise missiles targeted against some 16 sites. Is it a surprise that you would require a second volley, another 17? What does it say about the performance?
A: Let me address that for a moment. Here's a picture that I showed you yesterday of a notional target. When we talk about a target, most people think of a single pinpoint. That's not what we're talking about.
For example, in this SAM site, you have a guidance radar over here, you have a SAM launcher, you've got other support facilities, you have a SAM launcher here, you have a surface-to- air missile launcher here. So the idea that 27 missiles went after 14 targets doesn't mean that you had to have two on every individual aim point. There could be multiple aim points as we go through there.
The same is true for the 17 missiles that were fired against the four restrikes. Sometimes you may want to put two missiles to ensure a higher probability of damage. Sometimes you may put the missiles at various aim points within the same site.
Q: You said earlier that you wanted to make things difficult for Saddam. Would there be any capital in expanding the northern no-fly zone? Wouldn't that make things even more difficult?
A: I believe, once again, that from our strategic plan of what we want to do, this is the prudent action. We are trying to protect vital U.S. interests, so we have taken those actions we believe are appropriate to do that. We believe the southern no- fly zone is the right way to go at this time.
Q: With some specificity bring at least one target into focus and say where the damage fell short of what you wanted. Where the visibility was so bad you felt the second strike was necessary.
A: I don't want to get into the specifics of the operation. But to give you an example of what I'm talking about, we had a case yesterday that clouds, in fact, got over one of the targets. We thought that it was destroyed. We were uncertain at the time. At that time we authorized the restrike. Subsequent to the actual restrike going, we ascertained that the target had, in fact, been destroyed the first time around. We took that target off the list for the second go.
Q: General, there's been criticism of the accuracy of the TLAMs and the airborne cruise missiles. You've now fired 44 missiles in the past two days. Are you satisfied that these missiles are, indeed, accurate?
A: I'm satisfied that these missiles are accurate. When you fire a missile, you do not have 100 percent chance of destruction. You operate in probabilities of destruction, and it depends on the hardness of the target, the size of the target. The accuracy of the missile is only one factor that you get into. But we have seen nothing in this operation that falls outside the norms of what we would expect.
Q: Did all the missile perform properly?
A: All the missiles performed properly in the sense of ... As they were launched from their carrier, the airplane, or the surface ship, they all performed properly as far as getting out and flying. As far as what they actually did in the end game, that's something that's difficult to ascertain. If in fact they hit exactly where they were programmed to, then you could say they worked pretty well.
Q: General, you said that Britain, France, and the United States were patrolling this no-fly zone. Can you give us any sort of breakdown on how much of this is a U.S. operation and how much is an allied operation? In percentages, if not in numbers.
A: I don't have the exact numbers and percentages, but the operation today is not unlike the operation that has been going on for some time there. In terms of numbers, the greatest number of airplanes are U.S. aircraft, but we have a significant contribution from our allies. And the operation today was no different from the typical operation prior to this time.
Q: How many French planes took part in this?
A: I don't want to get into the exact numbers of what took place, but today we had Mirage aircraft were part of the no-fly zone operation.
Q: What's the latest information on the disposition of Iraqi forces in the north?
A: With regard to the... I assume you're talking about the forces in the vicinity of Irbil. We believe that some force movement has taken place. But we also... It's our assessment right now that you can't talk about exactly what street corner are Iraqi forces on. The fact of the matter is that the Iraqi division is still in the vicinity. Forces, both security forces as well as mechanized forces. They are in a position to certainly influence Irbil, and we're still watching them very closely.
Q: CNN's Christiane Amanpour is in Irbil. And she reports that there's very little evidence of any Iraqi troops there, and she's told that they've been gone for days. When you say they're in the vicinity, how close are they, and in what kind of a position are they to move?
A: Certainly close enough that Irbil is threatened. I don't want to get into the exact location of the forces, but we believe at this time they certainly have the capability to influence Irbil.
Q: If what triggered this whole thing was the Iraqi invasion, if you will, of the Irbil area, and the attack on those Kurdish forces, then what is the message that you're sending to Saddam Hussein if you're not attacking those forces?
A: The message we are sending to Saddam Hussein... That is, if he violates the norms that are expected, that he will suffer a penalty. In this particular case, he is suffering a penalty in loss of sovereignty over his airspace, and his armed forces are suffering a penalty in terms of their ability to train and of their combat readiness.
Q: Turkey announced this morning that it may intervene in northern Iraq. Is that something the United States would welcome?
A: I think Turkey is certainly a sovereign nation and they will have to make their decisions, and I'm not going to comment on what would be in their interest.
Thank you very much.