Tuesday, November 5, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.
Bridges, USA, Director, OASD(PA), Directorate for Defense Information)
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
I thought in planning this briefing that it would be the perfect day to release any bad information we had to release, because I'm sure that none of it can get into the papers tomorrow. But as hard as I looked, I couldn't find any bad information to release, so I'll just have to proceed with the normal briefing and the normal diet of good information.
Q: I'd better get an extra notebook and pens in case this goes long today.
A: That's fine. If you guys want to call it off now because you think you'll be surfeited with good information, you can do that.
Q: Have you voted yet?
A: I have not voted yet, but I will. If you don't keep me here too long, I'll be able to get to the polls before they close at eight in the District.
Q: Anything new on the F-16 downings?
A: Let me just start. First of all I'd like to call your attention to two milestones that are coming up in Bosnia.
The first is on November 7th, Thursday. There will be a transfer of authority ceremony. General Crouch and LANDCENT will take over the control of the Bosnia operation from IFOR and Admiral Lopez, and also from the ARRC, the Rapid Reaction Corps, which is commanded by Lieutenant General Michael Walker. Admiral Lopez, like Admiral Smith before him, has done a superb job in leading IFOR. IFOR will give up command, as will the ARRC, and they will both return to their normal duties. Admiral Lopez will return to Naples and run Allied Forces South; and General Walker will return to Germany and run the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps from there. As I said, General Crouch, who was the commander of U.S. Army Europe, will take over as LANDCENT to run the Bosnia operation. That's on Thursday, November 7th.
Then on November 10th, there will be a transfer of authority ceremony in Tuzla and Major General Montgomery Meigs will take over from Major General William Nash, and the 1st Infantry Division will take over for the 1st Armored Division. General Nash, along with his brigade commanders, Colonels Fontenot and Batiste, have done a superb job running Task Force Eagle, the American participation in IFOR, for nearly a year. They'll be returning back to their bases in Germany. General Meigs will run the covering force until that completes its work in March.
So those are upcoming in the next week, and I just call your attention to it.
That's all I have.
Q: While you're on the subject of Bosnia, has there been any speed-up, or is there any speed-up planned in the withdrawal of troops?
A: No, that's still under consideration, but no decision has been made yet. If there is an acceleration of the redeployment of the 1st Armored Division, it will probably be fairly slight.
Q: What about the F-16s? Do you have any more knowledge as to what was setting off the alarms in the cockpits from the Iraqi...
A: I don't. The review won't be completed for several days, and until it is completed, I'd rather just wait until we have the full picture that we'll get from that review.
Q: So you have no knowledge as to what the missiles did or didn't hit when they were fired?
A: I think I would rather wait until everything is done before commenting on...
Q: Has the second warning been confirmed? The first warning was rejected after...
A: I'm going to wait until we have a complete picture, and not deal in fragmentary information.
Q: Can you describe at all what it is they're looking at? A little bit about the process, what they're going through?
A: Well, they're looking at a wide variety of things. They're looking at the electronic environment in which the planes were flying. They're looking at how the planes functioned. They're reviewing the intelligence that they collected before, during and after those particular missions. They obviously will talk to the pilots in those planes, who have already been debriefed, actually, and other people flying in those packages. They'll look for as complete a picture of what happened as they can assemble in the time available.
Q: Hasn't a special electronic team been sent over, including manufacturer reps?
A: There's a tiger team that's been put together, mainly comprised of Air Force people, but there are other people as well. But it's basically an effort to get as complete a picture as we can of what happened.
Q: Are you seeing any indications in Iraq of behavior on the part of the Iraqi government that is more provocative than other areas aside from this? Is there any activity on the part of that government that concerns you at this point?
A: I don't think I'd ever say there's no activity on the part of the Iraqi government that doesn't concern us. We're very concerned about the activities of the Iraqi government, and that's one of the reasons that we have such a substantial force in the area. As you know, we boosted that force in September and the F-117s are still there, the F-16CJs we sent are still there, and the brigade from the 1st Cavalry Division is still there, and they'll remain there as long as they're needed.
We watch the situation in Iraq very closely all the time. We think that the presence of our force there may have helped Ambassador Pelletreau and others encourage the Kurds to reach a cease-fire. So we are watching very carefully. But specifically in your question, we have not seen activities in the no-fly zone over the last couple of days or weeks that indicate a heightened threat environment. But that's exactly one of the things that's under review here. Did we miss anything? Have they changed operating procedures? Is there anything to which we should pay heightened attention that may have escaped our gaze. We're always vigilant. This is an area we've been watching extremely closely, but we have to always be open to the possibility that a changed procedure could have led to these outcomes.
Q: Would you have expected to see something prior to an illumination, an attempt to target a plane?
A: I'm not going to get into the details. All that will come out when we finally have a report.
Q: Has there ever been a false alarm before, similar false alarms before in that area?
A: I'm not an expert on false alarms.
Q: You're saying there's been no hostile reaction from the batteries that have been hit specifically, or from any of their air defense systems to these errors?
A: I'm not aware of any now, but this is precisely the type of thing we're looking at.
Q: Is there still routine or daily movement of mobile systems or are mobile systems back in garrison as they supposedly were after the bombing?
A: There has been some continuing movement of some of the systems back and forth. Some systems are back in garrison. Others are moving around on a fairly regular basis.
Q: What's the status of the F-117s, the 5,000 troops, and the B-52s?
A: As I said, the B-52s have left. The F-117s are there, and the troops from the 1st Cav are still there in Kuwait.
Q: On Zaire. Are there U.S. military members who are part of assessment teams both in Geneva and in Africa determining the need for relief?
A: There are three African-related efforts or Zaire- related efforts underway now. There is a conference in Geneva in which a U.S. government team is meeting with the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees to discuss planning for relief efforts. There is also a disaster assessment team that was sent by the government to Rwanda to assess the situation on the ground, and there was also a meeting today, consultations in Nairobi with regional African leaders. Howard Wolpe, the U.S. Special Envoy to Burundi is attending that meeting in Nairobi. These are all being done to assess what's going on.
I believe that there are military members of both the team in Geneva and the assessment team in Rwanda.
Q: Is information being provided from any of our national technical systems to the UN or to the UNHCR to help them locate or find or manage or keep track of some of the refugees?
A: We're providing information as it's available and appropriate to the UN.
Q: Are the military members you mentioned, are they from EUCOM or special people tasked from the Pentagon itself?
A: I don't know exactly where they're from. Do you know where they're from?
Colonel Bridges: The one in Geneva's from EUCOM.
Mr. Bacon: And how about the assessment team?
Colonel Bridges: I'll have to check on the other one.
A: We'll get you that information.
Q: There was a general's trip that was talked about for November 7th and 8th, the Deputy EUCOM Commander, that was canceled?
A: General Jamerson, yeah.
Q: Do you know why?
A: We sent another assessment team over there, and he decided for a variety of reasons not to go. I don't think any specific reason.
Q: The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has alerted Americans in Saudi Arabia to be vigilant against acts of terrorism because of the anniversary of the Riyadh bombing and the U.S. presidential elections. Is any additional security being taken for U.S. troops in the region, and are there any threats, specific or otherwise, to indicate there might be an increased chance of terrorism against U.S. military facilities or troops in the region?
A: The principal step taken by U.S. troops in the region was to move from Dhahran and Riyadh to the Prince Sultan Air Base at Al Kharj which is a remote facility, much easier to secure than the more urban facilities they were stationed at before. We are very alert to possible threats in Saudi Arabia. We've been on alert for about a year, highly alert since the Riyadh bombing on November 13th, and we remain highly alert to possible problems. I don't think I want to discuss any specific information beyond that.
Q: Does the Defense Department have any comment on Jeff Smith's two articles last week on culpability for the bombing at Khobar? And specifically, do you have any information about FBI Director Freeh seeking from the Saudi Ambassador here in Washington greater, I guess a greater, release of information? Is there an insufficient amount of information being released by the Saudis?
A: I think I should let the FBI comment on that. They issued a statement over the weekend saying that some reports of the FBI coming out of Saudi Arabia were in error, and those reports were based on an assumption -- a false assumption -- that the FBI was leaving because it wasn't working productively with the Saudis. The FBI has addressed that in a statement which is available to you from their public affairs office.
Secretary Perry last week addressed the Washington Post story and said that we have not come to a conclusion as to who was responsible for the bombing.
Q: But you wouldn't comment on what Jeff Smith, a very competent fellow, has concluded or learned from his investigation about the Iranians being complicitous, providing passports for some of the people involved in the terror in Saudi Arabia, and specifically giving the orders.
A: The Secretary commented to the extent we want to comment last week. I have nothing to say beyond that.
Q: Could you just, for the record, tell us was there any level of concern, or was there concern at all here in the Pentagon during the time that Russian President Boris Yeltsin was undergoing surgery about the safety and security of the Russian nuclear arsenal?
A: The transfer of government authority was made to Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, who incidentally called President Clinton today and reported on the success of President Yeltsin's operation. We wish President Yeltsin a speedy, complete recovery. We believe that adequate steps were taken to oversee and command the nuclear arsenal by turning over government authority to Prime Minister Chernomyrdin.
As you know, General Shalikashvili was in Moscow today and met with his counterpart, had very productive meetings, and I have no sense that he or anybody else in the United States Government was concerned about the safety and control of the Russian arsenal.
Q: Just for the record, who is his Russian counterpart?
A: His Russian counterpart is Viktor Nikolayevich Samsonov.
Q: Back on Bosnia, tomorrow is the day that NATO is supposed to present its analysis or recommendations on the four options, is that right?
A: The military committee will submit its analysis to the North Atlantic Council tomorrow. That's right.
Q: Then what happens?
A: They will analyze it further and study it. They will decide what to do. They have four options, and they'll have to pick one of those options. That probably won't be done until some time after the middle of the month.
Q: Are we going to be told what the military committee's recommendation is?
A: At the appropriate time. But you know what the four options are. The military committee hasn't formally transmitted its options to the North Atlantic Council. All they did was analyze the four options that the Ministers agreed to in Bergen. I can run through those four options if you'd like.
Q: Why don't they pick one?
A: I have not seen what they recommended, so I don't feel free to comment on what they've recommended.
Q: I thought they did recommend it until tomorrow?
A: They've submitted options. The NAC has to choose one of the four options. What they've done is analyzed four options, and the NAC will then look at the four options, the analysis of the four options, and decide which one is appropriate.
Q: Will these options include troop numbers, that kind of thing, in order to carry them out.
A: Yeah, they'll include mission statements, troop numbers, et cetera. One of them is complete withdrawal so that doesn't involve troop numbers.
Q: To follow up on the same issue, has the Secretary now come down hard on one of the options -- he was favoring one of them before -- but has he made a firm determination of what the U.S. pleasure is, which option he likes?
A: I think the question you should ask is has the President decided, because he's the one who has to make a final decision for our government. The answer is no, the President has not made a decision.
Q: Is there a recommendation from this building to the President on which option?
A: No, the Secretary has not made a recommendation to the President and probably won't for some time. We want to first see what the NAC recommends, but the Secretary has not made a recommendation to the President.
Q: Do you know when is the next NAC meeting?
A: I think... doesn't the NAC meet weekly? I think they'll get to this after the middle of the month.
Q: Just to be clear, are you saying when the military committee forwards its analysis to the NAC, it doesn't necessarily endorse the particular options, simply analyzes them all?
A: That's my understanding, that it analyzes four options. As I said, I haven't seen what they plan to submit.
I want to clarify one thing. There were not any military members on the disaster relief team that has gone to... There's a disaster assessment relief team called DART that's been dispatched and sent. This DART's been sent by AID to Rwanda and there is not military participation on that. That's being headed by William Garvelink, who is the foreign disaster assistance... Deputy Director of AID's Foreign Disaster Assistance Office, so I misspoke earlier when I said there were military people on that.
Press: Thank you.