DoD News Briefing: Mr. Dennis Boxx, DATSD PA
Mr. Boxx: Good afternoon. It's good to be with you again.
I have one announcement. We have a press advisory for you telling you that Secretary of the Army Togo West is in Panama today visiting soldiers in Southern Command, and he will travel tomorrow to Haiti to get a first-hand look at how our forces are operating there. The Army's Vice Chief of Staff, General Tilleli, will also be in Haiti tomorrow with the Secretary.
With that, I will try to answer your questions.
Q: How is the new Bosnia policy operation working? Have any arms been detected on the ships for Bosnia?
A: I've gotten no reports of any intercepts that included any arms that were bound for Bosnia. I don't have anything positively on that.
Q: Would you get them... Or does the new policy mean that you wouldn't know?
A: I suspect because of the attention the subject has drawn, I would probably get something on that. And I have not. I wouldn't rule it out entirely.
Q: Could you comment on increasingly widespread reports that American military personnel are involved in training Bosnian forces -- either in uniform or out of uniform?
A: No DoD personnel are conducting training or [conducting] any other military activity in support of any Bosnian government forces.
Q: What about intelligence sharing and other kinds of support?
A: As you know, we have a long-standing policy not to address intelligence matters.
Q: Is there anything the Defense Department is doing in connection with Bosnia?
A: Could you narrow that down a little bit? (Laughter)
Q: You say you're not involved in training, supplying weapons?
A: Perhaps part of this comes from the notion that there have been U.S. military personnel in uniform seen in Bosnia. That shouldn't be a surprise. We have somewhere between 20 and 30 military personnel assigned to the Bosnia region. They are essentially involved in the nuts and bolts kinds of support activities to UNPROFOR, to the UNHCR effort, to the humanitarian effort. They are doing logistics, air operations, administrative support, convoy support. So clearly, we have a very, very small presence in Bosnia of U.S. military personnel. They are entirely engaged in activities that support UN and UNHCR. They are not in any way, shape or form engaged in activities that support the Bosnian forces.
Q: What about this reported meeting between General Charles Boyd and an important Bosnian army commander?
A: I'm told General Boyd, in fact, did make a trip to the region along with a number of other government officials. He did not participate in, nor is he aware of, any discussions about U.S. military assistance to the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Any reports to the contrary are just flat wrong.
Q: Did he meet this guy, or...
A: I'm not sure. I would refer you to European Command for his itinerary specifically.
Q: Can you give us an update on Bihac -- the situation? When last we met, Ken said NATO and the UN were considering several options, one of which was a possible exclusion zone. Has there been any further narrowing of the options or any decisions at all?
A: No, there's been no decisions on the exclusion zone specifically. Those are discussions that continue. The situation in Bosnia worsens. The situation in Bihac is also quite bad. We continue to discuss with our allies -- with NATO, with the UN -- ways to improve the situation. It is very difficult. And we again urge all parties to exercise restraint -- particularly in the Bihac region -- to preclude the extension of the hostilities and the widening of the war.
Q: Has the UN and/or NATO -- or both given -- themselves any deadline as to when they're going to make a decision? Or is it still open-ended?
A: No, I don't think there's been any deadline. I think they look at the situation daily and discuss it daily, if not more frequently. But I know of no time table for that.
Q: Can we return a moment to the question of whether or not the United States is providing satellite pictures to the Bosnians which would be of enormous tactical help to the Bosnian forces? Again, there have been many reports that those satellite pictures and other intelligence information have been handed over to them [full scale] by the U.S. By not commenting at all, you're leaving open the possibility that that is happening.
A: Let me read my statement to you. "No DoD personnel are conducting training or any other military activity in support of the Bosnian government forces." If you want to take a very broad interpretation of that, I would not dissuade you. That's really as far as I can go.
Q: When you say that DoD is not doing it, you're certainly not ruling out that other parts of our government are providing that kind of information, are you?
A: I'm not ruling it in or out. I'm simply speaking for the Pentagon, and that's as far as I'm willing to go.
Q: It appears that there is some evidence -- some trend -- to support some of the conclusions that the United States government generally -- and especially the Department of Defense -- is surrendering, giving up its neutrality in Bosnia in favor of the Bosnian government. Is this a valid conclusion?
A: Every time you ask me that question I give you the same answer. It is not a valid conclusion. I think you have to factor in reality here. Let's look at who the aggressors are. Let's look at who has not yet signed up to the peace agreement. That's the Bosnian-Serb side of this. We encourage all sides to stop fighting. We encourage Bosnian-Serbs to sign up to the Contact Group peace plan, and end the killing. That's the position that we've taken.
Q: There's frequent mention of the dual-key system required for air strikes. Is there a situation now where NATO and/or the U.S. is in a position of wanting to turn that key and the UN is not?
A: We have said consistently that we stand ready to live up to the obligations within NATO and to UNPROFOR. But it will take UNPROFOR, logically, the ones that are on the ground, to ask and turn that key first.
Q: Specifically with relation to Bihac and the sort of intensified fighting. Is there a specific push on the part of NATO in the direction of the use of air power that's being either ignored or rejected by UNPROFOR?
A: The discussion within NATO is whether to declare an exclusion zone. By declaring an exclusion zone -- that decision, by the way, would be made along with the UN -- in declaring an exclusion zone, I think it's a statement in and of itself that there's a greater willingness and desire to enforce the heavy weapons exclusion and try to bring some of the killing to an end.
Q: I believe the Nunn/Mitchell law requires that the U.S. submit a plan for training the Bosnian Muslims to Congress. Has a plan been submitted, and what can you tell us about it?
A: The consultations are underway with the Congress. I can't give you very much on it. I hope to be able to have something a little later in the week or early next week. As required by the Nunn/Mitchell legislation, we are discussing with them -- and briefing them on -- a plan for the lifting of the arms embargo and for the training of Bosnian troops. In the course of that discussion, we are making a clear indication to them that there are serious implications that come along with those actions -- implications for the Alliance, implications for UNPROFOR, implications for the continuation of humanitarian aid. So those are the kinds of generic discussions that we're having with them, but I really can't get very specific with you at this point.
Q: Implications you don't like?
A: Implications that will have a potentially negative effect on all those areas I just mentioned.
Q: Is there any update on the situation regarding the Cubans at Guantanamo with families and the disposition of them coming to the United States?
A: No. To my knowledge, no final decision has been made on the immigration policy. That's probably a question better addressed either at the White House or at INS.
Q: Back to Bosnia. Cardinal Law, attending the National Bishops Conference this morning, commented that the Vatican, especially the Holy See, agonizes greatly over the situation in Bosnia -- [and] is very much involved in attempting to solve it. The new Cardinal Keeler with the Bishops Conference said that all Catholics, in fact all Christians, would be urged to pray and fast for peace there.
My question is -- as it relates to the Defense Department -- would the Department of Defense welcome this kind of spiritual support to bring about a peaceful solution to the conflict in Bosnia? And secondly, would the military chaplaincy be free to pursue this line of remedy?
A: I can't answer the last piece of your question. I would suggest you deal with the services chaplains. But let me editorialize a little bit here. The whole world agonizes over what's happening in Bosnia, at least the vast majority of it, as we do. So there's no question that we would embrace any help we can get -- spiritual or otherwise -- to bring an end to this.
Press: Thank you.