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DOD News Briefing - Nov. 19, 1996

Presenters: Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
November 19, 1996 2:15 PM EDT
Tuesday, November 19, 1996 - 2:15 p.m.

(Also participating is Vincent Kern, DASD, African Affairs.)

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our Tuesday briefing. I'm glad to see you all here. I apologize for the delay, but there was such a flood of information flowing in that it took me a long while to organize it.

First of all, I'd like to greet some very patient guests who have waited for this. First, a visitor from the Republic of Korea, Mr. Lee Jong Hyun, who is here with the Korean Institute of Defense Analysis. He is spending his day at the public affairs office to see how it operates or doesn't operate, depending on your point of view.

We also have nine political science students from George Washington University, and two graduate journalism students from American University. We put education first here at the Pentagon, so we invite all students to come by for our briefings.

Finally, we have ten Air Force captains visiting us under the Air Force's Public Affairs Company Grade Excellence program which is designed to produce future P.J. Crowley's. So welcome to all of you.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Can you update us on the Zaire operation?

A: Sure. Let me sort of run through where we stand on that.

We are now in the process of making prudent preparations for a possible mission to facilitate the supply of humanitarian aid to the flood of refugees moving from Zaire into Rwanda. We are continuing to look at what we may have to do in the future in Zaire if there are still refugees left there. So far, what we've seen since Friday is a very steady stream of refugees in the number of 500,000 or 600,000, probably 500,000 refugees leaving Eastern Zaire and moving into Rwanda. There are still an undetermined number of refugees left in Eastern Zaire. We expect that some, perhaps many of them, will also begin to move in the next few days, but we're not certain on that. We have less precise information about the refugees still in Eastern Zaire than we have, obviously, about those who have left Zaire for Rwanda.

So the challenge that the international community now faces is how to help Rwanda tend to the needs of these refugees who have moved over the next few days in one of the most extraordinary human migrations I think we've witnessed in recent years.

We are in the process of building an infrastructure to allow us to bring in aid from the multinational community into Rwanda, and we have not yet decided to move forward with the mission. We are preparing to do that quickly, if the order comes.

The military task provided in that mission will be to provide airlift support and, to that end, we have positioned about 30 cargo planes in Europe. These are KC-10s, KC-135s, C- 5s, C-17s and C-141s -- these are cargo and tanker planes -- in Europe to help move equipment, people, and supplies into Africa if necessary.

We are also going to set up airport operations in three places -- Entebbe, in Uganda; Kigali, Rwanda; and Mombasa, Kenya -- which will become staging areas for moving supplies out to refugee populations. By far the largest concentration of Americans will be in Uganda. There will be about 500 people there by the time we're set up. This will involve a combination. There will be, as I said earlier, an airport operation called a TALCE, for Tanker Airlift Control Element there, but there will also be a forward headquarters unit for our task force, and there will be various airlift -- Air Mobility Command support operations there as well. This will be sort of the main staging area. It's a large airport. It can take big planes like C-5s. There's enough room to unload equipment from planes coming in, parcel it out to smaller planes such as C-130s or 141s, and move out closer into Kigali. So there will be a lot of loading equipment, unloading equipment, etc., there.

Q: Which is the big airport? Kigali or Entebbe?

A: I'm sorry. Entebbe. Sorry. I misspoke there. It will be in Uganda.

Then there will be about 200 people in Kigali, and another TALCE team there to run airport operations. There will also be what we call a civil/military operation center there which will actually run the interface with the government of Rwanda and the non-government organizations, and there will be a headquarters there as well -- headquarters element, headquarters task force -- to provide managerial direction to what's going on there.

And there will finally be about 100 people in Mombasa, Kenya, and that will be primarily a TALCE unit to run airport operations there.

Now, numbers grow because you, of course, have communications people, and you have a whole variety of support people to run what could be fairly intense air transport operations over a period of time, if that's necessary.

We also, as you know, have some P-3s operating out of Entebbe now to survey the situation, the flow of refugees, to take photographs, etc. That's been going on for several days. I know at least some reporters have applied to fly out on some of these missions.

So that's what we're building up to. As I understand it, at least one plane of equipment has departed for Kigali, Rwanda, and a plane has either departed or is about to depart for Mombasa, Kenya. So we're in the process of getting this infrastructure established now.

Q: Right now you're talking about maybe, at the outside, maybe 200 to 300 people inside Rwanda?

A: I said about 200 Americans there, yeah. That's what I anticipate we'll have in Kigali.

Q: So the thousand that the Defense Secretary was talking about would include the ones in Uganda and...

A: The whole operation would be where we have 500 in Uganda, 200 in Rwanda, and 100 in Kenya.

Now these are approximate numbers. They could change; but this is our best thinking right now, given the huge change in circumstances from last week.

Q: Those are all Americans.

A: Yes.

Now this is an infrastructure that will also support a multinational operation. As you know, there's a meeting scheduled for Thursday in Stuttgart by countries involved in this mission, or those who would like to be involved in this mission, to assess the situation and to decide how to proceed.

Q: To follow up on the airports, do you happen to know the condition of the airport at Kigali and also at Mombasa? Do they have night ops, runway lights? Is the offloading area sufficient now to handle cargoes being brought in? And what about the distribution after the military drops off the cargoes at Kigali? How will that be actually distributed to the refugees?

A: That will be distributed by the government of Rwanda, by United Nations officials, and by non-government organizations. There's already a fair number of people in the area. They have been concentrating their efforts primarily on Eastern Zaire, but now the needy population is moving quickly into Rwanda, so they'll refocus their efforts.

I don't know whether any of you had a chance to go to Brian Atwood's briefing at the State Department yesterday afternoon when he announced that we were making available $140 million worth of aid, half of which is food, to the refugees there. But he described the types of services and infrastructure that are being set up in Rwanda. For instance, as they cross the border, they're given water and high protein biscuits, and there are now eight aid stations that they've set up along the route from the Rwandan border into the interior where they'll be moving back to their home communities. One of the things that the NGOs and the U.N. is doing, with help from USAID, is they want to rent a bunch of trucks locally, 180 trucks, I think, one, to help transport refugees to sort of stop the constipation on the roads, to get the flow going faster; and two, to help ferry out food and other aid as quickly as they can.

Q: Getting back to the airports, any idea what the condition of the airports...

A: I'm afraid I'm not an expert on airport conditions. Maybe in the next couple of days we can bring somebody in here to describe that. But as I said earlier, the Entebbe airport in Uganda is a large airport...

Q: Any thought given, as we did in Bosnia, to dropping humanitarian MREs? Plane drops, aerial drops, to some of these people?

A: I'm not aware that we're thinking of doing that, no.

Q: Was it President Clinton that made this decision, or the Defense Secretary? How was this decision to scale back the operation derived at? Someone at the State Department is saying perhaps this Thursday meeting might be put off until Friday.

A: I don't believe that's the case. There was some talk that the Canadians might request a delay in the meeting. The last I heard is that the meeting is still going ahead on Thursday.

The reason they were thinking of a delay is that there is a meeting taking place in New York tomorrow, sort of an organizational meeting, I believe. The Canadians who have really taken the lead in putting this mission together and doing a lot of organizing feel it's important for them to be there. I guess they wanted to send some of the same people to Stuttgart, but they've decided they can do it. They want to get on with this.

The mission itself. The goal of the mission has always been the same, and that's to provide assistance to a humanitarian operation dealing with a potential crisis. The location of the population the international community is preparing to serve has moved. It's moved from Eastern Zaire to Rwanda, largely. With that, we have adjusted the mission that the President spoke about last week. It would be the height of folly to proceed rigidly with the plan we announced last week, when the problem has moved to another place. Because the problem has moved to another place, the mission has to be redesigned.

When we were considering going into Goma in Eastern Zaire, although we wanted to go in after a cease-fire, a de facto cease- fire had been agreed to. We realized that there were the possibilities of hostilities and that our forces might have faced the risk of being caught in crossfires between competing rebel groups. That risk has now gone away. So we are reorganizing our force. We don't have to send in a force prepared to protect itself. We don't have to move into an airport near an area where mortars have been fired. We're moving into a safe situation. So this has allowed us to scale back the mission considerably, but the focus is still the same; that is, to assist in the provision of humanitarian aid and refugee repatriation.

Q: Has the Goma plan been rescinded or suspended? What's...

A: As I said... I don't know why you're persevorating on this because the President said it was a plan in principle. The circumstances changed and we changed our plans. I assume you'd do the same thing. If you were planning to go to Baltimore to see a basketball game and the basketball game was canceled, you wouldn't go to Baltimore. Well, the reason we were going to Eastern Zaire was, in a sense, canceled, and it was moved to Rwanda. Now we're preparing to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Rwanda.

Q: All I asked was who made the decision.

A: Well, the decision, the President still has not made a decision to initiate this operation. What we're doing is positioning ourselves. This has been made over the weekend, starting on Friday. Secretary Perry commented on Saturday from this podium about the changing circumstances. He commented on it again today. We've been watching CNN, we've been reading the newspapers, we've been talking to our people over there. Obviously, we have to change the plan, and that's what we've been doing. It's been made at the highest levels of the government. Tony Lake's been very involved in this. He was in Canada yesterday. The Secretary's been very involved. General Shalikashvili has been very involved. It's been a government- wide effort.

Q: Do you have any idea what this airlift might cost?

A: I'm afraid I don't have figures on that now.

Q: Is it still envisioned as a four-month operation? And how long do you think it will take to get everybody, all 800 people you've mentioned, into position?

A: I don't know the answer to that question. It shouldn't take too long to get them into position. This is envisioned to be a short term operation. About four months is what we said we would, how much time we would send troops for before, and nothing's changed on that. But it all depends. I mean, the one lesson from this is, from anybody who's been watching -- and apparently you all have -- the one lesson is that we are adjusting our plans to fit changing circumstances. We assume the circumstances will continue to change. The goal was always to set up, to deal with the immediate humanitarian crisis, to deal with the pressures created by a repatriation of refugees, and to jump start the aid process to prevent a disaster, and then to hand this operation over to another structure. That remains our plan.

Q: This morning Secretary Perry reiterated his rules for when the U.S. Army should intervene in a situation like this. Given the changes that have taken place now, does this situation still meet the criteria for the U.S. to intervene that the Secretary laid out this morning?

A: First of all, as I said, there is, so far, no final decision made to intervene. We're still assessing the situation. What we're doing is positioning ourselves to act when that decision is made.

I think we're dealing here with a situation that contains a number of unknowns, including the number of refugees that may ultimately move from Eastern Zaire into Rwanda or Burundi or Tanzania. We're dealing with a situation involving a lot of moving people who appear now to be healthy and appear to be generally well fed. We have to be open to the possibility that diseases could infect them, that there could be glitches with food delivery, etc. So we are positioning ourselves to move if we have to.

I think that any time you have 500,000 people walking over 30 to 40 miles or longer in a three, four day, five [day] period, you're dealing with an extraordinary event, and probably a crisis. Certainly humanitarian assistance from nations of the world is appropriate in situations like this.

Q: I was wondering if you have any indications of what the trigger events that you're waiting to assess that would lead the President to decide to intervene; and whether among those factors, you're weighing the fact that the Zairian government would like to have troops there and the Rwandan government does not want troops, and is saying send food not troops.

A: That's essentially what we're preparing to do. And that's...

Q: What are you preparing to do?

A: Send food, not troops. But we're not sending the food. We're basically setting up an infrastructure to help non- government organizations, the U.N., and the international community, to deliver food and supplies. That's what we're doing. This is an area, to go back to Jamie's question, in which we have proven expertise. It's what we did essentially in 1994 when we provided slightly different support, but still very extensive support in Zaire, around Goma. There we did almost exactly the type of things that we're doing here today. We send in survey teams, we set up airport operations again, these TALCEs. We provided intelligence, surveillance with P-3s so we could survey what was going on. We obviously sent in a water purification operation that purified over 800,000 gallons of water. But, in addition, we helped transport 9,000 tons of supplies for four U.N. organizations and 18 NGOs. This is the type of thing we'd be doing this time. We would be helping to bring in what could be a flood of aid in a short period of time, get it into Rwanda, and distribute it to the groups that will actually be taking it out to the field. We'll be like wholesalers and we'll be giving it to retailers who will then deliver it to the people who need it.

Q: But is there a doubt of whether the Americans will participate, or whether there will, in fact, be a mission? I'm trying to nail down what precisely are the factors that remain to be decided on?

A: As you know, there are survey teams in the area now. They've been in Kigali. They've had a team in Goma. We hope there will be a survey team moving south to Bukavu tomorrow which will give us a fuller sense of what's likely to happen over the next couple of days.

When the countries meet in Stuttgart, they'll decide what the challenges are and how best to meet those challenges. It's based on that meeting in Stuttgart that a final decision will be made about what needs to be done.

Q: But if there is a mission, the Americans will participate.

A: The President said that in principle we were prepared to participate in a mission. I think it's pretty clear from all of the steps we're taking today, have taken over the last few days, that we were preparing to participate in the mission.

Q: Do you expect any protective security forces at all, be they U.S. or multinational, will be needed in Rwanda?

A: We don't see ourselves as entering a hostile environment. I can't say there won't be any security forces, but basically we're going in to run an airport management operation, a cargo management operation, and an administrative operation, and we'll do some civil/military affairs as well; that is, the interface between the government of Rwanda, the NGOs, and the American military. That's what I described earlier as the so- called CMOC or civil/military operations center. We will also send in some specialists who will help to figure out ways to communicate with the refugees, to help get information to them, whether through sound trucks or working through local leaders, publishing handbills, etc., to communicate health information, food information, relocation information, etc.

Q: You talked about 30 aircraft. A three-part question.

A: You know, Ivan, with a multi-part question I get to choose the one I want to answer. (Laughter)

Q: If there is a mission, will the aircraft be solely Americans flying in the supplies? Two, the 30 aircraft that are now on standby and waiting, are they presently loaded? And three, with what?

A: The answer to the first question is that we anticipate there will be aircraft from a number of countries involved, not just American. The answer to the second question is, some of them are, in fact, ready to go, and they are carrying the first phase of the operation which is the communications, forklift trucks, administration, air traffic control equipment that's needed to set up these TALCEs. So yes, they are loaded with that equipment, and they will be carrying that equipment.

In terms of being loaded up with boxes of food or bottles of water, I don't believe they are at this stage, no.

Q: You already said one or more planes are on their way to Africa, so aren't we already participating? Isn't this underway?

A: What I said is we're setting up an infrastructure to allow us to participate if a decision is made.

Q: What is the thinking about this other population that hasn't moved yet from Eastern Zaire? How large is it, why hasn't it moved, where is it?

A: Those are all good questions, and we're looking for answers. We think that some of them may be moving north, some could be moving west, and it's possible that we had overestimated the size of that population to begin with. We also know that some of them have moved into Tanzania, relatively small numbers, in the several thousands, and some apparently have moved into Burundi as well. But you've asked three questions that we also are trying to answer.

Q: How will the needs of those people, the refugees, that are still in Eastern Zaire be met? You don't have answers at the present on that? In other words, will anybody have to go to Goma to feed them?

A: That's one of the issues we're continuing to look at. As I said, we have a survey team that is in Goma today?

Mr. Vince Kern: It's going to try to go into Bukavu tomorrow. It's been in Goma...

A: It's in Goma today, trying to go into Bukavu tomorrow. So we'll have a better idea of what the situation is there.

Now, as I said, there are some indications that people in that area may also begin to move east into Rwanda. We'll just have to wait and see what happens. But clearly, if that does happen, what we'll see is the same hopeful sign that we saw starting at the end of last week, the refugees moving on their own, back to their own countries.

Q: One more on Rwanda. Has the government of Rwanda signed off on the U.S. and the plan that is envisioned by DoD in operating at the airport?

A: It is my understand that they have, yes.

Q: Just to clarify. Perry had said 1,000 troops, but you said 800. Is...

A: I don't believe he said 1,000 exactly. I thought he said about 1,000. Well, I consider 800... He said fewer than 1,000. Eight hundred qualifies as fewer than 1,000.

All these numbers are approximate. I'm not trying to get up here and say that 697 people are going some place. These are approximate numbers.

Q: On the meeting tomorrow, how significant is that? Is there a possibility they might actually make the decision in New York tomorrow before Stuttgart? How significant is...

A: It's my impression that the meeting tomorrow is more a coordination meeting. The Stuttgart meeting is designed to sort of bring together people from the survey teams, people with the most up-to-date information, to figure out where we stand and what to do next.

Q: Is it a U.N. meeting in Stuttgart? U.S., NATO, what kind of meeting?

A: It's a multinational meeting in Stuttgart.

Q: Under U.N. auspices, or...

A: Well, the Canadians, as I say, have been organizing this and have been the leaders here. And they were the ones who asked that the meeting be moved from Wednesday to Thursday. They're really taking the lead in setting this up, and we're working with them hand in glove. As you know, the National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and our J-3, Lieutenant General Peter Pace, and some others, went to Ottawa yesterday to meet with the Canadians. It's the latest in a long number of meetings we've had with the Canadians on this important issue.

Q: When you said we're going to do three things here, run an airport, manage it, do administrative work, and also civil/military operations. Are these all military personnel you're talking about? Or is this civilians...

A: No, we're sending over military personnel to do these things. I might also, just so there's no confusion, tell you what we don't plan to do, just so you have a clear idea of the limits of these missions. We will not secure the perimeter of camps in Rwanda, of refugee camps in Rwanda. We will not provide police functions within the camps or around the camps. We will not separate Ex-FAR or former Rwandan military people from the Hutu refugee population. Remember, most of these people returning to Rwanda are Hutus who had been living in Eastern Zaire for the last two years. We will not arrest suspected war criminals. We will not deliver food or other humanitarian supplies directly to refugees. This is what I said earlier, the distinction between a wholesale operation and a retail operation. We're bringing the supplies in. They'll be distributed by the government of Rwanda, by NGOs and the U.N.

Q: When will your deputies get us information on which military units are going, or targeted to go?

A: Yeah, we can do that. Most of the TALCE people I think came from Travis, didn't they? But we'll get the exact units of who these people are.

Q: Air Force?

A: Well, obviously the TALCE people are largely Air Force. The person who will be running an operation if we decide to go ahead with it, and has been supervising setting up this operation, is an Army major general, Edwin Smith.

Q: Why won't we be doing these things you enumerated?

A: Because this is a humanitarian mission that is designed basically, in which we're participating, we're bringing to this mission what we can do best, which is the airlift, the airport control, the logistics, and some organization. There are many other people who can provide these functions, but basically, they're functions that are appropriately provided by the government of Rwanda and its various humanitarian and police authorities. These are not tasks that are appropriately done by us.

Q: Is there a concern that there might be somewhat of a repeat of what happened in Somalia?

A: There's a concern that we limit this mission to a very defined task that we can perform well, and that we do not overlap with jobs that should be done by local authorities. The local authorities are perfectly willing to do this. They have not asked us to do it. We're operating in another country, and there's no need for us to do it. It was never considered that we would do this. When we were in the other area, when we were thinking of the first iteration of this last week, the only security forces we were going to send were to secure the airport and our operations at the airport, in an area that had been the target of some hostilities, and also to secure a very small three kilometer road from Goma to Gisenyi.

Q: What's happened to the Hutu militias? Have they just disappeared? Is there any indication that they're moving back into the country with the refugees?

A: I don't think we have a full picture of what's happened to them. We think they have moved west into some mountains. A fairly large group may have gone. The militias, their families, it could be as many as 80,000 people that could have moved out. But we don't have a clear picture of this. It's a big number, though.

Q: General Smith, will he move his headquarters to Entebbe?

A: He will be in Kigali. He will be operating out of Kigali, I believe.

Q: I hope this is a moot matter, but on Friday, Mr. Yoka, the deputy foreign minister of Zaire, threatened war against Rwanda and Burundi. Have there been any signs that there are any military confrontations building in Eastern Zaire?

A: Not that I'm aware of.

Mr. Vince Kern: The Zairian forces that were in Eastern Zaire were routed by a much smaller group of rebels. It will take the Zairian army months to be able to reconstitute itself, to pose a threat to anyone other than their local citizenry.

A: That's Vince Kern, our resident Africa expert. I think, to follow up on that, the primary goal that the Zairian military authority or political authorities have expressed is to recapture control of territory within their own nation, and I don't think they're even in a position to do that right now, let alone wage war against any neighboring country at this stage.

Q: So they're not in a position to wage war against rebels from other countries?

A: I think that's an accurate statement, Bill.

Q: Can you update us on the situation with troop deployments to Bosnia, the Gulf War Illness, and the Army's sex scandal at your next briefing on Thursday?

A: I would be glad to take any or all of those questions.

Q: Mr. Bacon, could you please confirm the information that Deputy Secretary John White during his last visit to Ankara, Turkey, discussed (unintelligible) the Turkish claims against Greece in the Aegean Sea?

A: I cannot confirm that.

Q: Then I would like to know the following. During your military exercise in the Aegean Sea which is under the Athens FIR responsibility, with which authority are you communicating from the air activity or your military planes to keep (unintelligible) for the safety? With Athens, Istanbul or Ankara?

A: I'm afraid I can't answer that question. We will try to get the answer to you.

Q: And the last one. Last week, the Turkish armed forces with a pretext of military exercise in the Aegean, cut off all the air and sealands between the Greek mainland and the Greek island of Eastern Aegean for several hours, under a threat of using force. And on the basis of an illegal NOTAM against the Athens FIR and (inaudible) rules. This illegal NOTAM, Mr. Bacon, which the Turks included the Greek island (inaudible), has been turned down immediately by the (inaudible) authorities in Montreal as totally unacceptable.

My question is, is since you as a Pentagon are monitoring the Aegean Sea from the time of (inaudible) crisis to the present? I'm wondering if you have anything on that?

A: That is more a civil aviation problem, and you said, of course, it's being considered by the international authorities in Montreal.

I just want to restate what American policy is about the tensions you talked about in the Aegean. Our policy is very clear. I know, you probably know it better than I do. It's been stated to you by my colleague Nick Burns many times. Our policy is that both Greece and Turkey should settle issues in the Aegean through negotiation and through dialogue, not through confrontation. Our policy on that is very clear.

Q: (Inaudible) monitor the situation with the Aegean from a military point. You told me in the beginning of the crisis, here in this room, that...

A: Why do we monitor it?

Q: Yes.

A: We monitor activities in the entire Mediterranean, including all the subsidiary seas in the Mediterranean.

Q: In advance of your Thursday briefing, is everything you said about Bosnia last week still operative? I'm thinking specifically of two stabilization forces. Or has that changed because of the NATO action?

A: I'm sorry?

Q: What you said last week about Bosnia, about the two- phased stabilization forces. Is that all operative, or has that changed any because of the NATO actions?

A: We're still trying to sort out exactly how we're going to make the transition from where we are now to the stabilization force of 8,500 people. That, I assume, will happen relatively soon, but it hasn't happened yet. In the mean time, the 1st Armored Division is still leaving and the covering force, I think, is basically all there now. I think we're down to fewer than 12,000 people in Bosnia now. But we'll get the precise details on that.

Q: Has anything changed from what you said last week?

A: It hasn't changed yet.

Q: Thank you.