DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD (PA)
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
I want to announce formally what most of you have known for a long while: that parts of the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii will replace units of the 10th Mountain Division in Haiti. This will start in late December and continue through most of January. About 3500 soldiers from the 25th will move down to Haiti. There will also be some support elements from some continental U.S.-based Army units going to Haiti to replace the 10th Mountain Division as they rotate out.
You probably remember that on Thanksgiving, although this wasn't well covered, Secretary Perry in Haiti said that we were drawing down our forces further there, and that they would be drawn down from 9,000 at the end of November to about 6,000 by Christmas time. Those were mainly 10th Mountain Division people, although there are still some Special Forces people there as well.
Q: It might not have been well covered because we weren't invited to go with him. I'd like to point out.
A: Well, there were wire service stories on it and there was a report in the New York Times. It was buried in a New York Times story. There was other coverage on it as well.
Q: How many are now in Haiti?
A: How many are there now? There are a total of 6,852 on the ground; the goal is to bring that down to 6,000 by December 15th.
Q: When this rotation is complete, will all of the 10th Mountain Division be out of Haiti?
A: That's the goal. Will there be one or two people left? The goal is to have the 10th Mountain Division rotate out--return home--and replace them with other troops.
Q: By what date would that process be completed?
A: I believe it will be completed in mid-to late-January, but I'm not positive on the exact date.
Q: Who will be the commanding officer?
A: I'm afraid I can't answer that question right now. I think it has to do with the planned reassignment of [Major General George A. Fisher, USA] who is currently the commander of the 25th. So I don't know exactly how that will be sorted out or when, but when it is sorted out, I'll let you know.
Q: Out of the 6,000, how many will be 10th Mountain? How many troops are you going to rotate out? Out of the 6,000 how many rotate in?
A: I'm afraid I don't know that detail. I don't have a breakdown between the number of 10th Mountain Division Forces and Special Forces and other people in Haiti now, but we will try to get that for you.
Q: You said 3500 are going in from Hawaii--from the 25th--and some based in CONUS?
A: There are Special Forces people there now. There are 10th Mountain Division people there. And there are probably some other people. I don't know what the breakdown is among those three groups, but we'll try to get that. It's a perfectly legitimate question. I just don't have the facts right now.
Q: Are you trying to accelerate the turnover to the UN?
A: We hope it will happen as soon as possible and in an orderly manner. We've always talked in terms of February at the earliest. I can't give you an exact date right now because there are a number of things that have to be worked out before that happens. As you know, we've named a commander for the force, [Lieutenant General Daniel R. Schroeder, USA]. He'll have to be confirmed by the Senate.
Q: President Aristide requested the United States to disarm all the attaches and other forces. Has the United States accepted that proposal?
A: The Secretary has spoken about that publicly recently, as you probably know, because I'm sure you've been following these remarks very carefully. We have been working hard to disarm various groups, and we've collected now over 4500 weapons, I believe, through both the buy-back program... I'm sorry, it's 14,533 [that] have been collected both through the buy-back program and through confiscation. We have not undertaken to go house to house, warehouse to warehouse through Haiti collecting arms. I think it's clear to everybody who's been watching the Haitian situation that there seems to be a greater level of order there today and less violence taking place than there was in early September or August or in the months before the American troops went there. So there's been substantial progress. But we don't know how many weapons there are to be picked up. 14,500 weapons is a substantial number, but we have no idea what the total stockpile is.
Whenever we get wind of caches of weapons, we go and get them, and that's continuing.
Q: Just to continue on this theme, in a general way, give us a sort of a wrap-up progress report on how the mission is going and the Pentagon's view at this point. Have the mission objectives been accomplished on schedule? Is it going better than you expected? Can you give us any sort of general assessment?
A: The mission has gone extremely well. It continues to go well. It has gone well from the beginning. It was not an easy mission. Haiti is a place that presents many challenges, but I think our forces have worked very well to face those challenges. As I said earlier, there's a degree of order there that hasn't been seen in Haiti for some time. There's a lack of violence. I think our forces have done a good job in sort of dismantling the infrastructure of violence and terror that was in Haiti. Have we done it completely? Probably not. Haiti is a very difficult place with a complex history, but we've certainly made a lot of progress.
It's not over. We've moved from the first stage--which was to bring order and to dismantle the terrorist and repressive networks there--to the second stage of bringing back Aristide and reestablishing democracy. That's the challenge today. We're working forward on that. We still have some challenges ahead.
The next challenge for Haiti is to hold elections. That's what we're working for. We're also working very hard with the Haitian government through USAID to bring in more aid--both public aid and private aid--and to try to get the economy going again.
Q: How long do you expect the soldiers of the 25th to remain in Haiti?
A: I'm afraid I can't answer that question. At some point they'll join... A number of them--2,000 to 3,000--will become part of the United Nations mission in Haiti. Our hope would be that they would be out as soon as possible, but I think there is a time certain on the UNMIH mission there, and it may be... '96.
Q: Those same soldiers could stay through...
A: No. I think the lesson of what we're doing here is that we're going to rotate soldiers out. They won't be the same soldiers. We're rotating out the 10th Mountain Division now and putting in new ones. We will continue to do that, I'm sure. After reasonable amounts of time we'll bring in new soldiers.
Q: Six months? Something like that?
A: I can't give you an answer to that.
Q: To be clear, are you rotating out the support forces as well and the Special Forces?
A: The announcement I gave you today dealt with the 10th Mountain Division. What I've promised Charlie is that we'll try to get more information on the breakdown of forces in Haiti now. I can't go beyond that right now. I cannot describe for you what's going to happen to every soldier from every unit in Haiti at this time. But right now, the 25th Infantry Division will come in--units of that will come in and replace units of the 10th Mountain Division.
Q: I'm just asking, philosophically, are you going to also rotate the support units out? You said they're coming in from the United States, so...
A: I assume we are, but I don't have any specifics on that right now.
Q: Could you talk a bit about if the delay in elections creates any kind of difficulty for this turnover for the forces there? Do you see that as a problem?
A: We're hoping the elections will happen as soon as possible. There isn't a firm date yet, so I can't talk hypothetically about whether it will create problems because we're hoping that the elections will happen quickly and in a very orderly manner. The goal here has always been to help Haiti reestablish democracy and to govern itself with a vibrant economy. But the crucial first step of that is to lay a strong foundation for democracy.
Q: What is Mr. Deutch doing there?
A: He went down there, as you know, with Deputy Secretary of State [Strobe] Talbott and with Sandy Berger of the National Security Council. They're doing a number of things. First, they're just getting another review of the situation there. Two, they're going to talk with Mr. Aristide about bringing the refugees back from Guantanamo Bay and try to work out a firm schedule for getting the Haitian migrants out of Guantanamo Bay and back to Haiti. They'll also work on nailing down the Status of Forces Agreement which will describe the arrangements under which U.S. forces will operate--the legal arrangements under which they'll operate, and the legal protections they'll have as they operate in Haiti.
Q: Do you have numbers on the foreign troops that are in Haiti as part of our force? And how about the number of police that we have brought back from Cuba and put on the streets?
A: I'm sorry, you're talking about the number of Haitians who have returned from Guantanamo Bay to Haiti?
A: As you know, there were about a thousand of them in Guantanamo Bay. About 250 were returned to Haiti on Friday. I believe another 200 to 400 are supposed to go back this week--toward the end of the week. These people will be phased in to police forces already operating in Haiti. I think this first group is going to be phased in to eight locations around Haiti to provide police protection and patrols.
The multinational force coalition... There are about 2800 people there now, divided among military police and civilian functions. That's the total force, I think. In country right now there are 1500. There's a CARICOM battalion of approximately 300 people which is providing security at the port in Port-au-Prince. There's a group of Bangladeshis, 150 police and a thousand military troops--that are securing the Port-au-Prince airport and providing security there and also other patrols in Port-au-Prince.
There are also people there from Guatemala and Nepal. In all, there are 29 members of the multinational force coalition.
Can I finish with my announcements? I didn't know my first announcement was going to be as exciting and generate so many questions.
I just want to say that we have press advisories on three things: a trip by General Gordon Sullivan, the Army Chief of Staff, to South America; there's a Memorandum For Correspondents on the naming of five new construction Navy ships--you can get that at DDI; and also, I want to remind you that tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock, the Secretary is giving a speech to the Middle East Policy Council in which he'll basically talk about our recent mobilization in the face of the threat we faced from Iraq.
Q: Bob said you're going to pipe that back, is that true?
A: We're piping it back.
Q: How many Haitians remain at Guantanamo right now? And is it the Pentagon's intention now to force those who may not want to return to Haiti, to ultimately return? Must they go back?
A: Well, those are all good questions. There are currently, I think, around 5,000 at Guantanamo Bay, but I will get you the exact number here. 5,712 Haitians at Guantanamo Bay. It has always been our expectation that they will leave Guantanamo Bay voluntarily and go back to Haiti because the reason they left Haiti in the first place is now gone. The government they fled has left, has been replaced by a democratically elected government, and we assume that they will go back. We are expecting that this will happen relatively soon.
Q: As you know, the Army's restructuring plan--the announcement of that--was postponed. What is happening now with that plan and when do you expect an announcement?
A: I expect it to be announced soon, perhaps as early as tomorrow. I don't expect major changes--if any changes--in the initial plans that have already been written about. It's mainly just a coordination problem within the building.
Q: What do you mean by coordination problem?
A: Getting people who have been traveling all in a room together to discuss it. That's basically what's been holding the thing up.
Q: Bosnia. Can you update us on what the state of NATO contingency planning is for a possible aiding in the withdrawal of UN forces, given the recent statements from both the French and the British Minister about the possibility of that having to take place?
A: I actually cannot go much beyond what Secretary Perry said on Sunday. The planning is taking place at NATO. Any extraction exercise will be a NATO operation in which we'll participate. The statements by the French and the British officials have both stressed that it's their hope that UNPROFOR forces can stay in Bosnia because they think they're performing valuable peacekeeping functions. We share that hope. But I really can't tell you much beyond that.
Q: Would a U.S. contribution to this NATO extraction force, should it be necessary, would the U.S. contribution necessarily involve ground combat troops? Or is it possible that the United States contribution would not?
A: Those decisions have not been made yet.
Q: Is this building now doing active planning or if not this building, are Americans actively involved in the planning at NATO with guidance from this building?
A: We have people who are actively involved in the planning, yes.
Q: At NATO or here?
A: At both places. This is a matter of discussion. But it's mainly a NATO plan. NATO has to come up with sort of a grand design for what they want to put together here and what various countries will contribute to the force.
Q: That hasn't happened yet?
A: It's going on now. There are no firm numbers at this stage.
Q: General Shalikashvili said the other day that if such a mission were to be undertaken [it] would be a very difficult and dangerous mission. Where is the threat? From where does the threat come? Is it from the Bosnian Serbs, or is it from the Muslims? Looking at this possibility, where is the threat seen?
A: It's a potentially dangerous mission because Bosnia now is a dangerous and somewhat chaotic place. You know that members of UNPROFOR are being held hostage now by the Serbs--the Serb forces in Bosnia. I think that both sides find the UNPROFOR forces are valuable in helping them attain certain goals. So I think there could be problems from both sides. We're basically dealing with a relatively unpredictable and chaotic situation during a time of the year when weather conditions aren't good, in a place where transportation facilities aren't great. All of this would make extraction quite difficult and complex.
Q: Could you explain the need for extraction of troops from NATO? And second, if United States ground forces--say our Marines--were involved in this extraction on the ground, would we not also be in jeopardy of being kidnapped, held in the way that the troops around Bihac are held to coerce certain behavior on the part of NATO?
A: Because there has not been yet a request to aid in an extraction of the UNPROFOR forces, we do not now have a firm plan--a NATO plan--that has been drafted and signed off on to extract forces. So I can't get into a lot of detail right now about that.
Q: What is the Pentagon view of the fact that the Bosnian Serbs are detaining so many UN peacekeepers? Are the peacekeepers performing a peacekeeping function when they are prisoners? Does the U.S. feel that the whole peacekeeping aspect of this mission is diminishing rapidly as the dynamics on the ground change?
A: Obviously, the job of these peacekeepers being held hostage is compromised. It's not a good situation. It's a terrible situation. We oppose the taking of hostages by the Bosnian Serbs. We think it's the wrong thing to do. Our goal from the very beginning has been to achieve a ceasefire and to put in place a peace agreement. That remains our goal. It's the goal of our allies in NATO and it's the goal of UNPROFOR. We think the United Nations force has helped in three very important ways. It has brought in humanitarian aid. It has helped limit the fighting within Bosnia. And it has helped prevent the fighting from expanding into neighboring countries. So it's helped contain the combat in Bosnia. Those are three important accomplishments. Those accomplishments--certainly the providing of humanitarian aid--is becoming more difficult now. That's one of the reasons that makes the situation so dicey.
Our fourth goal of achieving a peace clearly has not happened yet. But there are redoubled diplomatic efforts going on after the Contact Group meeting last Friday. There are meetings being held today in the area. We're hopeful that we can convince both sides that they're better off living at peace than living at war. So far, we clearly have not done it.
Q: If UN peacekeepers are not really achieving the goals which you yourself have laid out...
A: First of all, look, let's not back me into a corner here. There are 23,000 peacekeepers in Bosnia. Under 400 right now are being held hostage, and that's down from 500 a couple of days ago. So we're making progress so far on getting hostages released, and Lieutenant General [Sir Michael] Rose continues to work on getting hostages released. But we're talking about a small percentage of the UNPROFOR forces in Bosnia, and I think it's important to keep that in mind.
One hostage is too many. Three hundred is certainly too many. But we're not talking about an entire force being held hostage. There are still convoys getting through; there are still good functions being performed well by UNPROFOR forces.
Q: Can you bring us up to date with the presence of the United States liaison officers there? What they're doing, how many there are?
A: I'm sorry. I can't. I'll have to refer you to the State Department on that.
Q: Do you have an update on when we might get the results of the Deutch memo?
Q: Do you think we might get it before Christmas? Or do you think it might flow over into January?
A: I think it will be before Christmas.
Q: What is the hangup, officially?
A: Do you want to know the official hangup or do you really want to know the unofficial hangup?
Q: Tell us the truth.
A: What if I told you they're the same? The geometry of the problem has changed because of the package of additional defense spending we got last week. The $25 billion over six years means that we have to take less money out of modernization then we had to before, so that package has to be redesigned. It's a little more complex than balancing a checkbook because we're talking about numbers with many more zeros after them, and we're talking about programs that... Where there are certain thresholds of adjustments that can be made. So it's just a question of putting this puzzle together. That is one of the things that's taking time.
Q: Could soon be this week?
A: Soon could be this week. Soon could be next week.
Q: On the subject of readiness. Representative Spence issued his rather detailed documentary report of various anecdotal incidents of unreadiness in the forces. Can you comment in a general way about whether these specifics--that he's documented--indicate a serious, continuing problem? Or are these one-time events? Or do they misrepresent the readiness picture?
A: If your definition of "detailed" is anonymous anecdotes, it's different from my definition of "detailed," first of all.
But on the broader point, General Shalikashvili and Secretary Perry have both said that our forces are ready to do what they have to do--particularly the forces that deploy first and most quickly. We have readiness problems which we have admitted to Congress and we're dealing with. President Clinton's $25 billion six-year package is designed, in part, to deal with some of those readiness problems. I think Shali put it very well a couple of months ago when he said we're stretched, but we're not stretched too thin. We have managed to deal with a number of very complex, simultaneous contingencies, and we've dealt with them very well.
Secretary Perry said last month the readiness of the U.S. military today is generally very high. And in particular, our alert units and the mobilized units are at peak readiness as has been demonstrated the last two or three times we've had to call them into contingency operations. I think this is undeniable.
Can readiness be absolute? Is there a state of readiness beyond which no one can go? No, of course not. It's like physical training. You can always do more. We are trying to address our problems and get the units that are lagging up to a more acceptable readiness standard. But basically, our forces are ready. Not every unit is at the same level of readiness as the first deploying units, nor would it be`a sensible expenditure of funds to have every single unit at peak readiness at all times.
Q: In fairness to Mr. Spence, you call these "anonymous anecdotes". He educes specific numerical data, and he doesn't say "I got this from Lieutenant Colonel Glutz." But is it your contention that any significant number of these 40 or 50 specific anecdotes is specifically false as a factual matter?
A: I don't know. I am not saying that they're false. I'm saying when evidence is produced anonymously and in anecdotal form, it's not always easy to track down. I will say that many of the anecdotes he cited tend to deal with year-end training. We said at the end of the fiscal year that for various reasons... This happens in every fiscal year, but particularly in a fiscal year where we have a lot of deployments. We said that some units would not be able to complete their training cycles, and this would have an impact on readiness. And it did. When we saw the extent of the impact on readiness in the Army units, we announced it--and we did that in November, just within a day or two after learning what the figures were.
We're not denying that readiness can be better for some units. What we are saying is that for the units that have to move fast, they are very ready and they've demonstrated their readiness.
Q: On the homosexual policy, there was another ruling that has confused me slightly about what the state of the policy is. The case of Zoe Dunning, a Navy reserve officer, who said she was a lesbian and has been recommended for retention. This is the second case now we have where somebody is being able to publicly say they are gay and continue to serve in the armed services. What does that say about the "don't tell" part of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy?
A: Which is the first case you're referring to?
Q: The Steffan case, which the Pentagon decided not to appeal.
Q: Steffan's was overthrown. It was Meinhold...
Q: I'm sorry, the Meinhold case.
A: The Meinhold case, as I explained last week, occurred under the previous rules. That's a case that really pre-dates the February 28th change in policy. Some of these cases are at the discretion of local commanders. I cannot go into the Dunning case in great detail because I'm just not aware of all the details. I'm sorry.
Q: From a news briefing yesterday at the Capitol, Senators Warner and McCain were supporting--pushing--quite a substantial increase in defense funding over and above what Secretary Deutch recommended last week. That's point one. How does that fit with the Administration's plans, or how was that received?
Secondly, both of those gentlemen came out in opposition to statements--very hawkish statements--by Senator Dole and Speaker Gingrich on bombing the Bosnians into submission. I believe it was made on Sunday. So apparently there is some contention as to policy in the Republican leadership. Can you comment on those two?
A: On the first point, we were glad to see that Senators McCain and Warner share the same priorities we share--which are readiness, quality of life, and force modernization. Those were three priorities that have received additional funding from the President in just the last week.
We were very distressed to see what I consider to be a completely baseless allegation that there's a Clinton defense deficit. This Administration has worked very hard to secure the amount of defense funding we think is necessary to face the threats we face and to carry out the type of military program we think is best for the country. It is not a deficit program. It's a defense establishment that is clearly working well.
Secondly, there was in their press release an assertion that the Joint Chiefs of Staff have talked about a perilous state of readiness. I have looked through statements by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I have checked with Admiral Owens and General Shalikashvili's office, and they cannot find any statement that would lead one to believe that the office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff believes that our readiness is in a perilous state. I think that should be cleared up for the record because it is not a true statement.
I gave you a quote earlier from Shali himself saying that we are stretched, but we're not stretched too thin. I think that is certainly an accurate statement, and he is in a better position to know this.
They proposed basically two groups of changes, as I understand it. First, they proposed redirecting about $8 billion of FY95 spending from the purposes for which the money was approved by Congress to readiness and other purposes. Secondly, they proposed freezing FY96 spending at the FY95 level. As you know, our forces have been declining and defense spending has been declining as well. And right now, there's a planned decrease in defense spending--a smaller decrease today than would have occurred before the President enhanced defense spending--enhanced the top line last week. But there's still a decrease which Dr. Deutch talked about at the White House.
We made a lot of choices--and so did Congress--in designing the FY95 defense budget. Those choices were difficult choices. We think that generally, they were the right choices. I want to focus on two of the programs that McCain and Warner highlighted yesterday for redirecting. One is the Technology Reinvestment Project, and the other has to do with defense conversion. We think those are both very important programs for developing and maintaining a strong industrial base.
Ultimately the defense establishment is only as good as its people and only as good as the nation's industrial base. One of the things that we have spent a lot of time on and will spend more time on in the future is finding a better way to use the existing industrial base to advance defense goals. That's the whole point of the acquisition reform.
In terms of FY96, we think we have sized our defense budget very adequately to face the threats we face. We think the choices have been the right choices. If Congress wants to consider giving us more money, we will obviously look at ways to spend that money. But I think that Congress has to sort out itself what its own priorities are going to be in the new Congress. Already, you have people talking about deficit reduction, you have people talking about tax decreases, and you have people talking about a range of changes in social policies. We look forward to working with the new Congress on defense issues, but we also want to make it clear that we think have very well established and articulated priorities. We think they're the right priorities. We're always will ing to discuss them, we're always willing to negotiate over them, but we're not willing to back off rapidly from programs we think will be helpful in the future.
Press: Thank you.