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DoD News Briefing: Admiral William Owens, Vice Chairman - Joint Chiefs of Staff and Deputy Secretary of Defense John M.

Presenters: Admiral William Owens, Vice Chairman - Joint Chiefs of Staff and Deputy Secretary of Defense John M.
December 19, 1994 4:45 PM EDT

Friday, December 16, 1994 at 4:45p.m.

Dr. Deutch: Good afternoon.

I'm here to explain where we are on U.S. participation in the UNOSOM withdrawal from Somalia. We met with the President, today -- Bill Owens, myself -- and have had several conversations with Bill Perry which, as you know, Bill is traveling in Europe. Bill asked that we come down here today and explain where we are and take a few questions from you.

It's been known for some time that UNOSOM is withdrawing from Somalia. Although a lot went wrong with that operation, we can take a lot of satisfaction that tens of thousands of lives were saved during our presence there, and that especially in the countryside today many people are living in much better conditions and are in a much better position to survive than if the United Nations had never been there.

The UN forces that came in late in 1992, came in with the United States' encouragement while we were there. They now face a hostile environment in Mogadishu -- in the last stages of this withdrawal -- and the UN has asked the United States for assistance in helping in this withdrawal.

The military and civilians here at the Department -- General Shalikashvili, Secretary Perry, the State Department -- believe that it's important for the United States to provide limited assistance to the UN forces during the last stages of this withdrawal. We want to protect these forces -- the Egyptians, the Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Indians, Malaysians and others -- who are taking part in UNOSOM. We also want to help remove the U.S. military equipment, for example, tanks, that if left there would destabilize the country if they fell into the wrong hands.

We met with the President this morning and he decided that we must help those nations who joined with us in 1992, at the beginning of this operation, to help them get out of harm's way, in the final stages of the withdrawal. In his words, "it's the right thing to do."

Yesterday, we consulted with many congressional leaders. Myself, members of the Department of State, the National Security Council Staff, Sandy Berger -- there was almost universal agreement that we should provide this limited assistance.

I want to stress four points to you. The first is that this action is not imminent, but in the planning stages. We would expect for it to take place some time next year.

Secondly, the U.S. forces that would be committed on the ground in Somalia would be there in limited numbers, for a limited period of time, simply to cover the final departure and provide the protection for the final UN/UNOSOM contingent as they left the Mogadishu area.

The third point I want to emphasize is that overwhelming force will be available to the limited U.S. contingent in the event that trouble arises to a greater extent than we expect.

Finally, I want to stress that these U.S. forces would be under exclusive U.S. command.

Admiral Owens, who has been in the middle of all the planning for this is here to describe, very briefly, to you where the planning for this operation is today, and then I'll take some questions.


Admiral Owens: Good afternoon.

I'd like to just stress that this planning is preliminary, of course, and we're working with the United Nations to bring the detail to the planning, but we wanted to provide you an overview of it.

As Dr. Deutch said, the plan here is for United States armed forces to support the final rear guard withdrawal of these UNOSOM II forces -- our allies -- who have been there during the time we were there, and have continued to stay in Somalia.

We're concerned about the safety of their troops, and we're also concerned about the strategic value of the equipment that they have with them, which includes some M60 tanks, some OH-58 helicopters, and some armored personnel carriers. There are approximately 15,000 of these troops there on the ground.

As Dr. Deutch said, this operation would be commanded by a U.S. three star, Lieutenant General Tony Zinni, a Marine. He would be present, on board an augmented Amphibious Ready Group. The flagship of that group is the USS ESSEX an LHD. There are about 3,000 Marines in this Group, and there would be a variety of support forces that might include AC-130 gunships in support of these troops. There could be several hundred Marines that would be put ashore for this rear guard activity, and they would undertake this operation over just a few days, as Dr. Deutch said.

We have been involved, in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in this planning operation -- General Shalikashvili, myself, and General Peay, the Central Command commander -- and we feel comfortable that this is the right level of force to ensure minimum risk to American soldiers and, at the same time, to help our allies and to get this important equipment out of the country.

Q: Dr. Deutch, you said it received "almost universal approval." Who objected to it?

Deutch: I don't think anybody objected. It's just that I'm cautious in referring. We had 20 or so congressional calls. I only made five or six of them, but I would say to you that there was immediate understanding for why we were undertaking this action.

Q: Admiral Owens, what do you gauge the likelihood that this limited force would come under some fire? Is it highly likely?

Owens: Of course, it's very difficult to say. Our view is that, with this kind of presence and the visibility of this kind of presence, that it would be unwise for anyone to interfere with this operation, so our hope would be that the amount of resistance to this would be very limited.

Q: You said, sir, there would be overwhelming force available in case they got into trouble. What do you mean?

Owens: We think the force that is present in the augmented Amphibious Ready Group I described, with the support forces that could include the AC-130 gunships, are plenty of force to do the necessary job that we've described here.

Q: Dr. Deutch, you're looking at this as more likely a January or February exercise?

Deutch: We, of course, don't have the specific dates for you, but we're talking about the first several months of next year. That's as precise as we can be now.

Q: What augmentation, other than the AC-130 gunships, are you proposing to the ARG. And, the second question, on the command structure, you say this will be under exclusively U.S. command, but does that mean that the U.S. will take over command of the UNOSOM forces during this operation? And, has the UN agreed to that?

Deutch: Let me answer the second question, and then ask Bill to address the first. The second question is, when I'm speaking of exclusively the U.S. command, I'm talking about simply that last few days of the final extraction of the remaining UNOSOM forces. Most of the UNOSOM forces will have been left in an orderly way over the period of months including now and by the end of the year. Many of them will have gone and we don't think that will have anything to do with the UNOSOM structure. I'm talking about the extraction operation will be done under U.S. command and in cooperation with UNOSOM, but not under it. It will be a separate U.S. command.

Q: I understand you're talking about the final few days of extraction, but I'm asking will there be unity of command on the ground in Mogadishu at the time? Your answer, I think, is "no," that UNOSOM will be separately commanded.

Deutch: That's correct.

Q: Could you clear up some confusion? Earlier, Secretary of Defense Perry said that ships were actually steaming toward Somalia, right now. Is that correct?

Deutch: I did see that report, and since I haven't been on the airplane, I can't tell you. But, I don't know where the ESSEX is, right now. One of the reasons we're down here is to make clear that the operation that's under discussion here is not imminent, and the precise location of where the ESSEX... The ESSEX is steaming somewhere, but it is not in order to do this operation in the next few days, and it's particularly... One of the reasons that we're here is to emphasize that this is not an operation that is planned in the next days or, even, weeks.

Q: The augmentation to the ARG, Admiral Owens?

Owens: If I might just comment first, the ESSEX deployment, and the ESSEX Amphibious Ready Group, is a standard deployment to the Persian Gulf. So, this is a force that would have been in the area at this particular time.

The augmentation for the Amphibious Ready Group, as I mentioned -- we're in preliminary stages of planning, but would certainly include some elements of surveillance and could include some small numbers of planners, and some small numbers of ground control people who would be coordinating with the allies that we would be there to support. The details of this will be fleshed out in the next few weeks.

Q: Dr. Deutch, do I take it from your earlier remarks that by the time the Marines are actually on the ground in the final extraction, there will be something substantially less than 15,000 UNOSOM forces...

Deutch: Exactly right.

Q: Do you have an estimate of how many...

Deutch: I would say two or three thousand. We're looking at really the last few days of the separation of the final forces, and where it's especially the training and equipment that the U.S. Marines have and these other nations don't, that last few days of very dangerous separation, which is why we need them.

Q: At one point in the planning it was thought that MSC would supply the ships to extract the personnel and equipment from Mogadishu, but apparently that has been changed, that there are now civilian contract ships?

Deutch: I think the ships will be provided for by the UN through their own logistical system, and it may involve commercial ships from other countries once they get off the beach.

Q: Will any other nation be helping the Marines in this operation?

Deutch: With this particular piece we're talking about, this very limited, one week duration extraction piece, would be done by the U.S. Marines.

Q: You talked about assisting or removing military equipment that is still there. At what point are there too few UN troops to protect that military equipment on the ground, before your arrival?

Deutch: A small part of the planning process. We believe that the potential presence of the U.S. Marines would allow there to be an orderly extraction, will deter any kind of hostility. That's certainly what we hope, that the environment will be peaceful throughout the whole operation. There will be a phased withdrawal of the military equipment, of course, planned, very carefully, in conjunction with this Marine force we're speaking about. However, at the last moment you have to have that covering -- which U.S. Marines know how to do -- to get out the last UNOSOM forces and the last equipment off the pier.

Q: If there's a disruption in the withdrawal process before that last week comes with attempts to gain control over some of that equipment, is it possible U.S. forces would have to go in sooner than you...

Deutch: That's certainly not contemplated at all.

Q: Admiral Owens, is it just the LHG that's going, or are there other ships of the ARG as well?

Owens: This is a three ship ARG. It could possibly be a fourth ship that is added to that ARG. But it is a standard ARG with that augmentation.

Q: What is the Marine Unit?

Owens: I t's the 13th MEU.

Q: The possibility of the USS BELLEAU WOOD joining in?

Owens: There's a possibility of the BELLEAU WOOD joining as the fourth ship of the Amphibious Ready Group.

Q: On cost, is this to be 100 percent U.S. funded, or is this counted as UN money...

Deutch: This will be a U.S. operation. The costs would be born by the U.S.

Q: I wanted to be clear on the origins of this. Was this a commitment we previously made to the UN, or is there a recent request...

Deutch: There has been a request from the UN. There has been a request from the UN, and from the UNOSOM command structure to provide this assistance for the extraction. They know quite well the potential for hostility which occurs there and the presence of a strong Marine force in the last few days can make a big difference in averting any violence in that last...

Q: When did that request come?

Deutch: I think it's been around for some time.

Q: We've not previously made a commitment that yes, we expect to do this?

Deutch: No, the decision of the President was made today.

Q: How many American soldiers are there now? And are you saying that the Marines are going to be last out?

Deutch: I certainly would expect that the Marines would be the last out because that's the way they're going to cover up and do this and protect the people. I cannot tell you how much less risk there is of loss of life with them there than with them not there. So, I would expect that the Marines would be managing, essentially would be the responsible agents as we came out of there.

Q: How many American soldiers are there now?

Deutch: There are no combat troops. There may be a couple of people...


Q: Can I just make sure that I understand. You said if there was some sort of premature reaction from the warring forces in Somalia, the U.S. would not commit its forces in advance?

Deutch: I want to be extremely clear on this point. the decision of the President is completely limited to this final, very limited extraction, for this limited purpose, and there has been no speculation or consideration about any U.S. involvement under any other circumstances, which we don't think will be needed, because we think UNOSOM will be able to maintain its self-protection for the remaining period of time except for that last week. So, I would stress there is no consideration being given to any other involvement of U.S. combat forces except for this last extraction.

Q: If at some point the UN is withdrawing its forces and it gets down to a level at which the bad guys decide they can go in and do something, the U.S. is not going to react? What's to stop them from doing it whenever they feel strong enough?

Deutch: You're getting into the precise way that you draw out troops. There can be plenty of force there with the remaining UNOSOM contingent until that last week. So, we think there is very little danger of that happening with the warfighting parties there.

Thank you very much.

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