DoD News Briefing: Mr. Dennis Boxx, DATSD/PA
Mr. Boxx: Good afternoon. Welcome to the regular Tuesday/Thursday Pentagon briefing. We have been on a two week hiatus. I know you have been disappointed, as I have, not to be able to have these briefings.
I have no announcements. I'll be happy to start with your questions.
Q: What about the CBO report that defense spending is still going to be $47 billion out of line through '99?
A: We've seen the report. We are, in fact, going to do some of our own analysis of their numbers, so at this point I'm not sure I can delve very far into precisely what their numbers are and whether they're right or not.
I would remind you though, that we indicated for a number of months, in fact held a briefing in the recent past, that we, too, identified about a $40-plus billion shortfall. $49 billion I think was the number we briefed the last time, and acknowledged that shortfall, and went into some great detail about how we're going to deal with it, not the least of which is an additional $25 billion provided by the President to be focused on a number of areas, including readiness, as well as some adjustments in the inflation figures and some changes in the modernization program which will, in our view, accommodate the shortfall and deal with it. When we present the budget next month, we will lay out for you in great detail exactly how we expect to do that.
Q: Their $47 billion takes into account the $25 billion.
A: My understanding is that it doesn't, Charlie. But again, we are looking at it. My understanding is they're talking about a $65 billion shortfall total, not including the President's $25 billion add-on.
Q: Do you have a date for when you're going to...
A: No, Susanne. Early February is as close as I can get for you right now. I'm sure we will manage to mess up everyone's weekend as we normally do. But it will...
Q: Just as a housekeeping item, you are going to do the typical Saturday brief...
A: As is currently planned, yes.
Q: Do you have some sort of assessment of how Russian troops are deporting themselves in Chechnya? Is it the U.S. Government and the Pentagon's assessment that this whole exercise tells you something about Russian forces, readiness, ability to fight?
A: I don't think at this juncture it serves any useful purpose for me to attempt to assess the performance of the Russian army, based on really what is urban guerrilla kinds of warfare that's ongoing in Gorazny. The situation remains very fluid, to say the least, and I think it's prudent to leave such assessments to a later date.
Q: Could we get someone from DIA down here to talk on background about that?
A: I don't want to make any promises, Charlie. We'll see how this progresses and see what we can do. I don't want to make a commitment right now. We'll take a look at it.
Q: What can you tell us about reports, the U.S. claims Iraq has some 9,000 pieces of military equipment that belonged to Kuwait, plus a lot of civilian material. Apparently this is being discussed at the UN.
A: I'm sorry, I have nothing in this voluminous portfolio that I brought with me, I have nothing on that. So I will have to take the question.
Q: Do you have anything on the scheduling of the changing of residence, so to speak, for the people in Guantanamo? How that is going with the Haitians, how long that will take, and any plans for movement of the Cubans in Panama back to Guantanamo?
A: Let's start with the Haitians in Guantanamo. Eight hundred and seventy-four Haitians have returned to Port-au-Prince. These are individuals who did not opt for the voluntary incentive program. Five hundred and fifty more are en-route to Port-au-Prince today, so that's a total of about 1,450 in that category.
As you know, there are INS interviews that take place for each individual that's going to be returned to Haiti. There are some 130 or so who at this point are, for either medical reasons or because a continuing investigation into their particular situation needs to be done, who have not been sent back. So that continues. The repatriation of Haitians to their homeland, which is now, in our view, a safe and secure environment, will continue.
On the other part, in terms of Panama, we continue to look for resettlement possibilities in third countries such as the agreement that was reached very recently with Spain, where 72 Cubans were moved to Spain on December 8th. And an obvious option is the return of the migrants to Guantanamo Bay to await resettlement to other countries, or voluntary repatriation to Cuba once the six months period ends in Panama on March 5th, but we don't have anything to announce in terms of anything final on that.
Q: Have there been any disturbances, protests, however you want to term them, ship-board concerning these people from Haiti that are being forcibly repatriated? And secondly, take that question over to the Panama site. Have we had any more troubles over there?
A: There was a very minor, I think one situation that I'm aware of in the Haitians that were removed from Guantanamo Bay to Port-au-Prince, a very low-key kind of situation, but it was handled without any injuries or any problems. It was involving a couple of individuals.
The second half of your question in terms of Panama, to my knowledge there have not been any, at least serious outbreaks. There may have been some minor isolated cases, and I'm not aware of those. You might check with Jim Fettig in Panama.
Q: So the augmented security in Panama has succeeded in quelling any further major disturbances.
A: It apparently has. There are a significant number of U.S. military personnel that are there. Our hope and our belief is that it will ensure a peaceful environment for the majority of Cubans in the Panama camp who are not violent.
Q: Can you shed any light on reports that Deputy Secretary of Defense John Deutch is in line to become Director of the CIA?
A: You're looking for a personnel announcement? I do have two personnel announcements. (PAUSE)
The President has nominated Major General John Abrams for promotion to lieutenant general and assignment as Commanding General V Corps, United States Army Europe. Since May '93 he has served as the commanding general, 2nd Infantry Division, 8th United States Army, Korea.
The President has also nominated Major General Guy LaBoa for promotion to lieutenant general and assignment as Commanding General, 2nd United States Army, Fort Gillem, Georgia. Since 1993 he has served as Chief of Staff, Forces Command, at Fort McPherson. Those are the only personnel announcements I have today. (LAUGHTER)
Q: On the Deutch question, was he at the CIA last Thursday and Friday? There was a report that seemed to indicate he spent a lot of time there.
A: I'm not specifically sure, Susanne. He spends a lot of time with the CIA folks -- either here or at CIA as a part of his function as Deputy Secretary. So he may well have been over there. I wouldn't attribute a whole lot to it.
Q: How are you coming on convincing the United Nations that Haiti is a safe and secure environment, and it's okay for a massive change of the guard down there to be expedited?
A: The process has begun, Jack. The first step actually has been taken. The commander of the multinational force there, General Meade, has in fact indicated it is his view that it is a safe and secure environment. That process now moves to the UN. We would hope to see that happen perhaps this week, and we will be on the path, we believe, and we see no reason to indicate otherwise that there will be a very smooth transition into the UNMIH force.
Q: So you have a game plan then to get it down to 3,000 American troops? What is your time table?
A: As you know, there will be a spike in the number as we go through the transition between the 25th and the 10th, so we're going to see the number go up. It will quickly go back down. I don't have a specific day-by-day timetable, but we will see a continuing decline of the number. I'm not sure it will be down on transition day to the 3,000 or so that we ultimately would expect to have there. There will need to be some period of transition for that. I can't give you a timetable, but we continue to believe that over the next couple or three months that that transition should take place.
Q: Do you have any detail on how it is that Marines found themselves in the minefield at Guantanamo, in a Cuban minefield at Guantanamo?
A: I really don't. That investigation is underway--an unfortunate incident where a couple of Marines were injured by mines in the Cuban section. We need to look at that. I just don't have any...
Q: It was described as if they were on "routine patrol," but the demarcation line is very, very clear between one side and the other.
A: There's a fence. I think the initial report that I heard, and again I would caution you it is initial and the investigation needs to confirm it, was that there was some hole or cut in the fence that they inspected and went through perhaps and were then at that point in the Cuban minefield. Unfortunately, it did detonate a mine.
Q: Is it the intention of the Defense Department to release the autopsy of Davie Hilemon, the helicopter copilot...
A: I'm not sure, Jack, if we will release the autopsy in its total. I would hope, as we promised, that when the autopsy is completed and when the investigation itself is completed, we'll be able to come back to you with a briefing and give you some of the detail of that. Neither of those are yet complete. They are both, I believe, very near to being complete, so we would hope to have that in the near future, but I can't tell you when.
Q: Is Bobby Hall to be reassigned to his unit in South Korea?
A: I was asked that question this morning, and I don't know the answer. I think the best thing I can do is refer you to the Army personnel folks. They would be the ones that could address those.
Q: Is it possible that Mr. Hall would be available to the press here at any time?
A: Mr. Hall has been available to the press at some length. I have no plan to have him come down here. To the electronic press. If he were to indicate an interest I guess we could look at that, but that's not been discussed.
Q: I think you just said to Jack that we could expect a further or some kind of a wrap-up debriefing on that particular matter concerning the helicopter shoot-down. In that regard, specifically, is it yet known how Bobby Hall got lost? What were the circumstances? What was his deduction or witness about that? Is that yet known?
A: Not beyond what he himself has said, and that will be part of the investigation. I think we really need to really reserve any final judgments until we can get the fact finding report in hand and take a final look at it.
Q: Do you have any update on the Somalia withdrawal, if there is any movement towards that or...
A: In terms of movement, is that what you're talking about? In terms of movement of anything?
A: The Essex Amphibious Ready Group is currently participating in another exercise in the Persian Gulf. It will probably finish around mid-January in that exercise, and then it would move in the area of operation off of Somalia. The Belleau Wood is currently in Okinawa. It left Sasebo. It is on-loading members of the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force and some equipment, and will head also toward the Somali coast. Looking for arrival of those four ships probably right around the first week or so of February.
By the way, I would note, as you heard in some detail when we announced the decision to support the UNISOM withdrawal, we will have a significant and, as Dr. Deutch described, overwhelming force. We will have some 2,600 Marines, AC-130 gunships, Harriers, and Cobra helicopters. It will be a force to reckon with, and we would strongly discourage any faction to even consider in any way interfering with that operation.
Q: What provision are you making for press coverage?
A: We are making provision, but I think that's something we'll have to deal with you separately on. I'd rather not deal with it right here.
Q: Can you give any idea of what they will be evacuating in terms of numbers of people, types of vehicles, anything like that? Do you have an idea of that yet?
A: I'm sure we do, Susanne. In fact I think we have it in DDI in some depth. We can provide that to you. I didn't bring it with me.
Q: Are these 2,600 Marines all in the three ship Essex Group?
A: There will be some aboard the Belleau Wood as well, I understand.
Q: What are the other ships in the Essex Group?
A: Ogden and Fort Fisher.
Q: What are they?
A: They're all amphibs.
Q: How long will it take, do you have any idea? Days, weeks?
Q: For this pull-out to take place.
A: The final phase at which we would have some number of U.S. military personnel on the ground in Somalia, will probably be less than a week. The time table for the final withdrawal I think is yet to be established, but as you know, the UNISOM mandate and the UN itself has indicated they will all be out by the end of March, so it will be sometime well before that.
Q: Thank you.