DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
I'd like to start with just a brief announcement about help we're providing in Europe to combat floods and to the flood victims. The U.S. Army in Europe has provided sandbags -- about 27,600 filled sandbags and 415,000 unfilled sandbags -- plus a lot of other equipment including trucks, rafts, boats, and volunteers to help people in flooded towns in both Germany and Luxembourg.
With that, I'll take your questions on this or other topics.
Q: Do you know how many volunteers -- a rough number at all? People that have gotten involved?
A: Many volunteers have been involved. No, I don't know how many. We can find out. If you check with DDI or the European Command we can give you numbers on that. They've got huge lists of numbers here: 150 volunteers filled sandbags; 30 soldiers helped clear debris; 15 soldiers helped fill 3,000 sandbags; there were 38 volunteer boat operators. I can go on. We've got numbers and numbers here.
Q: Do you have any changes on the ships that were heading toward Somalia with the Marines on board? What's their status?
A: They're in the Arabian Sea [correction: Indian Ocean]. They're basically in the area. There was an erroneous report that some Marines had landed in Kenya from a helicopter carrier. That, as I say, was wrong.
Q: What information do you have about that Marine landing that was supposed to take place in Kenya? Is that still going to go?
A: I don't have any information about that. I can tell you that Marines frequently carry on exercises. And these Marines, presumably, will be doing some standard exercises when they're in the area, but I have no details.
Q: Have the Essex and the Belleau Wood now linked up? And what is the total reinforcement under this MAGTF ?
A: Two-thousand six-hundred.
Q: Have they linked up the Belleau Wood with the Essex group?
A: I believe they have -- because they're both conducting operations in the North Arabian Sea [correction: Indian Ocean].
Q: After the Paks [Pakistanis] and the others left the UN headquarters yesterday and moved to the port or the airport area, the Somalis apparently looted the UN headquarters. Today, I understand that two mortar shells were fired into the port area. There's a report from there that you're going to speed up taking out the civilians. Have you anything new on the schedule for removing people -- on when this thing might start?
A: I don't have anything definite on that. We've always said that it would start toward the end of the month and we've never given a firm date. And the reason is, we don't have a firm date yet. We wanted to give ourselves flexibility, and we're still leaving ourselves flexibility.
Q: To your knowledge, is consideration being given to speeding this up?
A: I think we've always looked at the timing as flexible, and we still are. We've been ready to go sooner. We've acknowledged that as a possibility. I think I said down here several weeks ago that the ships would be off-station on about February 8th and ready to go any time after that. February 8th is next Wednesday, I believe. I don't want to mislead you to conclude that we will do something that early, but we will be in a position to move relatively soon.
Q: They'll be off Somalia February 8th?
A: That was the plan as of several weeks ago. I don't believe that's changed.
Q: Is there any consideration to increasing the size of the extraction force? Things seem to be getting worse fairly fast in Mogadishu.
A: We have prepared for a large, highly capable force from the beginning. We've seen that there could be problems. But I should tell you that, so far, the combat and conflict in Somalia seems to be between the warring factions. It doesn't seem to be directed against the UNOSOM members. The withdrawal from the UN compound to the port area -- the secured port facility -- was relatively uneventful from the UN peacekeeping group's force standpoint. So far, although it is a dicey situation, it hasn't been dicey for the UNOSOM members.
Q: Is the intention for the Marines to actually come ashore, set up a perimeter to guard these, or just remain on ship in case they're needed?
A: We are prepared to come ashore.
Q: Senator Thurmond has issued a statement being critical of the Administration -- particularly President Clinton -- for indicating that he wants the supplemental passed quickly. Thurmond is complaining that they don't even have one from the Administration yet. Do you have any response to that, as to when the Administration might put up the defense request?
A: Secretary Perry said the request would go up with the budget -- which is next week. We're only talking about a few days from now. The National Security Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee has already acted on its version of the supplemental. It went through last Friday. I think that's supposed to be considered by the full committee this week, although I'm not certain on the schedule. At one point there was a schedule to consider it on the Floor of the House on February 15th. So Congress has already started work on that -- on the House side. It hasn't started yet on the Senate side.
Q: Is that any reason not to send up your own proposal?
A: Supplementals traditionally go up with the budget. This one is following that path.
Q: Bosnia. I understand that the Secretary of Defense and Mr. Holbrooke in the State Department are going to be in Europe to talk with the Croatians and the Muslims on Sunday. And, also in the article, Mr. Holbrooke says that there is no solution at this time -- which tallies with the statement made by Mr. Silajdzic yesterday, that he has no solution or any ideas on how this problem will be solved. Can you give us a little background about this coming trip? Was it discussed yesterday when the Chiefs and the other brass met with the President?
A: I'm going to refer you to the State Department on that. Holbrooke is giving a briefing right now, even as we talk, so I urge you to get the transcript of that. I'm sure that will answer some of your questions.
Q: Can you update us on what the progress is... Have there been any problems or incidents relating to the transfer of Cubans to Guantanamo?
A: We transferred 500 yesterday and that went quite smoothly. It went very smoothly from our standpoint. As of 12:45 today, we have transferred another 200. Our anticipated rate is to transfer 500 people a day until the job is done. So far, this has occurred without incident.
Q: Has Secretary Perry spoke with Russian Defense Minister Grachev recently (inaudible), and if so...
A: I do not believe they've spoken recently.
Press: Thank you.