Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
Secretary Cohen is arriving in Brazil this afternoon after his visit to Argentina and Chile. As you probably know, over the weekend he made some comments about the force redeployments in the Gulf and I just wanted to bring you up to date on where we stand.
To put it in the proper context, as you know, since the end of the Gulf War we've followed a policy of containing Iraq from attacking its neighbors and from retaining or reconstituting its weapons of mass destruction. There's been absolutely no change in that policy.
The pillars of the containment policy have been robust forward presence of American military forces, rapid reinforcement capability to build those forces up when necessary, and support of the United Nations Security Council resolutions and mandates. The pillars of that containment policy have not changed either.
What President Clinton has decided to do, is to reduce the current force there to its pre-crisis levels of about October of last year. Last year we had 18,000 to 19,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in the Gulf. We began to build up in response to the problems over inspections and reached a peak force of about 44,000. Today there are about 36,000 or 37,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in the Gulf.
We will continue to maintain a robust force in the Gulf. That force will ensure stability, but we will not maintain a full contingency size force as we have over the last couple of months.
So, as you know, the INDEPENDENCE carrier battle group is leaving the area. It's gone through the Strait of Hormuz, and it is still in the Central Command area of responsibility, but it will pass out of that area of responsibility tomorrow and head back to Japan.
There will be a second carrier there, the STENNIS, and we will maintain a presence of one carrier there on station in the Gulf for the foreseeable future. We also will be able to add a second carrier very quickly, in a matter of days, from the Mediterranean or elsewhere.
Second, the Air Expeditionary Force in Bahrain will leave as scheduled in early June and we will revert to our earlier policy of sending Air Expeditionary Forces to the Gulf on a periodic basis to set up for 30-45 days or longer and train in the area.
Third, we will reduce our ground troops in Kuwait by about a brigade. As you know, we surged the ground troops there to almost a division level at one point, to pick up the prepositioned equipment in Kuwait and train with Kuwaiti troops in the desert. We have an INTRINSIC ACTION task force there of about 1200 people and that will remain. We're also leaving behind a rocket battery, an MLRS -- Multiple Launch Rocket System -- battery, and increasing our helicopter presence there with eight Apaches.
We're also leaving behind a very powerful force of cruise missiles that will be about double the size of the cruise missile force before the crisis began last fall, and we have the ability to surge that to four times what it was last fall. So we have one, on-station the ability to exert a swift and powerful strike if we have to; and also the ability to increase that cruise missile force very, very rapidly.
The ability to increase the force rapidly -- rapidly redeploy in the face of increased tension is key to the President's decision to maintain a powerful force in the area, although a somewhat reduced force from the current levels, but to be able to bring that force back up to a higher level if necessary.
The President approved these redeployments because they allow us to protect our interest in the Gulf while reducing the wear and tear on the forces that have been patrolling there since early November when we began the buildup.
I think the events of the last months and, in fact, the last year, show that the U.S. and the international community are ready to enforce the United Nations Security Council mandates, and we will continue to maintain a force that can do that and continue our ability to reinforce that force very, very quickly.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q: The F-117s... is that (inaudible) going home?
A: Although the President has made a broad decision, the deployment orders have not been written yet so I can't get into exact details of timing, but ultimately the forces that we sent over there to reinforce, including the F-117s, will be coming back. But I can't give you specific dates at this stage.
Q: Does that mean the EISENHOWER then will be going only to the Med. It will not be going, when it deploys, to the Gulf?
A: She will be going to the Med, as currently planned. And she will then constitute a backup force that will be able to make it into the Gulf rapidly.
Q: Does that include also the B-52s that we sent to Diego Garcia?
A: Ultimately we'll be drawing down many elements of the force. As I say, because deployment orders haven't been signed, I don't want to get into the exact details at this time.
Q: Can you give us any rough number of basically how many planes are coming back? There's the AEF and then there's the...
A: There are 43 planes in the AEF, but I don't have a global figure at this stage and I'd rather wait until the deployment orders are actually worked out and signed.
Q: You did mention earlier that pre-crisis there were 18,000 to 19,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen. Now, after the draw down, just a general sort of overview, how many do you expect to have remaining in place, generally?
A: It will vary from a day to day basis, but it will be around 20,000 -- sometimes a couple [of thousand] more, sometimes a couple of thousand less. But we'll be moving back to an area of around 20,000, give or take a couple of thousand on either side.
Q: And just to reiterate that the U.S. believes that this is fully capable of meeting any challenge, these 20,000...
A: Absolutely. We will continue to patrol the no-fly zone under SOUTHERN WATCH, which is absolutely crucial to containing Iraq. We will continue to patrol the Gulf aggressively, the sea lanes in the Gulf aggressively. We will continue to have ground forces exercising in Kuwait, and we'll continue to have air expeditionary forces and other forces moving in and out for training missions as necessary.
Q: Can you go through the Army part of this in Kuwait again? I just didn't follow what you...
A: Currently there are between 6,000 and 7,000 troops in Kuwait. When we finish the redeployment it will be down to about 1,200 troops which is the INTRINSIC ACTION Task Force.
As you know, one of the things we've done since the Gulf War to improve our military posture in the Gulf is to preposition a division's worth of armor equipment in the Gulf. So, we have task forces going over very regularly to train with the prepositioned equipment, and that's what the INTRINSIC ACTION exercises do.
Q: There will always be an INTRINSIC ACTION task force there?
A: Generally, there will be. Nearly always. I can't say there won't be a day or two, but our goal is to have people training there on this equipment, and we've been doing that even before the earlier crisis.
Q: Didn't you say last week, I think it was that someone was headed over there for training to Kuwait?
A: I think the group just arrived. I think a task force just arrived within the last week or so -- 1200 people.
Q: When did the President make this decision?
A: He made it, I believe, last week. At the end of last week.
Q: What type of time line are we talking about from when the orders are actually given to the time when our troops are scaled down? Four weeks? Six weeks?
A: It will be relatively soon. I would say in the next three weeks or so.
Q: I'm unclear on the number of people there now. You were saying 34,000, 35,000. Are you still counting the INDEPENDENCE...
A: Yeah, I'm still counting the INDEPENDENCE because technically the INDEPENDENCE is still in the Central Command area of responsibility. That is, she has not transited yet into the Pacific Command area. So although she's steaming away from the Gulf with, I believe, four combatants and several support ships, she's still in the Central Command area.
Q: Once that transition is made, then the total will be...
A: Well, that alone is about 7,000 people. I think the INDEPENDENCE battle group has about 7,000 people. So I think there are now about 37,000 people there and that will drop it down to 30,000, as of tomorrow.
Q: Before this buildup there were occasionally gaps, time periods of several weeks or even months when we had no carrier there. Is that contemplated now, or is the decision to make sure we always have at least one?
A: For the foreseeable future we'll have at least one carrier there.
Q: If the threat has diminished, why the need to double the number of Tomahawks in theater?
A: What has happened, of course, is that Iraq has been complying with the UN mandates to allow inspectors to do their job. What we found over the years is that Saddam Hussein will do bad things from time to time and be threatening either to his neighbors or to the UN. We want to be in an unambiguous situation where we're able to respond very quickly and very forcefully, and increasing the number of cruise missiles there does that. It has a ready, powerful, and very swift force on station all the time.
Q: Richard Butler, the chief arms inspector, was in Sidney, and said that he will be presenting fresh evidence that Iraq is maintaining illegal weapons stores including, he said, some recently declassified U-2 photographs. Do you have any information or can you describe in any way what those photographs might show?
A: I cannot. I think I'll have to leave it up to the UN Special Commission, UNSCOM, to release those and to describe what Mr. Butler has in mind.
Q: Can you give us a ball park range on the number of crews we have in the area?
A: I can't right now. It's a large number.
Q: Back when they were discussing the draw down of the forces they said another prong of the policy would be to move away from using military force as a threat, to move toward something more positive than using threatening military force. Can you elaborate on that other prong?
A: What I want to say is that our policy is unchanged. It's a policy of containment. We've made it very clear by our force movements in the past and by our actions in the past that we're willing to use military force if necessary to contain Iraq from either attacking our forces, attacking neighboring countries, or from reconstituting its weapons of mass destruction. The drama now, in the Gulf, is whether Iraq will comply with the UN Security Council resolutions to abolish its weapons of mass destruction program. That's what the inspectors are trying to discover, what Iraq is doing with its weapons of mass destruction.
One of the main ways to enforce those resolutions right now is through the economic sanctions that apply to Iraq. I think the international community has made it very clear over the last couple of months that those sanctions will remain as long as Iraq refuses to comply with the UN mandate, and the principal mandate -- although there are many others -- but the principal mandate is to stop work and abolish its weapons of mass destruction program. There are many others that have to do with accounting for Kuwaiti POWs, returning equipment, etc. But the one that has really galvanized the world's attention is their weapons of mass destruction program.
Q: So in other words if they don't abide by this, instead of rattling our sabers we'll reinforce the sanctions? In other words, use that as the argument to get...
A: Well, I think, that we've made it very clear in the past that we're willing to respond to provocative action by Iraq. That policy has not changed. We will do what we can to reinforce the UN's ability to do its job, and I don't want to speculate about what's going to happen in the future. I hope, since Saddam Hussein has said that he wants the sanctions lifted, I assume that means that he'll continue work to abolish his weapons of mass destruction program, and let the inspectors in so they can see what progress he's making. And if he has made progress, then the UN will have to decide what to do next.
Q: Can you give an assessment of the Iraqi military force? Has there been any movement? Has it been relatively quiet? Any threatening actions towards anyone at all?
A: It's been relatively quiet recently.
As you know, back in the fall they made public threats about shooting down Operation SOUTHERN WATCH planes, about trying to shoot down U-2s flying in support of the United Nations. That bellicose rhetoric stopped last fall when we sent a carrier into the Gulf in November. And they have basically moved their forces away from a crisis posture starting in the late winter/early spring after the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reached the inspection agreement with Iraq.
Q: Any violations of the Northern or Southern no-fly zones in the last four weeks?
A: Not that I'm aware of, no.
Q: What about the smuggling? I think the CENTCOM CINC complained recently that that was on the rise again. Are we doing anything... We're downsizing the force, are we doing anything to try to tighten up the embargo?
A: You're talking about the maritime interdiction force. There was a very sharp reduction in the amount of oil being smuggled out of Iraq in the spring. In February, March. And it fell to about ten percent of what the levels had been in December or early January.
Since then it has risen maybe three-fold from its low, but it still may be a third to 40 percent of what it was at its peak, as I recall, and that's some figures I looked at last week. I'm not aware that things have changed that rapidly since. So there is less smuggling getting through. There are a number of reasons for this. One is we are more aggressively policing the smuggling ban, and we've been boarding some ships recently. We've been doing that for a long period. I think for a while we'd assigned an additional ship to the maritime interdiction force.
But the main reason that the shipping went down along the smuggling routes was that Iran became less compliant in allowing the Iraqi smugglers to hug the Iranian coast. To a certain extent they have eased up a little, but I believe the smuggling is still less than it was at its peak.
Q: How much was this decision influenced by the strain on readiness that the deployments had created within the U.S. military?
A: Well, it was a factor, and the President has addressed that. He, a couple of days ago, noted that we ask our forces to do a lot, they have longer deployments, and that he and his military advisors were looking at ways to reduce the strain of these deployments.
But the fact of the matter is that we ought to remember what our pattern's been in the Gulf since the end of the Gulf War. That is we've maintained a very powerful force in the Gulf. The composition of that force has varied from time to time, but it's been an extremely powerful force. That force has been made more powerful over time as we've added prepositioned equipment, expanded SOUTHERN WATCH, etc. We've always had an ability to surge that force in response to current conditions, and we did surge that force in late 1997 and early 1998 in response to Saddam Hussein's refusal to allow the inspectors to do their job. We surged the force in October of 1994 when we had intelligence suggesting that Iraq was about to attack Kuwait again. We've surged it several other times since 1994. We've always surged it and then brought it back to a robust level, but a smaller level, and that's what we're doing this time.
So I think everybody anticipated that at some point, after the inspection crisis was over, we would reduce the force to a more reasonable level. What we've done here is while reducing the force, we have actually strengthened our rapid strike capability by dramatically increasing the number of cruise missiles we have in the theater.
Q: Will the F-117s be brought back as part of the draw down?
A: Eventually they will, but I don't have anything specific on that now.
Q: JSTARS also, will that stay as a key asset in the theater, or will that be brought down?
A: I can't get into the details because the deployment orders haven't been signed.
Q: On the cruise missiles, to follow up on Jamie's question. He asked about Diego Garcia and the B-52s and the cruise missiles there. Are you talking about naval cruise missiles primarily, or are you talking about both?
A: Well, largely about naval cruise missiles.
Q: Why did the INDEPENDENCE battle group, why was its departure date, it seems actually moved up. I think the 27th was the date for departure.
A: I think the 27th was always the date for departure out of the Central Command area of responsibility. That's basically when she passes by India.
Q: So this is a scheduled departure.
A: Yes. As you know, she's going back to Japan, and then to the U.S. to be decommissioned, and she'll be replaced by the KITTY HAWK in Japan.
Q: Can you just get us, later, some sort of rough number on the number of cruise missiles since you've made such a point about saying they would double and ...
A: I can't promise that I'm going to be able to give you any figure...
Q: Is it possible to explain to the average person why if you're not increasing the ships there how you're possibly doubling the cruise missiles if they're largely naval cruise missiles?
A: Well you can put more cruise missiles on each ship. Or you could have different ships.
Q: That's what you're doing.
A: Or you could have ships carry more cruise missiles. That would be the easiest way.
Press: Thank you.