THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SECRETARY OF STATE WARREN CHRISTOPHER, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LES ASPIN AND ADMIRAL DAVID JEREMIAH The Briefing Room
5:59 P.M. EDT
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Good afternoon. You've just heard the President explain the reasons why American forces went to Somalia, what they have accomplished and the reasons why the forces will remain there.
From the standpoint of American foreign policy, the steadiness of purpose that the President showed is absolutely essential for the effective conduct of a foreign policy. Any less resolute a course would certainly have been damaging, and I am very pleased that this determined course has been set.
In a few minutes, Secretary Aspin will describe the military aspects, and Admiral Jeremiah will speak to an aspect of that as well. But first, I'd like to discuss our diplomatic strategy under the policy that the President laid down today.
We've been pressing the United Nations to refocus the Somalia operation on the political process of national reconciliation. Secretary General Boutros-Ghali will travel to the region later this month, and he has indicated that the U.N. will pursue rapid progress on the political track. At the same time, we're sending messages to 30 countries that contribute various kinds of support to the UNISOM effort, asking that they remain in the country until it's secure.
The United States has carried the heaviest part of the load in Somalia. We're now asking certain other countries to increase the number of their troops there to finish the job. We have also asked Ambassador Oakley, who served as Special Envoy to Somlia from December through March, to meet with leaders in the region to obtain their support for the political strategy. He is leaving for the region tonight. We've sent a message to President Meles of Ethiopia, asking him to help bring about an early cease-fire. We'll be working with President Meles to establish an independent international commission to investigate and resolve the issues stemming from the attacks on UNISOM and from the other acts of violence in Somalia.
We're also sending messages to the leaders of Eritrea, Kenya and Djibouti, asking for their help in achieving a political settlement in Somalia. We're asking the organization African Unity to take an active role in bringing together the different factions in Somalia. We've solicited the support of Egyptian President Mubarak, who is this year President of the OAU. We'll be sending a similar message to the OAU Secretary General Salim Salim.
The United States intends to work with -- particularly closely with President Meles, the OAU and the Somalis to try to arrange a Somali leadership conference as soon as possible. Almost a year ago when the United States responded heroically to the question of mass starvation on Somalia; now, we, together with the United Nations, neighboring countries and the OAU must work urgently to help the Somalis find a settlement to the problem and to mobilize the humanitarian rescue.
We're looking to the African leaders to help us find an African solution to an African problem. We're going to be relying heavily on such leaders as President Meles, President Issaias and others in the region to help fashion a solution to the problem, which goes along with the military track that Secretary Aspin and General Jeremiah will be talking about. As I look back, one of the things that happened over the last several months is that we focused very heavily on the military track, and we lost focus on the political track. We're now asking the U.N. to refocus on the political track and to try to seek a national reconciliation in Somalia so that that country can get on with its life and well-being.
SECRETARY ASPIN: Thank you, Chris. Let me just do a brief statement, and then let me talk a little bit about the military deployments, and then turn it over to Admiral Jeremiah, who has also got some information on the deployments.
First, I want to say that the American men and women that we have sent to Somalia have performed their mission with unmatched distinction. They represent the very best that this nation has to offer. There are no words to describe our pride in the bravery they demonstrated under fire, our agony over the loss of their precious lives and the suffering of our wounded and detained. There are, however, words available to send a clear message to those who are illegally detaining an American serviceman. The message to Mr. Aideed is this: Do not underestimate American resolve. Do not think that any harm you do to our servicemen will be forgotten by me, the President, or by the American people. We intend to have our man back. And we hold you personally responsible for his safety.
Besides that statement, let me just say a few words about the situation as far as the military deployments goes. First, the numbers. After this deployment has been completed, and including the people that are already in country, the total number of American servicemen in Somalia will be in the order of 7,100 people. In addition to that, there will be an offshore Marine presence which will total 3,600. So that's the numbers that are relevant. There is an on-shore presence that will go from -- roughly, what is it now, 4,500, 4,800 -- up to 7,100, and the number will be augmented by an offshore Marine presence which may be added to the number in country of another 3,600.
In addition to that, there will, of course, be a naval presence in the area, but none of them will be on shore in Somalia. In particular, of course, there is the Aircraft Carrier Lincoln -- Abraham Lincoln, is coming into the area, and that adds about 6,000 people on board that ship all by themselves.
What this added capability will allow is three things: First, it will allow moving the QRF to its old mission. The QRF, as you remember, was essentially designed to be a quick reaction force if somebody got in trouble somewhere in the fighting within all of Somalia. The QRF was a quick reaction force to reinforce somebody, somewhere in Somalia. What happened, though, unfortunately, is the drawdown of the U.S. forces, the QRF got involved in day-to-day operations in Mogadishu. This added military presence will allow the QRF to go back to its originally designed mission as a quick reaction force.
Second, we will be adding almost a second QRF in the offshore Marines. The Marines will add another capability that can be inserted at a particular time with a particular mission, and that would add to the capability. So there's almost a second QRF available on the offshore.
The final thing that it does is, it allows -- this capability here includes some air power that we did not have before. In particular, there are going to be four AC-130 gunships, and there are going to be the aircraft off of the carrier Abraham Lincoln, which are available for air strikes in the area.
Those are the capabilities. It will allow the United States military to conduct the mission as described in the President's speech, it will allow a greater presence. It is thought that it will be a force multiplier, because with more American presence and more American activity, we believe the allies will also show more activity. So I think it'll be a force multiplier. It will, I think, have an impact on the security situation in Mogadishu. And the hope which is behind all of this, is essentially to bring about the political agenda which we're laying out.
The military mission here is in support of the political agenda. The military mission is in support of the political agenda. There is -- to carry out a military solution to this problem would require a number of people and a number -- amount of time and an amount of commitment of money, which is beyond all reasonable expectations. We are putting our efforts into a political solution here, but we have military component which supports that political process.
Let me now call upon Dave Jeremiah and ask him -- we'll have some questions in a minute. Let me ask Dave Jeremiah for his statement.
ADMIRAL JEREMIAH: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I thought it would be useful to put some texture on some of these terms that we've thrown around -- the logistic support group and the QRF. When the American forces went into Somalia last December, Marines went ashore, were subsequently joined by soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division in Mogadishu, and fanned out across the depth and range of Somalia -- southern Somalia -- with the objective of restoring order and of permitting the transportation of food to famished people throughout this country. That was done.
At the same time, we had allies who came in and supported that effort under UNITAF. Over time, we stabilized the situation in Somalia, and it came time with the introduction of additional troops, and with a stable situation and a secure situation and to move out and bring back American soldiers, the 20,000 that the President referred to earlier -- 20,000 soldiers and Marines. They were replaced by soldiers from other countries. Those countries are listed up here in the boxes. Koreans, Nigerians, Kuwaitis, people from the UAE, Botswana, Norway -- a host of nations. Many of those nations do not have the ability to handle the logistics to supply them in places like Gelilasi and Bilet Wen and Odur. In order to do that, the United States came out as part of the continuing effort that the President referred to, to give the Somali people a chance. We agreed to provide the logistics network to support these folks.
I've been in Odur. It's a long way from nowhere. It's a pretty scary place if you're out there all by yourself and a bunch of folks come running up to you with a technical -- a bunch of these teenage thugs come up and start to overrun a 20- or 30-man outpost. Thus, the quick reaction force that allowed us to fly helicopter-borne American troops quickly to the scene and reinforce a post or an outpost in the even that we had that kind of thuggery going on. We have not had the occasion to do it, our allies who are in that area have been very successful in carrying it out. But the requirement remain in the logistic support force -- the logistic command to support this whole United Nations effort, those two elements were our contribution to the United Nations mission to continue the effort in Somalia to let this nation have a chance to survive as a nation.
Now, let me turn to the other chart and simply show you the range of forces and how we draw forces into a particular situation around the globe. Every day that we have dealt with crises over the last three-and-a-half years that I've been the Vice Chairman we have brought to bear the men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States: the 10th Mountain Division from New York, the 24 Mechanized Division from Georgia. We brought some forces in from the Mediterranean where we had the Marines deployed on Navy amphibious ships. We brought in some Air Force AC-130s, and you can see the composition, the numbers of people and the organizations that they represent. We brought the nuclear powered carrier Lincoln down from the Persian Gulf in order to provide the firepower that the Secretary mentioned. And we brought the amphibious forces -- the Marine amphibious forces embarked on amphibious ships just off Malaysia, they're en route as well.
So we have drawn a total force of on the order of 20,000 people together to carry out this mission in Somalia to support the political objectives that Secretary Christopher and Secretary Aspin mentioned, and that the President of the United States placed upon us as we discussed this current problem. Thank you.
Q Admiral Jeremiah, do you think this is this enough? Do you think there are enough folks going in here to protect Americans?
ADMIRAL JEREMIAH: On the ground in Mogadishu today there are on the order of 16,000 to 18,000 troops from Allied nations -- the Pakistanis, the Malaysians have contributed to the action on Sunday, a number of other -- the Egyptians, forces from the UAE, Nepalese will soon be there. There are a number of nations, and I don't want to offend them by omitting one, but there are a number of nations there. They have contributed, with our support, to protect our troops. In their logistics function this will go well, and I think we have the necessary troops on the ground to do our function and to protect our forces on the ground. But I'll tell you that if there is a problem, there is but I'll tell you that if there is a problem, there is enormous fire power in ways that are quite different than anything that the people who oppose the U.N. effort in Somalia have not seen before, except when we first put troops on the ground in Somalia, here and in the amphibious forces offshore.
Plus, there are people that they are familiar with. They've seen some of the troops in the 10th Mountain Division. They've seen the Marines. There are a lot of people in Somalia who owe their lives to those forces, and I think it will be a help.
Q Secretary Christopher, could you answer the question, what happens on April 1st if there is not a political structure in place in Somalia to really maintain the government there and the food operation? Will the United Sates pull out by then, anyway?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: The President said there was no assurance of success. We're putting in place a plan that we think maximizes the opportunity for success on the political track. But there is no assurance of success and the commitment the President gave for the withdrawal of virtually all of our troops by that time is one that will be met.
Q Will the Marine force -- 3,600 Marines -- will they remain off the coast after the other troops, the inland troops have been withdrawn? Is that the plan?
SECRETARY ASPIN: No, they would be part of the withdrawal -- I don't think it's worked out, the timing of all of this. We hope that part of the 7,100 can be removed before March 31st deadline. I would expect the Marines to stay there until the end, but I don't expect them to be there beyond that.
Q Recently, we understand that Secretary Powell, on behalf of General Montgomery in Mogadishu, has requested armor and that you had turned it down. Is that true? And if so, why, sir?
SECRETARY ASPIN: Let me tell you that the decision as to deploy any troops anywhere in the world is the job of the Secretary of Defense, and that's the job that I carry out. General Montgomery had made a request that for some additional armor of four tanks and about fourteen Bradley fighting vehicles, plus some artillery. He made that request. General Hoar looked at the proposal. He scrubbed it, took out the artillery part and sent the proposal forward.
General Powell and I discussed it on several occasions. I found that the views in the Pentagon were kind of mixed on the issue as to whether we ought to grant that. And I think they were mixed for good reason. We were, at that time, talking about a withdrawal of our presence in Somalia. We were beginning to think in terms of our withdrawal of our presence. This was about the end of September.
Q Mr. Secretary --
SECRETARY ASPIN: Let me finish, if I might. The finish the end of withdrawal -- the end of -- we're already thinking about withdrawing it, the forces, and trying to reduce our presence. This would have been a great additional presence. In addition, it would have been a very visible part of it. In addition, we were already looking at the possibility, also, of deploying forces to Bosnia. We had just increased the forces in Somalia less, about a month earlier with the Rangers.
All in all, the decision was deferred at the time that it came to my attention. I did not -- the presentation of that data was -- the presentation of the need for that mission was in protecting the logistics supply lines.
Q What was the roster?
SECRETARY ASPIN: Let me finish, please, Wolf. Hold it. It was to protect the logistics supply lines. We did not think of it in terms of any use as a possible rescue operation as we saw it might have been used on Sunday. Had I known -- if I could please, just let me finish this statement.
Q Let me know when you finish.
SECRETARY ASPIN: I'll let you know.
Q wave a handkerchief?
SECRETARY ASPIN: I'll wave a handkerchief. Had I known at that time what I knew after the events of Sunday, I would have made a very different decision. I saw that it could have been used very usefully after the events on Sunday. As I say, this is my decision, somebody has to make the decision. This is the decision that I get paid for, and I made the decision as best I could with the information and the knowledge that I had at the time.
Q Secretary Christopher, will the leadership conference that you spoke of involve Mr. Aideed? Who will the ceasefire be arranged with in the country of Somalia? How does he factor in this nation building that you have now embarked on?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: That will be up to President Meles and the other African leaders in the region. We'll leave it to them as to how they want to organize the conference of those in Somalia. I think it's particularly appropriate that that decision be taken by the leaders in the region.
With respect to General Aideed, let me remind you what the President said. The President said that we would try to depersonalize the situation, but nevertheless, we would keep the pressure on any of those who would interrupt the humanitarian supplies or otherwise cause trouble for the United Nations forces there.
General Aideed will not be the principle focus of our activities in the future but we certainly don't rule anything out in the context of keeping the pressure on anyone who would interfere with the humanitarian efforts, or the U.S. troops or any of the UNISOM troops.
Q Mr. Aspin, there are some Republican members of Congress, including Senator D'Amato of New York, are suggesting that you resign because of that decision. What is your intention?
SECRETARY ASPIN: Not to resign.
Q I'd like to ask if you know how many American troops are being held by the forces of Farah Aideed?
SECRETARY ASPIN: It really wouldn't serve a good purpose for me to try to identify anything further than the fact that we know that one American serviceman is being held. And beyond that, I think it's unwise for me to try to give any precision to the number who might be held as detainees.
Q Secretary Christopher, could you please explain to us what it is that you said to these other nations? As the President is announcing that we're getting out on March 31st, you said you've sent letters asking them to stay. Why should they stay if we're leaving?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, Mary, one good reason for them to stay is that we've done the heavy lifting up to this point. We had 28,000 troops in there at the beginning, we conducted a major humanitarian operation which was highly successful. I think it's time for the burden to be shared with others. But the President is determined that we'll have the maximum opportunity for others to participate in this endeavor, and that's why we're staying, that's why we're not leaving immediately. We want to leave in a responsible and prudent way.
Q Mr. Secretary, you said that you're going to keep the pressure up on people who would interfere in future operations, but the United Nations Security Council has put out an arrest order on General Aideed. Are we now going to ignore that in an effort to depersonalize this?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: We certainly won't ignore the arrest order. As I say, if we have opportunities, we don't rule out anything. Thank you very much.
END6:18 P.M. EDT