THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Shreveport, Louisiana) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release April 12, 1999
PRESS BRIEFING BY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE WILLIAM COHEN AND CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS GENERAL HENRY SHELTON Barksdale Air Force Base Shreveport, Louisiana
8:50 A.M. CDT
SECRETARY COHEN: Good morning. Pilots and planes from Barksdale are doing a magnificent job in Operation Allied Force. And later this morning, President Clinton, General Shelton and I are going to be meeting with the airmen and families who are supporting the six B-52s and crew members from Barksdale who are carrying out the air operations in response to the brutality in Kosovo. We're here because we recognize that every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine on the front line or the flight line is sustained by family and friends at home.
The United States currently has some 500 planes assigned to air operations over Yugoslavia, part of an allied force of nearly 700 planes. Our military goal is to degrade and damage the military and security structure that President Milosevic has used to depopulate and destroy the Albanian majority in Kosovo.
NATO forces are making significant military progress. We've gained tactical maneuverability over a tough air defense system. This allows us to fly where we want and when we want with acceptable risk. We are systematically choking off the Yugoslav army and security forces in Kosovo by cutting their supply lines. As we isolate and weaken the Serb forces in Kosovo, we are launching aggressive attacks against troops on the ground by hitting staging areas, headquarters and forces in the field.
These attacks will accelerate as we continue to subdue Serb defenses and deploy additional aircraft, including the Apache helicopters, which are on the way.
NATO's campaign is showing results. We're seeing decreasing military mobility and eroding morale. There are two important signs of sinking morale, in the reports of desertions from combat units in Kosovo and a growing effort by young Yugoslavs to evade the reserve call-ups.
Milosevic's brutality and ethnic violence have all unified our allies and shown the world exactly what's at stake. And every day that we receive new reports of Serb violence and atrocities in Kosovo only solidifies that support. These atrocities include summary executions, rapes, and a systematic burning of homes and the destruction of villages. And we're beginning to see reports of mass graves.
But Milosevic's murder machine has not achieved its first goal of eliminating the Kosovar Liberation Army. Although it's weakened, the KLA continues to fight and its ranks are increasing.
And as the air power meets our military goals, it is also responding to the humanitarian crisis. U.S. Air Force planes are now transporting more than 1 million rations and thousands of tents, sleeping bags and other supplies for the refugees in Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
These people are the latest victims of Milosevic's brutality, and because Yugoslavia has refused to agree to a diplomatic settlement, NATO is fighting so that the Kosovar Albanians will not have to suffer again. We have exhausted diplomacy initially; we have tried to deter them from carrying out their massacres, as they have done; but we are now determined to grind his military down and to fight this battle on our terms and not his.
GENERAL SHELTON: Good morning. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I would only add to the Secretary's comments my own congratulations to the great team here at Barksdale and your efforts in support of NATO's ongoing air campaign in Yugoslavia.
As all of you know, the cruise missiles launched from Barksdale's forward-deployed B-52s have been an essential part of our efforts to hit Milosevic's forces where it hurts. They have been very effective, and you can all be very proud of the dedication as well as their great professionalism. Equally important are the efforts of our great A-10, the Warthogs, all of whom have received their training right here at Barksdale with the 917th Air Reserve Wing. Let me assure you that the Mighty Warthogs and the other U.S. and NATO aircraft on the scene are taking the battle to the Serb army and the police units in Kosovo and are beginning to have a real impact, as outlined by Secretary Cohen.
The fight will not be an easy one, but the Alliance is united, and make no mistake about it, we will persist and we will prevail. With that, Secretary Cohen and I will be happy to take your questions.
Q Mr. Secretary, you just mentioned how you exhausted diplomatic efforts --
SECRETARY COHEN: At Rambouillet, yes.
Q Right. Do you see any opportunities now for a diplomatic end to this, or diplomatic efforts to bring about an end to this?
SECRETARY COHEN: That all depends on Mr. Milosevic. As we've indicated, at any time peace could be achieved. He holds the keys to peace in his pocket; he can clearly put them on the table. He must, as we have indicated before, pull all of his forces back, his police out, allow the safe return of the refugees, allow for autonomy and an international peacekeeping forces led by NATO. Those are the conditions under which peace can be achieved, and he has every opportunity to do that today, tomorrow, indeed even yesterday.
Q Secretary Cohen, there is obviously going to be a debate in Congress this week about ground troops. Do you think that is a helpful debate to have now, and if ground troops are only going to be sent in in a "permissive environment" in Kosovo, doesn't that guarantee that they're sent in long after they're needed?
SECRETARY COHEN: Anytime we have a debate in Congress I think it's healthy and it's helpful. We've see a growing consensus and a strong consensus for the campaign that we have underway. A number of members of Congress traveled with me during this past week over to visit our troops in Aviano and Ramstein in Germany, and to also consult with our allies at SHAPE Headquarters and in Brussels. So I think there is a very strong consensus in Congress and I believe in the country now as far as our air campaign.
With respect to ground forces, as the Chairman and I indicated yesterday during several of our appearances, there are plans currently for a peacekeeping force, should it be necessary, in a permissive environment.
There has been an assessment made late last summer-early fall for ground troops in a nonpermissive or hostile environment. Each plan or assessment can be quickly updated should the need arise. So far, the Chairman of the Military Committee and also the commanding officer, the SACEUR, General Wesley Clark, has indicated they do not believe it is necessary to contemplate ground troops and have not requested it. And so any consideration for ground troops is something for the future and we do not believe it's necessary; the President has indicated he has no plans or intent to use ground troops.
Now, to the question of the timing of it, under any circumstances, we would continue the air campaign until such time as we were satisfied we had achieved our goal. And so there is nothing in the consideration of ground troops that would interfere or in any way compromise the effort we currently have underway. We intend to continue the air campaign, and we have many more sorties and many more missions to carry out. So there's no conflict between what we're doing now and whether or not at some future time, should it ever become necessary should there be any request by the SACEUR or the Chairman of the Military Committee, we could always evaluate that. It's not necessary to do so now because they have not requested it.
Q Do you have any information on reports that NATO hit a Yugoslav passenger train within the last few hours?
SECRETARY COHEN: I don't have any information.
Q Secretary Cohen, there is some talk among the allies about ultimately having the authority of an international force be perhaps not under NATO, but under the OSCE. What's the consideration of that and within the administration, and what would it mean? What would it mean, how would that change the face of what this international force is?
SECRETARY COHEN: We believe it should be an international peacekeeping force that is led by NATO. Without a NATO infrastructure, organization and command structure, it certainly would be no comfort or little comfort to the Kosovar Albanians. That is the reason why it was not only recommended, but insisted upon at Rambouillet, and we believe that that is the correct formulation.
Q Secretary Cohen, you mentioned desertions. Can you quantify how many you've seen dessert from the army and police in Kosovo and are we interviewing them? Do we know why they have left?
SECRETARY COHEN: We have not interviewed them, but it is apparent to us that the bombing campaign is now starting to take its toll. And as we've indicated before, our initial phase of this campaign was to go after the integrated air defenses, to go after some of the so-called lines of communications -- the rail lines, the bridges, those lines of communication that allow him to reinforce his supplies -- to go after the ammunition supplies, to go after his ammunition production capabilities -- all of that, and then shift to go after the units on the ground, forces in the field. They are now starting to be targeted, they are now starting to feel that pain and agony. It's going to intensify, and we expect that we'll see even greater levels of desertion.
Q How did we see the levels of desertion we have seen?
SECRETARY COHEN: Well, our intelligence community has indicated to us that they're taking place. We're not trying to quantify it, but we're seeing it take place now. We're also seeing some resistance to being called up to serve in the Yugoslav army.
Q Secretary Cohen, under what circumstances would you reconsider the notion of ground troops? Would it take that request from NATO command? Would it be under some -- if Congress or the Senate were to pass a resolution, as Senator McCain indicated yesterday that he would press for? Exactly what circumstance would you reconsider?
SECRETARY COHEN: Well, there's no consensus for ground troops in the NATO Alliance. There's no consensus in the Congress of the country at this point, and there's no need, according to our commanding officers, those who are in charge of carrying out and executing the military campaign. So until such time as that changes, we would not even consider it.
As we've indicated, should the SACEUR, the head of the allied forces, along with the Chairman of the Military Committee, make such a recommendation that the studies be updated for planning purposes, we could certainly do that within a very short period of time. As late as this past week, in our conversations with both gentlemen, there is no such intention on their part at this point.
Q Secretary Cohen, Sandy Berger's formulation a week ago was that ground troops were not in the national interest. Your formulation this morning is that they're not now necessary. If it was deemed that they were necessary, would it now be in the national interest? In other words, is the necessity itself a definition of national interest?
SECRETARY COHEN: I think what's in our national interest is that we have to succeed and we're going to succeed. And we believe our air campaign will, in fact, produce the success that we desire and that's what we're going to stay with. There has been no recommendation coming from any of the top military advisors to the contrary, so we don't have to deal with that issue. Should it become necessary, we'll take it under advisement. But right now, and for the foreseeable future, there's no indication that that is forthcoming.
So we think the air campaign is starting to take hold and it will intensify. It will increase the pain and suffering of Milosevic's forces, and I believe that that is the way in which we're going to achieve our objective.
Q Mr. Secretary, you talk about mass graves, summary
executions, rapes and other atrocities that you blame on Milosevic's murder machine. But all these things happened four years ago in Bosnia, after which the U.S. invited Milosevic to Dayton, then to Paris. President Clinton shook his hand, praised him as critical in sealing the peace deal.
My question is, if we had treated him then as a war criminal, instead of a legitimate head of state, might we have avoided the tragedy of Kosovo?
SECRETARY COHEN: Well, I really can't discuss what might have been -- there are a lot of "might have beens." Had the situation, had Milosevic never risen to power, had he never engaged in the kind of nationalistic jargon and fervor that he has raised to try to galvanize his people to conduct this kind of ethnic violence, then we certainly would have a much more peaceful Balkans. So there are a lot of "might have beens." But we have to deal with what we have on the ground right now and the reality we face right now. And so we intend to carry out the mission that we've set for ourselves.
Q You mentioned that at any time Milosevic can bring this to an end. On the diplomatic front, are there any contacts with him? And, if not, when do you expect them to begin? What is the status of any kind of diplomatic ending to this?
SECRETARY COHEN: Well, I'm not aware of what other nations are in direct contact with Mr. Milosevic. We are not. What we intend to do is to carry out the military mission a successful completion, and should there be a diplomatic initiative -- either his agreeing to the terms under which peace can be brought to that tortured land right now, at his hands, he has that opportunity at any time.
Q There are some indications that the Russians might be used as a lead to open up a diplomatic conversation. Is that true? And do you support doing that?
SECRETARY COHEN: Well, the Russians certainly tried to achieve a diplomatic solution. They were part of the negotiating team at Rambouillet. They went to Mr. Milosevic to try to persuade him to accept the terms and the framework of Rambouillet. They were unsuccessful, though whether or not they will attempt to do so in the future remains to be seen.
Let me come back, I cut you off before.
Q All I wanted to do was ask, what do you make of the fact that nine of the 11 congressional leaders who traveled with you to NATO Headquarters came back and said, we ought to be doing more now to prepare for ground troops? Did they have some misconception about our lack of preparation?
SECRETARY COHEN: I don't think there's any misperception. I think that they feel that they would like to see this carried to a successful conclusion. If that would be of assistance, they would favor that. They did not indicate that they favor the deployment of ground troops, but simply the planning of it.
As I've indicated before, if and when our military commanders decide that they need to have the plans updated, then we certainly would entertain that request.
MR. LOCKHART: Thank you.
END 9:04 A.M. CDT