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News Briefing Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Gen Wesley K. Clark

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and General Wesley K. Clark, CINC
July 01, 1999 3:50 PM EDT

Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon.

I've asked General Clark to give all of you an update on what is happening in Kosovo. Based on my visit there just two weeks ago, I concluded that KFOR is well on the way to establishing stability and restoring it.

The Serb forces have left on time, although there may be some stragglers remaining. KFOR is deploying throughout the country, and the refugees are returning quickly to rebuild their lives.

As SACEUR, General Clark ran Operation ALLIED FORCE, the most successful air campaign in history, with great skill and precision. Now he's leading KFOR as it lays a foundation for peace and stability in Kosovo.

He and I will answer questions after his remarks, but I think he should speak before we get into any questions.

General Clark?

General Clark: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

I think Operation JOINT GUARDIAN in Kosovo is off to a very good start. We've got on the ground there over 23,000 allied troops. We've got 4,500 U.S. troops who are working in our U.S. sector. We've got more coming in every day. We're on a very good program to fill this up. We're looking at even an acceleration of the deployment of some of the additional battalions so we get as much force there are rapidly as we can on the ground.

On the ground we found about what we expected to find. We knew we'd have some challenges from the returning Kosovar Albanians. They've been through a real tragedy. There's going to be a sorting-out process. They've got to go home. They've got to get settled again. They've got to receive some assistance. They want to know where they stand with respect to their property, their loved ones and many other factors. We expected that.

We expected the Serbs generally to be in compliance with the Military Technical Annex, they have been. The forces have generally pulled out. We know there are some stay-behind elements. We're not quite sure what they're doing there, how many there are, or how long they're going to be there, and we're in the process of asking them to leave when we identify them.

With respect to the United Nations, we know that it's role there is going to be critical. I think we've got a very good UN diplomat there in charge of the mission right now on a temporary basis. Secretary General Solana and I met with him last week. He asked me to ensure that a lot of visibility was given to the UN requirements, particularly the police requirements, and I've done that. Obviously, NATO will be very pleased when the United Nations police forces, including the 1,000-plus armed police that are to be part of this component, arrive there.

Our soldiers, in the mean time, are fulfilling their mission. They're assisting as best they can in the maintenance of public order. They're enforcing the Military Technical Annex, and they're providing in extremis humanitarian assistance when that's required. So I'm very proud of the work that Lieutenant General Mike Jackson, the ACE Rapid Reaction Corps, and all of our national contingents are doing there.

Thank you.

Q: Mr. Secretary, there's been some disagreement between NATO and the Russians over the area of responsibilities they will be in, as well as command and control issues that you felt you had settled in Helsinki. Combining that with the case of the big, large-scale military exercises that the Russians have conducted, including flying close to the airspace of Iceland and Norway, what do you make of what the Russians are doing? Are they flexing their muscles? What's afoot here?

Secretary Cohen: I wouldn't try and draw any connection between the two events.

The Russians during the course of our negotiations in Helsinki made it clear that they wanted to try to renegotiate these at various stages along the way, but ultimately, as a result of the agreement that we finally signed and that was ratified or confirmed by the various authorities as such -- NATO and Russia -- that it became clear you could only change what we agreed to by virtue of an agreement between NATO and also the Russian Federation. So there can be no changes unless they're agreed to by the confirming parties.

With respect to their exercise, this is something that's long been in the planning. It is a springtime exercise. This is not something that we were not unaware of. So we don't import any more to it than the fact that they were exercising. They stayed within international boundaries. They did not violate anyone's airspace, so it is not of great moment.

Q: Would it be fair to say you were surprised by the way that was carried out? That exercise?

Secretary Cohen: No. As a matter of fact we have anticipated they would be conducting an exercise, and it does not come as a major surprise. We have been following it, and we are satisfied they're conducting an exercise.

Q: Hasn't it been nearly a decade since Russian bombers have flown in that area?

Secretary Cohen: Perhaps five or six years.

Q: It's been five or six years since they've flown them. What does it indicate, that they've resumed those kind of flights after this long hiatus?

Secretary Cohen: Maybe they felt they just needed to exercise their forces to be sure that they're still in good operating order and felt it was the appropriate time for them to do so. After all, they are a sovereign nation. They wanted to make sure that they have their own capabilities, and we understand that.

Q: What changes are the Russians seeking in the agreement that you made in Helsinki?

Secretary Cohen: I think I'll leave that to General Clark to discuss, but basically they have been looking and tried to negotiate at the time that we were negotiating in Helsinki to get greater territory in other sectors. So they want to draw the lines along, in areas that they would feel more comfortable in operating in. We feel that it's very important that we stay within the existing map as it was drawn, subject to any changes that might become necessary, would be subject to, again, approval by the confirming authorities. That can only come through the North Atlantic Council and the Russian Federation.

Q: General Clark?

General Clark: They came to SHAPE on Monday in accordance with the agreement worked out in Helsinki for a planning conference and there was some creative reinterpretation of the Helsinki Agreement which we discussed. I believe most of this is off the table at this point. They're going down to recon the sectors. They'll come back, and as the Secretary said, if they want to make any changes -- for example, some concern was expressed by some of the Russians on the ground, having seen the KLA up a little close and personal, that maybe the sectors they picked weren't the most convenient sectors for the Russian forces to be in. But that remains fundamentally a political decision. It was decided at a very high level, and they'll have to come back through proper channels if this is going to be adjusted.

So we expect to have another meeting with them at SHAPE next week.

Q: General Clark, there was testimony on the Hill this afternoon about the state of readiness of the Apache unit that was deployed to Albania, and specifically that some of the pilots didn't have training in night vision goggles; some of the equipment was not up to snuff; the radios didn't have the range they needed; some of the fuel tanks were too heavy for the helicopters to operate properly in that environment.

How concerned are you about that? And how does that jive with the statements we got all along that the Apaches were ready and combat ready?

And Secretary Cohen, what about the combat readiness of the front-line forces if this unit really, once it got there, wasn't ready to go into combat right away? It needed additional training.

Secretary Cohen: Any time that we receive reports that there's a lack of readiness on the part of any of our services or any of our combat units, that's a concern to us.

I believe that the Army is on top of this issue -- that any deficiencies that have existed are going to be addressed, because it would not be an acceptable situation to put our pilots into an environment in which they are not fully prepared.

As I said during the course of the entire air campaign, and General Clark was taking all responsible measures to make sure that those Apache pilots were properly trained and ready to go under very adverse circumstances with long ranges over very hostile territory in a very difficult geographical environment, to say the least. So he was satisfied that after their proper training under those conditions they were ready to execute their mission should it have become necessary to do so.

General Clark: That's right. We had a full mission training plan. Of course any time that you put forces into an unfamiliar piece of ground in a theater, if you have the opportunity to do so, you're going to want to train in that particular area under those conditions, so that's precisely what we did.

I think there's been some misinterpretation of the Cody memo, frankly. What he's talking about are not just unit-specific problems. These are Army-wide systems problems. They're problems with the hardware, the technology, the training system, and as the Secretary said, I know the Army's aiming to address these issues, and I'm confident they will.

But I do want to tell you that I think Dick Cody did a great job over there with that unit. He reported to me and to Jay Hendricks, the Task Force Hawk commander, that he was very satisfied with the proficiency of the pilots. They were ready, they were qualified, they were ready to go. And I think he was right.

Q: Were these problems a factor in why these Apaches were not used in combat?

General Clark: No, they weren't.

Q: Secretary Cohen, can we go back to Russia for a minute?

Secretary Cohen: Sure.

Q: We've heard so much in recent years that the Russians don't have the money or the capability to really take their forces out there and exercise and operate far away from home. So in your opinion are we now seeing a shift? And do you see any other evidence that the Russians are doing significant exercises either near the United States or in other theaters? Are they starting to project their power more?

Secretary Cohen: One training exercise does not a shift make. I think that we have to simply look at this as an exercise that has been long in the planning. Whether it's going to be followed up with additional exercises remains to be seen. There has been some deterioration, I would think it's fair to say, in their conventional forces over the years. They may be simply trying to get those forces back up to a state of readiness which will satisfy their requirements. I don't think we should impart more to it than that at this point. If there's going to be any fundamental change I'm sure we'll see that in the coming months.

Q: Your testimony this morning about the Russians made some reference to being concerned about their level of risk-taking. Can you explain what you were referring to?

General Clark: I think we saw an unusual level of willingness to take a risk in terms of launching that force out of Bosnia. As I said this morning, they did break our commitment in Bosnia that they had. They weren't going to leave without four months' notification. They left anyway. It wasn't a surprise. We'd been expecting this. We had some tippers that they might be doing this. We got a call immediately when they moved off their staging point and started to move across the river, so it wasn't a surprise. But I think it's unusual behavior in the sense that we hadn't seen this type of behavior in the previous three years we've worked together in Bosnia -- they've been very predictable, very stable, very steady.

Q: General Clark, I have a question about the conduct of the war, and specifically this -- everybody is saying the air war, an air campaign brought Milosevic to his knees. To what extent did the KLA offensive in mid-May help you bring him to his knees? I'm talking about smoking out hunkered-down targets, giving you a target-rich environment that you didn't have. Is it fair to say that a ground campaign, albeit separate from NATO, actually had a material impact on the final outcome?

General Clark: I think there's no question that the KLA activities around Mount Pastrik and Kosare had an impact in terms of bringing Serb forces out of their hiding, forcing them to use their artillery, tanks, maneuver infantry and other things which we in turn targeted, insofar as that contributed to the final outcome.

But of course I think it's a little bit early to be able to determine what proportion of the final outcome was attributable to ground force attrition, versus strategic attrition, versus the fact the Russians didn't side with them, versus the fact that they had no electricity, and so forth. There were a lot of factors involved in the final outcome.

But yes, there's no doubt that when they came out of hiding, which they had been attempting to get away from NATO air power for several weeks. They had to come out of hiding, that made them vulnerable, we took advantage of it.

Q: Would it have been a mistake to say the air campaign alone was the major determinant here? If I'm a historian looking at this for the record.

General Clark: First of all, I think there were a lot of diplomatic and other factors that were a determinant. But the air campaign is the broad framework under which we applied our combat power. So I wouldn't call the air campaign a mistake. I think what we're going to have to do is go through a detailed, lessons-learned process and try to evaluate a number of factors, including why he eventually decided to do what he did.

Secretary Cohen: Let me add another major footnote. I doubt very much whether the KLA would have been able to mount any kind of an offensive without the several months of pounding that their forces were taking. So, to in any way conclude that a small amount of land force that came out with the KLA was somehow determinative of this campaign, I think that would be a mistake.

Q:...the Mount Pastrik event and the other events that took out so much, where air power was then able to take out so much of his equipment. Weren't those in fact turning points in this conflict? When he saw that he would not be successful?

Secretary Cohen: I think the turning points in the conflict, and I'll let the General tell you what his thoughts are. But the turning point in the conflict came when General Clark was given broad flexibility in the targets, and when the air campaign was in fact intensified. When we started to go after those dual-use targets and facilities in Belgrade, we brought it home to the Serbs that this was something that they were going to exact a major penalty for what he was doing and conducting. So I think that was the major turning point when we said General Clark now has broad flexibility to go after the targets that need to be attacked, without any major interference.

That coupled with -- I think you can say coupled with the activity on the ground made a difference. But it was the fact that he was able to intensify the air campaign on a broad scale, 24 hours a day, all parts of Serbia open to attack.

Q: Let me finish this. Would this, now, this type of air activity, this kind of an air campaign, would that apply in the case of Iraq? And do you suppose that Saddam is getting a message from the success of Kosovo?

Secretary Cohen: I think Saddam got a message back during DESERT FOX, that we had extraordinary capability, and that if he in any way moved to threaten his neighbors he was going to be hit and hit hard. That we have continued to contain him since DESERT FOX. Every time he has moved, every time he has threatened our pilots, he has been struck. So he is now back safely, at least, confined to that box that he's in.

So I think the message has been one that we are going to continue to enforce the no-fly zones. We have the capability to do that. Kosovo I'm sure had some impact to show that we have tremendous capability in terms of our air power, but I think that Saddam is looking at it from a different perspective than Milosevic. He is still going to seek in some way to try and challenge the no-fly zone.

General Clark: Can I just go back to the premises of your question about turning points, because I think it's important.

From the outset, this was a steady intensification of the air campaign. From the outset it was clear to us that Milosevic could never win. It was just a matter of putting more and more force, more and more pressure against him.

Maybe there was no turning point. Maybe it was a series of doors being closed progressively. First it was maybe he was going to get a bombing halt at Easter. He didn't. Maybe it was at Orthodox Easter. He didn't. Maybe the alliance was going to get shaky before the Summit. We didn't. We came out of the Summit much stronger. Maybe the alliance wasn't going to go all the way with targeting. We did. Maybe we couldn't get his forces on the ground. We did. Maybe the KLA was going to be defeated and fold. They didn't.

Step by step, he lost every opportunity he had to pull this off. He took the final outcome before a total collapse, in my view.

Q: Secretary Cohen, if you had known about the Russian exercise for awhile, why were the bombers intercepted? And also, have any high-level officials spoken with anybody over in Russia about this?

Secretary Cohen: Part of our responsibility, as well, is when we see forces that, depending on how far they come, that we would scramble our aircraft to make sure that the Russian forces stay within acceptable limits. So I assume that the Russians also want to learn lessons in terms of how quickly we can respond, and we demonstrated quite quickly.

So I don't import, again, anything greater than that at this point.

Q: Has any high-level official...

Secretary Cohen: Not to my knowledge, no.

Q: Back to Kosovo. Could you sort out for us the confusion over the number of Yugoslavs that have been withdrawn? Very different numbers are coming out from KFOR. Coming out of NATO/Brussels, and KFOR says that it's about -- I think it was 200 APCs were withdrawn. NATO says no, it's 450. KFOR says 200 artillery pieces, NATO/Brussels saying no, 600...

General Clark: I haven't seen that... much you hit on the ground.

General Clark: I haven't seen the confusion between KFOR and Brussels. I will take a look at it.

As far as what we hit on the ground, we stand on the figures that we presented previously. It's 110 tanks, 210 armored fighting vehicles, 449 pieces of artillery and mortar equipment. I know these figures by heart because I've been asked this question several times.

We got this on either cockpit video or overhead imagery or both. We are also going to be doing a full bomb damage survey of the area. We're going to go to every location. We're going to look and see what's there, and that team is over in Europe now getting ready to go in as a NATO team.

However, two things you have to bear in mind. A lot of this equipment has been dragged off for salvage or for whatever reasons. And secondly, there is an active disinformation campaign to discredit NATO's air campaign and to protect the reputation of the Serb military. This is hand-in-glove with Milosevic's promotion of General Oydinic, his awarding of the Hero of Yugoslavia banner to all of these forces that participated, and it's all part of his relegitimation campaign.

He's very concerned that the truth is going to come out about what happened to the Serb military in Kosovo.

Q: But can you give us a solid count of what was withdrawn?

General Clark: I can't give you a solid count on what was withdrawn as it withdrew because we had some bad weather conditions on some of that withdrawal. What we've done is, we're looking at some other sources. We'll go back and get some information and we'll be releasing that at a later time if it turns out that there's a need to do so.

Q: General, I understand that a Russian colonel and a Russian major were captured, I think during the battle of Mount Pastrik, and they subsequently died. I don't know if they were executed or they died in the NATO bombing campaign.

We have been led to believe that the only Russians that were involved in this were mercenaries, but if they were a colonel and a major, that clearly indicates a military involvement.

Could you please address this?

General Clark: I've heard these reports of a Russian colonel and a Russian captain. I don't know whether they were retired, whether they were former military, whether they were mercenaries. We really never saw these people and we have no real information on them.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can we turn to North Korea for a second?

Secretary Cohen: Sure.

Q: Can you give us sort of your latest assessment of the military situation there, as well as your thoughts on reports of an upcoming missile test. How destabilizing that would be.

Secretary Cohen: With respect to the military situation, they have a very formidable force that is forward deployed. It's one of the reasons why we look to North Korea and watch it very closely to make sure that we are fully prepared to deal with any contingency. It's still a very dangerous peninsula, so they pose a significant threat and have done so for quite a few years.

But I might point out that we also have a very strong deterrent and one that was satisfied, will certainly serve in that capacity for the future.

With respect to their tests in the future, we will simply have to wait and see what they do. I think it would certainly have serious implications as far as the ability to continue to deal with them on the part of the Japanese government, the South Korean government, the United States government. I think it would complicate the kind of progress we've been trying to make with the four-party talks and with the implementation of the various agreements. So it would have some serious implications for a continuation of that.

Q: Is the fear of missile tests upcoming or imminent?

Secretary Cohen: I really don't want to comment on any intelligence matters. We follow it very closely.

Q: Fifty thousand troops, is that going to be enough to stabilize Kosovo? Or will you be needing more troops than that?

General Clark: We think that number -- it's actually 55,000, some of which will have to be based in Macedonia. They're logistics troops and so forth to support them. We think that will be adequate.

Q: On the talks with the Russians you've had this week, has the fact that that's not been ironed out completely delayed the deployment of the Russian troops? How soon do you now expect them to be there?

General Clark: At this point it hasn't delayed it. We think they will be in there starting after this agreement is finalized, in the next week.

Q: General Clark, what do you make of this big Russian military exercise? We heard from Secretary Cohen. But do you read anything into it? Is it just a routine exercise? Are they trying to send a signal to NATO? Are they trying to send a signal domestically? What do you...

General Clark: I think is's speculative to say what's in this. We know it's a military exercise. It probably has multiple purposes. I think it's best left at that.

Q: Mr. Secretary, it was reported today in Athens that you are going to visit Greece July 13th and 14th, and particularly the...

Secretary Cohen: How did that information get out? (Laughter)

Q: That is not important. (unintelligible) from this visit to Greece at this time.

Secretary Cohen: Because I'm going to be visiting a number of countries throughout -- some of the Nordic countries, I'm going to make a swing down through Greece and Turkey and stop in, I think, seven countries in seven days. It's been somewhat in the planning. I stay in touch with our Turkish friends and the Greek MOD. I spoke with him last week on the phone. He invited me to come and I said I would be coming, so it's really part of an overall process of staying in touch with our allies.

Q: On the size of the peacekeeping force, Kosovo is about a quarter of the size of Bosnia and at the height of the Bosnian peacekeeping there were 60,000 troops. You're talking about almost that many for Kosovo. Can you explain why that number has to be so high?

General Clark: We want to go in there early on, we want to put the troops where they need to be to help the sorting-out process to make sure we get full compliance early on with the demilitarization agreement of the KLA, and because there are no other institutions -- you must remember in Bosnia there were other institutions -- there were governments or what claimed to be governments at the time in Bosnia -- here there is really nothing.

Q: General Clark, can you characterize the Russian military exercise in terms of the capabilities demonstrated? Was it rudimentary, or did you see some fairly sophisticated capabilities that perhaps surprised you?

Secretary Cohen: There's nothing that surprised us, as such. It's an exercise that, again, was anticipated. I don't think we should read any more into it than that. Questions have been raised in terms of motivation. I'm sure they have some multiple purposes, perhaps with domestic purposes, international purposes. They want to be seen as remaining a force that one has to deal with. We deal with them.

I thought it was a really good sign of the agreement that was negotiated and signed in Helsinki. I think that bodes well for getting things back on track because of the situation we had with respect to DESERT FOX -- also with our operations against Milosevic.

So I think we have kept up our diplomatic relations with them. I hope that we can restore on a more cordial basis our military-to-military contacts. I'll be going to Russia sometime during the course of this month or next. So it's all part of maintaining good, stable relations with them.

Q: Was it a matter of buzzing a couple of planes to the West or was it somewhat more -- was it somewhat sophisticated?

Secretary Cohen: It was a training exercise. (Laughter)

Q: General Clark, you mentioned in your testimony today that you saw the Serbs preparing for possible aggression against Montenegro. Can you talk a little bit more about what sort of preparation you are seeing? And secondly, is NATO prepared to intervene militarily if the Serbs do take aggressive actions against Montenegro?

General Clark: We've seen some reinforcement of some of the elements there. We've seen a pattern over several weeks of attempting to put more ethnic Serbians and persons loyal to President Djukanovic's opponent, Mr. Bulatovic, into positions of authority down there. So all these are preparatory stages.

We've had previously incidents where the Serb military tried to take over the border on the Prevlaka Peninsula.

So I think Montenegro remains a very sensitive area. I think President Milosevic is calculating what is to his best advantage in terms of making moves in that area. I wouldn't want to discuss any perspective or hypothetical military possibilities in that connection.

Q: General, can you say what is the scale of reinforcements that you're seeing? Effectively I'm not trying to ask you whether you have contingency plans, but whether -- that's a question for the Secretary -- whether NATO or the United States has even decided what it would be, and if that would be military, if the Serbs were to move against Montenegro?

Secretary Cohen: General Clark's just indicated we would not begin to discuss hypothetical situations, in the first instance.

Secondly, I think what you're seeing as far as the demonstrations that are starting to surface in Serbia, is the realization on the part of thousands of Serb nationals that Milosevic has brought them nothing but warfare and death and destruction and hardship and economic retrenchment for the past ten years.

To the extent that he is contemplating other military action, I would hope and trust that the Serb people would express their opposition to anything that he might have in mind in the way of any further aggression. He has brought them a great deal of suffering. He has brought them nothing but heartache for the past ten years, and I would hope that they would voice their concerns as they have been in even greater numbers.

Q: Senator Sessions today made the point in your testimony that the air campaign didn't stop ethnic cleansing. There was an early criticism of the campaign that they were flying too high, they couldn't stop the violence on the ground.

Can you address whether that in retrospect is a fair critique of what actually happened?

General Clark: I don't think it is a fair critique. This was a very well planned campaign of ethnic cleansing. It was probably a year in the planning, from everything that we've been able to learn. He had forces pre-positioned and staged. They were intermixed with the local population. And as we always said, you can't do police action and you can't stop paramilitaries from the air. If you could, you wouldn't have any policemen on the beat.

That was simply a known capability that he had, and when he had the opportunity to execute it, he executed it. Frankly, I think we preempted him a little bit. I think he planned to start it a little bit later, and I think he was a little surprised when the OSCE verifiers came out and NATO made clear its determination to move ahead. So he kind of lurched into high gear on this thing.

But the idea that the airplanes weren't flying low enough to see the targets, that's just an erroneous perception. We went through three or four weeks of this continuous discussion of the 15,000 feet. Our aircraft flew at the optimum altitude both to acquire targets and to deliver weapons throughout the campaign. We knew exactly what we were doing. It was extremely well thought through and managed. The airmen can at some point tell you in great detail, if we determine that we can safely do that in terms of our own operational security. But we were fully capable of picking up the targets at the altitude we were flying. Cutting that altitude in half or by a third wouldn't have helped us.

Secretary Cohen: There's another major miscalculation that Milosevic made, and that is he was under the assumption and belief that he could wipe out the KLA within a week's period. Another gross miscalculation on his part.

Q: Is it fair to say that...

Secretary Cohen: Thank you very much.

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