|DEFENSE DEPARTMENT BRIEFING|
December 18, 1998
WILLIAM COHEN, Secretary of Defense: Good afternoon. In a moment, Vice Admiral Frye and Rear Admiral Wilson are going to brief you on some of the aspects of our ongoing operation against Iraq. But before they do, I'd like to report that the United States and British forces are continuing to attack a wide range of military targets in order to decrease Iraq's ability to threaten its neighbors.
We continue to be satisfied by the results, although the strikes are not yet complete. There have been no American or British casualties.
Every military operation obviously poses risks, and this one is no exception. But we are taking every precaution to protect our personnel. And this is one of the reasons we are sending additional personnel to the Gulf. And I am very, very proud of the job of our combined forces that they are doing. Mr. Chairman?
GEN. HENRY SHELTON, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I'll be brief so that the secretary and I can take your questions. And as the secretary mentioned, the new director of Operations, Admiral Frye, and our director of Intelligence, Admiral Tom Wilson, will give you some operational details in just a few moments, which I know all of you have been anxiously waiting for. But I am pleased to report, as Secretary Cohen noted, that once again our aircraft pilots and air crews have returned safely from the missions that they conducted last night.
As you know, Operation Desert Fox is a joint operation. And it's under the command and control of General Tony Zinni, our commander-in- chief of U.S. Central Command based in Tampa, Florida. In contrast to the first night's actions, which involved primarily naval and Marine strike aircraft and ship-launched Tomahawks, yesterday's strikes were an outstanding example of joint and combined warfare with U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps aircraft joining our British counterparts in coordinated air strikes.
There were more than 200 strike and strike-support sorties flown last night, including the first combat operations of the B-1 bomber. Most of you saw some large explosions around Baghdad yesterday, and many of you correctly surmised that those were caused by air-launched cruise missiles launched from B-52 aircraft. Navy ships also launched additional Tomahawk missiles at targets in Iraq. Although I'll not get into the specific numbers and types of cruise missiles launched to date, I can tell you that the total number of air-launched and ship-launched cruise missiles for this operation thus far now exceed the total number expended during all of Operation Desert Storm.
I don't want to steal Admiral Frye's presentation, but I'll give you a preview of some of the battle damage assessment photos that he and Admiral Wilson will show you in a moment. This particular photo is one from an air-launched cruise missile -- correction: from a Tomahawk cruise missile launched from a ship. It is against a missile R&D. It was the fabrication building that is shown right here -- you can see the dark area outlined -- and the final assembly building which used to stand right here. You can also see significant damage done to the building over in this area just outside the fabrication. Now, we, in fact, have had some very good success with our strikes, but not all of them have gone exactly as planned and later this morning Admiral Wilson will show you some of the good and some that are not quite as good.
Finally, we have for you today some aircraft video of some of the first night's strikes. You may have already seen some of the video of the British Tornados in operation. This example that I'll show you now is from the first night and it's a Navy F-14 Tomcat from the USS Enterprise attacking a critical communications facility with two laser-guided bombs. (Videotape shown.)
REPORTER: Attacking what? Communications?
GEN. SHELTON: A critical communications facility.
REPORTER: What was the name of it?
REPORTER: In Baghdad?
REPORTER: Do you have the name of the facility?
GEN. SHELTON: We'll get you the name and the exact location later. Now, I know that you're anxious to get on with the rest of the operational briefing, now that I, hopefully, have whetted your appetite for what the results have been thus far, so I'll pause here and the secretary and I will take your questions before we turn it over to Admirals Frye and Wilson.
REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, can I ask -- first of all, could I ask both of you gentlemen has the third round of strikes begun? Have bombing raids, today's bombing raids begun yet? And also, Mr. Secretary, you said a wide range of military targets continue to be hit, and yet Tariq Aziz said on television today that number one, you had hit the oil refinery in Basra, and number two, you had hit a radio and television facility. Is that true, and are those military targets?
SEC. COHEN: Well, the radio and television facilities are, indeed, part of the command and control operations of Saddam Hussein and how he communicates to the Iraqi people as far as his propaganda is concerned. So those were, indeed, part of our target base. With respect to the facility in Basra, that is a very limited attack on a facility that provides for the illegal shipment of oil out of that facility. So that is one of the illegal shipments that he uses at that facility to produce oil in violation of the Security Council resolutions. So that has been in effect.
REPORTER: But has the new round of raids, has the third round of raids begun? Have bombing raids begun today --
SEC. COHEN: I think I indicated we have ongoing operations.
REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, if you, in fact, strike radio and television facilities, doesn't that further serve to isolate Saddam Hussein, and doesn't that, in fact, serve to destabilize his regime, one thing that you said was not a goal in these air strikes?
SEC. COHEN: We are not seeking to destabilize his regime. We are seeking to prevent him from in any way compromising this operation and from communicating under these circumstances with his other forces which could pose a threat to our pilots who continue to conduct operations.
REPORTER: Excuse me, if I could follow up, please. May I follow up, please?
REPORTER: The rumor is floating around that a ship has been attacked in the gulf. The oil markets are going -- skyrocketing because of that. Any truth to the rumor that a ship has been attacked in the gulf?
SEC. COHEN: I have no knowledge -
REPORTER: Could I follow up, Mr. Secretary? Radio and television communications -- if I could follow up, please?
SEC. COHEN: Sure.
REPORTER: Radio and television communications, however, are not necessarily used to communicate with his military. He could use that to communicate with his own people. Doesn't that, in fact, isolate Saddam Hussein and stabilize his regime, whether that's your goal or not?
SEC. COHEN: Apparently he's still able to communicate to his people. If Tariq Aziz is on television communicating to his people, he's still able to communicate.
REPORTER: ...about the air raids, we understand that the air activity is in the south of Iraq, where there's less defense. Now, after two days and two and a half nights, is it possible that the air defenses around Baghdad have been reduced to the point that we can fly it? And I would secondly then ask you -- there's a lot of talk about this being over this weekend. Can you say anything about any time limits or what?
SEC. COHEN: I would have to answer negative to both questions. I wouldn't want to comment in terms of whether our ability to go into Baghdad or over Baghdad has been increased or diminished. And secondly, I won't comment on the length of the operation.
REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, do you plan daylight raids at all? There's been night raids up to now.
SEC. COHEN: I am not going to comment on that.
REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, has the impeachment debate under way now affected your operations in any way, or has it affected morale in any way that you can determine?
SEC. COHEN: Well, the chairman can perhaps address this. I would have to speculate at this point that those people involved in this operation are focused on one thing, and that's carrying out the mission. I believe that they are intensely and intently focused upon their job. Whatever else is going on at this particular moment is probably of little concern to them until they carry out their mission. I've indicated before I've always believed it's best in a time such as this, when people's lives are at risk, that we have expressions of bipartisan support for our men and women in uniform. We've had that on the part of both the House and the Senate members. What else is taking place I don't believe will be influencing the men and women as they carry out their tasks. But I think the chairman's probably in a better position to answer that.
REPORTER: Mr. Chairman, would you address that, please?
GEN. SHELTON: Mr. Secretary -- I think that he gave a great answer to you. I would only add to it that at this time we all fully know and understand who the commander in chief is. We are focused on the mission at hand, and that goes from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs right out to the -- to every man and woman that's in the Persian Gulf at this time, and those throughout our armed forces.
REPORTER: Can you characterize the Iraqi military response? What are they doing or not doing? Any SAM firings? How much AAA? More or less than expected? Are they moving troops around?
GEN. SHELTON: As you've seen on television, there's been a tremendous amount of AAA. I am not aware of any SAM firings as of this time. The radars have been relatively quiet up till this point. And our aircraft have enjoyed great success.
REPORTER: Can you tell us about the leafletting that happened in the South of Iraq and who authorized it and what did it say?
GEN. SHELTON: The leaflets were in fact authorized here by the National Command Authority. It told the -- those units that were down in the South to stay put, not to threaten their neighbors or threaten the forces, and that they would not be engaged.
REPORTER: How close are you to achieving the goals of this mission and how soon might you wrap it up?
SEC. COHEN: Well, we are not going to indicate what the time frame of this operation is. We are proceeding according to our plan. It's going reasonably well. We're satisfied with the way in which it's being carried out and executed and we will just have to take it day by day.
REPORTER: So the leaflet did not try to incite them to leave their units, did not try to incite them to overthrow? It was just, "Stay put and you won't be shot"?
GEN. SHELTON: Yes. We can give you a copy of them right after this, John. It basically said, "Stay where you are. Stay put. Do not threaten anyone and you will not be hit."
REPORTER: General Shelton, Saddam Hussein has talked about the United States's cowardice, is a coward in terms of reaching out and touching Iraq with its technology. Can you talk about the type of warfare that's underway here? How different it is from what was in the Persian Gulf War? And the use of the B-1 bomber indicates that you've got manned aircraft going over Iraq --
GEN. SHELTON: We have a substantial number of manned aircraft. We, at this time, as I indicated, have conducted a very large number of airstrikes. These are manned aircraft, these are American pilots and British pilots that are in harm's way, and they have the appropriate support aircraft with them so that -- to provide the maximum protection that we can. But he wants to talk about a coward, I think probably -- or people that lie -- I think probably he should look in the mirror.
REPORTER: Can you tell us the success rate of the strikes?
SEC. COHEN: Could I just add one other thing to that, just as a -- We go back to 1991, you may recall that Saddam Hussein said that was going to be the mother of all wars. In a very short period of time, when our forces were arrayed against his, it did not take long to show where the courage was. So I think for them at this point to accuse the United States of being cowards is really quite an extraordinary --
REPORTER: General, you said yesterday you'd hit 50 targets, I believe about 50, in the first round of raids. Could you tell us how many total you hit in the second round, or give us some quantitative idea of how many targets you've hit?
GEN. SHELTON: We were over 75 targets today, as we speak -- as I speak right now.
REPORTER: Can you tell us what the B-1 mission was, without --
GEN. SHELTON: Not to get into the operational detail, but it's an ongoing operation at this time and I'd prefer not to discuss what it's done this far or what the future plans are.
REPORTER: General, if you want to reduce his ability to threaten his neighbors, why -- those forces in the south that are closest to his neighbors -- why would you not want to engage them?
GEN. SHELTON: Because at this time, those are not the forces that we were most concerned about, and we were applying our resources against others that we thought were a higher threat than those in the south.
REPORTER: How many Iraqi casualties have you inflicted? How many Iraqi military casualties --
GEN. SHELTON: We do not have a count right now, Jamie, on casualties.
REPORTER: General, in terms of the number of targets, you said 75 targets have been hit. What about the success rate of the missiles and bombs that are being fired?
GEN. SHELTON: Well, we'll show you some of the success rates today or some of the successful missions that have been carried out today.
REPORTER: In terms of percentages, General, can you put it in terms of percentages, sir?
REPORTER: General, there are reports that the Russian military has gone on alert. What do you make of that? Is that accurate? Are you concerned about that?
GEN. SHELTON: Well, I saw an initial report through the press that that happened, and I saw another one that said that they had not been. And so I don't make very much of that at this time.
REPORTER: General Shelton, you-all have used the word "degrade" to talk about the objective of this operation, but "degrade" is a relative term. Degrade to what? What's the picture you want to see when the dust finally settles, whenever it does?
GEN. SHELTON: We said to degrade his ability to threaten his neighbors and to degrade his WMD capabilities, which include delivery of systems, his ability to manufacture long-range missiles, his facilities that he could possibly use to weaponize chemicals, et cetera. Degrade means that we want to, in whatever period of time we intend to use to carry out this operation, to bring down his capabilities as much as we possibly can. We realize that you can't destroy it in all cases. And certainly when you talk about the chemical and biological systems, you've got a lot of dual-use facilities that range from things that manufacture legitimate medicines, to milk, to, you name it, all types of hospitals. And we obviously have not gone after those types of facilities and didn't intend to. So you can't destroy it, but you can bring it down.
REPORTER: To what level, though, sir?
GEN. SHELTON: To the level that -- the level determined from what your start point is. We know what he had. I think you can see from the R&D facility, his ability now to conduct research and development for longer-range missiles has been degraded. Has it been destroyed? He's got two plants over there that he could possibly use, and so we haven't destroyed his total capability right now, but we certainly have reduced his assets.
REPORTER: Iraq has been very adept at playing a shell game with their chemical and biological weapons. So -- and UNSCOM inspectors would show up at a building and find that everything had been moved. And while our sophisticated weaponry is very good at striking buildings, are there any guarantees that what you intend to hit is inside? And do you have any indications that you're being successful at hitting not just buildings, but those things that actually contribute to the production and concealment or distribution of this -- chemical and biological weapons?
SEC. COHEN: The chairman has already indicated that we have indeed targeted missile fabrication plants, facilities that make weapons. Those have been hit, and those have been destroyed -- and in some cases, a building completely wiped out; other cases, partially destroyed. Yes, we can target those facilities which can pose a threat to the region, and have done so. With respect to the other part of your question --
REPORTER: Well, the fact that every time UNSCOM would show up at place, it had been moved.
SEC. COHEN: Well, they would move things, move them out, and also move them back. They will not have some of those facilities to move back into. If they have put things back in place, those will have been destroyed. There's no guarantee that you can hit those items which have been moved. They will not have the facility to go back to.
GEN. SHELTON: Jim, I can just add -- one of the reasons that we revised our plan back on 15 November, so that we could strike within 24 hours, was to try to hold down on the amount of movement time allowed, so that in those suspected areas, that we would achieve maximum effectiveness.
REPORTER: Thank you very much, sir.