Background Briefing

Subject: Iraq

Thursday, August 17, 1995 - 11:00 a.m.

Attributable To: Senior Defense Officials

(NOTE: Also participating in this briefing is Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD/PA.)

Mr. Bacon: This briefing is on background. It's attributable to Senior Defense Officials. We're going to have them both talk before they take any questions. So you'll get both presentations, and then they'll both stand up and answer questions.

Briefer A: I'm Defense Official A. This is a very puny map here, we should have done better for you. But hopefully you're very familiar with Iraq, and I'd just like to talk you through the story as I know it.

For about one month or so -- perhaps a month and a week -- we've been concerned about military activities that we have noted through a variety of means in Iraq. These military movements could best be characterized as unusual training activities -- unusual movements of military force, military capability. Not large movements, but very small, but nevertheless unusual, and the kind of movements that I would characterize as being of concern But not alarm.

Taking it individually, these activities would not be viewed as even being worth interest. There might be some exceptions to that characterization, but in general, they were of a minor nature. Taken together, they began to portray a story which analysis said was potentially challenging, threatening circumstances possibly, with regard to external activities that Iraq might undertake.

I need to characterize that for you. During the early phase of this five-week or so period, we believed that the Iraq military was focused on the Kurds in the north, and that there was some indication to believe that they might be beginning a military activity in that direction in support of Kurdish interests that they had decided to support.

We then came to believe that there was also military activity focused on the south -- not necessarily immediately focused on Kuwait, but focused in that direction. As you know, we have the 32-degree line as sort of a "no-cross line," certainly for aircraft and for major military formations on the ground. So I'm trying to characterize this to you. I'm not trying to tell you that a large military force showed up on Kuwait's borders. That has not happened. Instead, the posturing of forces in the Baghdad area and south of the Baghdad area were of such a nature as to cause us concern. The reason we would have concern about that is the time lines here.

As you know from the DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM period, and from the October 1994 challenge we received from Iraq, the time lines are very short. We cannot afford to delay activity or action in response to what we perceive to be challenges by Iraq. I'm trying to use the word "challenges" here as opposed to "threatening conditions," to try to characterize to you the nature of what we've seen here, which is somewhat subtle.

I would like to tell you that this involves all of Iraq's military forces. The air arm of their military force; the air defense arm of their military force; the regular army; and the Republican Guards; and other special force elements of their military. So it was not one military department or one kind of military force that we noted, but virtually all of it that was engaged in this unusual activity.

Q: Are you saying there were representative forces from all these sectors, or all the forces within Iraq were...

A: No, representative elements of each of those sectors. Thank you for asking that question.

To add to this dynamic, over a week ago now we had the occasion of the defectors arriving in Amman, Jordan. We can say that that dynamic -- the fact that these high ranking officials defected -- had some effect in Baghdad, some effect in perhaps in the stability of the government, and some effect in terms of what the government may have been planning to do at that time. So that's another factor in this evolving set of circumstances.

So the intelligence picture here is -- to try to summarize this briefly -- is that Iraq was engaged, prior to the defection of the two high ranking officials, in unusual military activities which were of such a nature that they caused us to become focused on them, to become more intensely interested in conditions in Iraq, and to become concerned -- not alarmed.

With the advent of the defectors arriving in Jordan, our concern increased slightly because of the obvious potential effect that would have on Saddam Hussein and on his government.

I'd like to end my comments here and turn this over to Defense Official B, by saying that the unusual military activities that I'm trying to characterize to you continue today. They have not yet ceased, or not yet stopped. Thank you.

Briefer B: What I want to do now is talk about some prudent measures that we feel here in the Department of Defense need to be taken in relation to these challenges that Defense Official A has mentioned.

What I want to do, though, is start and tell you, to sort of set the stage a little bit, tell you some of the obvious pieces that you're already aware of because they sort of tie into this. You're aware that as a result of the defections that we've just discussed, there were some conversations in which the President publicly offered support to King Hussein if there was any action taken as a result of the defections themselves.

Based on that, we were asked to take some actions within the Department of Defense which include moving the aircraft carrier THEODORE ROOSEVELT over into the Eastern Med. As you're aware -- it's already been reported by many of you -- that aircraft carrier is on a port call now in Haifa. We did fly some missions off the carrier yesterday over Israel in support of operations in Jordan.

We have an Amphibious Ready Group that sits at Acaba right now that was fortuitously planned to be in engaged in an exercise with Jordan starting about this time through the end of the month. So all of that's worked out very well from the standpoint of us having forces close and ready to carry out the President's commitment to the King.

So those are two pieces that you all are aware of and reporting on, and those are going as scheduled. The exercises involving the NEW ORLEANS ARG will take place as planned, and will continue throughout the rest of this month.

The other piece that I'm sure you all picked up on was the fact that CINC CENTCOM, General Benny Peay, paid a visit to Jordan -- I believe the date was the 13th of this month -- had discussions with the King in relation to these operations that I've just discussed to be sure that they were in concert with the King's wishes, that he in fact saw a benefit to the carrier being positioned where it was, that he wanted to continue with the exercise that was planed. Of course he was extremely pleased with the support he was receiving from the United States on his behalf.

In addition to that -- and based on what Defense Official A has just outlined for you -- we felt it important to take some other prudent measures based on the conditions that we were presented by Iraq. I would like to point out and make it very clear before I start this, that these defensive measures that I'm going to mention to you are being taken solely -- I repeat, solely -- in response to what we see happening in Iraq and for no other purpose.

As you're aware, we have a carrier in the Gulf right now. The ABE LINCOLN battle group is in the Gulf, has been there for some time. It was scheduled to leave in the future, obviously, at some point. It was going to be replaced by another battle group, but there was going to be some time lag between the departure of one and the arrival of another. It's normal planning. We sometimes do that. We have now elected to ensure that we have continuous carrier presence in the Gulf, so adjustments are being made to schedules to allow that to happen.

In addition, you're well aware that we have a lot of pre-positioned equipment afloat aboard ships. This equipment supports both Marines and Army Forces. When we did VIGILANT WARRIOR last year, you saw that equipment moved into the Gulf. We are taking steps to move that pre-positioning equipment closer to the Gulf.

Q: [Do you know where it is?]

A: A lot of it's at Diego. As you know, this equipment floats around in various places -- some of it over further into the Pacific, a lot of it around Diego. So it's from those kinds of locations that we are going to move it closer to the Gulf.

Q: What kind of things are included? What sort of equipment?

A: Let me get through my list, then I'll let you all ask questions.

In addition to that, we clearly have a number of units that would move were something to happen, so we're going to take some steps here in the States -- not to put forces on alert. I want to reemphasize that. We're not putting forces on alert. But rather, to ensure that we have tidied things up: that people who might go initially if something were to happen to marry up with the kinds of equipment that I've just discussed in terms of pre-positioning, know who they are, who would be first out, that they're paying attention to the intelligence, and that they're in a condition which would allow them to depart relatively quickly if, in fact, we saw a further escalation of the challenges that Defense Official A has mentioned to you.

I think in a nutshell... I might mention one other thing to you in terms of pre-positioning. That is, you know that you have pre-positioned equipment in Kuwait. It's called AWR-5 -- for the military term for it. If you hear that term, that's what we're talking about -- pre-positioned equipment in Kuwait. The Kuwaitis have done a very nice job of giving us a home there and supporting us in that regard, because it does serve for their defense as well. We exercise that equipment periodically in an exercise mode. We would plan to continue that kind of thing and, at some point in the future, exercise some of that pre-positioned equipment. That's a normal thing we do, it's not anything unusual, but we will obviously plan to continue to do that.

The rest of the pre-positioned equipment we are just going to move closer. At the moment, it's just a precaution being taken. I know one of your questions is going to be, "Are we going to do what we did during VIGILANT WARRIOR; and, that is, fall in people on the equipment that's on these pre-positioned ships?" I'll answer that for you. Based on what we see now, the plan is to move the pre-positioned equipment closer but not to forward deploy any of the forces that would fall in on that equipment.

With that, I think I will stop and the two of us will take any questions that you have.

Q: How many divisions' worth of equipment or brigades or battalions or however you care to describe it, are we talking about that you're moving closer?

A: The pre-positioned equipment for the Marines supports... The largest force it can support is a MEF forward. It's about 17,000. That's the normal group that would go with that sized force that they have afloat. That's not saying what we would send, but it can handle something up to that big.

The afloat pre-positioning for the Army handles a combat brigade-sized force.

Q: How many is that?

A: That's about 2,500. With support, it could include folks up to about 5,000 with all the support that goes with that.

Again, the purpose here is to give you the upper number of what those things can support. What might happen and who might fall in on it if something were to happen down the road remains a decision that CINCCENT will make based on what he sees in intelligence indicators, and what decisions he makes and recommends to the Chairman and Secretary.

Q: Are any U.S. allies involved in the contingency planning?

A: To this date, obviously, we are in the process of consulting with our GCC allies on these points. The kinds of things I've described to you are not things that will directly involve them at the moment. So we're taking steps to be sure they're aware of our intentions and why we're doing this, much like we're doing this with you all today.

Q: Would it be fair to say a warning order had gone out to stateside units? And what units would they be?

A: We're leaving this up to CENTCOM. There will be a very general -- it will not be characterized... When we say a warning order, we normally put a warning order out when we put forces on alert. I want to make this very clear. We are not putting forces on the alert in the United States at this point in time. What we're asking them to do at CENTCOM -- and this is based on their recommendation to us -- is to be sure that the forces that might be in the early flow are identified, that the units are paying attention to what is going on in intelligence, and that they're thinking about the things they might have to do if they were asked to deploy on short order.

So it's not an alert. We're not saying they're on 48-hour alert, for example, like we might do in a warning order. So it's a little different than that.

Q: Which units?

A: It's a good question. I can't answer it for you, however. I can't give you the detail because, again, CINCCENT is going to take this very general statement and they're going to do what they think is necessary. We're talking about the leading edge forces here, just to make sure that we are ready to quickly move on reasonably short order. But we're not talking 48 hours here. We're just saying, "leading edge elements start watching a little more closely than you might day-to-day on what's happening in that part of the world."

Q: A hundred guys, 1,000 guys, 10,000 guys? Give us some ball park number as to what you're talking about.

A: I'll have to get back to you because I don't want to mischaracterize...

Q: Kuwaiti pre-positioning, which was my real question, is that different than what you've described for the Marines and for the Army? And how many men does that supply...

A: It supports a brigade set as well. That's a brigade set, you've got a brigade set afloat, and then you've got the Marine pre-positioning as well.

Q: It sounds like you are getting ready to exercise that in the near future.

A: It all depends. It's a scheduled process, and I'm not saying we're going to exercise it in the near future or not. I'm just saying that we have this kind of a situation where we had this pre-positioning. We do exercise it from time to time. So don't be surprised if you see an exercise at some point in the future with that equipment.

Q: Do you expect any of thos leading edge forces would be based in Europe, or are they all stateside?

A: The ones we're talking about are stateside forces.

Q: You say the stuff on the ships is moving closer to the region. Can you say where? Does this mean Kuwait or just somewhere else nearby?

A: You're exactly right, they're moving closer.

Q: Can you or maybe Official A go into some more detail on what the Iraqis were doing and what you think they were planning to do?

A: I'll let Defense Official A try to handle that.

A: I'll do my best to respond to a direct question.

Q: Did your analysts that saw these movements or maneuvers draw any conclusions about whether those units of Saddam Hussein appear to be moving in an aggressive way towards the borders or Iraq, or do they seem to be in a posture that's designed to put down a potential internal rebellion?

A: We have reason to believe that they were acting with external activity in mind.

Q: Which direction?

A: I tried to characterize that to you earlier. I think we can say that we believe their primary focus to be toward the south.

Q: Did you suggest in your earlier comments that the event of the defections may have interrupted what the Iraqis had in mind in terms of military operations?

A: I didn't mean to suggest anything except that the defections occurred, and that we have reason to believe that the fact of the defections may have had some effect not fully characterized. It could have been, I suppose, positive, but more likely, we believe it could have been a negative effect on the stability of the Saddam Hussein regime.

Q: Was that reflected in troop movements at all?

A: No. I did not tie, in my earlier comments, any troop movements to these defections, and don't wish to characterize that as being the case.

Q: Have the defections shed any light on these troop exercises? Any... I'm not asking for specifics, but do you know better now?

A: If I answered your question I'd be giving you a specific, as you know. I'll give you my standard intelligence official speech. We don't discuss sensitive intelligence -- sensitive sources or methods -- and we won't start now.

Q: What are the unusual activities that you are seeing? What does that mean?

A: I tried to characterize that to you. Training activities that were unusual, out of the norm. That means...

Q: But not out of garrison?

A: No. I'm trying to give you... Think of this in conceptual terms as opposed to actual physical terms. The idea is that we saw Iraq's military acting in a way which was unusual, exceptional. It was not cause for outright alarm, but cause for concern. If I could characterize it as being -- as I have already -- unusual military training that they don't normally engage in.

I can give you one example without getting into too much detail. Normally the Iraqis do not move outside their garrisons in convoy formations for military training. Thus, because they don't normally do that, if we see them forming up in convoys and moving out of their garrisons -- or hear about that in some way -- we become somewhat concerned because when they're in convoy formations, their ability to move some distance is, obviously, there, and the time lines associated with their movement are much reduced. That's an example of the kind of thing that we noted.

Q: What about the repositioning of aircraft?

A: I can tell you that there were activities in all of the military elements as I tried to describe, to include aircraft. Not all of their aircraft were repositioned, there was no massive repositioning or focusing of aircraft, but enough aircraft activity to cause us concern.

Q: Did these concerns of yours... You said they increased slightly after the defections. Do they remain at that more heightened level, or have you gone back down to the level of concern you had before the defections? Is the pattern of military activity there roughly the same as before...

A: As we stand here today, my concern is approximately the same as it has been during this entire period of time. As you know, when we're dealing with Iraq, we have a history and baggage that comes with that. The uncertainty of dealing with Iraq causes us to be concerned today about the events we see.

I would just like to make a clarifying comment here. I hope you will agree with me, and I hope all of you would agree with me, that it's better -- if we think there is cause for concern -- for us to highlight that concern as early as possible, and act to try to forestall cause for alarm, or cause for conflict. I think that might characterize the circumstance we're in.

Q: I'm a little confused on the geography here. You say that most of the activity, I believe, you see oriented towards some external activity in the south. Does that mean that, in fact, most of the initial troop activity inside Iraq took place in southern Iraq? Or have you, in addition, seen activities in Baghdad or in northern Iraq that you feel might have been oriented towards Jordan or a different border than the southern border?

A: First, I think there are kind of two questions there. I have no information about threatening activities with regard to Jordan, point number one.

Point number two is that we did see military activity oriented toward the north early, but we came to believe after watching these events unfold, that most of the military activity we're concerned with was focused toward the south.

Q: What I'm trying to ask is, that activity that you saw, did that in fact take place mostly in southern Iraq...

A: No. Once again, as I've tried to characterize this to you. We have this 32-degree line. That's an important aspect of this because the 32-degree north latitude line is, in fact, a no-go line, in effect, for reinforcing Iraqi Forces. The majority of the activity that I am referring to took place above that line, north of that line.

Q: So even activities that have been reported around Baghdad?

A: That's right.

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