DoD News Briefing

Thursday, April 16, 1998 - 1:30 p.m. (EDT)
Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)


Q: What is the ship and troop count in the Persian Gulf these days? And are there plans to remove or to draw them down further than where you currently are?

A: There are currently about 36,000 or 37,000, probably closer to 36,000 -- I don't have the exact numbers in my book here today. I had it for weeks and weeks and nobody asked me this question so the first day it's not in here, you ask the question.

Q: I knew it wasn't in there.

A: I know. It's this type of sensing that gets me in trouble.

Q: A trend line?

A: The trend line right now is this. It's been this way for several months. Right now there are no plans to change it. Obviously at some point we're going to look at what force level is appropriate, and that decision will be made based on a number of issues. One is what's happening in Iraq, how compliant is Iraq with the inspection mandates. The second is -- is Iraq making any menacing moves against its neighbors or against our forces, that is the coalition forces in the area. Third will be, obviously, our competing operational demands. And we'll roll all those things up and make a decision, and that will happen in the next weeks or months, I assume.

The number of ships there, DDI will get you that. I recall there might be 15 ships, about 15 ships in the area now. I think there are about 7,700 soldiers exercising in INTRINSIC ACTION in Kuwait. And a couple of hundred aircraft in the theater in Bahrain, Kuwait, Diego Garcia, Saudi Arabia, and also on the carriers.

Q: What do you think about Iraq's desire to import $300 million worth of oil equipment so that they can produce more oil?

A: Well, as you know the Oil for Food program has recently been expanded to allow them to sell more oil, and they have claimed that they can't produce all the oil they're allowed to sell now to buy food and pharmaceuticals for their people. The United States has been a leader in the effort to allow Iraq to sell oil for food to meet humanitarian needs. This program was delayed by Saddam Hussein for over six months, I think for several years, actually.

I can't answer that specific question. In general we're in favor of well monitored efforts that do in fact direct food to the people of Iraq, and we also, in looking at this, would want to make sure that the investment was going to this part of the program. It was going only to producing additional oil that would be sold for food to feed the people of Iraq. I think we'd have to make sure that this investment was going exactly to the purposes they promised it was going to, but I don't... I can't give you the government's position on this. These are some of the concerns, obviously, that the government would have.

Q: About the two carrier presence in the Gulf. What are the plans in terms of... There's been obviously discussion about one carrier. Could you bring us up to date on that, what's...

A: Well, the history is that for the last couple of years we've had a standard presence of carrier there three-quarters of a year. One carrier there for nine months. And one Marine Amphibious Ready Group there for six months. Now we have two carriers there and we have a Marine Amphibious Ready Group there so we've boosted up that presence. The question is how long do they stay? That's one of the questions that will be asked. Do we stay at 2.0 as the Navy calls it? Or do we move down to one carrier, 1.0, or do we move down to 0.75 where we used to be? Those are the types of questions that the Secretary and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Vice Admiral Clark and others will be considering in making a recommendation to the President. As I say, that will probably take several weeks to complete, but that's something that we will be looking at.

Q: No decision yet?

A: No decision, no.

Q: You're not suggesting that you think Iraq has made enough progress towards compliance that...

A: I'm suggesting this is what we're going to look at. We're not going home. Clearly... The issues is do we stay at the current level, or do we move back down to where we were before Iraq generated this crisis starting last year? Or do we end up some place in between? Those are basically the choices.

I don't think anybody's talking about going lower than we were before this crisis was kicked up in late October. So it's going to be same level, old level, or somewhere in between. Those decisions haven't been made. The analysis is just beginning, and it will probably be, as I say, several weeks before a recommendation goes to the President and a decision is made.

Press: Thank you.