Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Tony Lake, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili and Acting Secretary of Defense John Deutch
The Briefing Room
11:21 A.M. EDT
MR. LAKE: If I may, we will answer your questions. We thought it would be useful first if General Shalikashvili were to run through with you the actions that the American military have taken since the President ordered them a week ago to take on responsibility for four of the eight packages of effort that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees asked us to assume.
I said a week ago, when we first announced this, that we could not guarantee in this race against time that we would save every life and meet every need in the camps; and we cannot do so. But I did guarantee that we would do everything we can. And I think the President is well-satisfied -- I certainly am -- that our military are, in fact, doing so.
In fact, yesterday, after General Shalikashvili had run through with the leaders of the nongovernmental organizations what we are doing, I said that I thought that there was only one institution in the world that could accomplish this and that is the American military, and they burst into applause. I will not ask you to do the same thing, but I will turn it over now to General Shalikashvili.
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: What I would like to do, if it's all right with you, is spend just a few moments with you before we turn it over to questions and answers to kind of put in perspective, as I see it, what has happened since the President directed the military to go to the area and try our very best to make a difference.
The first thing I will say is the very obvious that you so well know and that you and your colleagues have reported on so well. It is an enormous tragedy that's ongoing there by any measure. We're using every means available to us -- intelligence, airplanes and other things -- to give us a clear picture where all the refugees really are and what the conditions of those camps are. And I will show you in a minute a slide where we see all of them are -- sort of in a kind of cartoon fashion -- just to highlight that the problem is larger than just Goma. But it is true that by every information that we have been able to gather so far, the conditions in and around Goma are the most severe and the most taxing.
The second thing I will tell you is also obvious, and that is that I understand well the frustrations of the people in and out of uniform in places like Goma and everywhere else. It would be very strange if they did not feel impatient and frustrated with the flow of humanitarian assistance, with the water purification equipment, with the medical teams because the need is really so very vast. And yet, as much as we race against time to enlarge the airfields, the infrastructure that leads up to the airfields, it will continue for quite some time to be a race against time and against those priorities that far exceed our ability to squeeze all of that in through very limited airfields in the area.
That, by the way, is one of the reasons why the President stated that on an urgent basis we're looking at the possibility of opening Kigali as an additional airfield in our fight against this humanitarian disaster. And I'll say a few more words about that.
Then one final thing I want to say, and then I'll get into the charts, and that is, that despite the tension and despite the frustrations, I, for one, will tell you that I have seldom seen a better cooperation between American military forces there, between the nongovernmental agencies, UNHCR, the French who are there in great numbers and others. It is, despite the frustration that you hear expressed on the ground, which are very understandable, overall an extraordinary cooperative effort where a multitude of organizations are pulling together trying to deal with this as rapidly as we possibly can.
Now, having said that, let me run through a couple charts here, not to show you anything new, but hopefully to try to put in perspective for you. I told you that one of the things that we looked at was the issue of trying to get a better handle of where all the refugees are, in what numbers they might be. And while in Goma, as we well know, the number has been variously reported as a million plus, there was something under a million.
It is, in fact, the area where the world's focus seems to be right now; and rightfully so, because the conditions are worse there than anywhere else. But they are, as you can see by these green areas, lots of other places in and around Rwanda where large numbers of refugees are located.
I put Kigali here prominently in the center of Rwanda to point out to you that if it makes sense to open Kigali, then it would be, in fact, a great help to the overall humanitarian effort in Goma because the distance between Kigali and Goma is only something like 60 miles or so. So it isn't a terribly long distance and it would then give us an alternative to more than double the number of flights that could impact -- humanitarian flights that could impact this tragedy here.
So, for purely a humanitarian standpoint, we are looking at the wisdom of opening up Kigali. We hope to have a recommendation to the President very soon on this issue and then proceed.
Let me just review with you very briefly what it is that about a week ago the President directed us to do. He directed us to open up a hub in Uganda, specifically at Entebbe. That has been done. That hub has some 400 American military personnel there now operating 24 hours a day. Extra air crews are there so we do not run into the problems of crew rest so that we can switch crews there. We're flying fuel in there as rapidly as possible so we can refuel airplanes there, because fuel in the region is a tremendous problem and if we don't watch, it could become an impediment to this effort.
He also directed us to expand the airlift operations near these refugee camps specifically the Goma airfield. When we first went there Goma could accept about 10 flights a day. We are up to well over 20 now. We are on a 24-hour operation. We think we can grow that with a little bit more, but there's a very finite limit with the runway that's there, the ramp space that's there. And that's why Kigali airfield is such -- from at least that perspective becomes an attractive alternative.
We are doing the necessary surveys in Bukavu airfield as well to see what we can do there to increase its capacity. Throughout this effort to enlarge our infrastructure, the President also directed us to make sure that we continue the humanitarian effort that is flowing the goods, the food, the medicine, the shelter and so on into the area. And I'll show you again we have been doing that.
But we knew from the very beginning, as you so well reported, that if we're going to get on top of the cholera epidemic and other epidemics that are borne from a lack of sanitation and so on, we really needed to a get a handle on water. And so, we went not only to our resources, military resources. We went to the civilian community where we found great help and very innovative equipment. We went to our German colleagues and they have been very forthcoming in this kind of equipment as well. And I'll show you a little bit the direction that we're going.
And, finally, the President asked us to take the necessary steps to establish the conditions that would enable the refugees to return home. So these are the things that we've been tasked to do. Let me tell you briefly how we envision doing that and what you are reporting on now hopefully fits all into those two phases.
The first phase, clearly the most urgent, is to stop the dying and the misery in those camps in and around Goma. And to do so, however, we have to establish not only a command and control structure that could direct this effort, establish and widen as rapidly as we can the transportation system that delivers the goods, that delivers the food, that delivers the medication, the sanitation teams and whatnot. And, finally, you have to concentrate on the very basic needs, which are, first and foremost, water. But there are others, of course, as well.
And then, as rapidly as we can shift to phase two without interfering with the operation that's ongoing in phase one. And phase two must be some way, some way, to help those refugees to return home because it is obvious to all, I think now, that the conditions in those camps in Goma is such that we cannot sustain them there for very long. And that the best answer is to try to get them to go home as soon as possible. And so, we have been conducting the necessary planning, the necessary discussions with UNHCR, with our French colleagues and others to find the best way, the safest way to make it possible for those refugees to return home without there being the implication that somehow we are pushing them to go home. It must be an individual decision on their part, when they feel safe to go home and when they feel the conditions are right to go home.
And I'll talk again about this a little bit more.
The next slide I won't belabor at all very long, but you need to know the people -- the names that you've been hearing like General George Joulwan who's our senior military commander in Europe, and he has been appointed overall responsible for the operation. He, in turn, has sent into the region Lieutenant General Dan Schroeder who in his normal life is the Deputy Commander of U.S. Army in Europe. And he's the overall commander for this operation. He is, today, I believe in Entebbe. He has just come out of Kigali where he conducted the first survey of that airfield to report to us what is involved both from a technical point of view, also from a security point of view, if we chose to recommend to the President to reopen that airfield.
So he has just returned from Kigali. I believe he is either in Goma right now as we speak or in Entebbe. And then General Nix whose normal life is to be the Commander of U.S. Army Forces in Italy, he is and has been for the last few days in Goma and is intended to stay in Goma until we get a better handle on it, on that operation there. So he's the contact for your people down in Goma.
We then, of course, have forces associated with this operation in Frankfurt, in Entebbe, Mombasa, Goma, Bukavu and, if it is appropriate and a decision is made later on, then, of course, some forces would be also located in Kigali to support this humanitarian effort.
Enough about how this is organized. Let me return to this transportation system that we're trying to set up and the sooner we set it up the sooner we're able to reduce, I think, some of the level of frustration that exists there.
The transportation system really starts in Frankfurt where we have established a collection point for all contributions, all things and people that have to flow into the region. And at Rhinemein there we have a 24-hour operation where, for instance, the German water purification equipment is shipped and then shipped onward into Entebbe or directly into Goma. Some 3,500 miles south of that, Entebbe, where we now have about 400 people whose task it is to operate that airfield 24-hours a day to make sure that there's fuel for the crews, to make sure there's unloading equipment there to transload the equipment, to make sure that there are fresh air crews there so the movement can go on. In essence, run as robust an airfield as we can make it.
From there our attention then shifts to Goma. It is a 24-hour operation field. In the last few days we've started bringing in C-5 aircraft as well. And to us that was key that we could bring that large capacity of C-5 aircraft. For instance, today there are three C-5s, three C-141s going in in addition to all the other kinds of airplanes that are going in.
And while I'm on that point, let me digress for just a second. We have opened that airfield so that everyone, everyone who flies in there whether they are contract aircraft that we contract, whether they're contract aircraft that someone else has contracted, all users could use that airfield 24-hours a day. And it isn't so important whether it's a U.S. airplane that goes in or whether that's a French airplane or a Dutch airplane or a commercial airplane. What's important is since we all fly in support of the priorities established by UNHCR, that we get as many airplanes in as we can. So, to those of you who have heard about the frustrations that not enough U.S. airplanes are landing, the issue is really how many total airplanes are landing that's very important.
And I think, to the best of my knowledge, there are today 26, 27, 28 airplanes going to go in. And that's a far cry from a few days ago -- 10 airplanes. Plus the 10 airplanes before were not the C-5 type aircraft, which can, of course, bring an awful lot more.
So we have not fixed the problem. I think we've taken a small step forward and will continue working 24 hours a day trying to increase that, and if it makes sense, to try to go open an airfield in Kigali as well.
There are an awful lot of other places, as well, where we have mid-air refueling aircraft, so we do not have to bring airplanes in to land, waste an hour refueling and then go on. So we refuel much of the military air in the air to speed up the effort.
Additionally, we've had an awful lot of good needed equipment on board Army prepositioned ships. They usually are in and around Diego Garcia. On the day that the President gave us the mission, we ordered those ships to steam towards Mombasa because we have enough water purification equipment there. We have enough water distribution capacity there to meet all our needs. And so the first two ships are going to land tomorrow in Mombasa. We have already forward deployed C-130 airplanes, CH-53 helicopters that can slingload much of that equipment. And we're going to form -- if we're certain that the security conditions are right -- a very large ground convoy that will take the large oversized equipment over land into Goma.
So, starting about tomorrow and the next few days, we will have at our disposal an awful lot of the badly needed stuff for water purification, in addition to additional trucks that are needed over there, bulldozers and whatnot. So that's another hub that we've established here. And we'll continue keeping it open, because that's a good place to bring other humanitarian supplies in and then shuttle them forward.
This is just a picture that shows you sort of that on the day that the President told us to get going, the most that we could get into the region were two aircraft. We are now, between those that are refueling and those that are landing, bringing in some 22, 23 aircraft into the region. You have to add to that all those other aircraft that other nations are bringing in. The point is not so much the numbers, but that we've had a steady growth and we'll work very hard not to let that level off, but to continue building on this growth here.
Let me turn to water for a minute. There was zero clean water being produced on the day the President spoke to you here. The day before yesterday, we were doing 74,000 gallons of water; yesterday, 96,000 gallons. Today, we did not have time yet to tell the President that it's really more than 100,000 gallons. As we stand here, we're producing 164,000 gallons. We actually can produce more water than that right now. This shows you not only the water production capacity, but also the storage and distribution capacity.
With the help of our German colleagues, we've just laid a five kilometer pipeline into the middle of Goma. That's just the beginning. We need to lay more pipelines; we need to bring in more water trucks. We are flying, starting later on today, six 5,000- gallon tankers into Goma directly. Hopefully, we'll have them on the streets there tomorrow.
When we get the stuff off the ships, we will have a capacity of producing, storing and distributing in the vicinity of 3,500,000 gallons of fresh water. Now, it's going to clearly take us some days to off-load it, transport it, set it up, build the pipelines that need to be done. But at least the equipment is getting into the region now. And hopefully before too much time, we can have much of that stuff forward. Much of it will depend whether we can, in fact, find a good speedy over-land route to move some of that oversized equipment.
But it's looking an awful lot better today than it did when I stood before you here a week ago and in my mind thought that it would be several months away before we could get that kind of a capacity together. So we're nowhere near out of the woods; lots of stuff could still happen. But it's beginning to look a little better.
Let me stop with that last slide and turn it over to Tony and for any questions that you might have.
Q: General, can we ask you a question? How would you protect against mission creep if you make a decision about Kigali and decide that you have to send people in to open that airport?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: To me that's a very easy answer. Our mission has been to assist in providing humanitarian assistance. Our mission today and tomorrow, whether we go into Kigali or not, is to assist in providing humanitarian assistance. There isn't a word in my instruction from the President that has anything to do with peacekeeping or anything else.
So I see that as the task of opening as many airfields as we can where it makes sense, to be able to help the people of Kigali and to help the people to go home. I don't see that as a mission creep. It is a tactical decision whether one wants to open another airfield in a continuation of the same effort that we've been on.
Q: In Somalia, what happened was that our people came under fire and they had to respond and it escalated.
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: It is clear that you cannot be involved in operations without some danger that someone will take a potshot at you. You, of course, understand that that can happen to us at Goma as well. And the reason that we are so very careful about proving any concept going into Kigali that we want to be sure that we can go to the President and articulate this issue of security to our soldiers and so on. But that's not mission creep.
Mission creep is when you take on different tasks. The President has been very clear, and I support it 100 percent, we should be there to help in a humanitarian effort.
MR. LAKE: Andrea, let me add to that if I may, because this is a very important question.
First of all, on Somalia, the mission from the start of American forces when they went in was to put an end to the fighting so that we could deal with the humanitarian crisis. And I might add, hundreds of thousands of Somalis are alive today because we did that successfully.
Here the mission is not a peacekeeping operation. It is not explicitly designed to expand throughout Rwanda and to carry out the same kind of mission. It is limited, as the General said and as the President said, to the humanitarian mission.
Secondly, there is the issue of how long it lasts. And here I should say that the mission is designed to deal with the immediate humanitarian crisis. This is not a long-term peacekeeping commitment in Rwanda. That is for UNAMIR, the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Rwanda. And if I could say just a word about that. The United States agreed months ago that we would offer support for one of the U.N. battalions that would go in, and we encouraged other governments to support other battalions. We have done what we said; we have been supporting a Ghanaian battalion. They are about half deployed now. About 500 Ghanaians are now in Rwanda. They are, in fact, the only -- I believe the only U.N. forces there. We are encouraged that they have start joint patrolling, or there is an agreement they will be doing joint patrolling with the Rwandan forces.
We would hope and we are urging that other governments will support other battalions so that they will be properly supplied and equipped when they go in. Assistant Secretary Moose, after he goes to Kigali, will be going to Ethiopia and Tunisia and elsewhere also to encourage those other African governments that have committed themselves to sending troops in as a part of the peacekeeping operation, and they will do that as quickly as possible.
Q: Tony and General Shalikashvili, look, no sooner had the President finished than our guy on the ground in Goma reported that the people across the border who are armed said that if the United States comes in, they will regard the United States as their enemy and that they will fight. Now, for whatever this is worth, how are you going to hold the focus of the mission on humanitarian aid when it is quite evident that there is going to be a substantial security threat?
MR. LAKE: First of all, our representative there, Ambassador Rawson, has spoken to the government -- or the acting government of Rwanda, the representatives of the RPF, who are in control in Rwanda now. And they have agreed that we should open the airfield in Kigali, and they are in control of their own troops. So I am not saying that there is not a security threat; there is.
Q: This is the other side.
MR. LAKE: But they are in control of the situation now at Kigali and generally throughout the country. We are looking at the same time very, very carefully at the security situation both now and down the road as we deal with this immediate crisis to make sure that if we open the airfield that there is a secure environment. This could involve American military personnel, certainly. And we are looking at -- we have not reached a conclusion on it -- we are looking at what the number of such personnel might be.
But their mission -- and I emphasize this -- their mission would be the protection of the airfield and of our humanitarian operation. It would not be a broader security role and it would not be peacekeeping, as we just said.
Q: What is holding up the deployment to Kigali? Is it strictly a tactical question, as General Shali said, or are there political considerations involving the RPF that are factored into this?
MR. LAKE: No, there is no -- that I'm aware of, there is no problem with the RPF, or those who are acting in the government in Kigali. We want to make sure that if we do this, we do it right. That we have thought through all of the questions including this question of security.
At the same time there is an urgent need that we do this. We have been working the planning through on a very urgent basis. The site survey team has just started reporting in on the logistical side and how you would do this and how we would make it work. They have worked very urgently. As soon as we have the answers to those questions, I can assure you we will make an immediate decision because not just days but hours count here. And I would expect this decision very, very soon.
Q: Can I follow up? Do you have a commitment from both the Tutsis and the Hutus that the U.S. forces if they go into Kigali will be invited and they will not become seen as part of one side or the other? Have both sides invited the United States to set up this facility at the Kigali airport?
MR. LAKE: My understanding is that the RPF, who are as I said, in control of Kigali and who were the apparent victors in the conflict, have said that they would welcome this. The rump Hutu government we are not in touch with and in my view we should not be because, as we have said before, many of them were responsible for genocidal acts in Rwanda and we do not consider them to be in a position of authority within Rwanda. And, indeed, in a physical sense they are not now.
That said, I am not saying that Rwanda is not potentially still a tough neighborhood and that is why we are taking a very careful look at the security issues before we proceed on the Kigali airfield.
Q: How many troops are involved here if a decision is made to go in?
MR. LAKE: We have not made a decision on that yet.
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: We have not made a decision, nor have we completed going over the assessment from our assessment team that just came in here. And until we understand which radars have to brought in to have 24-hour operation and what transportation system we have to have, it's very difficult to tell. So, any number I would give you now is misleading.
When we went into Entebbe initially we thought that it might take a couple thousand to run Entebbe. We have been very successfully running Entebbe now, as an example, with some 400. Whether those two numbers are the bookends between which we come out in Kigali or they'll come out something different, any number I give you or someone else has been given in the last few days really I would take with a grain of salt.
Let us complete this assessment.
Q: General, is it your feeling that it is essential for the operation to open Kigali?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: Only if it makes sense and there are an awful lot of things that you need to take into consideration. What is essential, I think, is to expand airport operations in as many places as we can because we must increase the throughput to those refugees. Whether Kigali will after analysis turn out to be the right place or not, too early to tell. Let us finish the assessment.
Q? Will you be talking to Schroeder today about this?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: Yes.
Q: So you might make a decision today once you --
Q: She's already had one question. General, how long do you think our troops will be there?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I don't know. I will tell you that I think the sooner we can get the refugees to go back to their homes, the sooner we can wind down this effort and the United States military will be able to go home.
Now, whether that's measured in weeks or in months, I cannot tell you but I must say that it is not just for our own good that we need to look at it in those terms of getting them home but also for the good of the refugees. Our interest on both sides are to get on this as quickly as possible. The sooner they're home, the sooner we will go home.
Q: Where are you getting the money for this? Are you taking it out of something you already had or are you cutting off some other part of the budget?
MR. LAKE: This is why, as the President said this morning, we are sending an emergency supplemental request to the Hill this morning.
Q: Well, that doesn't tell me what I want to know. Where are you getting this money from? Are you cutting off some other program to do that?
MR. LAKE: That is the answer. An emergency supplemental is an off-budget request. It would not come out of other Pentagon funds.
Q: But are you cutting off other civilian programs for this?
MR. LAKE: No, this is beyond the current budget. The purpose of the emergency supplemental would be to get additional funds to meet what is in fact an emergency. In the end this will be a congressional decision of course as to where the funds come from but our position is that we believe that this should be supplemental and not draw down other accounts.
Let me just say on the Kigali decision, this is not in my view a question of doing it quick or doing it right. We want to do it right and quick, and we are working this very urgently but making sure that we know exactly what we're doing before we do it. And it could come very, very soon.
Q: But might the President make the decision today?
Q: Today? Could it come today?
MR. LAKE: I don't want to put a deadline on his decision, but that is possible.
Q: What is your estimate as to how many Rwandans are dying every day?
Q: The United Nation's officials have been complaining that UNAMIR is not coming together, they're not getting the troop contributions that they need. What happens if the humanitarian mission winds down and there's no U.N. mission to hand things over to?
MR. LAKE: In a way it works the opposite way, as General Shali was just saying. We are working very hard to get the UNAMIR in not only as quickly as possible but in as large numbers as possible so that it can help to create the environment for the refugees to return. To the degree that it works slowly, then to that degree it may be that the refugees return less quickly. So, we're working on that. That is why Assistant Secretary Moose is going off. That is why we have been approaching other governments, that's why we are encouraging those who have already committed troops to move as quickly as possible.
We are encouraged that the RPF have agreed now to join patrolling with UNAMIR forces in the western part of Rwanda which will help, we think, create a secure environment. There are two other pieces to this though. One is to encourage the RPF to reach out in reconciliation, to make appointments that will broaden their government as much as possible. Assistant Secretary Moose will be discussing those issues also with the RPF in Kigali.
And, third, as the General was suggesting, we need to look at the mechanisms on the ground which would encourage the refugees to come back so that they know as they move back along the roads that they will be able to get water and supplies, find shelter, whatever. And we are working on planning on that on a very urgent basis.
But we are appealing to other governments, both that can help equip UNAMIR forces and to those that have either committed themselves or would commit themselves to supply UNAMIR forces, to do so absolutely as quickly as they can. The crops are going to start dying in the fields within a couple of weeks now if the refugees cannot get back and start to harvest them. And this is another one of the races against time that we are conducting.
Q: Tony, what is your best estimate as to how many Rwandan refugees are still dying every day?
MR. LAKE: We were at 1,500 to 2,000 a few days ago. I have not seen a new estimate today. I can't give you that with precision. It's about -- it's approximately the same still.
Q: Tony, the rump Hutu government, as you said, is not in control of territory in Rwanda. But they clearly have fighters with guns in Goma, and a fair amount of control over at least some people --
MR. LAKE: Mostly more in the south, yes.
Q: and they are actively trying to keep refugees from going back. So, clearly, our efforts to try to get those refugees back are going to conflict with what they're doing. And there's been some indication that they've been getting at least some support from some elements of the Zaire government in the past, at any rate. How do you assess the potential problem that those folks pose? And what do you foresee doing about them as this operation goes ahead?
MR. LAKE: We've discussed this with the government of Zaire and with the French. There are two aspects to it; one, how do you get them disarmed and limit that threat? And secondly, what do you do about their public appeals to the refugees not to go back? And we're working, as I said, on both with the French.
Q: Are you satisfied with the response you've gotten from the Zairians at this point?
MR. LAKE: We'll see over the coming days how this goes.
He has to leave in just a moment, so maybe one more question.
Q: There were military officers who were quoted a couple of days ago saying that one of the reasons for having a U.S. military presence in Kigali, in addition to the humanitarian reason, would be as a symbol that reprisals between the two groups should not occur; and that we, in fact, would prevent that. Is that part -- would that be part of admission of any U.S. forces there, to stand between reprisals between Hutus and Tutsis?
MR. LAKE: As I said, there may be a psychological effect within Rwanda of our opening the airfield. But our mission explicitly is not a peacekeeping mission; it is the humanitarian mission, and strictly limited to that.
Q: While you're there, Tony, could you update us on the situation in Bosnia? Because you discussed it with the President this morning, didn't you?
MR. LAKE: Secretary Christopher will be going -- just very briefly, because I have to run, too. Secretary Christopher will be going, in fact he has just left now, to a meeting of the Contact Group foreign ministers to discuss how we will follow up on the apparent Bosnian Serb rejection of the Contact Group's peace proposal. And we will, I'm sure, be having more to say about that over the weekend. I look forward to discussing this with you on Saturday and Sunday, as well.
END 12:00 Noon EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Tony Lake, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili and Acting Secretary of Defense John Deutch Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269652