DoD News Briefing

Tuesday, July 14, 1998 - 2:10 p.m.
Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

.............. Q: The Washington Post, in a series of articles that began Sunday, examined the JCET program and the training by U.S. Special Forces, joint training in other countries, and raised questions about whether or not these programs have sufficient oversight and scrutiny.

Could you respond to whether or not the Pentagon keeps adequate track of who these troops are conducting these exercises with and whether or not they're vetted for possible human rights abuses?

A: First, as the articles made very clear, every one of these missions has to be approved by the Ambassador, the U.S. Ambassador to the country where the missions take place. That gives a degree of diplomatic oversight and monitoring that the State Department takes very seriously and we take very seriously as well. We have not carried out proposed missions in cases where the State Department has raised objections. One example that occurred recently was Nigeria, where the State Department raised objections to a planned mission and it did not take place.

I think the series made very clear that these so-called JCET, or Joint Combined Exchange Training missions that involve our Special Forces units working with military units in about 100 countries around the world in an average year, I think the stories made very clear that this is a very important part of our post-Cold War engagement policy. We basically face a choice in many of these countries between engagement and estrangement. These missions allow us to train our forces in countries all around the world, advancing our national interests of teaching democratic values such as human rights and also producing tangible results such as preparing our forces to perform evacuations of American citizens if the situations become turbulent in these countries.

We've done that. We've used special operations people in places like, I think just recently in Sierra Leone, isn't that right? To evacuate people. Liberia, etc., and other countries where we've evacuated people. And we have had JCET missions in these countries where our forces have learned necessary information.

Q: What about specifically in Latin America where some of these joint training exercises involve troops that are then involved in counterdrug operations or even sometimes counterinsurgency operations? Is the United States contributing to sort of militarizing the drug wars in some of these Latin American countries?

A: Countries have to make their own decisions about how to fight the drug war. We clearly, in the Defense Department, play a support role to the Drug Enforcement Agency and other law enforcement agencies that are more intimately involved in fighting counternarcotics.

The Special Forces operate throughout Latin America, as the stories made clear; and they teach basic skills to counterpart military operations. Sometimes these militaries are involved in counternarcotics. We're not against fighting narcotics. We actually have quite a large investment in fighting the narcotics trade in South America. But the primary reason that we carry out Joint Combined Exchange Training is to provide instruction to our own forces. The instruction comes in many ways.

First, it provides them with necessary information about necessary training in foreign language and in learning about foreign cultures. They learn about terrain and geography, they learn about the way foreign military units operate. They've learned who the leadership is and how to work with the leadership. But more importantly, a primary mission of Special Forces is to train militaries around the world at times when they need training. Therefore, the mere act of working with other countries and training their military is carrying out the Special Forces mission.

One, we learn by teaching, we become better teachers when we teach -- the Special Forces do.

Secondly, they polish their own skills because the key to good teaching is to have the skills that you're going to teach. So it allows them to polish their own skills in demining or peacekeeping or humanitarian operations, light infantry operations that they're teaching to the other countries.

Q: Do you have any update on the status of the Special Forces exercise in Pakistan that the Pentagon said yesterday had been put on hold?

A: Well, it had been put on hold before the Washington Post series, I think that's clear. It was put on hold after the nuclear tests which caused us to reevaluate our relationships with both India and Pakistan. It remains on hold and under review.

Q: Yesterday a Pentagon spokesman said that the Central Command had said that unless the exercise takes place in August, it won't be able to take place at all. I tried to get from Central Command some indication of why it might be now or never for this exercise. Can you shed any light on it?

A: I can't answer that specifically, but soldiers do have schedules they have to keep for training in various countries and they may have other missions laid on for later in the year that makes it difficult to postpone the Pakistani mission if it were to take place.

Q: Is it true that under the law for this JCET program that you're not required to vet the troops that you train with for human rights abuses?

A: In Colombia, all the troops are supposed to be vetted as I understand it. In other countries we rely on the embassy to do that work. We rely on the Ambassador to raise concerns if he or she has any. We work very closely with the local Ambassadors. There's actually a fairly rigorous process for reaching a conclusion as to whether to hold the JCET mission in a country in South America or Africa or Europe or anywhere else, Asia, anywhere else we hold these missions. It's a multistep process that involves both military and foreign policy input.