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U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: Commander, U.S. Pacific Command Adm. Timothy J. Keating October 02, 2009

DoD News Briefing with Adm. Keating from the Pentagon

ADM. KEATING: Good afternoon. Tim Keating here.

LT. COL. ELIZABETH HIBNER (USA, Pentagon spokesperson): Sir, it's Lieutenant Colonel --

ADM. KEATING: Tim Keating here.

COL. HIBNER: Yes, sir. Admiral Keating, it's Lieutenant Colonel Hibner.


COL. HIBNER: Thank you very much for joining us today.

ADM. KEATING: Yes, ma'am.

COL. HIBNER: Just to let you know, we have about 12 media reps here who are anxious to speak with you today. So with that, I will hand it over to you, sir.

ADM. KEATING: Okay. Thank you very much, one and all. And aloha from the Pacific Command headquarters.

Once again, Tim Keating to talk with you about whatever you'd like to discuss. I'll start with the disaster-relief operations that are being conducted out here in the Pacific Command. There happen to be several of them.

First, American Samoa. We've had five C-17s head down from Hickam Air Force Base -- some Hawaiian National Guard, some United States Air Force; both search-and-rescue teams, mortuary affairs, and a lot of equipment, and some foodstuffs and supplies, and taking some wheeled vehicles down there. So five C-17s have flown.

The USS Ingraham, a Navy frigate, is in the waters off American Samoa, and they have two helicopters that have provided damage assessment in the search-and-rescue mission. And we are in support of FEMA, as they have the lead down there in American Samoa. So that's what's going on in that -- the -- kind of the southeastern reaches of the Pacific.

Moving over to the Philippines, we have had some -- they have had some torrential downpours there. As you know, Manila was flooded, and some of the Joint Special Operations task force personnel -- initially about 20 -- came from the southern Philippines up to Manila to support the armed forces of the Philippines in their search and rescue and assistance.

And we have subsequently moved two amphibious ships, the USS Harpers Ferry and USS Tortuga, with a Marine complement on board, out of Okinawa. We moved these ships down, and they are now just off the coast of Manila.

And you all probably know that there's another very big storm that is going to lash we hope the northern -- well, don't want it to hit anything, but it looks like it's going to hit the northern end of Luzon, hopefully miss Manila. But we are off the coast with hundreds of Marines and medical assistance if more help is required by the armed forces to the Philippines. They're ready to provide that assistance.

Moving on down to Indonesia, after the earthquake there we have a C-130 that has delivered supplies on the 1st of October. We have a Navy one-star flag officer who is going to go down there and oversee the response efforts. We have the United States Ship Denver, that has three heavy-lift helicopters, that is on the way to Indonesia. It will be a couple days before she gets there. And some special operations forces who were headed to Indonesia anyway are helping the armed forces of Indonesia with damage assessment as we speak, through our country team in the embassy.

And the last piece that I would mention is there is yet another storm that's headed toward the Guam/Saipan/Tinian area; and the USS Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Readiness Group is east of those islands and will be prepared to provide whatever response might be required after that storm passes over Guam, Saipan and Tinian.

So, in the waters of -- and the air of the Pacific, it's not pacific. It's some some significant disaster relief operations under way, and we're able to provide the support as directed by the White House and Department of State and Department of Defense because we are out there. We're forward deployed. We've got very capable young men and women who are using very -- they're very well equipped and well trained, and they're out there providing disaster relief in several countries and areas throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

I'll be happy to take your questions.

Q (Off mike) -- the storm -- (off mike) -- to make landfall, and you said you didn't believe it was going to -- you hoped it wouldn't hit Manila. Does that mean that right now you're expecting it won't?

ADM. KEATING: The forecast that I got a couple hours ago indicates the storm will move -- continue to move northwesterly from its current, and on that track it should make landfall tomorrow morning on the northern end of Luzon.

And Manila will get wet, but not the torrential -- we don't think it will have the torrential downpour or the high winds that the north part of the island will get.

Q Admiral, Justin Fishel with Fox News.

You mentioned your -- the relief to American Samoa. What about the rest of Samoa? Any relief operations going on there?

ADM. KEATING: The only request that we have, in this headquarters, was from American Samoa.

Q Hi, Admiral. It's Courtney Kube from NBC News. Can you fill us in on any assets that you're moving around or out of Guam, in advance of the storm?

ADM. KEATING: There -- yes, Courtney.

A couple of the submarines that are permanently stationed there are out. One of them is going to remain in port. So they're, you know, battening down the hatch. So of the three submarines, two of them are getting under way.

Q And any other air assets or anything being moved out or personnel at all?

ADM. KEATING: Airplanes that can fly have left for what we call safe haven. Some of them are going up into -- up to Okinawa. And personnel are taking appropriate measures. We don't think Guam is going to get hit hard.

This storm is of lesser intensity than the one for example that's headed to the north part of the Philippines. And everybody there is taking appropriate precautions. But we don't think it's going to be -- it's not a super-typhoon. The winds, we think, are between 50 and 75 knots; plenty good blow but nothing very threatening.

Q Admiral, Bill McMichael, Military Times.

You said you had -- the Tortuga and the Harpers Ferry are off the coast of Manila. Do I have that correct?

ADM. KEATING: That's correct.

Q And then you said you had hundreds of Marines off the coast of the northern end of Luzon. Are they on a ship? Or are those Marines with the two ships off the coast of Manila?

ADM. KEATING: Clear. Those -- the Marines out of the -- out of III MEF are on Harpers Ferry and Tortuga. Some of those Marines have already gone ashore, a couple dozen, to do some -- it's called a humanitarian assistance assessment team. And those Marines are ashore conducting that, in concert with the armed forces of the Philippines.

So the answer to your question is, yes, the Marines that I described are on Harpers Ferry and Tortuga.

Q Hi, Admiral. It's Al Pessin from VOA.

Can you tell us how many Marines you're talking about there. And also with regard to Indonesia, you said there were some special forces troops that apparently had just arrived anyway. How many are they? And what was their original mission?

ADM. KEATING: They were -- let me take it in reverse order. Hold the phone just a second. We'll get the number of the Marines on the ships while I answer the first part of the question.

It was a small element of special forces -- I'll say a dozen or less, eight to 10 of our Special Operations forces -- who were proceeding to Indonesia for a regularly scheduled exercise. And they were literally in the air when the reports of the quake got through from our embassy to our operations center.

And we just got ahold of the C-130 and redirected it in flight. And those guys flew over the area, landed at the nearby airfield -- I don't know the name of the airfield -- and checked in with an assessment team that our embassy had sent. And the assessment team included two of our military personnel who had backpack-radio capability, and so we got very quick satellite communication reports from those Special Forces who were in the C-130 airborne.

I'm still checking on a number of the Marines that are afloat, and I'll get you that number before we finish the conversation.

Q And what are those Special Forces folks doing now?

ADM. KEATING: They're continuing to support the embassy in damage-assessment and relief operations in the area of the -- in the area affected by the earthquake in Indonesia.

Q Thank you.

Q Admiral, Bill McMichael again. Are you staging additional assets in preparation for follow-on relief or supplies? Or do you have plans to do so?

ADM. KEATING: Bill, the -- for Indonesia in particular? Is that --

Q For any of the four operations, sir.

ADM. KEATING: We believe that we're -- the forces off Manila and -- the forces in the Philippines and off the coast of the Philippines will be sufficient. Likely, we won't bring all of those Marines, or maybe even many of them. It just depends on what the armed forces of the Philippines request through our embassy.

In Indonesia, as I mentioned, the big-ticket item that's headed down there is the Denver. It has those three heavy-lift helicopters and a half-a-dozen other, smaller helicopters. And that is the specific -- that's at the specific request of our country team, echoing the desires of the government of Indonesia. So the one thing that is not there yet is the USS Denver, and that's headed to Indonesia and will be there four days -- four or five days -- fast as she can get there.

Q So you're not making plans to send additional assets at this time?

ADM. KEATING: We are not. We have no requests for additional assets; nor do we have plans to move anything beyond what we're already moving, Bill.

Q Okay.

Q Sir, it's Mike Mount with CNN. Under the category of what you said earlier, that we could ask you other questions, regarding the Philippines, the two troops that were killed by the IED strike the other day, do you all have any more information on what happened there?

Was that something deliberately aimed at the U.S. troops? There was some initial reporting that thought maybe it was a mine that could have -- maybe have been left over from something else or placed there in the past. Do you have an update on what happened there?

ADM. KEATING: I don't, Mike. The investigation is ongoing with the special operations forces conducting the investigation. I have seen a couple of photographs of the vehicle that was hit, and it was a powerful device. Pretty sure it was -- as you mentioned, it was buried and not a roadside device. That's unofficial speculation on my part.

As to whether or not it was an intentional placement of an improvised explosive device or a remnant of previous unexploded ordnance, I just don't know. And the investigation will determine that, and I don't know when they're going to be done. So I don't -- long way of saying I don't have anything more for you, Mike, than what you guys have already reported.

Q Can I follow up on that?


Q Hey, Admiral, it's Laura Jakes at AP. So, I'm sorry, just to clarify that, you're not sure if it's an IED or a land mine at this point?

ADM. KEATING: I am unaware of any official investigation results, that's right. There was initial speculation that it was an IED, but I -- that has -- to the best of my knowledge, that has not been confirmed one way or the other.


Q Sir, this is Jim Garamone with American Forces Press Service. You said you sent five C-17 loads down to American Samoa. Do you plan to send any more C-17s down? And if there is damage in Guam, I'm unclear how that setup works. Is FEMA the lead agency for Guam also?

1. ADM. KEATING: Yes, they will be the lead agency. And I shouldn't overstate that we just -- we -- all indications are -- the forecast doesn't call for Guam to be significantly affected by the storm that's headed that way. I mention it as something we're watching, but, you know, it's a normal weather pattern for this time of year. It -- we're cautiously optimistic that it will not be a significant blow to Guam or Saipan or Tinian. They're going to get wet, there's going to be wind, but it should not -- you know, inshallah it's not going to be a big blow.

There are three more -- we are assessing as we speak the situation on the ground in American Samoa.

And we are -- I forget who it was -- Mike or Bill earlier asked if we're going to move anything more. We have the potential to fly two or three more missions out of Hickam that would be in support of the American Red Cross, with their personnel and their supplies.

Those missions have not yet been fragged, as you say -- as we say. They've not been ordered to go, but we're making preparations in case those -- that assistance is required. I don't know whether it will be or not for sure.

Q Thank you.


Admiral, it's Al Pessin again. Did you mean to say that all U.S. military aircraft that can fly have left Guam?

ADM. KEATING: I'd have to check. I was just told that, you know, normal HURREVAC precautions had been taken. In our jargon, that means if it can fly, you leave.

But I -- let me try and get some confirmation on that. If you -- there's somebody -- the guys are monitoring the call out there on the other side, so Jeff or Eazy, if you're listening to that, call down to ops, would you?

My hunch is, if it can fly, it's gone, but I can't state that with any real certainty. I was just told that normal HURREVAC procedures are being executed.

I don't mean to be complicated about it, but you know, the report that they were going to leave doesn't necessarily mean that they all did leave. They might have hangared a good number of them, because the hangars there are built to withstand pretty high winds.

Q And you talked about the submarines, but would that same hurricane evacuation apply to any ships that had been there? Would they have -- would they be -- have left or be leaving as well?

ADM. KEATING: Yeah. If they were there, they'll -- and they could get under way, they would have gotten under way. I don't think there were any there. I -- you know, again, just the umbrella phrase, anything that can leave is going to leave expect for the ones -- that's the specificity I have.

Q Thank you.

COL. HIBNER: Any more questions?

Q Admiral, it's Gordon from the Christian Science Monitor. Can you just give us a better sense of what you think the Philippines is prepared to accept, depending on how it goes there over the next few days?

ADM. KEATING: I'll do my -- I talked to Ambassador Kenney last night our time. And I mean, I just shouldn't speak for her, but the sense I got in my conversation with her -- and I talked to General Ibrado, the head of the Philippine armed forces. I talked to him the day before. So those conversations leave me with the sense that the armed forces of the Philippines are staying abreast of the disaster as we speak, with the rather modest contributions that we have made.

And this is a precautionary measure, on our part, to have this many Marines in two ships with helicopter and medical and engineering assistance available.

I would be surprised if a significant number of those Marines were required to go ashore, but that is conjecture on my part right now. It could happen, and we have the clearance to send them in, from the secretary of Defense, if we need to send them in.

Q Admiral, it's Laura from AP again. You'll have to forgive me because I missed the first part of your briefing. But I just wanted to clarify. I think you said that Manila probably won't be hit. So I'm trying to gauge what level of threat the hurricanes and the weather is posing at this point. Would you call this like a Code Red? Is this the highest level, you know, threat that you're preparing for, or do you think disaster is going to be averted? Or how would you just kind of summarize the damage and the threat to forces out there at this point?

ADM. KEATING: Our forces are not in any imminent danger or, as you say, a Code Red situation. In conversation with Christy Kenny (sp), she described folks, some embassy -- Philippine embassy personnel whose entire belongings were swept away by the first storm, from which they're still recovering. So the infrastructure in Manila -- in parts of Manila is a little tenuous right now, getting better by the day, and that's where our folks are providing assistance to the armed forces of the Philippines as they are directed by their government.

This storm that's coming -- once again, hopefully -- will not have a significantly adverse impact on Manila -- metro Manila. We're prepared to come in with whatever, you know, the Philippines say they need. We hope it hits north. We hope it's not as intense as it looks like it's going to be. So, you know, on a Code Red, I don't think we're there, though I shouldn't for a second infer -- please don't draw the inference that we don't care about the folks in northern Luzon. We'll go -- that's why we have the helicopters there on Harpers Ferry and Tortuga. If assistance is required up north, we'll go if the Philippines asks us for it.

So kind of a rambling answer. I just -- the weather forecast is pretty grim for the north part of Luzon. The storm could swing further north and less west and miss the Philippines entirely. We don't think it's going to, and we think the threat to downtown Manila is lower than it is north -- the northern part of the Luzon island.

STAFF: Hey, sir, and also -- (audio break) -- know that we've got about three minutes left. So as you're formulating your questions, if you could just keep that in mind. Thanks.

COL. HIBNER: Do we have one more question?

Q We missed the beginning of that. If -- (audio break) -- information in answer to earlier questions, we missed it.

ADM. KEATING: Yeah, here's what -- it was Jeff Brezlo (sp) saying I got to ring off in three minutes here; I got a 10:15. We have -- on Guam there are an -- a handful of airplanes, four or five, that we have put in hangars. The rest of them have evacuated, and I'm assuming they go to Okinawa. And I still owe you the number of Marines that are on those ships off the coast. Jeff (sp), do you guys have that out there?

STAFF: Yes, sir. What I'll -- we'll do after the phone call, we'll wrap up with -- we'll push out a fact sheet that lists all the numbers, where all the personnel are, all the facts and figures of who's where.

ADM. KEATING: Yeah. Great.

STAFF: And we'll take care of that.

ADM. KEATING: That'll be helpful.

Okay. Thanks, everybody. Appreciate your time.

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