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Cohen Vows to Combat Terrorism

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 30, 1998 – Fight or fold -- that is America's choice when it comes to terrorism. Defense Secretary William Cohen vows America will never fold.

"America cannot retreat behind concrete bunkers and barriers and expect to be a force for good in the world -- or even to remain secure in our own homes," Cohen said recently to New York's Council on Foreign Relations. "No government can permit others to attack its citizens with impunity if it hopes to retain the loyalty and confidence of those it is charged to protect."

The defense secretary pledged America will remain strong and brave in the face of terrorist threats. "Those who sponsor or support acts of terrorism are not beyond the reach of America's military might," he said. "We demonstrated this after the attacks against our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Those who attack American citizens will find no safe harbor, no haven in which to hide."

The United States is also preparing for possible terrorist attacks at home. "We can no longer think of terrorists as malefactors who [only] attack American interests abroad," he said. "The World Trade Center bombing and Oklahoma City have destroyed that myth. The challenge of terrorism demands that we think the unthinkable -- attacks with weapons of mass destruction on American soil."

The United States has had several false alarms, such as anthrax hoaxes in Washington, Las Vegas and Wichita, Kan., and one close call in New York when the World Trade Center bombers failed to develop a chemical weapons capability to supplement their truck bomb. U.S. authorities say renegade multimillionaire Osama bin Laden is known to be working to acquire chemical weapons.

"These facts, combined with the multiple chemical weapons attacks in Japan by the Aum Shinrikyo cult, should make clear that the threat is real," Cohen stressed. "We must be prepared."

Terrorism requires a coordinated, resolute response, he said. "We must never allow messengers of hate to alter the course of America's role in the world."

At present, the Defense Department works with and trains other federal, state and local authorities to prepare for such attacks, Cohen said. Nearly 10,000 leaders, "first responders" and other emergency officials in 30 cities have trained to date and those in another 25 cities are slated for training in the coming year.

DoD also is creating 10 Rapid Assessment and Initial Detection teams starting in fiscal 1999 that would deploy within four hours to help communities respond in case of nuclear, biological and chemical attacks. Each team of 22 full-time National Guard members would be supported by other specialists drawn from existing reserve component forces.

"Our program is designed so the people we train will become trainers themselves," the secretary said. "This approach will greatly magnify our efforts to produce a core of qualified first responders across the nation."

DoD is also setting up 10 Rapid Assessment, Identification and Detection teams in the National Guard. "These new RAID teams will quickly reach the scene of an incident to help local first responders figure out what kind of attack occurred, its extent and the steps needed to minimize and manage the consequences," Cohen said.

Combating terrorism will require discipline, patience and strength, the secretary concluded. "There is no doubt that terrorists will test our resolve. There is no doubt that we will meet the test."

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