OPENING STATEMENT BY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE WILLIAM J. PERRY BEFORE THE SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE ON THE DOWNING ASSESSMENT TASK FORCE
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 1996
SEC. PERRY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. On Monday night
I returned from a trip to the Arabian Peninsula, Turkey and the
United Kingdom. I went there to consult with key Arabian Gulf and
coalition allies about how to respond to Saddam Hussein's latest
acts of aggression and provocation.
Let me give a very quick trip report, because what I
did there is closely related to the force protection issue we are
discussing today. In three days I traveled 14,000 miles, and met
with the leaders of five countries, the heads of state and
defense ministers of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey and Kuwait.
And then I stopped off in London on the way home and met with my
British and French counterpart ministers. I am happy to report
to you that the coalition is alive and well, and is united in its
determination to contain Saddam Hussein and to continue Operation
Southern Watch in its expanded form.
We are flying additional sorties from Saudi bases to
enforce this expanded no-fly zone. We have bedded down an
additional strike aircraft -- F-117s in Kuwait and F-16s in
Bahrain. And we are sending 3,500 additional troops to fall in
on the prepositioned heavy army equipment in Kuwait.
Our British allies are in full agreement with us, an
have joined us in a warning to Iraq to stop all operations that
threaten our air crews. And the French, while they are not in
full agreement with us, are supportive and continue to
participate in Southern Watch.
While I was in the region I also visited our military
forces there to review the measures which I have directed to
protect them against terrorism. In particular, I visited our air
crew at the Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. These are
the forces that we moved from Riyadh and Dhahran after the
bombing at Khobar Towers. I was there six weeks ago to get the
approval of the Saudi government for that move. The
transformation in six weeks is stunning. Six weeks ago it was a
large base, but a base which had not been used for several years
-- had no housing. Today it is a fully functioning facility
supporting more than a hundred sorties a day overflying into
southern Iraq. This is a tribute to the outstanding work of
General Peay and his Central Command team. We should also credit
the very strong support owe have gotten from Prince Sultan, the
Saudi Arabian minister of defense, and the Saudi Air Force.
So the terrorists who attacked our forces in Saudi
Arabia last November and last -- (audio break) -- failed in their
first objective. They failed to drive a wedge between the United
States and Saudi Arabia. Now we must ensure that the terrorists
do not succeed in their other objectives -- to undermine
America's will so that we will abandon our military presence, our
interests, and our allies and go home. We must not do that.
So we need to start, then, with what is at stake. What
is at stake are the same vital interests for which America fought
in Desert Storm, to protect the vast energy resources of the
region, to protect the stability of the region, to prevent Iraq
from developing nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, and to
protect freedom of navigation in the air and sea lanes in the
region. These are vital American interests. We are not in Saudi
Arabia as a favor to any other country. We are there to protect
our vital interests.
We do have close cooperation with friends in the
region, and after my visit I can state to you flatly that they
want us to remain and that the cooperation will continue.
Desert Storm ejected Saddam Hussein's armies from
Kuwait, but it did not end his threats to the region. He has
continued to ignore or obstruct the U.N. Security Council
resolutions that define the terms of the cease-fire. He has also
taken overt acts threatening peace in the region. Each time, we
have answered quickly and decisively. Each time he has crossed
the line, we have responded, when necessary, with military force.
We can do that only because we maintain a robust military force
in the region.
Therefore, I reject the option of withdrawing our
forces. Clearly, the threat of terrorist attack against our
forces poses a direct challenge to our force presence in Saudi
Arabia. Indeed, the attack at Khobar Towers dramatically
underscores that for our forces overseas, terrorism is a fact of
life. We can expect terrorists to try again to attack our
forces. The next target could be anywhere in the region or
anywhere in the world. The next target could -- the next weapon
could be a larger bomb or a chemical weapon or a nerve agent.
We still mourn for the five Americans killed in Riyadh
and the 19 Americans killed at Khobar Towers, but we cannot
restore them to their loved ones. What we can do is learn
lessons from these tragedies, and the most important lesson is
that Khobar Towers is a watershed event that points the way to a
radically new mindset and dramatic changes in the way we protect
forces from the growing terrorist threat.
We learned lessons after the Riyadh bombing last
November. In response to that terrorist attack, we recognized
that the Saudi oasis of calm in that region had vanished, and we
raised the threat assessment level in the Kingdom to high. We
beefed up security, including more than a 130 separate force
protection measures at Khobar Towers alone. These measures did
succeed in preventing a penetration of the security perimeter,
thereby undoubtedly saving hundreds of lives. But, clearly, they
were not enough.
The Khobar Towers explosion was of unprecedented
magnitude. Our defense special weapons agency, whom I assigned
more than a month ago to make an assessment of this, assesses
that the bomb was more than 20,000 pounds equivalent TNT. That
is about 100 times larger than the previous bomb used in Riyadh.
The attack was of an unexpected sophistication. The terrorists
had well-developed intelligence, they maintained tight
operational security, and they penetrated extensive Saudi
domestic security apparatus.
The scale of the attack partially circumvented the
extensive force protection measures we took after the Riyadh
attack and in response to intelligence indications.
We now know that we face an unprecedented threat. We
must fundamentally rethink our approach to force protection, and
we have done that along three lines. We are relocating, we are
restructuring, and we are refocusing.
First, we are relocating. The location at Khobar
Towers made defense against such an attack almost impossible.
Therefore we are moving our combatant forces to the Prince Sultan
Air Base, whose remote location permits much more extensive
security protection against terrorist attack. I had the
opportunity to review that when I was visiting the Prince Sultan
Air Base. They have, for example, a 1,200-foot security
perimeter all around the base, a single access road with very,
very tight controls.
Our noncombatant forces in Riyadh perform missions that
require them to remain in that urban area, so we are
consolidating them at Eskan Village and undertaking newer
security precautions there.
Secondly, we are restructuring. We are changing
assignment policies, and we are bringing home most family
And, third, we are refocusing. We realize that
incremental fixes in force protection can always be defeated by
attacks of greater magnitude. Force protection in this new
threat environment is not simply more barriers and more guards.
It requires a fundamental re- evaluation of how we prepare for,
equip, and posture to do missions.
We have always been concerned about force protection,
but now we must factor into our force protection plans the threat
of sophisticated and massive terrorist attacks. As we decide
where and how to deploy our forces overseas, we will place the
threat of terrorism front and center. Force protection against
terrorist attacks will now be one of the most important
considerations we weigh, along with other key mission tasks, when
we decide how best to undertake a deployment, and we are
examining our current missions in light of this threat to make
sure that we have thought through force protection in the way we
are carrying them out.
This message has gone out to all of our commanders.
Hasn't force protection always been important? Of
course it has. A good example is in Bosnia, where we face a
variety of threats. When we approved the Bosnia mission, force
protection was given a high consideration. Indeed, it was
determined by the force commander to be a primary component of
his mission. That led to an extensive set of protection
measures, including the requirement to wear flak -- flak vests
when outside secure areas, a no-alcohol policy, and extensive and
specific threat training for everyone who was deployed to the
These were the right force protection measures for the
Bosnia mission, and they have paid off very, very well for us.
But while force protection has always been important, I
now believe that we must expand the scope and increase the
priority of force protection in every mission because of the
elevated terrorist threat. Putting force protection up front as
a major consideration, along with other mission objectives, will
require changing the mindset with which we plan and carry out
operations and will also require structural changes in the
Department of Defense. It will require tradeoffs in other areas
-- cost, convenience, in quality of life for our troops.
This will be a tough answer for our men and women in
uniform, who will live in less comfortable surroundings and spend
more time avoiding and defending against terrorism. When our air
crews move from Khobar Towers to the Prince Sultan Air Base,
they're moving from an air-conditioned apartment building to
tents. This is not an improvement in the quality of life for
them, but it will be protecting their lives.
It is also a tough answer for them and their families,
more of whom must now experience the loneliness of unaccompanied
The other important step I took after the Khobar Towers
attack was to ask General Wayne Downing to give me a fast,
unvarnished, and independent look at the incident and our force
protection policies and practices in the CENTCOM region and to
offer ideas on how we can prevent such tragedies in the future.
General Downing's report confirms my belief we must
make a fundamental change in our mindset, and we are responding
this report with an additional set of actions beyond the ones
that I'd already taken.
First of all, I am issuing a DOD-wide force protection
standards. Secondly, we will ensure that designated local
commanders have full authority and responsibility for force
protection. Third, the secretary of State and I have agreed to
transfer responsibility for force protection for most of our
noncombatant troops on the Arabian peninsula from the State
Department to the Department of Defense, and we will consider
this policy for other locations, as well. Fourth, we will take
steps to improve intelligence collection on the terrorist threat
and making it more useful to commanders in the field. Fifth, we
will take steps to improve U.S. host nation cooperation on force
protection. Sixth, we will raise the funding level and resource
visibility for force protection, including efforts to seek out
And, finally, I am designating the chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff as the single, DOD-wide focal point for
force protection, and in his testimony he will tell you more
about how he is going to carry out that responsibility.
Since the first day that I have been the secretary of
Defense, my first priority has been for the safety and welfare of
our forces. We have large forces, and they are often exposed to
danger, and so we do have incidents where our military personnel
are killed in accidents, in terrorist attacks, in military
conflicts. Each time this happens, I feel the loss deeply, and
each time, I review what we can do to reduce the risk to our
military forces in the future.
It was in this spirit that I asked Wayne Downing to
conduct the study. I did not want a whitewash, I did not want a
cover-up. I wanted a hard-hitting analysis that gave thoughtful
recommendations for real change.
Those of you who have had time to read this report will
see that I got what I asked for, as I knew I would when Wayne
agreed to be the chairman of this commission. Now it is up to
General Shali and me to carry out those recommendations. I have
already completed action on very extensive changes to improve
protection of our forces in Saudi Arabia, which I have partly
described to you by describing the Prince -- the move to Prince
Sultan Air Base. I have approved and initiated action on the
other important changes recommending by General Downing, and I
have restructured our institutions so that these changes will
Endurance is important, because I believe that
terrorists pose a serious threat to our forces today and will for
many years to come.
Most of what I've described to you looks forward. It
describes actions we are taking to provide -- improve the
protection of our forces from now on, but I must also be
concerned with looking back. What led to the tragedy, and how do
we determine responsibility?
The day that I received the Downing report, even before
I ready it, I sent it to the secretary of the Air Force with a
request to determine accountability and consider possible
disciplinary actions. The Air Force has subsequently established
a conveniatory to that purpose, which requested findings no later
than December the fourth, and we will take appropriate actions at
I cannot comment further at this time on the
culpability of individuals without exerting command influence
which could prejudice their findings, but I also have to consider
my own accountability. As the secretary of Defense, I am
responsible for the safety and welfare of all our forces, and I
feel this responsibility very deeply.
How do I manifest that responsibility? I cannot expect
every security fence or determine the adequacy of every base
force protection plan, but I can manifest this responsibility in
four important ways.
First of all, by establishing the policies and the
guidance for our commanders, including the policy and guidance on
force protection. Secondly, by organizing instruction at the
Department of Defense in such a way that force protection is
optimal. Third, by allocating resources to our commanders,
including resources for force protection, and, finally, by
carefully selecting and supervising the military and civilian
leadership in the Department of Defense. These are the criteria
by which I judge myself whether I am meeting my responsibilities.
How well have we done on establishing the policy
affecting force protection? We did have policy guidance for
force protection which spelled out in considerable detail how
force commanders should carry out their force protection
responsibilities. General Downing has pointed out that they were
not directives and that they were not given sufficient emphasis
and attention. I believe that Wayne is right on that. This was
my responsibility, and I am already taking actions to change
these to directives and to send orders to all commanders to
increase the emphasis on priority.
Secondly, how well did we organize to carry out force
protection responsibilities? Goldwater-Nichols made fundamental
changes in our command structures. These changes have been
incorporated, and I believe serve us very, very well. General
Downing's report has argued that we are -- while we meet the
letter of Goldwater-Nichols in the force protection area, we do
not meet the spirit, because the commander who has the
responsibility is 7,000 miles away from the scene of the
operations. I believe, and General Shali believes, that he has a
good point. We are adding that force protection responsibility
to the Joint Task Force commander who is on site, and are
considering more extensive changes. General Shali will discuss
that more in his testimony.
How well have we allocated resources for force
protection? We spend literally billions per year on force
protection, and I believe it is well spent. But General Downing
is correct in saying that we do not have a budgetary focus on
force protection, nor do we have a budgetary focus in our
resource allocation process and the institutional process by
which we decide how to pass funds out to different programs.
This is also my responsibility, and I have concluded
that it has to be changed. I am changing it in two different
respects. First of all, I have directed the comptroller to
organize and isolate and then aggregate all of the force
protection features in our budget so that we can look at force
protection as an entity, and this, then, gives us a handle on
what is happening in force protection.
Having that handle, we then need somebody to grab the
handle and turn, and so the second change is that I've designated
the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the focal point,
focal responsibility within the Department of Defense, for
overseeing that responsibility. That means, then, that as the
commanders in the field see issues or see problems and want
support, if they require budget support, they require new R&D,
they require more resources, they can go directly to the chairman
and he can grab that handle and get something done. We have that
handle if we want to build a new fighter airplane or if we want
to build a new submarine. We do not have it for force
protection, and this change will accomplish that.
Finally, I have thought very carefully about my
responsibility for the selection of our senior military leaders -
- in particular, General Shalikashvili and General Peay. I
recommended both of them to the president with full confidence in
their ability, and I still recommend them and I still have full
confidence in their ability. They are superb soldiers with a
distinguished combat record. They are strong military leaders.
They are dedicated to the safety and welfare of their soldiers.
In spite of that, this tragedy occurred, and they are
now working day and night to try to -- to take actions which can
prevent a recurrence of the tragedy.
If this nation ever gets into a real military conflict
again in southwest Asia or any other place in the world, we will
thank God that we have military leaders like General
Shalikashvili and General Peay, so to whatever extent they are
responsible for this tragedy, then so am I, for I supported them
and I still support them.
This is how I see my personal responsibilities. From
my first day as the secretary of Defense, I have put all my
energies and talent into carrying out the responsibilities of
this vitally important job. I have enjoyed some substantial
successes, and I am proud of those successes. The Khobar Tower
was a tragic failure.
In the wake of this failure, many in Congress and in
the media are asking who is to blame. I will not participate in
the game of passing the buck. We have a systematic and judicious
process of military justice. We will let it proceed carefully
and objectively. In the meantime, I will not seek to delegate the
responsibility for this tragedy to my military leaders. They
have served their country with enormous distinction and
considerable sacrifice. They deserve our gratitude, not our
To whatever extent you judge that this tragedy resulted
in failures of leadership, the responsibility is mine.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes my statement.