OPENING STATEMENT BY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE WILLIAM J. PERRY BEFORE THE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY COMMITTEE ON THE DOWNING ASSESSMENT TASK FORCE
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 1996
SEC. PERRY: Thank you very much, 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
In three days I traveled 14,000 miles and met with
leaders of five countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain,
Turkey, and then I went to the United Kingdom and met my British
and French counterparts. I am happy to report to you that the
coalition is alive and well, and it is united in its
determination to contain Saddam Hussein and to continue the
expanded Operation Southern Watch.
We are flying additional sorties from Saudi bases to
enforce an expanded no fly zone in southern Iraq. We have bedded
down additional aircraft: F-117s in Kuwait and F-16s in Bahrain.
We are sending 3,500 additional troops -- (inaudible) --
prepositioned equipment and to exercise in Kuwait.
Our British allies are in full agreement with us and
have joined in the warning that we have given to the Iraqi regime
to stop all operations that threaten any of our air crews. And
the French, while they are not in full agreement with us, are
generally supportive and continue to participate in Southern
While I was in the region I also visited our military
forces there to review to measures that I have directed to
protect them against terrorism. In particular, I visited our
forces at the Prince Sultan air base near Al-Kharj in Saudi
Arabia. These are the forces that we moved from Riyadh and
Dhahran after the bombing at Khobar Towers. Six weeks ago I went
there and got the approval of the Saudi government for the move.
The transformation in the last six weeks is stunning.
Six weeks ago it was a large air base, but one that had not been
used for several years. Today it is a fully functional facility
supporting more than 100 sorties a day over southern Iraq. And
it is the safest base of any base that I have ever seen,
including a 1,200-foot security perimeter around the entire base.
This is a tribute to the mobility and adaptability of
our forces, and it is also a tribute to the very strong support
and cooperation we have gotten from Prince Sultan, the Saudi
minister of defense, and the Saudi air force.
So the terrorists who attacked our forces in Saudi
Arabia last November and last June 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 objective: to undermine America's
will so that we will abandon our military presence, our interest
in our allies, and go home. We must not do that.
So in discussing this issue, we need to start with what
is at stake. It is the same vital American interest that we
fought Desert Storm to protect; to protect access to the vast
energy resources in the region, to protect the stability of the
region and permit the Middle East peace process to move forward,
to prevent Iraq from developing chemical and biological and
nuclear weapons, and to protect freedom of navigation through the
air and sea lanes in that region. These are vital American
interests. We are not there as a favor to other countries. But
we do have close cooperation with our friends in the region. And
after my visit, I can state flatly that they want us to remain,
just as we want to remain.
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 Saddam has crossed the line, we have
responded with force. We have been able to respond appropriately
and protect our interests because we have maintained a robust
force presence in the region, and in particular because we have
maintained Operation Southern Watch, which enforces the no-fly
zone over southern Iraq. Therefore, I reject the option of
withdrawing our forces from the region. That is certainly a way
of protecting them, but it is not a way of protecting our
But clearly, the threat of terrorist attack against our
forces poses a direct challenge to our force presence overseas.
Indeed, the attack at Khobar Towers dramatically underscored that
for our forces overseas, terrorism is a fact of life. We can
expect terrorists to try again to attack our forces. Their next
target could be anywhere in the region or anywhere in the world.
The next weapon could be a larger bomb. They could even try to
use a chemical weapon or nerve agents or even a crude nuclear
We still mourn for the five Americans killed in Riyadh,
for the 19 Americans killed at Khobar Towers. We cannot restore
them to their loved ones, but what we can do is learn lessons
from these tragedies. The most important lesson is that Khobar
Towers is a watershed event that points the way to a radically
new mind-set and dramatic ways -- dramatic changes in the ways
that we protect forces from a growing terrorist threat.
We learned lessons after the bombing in Riyadh last
November. In response to that terrorist attack, we recognized
the Saudi oasis of calm in the region had vanished, and we raised
the threat assessment level in the kingdom to high. We beefed up
security at all of our military facilities, including more than
130 separate force protection measures at Khobar Towers. These
measures did prevent a penetration of the security perimeter at
Khobar Towers, thereby saving many lives, but clearly, clearly
they were not enough.
The Khobar Towers explosion was of an unprecedented
magnitude. The Defense Special Weapons Agency, who are our best
experts in demolitions and in weapon effects, now estimates that
the bomb was more than 20,000 pounds, which is about 100 times
larger than the previous terrorist attack in Riyadh. The attack
was of an unexpected sophistication. The terrorists had well-
developed intelligence. They maintained tight operational
security. They penetrated the 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 the intelligence indications we had.
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.
I have already described to you seeing one aspect of
the relocation: moving all of our combatant forces to Prince
Sultan Air Base, whose remote location permits much more
extensive security protection against terrorist attack.
Our non-combatant forces in Riyadh perform missions
that require them to remain in that urban area, so we are
consolidating them at Eskan Village and undertaking extensive
security precautions there.
Secondly, we are restructuring. We are changing
assignment policies and bringing most family members home.
Third, we are refocusing. We realize that incremental
fixes in force protection can always be trumped by attacks of
greater magnitude. Force protection in this new environment is
not simply more barriers and more guards; it requires a
fundamental reevaluation of how we prepare for, equip, and
posture ourselves to do missions.
We have always worried about force protection, but now
we must factor in 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 reexamining our current missions in light of the new
terrorist threat, to make sure that we have thought through force
protection in the way that we are carrying them out. This
message has gone out to all of our commanders.
But hasn't force protection always been important? Of
course it has.
A good example is 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
General Nash, our force commander, to be a primary component of
his mission. Protections he installed included wearing flak
chests when outside -- flak vests when outside secure compounds,
a no-alcohol policy, and extensive and specific threat training
for everyone who is deployed to the theater. These were the right
force protection measures for the Bosnia mission, and they have
had truly, truly effective results.
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 a change in mindset with which we plan and carry out
operations. And it also requires structural changes in the
It will require trade-offs in other areas such as cost,
convenience, and quality of life for our troops. This is a tough
answer for our men and women in uniform who will live in less
comfortable surroundings. At Khobar Towers they were living in
an apartment building; at the Prince Sultan air base they will be
living in tents. This will be a noticeable difference in quality
of life. It is a tough answer for them and their families, more
of whom must now experience the loneliness of unaccompanied
tours. We will have to compensate for these changes in order --
and greater hardships in order to continue to maintain the
superb quality forces which we have today.
The other important step that 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 that we must make a
fundamental change in our mindset. And we are responding to his
report with an additional series of actions.
First, I am issuing DOD-wide force protection
Second, we will ensure 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 non-
combatant troops in the Arabian peninsula from the State
Department to the Defense Department. And we will consider this
policy change for other locations as well.
Fourth, we will take steps to improve intelligence
collection on the terrorist threat, 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 the resource
visibility for force protection including our efforts to seek
out new technology.
And finally, I am designating the chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff as the single DOD-wide focal point for force
Since the first day that I have been the secretary of
defense my first priority has been the safety and the welfare of
our forces. We have large forces often exposed to danger. So
we do have incidents where our military personnel are killed by
accident, killed by terrorists, or killed in military conflict.
Each time that happens, I feel the loss deeply, and each time I
review what we can do to improve our processes; what we can do to
reduce the risk to our military force.
It was in this spirit that I asked Wayne Downing to
conduct this study. I did not want a whitewash; I did not want a
cover-up. I wanted a hard-hitting analysis, and I wanted
thoughtful recommendations on how to improve our system. Any of
you who have had time to read the report will see that I got what
I asked for, and I expected no less from General Downing.
Now it is up to General Shali and me to implement those
recommendations, and I have described to you today some of the
actions we have already taken. We've already completed action on
the extensive moves that we have made in Saudi Arabia of our
forces in just six weeks. I have approved and initiated action
in many of the important changes recommended by General Downing.
And maybe over the long term most importantly, I have
restructured our institutions so that these changes would endure,
because I believe that the terrorists pose a serious threat to
our forces and will for many years to come.
Most of what I have described to you today is looking
forward; what we can do to improve the protection of our forces
from now on. But I must also be concerned when looking back; what
led to this tragedy and how do we determine responsibility?
The day that I received the report, indeed even before
I read it, I sent it to the secretary of the Air Force with a
request to determine accountability and to consider possible
disciplinary actions. The Air Force has subsequently established
a convening authority for that purpose, which will report its
findings by December the 4th. And we will take appropriate
actions at that time.
I cannot comment further today on the culpability of
individuals without exerting command influence which would
prejudice their findings. But I also have to consider my own
accountability, and this I can talk about. As the secretary of
Defense, I am responsible for the safety and the welfare of all
of our forces, and I feel that responsibility very deeply.
How do I manifest that responsibility? I cannot
inspect every security defense or determine the adequacy of every
security patrol, but there is much that I can do. I can
establish policies which guide our commanders, including policies
on force protection. I organize and structure the department,
including ways to optimize our approach to force protection. I
allocate resources so that they can do their job, the commanders
can do their jobs properly, including the resources for force
protection. And I must carefully select and supervise the
military and civilian leadership of the Department of Defense.
This is how I judge myself on how well I do in meeting my
responsibilities, and this is how you can judge me as well.
Let me comment briefly on how I grade, how I assess how
I met those responsibilities.
How well did we establish policies for force
protection? We did have policy guidance for force protection
which spelled out in considerable detail for our commanders how
they should carry out their force protection responsibilities.
General Downing has pointed out that these were not directives
and that they were not given sufficient emphasis. I believe
General Downing was right, and I believe that that was my
responsibility, and I have changed these to directives and am
taking actions to improve the emphasis on them.
How well did we organize and structure to carry out
these responsibilities? The Goldwater-Nichols gave us the
authority to make sweeping changes in organization which give us
clean lines of command, and those have been implemented, and
successfully implemented, in the Defense Department.
General Downing has pointed out that in this theater,
that force -- there was a disconnect in the command
responsibilities for force protection, in that people responsible
for the force protection were 7,000 miles from the area. General
Downing is right in that, and we are making changes -- which
General Shali will describe to you in more detail -- and
considering further, even more sweeping changes.
How well did we allocate resources for force
protection? We spend billions of dollars a year for force
protection. But General Downing pointed out, correctly, that we
do not have a focus in our budgeting process on force protection.
This is my responsibility, and I've correspondingly
made substantial changes in that direction: first of all, to
completely restructure our budgeting process, so that we can
identify, isolate, and aggregate all of the programs that have to
do with force protection. The importance of this is that it
creates a handle so that if we want to make changes, we know what
handle to grab so that we can make the changes. A second change
we had to make was find someone uniquely and specifically
responsible for grabbing that handle and turning it. And so I've
asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to take the
responsibility for force protection throughout the department,
and he is establishing an organization within the Joint Staff to
assist him in that purpose. And he will describe to you more
about that when he speaks.
Finally, I have thought very carefully about my
responsibility to select leaders, particularly my principal
military leaders in this field, General Shalikashvili and General
Peay. I recommended them to the president with full confidence
in their ability. I still recommend them with full confidence in
their ability. They are superb soldiers. They are strong
military leaders. They are dedicated to the safety and the
welfare of their troops.
In spite of that, this tragedy occurred, and they are
both working, jointly with me, working even harder to prevent a
recurrence of such a tragedy.
If this nation ever gets into military conflict again
in Southwest Asia or any part of the world, we will thank God
that we have superb warriors like General Shalikashvili and
General Peay to lead our troops. To whatever extent -- to
whatever extent they are responsible for this tragedy, then so
am I, for I supported them for their positions, and I still do.
This is how I see my personal responsibilities. From
my first day as the secretary of defense I have put all of my
energies and talents into carrying out these responsibilities of
this vitally important job. I have enjoyed some substantial
successes, and I am proud of those successes. But Khobar Tower
was a tragic failure.
In the wake of this failure many in Congress and many
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. I will let it proceed
carefully and objectively. In the meantime, I will not seek to
delegate the responsibility for this tragedy on any of my
military commanders. They have served our country with enormous
distinction and considerable sacrifice, and they deserve our
gratitude, not our blame.
To the extent that this tragedy resulted in the failure
of leadership, that responsibility is mine and mine alone.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.