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IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release No: 544-96
September 19, 1996

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

WASHINGTON, DC

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 provocation.

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 Watch.

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 national interests.

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 device.

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 department.

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 standards.

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 protection.

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.

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