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Secretary of Defense Comments on Force Protection Initiative

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William J. Perry
July 17, 1996 9:45 AM EDT

Wednesday, July 17, 1996 - 9:45 a.m. (EDT)

Ceremony welcoming Minister of Defense Edmundo Perez Yoma, of the Republic of Chile, to the Pentagon.]

Secretary Perry: Let me take the opportunity to formally welcome the Minister here to the United States. It's a great pleasure to have you here again.

Minister Perez Yoma: Thank you so much, Mr. Perry.

Q: Dr. Perry, I wonder if we might ask you? We understand some decisions have been made on the movement of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia for their protection. I wonder if you might give us some details on that?

Secretary Perry: I will answer that question as a second question; but let me see, first of all, if there are any Chilean press here or any questions about U.S. Chile relations. I take that question first and then come to Mr. Aldinger's second. Any representatives here from the Chilean press? Alright.

I had a meeting this morning with 18 or 20 senior senators, giving them a briefing, and then engaging in a discussion with them about the actions that we need to take under what I call the Force Protection initiative. This is an initiative to provide adequate protection for our forces in the face of what I consider to be a threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists.

I want to define what I mean by that term, because, for years, we have devised our force protection in response to the last threat or the last attack. And yet, we see more significant attacks that are possible. Therefore, we want to get ahead of them and plan ahead. And so, this Force Protection initiative, first of all identifies that as a potential threat to our forces, particularly in our Central Command, and in several of our countries in the European Command -- Bosnia and Turkey for example. In those areas, then, we have to be prepared for chemical weapon attack, biological weapon attack, bombs even bigger than 3,000 pounds -- bombs in the 10 to 20 thousand pound category; mortar attacks.

Now, we cannot deal with those attacks adequately just by moving fences and just by putting more mylar on glass. We have to make some fundamental changes -- some drastic changes in the way we configure and deploy our forces. So I have established here in the Pentagon this Force Protection initiative. It is looking at some very fundamental questions. One of them is -- to get to your question now -- specifically, we are looking at what is involved in reconfiguring [and] redeploying the basing the our forces in Saudi Arabia so that they can be more readily protected. A fundamental aspect of that will be, wherever it feasible, moving out of urban areas because it's fundamentally difficult to try to protect against those kind of attacks within an urban area.

I directed General Peay some weeks ago to give me a plan for doing that. As of two days ago, we received the first phase of that, which is this concept of how to do it. We're now working within the building, with the Central Command, with the Saudis, and with the Congress. We're putting the details of this plan together. When we have it ready, and it will be in the relatively near future, then we will be ready to make the decision. I'm saying we do not have the decision yet about specifically what to do. But we will have a decision on that in a relatively short time.

The objective is to get the necessary reconfiguration done this summer yet. We're not talking about five years from now or a year from now, but something in the relatively near future. Q: Do you have any numbers or any percentage of troops that you expect will be moved?

Unidentified Speaker: Could you hold on just a second please. Could you hold on just a second please?

Secretary Perry: We're looking at all of the forces which are involved in the operational mission -- Operation Southern Watch -- the deterrence mission that's going on there. All of them are considered as possible candidates for this move, and that amounts to three or four thousand. I'm not committing at this time that all of them will be moved. We'll have to make a balance between the ability to do the mission adequately and the desire to get more force protection. We will also have to look at those forces -- those personnel now in Saudi Arabia in the capital, in Riyadh in particular who are involved in other missions -- the support for the Saudi National Guard, the military training mission. In those, it's much more difficult to do the mission if we were move them out of Riyadh. So we may to make some different way of getting force protection to them.

Q: Other than contingency planning, do you have any firm indications that there might be plans of a biological, chemical or nuclear attack against U.S. troops?

A: Charlie, I don't want to talk about the specifics of any threat. I will say though that every week, I get a stack of intelligence reports that high, just dealing with details of possible threats. And we have to take each one of them seriously. In those threats, among those stacks, there are discussion of chemical and biological mortar attacks, big bombs, all of them. A lot of that information is misinformation. Some of it is disinformation -- people deliberately trying to harass us and confuse us. And it takes a very fine judgment to be able to pick out which of the threats are real. But among that information, yes, there's such a detail. Yes Mark.

Q: So in conclusion sir, what's your overall threat assessment?

A: As I meant to imply by my earlier comments, I believe we have to get ahead of the threat assessment. That is, we understand that the threats I've described to you -- chemical, biological, very large truck bombs -- [are] feasible. We also understand that the terrorists that are trying to drive us out of Saudi Arabia are capable of doing those. Therefore, on the basis of those two judgments, we are modeling our Force Protection initiatives on the assumption that such attacks will occur.

Now some people will say this is worst case planning. But I believe we have to be prepared for more attacks on our forces. Not just in Saudi Arabia but all over the Gulf region -- whether it's Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain -- each of those we have some information which suggests that it may be specific threats to us in those countries. So we are going to prepare broadly across the board, and were going to prepare for a very intense threat. It will be costly. One of the reasons I met with the senators this morning was to alert them to the direction that our planning was going and that it was going to require substantial support from the Congress. It was going to require both policy and financial support; and I wanted to give them an advance... more than that I want to get their feedback, their criticism on the plans that we were making. Because we will need there their support when we have to implement them. Therefore I wanted to involve them in the early stages of planning.

Q: Thank you Mr. Secretary.

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