Perry Visits Saudi Arabian Base, Middle East Allies
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 25, 1996 U.S. forces are flying more than 100 sorties a day from their new desert base at Prince Sultan Air Base near Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia, according to Defense Secretary William Perry.
Perry recently visited the base during a three-day, 14,000-mile trip to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Turkey and the United Kingdom. During the whirlwind weekend trip, he met with key Arabian Gulf and coalition allies about Saddam Hussein's latest aggression and reviewed anti-terrorism security measures for U.S. troops.
DoD moved nearly 4,000 U.S. troops from Riyadh and Dhahran to the remote Saudi Arabian base after a June 25 terrorist attack at Dhahran's Khobar Towers housing complex. U.S. forces essentially started from scratch to rebuild air operations at the basically unused and unoccupied base, Perry said. "The transformation in the last six weeks is stunning," Perry said. "Six weeks ago, it was a large air base 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." The site has a 1,200-foot security perimeter around the entire base and a single access road with several very tight security controls, he said.
The speedy move, which is nearly complete, is a tribute to the mobility and adaptability of U.S. forces, Perry said. It is also a tribute to the support and cooperation of the Saudi government, he said.
The terrorist attack on U.S. forces was an attempt to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and the United States, Perry said. The attempt failed. "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."
During his trip, Perry consulted Middle Eastern, British and French officials about Iraq's latest aggression. While Desert Storm ejected Hussein's armies from Kuwait, it did not end the Iraqi leader's threats to the region, Perry said. "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."
The United States has responded quickly and decisively, Perry said. "Each time Saddam has crossed the line, we have responded with force." The United States maintains a robust force and pre-positioned equipment to protect its interests in the region, he said.
When Iraq moved troops and tanks into the Kurdish area in the north in late August, the United States launched two cruise missile strikes on strategic military sites in southern Iraq. President Clinton then expanded the U.N.-enforced no-fly zone in southern Iraq from the 32nd to the 33rd parallel.
"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 aircrews," Perry said. "And the French, while they are not in full agreement with us, are generally supportive and continue to participate in Southern Watch."
Along with British and French support, Perry said, the United States has close cooperation with its friends in the region.
In the days following the U.S. strikes, Iraqi air defense crews fired six missiles at U.S. planes, but they were "wild misses," Perry said. The United States warned Saddam Hussein further strikes would be made if he tried to rebuild military sites or threatened coalition pilots enforcing the no-fly zone.
Although Hussein has backed off from threatening actions, Perry said, the U.S. position holds.
Coalition forces are now flying more sorties from Saudi bases to enforce the expanded southern no-fly zone. About 1,200 U.S. forces are stationed in Kuwait. More U.S. aircraft recently moved to the region: F-117s fighters to Kuwait and F-16s to Bahrain. About 3,500 troops from Fort Hood, Texas, are now on their way to Kuwait, with some already there.
The overall objective is the same as it has been, according to Perry. The United States will continue protecting its vital interests in the region. This includes protecting access to the vast oil resources, stability of the region and protecting freedom of navigation through the air and sea lanes. It also means preventing Iraq from developing chemical and biological and nuclear weapons.