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Balancing Force Protection, Mission

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 6, 1996 – Risk is the hazard of the warrior's trade, according to Defense Secretary William Perry.

As commanders combat terrorism and other emerging threats of the post-Cold War era, they must balance that risk against mission requirements, Perry said during a recent interview.

Simply being in the military is a risky business, he said. Service members are at risk during basic training, routine training exercises and especially, during deployments. "Military personnel understand there are risks inherent in military missions," he said. "Our job is to minimize those risks."

Force protection is a top DoD concern in light of two recent terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia. The sheared-off face of the Khobar Towers barracks raised questions about security throughout the Middle East. Possible attacks with even stronger weapons in the Middle East, Bosnia, Turkey and even within the United States intensify the need for enhanced security.

"Terrorists have reached a new level of organization, sophistication and violence," Perry stated in a July message to major commands. Underestimating terrorists' intent or capability could have catastrophic results, he warned.

DoD recently launched an aggressive anti-terrorist initiative. In Saudi Arabia, it includes moving troops in high threat areas from urban sites to more secure bases and providing more money for intelligence activities.

Perry directed commanders worldwide to redouble their efforts to protect U.S. forces. But according to the defense secretary, commanders cannot simply sacrifice mission for safety. They must make a judgement based on the situation, he said. In the Middle East, Bosnia and elsewhere, commanders must balance mission requirements against force protection, Perry said.

"In Operation Southern Watch in Saudi Arabia, for example, force protection has to be balanced against the mission of conducting air sorties over southern Iraq," Perry said. U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia protect vital national interests, maintain stability in the region and contain hostile Iraqi and Iranian forces, he said. The United States is committed to this mission and will not be forced out or intimidated by terrorists.

In this case, DoD is taking costly force protection measures to safeguard U.S. forces while ensuring air operations continue. About 4,000 U.S. troops are moving out of Dhahran and Riyadh to more secure Saudi military bases, and about 700 dependents are being sent home. The United States and Saudi Arabia will share the expected $200 million cost, DoD officials said.

"In Bosnia, force protection has to be balanced against how many patrols you can conduct and how extensively you can conduct them," Perry said. Force protection is one component of the Bosnia mission, but it's not the only component. "We could enhance force protection in Bosnia by simply not going out on patrols, but we would not be able to do the other parts of our mission."

Stringent rules are in place to protect U.S. troops in Bosnia, according to Perry. "Every day, every hour they are there, they're in a hazardous position," he said. "They're driving over hazardous roads. They're carrying armed rifles. They're in environments which could turn hostile on them at any moment."

Rules include having one full company assigned to guard duty for each battalion, convoys of four vehicles at a minimum, no alcohol while in theater and being equipped with flak jackets, helmets and weapons when outside secure areas. "These are strict rules," Perry said, "but they are meant to save lives, and they have been very sucessful to this point."

Determining how to protect their forces and at the same time carry out the mission is up to the commander, Perry said. "A good commander will never simply abort the rest of his mission in order to avoid risks," he said.

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