Perry Visits Bomb Site, Says Mission Is Vital
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 2, 1996 "We will not be driven out of Saudi Arabia; we will not be intimidated by terrorists," Defense Secretary William J. Perry said after visiting the site of a brutal attack at a U.S. military housing complex in the Middle East.
Perry was in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, June 29, four days after a 5,000-pound truck bomb exploded outside Khobar Towers killing 19 soldiers and injuring nearly a hundred. The U.S. defense secretary met with American military officials before attending a midnight meeting with King Fahd and other Saudi government officials in Jeddah.
After seeing firsthand what he called "the appalling devastation," Perry said the bomb "succeeded in causing destruction, but it failed in its ultimate purpose because this attack will not drive us away."
Perry commended U.S. troops for showing true grit and using a buddy system to get medical aid for all injured. He said they showed "truly inspiring steadfastness" in quickly restoring full-scale air operations in spite of the tragedy.
"We expected no less," he told survivors of the blast, "but it makes us very proud to see the way you all acted under that kind of pressure, that kind of stress."
During an interview on NBC's Meet the Press June 30, Perry said the main emotion troops in Dhahran expressed was anger. "They want us to catch and punish the bombers, and believe me, there will be a major effort to ensure that happens," he said.
Perry said U.S. forces know what they are doing is vital to U.S. national interests. "They know that Saddam Hussein continues to threaten peace and stability in this region," he said. "They are protecting that stability for the region, for the entire world."
In addition to forces at bases in Saudi Arabia, U.S. equipment is pre-positioned in Kuwait, Qatar and Oman, and naval forces are in the Persian Gulf with bases in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The U.S. air, ground and sea assets make up a powerful presence, Perry said, and provide the infrastructure for a rapid expansion of military capability. The U.S. presence is the deterrent that spares the region from another war, he said.
Ensuring regional stability has a price, Perry said, and the bombing vividly illustrates the risk involved. U.S. officials are exploring additional "passive and active" security measures, he said.
Passive measures, according to Perry, include more and bigger barriers, fences, guards, patrols, regulations and restrictions. Active measures include conducting more vigorous intelligence and counterintelligence programs to identify terrorists and plots. Active meansures also involve working closely on international counterterrorist activities to stop the flow of terrorist tools into the area, he said.
"We're not going to put our troops in bunkers 24 hours a day," Perry said. "There's a limit to what passive security measures can do, provided you want your people to have a decent quality of life." More emphasis needs to be put on active security measures, Perry said, "trying to search out terrorists ahead of time before they commit acts -- making life very uncomfortable for them."
Perry credited measures taken following the November bombing in Riyadh, which killed five Americans at a U.S.-run training center, with saving lives in the recent Dhahran attack. In May, Saudi officials beheaded four Saudis who confessed to the November bombing.
"We know this truck tried to get into the compound and was turned back by the guards," Perry said. "We know it was limited to 80 feet away by the barriers that were up. We can only estimate how many more casualties there would have been had they been able to get closer to that building or inside the compound."
Since the bombing at Khobar Towers, people living in exterior rooms moved to interior rooms and perimeter barriers were moved to about 400 feet from the building, Perry said. Perry asked retired Army Gen. Wayne Downing, former head of U.S. Special Operations Command, to assess anti-terrorism security measures for U.S. bases in the Middle East.
After meeting with King Fahd, Perry said the Saudi leadership pledged complete commitment to the U.S. mission and full cooperation with the investigation. Perry said he stressed with the Saudi officials the need to make extensive security preparations for the future in light of the size of the Dhahran bomb.