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Cohen Touts Force Protection Via Worldwide Video-Call

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 27, 2000 – Pentagon leaders and top commanders around the world talked force protection for more than an hour during an Oct. 26 video teleconference.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the conference call to ensure commanders are reviewing force protection measures and making any necessary changes.

The goal is to "make a good system better," Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said during a news briefing.

Cohen frequently makes video conference calls, Bacon noted, but they normally involve fewer people. "But this is an important issue and everybody sees it as an important issue," he told Pentagon reporters. "They did before the call, and they did certainly after the call."

U.S. forces in the Middle East and Turkey are currently on alert for possible terrorism in the wake of the Oct. 12 suicide bombing of the USS Cole. Military officials have declared Threat Condition Delta, the highest level, in Bahrain and Qatar.

The military's four threat levels, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta, each bear a set of increasingly restrictive security precautions. Threat Condition Delta is normally declared as a localized warning when a terrorist attack has occurred or intelligence indicates likely terrorist action against a specific location.

About 1,100 U.S. service members are in Bahrain and about 50 are in Qatar. About 280 U.S. personnel are on the ground in Aden, Yemen, and another 540 are aboard ships in the area. In all, about 20,000 service members are stationed in the Central Command area of responsibility, which covers 25 countries from the Horn of Africa and Egypt eastward through the Arabian Peninsula into Southwest and Central Asia.

About 7,000 American military personnel and family members are in Turkey. U.S. forces there are part of European Command.

The Cole tragedy in Aden, Yemen, that killed 17 sailors and injured 38, Bacon said, has generated concern and heightened awareness on U.S. bases around the world.

"I think there is wide appreciation throughout the military, from the newest private to the most senior admiral, that the Pentagon has done an awful lot since Khobar Towers in 1996, and that force protection is atop everybody's list of priorities," he said. "But it doesn't mean that there aren't ways to improve protection and the point of this conference call was to focus on some of those steps that can be taken."

Following the June 25, 1996, Khobar Towers bombing in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that left 19 American airmen dead and about 500 others injured, defense officials launched a vigorous campaign to safeguard U.S. service members. An independent review board concluded DoD needed more money and people, better intelligence and advanced technology for force protection.

The conference call was very useful, Bacon noted, because the commanders, as well as the service secretaries and chiefs, got to hear other commanders were doing, and they were also able to bring up common concerns. Regional commanders from European, Central, Pacific, and Southern Commands and the commander of U.S. forces in Korea were on line. The chiefs of the military’s functional commands -- Strategic, Special Operations, Joint Forces, Transportation and Space commands -- also participated in the discussions, he said.

The Pentagon leaders gave some specific directions and then the commanders "reported actions they are taking, actions they plan to take and actions that would be worthwhile to take in the future," he said. They also discussed the need to acquire the latest technology for force protection, detection and perimeter defense, Bacon said.

"That's something we've devoted a lot of time to, a lot of money," he noted, "but we have some other projects in the pipeline. They could be accelerated over time."

Commanders' also discussed the need for more money for force protection, he said, adding that enhanced force protection obviously will require greater resources.

Secretary Cohen does not believe one can be overzealous in pursuit of force protection, but it must be kept in context, Bacon said. U.S. forces have a worldwide mission that will not be deterred by the threat of terrorism. "We need to remain forward-deployed," he said.

"Our ships will be at sea. Our soldiers will be exercising around the world. Our airmen will be flying. Our Marines will be deployed in their amphibious ready groups, and the Coast Guard also will continue to patrol sea lanes around the world.

The world is a dangerous place and America's service members face threats every day, he said. "Given that we are a power with worldwide responsibilities, we have to figure out how best to deploy in ways that reduce the risks our troops face.

While you may never reach "a perfect level of force protection," he said, "it's something for which you always strive."

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